The Motel

The glass door squeaked as he opened it, and he waited for a bell or buzzer as it whooshed close behind him. Nothing. There was a TV on behind a door off the reception, little more than a counter with a big clock behind it. Fading Visa/MC decals. Outside the sun still shone like a photon hose, bathing the motel and street in an unrelenting attack on the structure. There was a small service bell on the counter, and he gave it a clang. After a few moments, just as he was about to do so again, the door with the TV came ajar and a voice said: “I heard ya.” Then the door closed again.

By the time the manager appeared, Gary was wavering between magnanimity and rage. The man was Caucasian — not what Gary was used to in motels of this sort, expecting Pakistani or Persian — and rather old, the kind you recognized almost immediately: a self-deluding hustler gentleman who has probably traded a quiet retirement with miniscule fixed income for the dream of a generous, steady and easy income from a piece of property. He wasn’t getting the dream, but Gary could see he was getting something else: Far from being an invisible and poor retiree, he reigned in this cheap hotel, cocking an eyebrow and grunting to himself, while serving the widest range of sins, both venal and deadly, that a simple man could imagine: gluttony, drugs, sexual perversion, adultery, murder, suicide, mayhem.

Gary let the man try to box him with his expression, here for a tryst possibly, but more likely a loser dreaming of bedding a prostitute but who will probably will settle for an adult movie before pulling up stakes. Then Gary inquired of the weekly rate, and the gentleman made a start. He looked at him again, maybe sizing him up for an inept-looking but deadly hitman. In any case, he treated him with a bit more respect as he explained the procedures for residential guests. Gary paid cash and signed in under a pseudonym.

As Gary brought his purchases from the car — another twist for the concealed observer in the office — two cars careened in, one after the other, and parked at opposite sides. Gary recognized this drama as well, though he’d never been a partner in such; still, the milieu was familiar. The male had parked near the office and went in, while the woman waited in her car, seeming to occupy herself and only discreetly peering around. The man emerged from the office and, when his destination was more or less defined by his gait across the lot, his counterpart exited her car and b-lined in the same direction. They did not look at each other as they walked, as if that would somehow reduce the obviousness of everything they did. Gary opened his door on the second floor slowly, and took his time picking up the bags outside and bringing them in. When the hurried couple disappeared into their room, he closed his door.

It had been difficult to get a look at her. Gary spent a few moments as he spread out his equipment, imagining her motivation, her excuse, her justification. It was not impossible that they were a married couple playing a midday drama. But more likely she was a neglected housewife, an angry and misunderstood working woman, or simply the archetypal other woman. How does she see the nature of her act? Gary had spent so much time during his Dear Abby period with women for whom this kind of release was unthinkable — or at least inexpressible — that he had a difficult time reconciling this selfish, grasping act with what he considered “the female” — that need for nurture, and nurturing control, and that something that could penetrate a man’s diffidence, like a sperm entering a different kind of egg. “The female” in this sense could be little more than a cheap parlor trick, a gimmick that played upon the predictably vulnerable egos of males. Even when he’d resolved he wouldn’t fall for it again, he could feel the heat rise in his checks whenever a woman set her eyes on him and offered the equivalent of: “Oh, please, Gary, I’d be so grateful…”

Sexual, perhaps, but in the remote way that everything becomes about the biology that enables it all. Gary could see how women inhabited bodies that have nearly the complete package — flesh, bony mass, blood, lymphatic and nerve networks — in common with males. What was it, then, that instantiated the sexual difference, or more particularly the female difference? The bath of feminine hormones? Or was it simply a conscious decision, one that was not sufficient to conjure up femaleness all the time, one, rather, that a woman could call up if she needed or wanted?

Give biology its due. Take poor Gary, awash in the hormones and body memories that made every woman he saw an extension of the last ejaculation, an ecumenical urge that found the idealized female form in almost every type of woman and that overflowed his senses when confronted with a more arch expression of the feminine shape and posture — say, a petite woman with strongly defined curves and a light step that hinted of expectation and joy and engagement. But in his normal state, Gary could see enticement in the even most socially checked and joyously civil “I’d be so grateful…”

Everything sexual, sure. He wouldn’t deny it. But there was another side, something that came back to him at that moment, as his hands moved among the pieces of the receiver, and his mind sought to reconstruct the features of the woman from a fleeting look. How many times had he been engaged by a strongly female body, buoyed by the opportunity to observe it, when he saw her turn and saw an average or maybe even unsatisfied or dour face, and suddenly the body was a different kind of body — disembodied female beauty, unconnected to the spirit inhabiting it. It is a fairytale kind of social order, where the physical must express the moral, but it’s a powerful combination: biology and spirit. And even Gary could feel how that was ultimately the goal and the synthesis that motivated every ejaculation, every dispirited, dogged autonomic release.