Monday, September 22, 2008

the man in 2804

On a late Spring business trip, I became hotel-bound, lolling in a fully loaded suite while a blizzard raged outside. At first, I laughed at the beauty of a system that delivered great plops of snow while a mere thousand miles away, my home glowed beneath the year’s first heat wave. By day three, I was sobbing into the telephone, pinning my despondence on the weather that ruined my high-heels.

I checked in, then floundered in the excess space, absorbed by the excruciating minutiae of an orderly room: fat fresh roll of bathroom tissue with end folded to a point, drinking glasses crowned with paper caps, brochures pushing local mustn’t-miss attractions, blankets pulled taught and phone cord coiled snugly. Once the shine wore off the all-access cable and playing bartender with pricey tipples of mini-bar gin, I skulked around the lobby like a hard-boiled detective, peaking around a folded newspaper and over the rim of my cocktail glass, projecting racy lives onto plain people with homely suitcases.

Languishing in my room, I imagined fanciful scenes of strangers converging and filled my evenings by inventing the overhead guest, fleshing him out from sounds that leaked through the night. At bedtime, I was lulled by the elevator shushing between floors and the man upstairs peeing, no flush. I’d say he peed more than average but about him I knew nothing more. I heard no footfalls, no visitors knocking or doors opening and closing – perhaps all that peeing occurred with the bathroom door ajar, with reckless disregard for privacy and no inkling that I was building him from the bladder up.

It was nearly June; yet, a rind of snow lingered in shady crannies for days after the storm. My trip wore on, the snow was scoured away by sloppy rain and my relationship with the hotel drifted into a fixation upon the man in 2804. I cast him aping my activities, narrating a routine for him as I went about my own. Perhaps he watches television and eats Chinese take-away straight from paper cartons. Maybe he saves the chopsticks for when the pizzeria forgets to include cutlery with the steaming cardboard box and single tin of Italian soda. After dinner, he might stretch his spine and legs, joints unfurling. I see us stacked one storey apart, bending to touch our feet, hauling in deep breaths, shushing stale air from dank bellies, lowering our chests to the floor. I can wrangle my body into bow pose; he tips side-to-side and just can’t get a grip on his left ankle. His neck strains and his cheeks get pinker. “Fucking yoga!” breaks into his thoughts of water, wind, silence and purity.

Or perhaps he’s a hotel deadbeat, wallowing in the seclusion of the “Do Not Disturb” sign, ordering and then only picking at room service treats, scattering towels throughout the freshly straightened suite, chugging child-sized servings of rye and screw-top wine out of the mini-bar then, come morning, ignoring the wake-up call he requested the night before.

My fantasy’s trajectory veered to the puerile, and our unconsummated affair remained chaste and surreal. Before I checked out, I said good-bye to the sound of my neighbour at the toilet – my neighbour whom I gave only luggage, a yoga routine and plentiful pee. Stationed at the window, I heard rain pelting the glass and pooling on the concrete sill, and piss pelting the water in the toilet upstairs. I heard myself breathing and the radio turned down low. No wind, no yard dogs, no kids or cars. Only water: falling from the clouds outside, and falling from a penis upstairs.

-Amanda Miller of Toronto, ON

Sunday, September 21, 2008

a place named for a cow

Visiting Hereford, Texas, a place named for a cow, I was forced to take lodgings in a small motel on the outskirts, because all other motels were full-up due to a cow-related event. The clerk gave me a room number but no key. I asked for a key. He said there were no keys, because "people busted all the locks." He did, however, walk me across the courtyard to show me my room. My room was not good. There was a brown blood-splatter across the television set and wall. I asked why. He said, "Meskins." The "air conditioning" was from a device known in Texas as a "swamp-cooler," a very apt description. There was no cable. The television set acquired two TV shows at the same time, one superimposed on the other. I watched both of them and was interested to discover that I could more or less keep up. The only phone service was through the desk clerk. He said I had to pay cash in advance to call long distance. When I walked back across the courtyard to give him the cash, two young cowboy types were sitting in the courtyard drinking tequila and arguing. I asked the clerk far it was to the nearest liquor store. He said it was 57.5 miles. "Dry county," he said. I drove it. Just as he said, the county was dry.

-Jim Schutze of Dallas, TX

Saturday, September 20, 2008

i almost threw up, but settled for crying myself to sleep

My husband and I were driving from Chicago to Massachusetts, and since that is a long trip, we usually stop for the night somewhere in New York. We were passing lovely pockets of hotel chains, but my dear hubby scoffed at them, saying that he wasn't tired yet. Of course, an hour later, he can barely hold his head up. So we stopped at the nearest motel. This was one of those "door open to the outside" motels where people (I imagine) get murdered. It was filthy of course, but after eating a meal of McDonald's (the only thing around and open, we would never eat that otherwise, blah), we started to get into bed. As I stepped to the edge of the bed, about to get in, I stepped on something sharp with my bare foot and look down. At the pile of toenails piled on the side of the bed. I almost threw up, but instead settled for crying myself to sleep - after I made my husband promise to let ME choose our hotels from now on.


-Anna Gregoline of Chicago, IL

Friday, September 19, 2008

my stay at the big chief

This incident happened several years ago. We were traveling through Colorado in the summer and decided to drive to Gunnison. We had been playing and arrived in town quite late. We saw the neon for the Big Chief and it looked quite sleazy and we laughed as we passed. Well we checked with all the other hotels in the area and as you can guess they were full. So sheepishly we went back to the Big Chief and yes they had a room. The room was very sketchy, so we unpacked and settled in. My son who was five at the time was thrilled and watched bowling on ESPN. I believe he was the only one who slept well. We were out of there at the crack of dawn.

-Lori Williams of Albuquerque, NM

Thursday, September 18, 2008

like walking into a time warp

My "favourite" worst hotel would have to be one we "stayed" at for about 10 minutes last summer in Oregon. I can't remember the name of the town as it wasn't an actual destination but just the place we ended up at the end of the day's driving.

My husband had to go to the bathroom and didn't want to stop at a gas station and since our choices of hotels were very limited due to the size of the town and all of the hotels we spotted having no vacancy signs he pulled into one that didn't look too bad. Usually we check out rooms before paying and hauling our luggage out of the car but not this time. We got our room key and headed to our room with our luggage and kids in tow. We actually were staying in a motel not a hotel as the door was outside and not down a hallway.

Walking up the stairs and to our room in the corner we started to get not so good vibes about our accommodations. The stairs and walkway were damaged and unswept and on closer inspection the building looked like it hadn't been painted in years.

After unlocking the door and depositing our luggage hubby made a bee-line for the bathroom. The kids and I looked around the small cramped quarters with a bit of disdain. The room was dark and dingy and the beds didn't look like a place I would want to sit on never mind sleep in. Being hopeful I started to check it for cleanliness because looks aren't everything. Dust on the baseboards and other flat surfaces hinted at the room either being empty for awhile or not being well cleaned. I spotted a fridge in a strange spot and proceeded to open the door but closed it just as quickly as it stank of mildew and needed no further inspection. I pointed this out to hubby as he exited the bathroom.

Our son came out of the washroom telling us about the leak in the toilet. We went in to inspect and found water coming out of the base of the toilet but luckily it was coming from the water intake and not the toilet bowl. Since we were already there our daughter took her turn in the bathroom giving us a couple more minutes to really see the room for what it was. We couldn't believe we were thinking of spending the night there.

We looked out the one small window only to spot a hotel hidden behind the one we were in. We got in the car and quickly drove to the hotel we spotted. They had a vacancy and we quickly took it but not before we inspected the room. The price was the same but this room was large and airy with a clean fridge and no water leaks.

We drove back to our first room to tell the proprieter about our change in plans. He apologized and told us that he just bought the place and was in the process of fixing it up. Wanting to retain customers he told us he had more rooms right next door he wanted to show us. Not wanting to be rude we agreed to view the "new" room.

As we followed the proprietor across the parking lot and down the sidewalk my husband and I exchanged looks wondering where we were being taken. By now it was getting dark and when we first spotted the outside pool our hopes brightened a bit. Then we noticed the pool covered in a black tarp and had a closed sign on it. Next we spotted old rolled up carpets thrown around outside and the shrubbery was all over grown. Going inside the room was like walking into a time warp and into a bedroom circa 1955. The furnishings were so old and mismatched we couldn't believe we were being offered these accommodations as being better than the previous room. We politely took a 5 second look around and declined the offer. Leaving the room we realized there were no other cars in the parking lot.

We went and gathered our luggage and canceled our reservation trusting that we would receive credit on our mastercard for it. No matter how much of a hurry we are in we always inspect rooms before accepting them.

-A careful consumer in Cranbrook, BC.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

you are so ugly I cannot look at you: three motel stories

Motel Story 1

Rachael, my sister , and I decided to drive around Puerto Rico one summer. Apparently this is something you can do in a day without interludes but we had read about paradors – guest houses -- throughout the island. With descriptions like ‘as you eat breakfast on the peaceful veranda , hummingbirds will sweep by’ we made reservations at all the spots where we planned to visit a site – El Yunque Rain Forest, the Phosphorescent Bay etc.

We checked into our second parador after San Juan and it resembled a dungeon-like dorm room. There were no hummingbirds during breakfast but there was a scowling hostess whose disdain for guests taking an extra piece of toast was very clear.

We decided to wing it and canceled our future reservations. When we got to our next stop we asked around and ended up at a motel with a broken concrete parking area filled with a pack of wild dogs. My sister conversed with the owner about staying and was told we could stay but only one night. She said the honeymooners were returning.

We got to our room and closed the tin door – inside it was sprayed in scrawling type “Check Out at 11!”The room’s shabbiness was masked by dense floral patterns and the toilet was contained in a semi circle plastic addition that was literally 1 in from the bed! We tried to imagine this honeymoon couple in this place. Apparently they had stayed there after their wedding and had conceived their 1st child there – and the next day they were returning to the scene.

We watched a show about spousal abuse that night. There was a man who would constantly say to his wife, “Turn your head; you are so ugly I cannot look at you."

We said goodnight with these same words to each other.

Motel Story 2

In Chicago we live near an old motel strip – the sorts of places with huge early Vegas like signs. These have seen their day but they were once frequented by rock bands when they came to town. They’re being torn down one by one now but in the late ‘90’s and up until now they catered to transient types, hookers and high school kids looking for a place to have sex.

My brother was planning a trip to Chicago and because he’s in a wheelchair we had to find a hotel to accommodate him. Keeping with family tradition (my Dad’s), he got sticker shock with Chicago prices and didn’t want to spend so much money on a place where he was just going to sleep. I told him about those motels & that they were gross but he said he didn’t care.

So I spent a day visiting these fine establishments. I went out armed with a yardstick to see if the doorways would fit his chair and to look at the bathrooms. There were doorways as narrow as 20 inches! Some places refused to show me a room because they thought I was a cop – that happened at a place where there was a man with a pasted on black moustache. You would think these crappy places might welcome business but some said they didn’t take reservations . Some asked how long he would be staying . When I said days they said ‘oh we only go by the hour.’ One room I was allowed to look at had a 100 pack box of condoms on the bedside table!

Needless to say my brother didn’t stay at any of these but Kevin & I did when we failed to make arrangements for ourselves while we had our floors refinished. We checked into ‘The Acres” which was supposedly a decent motel in my husband's youth—he & his sister used to sneak into the pool when they were young. Well the pool was no more on the day we were there and the carpeting revolting – thick and oily from years of filth – that we didn’t remove our shoes for the entire time. As we were leaving , I did the quick under the bed check to find an empty coke can & 2 Penthouse magazines. Super gross!

Motel Mississippi

Kevin and I flew to Memphis with plans to drive from there to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. On the plane he discovered that his license had expired so I got to drive for the entire trip. We hung out at the Peabody in Memphis – a swank southern hotel with a lobby of fountains, high tea, a flock of ducks (that lives at the hotel, upstairs, in a room, and each morning the red carpet is rolled out & they come out of the elevator and head to the fountain – then they head back up in the afternoon) and frequented by students of Ole Miss during the holidays.

We drove on from there to Jackson Miss – and stopped late night at a crappy motel that was ‘just a place to sleep’ as Dad would say. We were a bit scared by the place and enough so that we moved a dresser up against the door. In the morning we heard a knock. The person outside the door was telling us that our keys were in the door.

-Sadie Gerbic of Chicago, IL

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

an excerpt from the short story "a story to tell"

As he steps back into the office, Frank nods and says, “Night,” again. Frank closes the door and locks it behind Erik and Erik is alone in the Farm Inn.

Not knowing what to expect, he opens up the door leading into the hallway. The door shakes and groans like an alcoholic suffering through a case of the DTs. It needs a good oiling. The hallway seems to be lit by votive lights, it is so dim. In between the doors to the five rooms that line the hallway to his left are small plastic candles that are topped with dim orange bulbs that are shaped like flames. They blink slowly on and off to give the impression of a wavering flame. The hallway has a weird, throbbing orange glow. To his immediate right, Erik sees a set of wooden, handmade steps that look like a boy scout project gone wrong, like someone gave a fourth grader some 2 x 4’s, some nails, and a hammer. At the other end of the hallway is one door marked, exit and another marked, washroom. Three ceiling fans are spaced equidistant from each other, shoving around the stagnant, woodsy air in ineffective circles.

The walls seem to be made of reclaimed wood, maybe from other old barns, Erik thinks. They are roughly cut, unsanded boards and he doesn’t want to think about how many splinters he’d get by running his hand down one.

The steps sound like they’re going to snap or break with every movement he makes climbing up them. Erik runs up the remainder of them unleashing a chorus of racket like a set of creaky shutters getting tossed around by a storm. In front of room number 11, maybe ten feet from the stairs, Erik puts his bag down and inserts the non-black key into the lock, and opening the door. Just as in the hallway, his room is covered with a fake grass, plastic green carpet that he recognizes as the playing surface of miniature golf courses. He smiles to himself and decides that he likes this place. The exterior definitely has character, but the interior decorating moves it up into another level of novelty. It was 1989, he thinks, but there was no way that anything in this place was manufactured later than 1960. He couldn’t wait to tell everybody about it when he got home. Nobody would believe there’s actually a place like this out here, only in Wisconsin.

He should be carrying a putter over his shoulder and knocking around a bright pink ball through obstacles or under a windmill’s spinning blades on this carpeting. Do they vacuum this stuff or just hose it down and squeegee it off, he wonders. The first thing he decides to do is hit the bathroom before settling in.

Erik is surprised to find the fake grass covering the bathroom’s floor as well. Now he definitely hopes there is water and lots of soap involved in its cleaning process. A vacuum would not be sanitary enough. The bathroom is cleaner than he expected and he gives the bathtub/shower a cursory glance to decide if he will use it tomorrow morning. A dull orange ring circles the bathtub and he makes another mental note, this one deciding to skip a shower the next morning. He walks back to his room after emptying his bladder feeling hollow and ready to crawl into bed.

The bolt clicks as he turns it into the locked position and he steps up on to his bed to pull a chain and start the ceiling fan spinning. Erik plops down into a surprisingly comfortable bed and looks at the wooden, behemoth of a television set past his feet. A relic from the 50’s, he realizes it won’t have a remote and he doesn’t possess the energy to get up to turn on the thing and so leaves it off. There is a lamp on the right side of the bed on top of a nightstand with an ashtray sitting next to it.

Despite his lack of energy, Erik does not fall immediately asleep as is usually the case. The stuffiness of the room even with the fan turning gets to him and forces him, begrudgingly, to get out of bed and slide open the window of his room. A large reading chair is next to the lamp, in between the bed and the window. It is ugly, but looks comfortable. Covered in a standard black and red flannel pattern, Erik wonders how many lumberjacks were killed so that it could be made. Deciding to have one last cigarette before bed, he steps back on the bed and pulls the other chain down, turning the light off, but leaving the ceiling fan spinning.

Moving back to the chair, Erik sits down. It sucks him in, hugging him in all the right ways. He takes one long, first drag after lighting the cigarette and sets it down in the black, plastic ashtray on the nightstand. Nicotine fails at its job as a stimulant and now with a breeze drifting in through the window Erik falls asleep without even considering it.

The rumble of a truck engine shutting down and car doors slamming yank Erik rudely out of his slumber. His room smells of ash and he remembers the cigarette he only took one drag off of and sits up to see a cigarette’s length of ash leaning, propped up in the ashtray. The cigarette had burned itself out. He feels lucky to have not started a fire. Without thinking of it, Erik pulls out another cigarette and lights it, as is his routine upon waking.

The digital alarm clock’s red numbers glow 3:07 in the darkness. He had only slept for maybe an hour. Burning eyes force him to blink and he looks out of the open window to see what awoke him.

His room overlooks the parking lot behind the motel and he sees two men walking away from their Ford pickup holding what seems to be the figure of a woman between them. One man is tall and appears gaunt and pale wearing a black, leather, motorcycle vest with no shirt underneath it. He has long, black wavy hair that rolls back down his head all the way to his shoulders in a greasy waterfall of a mane that shines under the one bulb that illuminates the parking lot. The other man is at least a foot shorter, but is squat and round like an old Volkswagen Beetle. The fat man has a black t-shirt that’s probably a triple extra large but still looks painted on to his massive arms and stomach. His head is completely bald and he attempts to compensate for it by wearing a graying beard that is long and wiry. Erik immediately thinks of the beards he saw flipping through the sepia-toned photographs in the textbook for his American History: The Civil War class last semester. Together, the men look like some freaky biker version of Laurel and Hardy.

Erik sits up and leans in closer to the window’s opening. The lighting is poor, the single naked bulb not giving off enough light to let him get a good glimpse of their faces. The two men each have an arm around the blonde’s shoulders. Her head is lolling back and forth like she’s drugged or unconscious. As her hair reflects the light, it appears a platinum white. Erik thinks that it just might be Sheila before catching himself and realizing where he is, it couldn’t be.

Erik brings his cigarette up to his mouth, but then quickly pulls it down, worried that the men might see its glowing tip or the smoke rising from it. When he leans back away from the window, one of the men looks up towards his room. He doesn’t think the man can see him in the shadows.

Grinding the cigarette out in the ashtray, Erik listens to the men open the door and gently close it behind them.

Erik is afraid to move. Not sure that he understands what he just saw, he tries to decide if those men were just helping the woman to their room or if it was something else, something he really didn’t want to imagine.

Their silence is most frightening to him. They weren’t joking, laughing, or even angry, they just seemed calm and serious.

Another cigarette is lit although he had just put one out, if he could just find out for sure what is happening down there in that room. He has had too little sleep and doesn’t believe he is thinking straight...

-Dan Fleischhacker of Oakdale, MN