Every time I watch a Cops episode that takes place in Albuquerque, I see motels that I used to flop at. The Desert Sands, The Aztec, De Anza Motor Lodge, and that place not too far from Jack’s liquor store, I can’t remember the name. Let’s call it, The Place with a Lobby that Smells like Curry. It had a parking lot littered with used syringes that would poke into your shoe when you stepped out of the car. Shell casings, condom wrappers, and empty crack vials scattered like pinata candy.
Okay. Hey, it’s only 28 bucks a night. I hope the pool is clean. No, there’s no fucking way. I can imagine what kind of biohazardous broth would be brewing in there. What’s up with the dudes by the car? Hang back a bit, and see who they are before you walk by. Looks like an ex-con convention. Homey over there is printing some kind of a cannon through his flannel. Oh, it’s okay. They’re guests of the motel. They’ll be right next door.
I checked in once and couldn’t get in. I worked the key for a while, then gave up and went to see the Singh-meister. He went up with me and used his master. He opened the door and explained that the lock had never been the same since the cops broke it in. I nodded. Fucking cops. I wondered which episode.
One night I was standing in the bathroom, taking a whiz. I looked over to the little window and saw a bullet hole through the glass. I could see it in the mirror and was able to line up the shot with my head. A clean kill. Better then than now, I thought. I zipped up and ducked down a little to flush. It started to overflow, so I went back into the room and closed the door. Too much flushed stash in the plumbing. Common problem.
I was lying on the bed once, watching the aforementioned Cops television program. There they were, at the same motel I was at, busting a tranny for drugs. I knew it was a pre-recorded show, but still had to look out the window. You really feel like you’re at Ground Zero.
Casey was one of those chicks all too familiar with motel rooms. Tired and fading fast. She had a pill problem crowning the rest. She was an accomplished shoplifter and from what she told me, used to do nails for her friends. Her old man just got sent back for a violation. By my calculations, that gave our relationship a built-in expiration date, a sixteen month max. Perfect really.
We had what I call a stripped down affair. Just the bare bones. Expectations and questions were kept to a minimum. We were both hiding out from our demons, and happened to wind up in the same abandoned shack. We would pool our meager resources while we could, then when nothing was left, we’d split up, every man for himself. Just like in the Westerns. A brief, blurry chapter in our dusty epic saga.
There would be no picking out a jug band for our haystack wedding. No vacations with the in-laws to Busch Gardens. No nice lawn furniture. No noose.
Besides, she wasn’t the marrying type. I had seen the cracks in her cranium where all the craziness leaked out. That’s why I hid the heat from her. She didn’t need to know where the piece was. Bad enough I knew. It was a big deal for us when I started leaving my wallet out. Nothing takes a relationship to the next level like that. Except telling her where you keep the gun, and we weren’t there yet.
Across from the Desert Sands was The New Chinatown, a restaurant with a torch-lit tiki bar. It was a stereotypical Trader Vic’s knockoff. Decorated with fake Polynesian bric-a-brac. A skinny Hawaiian guy named Freddy played Tiny Bubbles on a Casio keyboard. It was where we used to go on our date night. I would imagine we were in some clip joint in Saigon ’67, just digging on the air con, Mai Tais and opium. Outside the streets were on fire with war, but inside this corny coconut tacky tiki tongo bongo room–things were cool…and silky smooth.
I was always trying to create sanctuaries. This one had a writhing Asian woman dancing on a small dance floor. It actually did, but she was a chunky middle-aged waitress who would come up and dance the hula while Freddy turned a dial on his pretend piano. Hardly prurient fare. My ideal sanctuary would have something a little more tangy than that. But this still beat stepping in a punji pit of dirty needles out there in the field. If safety means cornball, sign me up for cornball.
There was a gentle surreal quality to the place, that made you feel like you were moving through a long summer afternoon nap. Things are important, and then they aren’t. And then they are again. Murky thoughts, bizarre ones, trivial, terrifying, blank ones. Lots of different ones that cancel each other out and leave you shrugging. It’s hard to take anything serious in a place like that, except maybe the prices.
We’d sit around and check out the squares on their way to the restaurant. I would give her my running commentary, impressions I would receive as a psychic empath.
“She scrapbooks, and he cheats on her with her sister. He also likes model trains and scotch. This one next to the register, collects shells and has chronic gas. Her husband recently misplaced the garage door opener. They have a son in Dallas who works for a bottling company. He likes teenage girls and Kung Fu movies.”
She’d laugh, and we’d sip at our beers. Sometimes we’d debate whether to get one of those volcano drinks. I wasn’t so sure they were such a great deal.
“Jesus, six-fifty? That’s two of these beers. Do you think the booze in one of those is worth it?”
“Can you drink the shit in the middle? The stuff they light?”
“The Sterno? You want to drink the Sterno?”
“I don’t think it’s Sterno, I’m pretty sure they use some high-octane grain alcohol to make it burn.”
“Why don’t you just ask them? Ask if you can drink the Sterno.”
“I just don’t want it to be a gyp.”
“This date is a gyp.”
“Okay, fuck it. You want one? I’ll get you one.”
“I don’t want one now.”
I’d sit there wishing a VC would throw in a grenade through the window and put us out of our misery.
It wasn’t always bad. We had our laughs. One day in our room, we heard the guy next door rocking it to his woman. He was a real Bronco Billy. Their headboard was banging against our wall. We sat there looking at each other amazed, wondering when their bed would give.
“I bet he doesn’t smoke cigarettes,” I said, “His stamina’s pretty good.”
Finally, just when you could hear things were reaching a crescendo, we heard a long, loud fart, then silence. Oh shit. We died. Both absolutely helpless with laughter, but trying to be quiet. She contained herself enough to pant out, “Just because…he gave up cigarettes…doesn’t mean…he…gave up smoking!” I nearly peed myself.
One afternoon she left to shoplift from Mervyn’s and never came back. That was it. I don’t know if she bailed on me or got busted. I chose not to investigate. I decided she saw the light to get clean, and left me for a better life. She was such a good shoplifter, it’s impossible for me to believe she’d ever get caught. I think she just got tired of my shit.
Why wouldn’t she? I was even tired of my shit, and I was biased.
I was paid up until the next day. I waited as long as I could, then went back up to Santa Fe. I thought about her for a while after that, and then hardly at all. Casey. She was alright. She never stole a dollar from me, and she liked Iggy. I hope she made it. I don’t like thinking about her getting sucked down under, into the propeller. I regret not buying her that volcano drink.
When I was a kid, motels were as fun as life got. The color TV was usually better than the one at home. You could jump on the beds, and there was a Coke machine right down the hall. A pool with a slide? Kill me dead, I’ve gone to heaven. I’ve never had to do homework in a motel room, and we got cereal in those little boxes you ate them in. You kept the milk in the sink with the ice from the ice machine. “Gotta get more ice,” you’d say, and if you were like an old friend, stick your bare feet into the bin, just so you could wriggle your little toes in all that slippery cold. Innocent joy. A fix I hadn’t had in a long time.
I’d lay there at night, drinking, listening to the sporadic gunshots or neighborhood dogs howl every time the sirens went by. I’d feel the surrounding bleakness leak under the door with the toilet water. The landscape matched the man. Desolate. Collapsing. So different from the kid bouncing on the bed. It took a lot of bad decisions to get there, but only one good one to get me out. I definitely should have made that left turn, way before Albuquerque.