In the Company of Men

Across America, Motel 6 and its affiliated facilities are being renovated, a project so huge that it’s taken years. I know, because I stayed in a Motel 6 one night in San Antonio, Texas, when I was traveling across the country with my friend, Justin, during the last week of 2009. We were operating under a serious budget, staying where ever was cheapest (and relatively safest) as possible. We didn’t expect much from the accommodations, except two clean beds and a door that locked, but we were pretty jazzed to find the new chic furniture and a flat-screen tv. Fast-forward to 2012, my then boyfriend of barely a year, TJ, left his home in Idaho to work on a Motel 6 renovation in Salt Lake City, Utah,  a job that lasted half a year, and was followed by a renovation in Phoenix, Arizona. You know a little about Phoenix.

Yesterday, I was getting ready to head to the gym much later than I normally went in the day. I’d gotten up early in anticipation of JK Rowling’s latest adult novel being available on my Kindle. I’d read till noon, went to lunch with TJ, and then gone to the beach to read some more. When I got home, I was feeling guilty about only making it two days in the gym before feeling like I needed a break, and I talked myself into at least attempting a short bit of cardio. I’d put on my gym clothes and was looking for my sneakers, when TJ came into our room. He asked if I wanted to go with him to another site to pick up some materials. I said no, and that  I was headed to the gym, but I could tell the way he turned away that he was disappointed, so I went with him.

After pulling into the Motel 6, TJ began to greet the men in tool belts and work boots, and loading supplies into the back of his truck. I sat in the front reading on my Kindle, paying no mind to anything happening around me. So I was surprised to hear someone other than TJ calling my name. It was Cody, a guy who’d worked with TJ at a renovation in San Diego, California. I’d visited TJ there during last Christmas break, and we’d all gone out for a few nights of debaucherous behavior. I liked Cody, and was flattered when he opened the truck door and leaned in to hug me. TJ had finished loading most of what he needed when Cody went around to his side of the truck and stuck his head in the window.

“What’re y’all doing after this? You done for the day?” This was addressed to TJ, to which he said they were mostly done.

“Why not stay here for a while. We’ll be done in fifteen. We can have a beer.”

And that is how I found myself sitting at table on a deck, self-conscious in my gym clothes, surrounded by six men I didn’t know. We’d gone to the liquor store and picked out beers — TJ and I were the beer snobs reading labels and checking bottled-by dates, while the other guys were All-Americans and went for Coors. To my left was Mel, brother to Stan whose son, Marshal, was only eighteen and looked twelve sat between him and Alan. Alan sat next to Cody, and Cody was next to TJ. We would later be joined by Charley, who pulled up a chair between the two brothers.

It was immediately clear the men were unsure of how to act around me. Years ago, I’d gotten pissed off at one of my MFA classmates for suggesting that all construction workers are crude and incapable of common courtesy, in particular to women. I’d been in the company of many rough-and-tumble men who treated me with respect. Of course, there are assholes, but we all know they exist everywhere. Still, I knew it was disconcerting for these men to be winding down from a labor intensive day and still try to be mindful of present company. I sat for a while. I let them talk. I drank my beer. I passed the ashtray.

I waited until the topic of conversation moved to something I could speak about — movies — and I chimed in with my own suggestion of Bad Grandpa and dropped a well-placed f-bomb. There was the briefest of pauses, and then the corsets began to loosen. They loosened even more when I reached  for one of TJ’s cigarettes. I’d wanted one, not because they were all delicately smoking around me, but because the Firestone Walker DBA beer was delicious and I was tipsy. I am not a smoker. It drives me bonkers that TJ smokes. But when I’ve had a few drinks, and someone is willing to share, I will smoke like a chimney. *shurgs*  I could tell by the amused faces of the men, they could tell that I was not a regular smoker, but it was enough to finally break the dam.

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I still didn’t speak much, only when I could add to the conversation, which was often raucous and obscene. They had a million inside jokes, that they happily explained to me without my asking, and they weren’t shy to give each other huge amounts of shit. Finally, I got hungry and I dragged TJ away to the In And Out burger and the liquor store for more beer. We came back, and the guys were surrpsied to see us. They’d thought I’d had enough I was dragging TJ home, but I was well on my way to drunk and I could tell TJ was enjoying the company. Hours passed, the sun was setting directly into our faces, so we opened more beers. The conversation turned to construction and ways to make their jobs easier. Stan had figured out a better way to set a cabinet. Marshal proudly displayed his calloused hands. Then there was tool talk: Ryobi and Milwaukee and Dewalt. Saw blades and Jackknifes and drill bits.

Finally, I understood how TJ felt at one of my MFA parties, where we stood around and talked about POV and character development. The men might as well have been speaking Greek. I let the warmth of the beer spread through me, and kept the cigarettes close at hand, until I could barely keep my eyes open. I then drunkenly demanded TJ take me home. The men were sad to see us go, and sent us off with sincere warm-wishes. Let’s do this again, they said. It was really great to meet you, they said. Bring her back, they said. And we left.

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