A place to read humorous stories
I don’t expect to find the hotel clerk dead sitting on a chair and stuffed halfway into a closet. Family vacations bring many surprises and many adventures. Let’s do a head count: One tired dad who’s been on the road for eight solid hours, one wife who is pleading for relief from our three kids and their constant farting, one mother-in-law that can not stop correcting my grammar every single second of those eight hours, and one dead hotel clerk named Kevin.
Kevin’s chin rests on his chest, spittle glistens in fluorescent light, and his right arm hangs limply to his side. The chair sits halfway out of a closet in a staff-restricted hallway. The smell here reminds me of a Tom Petty concert I went to in college. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe Kevin is just tired. I take two fast steps and shake him by the shoulder. I get nothing. His name tag jingles. This was not on the itinerary for the first stop of our family vacation. But you know what, I got you, Kevin. I’m a man of subpar grammar and action.
I take a couple of steps back towards the desk to make eye contact with my wife, Erin. She sits in an overstuffed chair in the hotel lobby. She’s in the eye of a tornado that is our three children. The toddler is trying to eat a fake apple, my eight-year-old is encouraging him, and my eleven-year-old daughter is embarrassed to be seen with any of us.
My wife has a haggard look about her. Her normally voluptuous hair is limp with a couple of stragglers attempting to make an escape. It was that hair that I fell in love with in the beginning, before family road trips. It represents both beauty and strength to me for some reason. Us bald guys have a thing for hair. But now even that wonderful mane looks tired. My mother-in-law took grammar breaks during the trip to periodically give my wife her opinion on such things as politics, goiters, and her bathroom habits.
“Honey, get out your phone,” I say as calmly as I can. I can’t blurt out in front of the kids what’s in my head. Hey, dear, there is a dead guy back here so I’m about to do some CPR. Maybe you can go ahead and send the kids over so I can have a teachable moment.
Erin’s eyebrows come together, and I can see the question forming in her head. Can’t you just check us in? I need to hide in the bathroom for an hour. As tired as I am, as beaten down, I know my wife is taking the brunt of most of the frustrations. She spent the last eight hours trying to referee fights between the kids and listening to her mom give advice on how to raise them as she did which involves a lot of things that I’m pretty sure are illegal now.
I head back to Kevin, and I’m suddenly jealous of his peacefulness.
“Kevin!” I yell and pull on his shoulder.
I’m loud, and I’m sure my voice carries into the lobby. But this is not a time for the indecisive or the meek. Maybe he’s not dead. There’s a life on the line, and I get to be the guy I always hoped I am. This is my redemption story, where I come through after hardships such as the kids throwing things at the back of my head. On the trip here, all the way from middle America to the coast, I doubted myself. I struggled with deep inner demons and someone’s questionable stomach reminding me how suffocating a minivan can feel. But now, I’m reminded that the adventure is what I was after. The chance for greatness. Kevin is my unexpected hero’s journey.
Kevin doesn’t move after another shake, and I try to remember the three stages of CPR I learned one summer when I was sixteen. The only thing that really comes into my head is that I need to start chest compressions to the sweet, sweet beat of Staying Alive. And somewhere in there, I give Kevin a kiss, and he wakes up. It’s sleeping beauty but in real life where there is a possibility I’ll go to jail for sexual assault.
I need to get Kevin out of the chair and onto the floor. He’s a small man, early thirties with a receding hairline. He’s pale, and his skin is chalky like the only warmth it’s been given has come from fluorescent suns that light hotel hallways. I’m going pick him up out of the chair, and with all the gentleness of a WWE wrestler toss him on the ground. I want to be more gentle, but my larger frame has a way of preventing grace. I once put my foot through a bathtub on accident.
“Up you go, bud!” I grab him under his arms and pull.
His eyes fly open, and I need CPR myself.
“Hi!” Kevin says, and I jerk away like I’ve been bit. He stands. From his left hand, an e-cigarette drops and bounces up against my shoe. He picks it up and barrels past me not saying another word. I’m alone in the staff hallway, and I’m not sure what just happened. All I know is when Kevin passed by me his eyes were as bloodshot red as the Bloody Marys I have now decided I will be drinking every morning for the rest our vacation.
I walk back to the check-in desk where Kevin is dutifully applying the skills of his trade such as staring blankly ahead.
“Can I help you?” he asks.
I don’t say anything at first because I’m a little miffed. Kevin was my great quest, and I feel a little disappointed at the conclusion. And now he looks at me from the concierge desk like I’m just another number in his system.
“Um, are you OK?” I ask him.
“Fine. I’m fine. Thank you. Can I help you?”
Kevin doesn’t seem to recognize me. We…we had a moment back there. Our fates intertwined. I was about to lay him on the floor and put my mouth on him. I mean, I deserve at least a bro hug. Behind me, my wife tells the three-year-old to stop trying to eat the hotel’s fake flowers.
“Are you sure you’re OK?” I ask. “Do I need to call an ambulance?”
Kevin doesn’t answer right away, and when he does I notice his words are slurred. Everything clicks. My good man Kevin is high as fuck.
“Can I help you?” he says again, ignoring what I just said.
“All right,” I begin. “Well, we have a reservation.” Its time to let bygones be bygones and cherish the memories of what once was. “Me and my wife would like to check-in.”
“My wife and I,” my mother-in-law squawks from a chair next to my wife’s tired hair. My eyeballs start to hurt for some reason.
Kevin takes a second to look at the computer in front of him.
“I don’t have anyone by that name,” he says.
Kevin doesn’t realize I haven’t given him my name yet.
“Um, can you check under Carpenter?”
“OK.” Kevin doesn’t move.
“Can you please check again?” I ask.
Kevin moves to another computer at the check-in desk and bangs away at the keyboard like he’s the drummer for the metal band Megadeth.
“No. I don’t have anyone by that name. Who did you call?”
“This hotel,” I say.
“Which hotel?” he asks.
“I don’t have any reservations. You went through a third party so I can’t check what went wrong.”
“No, I called this hotel, spoke to the hotel clerk, and they transferred me to the reservation line. OK, how about we just get two rooms, and I’ll deal with the reservation people later.”
“We don’t have any rooms. Who did you call?”
My shoulders start to hurt, and a pinch develops in the back of my neck. This place smells like an elementary school during flu season. The headache I was nursing has decided to take it up a notch.
OK, fine. I’ll walk Kevin through this. I pick up my phone and open it to their website which is still on my search engine. I point to the number I called. I hit the call button with my thumb. Kevin’s front desk phone rings.
“Hello?” Kevin asks into the phone. “Hello?” He says again. I wave my hand in front of him and point to my phone.
“Oh, it’s you.”
Yes, Kevin, it’s me. Right in front of you, calling as you watched. Kevin promptly hangs up the phone.
“Can you talk to your reservation people?” I ask.
“Your reservation people. The people who you transfer calls to.”
“Um…,” he starts.
“OK, I’m going to call back, just transfer me, and I’ll do it.”
I call again.
“Hello?” Kevin says.
“It’s me, Kevin. I’m right here. Just transfer me.”
Kevin hangs up the phone again.
“How about you just give me the number to the reservation line,” I say.
“OK,” he says.
I look over at my wife and shrug my shoulders. She has given up on life. I can tell by the fact that the toddler is now eating dirt from a potted plant. My two older kids are going to start randomly smashing windows and kneecapping pigeons. Her mother is sitting next to her talking about her queasy stomach. I can almost hear my wife begging to me. “Please,” her face says. “Please, get us a room.”
I turn back to Kevin as he gives me the phone number.
I call and now I’m talking to Dave. Dave sounds less high than Kevin. I tell him I made a reservation, and the hotel doesn’t have it. He looks and can’t find it either. Great. OK, Dave says we can work around this. He’s a good guy and says there are two rooms in the hotel, right now! Awesome! But I tell him that Kevin disagrees with him.
“Well, I have them right in front of me,” Dave says. “How about we make the reservation, and he can check you in.”
“Sounds great,” I tell him and proceed to give him all of my information. Again. I get the feeling that this is how people get their identities stolen.
Dave makes some clicky noises on the computer.
“OK, good to go,” Dave says. I like Dave. Dave is the man. He asks if I would like to pay him over the phone.
“Can I just pay Kevin? I’m right here in front of him,” I ask Dave.
“Sure. Ask him,” Dave says.
“Hey Kevin, can I just go ahead and pay you?”
“Um, OK,” Kevin says.
“Dave, Kevin says I can pay him.”
“Great!” Dave says.
Kevin looks on his computer again.
“I don’t have any rooms,” he tells me.
“Bad news, Dave. Kevin says he doesn't have any rooms.”
“Yes, he does, I’m looking at your rooms right now.”
“Kevin, Dave says you have my rooms. I think he’s calling you a liar.”
“I don’t have rooms,” Kevin says.
“Kevin, can you just talk to Dave?” I don’t know how I ended up being the middle man, but this isn’t going anywhere.
Kevin shakes his head no. There is a real possibility I swore very loudly here. The kids have gone quiet. I stand with my cell phone held out like a shield. We are in a standoff, and one of us needs to break. Look, I get that Kevin is having a rough day. I am, too, and I feel some solidarity with him. I just want to give him money, but Kevin isn’t moving. We are in a stalemate: Kevin, Dave, and I in some sort of weirdo threesome that I never wanted. We could have gone on this way forever.
An older woman walks up to the front desk. She’s short, maybe 5’ 2”. She has a ziplock bag of ice on her puffy-looking jaw. There are tear streaks running through her mascara.
“Excuse me,” she tells Kevin. “I just tripped on your carpet, and hit my face against the brick wall.”
“OK,” Kevin says.
“Um, I think I need to fill out a form,” she tells him.
“Um, only if you want to.”
Come on, Kevin. Do the right thing here. I know it’s been a tough day and all, but seriously, I’m sure there is a policy about this. She’s got a big freaking icepack on her face and her jaw is looking dicey. She fell on your property. Put two and two together, buddy.
For a man whose life I almost saved once, I feel Kevin and I are connected. I feel responsible for him in some sort of paternal way. I’m a great father, and I look at Kevin like he’s one of my own. My kids say something, but I ignore it.
“I think I should really fill out a form,” the lady says again.
“No. Yes. If you want to,” Kevin says and looks at her, obviously not grabbing any form. God dammit, Kevin, I was rooting for you.
I want to intervene, and I almost ask the injured guest if she requires any CPR. But I stay out of it because sometimes you’ve got to let your young ones learn on their own. All Kevin needs to do is document the accident and possibly throw in a free room. Just grab a form, Kevin. Grab it.
“I’ll just come back,” she says after a very awkward minute. I look at my watch and note the time for the inevitable subpoena I will receive when this lady sues. 6:45pm on a Monday.
Kevin turns back to me.
“Good evening, sir. Can I help you?” The sigh I give is long and hard.
“Do you have any rooms on your computer yet?” I ask.
“No,” he says although this time I notice he doesn’t even check. I again ask him if he wants to speak to Dave.
He says no.
“Dave,” I say into my phone. “Kevin says he doesn’t have the rooms.”
“Yes, he does,” he says.
“Kevin says he doesn’t.”
“But he does!”
“Would you like to talk to Kevin?”
This is when my back starts to really hurt. Right there in-between the shoulder blades. Almost like a knife has been thrust into the very heart of my soul. Weird.
I begin to wonder if Dave and Kevin are buds. Perhaps they live together and are in some sort of feud. Maybe that’s why they won’t speak on the phone? Perhaps some nefarious quarrel involving a woman and her pet chinchilla. Or maybe someone stole someone else’s weed.
“Kevin, Dave says you have the rooms.”
“OK,” Kevin says.
“Can you check us in on your computer yet?” I ask him.
“Did you check, Kevin?” I say this in the same voice I use on my toddler when I ask him if he’s sure he didn’t try to bite the cat.
“Are you sure?” The parent in me requires I give Kevin a second chance.
My entire body hurts.
I turn back to my wife, and she stares at me with pleading eyes. My head falls. My shoulder’s slump. I’m defeated. It’s over.
I pull my phone back to talk to Dave, to make one more impassioned plea.
Dave has already hung up.
My mother-in-law comes back from the bathroom, caressing her stomach.
“Why aren’t we checked in yet?” she asks, and my right eye twitches signaling an oncoming stroke. Do I smell citrus
“Kevin and me are working on it,” I reply.
“Kevin and I, dear,” she says.
I think this is when I have the stroke. Things go a little fuzzy for a moment.
“Kids, grab your mother and pack up. Someone corral the toddler. He’s headed towards the ashtray. We’re driving on,” I tell my family.
I’m going to get off this merry go round of the high flying circus clerks. We’re done. Maybe we can just keep driving through the night to get to our final destination, and everyone can sleep in the car. I’ll call Dave, and he can tell my kids bedtime stories but only if he uses proper grammar.
I load up our suitcases and sling a bag over my shoulder like the dutiful pack mule that I am. Somehow, and I’m not really sure the physics of it, my toes ache. My actual toes. And as I leave I hear the guy that just came in behind me speaking to Kevin.
“Cancel our reservation,” he says. I bet ten bucks Kevin already has.
Shannon Carpenter is a writer living in Kansas City, Mo. He has written for online publications such as Fabula Argentea, Robot Butt, Life of Dad, and is a weekly columnist for The Good Men Project. You can read more of his work at hossmanathome.com or follow him on twitter @hossmanathome. Represented by Chris Kepner.