When my brother and I would visit our Mom down in New Jersey in her latter days, we would need to find places to stay in Toms River. It's a weird feeling having to do that, when you grew up in the town. I had always seen The Cedars motel when going up to Lakewood on Rt. 9, and now I gave it a second look. The place had always looked picturesque to me; charming little cabins nestled under the trees, each with its softly glimmering porch light. This trip, there was a No Vacancy sign lit up on the sign in red neon, which was discouraging, but when I phoned the next morning I got the welcome news that a cabin would be available that night. I made a reservation without delay.
The Cedars Motel, Toms River, around 2000-
The door is stuck. I'm jiggling the key, twisting the door knob, and finally I lean in with my shoulder and give a powerful shove; the door bursts open. It is a bare, shabby room before me; not even an end table by the bed or a chair to put my clothes on. The paint is fresh, though. That's why the door was sticking, and why a powerful smell of turpentine is mixed with the strong odor of disinfectant and decay that greets me.
I am surprised at how sparse the room is. The only furnishing besides the sagging bed is a rickety dresser with a broken TV on it. The TV is not plugged in, and there are a few of its parts lying on top. No phone, either, which is inconvenient, as I don't have a cell phone. I get some tissues from the bathroom, and ball them up to wipe off the top of the dresser, so I could make a space for my suitcase. The tissue comes up black. I have to throw the used tissues in the corner, because there is no trash basket anywhere. (Actually, it's toilet paper I'm using; there are no tissues.)
I remove two drawers from the dresser, and turn them on end to place by the bed. This makes a cozy little end table, so I have a place to put down my watch and clothes, and a book. That's nice and convenient.
Curiously enough, the bathroom amenities, besides soap, include a new comb, toothbrush, and razor. I would rather they had given me a bath mat, though, to cover the uneven linoleum where the corners are sticking up. Anyway, I have to leave my shoes on because the carpet around the bed is wet. It seems that they had just been trying to clean the carpet, but there are still grimy tracks through it, and a powerful musty smell like an old dog. And the carpet is too wet for walking on in socks.
Earlier in the day, when I had called about the room, the man had quoted me $55. for the night, but when I arrived, he informed me that he had forgotten that the summer rates were in effect; it was going to be $75. He was very apologetic; he would let me have it for $65.
Then I took out my wallet to pay, and the man informed me that he can't take credit cards: the machine is busted. He showed it to me. Then he also told me he can't take a personal check either; it's cash only. I finally came to the late realization that the usual clientele of this establishment consists of indigents, who are provided with a State Welfare check. Those are good. The man told me that when the credit card machine broke years ago, they just left it like that, as it was no longer needed.
I did have the cash on me, but just a few dollars more than 65. The man generously agreed to waive the sales tax, and make the price 65 even, so I wouldn't be flat busted. What a deal. He seemed like a nice guy, but I could tell he was wondering what I was doing there.
So finally I got checked in, and now I find myself lying on the hard bed, in the glare from the naked ceiling bulb. Over my head, the disabled smoke alarm is dangling by one wire, and through the thin wall I can hear a man shouting at someone in the next cabin. He sounds drunk and furious. That's surprising, in a nice place like this.
It is late. Eventually, I will have to put on my shoes, so I can get out of bed without getting my feet wet. I'll walk across the sodden carpet to switch off the light. Then I will lie back on the sagging bed, in the glare of red neon gleaming through the thin curtains, and the rumbling of trucks down Rt. 9 will eventually rock me to sleep.
I emailed this story to my brother. He had also seen this motel many times, and he had thought it looked interesting too. He emailed back and said, "Thanks a lot for letting my wife see this story. Now she'll NEVER agree to let us stay there!"