On Halloween Kathy takes a miserable call at the front desk. Young woman says her boyfriend’s out of control. He’d been drinking and may have swallowed some pills. He’s already struck her once. There are two small boys in the room. Kathy looks at me with eyes that exude a tired call to duty, a look I’d seen before and would see again. We have to respond to the call. I sigh. I tighten my sash and adjust my hood. I’m dressed head to foot in monk robes. My boss thought it would be funny if I came to work in a costume.
And she was right. The monk act had been hilarious earlier when I was driving the hotel shuttle. I’d really gotten into character. When the drunks I was driving asked where they could find some tail in this town, I simply replied: “but thou monk driver is chaste, my good men. He knoweth not where thy squirrel curls its tail.”
I excelled at that sort of thing; firing off witty, creative tidbits for the amusement of the inebriated, my fan base, my niche. It was only when I took out my good pen and yellow paper to “write this stuff down,” as non-writers aware of my interest constantly insisted I do, could I not hack it. As a creative writer I’d seen no validation for my efforts. I had an irrational fear that my manuscripts weren’t even getting delivered to the offices of the important literary journals, but burning up ignominiously in the blast of their atmosphere. Some wouldn’t even mail the rejection slip, leaving me to wallow for an entire year, believing, grinding my teeth, strung out like a junkie hopped up on pure, 100% uncut hope. I had a girlfriend who thought I was the best writer going, which, every time she reminded me of it, evoked terrific laughter from every corner of the room. If we were outside, it came from the skies. Nowhere was safe. Mockery lurked in the bowl of water below my shaving, in the heart and mind of this humble man, this hooded monk.
Kathy and I cross the lobby and head toward the room. She leads, I shuffle after. The sash is on good and tight around my waist but the hood is proving to be a problem. It keeps slipping back. I almost ask Kathy for a pin— a bobby?—but feel stupid doing so and let the words spoil on my lips.
Kathy knocks on the door and it opens immediately. It’s the girlfriend. Oily hair. Bags under her eyes like melon slices. “Take them,” she says. Below her stand two beautiful little boys. It occurs to me I haven’t seen children this young in a long time. They are not identical twins but nearly. Golden hair. These wise guy blue eyes. I reach for one and he submits like this is an old routine. He fits his legs around my side and pushes back my hood. Kathy takes the other boy. The girlfriend gets a diaper bag. Beyond her are the bottoms of two dirty feet on the sofa bed. A mess of dirty blond hair at the other end. He seems to be unconscious.
“Miss, you need to stay with us,” I say to the girlfriend. “I told him,” she weeps, over and over.
I fall back and put my arm around her, not to comfort her so much as to keep her moving.
We get them into a room on the other side of the hotel. I sit with the boys on either side of me. Kathy puts on a cartoon about trucks. The boys keep reaching for my hood. I bow my head to them.
Kathy leaves for the lobby to call the cops. The girlfriend is splayed on the carpet rifling through the diaper bag. “Forgot their formula,” she curses,
“You should probably stay here,” I say.
“They haven’t had nothing to eat,” she says, walking across the room, leaving.
The phone on the wall starts to ring. Kathy says, “Get out here now.”
When I get to the lobby a crowd has formed. Boyfriend has come to and is choking girlfriend on the baroque sofa. He’s wearing white underwear only. I see Kathy. We start toward the sofa. Kathy creeps up and touches his shoulder. He unfurls like a snake, landing a closed-fist blow to the side of Kathy’s head. My heart thuds.
If I thought I would have had a better chance to act, I might have hesitated, but suddenly I have boyfriend in a serious headlock. He beats on my ribcage. I slam him into the near wall and we both go to the ground. Where’s back-up? Why is everyone watching me and not helping?
Where are the cops? Somehow I’ve landed on top of boyfriend. Pinning this guy is terribly awkward. Being on him is like riding a tremendous female leatherback turtle, postpartum, as she makes her instinctive dash for the sea. And he stinks.
He smells like Velveeta and armpit. My hand has already slipped into that armpit several times and is now shiny with brine. I hear the cheap material under my own armpit tear away from the greater garment. He’s tiring. I can feel the musculature relaxing in his back. “Where are the cops?” I yell at last, a note of terror bleeding into the question, reminding me that this has rattled me, that I made a lucky move, that this guy, had he not been so blitzed on whatever, could have seriously damaged this shuttle-driving faux monk writer.
From the corner of one fiery eyeball I see the cops. Thank God. Euphoria washes over me. It feels heroic to be found victorious in the throes of a citizen’s arrest. But then the cop roars: “Which one is it?” and my heart almost stops. I realize that we both look like criminals, I in my ragged holy man’s attire, he, shirtless and piebald with blotches, hickeys, and scratches.
“Not the monk,” someone yells. I want to reward that person. Come ye, come ye and receive your holy stipend!
The cops dive onto us. I’m eye to eye with the butt of a large handgun. I begin to worm my way out. Doing so removes the costume. Inch by inch, I molt back into my khakis and navy polo shirt. I rise. A woman commends me as I pass. I attempt a smile but grimace instead. My mouth feels unnatural, smacked.
In the office, Kathy and I hug. I slip into the bathroom and wash my arms up to elbows, the way I’ve seen surgeons do in sitcoms. I wash my face. My eyes. My hair.
The police want to speak with me. They need a statement. I notice the officer’s cheap little pad and pen. I judge these because they are my tools of the trade. They are things no one seems to care about but I have purchased in bulk, with careful attention to color, tip size, rule, and bond. I am not so particular about anything else.
The officer jots. The pen stops working. He apologizes and scribbles in the corner to revive the ink. I want to say something. I want to rant about ballpoint pens. I want to share my frustration. But the ink returns. “There,” he says, and I proceed.
There’s a six-pack of Blue Point beer in the fridge. I always imagine myself coming home after a long night and cracking a cold one but mostly I just come home and sit in my chair for a good 20 minutes thinking. Tonight, I’m aroused by a thought. My statement: they’re going to publish it.
Next Thursday I can’t find the newspaper anywhere in Montauk. I’ve gone to Ronnie’s, the Corner Store, Martell’s, the IGA. In White’s department store the cashier says the paper doesn’t arrive until ten. I look at my watch. I can’t think of anything in the world I want to do for the next two hours.
When I get the paper I read each incident. It’s almost entirely DWI’s. I spend two seconds on each word, savoring it, trying not to read ahead. I realize the names of the offending men and women often use their middle initial. I start to lose patience and accelerate my reading. I find it. An employee of the hotel was able to restrain the man until police arrived. This can’t be right. An employee? That could be anyone. I remember the officer’s impotent plastic pen. His affectless scribbles. People don’t realize the importance of a good pen. I worry he couldn’t read his own writing. An employee of the hotel. Why can’t I get used to this? Must I drink and drive?
My name isn’t here. They didn’t publish it.