The Eye of the Storm

I clock in, already aware of the two separate wedding groups staying at the motel this weekend. The evening desk clerk informs me, with only a smidgen of masochistic glee, that there is a bachelorette party as well. He insists they appeared sober and reasonable at check-in, but that does little to diminish my concern. Far too many guests gain transformative abilities after the appearance of  night, alcohol, and in the bachelorettes’ case, phallic-shaped novelty items. In my brief year and a few months at the motel, I could already construct a sizable life raft from the number of penis balloons abandoned post-party. (Imagine the United States Coast Guard reeling in a ship-wrecked crew floating atop such a colorful raft, with its ejaculatory streamers bobbing in the waves. Toward the front of the crew, the emaciated captain, crying in half agony and half joy at being saved, waves at his bewildered rescuers, trying to say through his parched lips, “It’s all we had, it’s all we had. My god, get me off this penile vessel.” Apologies, but I have to entertain myself on these stressful weekends.)

Burdened but informed of the potential troubles, I begin my first rounds of the property. It’s a bright night, the moon glowing in a halo of light. It takes a second glance to realize it, but it’s a full moon. Only on this job, during this shift, could I find such a thing so grotesque. Dean Martin may have sang, “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore,” but I’m muttering, not singing. And it’s not amore, it’s dread.

The first wedding group returns from the ceremony, sloshed and jubilant, but it’s only eleven, so I keep my distance. I’m close enough to hear the makings of a plan, a loose coalition of the most tenacious partiers forming a strategy to storm the nearest bar. The Loudest Man, the one in the baseball cap who passed out in a chair in front of his room last night, leads the charge. If volume, indiscriminate yelling, and an inability to call it quits despite desperate pleas from one’s liver were leadership qualities, this man would be the Patton of the Coors and Jack Daniels Theaters of War. It’s not pretty, but he leads his blitzed blitzkreig to the nearest bar.

A moment later, a large white van pulls along the front of the motel. Its double doors open to absorb the bachelorettes, their mists of perfume and meticulously-composed hair barely inside before the doors close and it speeds away. For now, I see no phallic paraphernalia.

And with that, it’s quiet. The first thunder and gusts of revelry have passed. I find myself in that familiar zone of the night watchman on weekend patrol–the eye of the storm. I know they must return sooner or later, and in how exacerbated a condition, I can only speculate. And speculate I do. Neurotically. Uselessly. Will they bring friends they’ve made along the way? Will one or more need to be carried? Will the Loudest Man bang on strangers’ doors for unimaginable thrills? Will his friend, the Hawaiian Shirt Man attempt to urinate in the middle of the parking lot, only feet from his own private bathroom? Will they say they’re “not being that loud?” Will they shout they’re “not being that loud?” These, and so many other questions, fill the eye of the storm.

I sit at a table near the edge of the parking lot, allowing me the best view of the rooms and returning guests. Music from the bar a block away echoes between the buildings, reaching me where I sit with my Kindle. (Before this job, and even for the first few months, I was a strident devotee of traditional books, frowning at the suggestion of eBooks. I sat outside in the dark long enough to realize my holier-than-thou stance was just keeping me from reading.)

I continue reading a few chapters of Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, but I grow restless. To be honest, I grow distracted. While there is plenty of free time on the job, it doesn’t always feel so free. The free time on a Monday night with plenty of vacancies is of a different nature than that during the eye of a storm. I can move around in the  former, can settle into it to a certain degree. The latter contains an energy that stymies any such comfort. The challenging thing is, sometimes, the other side of the storm never arrives. I wait, I hunt down every suspicious sound, I watch passing taxis and anticipate a turn that doesn’t come, and I tell the front desk clerk to text me at the first sign of trouble. All that anticipation and waiting keeps me busy, and soon enough, my shift ends with nothing substantial to report.

I’ve become better at relaxing during these moments, but it’s still difficult to focus on reading longer works. As a result, and because of the medium itself, much of my Kindle reading is more like browsing. The “Try a Sample” button on the Amazon store is a frequent target. I’ve read the first ten pages of hundreds of books. In these tenuous lulls, a handful of pages seems more approachable than a novel, and with much less at stake considering my fractured attention.

And tonight, that sample comes from Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans that Will Save Your Life, by John Tarrant. I didn’t go seeking enlightenment, at least, not that I recall. But, it’s the Daily Deal, so maybe I will. Imagine: only 1.99 for 192 pages of anecdotes that will provoke enlightenment. What a bargain!

So, as I wait for the Loudest Man, who, at any moment, around some corner of the motel, will ignite his voice from deep within in his beer-dappled chest and send it exploding out of his slack jaw, I learn that “inside unpredictability [I] will find not chaos, but beauty.”

The 1.99 begins to look a little steep.

But then: “Koans lead you to see life as funny rather than tragic.” That, given time, I can get behind. I certainly want to see life in such a way.

Unfortunately, the sample ends before I even get to the first koan. The final line in the introduction is, “When  you unpack all your motives and other people’s motives and get to the bottom of things, you find love.” I pause to consider this, to allow my mind and heart to expand. With a few deep breaths, I imagine a widening circumference, the boundary of my empathy and understanding growing to include even the most challenging human beings. Perhaps the Loudest Man is normally really shy, or barely making ends meet, or his father’s lung cancer was deemed inoperable. We all want to be heard, to think we mattered to someone. Maybe he just really, really wants to be heard.

I hear something near the staircase leading down to the lobby. I hear it again. As the man tops the stairs, I actually see the sound being created as I hear it a third time, a lip-rattling belch from the mouth of a lanky, mullet-sporting guest. He sways while slowly moving toward me. I stand up when I realize he doesn’t see me or the table where I sit, and his head bobs backward in surprise. He sways left, then with a nod and a slow-motion wave, says, “Buenas noches,” his Midwestern accent heavily slurred.

“Have a good night,” I say.  I know which room he’s in, and he’s far from it. I watch as he proceeds to knock on the wrong door. As I bolt from my chair, I remember–dear god, that’s the room of the Loudest Man. They are here for the same wedding, so I presume they know each other, but these two together could create a serious chemical reaction.

As soon as I reach the door, Mullet Man closes it behind him. I only had time to glance inside the room, and it was dark. Did I miss the Loudest Man’s return? That seems impossible. To miss him would deny his fundamental nature. The night is unpredictable, that’s for sure, but maybe the koan’s right. To see that guy surprise me with a quiet, and indeed “buena noche,” would be very beautiful indeed.

I fold a pile of laundered pool towels and skim leaves from the water. It’s nearly four a.m., and not a single guest has returned how I expected. The bachelorettes spilled out of an Uber, but quietly walked to their rooms. Another guest guffawed with laughter near the lobby, but was quickly shushed by his friend. Self-policing guests? Careful folks, you’ll put me out of a job.

When the four and five a.m. joggers start making their rounds, I can’t believe my luck. Were the koans my charm? The eye of the storm passed, and with it, my shift. I stared it down, and it was the first to blink. Tonight was certainly no tragedy. And whatever people’s motives, love or simply a need to burp, it was pretty funny.

As I consider the end of this Night Report, I acknowledge its anticlimactic nature. While I’m sure it’s not what the reader may want, it’s sure as shit the way I like it to end. Perhaps there’s a lesson in expectations somewhere here. I started the night with the worst, and you, the reader, were led to expect the same. The full moon, the bachelorettes, the wedding parties, all contrasted with the calm eye of a storm and the meditative zen koans. Despite the all-fizzle and no-bang, I’m content.

“What is the main point of this holy teaching?” Emperor Wu of Lian asked the great master Bodhidharma.

“Vast emptiness, nothing holy,” said Bodhidharma.

The eye of the storm, vastly empty. As it should be.

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