This is part one of what I hope will be a semi-regular series covering a short period in my life when I was (sometimes concurrently) an inveterate partier, a sober kid, an imported, unhappy resident of the now beleaguered gulf coast, a GAP employee, a fiancee, a runaway bride, a psycho ex-girlfriend, an intranational hobo and, as you are about to read, the booker of the filthiest hotel in all of Lawton on what was most certainly the worst road trip of my life.

The expedition was doomed from the beginning.

A third of the way into a 15-hour trip–a trip undertaken in the evening on my father’s advice “to avoid traffic”–we were standing in the parking lot of a truck stop in West Des Moines at midnight, arguing across the top of the sedan I’d borrowed from my parents.

We were fighting over whether or not someone should stay awake with the driver, and my best friend and boyfriend were united against me.

I didn’t want anyone falling asleep at the wheel.  In my head, the only outcome that mattered was the very worst one I could think of.  That and getting my way.

They both wanted to be able to sleep whenever they weren’t driving.

Evy said it was “fuckin’ stupid, Becky” for two people to sit awake when it only takes one to drive.  Kerry started out diplomatically, trying to assuage my fears, but he quickly became impatient listening to two 19 year-old girls scream at each other to “stop being such a baby!” and “stop being such a bitch!”

It was the culmination of an argument that began somewhere in southern Minnesota and persisted, off and on, most of the way to that point.  Finally, at midnight, with the threat–and need–of going to sleep imminent, the dam broke.  I started crying.  No one loved me.  Kerry would probably leave me for Evy, since they agreed on so goddamn much, apparently.  The world was ending, my friend hated me, and probably, we were all going to die in piss stink Iowa to boot.


I slumped into the car, gasping and sniffling.  “Jesus Christ,” Evy huffed, and got into the backseat, manhandling her pillow into place to accommodate the sleep she wouldn’t get.  Kerry came around and shut my door.

Evy was a tomboy like me, a Pisces like me, a skinny, doe-eyed thing like me–like, like, like, everything alike.  But she was dark-haired, dark-eyed, more confident and adventurous than I was, less brooding and more sultry-earthy, and, most importantly to me at the time, she had a power over men that I simply did not have.

I was all air and distance, blond and wispy, always the friend girl, and forever patting some guy’s hand over his unrequited crush on Evy, despite myriad acknowledgments from people all around us that she and I were alike enough to be interchangeable in any given situation.

In reality, my boyfriend and best friend would not be eloping together anytime soon; we were on our way to Lawton, Oklahoma to see Paul, Evy’s fiance and Kerry’s best friend, graduate from basic training.

I stayed awake with Kerry.  Then I drove.  I was determined to seize control of the situation one way or another.

All in all, the drive worked out as my dad had envisioned.  We got into Lawton in the afternoon the following day, went to bed early, and slept 12 hours, hard, until the next morning.

There was a family picnic and meet & greet that day, where we’d eat hot dogs, drink lemon-flavored waterade, and see Paul for the first time since he left for basic.  We awoke with the bright idea to order room service.  Why we thought we should do something like that at the shittiest motel in all  of Lawton remains a mystery.  But we were young and free.  Free of any knowledge of where else to get food.  Free to order room service.  Just like grown-ups, just like in the movies.

We didn’t get eggs benedict and croissants and champagne, though; we got tiny boxed cereals and bananas.  We washed it all down with Dr. Pepper and cigarettes.

Kerry ordered; I sat wrapped around him like he was the only buoyant object in an expanse of deep water.

At the time and as far as 20 year-old guys went, Kerry was pretty muscular.  Looking at the picture now at 32, I realize he looks kind of juvenile and scrawny.  His face (which was lovely) must be obscured since he is the only one of my exes with whom I am no longer on friendly terms.  This was not my choice.  It is never my choice to not be on speaking terms with anyone, especially people I was ever close to.

But the wound I left on Kerry stuck.  For all my tending, I couldn’t fix it, and although it’s a separate story altogether, it is important to note that I consider it one of the greatest failings of my life, not because I loved him but because, in the end, I didn’t.

After Evy took the picture, she flopped onto her bed and immediately exploded in a stream of obscenities.


She tore at the sheets, first running her hand over them, hard, then ripping them off completely.

“Look at this!!!”

She turned her leg sideways to reveal a thin scrape, about 5 inches long.  Either a pin or a needle.  It couldn’t have been anything else.  There was a moment of silence.  Kerry started laughing.  “You have AIDS,” he said.

“Holy shit, Dude!” I said, “Go wash it!”

Evy bolted for the shower.

At that moment, it dawned on me how much of a dump the place actually was.  There were stains on the curtains, stains on the wall, and the donut holes we bought the evening before at a gas station were already covered in fruit flies.

I had booked the hotel.  This was my doing.  I don’t know if it could have been avoided, since we were dirt poor kids and the online hotel reservations of 1997 were in no way comparable to the ones we have now.  There were no customer reviews indicating that the rooms were full of insect life and, potentially, infectious diseases.  All I knew was that it was cheap, and it had a pool.  A pool!

The heat outside was incredible.  Lawton was not a particularly cozy, comfortable town to begin with, and between the heat and filthy accommodations, everything about the place was loathsome.

I don’t remember much about the picnic except for hanging back.  I’d never been on a military base before.  Gates and fences.  A million outbuildings full of unknown goings-on, men (maybe some women, but it wasn’t easy to tell) moving around a sea of dirt on currents of asphalt.  Not much grass.  I couldn’t decide who they all were or what they were up to.  Some were marching, some were jogging, some were alone and some were in order.  Some were just walking, but there was no one without a purpose.  Despite being full of dirt, the base was not dirty.  I wondered which ones had ever killed somebody.  Who was packing.

There was one large picnic pavilion sharing its immediate vicinity with two members of Fort Sill’s scant tree population.

Evy approached from having greeted Paul; she was wearing a pitying half-frown, half-smirk.  “He has poison oak all over his hands.”  She covered her mouth to stifle her schadenfreude, lifting only her pinky and ring fingers to intimate, “It’s bad.”

“How did he get poison oak?  There are no plants here.”  I looked around for shade.  Poison plants like shade.  Or poison ivy does.  I wasn’t sure about poison oak.  I wasn’t sure what poison oak looked like.  I knew I didn’t get a reaction to poison ivy.  I probably didn’t have to worry about poison oak.

Paul approached from the pavilion in his Class A uniform.  He hugged Evy, doing his best to hold his hands away from her hair, skin, and clothes.  His hands were swollen like inflated surgical gloves; they were scabby, weeping, and covered in chalky pink-white calamine.

“Wow, man, that is disgusting,” Kerry offered.  Paul offered a handshake and smiled.

Kerry began to reach out reflexively, then snatched his hand back.  “Get away from me with your leper claw!”

Normally, Paul and I didn’t get along; or we did, but equally as often, we were disgusted with each other.  He was a little hyperactive and never quite content without one foot over the line, which I found alternately amusing and infuriating.  In this context, he was reserved–polite and gracious and tidy.

When it came time to leave, Evy wrapped her arms around Paul so tightly that her hands almost reached her own shoulders.  She turned the side of her face to his chest and pressed her eyes shut.  Hard.  She stood like that for minutes.  Long minutes.  Paul stood with his angry hands resting behind him on the car he was leaning on.

Incidentally, I have a picture of that, too, but Evy hates it, so I won’t post it.  “I look so pathetic,” she always says.  Sometimes she laughs.  Sometimes she doesn’t.

Paul is looking at the camera, smiling.

We spent the next couple of days tooling around Lawton, attending graduation-related events, spending time with Paul when he was allowed to see us, and, in the evenings, returning to the Hepatitis Hotel.  One night we took turns at private realations on the only bed that didn’t threaten laceration.

It was gross.  We knew it was gross.  Our options were limited, we decided.  I could have gone without, myself, but for Kerry’s part, there was apparently some show to put on for Paul.

Kerry and I waited our turn on the second floor concrete walk.  I was in my bathing suit, wrapped in a towel.  The railing looked out over the pool we’d just been kicked out of.  We stood right there outside the door, sans decency to stand anywhere else.  It was just us, the black water of the pool, and an outdoor lamp, orange and sick-covered in bugs of every imaginable type.  They flew in my mouth and picked at my skin.

I have no memory of what we talked about.

During our visit, Evy understandably refused to sleep on the hypodermic mattress.  We had tried the office.  There were no other rooms; there were no other mattresses.  They did not have a cot.  It was so not a grown-up hotel.

We couldn’t let her sleep on the floor; if the mattress had needles, who knows what might be in the carpet?  We all had to sleep in one bed.  The private relations bed.

I remember walking out of the bathroom at bedtime, pretending to pay no mind to the two of them, gorgeous and unbothered, chatting away next to each other on the shared bed.  I remember a feeling of disappearing, like watching them on TV, a voyeur with no idea what might happen and no way to control it.  I hated them for a brief, flashing moment, unable to decide whether I should try to remember the picture or forget it immediately.

I shut off the lights and felt my way to bed.  Fiancee or no, I slept between them.

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

80 responses to “Lovebirds: Hepatitis Hotel”

  1. Gloria says:

    The private relations bed. <—– That’s hilarious.

    What a fascinating snapshot into 19 year old Becky’s life. Well written and easy to read, of course, like always. You’re a natural at conversational, which is harder than it seems.

    And Lawton. I’ve been to Lawton. I used to live in Guthrie. Big fuckin’ bugs in them parts. What a shithole.

    I love the photo. I love Mr. Happy’s hair. It makes me want to stop, collaborate, and listen.

    And look at YOU! Young Becky!! Ha ha ha ha ha ha (Hey, I can laugh at you. You’ve seen my prom hair picture.)

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks. There’s really no other way to write about it. I was 19. There weren’t too many big thoughts happening. To have pretended so would have been weird.

      Good old frosty-tips. “Kerry” just went ahead and took it down to the roots. We were into Everclear. Pretty awesome.

      What’s sad is that I still have the same haircut.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    I think you look adorable! Makes me want to throw Mr. Happy off that hypodermic mattress and give you a big squeeze!

    Seriously though, I remember you talking about this incident and I was horrified at the needle stick. God, that’s awful. I love how you say you felt all grown up ordering room service! I remember the first time I ordered room service and I felt like I was a movie star. So funny.

    It also makes me happy that Simon and I suffered neither pricks nor arguments during our bloody epic adventure. The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that after three weeks on the road we didn’t even share a cross word.

    The worst of it was concentrated silence as the rain poured down on us in Des Moines. There must be something about that place. Road trippers -Stay away from Des Moines!

    • James D. Irwin says:

      It doesn’t get any more awesome than ordering room service.

      Especialy if you’re in Canada and thus old enough to drink. Buffalo wings, beer and (american) football.

      If I was rich I’d live in hotels. Good hotels, not hepatitis hotels…

      • Becky says:

        Yeah. Room service is way more awesome in non-hepatitis hotels.

        And someone cleans up after you every day in hotels. You go away, have fun, come back, and someone has picked up after you. Every day. That’s the sort of thing that happens in heaven, I can only assume.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I imagine heaven is pretty much exactly like the hotel I stayed in in Toronto, but with something to do outside…

          Also, in heaven the minibar would probably be free. Or at least have a reasonable price mark up…

    • Becky says:

      Don’t know what it is about that place.

      There is no scientific reason I can think of that all these terrible road trip things should happen in Des Moines, but alas, they do.

      Poor Des Moinesians! Imagine if you lived there. Bad shit would just keep happening to you ALL THE TIME.

      No wonder Carol was grumpy.

    • Gloria says:

      I’d like to be clear that I think you’re adorable, too. Then and now. The pointing and laughing at young you was more like: Damn. Look at you. You were young. Not that you’re a hag now, but I mean, you were young young: stars in your eyes, hope in your heart. The line about throwing your arms around Kerry like he was the only buoyant thing in the room – that’s youth too. And the laughter comes from the juxtaposition of that Becky and the one I’ve gotten to know.

      Except your hair. That’s still the same.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        You might be surprised, if you me in person, how childish I actually still am. My sort of intellectual weariness, which gets the most frequent airing around here, doesn’t really get too many opportunities to surface in everyday life.

        Like, I don’t suffer bouts of ennui in the frozen food aisle. Usually.

        I tend to crack a lot of jokes and be a really excitable, animated speaker, once I’m comfortable.

  3. JM Blaine says:

    That picture is so awesome.
    The bedside table:
    cigarettes and DP.
    the sunlight peeking under the curtains
    that look on your face.
    You don’t have that look
    in your eyes any more PalaPala.
    What happened?

    You knew someone would
    make a Vanilla Ice crack
    right off the bat, right?
    You know what Vanilla Ice song I love?


    • Becky says:

      Okay, for the record, he didn’t do his hair like that. It was sticking up because he just woke up.

      And what happened? This road trip happened. It stole my innocence.

      And you’re a fine one to talk anyway. As far as I know, you don’t even have eyes.

      That song was terrifying.

  4. I once stayed in a motel that had a bucket instead of a toilet, and maybe ten or fifteen that have had condom machines bolted to the headboard… but I’ve never found a needle in a motel. That’s disgusting. Makes my skin crawl.

    • Becky says:

      See, and I knew that other people would have way more horrific hotel stories than this one. Particularly people who had stayed in hotels abroad, especially in Asia.

      In fairness, it could have just been a pin. Or a sewing needle. Maybe.

      But we don’t know. We don’t know!

      Condom machines bolted to the headboard. Gross. Plasticized mattress covers?

  5. Greg Olear says:

    JMB already beat me to the pop star/hair comment. I was going to say an auxiliary member of N*SYNC, or maybe 98 Degrees. Which, at the time, is not a bad thing.

    I like this piece a lot, the feeling of not quite belonging, or pieces not fitting together the way we’d like them to.

    Poison oak. The poor guy.

    My grandfather lived at Fort Sill for months, if not longer, during his pre-WWII service. Although he never talked about that part. The war seemed not to have much of a negative impact on him, but one never knows.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Paul turned out to be…not exactly the sympathy-inducing sort. But I can’t tell that story because it’s not my story, really.

      And yeah. I was adrift. I had no idea how to be an adult and there was all this adult stuff happening. And nothing would just be what I expected it to be. It was miserable on so many levels.

      As for the WWII vets, I wonder about them.

      How it is that so many WWII vets just don’t seem to be too upset about having killed tens or even hundreds of people and seen as many, if not more, killed?

      I find it fascinating. I was watching a show on the Battle of the Bulge a week or so ago, and they were talking to this recon guy…a scout of some sort, who kept stumbling across Germans and, rather than report back about it, just killed ’em himself.

      That was how he talked about it, too: “So I was crouching there, and here come about 12 Germans, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, do I shoot ’em?’ and I thought, ‘well, by the the time I get back to tell the guys, the Germans’ll be all the way over there,’ so I just shot ’em.” He killed something like 60 Germans that way over the course of the battle, and most scouts never kill a single one. Perfectly normal-seeming guy. Could be anyone’s grandpa. Just sniped 60 Germans. No big whup. They gave him the Medal of Honor.


      • Greg Olear says:

        I think it has to do with what we’re used to. For all the outcry about violence in the media, we live in a society in which real violence is relatively rare. The soldiers of WWII grew up during the days of the Great War, a particularly brutal affair, and during a time when it was perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged, to not spare the rod so as not to spoil the child. The mentality is different.

        It helps, I think, that WWII, among all recent conflicts, is the easiest to rationalize as a “good” war (I wrote a piece about this awhile back). I mean, Hitler was pretty awful, and his soldiers, whatever their personal beliefs, were still his soldiers. Many of our films post-WWII have Nazis of some stripe, actual or in futuristic disguise, as the bad guys. Sixty of them? Great.

        A war whose reason for existence is murkier — WWI, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and now Iraq — must be harder to reconcile. It’s no accident that the term “shellshocked” came from WWI.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I knew that about “shellshocked,” but I though that was an actual concussive brain injury, not a psychological issue?

          I’m not a doctor.

          Yeah, what’s crazy about war is that as the actual body count of wars in general plummets, the more people are appalled by the death involved.

          I mean, the US Civil War only lasted 4 years and killed something like 650,000 people. 650,000!!!

          I mean.


          We wouldn’t even know what to do with a casualty number like that nowadays. People would think the world was ending. Just shit themselves and keel over.

        • Matt says:

          “Shellshocked” was an umbrella term that covered most of what we now recognize as the symptoms of PTSD. At the time people thought it was a mostly-physical ailment caused by proximity to explosions, hence the name.

  6. I’ve gotten lucky on my road trips; I think the worst places I’ve stayed were HoJos or Motel 6s, neither of which were Hep-bad. Because yow, what a harrowing place it sounds.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      And I think that’s what I thought I was getting. Outdated decor, a fussy climate control unit, maybe stale cigarette smell. Cheap.

      Not pestilent.

  7. Joe Daly says:

    I enjoyed the story as is, but the picture added even more depth- I thought it was more of a Vanilla Ice fade. I love a good road trip story.

    I have also learned, after spending years and years on the road, that the very first order of business upon entering a hotel room is to remove the quilt/cover/top blanket, and banish it to the floor. Most hotels was those twice a year. Better hotels wash them quarterly. They are filled with the biological waste of thousands of wayward strangers. And apparently, they are also filled with spiky things.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Oh man. Like he didn’t hate me enough already, now if he ever finds this, he’ll hate me all over again for making people think he had a fade in 1997.

      It was just bedhead. His hair laid flat when he went out in public. God as my witness. I was a grunge puppy. I would never date some skeezy mo’fo’ with a Vanilla Ice fade.

      But the spiky thing was embedded in the mattress somehow. Deep down, like a pike. Not in the bedding itself.

      Not that it suddenly makes the bed spreads okay.

      • Joe Daly says:

        You mean he didn’t spend twenty minutes on that? That’s bedhead?

        If I could pick any rockstar’s bedhead it would be Mike Score’s. If I could wake up everyday with that hair, every day would be great. I’d never fix it. It would go straight from bedhead to dayhead. Hell, I’d make it lifehead.

        Pikes in the mattress? Good horror movie fodder.

        • Ha! Mike Score. Yeah, Becky’s dude doesn’t have nearly the hair Mike did. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s an impossibly high bar. Yeah, bad motel stories are like Caught On The Runway Stories, or Barfight Stories, or Man, Was I Arrested Unfairly stories. You just got to roll with the poison oak. And the window into being 19, which is worth its weight in gold.

    • Gloria says:

      That’s disgusting. I didn’t know that. Next time I stay at a pay-for-sleep locale of any sort, I’m taking a freakin’ black light.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Mmm. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you just want to mortify yourself and have nowhere else to go.

        If it’s any consolation, though, most people’s houses probably aren’t any cleaner.

        • Gloria says:

          Yes, but I don’t put one of those paper things down on my own toilet, but I will everywhere else I go, even though I live with two eight year old boys who, for some godunknown reason, have recently begun peeing with with their hands on their hips, hips thrust forward, shoulders back, while they look around the bathroom in a sort of, “I’d really like to redecorate this joint” kind of way. BUT STILL! I’d rather pee on that toilet than someone else’s toilet. Because those germs are one part my DNA. (For the record, I keep a pretty clean house.) And, to be honest, someone else’s come and blood skeeves me out a lot more than my own. Just saying…

          I will never be able to sleep anywhere else again…

          *rocks self silently in the corner*

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, sure, but, I mean, the notion that, say, a friend or relative’s house is cleaner than a hotel might be mistaken.

          MOST of a hotel room gets cleaned daily.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          that’s a fantastic description of the way guys pee at that age.

          yeah, that’ll almost certainly continue for at least the next ten years. That’s just the way we are as a gender.

          for the record, I now pee with total accuracy. well, almost total accuracy… nobody’s perfect…

  8. I’ll stand by you: always best to keep one individual driving and the other an open eye. My sister and I took a road trip to Tennessee and back in one day about ten years ago. We left (from Tennessee) to return home (Virginia) around midnight. It was a good 7 1/2 hour drive one way.

    We switched the wheel a couple of times and neither of us remember our part driving, once it hit past 2 AM. We made it about thirty minutes from home and pulled off on the side of the road and slept six hours. We were so belligerently tired, we had no idea we were that close. When I woke, I was saddled under the steering wheel. I didn’t even remember pulling off to sleep.

    • Becky Palapala says:


      I had been on a few road trips in my life prior to that (with Evy, nevertheless!) and that was always the M.O.

      At least when driving at night, someone stays awake with the driver.

      It’s a “no duh” to me, but apparently for this trip, it was controversial.

  9. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Becky, I loved the rhythm of this and the great description. By which I mean I felt like I was there with you guys. By which I further mean, don’t ever fucking do that again. Jesus. What a dump. And you know, if you hadn’t mentioned in your comment to me last night that you were inhuman, I’d say I read some emotion between the wisecracks. Obviously, the heat has made me delusional.

    Re: your comments above about casualties, I always like to describe historical battles in terms of local towns. “Imagine every man, woman and child in [x] being dead in the street over the course of twelve hours….” “In three days, cities [y] and [z] would be filled with nothing but corpses and flies….” And I like the whole “We’d be more civilized if we didn’t use guns” argument. No, we tried that and it was a wash – smaller, more efficient pieces to bury but more of them.

    Still better than living in Nebraska, of course….

    • Becky Palapala says:

      It’s true. Tough fact to escape. Rise of firearms coincided with decreased casualties in war.

      In fact, if the numbers are to be believed, in the big picture, despite ever deadlier advances in weapons technology, humans are currently the least violent they have ever been. EVER. By a long shot. Like, even less violent than when we were loin-clothed and runnin’ through the jungle. That was part of Anthro 101.

      Curious critters we are.

      And sure you read some emotion. Reports of emotion. I still had them when I was 19.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Mm. And now you are the heartless, calculating Terminatrix we all know and lo- er, fear? When are you coming to CO?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          When I pay off my student loans.

          When I win the lotto jackpot 4 damn times like that greedy broad in Texas.

          When I have vacation time.

          When I can convince my husband to undertake another long road trip to meet an interwebs friend, this time one with a full arsenal.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          So you’re saying I shouldn’t be digging out the imu quite just yet, then.

      • Matt says:

        I wonder though if that has less to do with the proliferation and efficacy of personal armaments than it does the invention of media. Until the photograph came along, the after effects of violence/war really existed as an abstract concept for a large portion of people, captured at best in paintings. The rise of the camera (and by extention, newspapers/radio/film/tv/Internet) allowed images of battle carnage to home home directly to the masses in a way never possible in the +/- 5000 years of human civilization.

        It’s no coincidence that the nightly television images of bodies coming home from Vietnam were such a lynchpin of the protest movement. And why there’s been a media blackout on such images from Afghanistan & Iraq since those wars began.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I never said a reduction in violence was because of the firearm (at least not necessarily or in all cases). I said despite its invention and proliferation, per capita violent death has continued right along on its deescalation–a deescalation that began, arguably, thousands of years before gunpowder even existed.

          The argument not that guns are responsible for said deescalation in violence, necessarily. The argument is that contrary to popular belief, guns have summarily failed, in the big picture, to escalate violence in the human population as a whole.

        • Matt says:


          They’ve just made killing easier.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Nope they didn’t fail to escalate violence?

          Nope to what?

          No arguing about killing being easier with a gun, but it doesn’t seem, to me at least, that killing being more difficult discouraged anyone; they just couldn’t do it with any precision.

          Melees are bloody affairs.

        • Matt says:

          “Nope” as in I was agreeing with your point, while doing a couple of dozen other things at the same time.

  10. Irene Zion says:

    You make the repulsive funny, Becky.
    Thanks, for that.
    “Hepatitis Hotel”
    “Hypodermic Mattress”

  11. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    You capture Ft. Sill perfectly. My husband Joe was a drill sergeant there in this same year. Like, maybe he walked right past your group to yell at somebody until he/she cried. I’m looking forward to your semi-regular series! Not because I have some vain idea of Joe being in the background of your stories, but because it’s really great stuff.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Phew! Affirmation. Working with some pretty old mental images here; glad I got them right.

      Kind of like trying to create a panorama with different snapshots but some are missing.

      We actually went and watched…gawked, rather (it’s not like they were expecting spectators) while a bunch of guys were running (doing? Practicing?) drills in a parking lot. It was 90 muthafuckin’ degrees and these poor soldiers were covered head-to-toe, jumping, marching, bouncing around on brand-new black, black asphalt.

      It was incredible.

      Cue Paul’s story about being forced to drink water until he puked, then being chased down the sidewalk, still puking, by a drill sargeant who was screaming “ARE YOU VOMITING ON MY SIDEWALK????????”

      And I was looking at the drill sargeant going…I would so NOT fuck with one of those dudes. I wonder if it was Joe!

      • Cynthia Hawkins says:

        So, Joe says this was not him. However, he told me how they used to keep watered-down/iced-down sheets in coolers for anyone officially overheated. They’d have to strip down to their underwear in this event and be wrapped in the “ice sheet.” The only soldier they ever had to do this to was not wearing underwear at all. Apparently, he hadn’t done laundry in a very long time. There was much yelling by the drill sergeants and much crying by the guy shivering naked in the field in the ice sheet. Joe says if you ever hear *that* story about a drill sergeant, *this* would be him.

        • Becky says:

          Oh! No no no… I meant I wondered if Joe was the one in the parking lot. I mean, I suppose I had no way of knowing if Joe was the pukey chaser, either, but that’s not what I meant.

          But damn. How you gonna be in the army without underpants? I’d have yelled at him too.

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          Ha ha. Nah, I knew what you meant. But when I told him about your story and about the comments, he laughed so hard at the puking-on-the-sidewalk tale that I kinda thought for a second that it could very well have been him! He said appreciates that level of sidewalk ownership, at any rate. I’m going to have him read the whole thing when he has time. I think he’ll appreciate the well-described Lawton-ness!

        • Becky says:

          Next time I see him, I’ll have to ask him if he ever had a drill sargeant named…Hawkins?

        • Cynthia Hawkins says:

          “He said *he* appreciates” — sheesh. I should lay off the booze or something! Wouldn’t that be funny if he did? And even funnier if he’d been the commando ice sheet guy?!?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          What’s funny is that he told that story through laughter.

          Like, it was hilarious to him that this had happened to him. It was a comedic moment. A highlight, if you will.

          The army is a whole other planet.

  12. Richard Cox says:

    Gross hotels are disgusting. I’d rather sleep in my car if it were an option. I love “Hepatitis Hotel.” Hahaha.

    Slade and I were trying to find a bar in OKC a few weeks ago and this guy told us it was “on the other side of the hotel.” We thought he meant this sleazebag nasty thing directly in front of us, so we decided to walk through it. I thought I was in a horror film. I mean we could easily have disappeared in there and never been heard from again. You could literally smell the crack cooking.

    I’ve only ever driven through Lawton. Never stopped. I’m sorry you had to.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Oh man. I cannot sleep in cars. I have to be able to get horizontal at least. If need be, I can just wrap myself in clean towels and clothing as a prophylactic.

      I always bring my own pillow, so no worries there.

      Lawton wasn’t SO bad. I mean. There was a pool. ‘Bout the only clean thing there, but there was a pool.

  13. Eber says:

    Good story. Darn nice writing. I stayed in the Hep Motel on 395 in Ca. Must be a chain. Cheers!

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Eber.

      Was wondering if you’d dropped off the face of the earth.

      Yeah. I think the Hep Motel chain is under the same parent company as the E. Coli Cafe and the lesser-known, filthier sister company of Super 8–the Super Great.

  14. Matt says:

    First off, 1996-era Becky had some nice gams! Wowza!

    Secondly….okay, I’ve stayed in some dives (essay about one of those coming at some point) but this wins the Hep-C needle-in-the-bed, big time! Blech!

    Bad beds are awful, but what I’ve found is even worse is when the bathroom is a mess. Nothing worse than coming in from hours on the road, wanting a good shower, to find corroded plumbing, stained porcelain, and (once) a cockroach doing laps around the toilet bowl.

    Did you guys flip a coing to determine who got first dibs at the “private relations” bed, or what?

    • Becky Palapala says:

      I think we just let them have it since they hadn’t seen each other in 3 months. There was also an agreement about prophylactics or some other logistical handling of the wet spot, but I don’t remember what, exactly, the solution to that was.

      There was a solution, though.

      The gams are still decent, but that right knee now has a big scar running down it. ACL blowout. Messing up my strut.

  15. Lorna says:

    First off, I already had a phobia of sleeping in hotel beds. Now I am really going to be hyperventilating at check-in in anticipation of a bed without hypodermic needles. Yuck!

    Second, I love your twenty year old perception of your boyfriend’s muscular body and your now comparison of it being scrawny.

    Thirdly, where the heck is Lawton? I need to know which areas of the US to avoid sleeping overnight in.

    This was a great post, Becky. I look forward to reading the series.

    • Becky says:

      Oh yeah. Kerry was buff. Then again, I was used to dating scrawny, arty boys, and he was a construction worker.

      Lawton is in Oklahoma.

      Though I wouldn’t worry too much. Out of curiosity I looked up this same hotel with high-powered 2010 interwebs technology and it appears to be under new corporate ownership. It looks almost cute now. So even if you got this very room, you would probably have a much more pleasant experience than we did.

  16. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    This is so great, I love your style, the way it flows. Your profundities roll along with the mundane details and it’s that unaffected voice that makes you such a smart and charming narrator.

    I have totally slept in these rat trap motels, and shared private relations beds, and waited by a swimming pool for friends to get to the finish line, and this is so funny to read now, from my thirties, which is apparently the decade of just enough distance to finally start owning up to this stuff.

    The interactions between you and Evy are so tangible. So is the lost love with Kerry.

    The intro is unforgettable. Looking forward to more.

    • Becky says:

      Thanks, Lisa.

      I have a borderline pathological fear of sounding affected. It’s not easy for me to tone down my language for the purposes of narrative, since my first instinct, from years of writing poetry almost exclusively, is to “go big or go home.” (Before people jump on me that poetic language should be simple too, I should say that I mean “big” more in the sense of dramatic–each word needing to carry more of the burden.)

      In an effort to counteract that, I go as plain-spoken as I can, then proceed to worry that my narrators always sound autistic. Rainman style. Short sentences. Wapner.

      In other words, thanks so much for the encouragement on that account.

      Compared to a lot of people around here, my young life was simply not that interesting; no danger, no extreme treachery, only minor run-ins with the law. I’ve long made the mistake of assuming that meant the stories weren’t worth telling. Trying to shake that. Glad to have a handful of happy guinea pigs here.

  17. Uche Ogbuji says:

    A hah! Another building brick in a previous discussion. Earthy. Aethereal. I find it interesting because my cheap stereotype is that in the US mainstream at least, earthy is always considered interesting/exotic from afar, but stands no chance in the conventional mate-for-life stakes against aetheral.

    • Becky says:

      That’s so odd.

      I’ve never had that impression.

      How do you mean, exactly? I wonder if our definitions of earthy/ethereal are the same?

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        Based on discussion so far, I think our definitions are probably in accord, but it’s the impression of the romantic implications that differs. I’m hardly going out on a limb to defend my own impressions, because I didn’t personally get to the US until I was at the age where any such conventions wold have had little influence upon me, so it’s all at second hand, at least.

        • Becky says:

          And of course because I’m like that (ethereal, a.k.a “spacey”), I have no idea which discussion you’re talking about.

          In Evy’s case, I will say that since she never suffered a dearth of options, she was uncommonly picky, which often meant that she wasn’t interested in anyone unless they seemed like they weren’t interested in her. This, of course, often led to difficulties with the type of guys she chose, which was in turn counterproductive with regard to the long haul.

          Not to say I didn’t have my own issues. My favorite was to date just about anyone, but only for about a month, then just stop answering calls.

          Young people are cruel, cruel, cruel.

  18. Simon Smithson says:

    As my friend Tim would say: ‘You got the herps!’


    And the private relations bed?

    Ha ha ha ha ha…


    But what a horrible feeling, that third wheel business. Especially in a disgusting hotel room. I would have smoked so many cigarettes if I were there with you guys as a 20 year old. That was my way of controlling the situation.

    • Becky says:

      Yeah. I don’t know if my feeling like a third wheel was an invention or not. And at the time, feeling like I might be inventing it just made me feel that much more apart from everything.

      Everyone else was having this fun (if grimy) adventure, and I was totally mortified; what was wrong with me? etc.

  19. Gregory Messina says:

    Very entertaining read. As someone who used to work at the GAP in high school, can’t wait to read what you have to say about that!

  20. Matt says:

    So yesterday afternoon the Eagle’s “Hotel California” came up on the radio. I sang along, substituting “Hepatitis” for “California” in the chorus. Turns it into a completely different song.

  21. angela says:

    the worst hotel i ever stayed in was on martha’s vineyard. it was still terrifically expensive because it was peak season. while there were no needles (that we knew of) in the beds, there were many long hairs that were not ours, the carpet was poop brown, the soap was so old, it fell apart when i took it out of its wrapper, and we had to leave a deposit for the TV remote.

    the weirdest hotel i ever stayed in was the detroit marriott. the room was almost empty and anything that could be taken was nailed down (including the TV remote).

    the hotels i stayed in in china were surprisingly clean. but maybe that’s because i was able to “sneak” into the chinese-only ones with my chinese face. (don’t know if they still have foreign-only vs chinese-only hotels. maybe not since the olympics.)

    • Becky says:

      See. Unlike Lawton, Martha’s Vineyard is the kind of place where you don’t expect to find any crappy hotels.

      It’s the Vineyard!

      If they have ’em there’s no hope for the rest of us.

  22. […] This is the second item in a sometimes chronological series called “Lovebirds.”  Each is intended to stand alone, but if you want to read the first part, go here:  “Lovebirds:  Hepatitis Hotel” […]

  23. […] am I?  Read more and find […]

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