An oil portrait hung in the hallway of the Willard. Look, ma, no headgear!
Like a suffering bastard stumbling out of bed after a night of too many Long Island Iced Teas, much of Friday morning seems a complete blur, for me.
There had just been so much to do! This is where I earned that fancy meal I had devoured the evening before (although I don’t think I burned off any fat). I spent the morning racing between the scientific briefing on the first floor and my hotel room on the second, making certain that everything was going well with the teleconference line, checking my email to make certain no problems were, then racing back to see what was going on at the live session. Worst of all, the electronic lock to my hotel room was running low on juice, forcing me to flip the key card through, twenty or thirty times, before it would open.
One time, on the way out of my room, waiting for the elevator to arrive, I noticed a blur in the hall, out of the corner of my eye.
I looked up, but there was nothing to be seen. The hall was completely empty.
“I saw a blur of something in that hall,” I said to Corb, later on, waiting for the airplane to take me home.
“It was probably someone entering his room,” replied Corb.
“I don’t think so,” I replied. “I didn’t hear a click or anything. Therewas no sound, no footsteps. The movement just disappeared, just like that.”
The next day, when we picked up Ashes and Theo, I couldn’t wait to tell my story. “I saw a ghost in the hotel I was staying at,” I told Ashes, who eyes immediately grew to the size of saucers.
“Did you take a picture of it?” she asked.
“No, not enough time,” I said. “I was just waiting by the elevator, when suddenly, the ghost appeared before me, and it—"
“You are so bad!” Corb said, laughing loudly. “Yesterday you said you just 'caught of glimpse' of something. Today, all of a sudden it’s a ghost!”
“Well, what else could that glimpse be?” I asked, defensively. “The hotel was built in 1818, you know. I’ll bet plenty of people died there. I’ll just bet they’re still walking around there, too.”
“You should have taken a picture of it with your camera,” suggested Ashes.
“Every time I hear this story it gets more and more dramatic,” said Corb, sighing dramatically.
I turned to Ashes. “I saw this hideous ghost in the hallway,” I said, just to annoy Corb. “She was the caretaker of the hotel back in the 1800s. She was stooped and wore a wimple, and her painting hangs in the lobby downstairs. And she had red, burning eyes, and--”
“A WIMPLE?” asked Corb. “What the hell’s a wimple?”
“I’m not sure, but it sounds like something a woman would wear in the 1800s,” I said. “It sounds more dramatic that way. I think it’s something worn in the back of a ruffled dress.” (In point of fact, it’s actually a woman's head cloth, drawn in folds about the chin.)
Okay, look. Maybe I do like to add on to my stories, just a little bit, sometimes. But isn’t that part of the fun of telling stories? The incident itself is a true one: I see a blur, a figure...I look up, and it’s gone. The end story is a logical extension of what occurred, only, dressed up, just a bit, to make it more entertaining. I put a wimple on things, okay?
I remember that, about a decade ago, I was going through the effort of composing a novel about an old, dear friend of mine, named Sandy Ball. I was about 200 pages into the book, when I realized that, besides the plotline, the thing that was driving me to complete the work was the fact that I had constructed it as a series of stories. It tickled me to place those stories together, like a string of pearls.
And, when you get right down to it, isn’t that what makes life interesting? It’s that slightly larger-than-life tale told well, about the one that got away. That’s what makes it fun to wake up in the morning. That's the collection you want to have, when you meet the big linguini, up in the sky.
That's me, standing in front of the White House. And no, surprisingly enough, W. didn't invite me in to give him a peace of my mind. Dear Mr. President, you'll never take a walk with me...