I love an empty hotel room. There’s nothing here to interfere with my thoughts. Nothing and no one to disturb me.
I don’t stay in hotels rooms much, maybe, once or twice a year. The air conditioner/heater hums like a saintly presence. It fills my mind with the soothing thrum that tells me I’m not home. That’s what’s important here. I’m not home.
I don’t get away from home much. The kid, the wife, and the dogs take up most of my time. When they aren’t around, writing and reading occupy the hours before they all need something from me. Evenings I walk the dogs. I watch a movie before I go to bed.
Life is like that these days. Easy. Comfortable. Predictable. Sometimes I pine for the old days when crises plagued me every day, it seemed. You get used to that sort of thing. When it’s gone for a while, well, you wonder, what’s next?
That’s where this history conference comes in. It’s what’s next. It’s all right. There’s not much exciting about history conferences. I suppose it’s a time for colleagues to get together and listen to new ideas. The historians get out of their lonely, isolated offices and away from other faculty. For me, it’s a time to leave home for a few days, take a little stock, and write something that’s completely unrelated to my other work.
I hear them out there, those historians yukking it up at the bar. They are a merry bunch. They will be there until 9 or 10, then they will go to their rooms and read books or watch television. Good for them. I think to myself, maybe I should go down to the bar and introduce myself. But, nah, I’m old now. I’ve become asocial in the last few years. I don’t go out. My acquaintances call every now and then. I have a regular brunch with my friend Stan. Gary meets me for coffee every now and then.
When I was younger, I feared a lonely death. I needed friends and would do just about anything to make sure I saw and was seen. I was never the popular kid but always dreamed of being popular. I moped when I had a Friday night alone. The phone’s silence drove me to the depths of despair.
At the same time, I suffered debilitating social anxiety. Meeting new people was the scariest thing in life. Walking into a room full of strangers was like falling into a snake pit. I compensated. I was loud and made jokes. I danced too much.
Social situations were always much better when someone, anyone talked to me first. But I’m sure that’s true for just about anyone. And, so, today I find the one person in the room who looks as needy as I do and talk to them about anything that strikes me.
I will let the conference sessions break the ice tomorrow. People will ask me about the details of my paper. They will congratulate me. They will provide reasons for introductions and conversations. Someone might even ask me to join them for drinks.
Tonight, it’s good enough not to have people need me or for me to have to do anything. The television isn’t too loud. The dogs aren’t barking. It’s just quiet but for the merry-makers out in the lobby, and even they will fade in a little while.
I sit in my room, channel surfing and feeling just about as all right as I ever feel. No dogs. No wife. No kid.
In my solitude, I contemplate hotel rooms. There’s not much difference between them. Some are nicer than others, and this one’s nice. No less than six pillows lie on the bed. An ante room has a nice dining-room table, some chairs, and a fine television. This room, the bedroom, is as big as my living room at home with twice the gravitas. A mirror stands behind my writing table.
My biggest decisions are these: How many pushups will I do to keep myself in shape for sleep tonight? Will I take another walk through downtown Omaha? Can I finish an essay that’s about really nothing at all? What can I watch on television that won’t make me feel like I’m wasting all my time?
I live a life of leisure.