People familiar with our writing assume Michael and I live in a world of junky old cars, cheap motel rooms, and all-night diners. Yes, we fell in love with Jack Kerouac’s open road and Edward Hopper’s diners; but there is a shadow side to us not often seen.
As much as our hearts are in the images of mid-century America with its corny roadside attractions, chitlin struts in the deep South, and church suppers in the rural Midwest where Kool Aid is dished out alongside hot beef casseroles, there is a part of us that loves nothing more then getting off the road and wallowing in overwhelming luxury.
More specifically, we love wallowing in luxury that someone else is paying for. This luxury has pretty much disappeared, but back in the 1980s publishing houses treated their writers like royalty. Nothing was too good or too fancy to indulge in, and you didn’t even have to be a best seller. Pretty much any old mid-list author or bumbling professor was sent on a book tour fit for a king.
And that is how we became self styled denizens of the high life. It is fun to think back to those times when we could pretend we were rich and famous. Our beds would be turned down with a mint placed on the pillow and we wrapped ourselves in towels as soft as clouds.
It was de rigueur to be picked up and chauffeured around a city in a stretch limo. We were booked at Ritz Carltons and Four Seasons. We never had rooms, we had suites; and our travel budget was unlimited… which meant calls to room service for more champagne, bigger shrimp cocktails, and juicier steaks. Staying at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, I once charged a Gucci purse to my room and no one at at our publishing house mentioned it. At the end of a month-long book tour we never saw a bill and came to believe that we really were high toned rich people.
The problem is we do not make very convincing high toned rich people. It was beyond fun to bask in such luxury, but somehow we always blew it.
One time we were staying at the fabled Bel-Air hotel in California. No, we did not have a room; we had a whole bungalow, just as movie stars are given. We were shown to the gorgeous accommodations by a very stiff man in a very stiff suit. He had a European accent, and, as he was the General Manager, he walked ahead of us as if leading a parade. We schlepped along behind him.
He opened the door of the bungalow and ushered us in. It seemed to go on forever, as big as our house in Connecticut. On the table were gigantic strawberries dipped in dark chocolate, a bottle of Dom Perignon in an ice bucket, a spray of red roses and a bowl of caviar with toast points and lemon. He pointed out the signature swan-shaped soaps in both bathrooms, the phones to summon room service or the spa, and other amenities that included designer terrycloth bathrobes and a well stocked mini bar. Finally, he gave us his card and said he was available if we needed anything.
We held our breath for a few minutes and when we were sure he had left, we both screamed in unison and jumped up and down with glee. “Holy shit, can you believe this place!” we blurted out and squealed like happy pigs at our good fortune.
This all might have been fine until we realized that he had not left the bungalow. Because it was so spacious, when we began screaming and jumping he was not yet in the foyer. Hearing his footsteps we froze until the front door closed.
Our faux pas were not over. That night we went to the hotel dining room for dinner. It was the whole gourmet extravaganza: big padded leather menus, amuse bouches, a six-course meal with wines to match, palate-cleansing sorbets, flaming desserts and lots of bowing and scraping by the tuxedo-clad waiters. Stuffed, we finally extracted ourselves from the cushy banquette and left the restaurant.
If you have not had the privilege to stay at The Bel Air, let me explain that this hotel masquerades as a botanical oasis. The bungalows and guest rooms are tucked away behind the most exotic flowers and manicured shrubs. We headed down the curved pathway to our bungalow. It was night and as quiet as only an obscenely expensive place can be. In the stillness, we heard footsteps. We quickened our pace, which I can only explain that I, as a New Yorker, and Michael, who was born on the South Side of Chicago, never let our guard down.
The quicker we walked, the closer the footsteps got, and pretty soon we found ourselves running along the garden path, certain we were about to be mugged. We threw ourselves at the front door of the bungalow just as the footsteps met ours. We turned around to face our pursuer, who turned out to be our tuxedoed waiter, now dripping with sweat. “Sir, you left your note pad on the table,” he said with a discrete bow. I was sure he would tell the General Manager.
I know there are “no fly” lists of undesirables that airlines won’t allow on board. To this day I imagine two mug shots of us in the Bel Air reception area with a “Do Not Book” notice underneath.