Straight out of school, my mother worked as an economist in Washington, D.C. Her boss – he must have been able to do many things right to be a boss – had, she said, the worst memory you could possibly imagine. He was also, I believe, just a teeny bit unobservant. She told only one story to illustrate how strange he was, but it was pretty convincing. I had forgotten this story for most of fifty years, but it has returned to me, and I'm delighted to share it with you now.
Mr. Boss often took business trips to Manhattan. He had a favorite hotel there, near Columbus Circle. For reasons that will gradually come clear, I shall call it: Hotel Bee. His secretary was well aware of his preference, and routinely reserved a room for him there.
On this particular occasion, Mr. Boss arrived in Manhattan, went to hotel in Columbus Circle, and – can you believe it? They had no record of his reservation. He raised a holy stink. The hotel was crowded, but eventually they found a room for him. Let's call it room #559. Mr. Boss parked his stuff and went out to dinner.
After dinner, he went to his beloved Hotel Bee, took the elevator to the fifth floor, opened room #559 with his key, and – you won't believe this – there was a woman in his room, and all his stuff was gone. Worse, it looked like she was actually staying there, there were women's things instead of his own.
After he demanded to know what she was doing in his room; after she demanded to know what he meant, barging into her locked room; they both went to the manager and raised a holy stink. There ensued a period of awesome confusion and shouting, which will make perfect sense to you when you know how they sorted things out.
When Mr. Boss had arrived in New York, he had gone to hotel Aye, which is quite close to hotel Bee. Of course, they had had no reservation for him. Mr. Boss might have noticed that he was in the wrong hotel, they don't all look the same. But after dinner, Mr. Boss went to Hotel Bee, where he did have a reservation. He might have noticed that he was in a different hotel. But he did not. He might have gotten a clue that something was wrong when hotel Aye's key failed to work in room #559 of Hotel Bee. But that's the strangest part of this story: somehow, it did.
We can draw an inference from this anecdote, and I think it supports my mother's point: you have to be a pretty strange person to fall into stories like this.