Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Memory Motel

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"

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)

This is a first draft of an article which appeared in Boating Local


Maureen@IslandRoar said...

Bittersweet memories.
Love the name Memory Motel.

Anonymous said...

The No Tell Motel. I stayed at a few of those. Got to love the cop car outside the place.

Mike said...

Been going to Montauk since I first got my license. Even now, with the ocean a short walk from my doorstep, the magic of a trip to Montauk gets us in the car heading east. A billion stars overhead, campfires on the beach...

Tom said...

Memory Motel has always been one of my favorites among the lesser-known Stones songs. Keith actually sings a bit of it. I've still never been to Montauk though. Nice post.

Baydog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Baydog said...

"She got a mind of her own- and she used it well"

I just got shivers typing that line. Matt, you sound almost as sentimental as I am!

Erin | Bygone Living said...

What a great account- I love those kind of the places.

Larry said...

When I read memories like that it brings back some of my own. It's interesting the way the brain works in connecting music with vivid memories. Certain songs can bring you back 30 years in the blink of an eye.

Baydog said...

When I was young, I couldn't understand how, in the summertime, anyone could stay at a motel that didn't have a pool!

Erica Houskeeper said...

What a great story. I'm guessing I was on this trip as well, but I was too young to remember. Sounds like a classic family vacation.

Baydog said...

Did I miss the post that revealed that Erica and Matthew were related? If so, don't fret, I am always the last to know about anything.....

Unknown said...

That's the way to do it. I have always wanted to camp at Hither Hills SP. They really are excellent beaches.

Thanks. Memory Motel and Time Waits For No One are probably my two favorites from that mid 70's period. As for Montauk, the town is nothing special, but there is a lot of open space.

You're not kidding. Even when I was tring to find info on the Manorville, the old ladies at the historical society were rolling their eyaes at me.

Thanks Erin, Thanks Maureen

Unknown said...

You have a lot of catching up to do;). On the left side of the page is a list of categories. Click UPSTREAM and you will get the whole scoop.

When dad tells the "bucking" story, this is the trip he is refering to.

Yeah, I had to use that police car photo. Also, the reviews at TripAdvisor are really funny.

It's as if a song is connected to the imagery part of the brain. All the sights, sounds, and smells seem to be connected to music. Meanwhile I can't remember the name of someone I met yesterday.

Anonymous said...


Unknown said...

Thanks Dad!
For a minute there, I thought you were going to start telling stories about some of our other infamous vacations.

Leslie Brill said...

Just noticed this post. Could it've been the Malibu Motel? It's the only place I can think of right near there that sounds like "Manorville," and I'm pretty sure it was around in the 70s.

Unknown said...

After further review, I believe Leslie is correct: it was called the Malibu Motel. At least someone still has a brain. Be sure to follow Leslie on twitter at @LeslieAnnBrill.

bonnie said...

Good storytelling. Thanks for re-sharing - so suitable for this time of year, when summer's still underway but you know it's going to be over before you know it. So wise of your parents to not let the summer's joys all slip by despite the sadness.

estherisla said...

Nice descriptions. My childhood family vacation lodgings are also etched deeply in my memory. Lucky for me, several of them are still standing so I can show my kids.