In August of 1972, my grandfather on my father's side passed away. It was the first time I was old enough to have a grasp of what death actually meant. My father, just 42 then, had lost both of his parents to the ravages of cancer. Only now that I am of a similar age can I comprehend how life-altering and difficult that must have been for him at that time.
In those waning days of August, with the school year fast approaching, my parents attempted to salvage something from that summer of loss by loading us all in our Buick station wagon and heading for Montauk Point. We only spent about four days there, but when I look back now, it seems like we spent a month.
We visited the lighthouse; we swam at the beach; my older brothers went bluefishing with my father; we walked the docks at sundown; played miniature golf; and ate lots of seafood and ice cream. Willie Mays was on TV in a Mets uniform, and Saturday In The Park was played in heavy rotation on our transistor radio.
But what I remember most about that time is the Manorville Motel. It can only be described as a sort of third rate romance, low rent rendezvous kind of place. If not for it's location, it would have been considered a dive. Who am I kidding? It was a dive, plain and simple,.....even by Montauk, 1972 standards.
In the adjacent unit were a couple who never seemed to leave their apartment, or go to sleep. The two-inch walls that divided us from them were no match for the arguing and crashing that took place daily. Like an x-rated version of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Wolf, I learned all kinds of new phrases about sexual inadequacy, alcohol abuse, and dysfunctional relationships ( I misconstrued most of the words, but my friends back home were impressed nonetheless). On the final night of our stay, a police car arrived and the apartment next-door went silent.
As you might have suspected, we never went back to the Manorville Motel. In the 1990's, I went looking for it and discovered it was gone. The buildings have all been demolished, and no one seems to remember much about the roadside motel that still lives on inside me.
There is that old saying about how we die twice: once in our natural death; and again when there is no one left who remembers us. It happens with cheap motels too, in a much shorter span. Time rolls over everything, and even I am beginning to forget many of the details from that infamous trip nearly 40 years ago. I am no longer too sure it was called the Manorville. There are times the name sounds right, only to be followed by second guessing and a feeling of doubt. If only there had been a song written about the Manorville.
A few miles down the road on the Atlantic Ocean side of town is the perennial dive Memory Motel, complete with curio lounge and live music on weekends. A few years after our visit, the Rolling Stones stayed at Andy Warhol's Montauk house and immortalized this cousin of the Manorville with their 7 minute song on the Black & Blue album. The motel has been able to capitalize on this fame for 35 years. The Manorville was never that lucky.
Today there are coffee table books and websites solely devoted to the "Roadside America" that many of us still remember fondly. In movies they have practically become a cliche. It's funny, how in photos and in film, they always look better than the actual buildings today. Built with the cheapest materials possible, and designed for a quick buck, theses tributes to aluminum, formica, and paneling, haven't aged very well. They always appear better through the filter of memory, or better yet,...the melody of song.
"It's on the ocean, I guess you know it well"
YouTube: Rolling Stones, Memory Motel
The American Motel: Vintage Photos
Trip Advisor: Memory Motel Reviews (you've been warned)
New York Times: Montauk Footnotes (scroll down to #2)
photo credit: Wikipedia (top), Lisa Carpenter, Rock & Roll Landmarks (bottom)