I met David Hogan the night of my first training shift. I had shown up ten minutes early, wanting to make a good impression or at least not be late. I walked into the lobby and introduced myself to the girl working behind the front desk—she said her name was Shelly. We were in the middle of your standard getting-to-know-you chitchat when I flinched as I noticed a cat sitting at eye level on the check-in counter.
The fur looked real, but it wasn’t moving. Or breathing.
‘That’s David’s,’ said the girl.
‘You haven’t met David yet?’ She almost laughed. ‘Well he should be here any minute. He’s training you tonight.’
‘What’s with the cat?’
‘She died last year. He had her stuffed—well not stuffed exactly. She’s completely hollow, but you know what I mean.’
‘Sure,’ I nodded, eyes still fixed on the cat.
‘So if you want to come back around here, I can show you some stuff while we wait for David.’
Shelly taught me how to answer the phone, how to transfer calls. She gave a basic intro to the computer system and was in the process of demonstrating the check-in process when we heard three abrupt bangs on the glass behind us.
Through the tiny grooved-out area between counter and window that they used for late-night transactions. a man shouted ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is in the building!’. He chuckled to himself and turned to head inside.
‘And so now you’ve met David,’ said Shelly.
He triggered an electronic chime, a two note descent from B-flat to F, as he came through the door grinning manically, totally pleased with himself.
‘How’s it going? You must be Scott.’ He continued before I could respond. ‘This here’s Fluffy.’ He reached over the counter to grab a pen and tapped the taxidermied cat three times in quick succession—it made a hollow plastic sound like a piggy bank. Then he laughed again. ‘She don’t say much. Except maybe late at night if you know what I mean. When the winter wind blows against the glass and the ancient spirits rise from their slumber to walk the earth. Hey man, did Shelly tell you this place is built on an old indian burial ground?’
’David, shut up.’ She turned to me. ‘Don’t believe anything he tells you… Unless it’s about how to do your job. David loves this place like it was his kid or something.’
He spoke with a southern drawl, the kind that most people would compare to molasses, but David Hogan spoke too fast to make the analogy stick—McDonald’s syrup that had been microwaved was more accurate. And his brain moved as fast as his speech, blowing through riffs & ideas like a kid who’d been mainlining sugar and was now up way past his bedtime.
I stood there taking it all in—his antics, sure, but particularly the size of the man. DH was huge, as if someone had shoved a bicycle pump into Elvis and inflated him through his asshole until he was about to burst. And if Elvis had grown a goatee. I also noticed the way he walked, his New Balance sneakers overstuffed & swollen until they folded over and obscured a good ½ inch of the rubber sole, flattened & treadless and groaning as he stepped—two loaves of bread precariously placed atop two decks of cards. But still he didn’t waddle, which is rare in the US south—a hotbed of obesity & grease where pretty much everyone you see over the age of 30 limps through the parking lot as they travel from car to store. Instead DH moved with a delicate sense of grace, a dancer trapped in the body of a coronary patient, so that even his body contained a certain inherent structural irony.
Usually, when I meet someone as overblown & gregarious as DH, I tend to hold back a bit at first. Keep them on a short leash until I know them better. You give people like that a sympathetic ear and they’re liable to cut it off and bring it home w/them, but David didn’t have the neediness you find in some of those people, a lost-puppy-in-need-of-adoption vibe that makes me want to either sprint in the other direction whenever you see them coming or put that puppy to sleep. DH didn’t want anything from me; he just wanted to have a good time. It didn’t even matter if I thought he was funny, for DH any reaction at all was its own kind of kick.
I could also tell he was good at his job, and within a few minutes he could tell I was going to be good at mine. I had spent five years before & during college working for the Marriott corporation, the last three as BVD ( bellman/valet/doorman) and the first two at the front desk. Plus before that I worked in the lodge at a golf resort back in El Cajon CA, where I got promoted to Front Desk Manager but then fired me a few months later for, I shit you not, ‘being sarcastic with his co-workers.’ I have a copy of the termination letter in a shoebox somewhere, though at this point it may have melted or molded from too many Georgia summers in an under-aired closet.
All of which is to say that my training went smoothly, and after a couple of hours David pushed his chair back and said, ‘Aw hell man, you got this. I’m going to bed. Just call me if anything comes up.’
‘And for tomorrow, I’ll probably start off the shift with you, but I won’t do much. Just answer any questions that come up.’
‘Then if that goes good, I’ll just leave you on your own the next night. I don’t usually do that, but you seem to pick up on things pretty quick, and I’m always around if you need me.’
‘Pretty much.’ He told me about his on-property living situation. ‘When I go eat, I don’t usually go no further than the Waffle House or the McDonald’s. Maybe across to the Airport Lounge at Holiday Inn—I’m buddies with some of the people over there—if I’m feeling, you know…a little frisky.’
If this was true then it meant that I could see every place David ever went simply by looking out the front window of the Days Inn. Did he really never go any further than a quarter-mile from his adjoined motel rooms? Didn’t he at least ever go to the grocery store? I wanted to ask him all kinds of questions, but I’ve learned it’s good when you start a new job to keep your mouth shut. For a while, at least.
‘Cool’ I said. ‘Well thanks for showing me the ropes.’
‘No problem. You seem like a smart guy. Only thing you have to worry about is being too smart.’
This sounded ominous. ‘How do you mean?’
‘The last guy we had, the guy you’re replacing, used to go sneak off into the rooms and sleep. Finally caught him one morning when housekeeping called me saying the office doors were locked and they couldn’t find him anywhere. I came in and dealt with all the guests trying to get in—hell, the krispy kreme delivery was stacked by the door, a bunch of people had helped themselves, probably guests thinking that was the goddamned breakfast buffet. Finally I got all that squared away and I decided to check the keys. The electronic set-up we’ve got, you can search the last key made. I saw that room wasn’t occupied and went and found him. Told him he could finish his nap but don’t bother coming back in the evening. You know the funniest part? Turned out the dumb son of a bitch had set his alarm for 5:00, only he set it for pm instead of am. Don’t know how long he’d been doing it.’
‘Yeah, I think I’ll just stay awake. Seems easier for everyone.’
‘Well hell man,’ David laughed, ‘I’m not saying nobody dozes off once in a while. I mean come December you’re going to have some nights where there ain’t even a dozen people here. I’m just saying if you’re going to be smart don’t get too smart.’
‘And if I’m going to be stupid don’t get too stupid?’
‘Exactly. But you know, if you do doze off, don’t be surprised if I bang on the window and scare the shit out of you. A man’s gotta have his fun.’
‘That seems fair.’
‘I just like to fuck with people sometimes, you gotta understand. Nothing personal. Hell, sometimes at Waffle House a bunch of cops’ll walk in and I’ll just take off out the door and start running across the parking lot like I’m trying to get away from them.’
‘Oh hell yeah I do. Those guys think it’s funny as shit. Every now and then they’ll have a rookie with them who doesn’t know me and he’ll chase after me. A couple of months ago this one guy tackled me and started putting the cuffs on and the other cops had to explain to him that it was just David being David.’
‘You’re lucky. In New York or some place that guy might have shot you, just on principle.’
‘Well that’s reason number 83 why I’ve never been to New York. Hell, I’ve never been further north than Asheville in my whole life.’
‘Why would I? Only thing they’ve got up north is liberals and STD’s.’
I couldn’t help but laugh. ‘You’re kidding.’
‘Prove me I’m wrong.’
‘There’s…well there’s…,’ there were so many things in the north, things that weren’t liberals or STD’s, that it was hard to know which one to pick. I decided to be as absurd as possible. ‘There’s baseball stadiums in the north.’
‘Well tell me this smart guy, what’s in all those baseball stadiums?’
‘That’s right,’ he smiled. ‘Liberals and STD’s.’
‘You see! Right there, you just proved my point.’
And that was the night I met David Hogan.