Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Blast radius

The Sheraton in downtown Atlanta has seen better days. 

As one of those older middling chain hotels that have outlasted the neighborhood that originated it, it has lost its luster and the sense that anyone working in it truly cares. One of the lamps in our room was clearly broken, its shade tilted at a maniacal angle — easily fixed with a new ferrule; the room came with samples of someone else’s hair left behind for the finding in the shower; and a half-used bottle of shampoo was placed back alongside the sink as though it were new. 

This hotel has another particular distinction, as I told the front desk clerk. “I’ve stayed in hotels of all sorts all over the nation, but never before have I stayed in a room that has had zero trash cans in the room. Can you please send up two trash cans, one for the bathroom and one for the bedroom?”

The sign above, outside the 8th floor elevators, tells you all you need to know about the hotel’s upkeep. None of this was apparent in advance from the hotel or online reviews, and none of it was upsetting enough to warrant switching hotels, given the plans my girlfriend and I had made.

One thing the Sheraton does have going for it is the saltwater swimming pool, a large protozoan shape with an actual deep end of 11 feet, an expansive lounging area surrounding it, and, best of all, a glass ceiling that opens to let in the sky and the sun. Swimming in this pool felt like swimming in an ocean grotto, as you float in warm buoyancy and bask in the mild sunlight to the backdrop of birdsong from outside. I suspect some people book this hotel purely for the pool. It played a big role for me. Even though I was in Atlanta for only two full days, I used it both days.

One of the people I saw enter the pool near me was a mutilated man who had clearly been caught in a blast radius. Judging by his age, I figure he got disfigured in Iraq or Afghanistan by an explosive device that went off near his right side. Most of the skin on that side of his head, and face, and arm, and back, had been shaped and restored with varying success, his right ear was surgically stapled shut with thick clamps of steel, and his right eye was reduced to a sliver of redness, like an open gaping wound with a bit of pupil left visible and seeing.

I did not take a photo. No one with any sense of decency would. I also didn’t stare, and for the same reason. But I did take it in, at a glance, as he bobbed near me, just as anyone would.

I don’t know this man’s story, because I didn’t ask, again because of decency. He’ll never again have a fully private moment in public, but he’s entitled to whatever vestige of that that he can get. I may be right (or wrong) about how he suffered these injuries, but there’s no dismissing the impact of them, physically or emotionally.

But we can take comfort in knowing that there’s more than one kind of blast radius.

Because here’s how he was swimming:  in the arms of his woman, an attractive blonde about his same age who held him and stroked him and kissed him. Anyone would be lucky to be within range of this sort of love. Not just the man, but also the rest of us who got to see it and feel it.

And because of the blast radius from this message, written by a Chinese student and seen this morning in the rose garden outside the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site visitor center by visitors from around the world, including me.

Sometimes when we don’t realize it, we’re about to be shattered by love.

3 Responses to “Blast radius”

  1. Joe Stafford Says:

    Regarding hotels: Yep I’ve seen stuff like that. I had an overnight stay in Orlando recently (Kissimmee actually, god help me.) – – there were no glasses, trash cans or extra TP, it was a Marriott. History will judge the detritus of our once dynamic culture. In the wings now are new generations that will take a try at making it new again. We’ve been good at that before.
    Your swimming pool encounter makes me think of just how much of the human experience is visible now. The ADA, made law by Bush 41, provides freedom to people that didn’t have it before. Other freedoms meantime, may be headed to the oversold column, and like in other markets, correcting the errors of that sell out will take a long time. The question I’ve got is now that the R’s have the questing beast, where do they lock it up? There’s no second act after 40 years of quest for just that ONE thing. I can’t wait for them all to realize that, but I really believe they will.
    That little card you found though, look at that blast radius, all the way from China. When the love hits you, whether you realize it or not, it’s fairly the most amazing feeling ever!

  2. Dan Says:

    Only you could wrap up Deterioration, Mutilation, and Love in a few hundred words.

  3. Oleg K Says:

    I don’t encounter words that are new to me that frequently these days so I was excited to learn “ferrule”!

    If we’re sharing hotel stories, I was once the stage manager / tech person of a haiku poetry conference held on the Queen Mary. Aside from the hokey ghost tour (talk about death…), my room was a dump — dirty, stained carpets, weird decor, dank lighting, and as I discovered in the morning, a shower that was nothing more than a leaky showerhead (it took several calls to their front desk to get it fixed). But that was not the worst of it…In the middle of a talk by an eminent speaker on haiku from Japanese internment camps, the ceiling in the corner of the conference room started gushing water — a torrential downpour. That was an interesting phone call I had to make to explain that to Queen Mary staff, some of whom were straight-up daffy. In planning for the conference, the person in charge of bookings couldn’t (or didn’t want to, I don’t know) answer basic questions like where the plugs in the 3 conference rooms we rented were located. This was important to me since I was setting up tech for a full 2.5 days of non-stop conference. I had to firmly explain to her that she could simply walk over their from her office and take some photos for me. I have not been back to the Queen Mary since. She is no royalty to me. The tech guys were cool, though. They were the only people who worked for the Queen Mary who actually made my life easier.

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