from The New Yorker
THE VOYEUR’S MOTEL
Gerald Foos bought a motel in order to watch his guests having sex. He saw a lot more than that.
By Gay Talese
I know a married man and father of two who bought a twenty-one-room motel near Denver many years ago in order to become its resident voyeur. With the assistance of his wife, he cut rectangular holes measuring six by fourteen inches in the ceilings of more than a dozen rooms. Then he covered the openings with louvred aluminum screens that looked like ventilation grilles but were actually observation vents that allowed him, while he knelt in the attic, to see his guests in the rooms below. He watched them for decades, while keeping an exhaustive written record of what he saw and heard. Never once, during all those years, was he caught.
I first became aware of this man after receiving a handwritten special-delivery letter, without a signature, dated January 7, 1980, at my house in New York. It began:
Dear Mr. Talese:
Since learning of your long awaited study of coast-to-coast sex in America, which will be included in your soon to be published book, “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” I feel I have important information that I could contribute to its contents or to contents of a future book.
He then described the motel he had owned for more than ten years.
The reason for purchasing this motel was to satisfy my voyeuristic tendencies and compelling interest in all phases of how people conduct their lives, both socially and sexually. . . . I did this purely out of my unlimited curiosity about people and not as just a deranged voyeur.
He explained that he had “logged an accurate record of the majority of the individuals that I watched”
and compiled interesting statistics on each, i.e., what was done; what was said; their individual characteristics; age & body type; part of the country from where they came; and their sexual behavior. These individuals were from every walk of life. The businessman who takes his secretary to a motel during the noon hour, which is generally classified as “hot sheet” trade in the motel business. Married couples traveling from state to state, either on business or vacation. Couples who aren’t married, but live together. Wives who cheat on their husbands and visa versa. Lesbianism, of which I made a particular study. . . . Homosexuality, of which I had little interest, but still watched to determine motivation and procedure. The Seventies, later part, brought another sexual deviation forward, namely, group sex, which I took great interest in watching . . . .
I have seen most human emotions in all their humor and tragedy carried to completion. Sexually, I have witnessed, observed and studied the best first hand, unrehearsed, non-laboratory sex between couples, and most other conceivable sex deviations during these past 15 years.
My main objective in wanting to provide you with this confidential information is the belief that it could be valuable to people in general and sex researchers in particular.
He went on to say that although he had been wanting to tell his story, he was “not talented enough” as a writer and had “fears of being discovered.” He then invited me to correspond with him in care of a post-office box and suggested that I come to Colorado to inspect his motel operation:
Presently I cannot reveal my identity because of my business interests, but [it] will be revealed when you can assure me that this information would be held in complete confidence.
After reading this letter, I put it aside for a few days, undecided on whether to respond. As a nonfiction writer who insists on using real names in articles and books, I knew that I could not accept his condition of anonymity. And I was deeply unsettled by the way he had violated his customers’ trust and invaded their privacy. Could such a man be a reliable source? Still, as I reread the letter, I reflected that his “research” methods and motives bore some similarity to my own in “Thy Neighbor’s Wife.” I had, for example, kept notes while managing massage parlors in New York and while mingling with swingers at the Sandstone nudist commune in Southern California (one key difference: the people I observed and reported on had given me their consent). Also, the opening line of my 1969 book about the Times, “The Kingdom and the Power,” was: “Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places.”
As to whether my correspondent in Colorado was, in his own words, “a deranged voyeur”—a version of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates, or the murderous filmmaker in Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”—or instead a harmless, if odd, man of “unlimited curiosity,” or even a simple fabulist, I could know only if I accepted his invitation. Since I was planning to be in Phoenix later in the month, I decided to send him a note, with my phone number, proposing that we meet during a stopover in Denver. He left a message on my answering machine a few days later, saying that he would meet me at the airport baggage claim.
Two weeks later, when I approached the luggage carrousel, I spotted a man holding out his hand and smiling. “Welcome to Denver,” he said, waving in his left hand the note I had mailed him. “My name is Gerald Foos.”
My first impression was that this amiable stranger resembled many of the men I had flown with from Phoenix. He seemed in no way peculiar. In his mid-forties, Foos was hazel-eyed, around six feet tall, and slightly overweight. He wore a tan jacket and an open-collared dress shirt that seemed a size small for his heavily muscled neck. He had neatly trimmed dark hair, and, behind horn-rimmed glasses, he projected a friendly expression befitting an innkeeper.
After we had exchanged courtesies, I accepted his invitation to be a guest at his motel for a few days.
“We’ll put you in one of the rooms that doesn’t provide me with viewing privileges,” he said, with a lighthearted grin. He added that, later on, he would take me up to the special attic viewing platform, but only after his mother-in-law, Viola, who helped out in the motel office, had gone to bed. “My wife, Donna, and I have been careful never to let her in on our secret, and the same thing goes, of course, for our children,” he said.
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