Post midnight, just me and Stanley Cooper, Night Manager at the front desk in the deserted Lobby. Cigarette between two stained fingers, he paused to watch the smoke dart and weave upwards then waved me over to join him. “I’ll tell you a secret,” he said leaning in, “and you’re gonna think I’m doing the metaphor thing here…but I’m not. Straight as a monkey’s tail.”
He flicked the 1/2 inch ash from his cigarette into a styrofoam cup. “I’ve worked here almost 40 years. I know what I know. Let me tell you…this Hotel…it’s not made of wood or stone. It’s made of stories. Stories,” he repeated slowly, almost reverentially. “Everywhere you look. Everything you see.”
He gestured with his left hand. “There’s the bullet hole in the Ballroom ceiling. The initials TE carved into the piano bench of the Baby Grand in the men’s club. Not to mention the illicit photographs, watches, handguns and theater tickets we got stashed in the Lost & Found. Telltale clues left behind. Dig around on any of them…and there’s some whopping drama behind it!”
Stanley shifted his weight, took a long drag and continued, “Go a layer down and you realize that stories are like little magic pills. Swallow them and they can turn you into someone else, take you places you never even knew existed.”
He gave me that odd look again. “And you think the power comes from the the storyteller.” He shook his head. “It doesn’t. It comes from you, the listener. You’re the shaman. You’re the one performing the magic.”
Now Cooper was only a few inches from my face. I could feel his years of smoking, years of worries and hard thinking press against me…looking for a safe place to lay down his truths.
Then it hit me…and a chill spread down my spine. The Night Manager was wanting to reveal something terribly important here…as if he were trying to pass some unspoken torch to me. A moment of indecision, then I looked away. Not here. Not now. But I felt his urgency…and knew that this mystery would haunt me.
He stepped back, looked at me intently, then leaned in again to whisper in my ear, “And maybe, kid…just maybe, somewhere there’s a story, a big beautiful one, that underwrites them all…that makes it simple again…gives us back a little dignity. So listen up, son. Listen hard. Nothing will speak to you unless you listen.”
With that, he straightened up, crushed his cigarette against the cup and shuffled away. But the cigarette wasn’t fully out and the smoke continued to drift.