A Creepy Memory from the Past

There are some things that slip from this earth unnoticed and unremembered, lost until some sound or smell brings their memory back in vivid detail? That’s what happened last night when I tried to retrieve a favorite pen from behind the clothes drier.   I climbed on top of the running drier and “Shazam ” I was transported back 40 years. Back to when motels offered rooms with “Magic Fingers” vibrating beds.

None of the snooty, five star hotels had this creepy luxury. Only classy “Norman Bates” motels with that buzzing, flickering neon “vacancy” sign had vibrating beds.  The kind of hotel where a big greasy  guy in a sleeveless tee shirt met you  with your key. A real key, with a big plastic tag that displayed your room number.  If you lost the key you might come back to the joy of finding some stranger in your room.

“Around back,” greasy man would grunt above the sound of the oscillating fan.  This guy  almost always lived in a spooky room behind the front desk.  You could hear the TV and smell mushrooms or something.

Around back, the rooms themselves smelled like a combination of ashtray and Lysol. Whatever doubts you might have had about the quality of the motel were melted away when you saw that vibrator bed.  You knew you were ‘uptown!’  On the nightstand was a box with a slot for a quarter.

Park yourself on that bed, slip a quarter in the slot and some machine under the bed would shake you into a stupor for fifteen minutes.  I loved the sensation as your body was reduced to a useless puddle of flesh.  Think Jabba the Hut, only melted.

Motels don’t offer the vibrating bed anymore so If you long to know this sensation, curl up on your clothes drier while it is running.  It is best to do this when no one will walk in and question your sanity.  If you are caught you can always claim that you are trying to retrieve a pen from behind the drier.

Back to my story. On one particular afternoon, I checked into a hotel, fell exhausted onto the bed, and shoved a quarter into the shake and bake.  I could hear the soothing sound of vibration, but something was wrong.  I couldn’t feel anything.  I tried to lay down harder, a fruitless endeavor by the way.  Still I felt nothing.  The machine stopped and I found another quarter. I flopped around on the bed hoping to jump start the thing, I slapped the little box a couple of times.  After four quarters I finally rolled onto the floor and looked under the bed.  The entire vibrating apparatus had fallen from its mount and was merrily dancing on the floor by itself.

I was I was jerked back to the present by the sound of Diane’s voice. “Why are you curled up on the drier?”  She sounded a bit frightened.  “I’m trying to retrieve my pen,” I said.  “It’s around back.”

Have you ever been transported back to remember things that no longer exist?

What are your memories of those old motels?

Does ANYBODY remember  the vibrating beds?

Do you by any chance have a quarter I could borrow?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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41 thoughts on “A Creepy Memory from the Past

  1. I remember checking into just such a motel in Gorham, New Hampshire in 1979. There were no phones in the room. The “wake up call” was a knock on your door from the guy with no sleeves. If you had to make a call, you made it from the phone booth at the edge of the parking lot with moths flying around the light inside the booth.

    They provided you a square of paper that looked like the placemat from a diner, except it had a hole in the middle. It was supposed to be placed on the floor of the shower stall — so it would be SANITARY!! And the worst was that the vine that was growing on the wall outside the room, actually continued INSIDE the room. Who needed plastic flowers for decoration?? They had a live, indoor/outdoor plant!! Oh those were the days!

    • Lynnie, You are a wonderful writer. I laughed out loud at the vine, and shuddered at the piece of paper with the hole in it. Thank you so much for contributing to the conversation. You made my day!

  2. Why yes, I do remember the vibrating beds … and I ALWAYS have a roll of quarters handy. However, these days they get used for laundry. Or parking. (:oP)

    As for being memorilly transported (what?) back in time and remembering things that no longer exist, I’m at a loss. But if I do happen to recall something worthy I’ll know where to post it. (Think, Pooh … think!)

    • Terry!!!!!!!!! I thought you might have pulled up roots and moved to Canada! Oh, that’s right you live in Canada. I’m tellin ya, hang on to those quarters. One of those laundry driers on spin cycle is quite an experience. My teeth are still shaking. So good to hear from you again.

  3. This sounds a little morbid…but smells often take me back to PEOPLE who are no longer here.

    I remember when I was still in highschool…I was sitting in my English LIT class and all of a sudden I could smell my (deceased) great grandpa’s cologne…I don’t believe in ghosts or any of that silliness…but for a split second, I was a little freaked out! Then I realized…my teacher was standing close to my desk…turns out, he wears the same stuff my great grandpa used to 😛

    Another smell that knocks the silly out of my memory bank is the smell of sawdust…my Pappy owned a small family-operated sawmill/logging business most of my life…when I turned fourteen, I started working there through the summers and over some vacations…I have wonderful memories of working hard next to my Mama, Mammy, and Pappy…of filthy flannel shirts, holes in my old jeans, the muscles I gained from handling the lumber (not to mention the black rough hands or the sticky sappy hands…ick!), and the hilarious look of the truck-drivers – who delivered logs – as they watched three (fairly small in stature) women run the sawmill at a pretty good clip while my Pappy unloaded the logs from their trucks. Those are treasured memories now because my Pappy sold his mill (now he and Mammy make homemade wood furniture and trinkets). All it takes is the smell of sawdust to rocket me back to those wonderful and exhausting summers.

    I suppose it’s smells that trigger my memories…

    I’m only 24 so I don’t remember the vibrating beds…sounds a little icky to me…I think your dryer might be a better choice…less germs :P.

    Blessings Ken…you’re one of the funniest guys alive! My husband and I watch your DVD’s all the time and someday we hope to come see you when you come to Lancaster, PA. I really wanted to come this year…but I had just given birth to our first baby girl :). Maybe next year!

    Check out my blog if you ever find the time…
    http://www.thefarmerswifeashten@blogspot.com

    • Deborah, Wasn’t allowed to watch movies as a kid. Honest! However the movies that ran in my head were pretty scary. The movie about Norman Bates came out when I was much older. Always love your comments Deborah.

  4. Ken, you know those very expensive TemperPedic mattresses that have very expensive full-page ads in major magazines? They feel just like the quarter ones in the cheap motels of my youth. That’s the really scarey thing – inflation!!!

  5. Often when I smell fresh cut grass I am transported back to being a little kid playing in the back yard with my sisters as my dad was cutting the lawn.

    It is amazing how a brief moment can bring back so much

  6. I remember fighting with my brother over who got to use the “Magic Fingers” first. Like two scrawn kids wouldn’t fit at the same time. LOL!

  7. Oh my… when reading this I was immediately transported back in time to one of our family vacations (think Chevy Chase). Those were the days of no seat belts, kids on the floor and going 90 mph on the freeway. My dad was a “destination” driver — it was all about getting there with no stops in the fastest time. On one trip to New England we had spent about 12 hours in the car and my dad couldn’t wait to get to the motel (I always like ripping the stip of paper off the toilet that said “sanitary”, as if that were the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval and you could certainly trust that it was clean!) My mother always traveled with a bar (that sort of explains our family) and they had their evening drinks and we got into our hotel beds with dad happily climbing into the “magic fingers’ bed and popping in the quarter for his massage before a good nights sleep. Which would have worked had the bed not malfunctioned and never stopped vibrating all night long! It was hard wired into the wall so there was no way to unplug it and no place else to sleep (and no night duty help) so they ended up being “shaken, not stirred” all night long! My brother and I thought it was the funniest thing we had ever seen… except when my dad ended up being the crankiest person we had ever seen the next day! (I also remember we checked out of that motel in the wee hours of the morning!) Thanks for helping me to remember a crazy, childhood memory! What fun.

    • Karen, Your dad couldn’t have been a destination driver. I was a destination driver. Give me a cup of coffee and a pair of depends and don’t talk to me until we get there. That was when I was young. Just kidding. I don’t need the coffee.

      Sorry, I got carried away. Your story reminded me of the lady astronaut who drove to Florida to confront a rival love interest. Remember that? Now that was creepy.

  8. I remember the Niagara beds. I remember staying somewhere in New England on our way to Canada for summer vacation, and my parents trying it out…of course, all three kids piled on the bed too. I don’t think the vibrations really work when everyone is piled on and giggling like mad while the bed jiggles – like maybe us shaking and the bed shaking neutralized it?

    My memories of innkeepers aren’t quite as creepy as yours…our memories of summer trips to New Brunswick are “all good!” We usually stayed in “roadside cabins” overnight. We each got a new toy for the two day trip…packed the station wagon, put the masonite “boxes” my Dad made (from directions in Popular Science)on the luggage racks and headed north. Meals were always an event – we stopped at rest areas, out came the Coleman stove, the canned foods, the instant potatoes, the Spam?…we kids scouted to find the hand pump, the outhouses…and remembered “oh, we’ve been here before, this is the one with the stream!”

    Now we get on the highway and set the cruise control and stop at McDonalds…we get there faster, but it’s not nearly as much fun!!

    • Trudi, Thank you so much for your comment. I read the words, Popular Science and I was back in time once again. Sweet memories you shared. thanks

  9. Estee Lauder Youth Dew makes me cringe! While walking through any local shopping mall where you will find a gaggle of over 70’s classic ladies, doing their daily 2 mile walk, fashioned with red lipstick and a beehive hairdo; I smell the faint fragrance from times long past. GeeGee was her name. She was my maternal great-grandmother who came from a time and place unfamiliar to my way of living. She came from the generation of “switches”.

    While recently walking in the Cool Springs mall that flashback to my youth was undeniable. A little ole lady walked past me, followed by the trailing scent of Estee Lauder Youth Dew, and I found myself drowning in memories from the 60’s that caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up at attention. I could almost hear GeeGee, in her raspy southern drawl, encourage me to find my favorite tree in the back yard and return to her with the most appropriate piece of wood to punctuate my current sin.

    Yes, that’s right, I had smarted off to the wrong little ole lady. I had to pay the price and I knew that within 10 minutes I would feel the sting of rebuke while bent over her knee while she sat in her favorite rocking chair.

    Bless her heart, when she passed on to glory (as she called it) she left me that dang rocking chair and many left over boxes of Estee Lauder Youth Dew. To this day the back of my legs cringe in a reminder that duct tape is a wonderful investment. Granny didn’t play!!!

    Ahhh – the good ole days!

    • Lesa, For me it is “Old Spice” I can almost see my departed father when I smell it. A bottle only lasted him two or three day. I would give my right arm to have him here. He’s in Heaven now. Lot’s of angels sayin, “Lord, who spilled the Old Spice.

    • “Switches” yes that brought back memories. My grandmas used the same switch bush (a forcythia) on me that she used on my mom – and yes I had to pick my switch too…..agonizing over which one, thin or fat, leafy or sparse would sting the least. But thank the Lord she did that! I am a prime example of a child who was steered away from the wrong paths because grandma didn’t “spare the rod”. Thanks for the throwback to saner times. 🙂

  10. Great memory. I remember traveling to Princeton, Illinois with my mom and siblings. We had no reservations and kept driving past motels with the “No Vacancy” signs glowing. Finally exhausted my mother gave up and we stopped in a motel that catered to truckers in Atlantic, Iowa. There wasn’t even a Norman Bates type to check us in; a sign told us to grab a key off of the board with room numbers and take a room. The four kids were delighted with the magic motion of the bed but I doubt that my mother slept all night worrying about all of us. I would try the dryer thing but we have the tall energy efficient one that sits on a drawer for supplies. I would probably fall off anyway.

    • Mary Lee, A question and an encouragement.

      Question: In Colorado, we used to live across the street from a Mary Lee Mercer. Is that you?

      Encouragement: Climb that double decker drier thing. It might bring back some memories.

  11. Mr. Davis I didn’t even know these vibrating beds existed!
    I haven’t gone to a lot of these older motels but everytime we drive by one I think of the time my husband and I were suppose to have a romantic trip…
    We went to a baseball game and then planned to stay the weekend. My husband drove up to an ‘oh so creepy’ place and I kept saying ‘hun, I don’t know about this…’ but he was confident that this place he chose online was going to be great! 🙂 WELL we were going to bed and then out of the corner of my eye I saw the world’s biggest spider on the bed..I just wish we could have captured what happened next. I flew out of that bed and did the ‘ebee jeebee’ dance. I just could not return to that bed. Now I just can’t get comfortable with those old hotels! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Laura, Great story. I hate spiders. I would have went right through the wall. Evidently someone had a “website” in that room.

  12. Looking at bird houses now makes me think of my father-in-law who passed away in January. Today was Father’s day, so this was my sweet husband’s first Father’s day without his Daddy. We are in the military, and we are going to be moving back home soon(Kentucky).We’re in WA state now.

    There are lots of stories that we think of about our dear Poppa who is gone now and we laugh until tears stream down our cheeks. One in particular is that dear Poppa(who lived in Kentucky), put up a bird feeder at one end of his yard and a squirrel feeder at the other end. And he would not let one eat out of the others! He would sit at his kitchen table and watch out the window and he had ways of dealing with those who crossed over!

    So, knowing today was difficult for my husband, I told him that when we get back to KY and buy a house, we should celebrate Poppas life by putting a squirrel feeder and bird feeder on opposite ends of our yard!

    Thanks Ken, we appreciate your humor!

  13. Hello Ken — When I was 16 in 1974, I went to work in a tiny pizza place that had just opened a year or two earlier. The owner was a newly returned Vietnam vet who had been a sniper in the Army. His parents helped him run it until he could afford to hire a couple of high school kids to help him part-time. I was one of those first kids. My job was to answer the phone, take orders, make pizzas, deliver pizzas, wash dishes, bus the tables, fold delivery boxes, etc. I would go home after midnight on Friday and Saturday nights exhausted and smelling like pizza and sweat. My boss was loud and kind of coarse, but he was always fair and made excellent pizza — the best in town.

    In 2011, that same pizza place is still at the same exact location, with the same owner, the same menu, the same old-style cash register, the same oven, the same dough roller, the same hardwood booths. When I go in there to buy a pizza, it is like stepping back 35 years in time. The only things that change are the high school kids who work for him doing the same exact things I used to do — and getting yelled at just like I was.

    I heard through the grapevine that he is thinking of closing down the shop and retiring soon. I know it sounds strange, but I sort of welled up with tears when I heard the news. I guess I assumed the pizza place would always be there.

    I am not sure why your Magic Fingers story resonated with me — I’m old enough to remember them and the motels that they were in.

    I guess there is something bittersweet about the people/events/milestones/things that drift into the sands of the past.

  14. I don’t remember the vibrating beds, but I still remember the motel in Portland, Maine, where on June 10, 1973, my bride & I checked in on the first night of our honeymoon. VERY early the next morning, we heard men talking outside….I was CERTAIN that they were mobsters!…..We checked out at the crack of dawn!

  15. *hands Ken a quarter*
    The smell of peonies always takes me back. We’ve had at least one bush in every house I’ve lived in for as far back as I remember. This year I got rather nostalgic about the smell, because I’m getting married in the fall and moving from small town U.S.A to an apartment in the big city (really a metropolis). I’ve yet to see any peonies in the area…

  16. We never went to motels when I was little, my parents were too “conservative” (their pictures are in the dictionary by the word… Look for them!) If we had, my dad wouldn’t have let us waste a quarter on a jiggly bed. My parents have a tiny (think postage stamp) cabin in the mountains of Colorado. That’s where we went every summer. My dad was also a destination driver and my brother & I drove him nuts in the car. My father was a very creative and resourceful man however and figured out the best way to make the 8 hour drive tolerable. He built a wooden platform for the back seat that fit over the floor to be flush with the seat, stuck two sleeping bags and two pillows in the back seat and we left in the middle of the night. His solution to eight hours of “he’s on my side of the car” was to make sure that we slept for at least 4 or 5 hours of it. We always woke up around Sterling, CO to the smell of my mother’s thermos of coffee and packaged cinnamon rolls. The kind with very little cinnamon and sweet but slippery frosting. We only stopped in Fort Collins to get gas, groceries and “go”. The last chance at a flushing toilet for 2 weeks. Remember I said a TINY cabin…. toilet is in the back yard with a great view of the river. In those days the shower was a plastic barrel on stilts by the garage, now it’s in the tool shed. But the smell of the mountain air was delicious! As long as you weren’t down wind of the outhouse :}

  17. Ken,

    Vibrating Bed story brought back a memory of staying on the 9th floor of a motel in Chicago. I played bass guitar in a rock band and one of our recordings was climbing the charts. We were touring.
    Two vibrating beds were in our room and the band leader and myself
    laid claims to the beds as there were 5 of us in one room.
    We pulled the beds together and the drummer jumped in between us.
    He fell asleep pretty quick, The Band leader and myself got out of bed
    and pulled the beds apart. Bad Move!! He almost quit the band. He said we hurt him. Not a good idea after all.

    The drummer has passed away and the band leader and I still run together 54 years later and serve our Precious Heavenly father as praise band members. Thank you for what you do for so many.

  18. The last time I was in a motel with the bed vibrator, I bent down to explore it. The apparatus was plugged into the coin box. I unplugged it from the coin box and directly into the wall. My guilt of stealing vibrations only allowed me a few minutes of pleasure…

  19. Nice post and not so creepy !

    I remember those virbating beds also and still hope to find a dodgy motel with flickering neon light and the magic finger on my roadtrips one day….

  20. I remember also the motel coin operated TVs!!! The quarter lasted for 20 minutes, just long enough to ALMOST see all of Andy Griffith or a western and my brother and I were screaming Dad! We need another quarter! Hurry or we will miss the end of the show!!

  21. You may think they were just those “Norman Bates” motels, but in the 1970s my family took a couple of trips to Niagara Falls for a long weekend and we stayed at a Best Western on one occasion and a Holiday Inn on another. In both cases the room had beds with the “magic fingers” or vibrating option. This was the Ontario side of Niagara Falls so I can’t speak to the situation on the New York side. I also remember driving down to Florida in February 1978 and it was getting late and we were trying to make it to “South of the Border” to spend the night. When we got there we realized that it was the President’s Day long weekend and all the rooms were booked, as were the rooms in the nearby Ramada, Holiday Inn and so forth. We were beginning to think we may have to sleep in the car when we found an independent little motel called the Palmer House. It was much as you have described with the wonderful scent of stale cigarettes and Lysol, and as a bonus they did have one of those “sanitized for your protection” strips taped across the toilet seat cover. The 1950s era black and white TV and clock radio were bolted to the furniture and the linoleum tiled floors were showing their age. The half-empty swimming pool outside had an inviting layer of dead leaves and algae floating on top and at least one of the neon letters on the motel sign was noticeably dimmer than the rest, seemingly on its last legs. Nonetheless, after driving all day and just wanting a warm, soft bed to sleep in, the place was a welcome refuge for the night.

  22. You may think they were just those “Norman Bates” motels, but in the 1970s my family took a couple of trips to Niagara Falls for a long weekend and we stayed at a Best Western on one occasion and a Holiday Inn on another. In both cases the room had beds with the “magic fingers” or vibrating option. This was the Ontario side of Niagara Falls so I can’t speak to the situation on the New York side. I also remember driving down to Florida in February 1978 and it was getting late and we were trying to make it to “South of the Border” to spend the night. When we got there we realized that it was the President’s Day long weekend and all the rooms were booked, as were the rooms in the nearby Ramada, Holiday Inn and so forth. We were beginning to think we may have to sleep in the car when we found an independent little motel called the Palmer House. It was much as you have described with the wonderful scent of stale cigarettes and Lysol, and as a bonus they did have one of those “sanitized for your protection” strips taped across the toilet seat cover. The 1950s era black and white TV and clock radio were bolted to the furniture and the linoleum tiled floors were showing their age. The half-empty swimming pool outside had an inviting layer of dead leaves and algae floating on top and at least one of the neon letters on the motel sign was noticeably dimmer than the rest, seemingly on its last legs. I expected to find the vibrating bed in this place but there was none to be found; maybe the vibrating bed people have their standards and the Palmer House was not meeting AAA standards. Nonetheless, after driving all day and just wanting a warm, soft bed to sleep in, the place was a welcome refuge for the night.