The bellhop had one eye. He didn’t wear a patch. So I just gazed at the scar.

As if he had a little of Oedipus in him, he looked at me sadly. “Right this way, sir,” he said. “You’ve been waiting.”

“Not very long though,” I said, gazing past him into the Sahara Hotel Sports Book. There were several rows of tables and chairs, and a wall full of TVs. A few days before, a group of Algerian nationals had gathered. They hooted at the television in unison, taunting as if Landon Donovan would never score a goal. Now the Sports Book was nearly empty. Except for one Asian man. His head nodded toward his chest as if he just went ahead and died there.

“Right this way,” said the bellhop. His uniform was golden. It shined against his deep black skin. His hair was slightly receded. He looked like he’d been working the casino for so long that he might have known Elvis, who himself stood in ghostly iconic history in a nearby black-and-white photo that hung poster sized behind the front hotel desk.

The bellhop followed me into the elevator.

“Sorry to trouble you,” I said.

He fumbled with some keys as I punched the nineteenth floor.

“Ain’t no trouble,” he said. “We’re just short staffed is all. I can’t do everything. So some people just gonna have to wait.”

“I hear you,” I said.

The elevator felt old. The building sighed, sagged. The smoky casino had carried itself into these steel walls. When the elevator stopped, my twenty-eight-dollar room was only a few steps away.

Down the hall was a set of rooms where a minor league baseball team was visiting Sin City. Their organization must have struck a deal for cheap rooms. It was just a straight shot down Las Vegas Boulevard to the Las Vegas 51s homefield. There, a parking lot held a ghost town of washed up casino signs. Golden Nugget, Moulin Rouge and Stardust all lay in rust and decay with piles of others. Unlit bulbs in the thousands rimmed the dozens of signs, evidence that history’s lights wink and go out in the bleak asphalt desert.

The bellhop and I walked to my door—right around the first bend from the elevator. I pulled out my plastic room key. I’d taken it down to the lobby once already and got it replaced. But the latest key didn’t work either. “Here,” I said, swiping the key, only to hear a beep and a buzz and see a red light flash. “Just temperamental, maybe.”

“That ain’t no good,” said the bellhop.

I tried not to look at the scar where his eye had been. But who can help staring into mystery? My eyes shifted. I saw a man who had suffered. Behind him I imagined the real Oedipus. He stood down the yellow hall with black holes for eyes. He looked for his mother but could only fumble past two prostitutes scarred with tattoos, suffering all Jesus-like themselves as they disappeared into a room.

“I got a master key,” said the bellhop. He pulled out a metal card shaped like my plastic room key. He swiped it and the red light flashed. “Isn’t that something,” he said swiping his master key again.

I saw beads of sweat on his dark brow. He leaned forward, shook the boxy keylock device attached to the door.

“You’ll get it,” I said.

They oughtta replace some of these,” he grunted.

I’d taken a walk. McDonalds across Sahara Avenue stood next to a black-painted abandoned casino. Another casino wrapped in glitter and Big Mac big screens was really a second McDonalds around the corner on the Strip. Giant cranes stood near that. They hung over tall buildings with shiny grey-blue windows that reflected a decayed urban sky, where even dusty smog seemed to break apart and drift to the earth. It fell from above those of us who walked beneath all the scaffolding on porn-covered sidewalks with nothing more ahead of us than promises of helicopter rides, girls in pits dealing cards at the Riviera and Peppermill pancakes.

My feet hurt from all the walking. The dollar-menu burger had long drifted its way through my gut to more hunger pangs. I just wanted to sleep. I wanted to get inside my room and gaze out the window down at the streets, where the sleek monorail station was a soft whoosh, and the tower where Latoya Jackson lived in a high room upon infinite desert comfort stood over it all.

“I gotta get maintenance,” the bellhop said.

Pancakes weren’t sounding so bad. And the Caravan Cafe was just an elevator ride and a quick walk past rows of empty slot machines anyway. “I’ll get something to eat,” I said.

“It’ll be fixed by the time you return.”

“Ain’t no thing,” I said.

“You just don’t know about these machines.”

“Not your fault,” I added as I imagined both of his eyes gone just then. Behind him I saw Oedipus laughing. I saw the casino; his mother; the city mother. His lover. She was a big glittering sagging bitch with her finger wagging for a few more rings.

As I headed back to the elevator I imagined him in his golden uniform ascend through the floors and sail over the casino, across her glittering eyes and neon breasts.

*NOTE: This piece was written entirely on an iPhone.

One night I was a guest on the Red Eye Radio show with host John Wessling. It was midnight. I was sitting in a bathroom near Disneyland. I had called in and started telling Wessling how I was on a mission to find out if some of the dolls on the “It’s a Small World” ride were really little people from around the globe who were cryogenically frozen.

“I’m ready to unravel the mystery,” I said.

My family was flip-flopping in the other room on uncomfortable beds, disturbed by my muffled bathroom cries to save the frozen children of Disney.

I was going off the cuff like a mofo (By the way, Wessling is a comedian).

People are drawn to tales of ghosts, Native American myths, UFOs, creepy underground tunnels, corrupt secret government societies, backwoods monsters, bizarre news and legendary crimes. In fact, many bizarre stories have taken on mythical status as urban legends.

Yet, everyone knows urban legends exist all over America. The creepy legends left unproven in the media work their way through bars, coffeehouses, Internet conversations and late-night get-togethers in living rooms.

Even today’s mainstream news often reads like a contest between which agency can report the weirdest story. Just try getting at the truth behind legendary pop star Michael Jackson and his untimely death. In the end, urban legends may well rule his legacy.

TheDenverChannel.com—the leading news site in Colorado—was guilty of reporting UFO-related details in 2008 about a white-faced alien-head peeking in a window. It looked more like a mask than Jeff Peckman’s “irrefutable evidence” of aliens among us. Yet Web traffic likely skyrocketed as a result of posting the story.

It’s almost as if society is just waiting for the smoking gun alien story to happen.

In Bakersfield, California, just mention The Grapes of Wrath and you might hear: “That book was burned in a barrel.” It was. But that was just propaganda for the book being banned in Kern County. It was a political mess. Either way, the legend of a more massive book burning with huge bonfires rests in the imaginations of many.

Such stories, whether harboring full-on freaky lies or hints of truth, tug on the fabric of society’s need for the unexplained to be reasoned.

On Aug. 7, 2009, I got a message on MySpace. A teenage girl said she hated to read but was researching Bakersfield, California area ghost stories. She came across something I had written about area ghosts and wanted to know more. She was ready to read an entire novel (Hallelujah for literacy!).

It’s not that I know much about actual ghosts. I’ve just told a few ghost stories. And I know that people are fascinated by urban legends.

One man used to tell me about his supposed Yokut wolf spirit sightings in California’s Central Valley: a sprawling 300-mile stretch of farmland and gang-infested towns and cities between Bakersfield and Sacramento. He was convinced the wolf spirit I mentioned in the fictional account of the Lords of Bakersfield was one and the same with his own personal haunts.

I wove more than one urban legend into “Lords: Part One.” There’s the Native American wolf spirit that haunted the apocalyptic Bakersfield dust storm of 1977, and the Lords of Bakersfield themselves: creepy prominent men leading dualistic hidden gay lifestyles. They are rumored to have preyed on young men and the apocalyptic fears of a God-fearing community. The Lords have even been tied to recent events in a drowning of a gay real estate agent in 2009, and in 2002, when the assistant DA was murdered by an ex-cop, in part, for accusations of the man’s frolicking with the ex-cop’s druggie son.

While promoting the book I would go on the radio and say, “Hey, this is just a fictional account.” But then I would get the inevitable response asking what percentage of the book was true.

People just want to believe, don’t they? How can you put a percentage on dastardly deeds?

A semi-related book by John Shannon titled “The Devils of Bakersfield” also dabbles in a corrupt secret society of government officials and Satanists. You never know. It could all be true.

The recent film “Witch Hunt” narrated by Sean Penn dabbles in accusations of Satanism and child molestation in Bakersfield. Oddly, while many of the cases were overturned, the DA is accused of being a Lord of Bakersfield himself.

Now add the mystery of the possible existence of Chinese tunnels hidden in downtown Bakersfield and you have yourself a real weird place, where Buck Owens country music and KoRn nu-metal rock often comes second to tales of mystery.

While exploring subjects for my bizarre book, Random Obsessions, a trivia book of strange factoids in history, disease, inventions, science, geography, film, and art, I tackled some of America’s most intriguing urban legends.

In West Virginia, the Mothman legend still stokes the fires of those who remember stories of a red-eyed birdman spawning from the government-run TNT factory area of Point Pleasant. Strangely enough, with the help of a comic book historian I was able to track down a photographer who hunts for the mysterious creature. But even his supposed sightings of shimmering birdman creatures in the woods were too bizarre for the book.

In the section, “Mothman, the Curse of Point Pleasant and Baby Mothman” you can read how the legend got started and how locals weren’t sure if they saw a spirit, mutant bird from a toxic swamp or some kind of reincarnated Indian chief who once cursed the land (Strangely, most of his bones have been lost).

Pick up a copy and maybe the shimmering red-eyed form of the birdman will soon be standing outside your window.

I spent two long summers in Helltown, Ohio—an area of small towns with a collective name that just reeks “urban legend.” I lived just down the street from a cemetery perched atop an Indian mound, which some locals believe has mystical qualities. In the summer there, when the sun dips between the thin trunks of the Cuyahoga woods, you can hear rustling along the remains of the Ohio and Erie Canal. On the cemetery itself a mist sometimes forms. It’s enough to make any city slicker run for the nearest bar and watch the Cleveland Indians get massacred.

I never could muster up the nerve to sneak into the cemetery at midnight and peer at hundreds-of-years-old headstones, marking those who died from pestilence, murder, and in the rare case, old age. I opted for daylight wanderings.

Legends of the Peninsula Python, a giant snake that escaped a circus train in the 1940s mesh right along with the mystical mound and even the thought that toxic mutants once lived nearby. I interviewed one local extensively who used to ride by horseback into a nearby swampy area. She said she saw government workers stacking barrels of toxic goo at a condemned house in the old swamp. It gets creepy when you include the idea that some nearby families have unexplained illnesses. I dated that girl for years. I finally dumped her after she turned into the Swamp Thing. Just kidding.

Yet there’s another urban legend in Random Obsessions worth mentioning.

 In Dan Brown fashion, I couldn’t help but write about the architectural mysteries of Washington, D.C. Just what is the deal about D.C. area reflecting pools and star alignments, or all the countless Dante statues, Athena artwork, the White House glyph and Sirius dome stars?

In a way we’re all hooked on such stories whether we’re sitting in a bathroom cooking them up for a midnight radio show, or just stumbling upon something real and freaky. They’re out there, that’s for sure, and you usually don’t have to look very far.
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You can read a lot more weird stories from Nick Belardes in Random Obsessions. Pick up a copy from Viva Editions. Intro by Brad Listi, founder of TheNervousBreakdown.com

People have been wanting a place where they can go to read the Twitter novel “Small Places” without clicking through the reverse order on its Twitter page site. Right away, this post is for “Small Places” readers and new fans, and people who want to discuss literary innovation, because here, they will get 14 chapters (of the 25 posted), and a whopping 358 tweets of the nearly 600 posted.

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

She was a head-injured quadriplegic at a nursing home. I took care of her sometimes. The other assistants who cared for her brought her Playgirl magazines. They’d open them up to a photo of some guy’s package. That brought a big smile to her contorting face, which was the only part of her body she could move. A former Cal Trans road worker, she had been smashed by some kind of vehicle as she stood on a Florida roadway. She couldn’t talk, only smile. She couldn’t eat except through a tube that dangled from her side. But she loved porn. You could see it in her eyes.

I had to turn her constantly to keep the sores off her body.

A head-injured man shared the room. All he could do was eat. He couldn’t move a muscle. I spoon fed him and had to massage his throat so he could swallow. I changed his diapers, took him to a shower room and hosed him off while he lay on a big blue gurney. He stared a lot. That’s all he could do. I didn’t sense any thoughts behind his eyes. I figured any kind of reasoning was hidden far behind a veil of fog so thick that his soul was in a constant winter.

His mother, whose fingernails looked like strange digging spades, would come to his room once a week and rub his head. She thought he might wake up. “He’s going to come through,” she said. Her little puffs of grey hair and big glasses hid a motherly anger.

I hung out with a couple of CNAs at the nursing home. James was a large black man who would tell me lots of Bible stories. “You know Christmas trees are in the Bible,” he said one day, then launched into the old testament tale on the topic, saying there was an evergreen, that it meant Christmas. “It’s true,” he said.

“Fool. That’s a bad word. Don’t ever call anybody a fool,” he said on another occasion. “People don’t know, but they should be afraid of that word. God will punish them.”

I was glad to be at the nursing home, far away from the clinic and the likes of the angry head-injured like Ken Svent, who would always throw his breakfast at me. He often screamed until his ribs cracked. Herman Burger also lived there. He was a six-foot, five-inch-tall gay lumberjack. He once lunged at me with his razor while trying to help him re-learn how to shave. More than once he threw a shoe at his Alaskan wilderness lover, missed, and hit a window.

My favorite head-injury victim was an old timer named Tom. He pitched in the World Series back in the 1950s and still had enough wits to show me his hand gestures for a slider and curve ball. His smashed brain could at least put together those memories. I always wondered if he made the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame

The rooms and halls of the nursing home smelled like piss. The old people in the hallways constantly pissed themselves, the floor, their rooms. The smell lingered in a cloud of human waste.

I studied in the nursing home. I read and then fed the head injured. I remember Fall months and the leaves tumbling through the air outside the windows. I remember James saying he had another story for me. “It’s about God’s covenant by fire and water,” he said. He came into the room often and saw a bit of God in there. I know he did.

I don’t know what happened. I could be one of those people who black out, who say things in moments where there’s no clarity, no real consciousness, just daydreaming —  starwalking in silent dreams during schoolyard bells.

The bus dropped me off near Geneva Avenue — that’s on the southside of Bakersfield. It was a poor blue collar street with stray dogs, tumbleweeds and the shitty kids I grew up with.

Walking home, I remember a short Asian-Mexican boy with a cleft palate. His face always looked angry, distorted. He had a mouth like a pumpkin scar. He was in the group of kids following me, encouraging the boy at the front of the pack to get me.

There’s no pride in fighting when your father claims to be a fighter and he never teaches you how to even slap someone with a glove and say, “Touche!” So I kept walking.

The boy following me was a dirty-faced white kid with dark stringy hair. He thought I said something at school. Something mean. Something that questioned his boyhood maleness. I racked my brain for some sort of explanation since I had no memory.

He turned me around and clocked me on the left side of the temple.

He was taller than me. He looked tougher. But I remember it didn’t really hurt. And I didn’t fall down. I just stood there. “I don’t want to fight,” I said.

Eventually he and the others left. They were laughing. I got one final stare from the kid with the cleft palate and permanent angry eyebrows. His curdled milk lips knotted into a gleeful smile, thirsting for blood.

I turned around and walked home. I was looking forward to reading another book in the John Carter of Mars adventure series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’m guessing I was about halfway through “The Chessmen of Mars.”

There’s a Star Wars kite that flies through my imagination. It fights a plastic parrot over a lonely section of the city. Cars zoom past and we all ignore them. The kites dart and dodge. They batter one another. They’re  not really even there. But I can open the front door of my apartment and see them flying across the apartment tops in a pool of blue sky.

On a rainy day I can still imagine the summer sunlight, the kites fluttering, dipping with each tug, and two little boys with hands wrapped in string.

I suppose it might not mean anything that when I needed to move again, I moved right back into the same apartment where I used to live. In an entire city block of carbon copy apartments it’s the same exact one. About thirty feet outside the apartment is a little area of cement. Dates and initials are carved from the mid 1990s. I lived there with my mom and my sister. My mom died in 1998 from an aortic aneurysm. My sister now lives somewhere in the mountains south of Bakersfield (about 70 miles north of LA). I’d left the apartment around 1996 and thought I’d never look back.

Sometimes it’s really disturbing living someplace I thought I’d left far behind. It’s tough convincing myself that I really did make progress in my life. I’ve seen and done a few things since then.

My mother watched “Singing in the Rain” a lot. I can see her doing that when I’m passing through the living room.

Sometimes I go and kick dirt off the initials in the cement. I think of dreams I once had while living in the apartment the first time. I can still see those too.

On occasion, when the front door opens, like today, I can hear a little boy crying from atop a swatch of grass. I gaze upward as his Star Wars kite breaks off into an uncontrolled arc across the sky. It goes crashing outside of the apartment sea, over a fence and alley, and into a row of homes, never to be found.