“What’s a six-letter word for ‘smells bad?’ Hmmph. New York Times crossword you ain’t,” Stanley grumbled, as he penciled S-T-I-N-K-S in the 12-Across spaces. “And ‘stinks’ is right. I hate this place. I hate this job. I hate the people who come here.” He bore down on the pencil so hard, the lead snapped. Sighing, he threw it down.
“This place” was the Nighty-Night Motel. Situated on the outskirts of a tiny town you never heard of, it was dumpy and run-down, and the decor hadn’t changed since 1967. “This job” was “Nighty-Night” Auditor – and not only did Stanley hate the job, but he REALLY hated the title and the stupid hat. “The people” were a varied lot: some truckers, some individuals looking for themselves, the occasional runaway. All of them had a general air of weariness, like the motel. Stanley couldn’t remember the last time one of them had smiled. For that matter, he couldn’t remember the last time HE smiled.
“My life is not the stuff of dreams,” Stanley said dramatically. From his spot on the filing cabinet, Chester the cat opened one eye, meowed something that sounded a whole lot like “Oh, please!” and stood up, stretching. He stalked over to Stanley’s crossword and plopped himself down on it. Stanley could have sworn the cat was smirking.
“What do you know, Chester?” he muttered darkly. “You’re a cat. You don’t do anything because you don’t want to. I don’t do anything because I’m stuck in this podunk town with no way out and nowhere to go, anyway. My life sucks, and there’s not a darn thing I can do about it. Ever since Barbara died…” But he couldn’t think about that. Nothing good could possibly come from thinking about that.
DING. The door chime rang. Stanley glanced at the clock. 2:47 am. A young woman with long blue hair and pale skin approached the counter. She looked nervous. She’s gonna ask me for a room and she’s got no money, Stanley thought. If she’s desperate enough, she’ll offer me whatever she does have in exchange for a place to sleep. God knows what she has – I don’t want it. He forced a neutral expression.
“Welcome to Nighty-Night Motel. How can I help you?”
The girl spoke in a low, surprisingly melodious voice. “Would it be okay if I just sat here in the lobby for awhile? It’s cold out there, and, um…” She shook her head. “Well, my friend – er, I guess you’d call him that – just kicked me out of the car at the last exit. And he kept driving…”
“Oh,” Stanley said stupidly. He was at a loss. I should give her a room. That would be the nice thing to do. But she could be some kind of crazy maniac, and plus, the boss wouldn’t like it…still, though. It’s cold out there and she doesn’t even have a jacket. And I don’t THINK she’s crazy, except her hair. He sighed.
“I don’t have any money,” the girl said flatly. “And I’m not going to ask you anything inappropriate. I just want to sit for a few minutes and clear my head. Please.”
“Yeah, okay,” Stanley decided. “I got stuff to do. You can sit over there by the TV.” He pointed to a brown plaid armchair which had seen better days. The girl smiled gratefully and went to sit down, and Stanley started his audit.
Half an hour later, he realized she was no longer in the lobby. When ten more minutes had passed, and the girl hadn’t come out of either the lobby restroom or the kitchenette, Stanley thought he’d better look for her. The last thing he needed was some vagrant girl’s disappearance from the motel on his watch. He stepped out the front door and realized he hadn’t heard the chime that would have told on her, had she left. He glanced around the parking lot, walked the pool’s gated perimeter. The girl was gone. Sighing again, he went back inside.
The girl had flipped the TV on before she left. At this time of night, all that was on was infomercials, which Stanley found unbearable. How many stupid, unnecessary contraptions could people come up with – and then convince other people to buy? He shook his head. As he reached to shut it off, he heard the words “Jesus glasses.” Jesus glasses, he thought. Sure, I’ll get a set. They can go right up on the shelf next to my devil dishes. But the man on TV wasn’t pushing drinking glasses. He had a pair of what Stanley would call spectacles in his hand. They had small, rosy lenses, and as the man put them on his face, his entire demeanor changed.
“Folks, let me tell you!” he exclaimed, “You’ve never seen anything like this before. These glasses are amazing! You put ‘em on, and all of a sudden, no matter how bad things look around you, it’s like you can only see good stuff! Yep, these Jesus glasses will change the way you see things – and they can be yours for only $7.77 plus shipping and handling. Call now, and you can have your choice of this Long-Haired-Hippie Dude style –“ he indicated the glasses on his face “- or you can upgrade for free to the Ultra-Super Mod Fly Eyes! Call now!”
“There’s a sucker born every minute,” Stanley announced as he shut the TV off. “And I ain’t it.” Chester, still stretched out on the crossword puzzle, rolled over on his back and said, “Pffft!”
A week later, Stanley came in for his regular Thursday night shift. As he dropped his keys on the counter, he saw a padded envelope jutting out of his mailbox. But just as he went to grab it, a tour bus full of little old ladies pulled up to the motel, and he spent the better part of the next hour assigning rooms to the CanastaBabes. Finally, he checked the last one in and talked Bertha-with-the-walker out of a second-floor room. He turned his attention back to the envelope.
“You send me something, Chester?” he said to the cat as he opened it up. Chester said nothing, but flicked his tail languidly and peered at Stanley out of one half-open eye.
“Hey! What the — ?” A pair of rosy-lensed spectacles slid out of the envelope. There was a tag attached to one earpiece, and Stanley saw the words “Try me!” He felt vaguely like Alice in Wonderland. “Why?” he asked. “Why should I try them on?” But they seemed to have some kind of strange power because the longer he held them, the more he began to want to try them.
“Oh, all right. Fine. There.” He shoved the glasses roughly onto his face. Chester began to purr loudly. As Stanley looked around the motel office, acclimating to the pink tint of the lenses, he felt his lips stretching into a smile. He was suddenly very happy to be at work.
DING. The door chime rang, and there stood Bertha-with-the-walker, glaring at him from outside. She had an ice bucket lodged under one arm and was breathing heavily. Stanley saw the coral slash of her lipsticked mouth moving furiously. As he opened the door, he was enveloped in a barrage of words. “Why-didn’t-you-answer-the-phone-and-the-ice-machine-is-broken-and-you-need-to-do-something-about-it-or-I-want-my-money-back-right-now-are-you-listening-to-me?”
Before he could protest that the phone never rang, Bertha’s face changed right before his eyes. Suddenly he was seeing a pretty young woman with bright green eyes. She had an old-fashioned hairstyle, and she was animated and charming. As he watched, the face stretched and sagged and wrinkled, the eyes grew dull, and the expression soured until he was looking at Bertha again. Stanley shook his head, confused, and said, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry for your inconvenience. If you’ll hand me that bucket, I’ll be glad to bring some ice from the kitchen to your room, and I’ll also take a look at that ice machine.” He got the ice and offered to escort her back to her room. It was a slow trip, and as they walked, he pondered what he had seen.
When they reached Bertha’s room, he set the bucket down on the dresser and tipped his hat, which he didn’t find quite so stupid anymore. Three other ladies were seated on one of the queen beds, and they all stared at him over the tops of their playing cards. As he made eye contact with each one, he saw her face change like Bertha’s had. I am so confused, Stanley thought as he headed back to the office.
After three weeks, Stanley had gotten fairly used to seeing people’s faces change, and he even somewhat anticipated it, but he still didn’t know what he was seeing or why he was seeing it. What he did know was that he had begun to be much more patient with people. One night, as he sat doing the audit, Chester jumped to the floor and began walking in a figure eight, purring loudly. It looked for all the world like he was weaving in and out of someone’s legs, but no one was there. Or at least, Stanley couldn’t see anyone at first. And then a man stood in the office, and Chester was indeed wrapping himself around the man’s jean-clad calves.
Stanley made a move toward the gun he kept in the hotel safe. The man laughed and said, “Stanley, you so don’t need to do that. I’m here to explain to you what’s been going on.” He perched on the edge of the counter and swung his bare feet back and forth.
“Who are you?” Stanley asked. There was something very familiar about the man. Maybe this guy has stayed here before, and that’s why I think I know him.
“Before I answer that,” the man said, “let’s talk a few minutes.” He pulled his long hair back off his face. “First off, throw out the devil dishes.”
“What?” Stanley asked, startled. “I don’t have any such – hey! Are you the host of that infomercial about the pink glasses? Is that why you look familiar?”
The man laughed again. “What do you think about your glasses? Has your vision improved?”
“Glasses? What glasses?” Stanley had completely forgotten about the pair on his face. “Oh, yeah, these…but you know, I HAVE been seeing some weird stuff lately…didn’t know if I was getting senile or what.”
“What have you been seeing?”
“Well, it’s like…seeing people like they used to be. Before life got to them. And I saw this one kid like he was going to be when he grew up. I dunno. I…it makes me not get so aggravated with people, though.”
“How do you feel instead?” the man asked gently.
Stanley heard something in his voice and looked up. The man was looking at him thoughtfully. “I feel…I feel like I know them. Or like I know something about them, but I can’t put it into words.” He laughed, slightly embarrassed. “It’s like almost finishing a crossword puzzle and I can’t figure out the last couple of clues. And there’s no answers in the back of the book.”
“Stanley. What you’ve been seeing is people as they ARE, people as I created them to be. Each person has a destiny and a purpose, and you have been seeing that.”
“But…but how? And what do you mean, ‘as you created?’ Who are you?”
“As to ‘how,’ do you remember a blue-haired girl who came in to warm up awhile back?”
“I sent her here. Do you remember what she was watching on the TV?”
“It was an infomercial for some kind of glasses…the guy called them ‘Jesus glasses’ and said if you tried them, you’d see everything around you in a different – hey!”
The man waited quietly, smiling.
“But how did I get a pair? I sure didn’t order any pink glasses! And why are they pink?”
“How you got them is unimportant. Why you got them is what matters. You got them because you chose to let that girl sit in your lobby, knowing she had no money, instead of kicking her out into the night. You saw a tiny bit of who she was. I like her blue hair, by the way. Anyway, I decided that since you were open to seeing a little all by yourself, I would give you my eyes so you could see more. And the glasses aren’t PINK, incidentally. They’re ROSE.”
Stanley had the sense that something very important was happening, but he still couldn’t quite grasp what. “Your eyes?” he said hesitantly. “Then you’re Jesus? But you don’t talk like what I thought Jesus would talk like. And you look like a hippie. Oh, sorry. Guess I shouldn’t say that to you, huh?”
The man laughed. “A lot of people get weirded out because I don’t speak King James English. But, yes. I AM that I AM. There, didja like that? Except, actually, if that were King James, it would be ‘I ART that I ART.” He jumped down from the counter, and Chester made a beeline for him. “As far as the hippie thing, it’s hard to keep a good stylist when you move in and out of time, so I just let my hair grow.”
“What’s a seven-letter word for ‘unbelievable?’” Stanley muttered.
“Haha!” Jesus crowed. “Surreal! But this really isn’t. At least, not to me. And the more you see the way I see, the less weird it will be to you, too.”
“Okay,” Stanley said. “But what am I supposed to DO with what I see?”
“I just want you to treat people with honor. Be encouraging. You might be the only one who can see something good in a person – and that good needs to be spoken. People need to know they have a destiny and a purpose. Show it to them.” He picked up Chester, who began purring in overdrive. “I’ve got to get going. I have to be in Akhtubinsk about 17 miliseconds ago. But I never REALLY leave you, you know. That ‘lo, I’m with you always’ stuff? It’s true.” So saying, he tipped an imaginary hat at Stanley and disappeared.
Six months later, a young woman with long blue hair drove into the parking lot of the Nighty-Night Motel. It had been painted a shiny white, and she could see cheerful, modern furniture through the glass lobby door. She felt a small pang of nostalgia for an ugly brown plaid chair and smiled. A cat perched on the counter, and behind the cat, a man with a happy face and a silly hat attended to his guests. He wore a pair of small, rose-tinted spectacles, and the girl thought they suited him perfectly. As she backed out of the parking lot, she saw a barefooted man with long hair standing on the side of the road. She pulled over and picked him up, and together they continued down the highway, headed for the next town you’ve never heard of.