Storytelling at Work
May 14, 2020
Guns to My Head, Two Nights in a Row in a Seedy Boston Motel


3:00 in the morning is not my favorite time of day. Too early to be late and too late to be early, it's a nether world, a place no one wants to linger. Kind of like puberty.

It was this time of the day/night that I found myself in at the Homestead Motor Inn, five months into my tour of duty as the long-haired night desk clerk. The bar had just closed and I was attending to some routine administrative tasks. That's when a very forgettable looking businessman made his way across the lobby and asked me for some change for the cigarette machine, a public service I'd performed at least a hundred times before.

He gives me a $5.00 bill. I give him two singles and 12 quarters, sit down on my swivel chair, back to the lobby, and return to the book I am reading -- Trout Fishing in America. Two minutes pass.

"Oh, one more thing, buddy," he asks.

When I turn around, he isn't all that forgettable-looking anymore. He's pointing a gun at my head. Beckoning me closer with his free left hand, he puts the gun to my temple. The barrel is cold.

"Give me the money," he says, "or I'll blow your fucking head off."

Like a bit actor in "B" movie, I make my way to the cash register, pull out the bills, and give them all to him.

"Now get out from the behind the desk,"
he demands, signaling me to walk with him, across the lobby, to the men's room.

"Get in!" he blurts, pushing the door open. "And stay there!"

"Umm... how long do I need to stay?" I ask.

"Five minutes!" he barks. And with that, he is gone.


I didn't really have a big need to go to the bathroom, but since I'm here, anyway, I figure, what the hell, let's make the best of it, so I walk over to the urinal and take a leak. Then I look at my watch, wondering if five minutes has passed, when it dawns on me that the guy who just held me up is not waiting outside the bathroom door, timing me.

So I exit and call the cops. They arrive, grill me for 20, dust for fingerprints, and exit stage left, telling me they "will be in touch."

Two days pass -- 48 hours to think about what could have happened that fateful night, but didn't. The good news? The odds of it happening again were, statistically speaking, close to zero. The way I figured it, I had somehow, gotten this "hold up thing" out of my system and could get on with the rest of my life.

So there I am behind the front desk of the Homestead Motor Inn two days later when another forgettable looking man walks across the lobby. But this guy doesn't ask me for change. He just puts a gun to my head and repeats the mantra of the week. "Give me the money or I'll blow your fucking ahead off" -- a line, by now, I had down pat.

The only thing different about Gunman #2 is he isn't as smooth as the first guy. His hands are shaking. He's sweating and has a nervous look in his eye.

A professional victim by now, I already know the drill, so I walk to the cash register, open the drawer, give him the money, and walk myself to the men's room. I pee again, wait two minutes (not five), and call the cops. Again they arrive, only this time they relate to me very differently than before.

You see, the Homestead Motor Inn hadn't been held up in five years. Now, two out of three nights, it's been robbed and I am the only eyewitness -- me, the long-haired, new-in-town, anti-establishment desk clerk.

Things weren't looking too good for me.

That's when the very avuncular Detective Wallace puts his arm around my shoulder and asks me to confess, explaining, in a soothing voice, how he understands how tough it must be for someone like me, being new in town, to be living on such meager wages.

"But... I... didn't... do it," I manage to say.

That's when the second detective steps forward.

"Mitch, since this would be your first offense, things should go relatively easy for you. Just tell us what you did."

"Like I said, officer, I didn't do it. I'm not your thief."

But the two detectives are not convinced. And the more I proclaim my innocence, the more they see holes in my story. The weird thing? The more they treat me like the thief, the more guilty I feel -- a mix of knowing I could have done it and how I usually behave when I go through airport security and nothing beeps -- even though I'm sure there must be something beepable on me.

"Here's the deal, son," Detective Wallace tells me as he leaves. "Tomorrow, we want you to come down to the station house and look through some mug shots. You know, to see if you can find these guys, eh?"

So the next morning I make my way to the station house and spend two hours thumbing through mug shots. Page by page I turn, bad-ass looking criminal after criminal staring me smack in the face. The first book yields nothing. But then... halfway through the second... I see him, the second guy, the nervous guy. It was him!

"Are you sure it's him?" the detectives ask. "Are you absolutely sure?"

"Well," I reply. "I'm, like, 99% sure."

Neither of the officers of the law are happy with me.

"You can't be 99% sure, Mitch! You gotta be 100% sure! The judge will throw us out of court on our ass if you're only 99% sure."

The guy I pointed to in the mugshot book, explains the detectives, is "a two time loser". He'd just gotten out of jail three months ago and is working in a home for the mentally disabled only five miles away. If it wasn't me that stole the money, they said, it had to be him.

"Just say the word, son", they explain, "and we'll put this guy away for 10 years."

"Like I said, Detective, I'm only 99% sure."

"OK, we get it, young man. So, here's what we're gonna do, see. Tomorrow, we'll pick you and drive you down to his place of business and then we're gonna walk him by you, nice and slow. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod. Kapish? See you at 2:00."

I didn't sleep well that night. The scene had changed. No longer was I a bit actor in a "B" movie. I was now the star in a Kafka novel.

The ride to the Home for the Mentally Disabled was not what I would call a joy ride. I sat in the back seat doing my best to seem innocent. The cops sat in the front seat doing their best to be pissed. When we arrived, they walked me down a long, tiled hallway and sat me down on a hard wooden bench.

"OK, Mitch. In a few minutes, we're gonna walk this creep right by you. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod. That's it, nod. Got it? We'll take it from there."

I can see by the way the "creep" was walking toward me that he was attempting a very different gait than the guy who held me up two nights ago. It was, shall we say, a casual gait, a "I-think-I'll-get-a-twinkie-out-of-the-vending-machine-gait" -- not a "Give-me-the-money-or-I'll-blow-your-fucking-head-off-gait" -- his version of the way I'd been sitting so innocently in the back seat just minutes ago.

The detectives stare at me, waiting for the nod.

"Is it him?" they mime.

" looks a lot like him," I reply. "I'm... like... 99% sure."

Now the cops are really pissed.

"OK, Mr. Can't-Make-Up-His-Fucking-Mind. Here's what we're gonna do. We're gonna sit this guy down in the room across the hall and we're gonna interrogate him. While that's happening, we want you to walk up to the door, look through the window, and get a good, long look at him. If it's him, all you gotta do is nod."

They set the scene. I walk to the window and look. The guy definitely looks a lot like the guy who held me up. In fact, he has a lot of the same features, But am I 100% sure? No, I am not. And I tell the cops so -- which is not, at all, what they wanted to hear.

"Mitch, we're gonna give you one last chance. One... last... chance. You stand right here. Don't move. We're gonna walk this asshole up the hallway so the two of you will be face-to-face. Get it? Just you and him. Don't worry. We'll be standing nearby. Nothing bad's gonna happen to you. All you gotta to do is look him in the eye and nod if it's him. That's it."

So there we are, the two of us -- him, the two-time loser mopping floors for a living and me, the long-haired, night desk clerk with not a single eyewitness on his side.

It is quiet in the hallway. Very quiet. Late night at a seedy hotel quiet after everyone has gone home. We are standing there, him and I, three feet apart. He is staring at me and I am staring at him.

"Hello, again," I say, in my mind.

"Shit!" I hear him think. "Have mercy on me, man. It was only 800 bucks."

"But dude," I think, "robbing people ain't cool. Somebody could get hurt."

From behind me, I hear a voice. "Is it him? Is it him, Mitch?"

I look at him and he looks at me.

"Like I said, Detective. I'm only 99% sure."

Game over. The two-time loser turns and walks away. I ride back home in the back seat of an unmarked vehicle.

Excerpted from this book
Photo #1: Max Kleinen, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at May 14, 2020 08:01 AM

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Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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Storytelling for the Revolution
Storytelling for the Revolution is Mitch Ditkoff's newly published book about the power of personal storytelling to elevate the conversation on planet Earth. Provocative. Evocative. And fun. YOU have stories to tell. This book will help you tell them.
Storytelling at Work
"The world is not made of atoms," wrote the poet, Muriel Rukeyser. "It's made of stories." Learn how to discover, honor, and unpack the stories of yours that show up "on the job" in Mitch Ditkoff's award-winning 2015 book, Storytelling at Work.
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Storytelling is an "unconscious competency" – an ability we all have that all too often remains inaccessible to us. Enter the Storytelling at Work workshop – a simple way to activate this powerful, innate skill.
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