A violin curls and flits.
Smattering of images, little electronic pings, smears of pixelated colors, odd static, noise, bits of poetry;
Hark! What light through yonder window breaks?
It’s just the shadow of Norman Bates
He holds his mama and he hugs her tight,
and then he stabs her with a kitchen knife…
Acid tweaks streak across the darkness of my eyes, spinning nuclear hazard symbols…
NUCLEAR WINTER FAST APROACHING.
“Kiss your ass adieu!”
I’m descending. I cannot see, but I can feel the weight of my legs getting heavier. All of the blood is coalescing in my abdomen and flooding downward. I feel dizzy. My ears pop.
And then the hotel:
A towering foyer allows overcast light to skim placidly through a prism of leaded glass which reaches from the floor to the ceiling encased in beautiful twisting yarns of metal yearning upward. I am standing there, mouth gaping at it – this miraculous architecture. The beveled contours of glass scatter the impotent rays over everything in a dull grey situation, casting no shadows on the serpentine mosaic embedded in the floor, its bedraggled teeth, drunken eyes askew, as if the craftsman who made it was out of his mind. Bushy dragon eyebrows waffle toward the perimeter of the room, leading one’s gaze along their crazy trajectories.
Only until the visitor follows the dragon’s gaze throughout the room cluttered with antiques does one appreciate its genius. The room is an art nouveau cage; the lamp and the chair are Tiffany, another table and chair – more art nouveau. A little bronze figurine on the table features a woman with little pert breasts, hands aloft holding an orb. The surface of her skin is fit with a dull layer of dust, which the light of the room cannot penetrate. The table is simply beautiful – a stained glass thing with tiny electric lights beneath which illuminate the room making radiant watery patterns on the sofa and chair next to it.
Huge arched doors extend the height of the wall, overlooking statuary filled with old vandalized copies of Greek and Roman figures. I see a broken lock on one of the doors through the glass. Outside the opposite side of the foyer I see a rose garden in bloom with flowers which appear black and violent. Behind this glass I am secure from their thorny onslaught. And as I stand with shiny black wing tip shoes at my pedestrian disposal on this distressed dragon, I marvel at two empire chairs, the bookshelf with its unrecognizable titles (is it because my eyes are blurred from sleep? Am I asleep?). Still they are impressive volumes to look at.
I feel a heat coming up from below, and wipe a dull wet smear off my forehead, and I look around the room. I hear the tinkle of two pieces of crystal hitting each other and look up. Over my head hangs the most impressive crystal chandelier I have ever seen. Unlit, it nevertheless casts a radiance, from the sky’s thin glow. A scandalously ostentatious artifact, it outweighs the room with its massive hoops and fine art carved glass pieces all beveled to razor thickness. This deliciously arrogant spectacle has all the charm of a guillotine.
HAHAHAHAHRRRRR grabs my attention, and my head turns blood hound sharp down a short flight of stairs covered in plush red carpet with the smudgy scars of a million feet carrying the crud of the entire world on its fibers. Something of a Moroccan opium den confronts me in the cramped dimness below – a kind of strange backstage theatre lobby with a single spot light to the right, focused on a sitting area and a fire place, the mantle gaping like a mouth at the room. On the opposite side of the room a dim wattage contraption smiles weakly inside a clerk’s booth stuffed with papers and uncollected mail. A schedule lies open behind the counter. I reach over the counter, and invert the schedule to read:
– Admiral Hansen’s pedicure. Dr. Ponty attended with the tiny blue capsules – exquisite transaction. Dr. Ponty is an austere man, extremely pious and abstinent. Invitations for both and Dr. Ponty’s wife tendered.
– Michael Gronfaulct – stubborn, stubborn. Check for desert.
“Mmmm-Hhwaaaughhaughhaughhhahahaheee-EEE” – cough, cough – degenerates into a lurid bronchial spasm of black plague ugliness. I turn and look to see a hideously fat man under the spot light in the sitting area next to the fireplace, sitting sweat swathed with open fly in stripped pants, which are black, but evidence of smoke, bodily oils and fluids, and hints of last night’s vodka and hot dogs abound. Purple feet with toes a putrid tangle of unclipped nails reveal entrenched gout. His abdomen distends a ribbed tank undershirt, which is stained brown with nicotine and dusted heavily with crumbs from the cracker jar into which he now reaches his left hand. He has to dig through a layer of crinkling plastic wrappers to get to an unopened selection, which he suddenly remedies with frighteningly uneven teeth. The plastic pops open causing the crackers to break and scatter all down his shirt. And he scoops them up with greasy stubby digits and stuffs them gladly into his horrid mouth, and begins to moan with pleasure as the crackers go crunch and his puffy slobbery alcoholic lips smack against his grinding saw blade teeth.
“Mm-Yum-Yum…Yummy-FOULDIGNERIN! Mhm-hm-hmmm…” He’s like a fat pussycat, he’s so happy. His laughter softens into bubbling chortle, a purring aural salve. His eyes, clouded by blindness, have an oddly appealing sparkle. I see in them something squandered and now vacant – his youth, perhaps – focusing definitely on two muscular adolescent boys in wrestler’s tights, jock straps, helmets, and teeth guards. They make circles on the floor as they are holding onto one another intensely each about the waist. They flip, crash, and bang on the floor grunting with short desperate breaths. And they squeal, greased with their own sweat. With each new twist in their tug of will, the fat man erupts with raucous laughter. Cracker crumbs explode onto the floor, his face gleefully seizes, and his whole body jiggles monstrously.
“HAHAHAHAYAUGGHEHEHE!” He reaches for more crackers, plastic-crackle-pop-smash, munch, munch, munch… “Yummy Fouldignerin!”
“Can I help you?”
My eyes are confronted by a pasty faced octogenarian male standing behind the counter. He has luminous sharp eyes that strike me as rather odd being that we are in such a dark room. The lamp on the wall is behind him and makes him appear in a slight silhouette. Those eyes have seen everything apparently, as they gaze laconically at me, and regard me without surprise, as if he has always known me, and they carry just a vague hint of pleasure that has somehow been corrupted by working class resentment, something rooted in his training, a desk clerk MO:
Host rule #1: Always smile when the guest arrives no matter how shitty your day has been.
The spot light is directed too far away to illuminate his eyes the way they shine, but I decide it must be the spotlight, for what else could it be? His grim and otherwise cadaverous appearance carries a haughty exterior. A condescending air prevails in the lines of his face. His hair is slicked back and styled just so, with grey touching the sides of his head… I notice from the back light that it has been recently combed, for the teeth have left neat little rows of hair all leaning backward like flattened corn stalks after a tornado or hurricane. His dress and his manner suggest someone fallen from means. I doubt this fellow has any other purpose in life than to sign people in at this desk, though I am afraid to inquire as to what, exactly, and who he is. I smile politely, though, and realize he has completely unnerved me.
“Yes,” I answer, “can you tell me what place this is?”
“You mean you don’t know?”
Put off, and a bit confused, but maintaining my composure, “No.” I say.
“It’s the Hotel Outland.”
“Ah!” As if the name strikes me in some particular way. Outland, of course! I’m sure I must have seen it in some brochure you find in the lobby of cheap resort hotels. “I’d like a room, please.”
The cadaverous clerk turns away from me revealing a broken seam in his neat jacket and trousers that are threadbare at the feet. He picks up a large heavy register, which bares not a speck of dust like the other objects around it, and opens.
zZZZzzzzzZZZzzzZZZ! The clerk swats a fly which lights on the counter just in front of me. Its bulbous multi-faceted eyes jewel upward and rotate intently as one of six legs massages its head.
The clerk’s face launches into a paroxysm of deadly rage, and with a mighty SMACK he brings the dustless register pounding down upon the fly causing its anatomy to merge with itself. The six legs separate from the thorax and locate somewhere above it in crazy angles mashed against the wings. Tiny hairs and microscopic sensory organs in the now split outer skin embed in a glue of insectoid blood, ruptured digestive and circulatory organs, and bilious secretions. The jeweled eyes are squandered and their opalescence goes dark in a mélange of vague tissues, water, the squelched matter of its nerve-sized brain, and microbial remains… No more flitting about creating panic in the guests with your buzz – the clerk’s expression reads. No more lazily lounging on the tobacco room ceiling watching merry men fill their lungs with the fire of smoldering dead leaves. No more proboscis probing the cherry pie fruit pectin. No more defecating down the glass rim of a martini. In short, the fly is reduced to a greasy smear on the bottom of the register.
And without any more thought of the fly the clerk opens up the register and takes out a quill. “We’re a little short on space just now, tourist season being quite catchy as it is. We might have to move you around.”
“Oh, how disappointing. I was hoping…”
“Yes.” The clerk cuts me off, scanning the register carefully, leafing through several pages, and then smiles with a solution. “However, I think we can give you just the room you need!” He makes a notation in the register and asks, “Are you married?”
The clerk’s eyes dodge to my wedding band which glimmers sweetly near the wall lamp. For some reason I feel compelled to cover it with my hand.
“Traveling alone, then, I take it?”
“Well then, I’m sure you’ll want full use of our amenities – complete access!” The old man exclaims. “Oh, how silly of me. What name will you be using?”
“I’m sorry – er, what?”
“Name?” He looks expectantly at me, tapping the quill against the register. His insistence staggers me, putting all other thoughts out of my mind, and I have to think for a moment.
“Oh, it’s uh – Jonathan, Jonathan – er…” A funny sinking feeling comes over me, as if large hands are clamping down on my shoulders and pressing me into the floor. I feel a pit open and twist in my stomach, and a vacuous sensation expand in my head. With no will of my own, I have had Zen consciousness thrust on me in to-to. I’m a complete blank.
“I’m embarrassed. I… seem to have forgotten it, just now.”
“My name. I can’t remember my name.”
The clerk rolls his eyes, of course you can’t! “Mr. J, then.” He puts the mark down in his deadly book, then he places the register neatly on the other counter. “Oh well,” he says, “It happens all the time. People just get overwhelmed with it, taken in, I guess…” as his hand sweeps the lobby. “You understand?”
No, I don’t.
“Well, it is a spectacle.” I say with eyes around the dark cobweb strewn place.
“Tell me, Mr. J. Will your wife be joining you?”
“Hmm?” I turn. “Oh, no, no, no, no. I’m just here for some peace and quiet. Get some rest. I’m here to write a book.”
“A book?” A condemnation, I take it. It strikes a rather cold note. I’m not sure why. It hardly matters. It’s not his vacation anyway. I reach back, stretch and yawn as if at any second I could go horizontal and be dead to the world. I hear the jingling of a key, and somewhere off in the bowels of this place a bell rings ever so softly as if it has welcomed me and is heralding my arrival to some other entity, some other place, some other time…
The clerk places a room key on the counter, a brass thing with a diamond shaped plastic tab attached. It says 431. I am relieved. At last a restful place to clear my head is near at hand!
“Hmmhmmm! Yummy fouldignerin!” The fat man jiggles mightily in the chair, stuffs his mouth again with the crackers, bangs his fist on the arm of the chair, and hurls into another revolting laughing spasm.
Hump! Flip! Bang! The boys go on endlessly in their pursuit of one another.
“What about payment?” I ask the clerk.
He turns, looking at me with one eyebrow raised. “Oh, we’ll take care of that later. Mandolin!” He rings the bell on the desk.
A queer thing in a bellman’s uniform hops up and salutes me. He takes me by the arm and peels me away from the Clerk’s desk. He leads me toward a dark space.
“Hey, nice jacket. Is that Armani?” The bellman asks.
“No, it isn’t.”
“Off the rack, huh?”
“Hollywood Suit Outlet.”
“I don’t mess with that Italian Crap!”
“Enjoy your stay.” The clerk’s voice trails off behind me.
The queer bellman grabs my arm, and begins pulling me inexorably across the elegant, dark lobby toward a flight of stairs where feelings of derangement begin to take hold.