The Sleuth Between the Coats in the Hotel Cloakroom

Alice Garbarini Hurley
Jan 16 · 3 min read

You won’t believe who was lurking there. Rule Number 2 in my personal survival handbook: Avoid arguing in public; it’s not graceful.

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Coat Check Chimes, 2008, by Mungo Thomson.
Nickel-plated aluminum and steel.

My husband, Dan, and I have a lot in common. We are both writers. We like word play, reading and rhymes. We love “Svengoolie,” that campy, classic horror movie show on MeTV every Saturday night. We adore our daughters, and tulips and daffs in the yard. We were fans of Ralph Snodsmith’s “Garden Hotline” radio show until his passing.

But we also tend to bicker, argue and fuss, to lock horns. I’m not proud of that; neither is Dan. It’s something we’re still working on, 30 years into our marriage. We are bullheaded. It’s silly, because we can even manage to argue about what to have for supper.

Travel back with me now to the 1980s, to a writers’ event we attended one evening in a grand hotel in midtown Manhattan. We were not married yet, and both rising writers. We had paid to have dinner and listen to a panel discussion.

We were in the coatroom, before the event started, and arguing about something. I honestly don’t remember what. But I’m still embarrassed when I think about it, because we were bickering loud enough for others to hear. He was just getting me so mad.

Dan was wearing his navy blue blazer, and kept it on. I hung up my coat. I remember many rows of hangers. In the absence of coat-checkers, we roamed the cavernous room ourselves.

And then I heard a rustle between the furs and the trench coats, the rattle of hangers. I looked over and saw her. She was shorter than I had imagined from the beautifully styled photos on the back of her books.

It was Mary Higgins Clark, queen of suspense, one of the panelists that night. When our eyes met, she instantly pretended to busy herself with her coat, almost tried to hide behind it, but I knew she had been listening to us with apt curiosity. Her ear was cocked our way.

A writer needs to know — what is the dialogue, how do real people argue? What words do they use? Does the voice lift? After all, in Ms. Clark’s bestselling novels, some contrary conversations actually lead to murder.

Dan had interviewed Ms. Clark at her apartment in New York City years earlier for a piece in McCall’s Magazine. I don’t know if she recognized him, or his voice, at the hotel that night. But I remember his prepping for that interview, at my seaside apartment in Ocean Grove. It was a dark, stormy night and he was racing through her first brilliant blockbuster, Where Are the Children?

We kind of hurried out of the coat room, our tails between our legs. I was chagrined.

And that was my brush with Mary Higgins Clark, whose books I have breezed through on buses, trains and beach vacations. Her stories are true page-turners.

But if I could travel back in time to my younger self, I would have kept my voice down, not engaged in the squabble —and saved face.

Still, you can’t change the past, only the present. If we ever get back, post-Covid, into events and restaurants in our glittery New York City again, I will be careful by the coat check. Gillian Flynn could be within eavesdropping distance.

Alice Garbarini Hurley likes writing on her Rose Gold MacBook.

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Alice Garbarini Hurley

Written by

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Alice Garbarini Hurley

Written by

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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