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I was moving down Broadway in a state of diminished intelligence, looking one way and another. I could have been a homeless. I imagine the ghosts of Indians wandering, lost in Manhattan, in loincloths, paint on their cheeks, stunned the way I am, crippled in their hearts by the height of what towers remain. Asking where the forests have gone to and concerned about game and survival, awed by these vehicles rumbling, awed by the light from the sky…

“Game” is a word I should note.

Notepad I should have.

I have to live life differently.

Heh.

Don’t we all?

I need two phalluses next time around.

A person should have a Ferrari.

Scratch: a person should have the wisdom you get from Ferrari ownership.

I was still carrying the glove. It was a heavy workman’s glove found under a mailbox some number of blocks uptown. I must have spent three minutes on my knees wondering if I should take it—looked like a pretty swell glove.

At the corner of Twenty-fifth, I saw a hotel to the right. I was clutching the glove, backpack weighing on my shoulder, standing on the sidewalk outside of a Comfort Inn. It had been a residential building sometime in the past. Pale stone, redbrick. You could tell from the outside it would have to have one of those impoverished elevators inside, small as a phone booth and no sturdier.

I dropped the glove on the steps going in. I’d almost brought it with me to the front desk—my brain wasn’t well. The priority was not to go home.

The guy responded quickly to the bell. “Yes?”

“You have rooms?”

He said, “Yes.”

“What’s the rate?”

It was $229. I stood thinking, touching the counter with one hand and looking down. Then I said, “Thank you. Good night.”

“Good luck, sir.”

I stepped on the glove going out. I walked back to Broadway, continued downtown. A Comfort Inn is a Comfort Inn is a dump whether they charge $230 or $60. A cab home would cost $18, net of tip; people go home at the end of their days. I know all the basic procedures. Brush your teeth and floss. Mumble to your spouse and grab hold of that flab at her side; it gives you comfort through the night.

It was the quiet stretch below Twenty-third and above Union Square, where no business was open, no person was seen. I stopped at the display window of a particular high-end store and was staring at stemware. It was all crystal, with facets cut in. I like things like that. I happen to own a pillow with silk case that I paid $90 for, in ’02. The exact word for its color is “nacarat,” red tinged with orange; it’s a cognate of “nacre,” meaning mother-of-pearl: the pillow has a nacreous sheen. I was a big fan of it when I bought it—I was a big fan of myself while I was doing the buying, aware of the decadence of (a) having a throw pillow at all and (b) having a throw pillow that fucking expensive, as well as of the deeper decadence of not truly thinking, in my heart, the purchase was all that extravagant. The most decadent decadence is unreflexive, unaware, opaque to itself.

In the middle of the next street, I challenged a cab, and he slowed and was nailing the horn. I did not flip him the bird. I proceeded to cross the street at a pace so reduced you almost couldn’t tell I was moving. His engine roared as soon as he could pass me.

Muscles all over my body were sore. My feet hurt—I’d been walking for miles. I was hungry, and I wanted alcohol. I liked not knowing quite where I would sleep. It reminded me of being on the road in the old days, a long time ago, in a galaxy way the fuck out there.

 

***

 

Union Square was less dead, but still dead. The Barnes & Noble looked gloomy. The new books displayed in the window were like an affront. Screw them.

Approaching the corner of Park Avenue, I was staring at the W across the street. This is a decent hotel. The building is old and brick and passionately renovated, massive neon glowing from the roof in a color not far off from nacarat, gorgeous giant windows by the sidewalk, so the geeks can peer in and the meatheads inside can show off their three-figure blue jeans, three-figure T-shirts, or four-figure jackets, and how much they spend on their drinks. I always found that kind of vanity highly provocative and enraging.

As I entered the lobby, I practically slipped. They take good care of their floors. The handsome wooden banister at the left side of the curved stair shone as if it were metal. The woman at the desk smiled graciously.

I asked if they had a vacancy.

“Yes…”

“What’s the best rate at this hour?”

“Best I can do is three-eighty,” she said.

“What time is checkout?”

“Eleven.”

“I would have the room for—what, seven hours… ? I’m a member of the Auto Club.”

“The triple-A rate is the same. Hold on a moment.” She was keying something in, looking pained. “I can give you three-forty.”

I was holding my silver MasterCard, pausing, with no other idea than the thought that I mustn’t go home. Paul would be there, and I couldn’t look at Paul.

I couldn’t have Paul look at me. I’d spent the day playing poker at Columbia, losing three Gs… Had to try to put it all behind me. “Could I get a late checkout?”

“Of course.”

 

***

 

Next morning, in the $340 room, I wasn’t hungover alcoholically with thorough physical sickness, nausea, and head pain. This hangover was different. It was all in the brain and the chest.

I tried showering. But that couldn’t help. My face’s reflection looked sickly. My skin couldn’t become clean. My skull throbbed, and my thoughts were all scrambled. I was feeling the restlessness still.

On the train home, all I could think as I sucked bad coffee heavily sugared was that I needed to shower my mind, rinse or scrub or exfoliate in there somehow. Hose it down, if I could.

There’s no way.

In any case. In any case.

I’m a strong bitch.

My might has been proved by now.

You could ask the Aladdin about it.

In the building I climbed the three flights. Someone had been smoking on the stairwell again. I got to the green metal door of the dump Paul and I called a home.

As soon as I stepped inside, the throb and the anxiety quickened. It was like a bass drum getting frantic. Fruit flies bobbed in the kitchen. I bade them good day.

I got out my laptop from the backpack and went stumbling into my room. I collapsed at my desk. I had paid $600 for the desk. I’d gotten a number of furnishings in ’02 when I moved into Manhattan for a year. The days of wine and poses, long ago.

What is this—2005?

It’s ’06, kemo sabe. Get a grip. Bush is the president. War in Iraq. The terror alert is at orange. Things hunky-dory in general.

Katrina—remember? The toilets in Biloxi were destroyed. The Grand lay smashed on the coast. The Isle of Capri disappeared. No one ever saw the thing again. It was like a fulfillment: God’s vengeance upon the casinos. A beautiful sight!

Yeah, I remember that day. I’d been playing poker compulsively on the Internet, feeling rather spavined, and losing. They had all those warnings on the news, predictions of where it would strike. The ominousness was terrific. I was stretched out on the futon and played through the night, hoping for something tremendous.

The laptop had finished booting up. I rose from my chair, and I paced. Dust motes were swarming the air. My bed was disheveled, of course. I sat on the mattress.

I yawned. I had to live life differently. You must, boy, you must. These thoughts just hung in my head: must, must. They were in there, all right. I moved to the desk, reinstalled the poker software, began another day in the life.


Long overdue correspondence from yours truly.

___________________

 

Dear Quarterflash,

Remember me? It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? About thirty years, actually, since I bought your self-titled cassette after hearing your moody gem, “Harden My Heart” on the radio.  I was 12 years old, and having only a limited personal music collection, I listened to your tape nonstop, removing it from my poor excuse for a boom box only long enough to turn it over and pop it back in.  In my opinion, it was filler-free.  Each synthy cut stood out as an unappreciated classic. I took you to bed with me each night, and in the morning, you delivered papers with me.   Remember?

Then one day the tape wore so thin that it became unplayable. Instead of replacing your album with a newer copy, I bought the new album by Pink Floyd called, “The Wall.” A lot of things changed after that.  Do you guys know them?  They seem pretty moody too, between you and me.

Just so you know, I’ve always treasured those nights lying in bed together, the massive Koss headphones wafting your smooth jazz into my mind, pretending that singer/saxophonist Rindy Ross had written these songs for me. I imagined that it was after a tempestuous argument between us that she sat down and penned the fist pumper, “Find Another Fool.”  In my Quarterflash fantasy world, she always took my 12 year old ass back. By the way, it never struck me as odd that Rindy would sing a romantic song to another girl (“Valerie”).  I just figured that the song was simply… well, I have no idea how I missed that, now that I think of it.

I write you now because I must come clean and admit that I have denied you several times. In fact, I have spent most of my life not mentioning to anyone that I owned your album, let alone that I obsessed over it. I listen to lots of death metal now. Have you ever heard of Emperor? They’re really good. Check them out- they sing a great song called “I Am the Black Wizards” that I listen to when I go running.  Were any of your songs Satanic?  A lot of theirs are.  But unlike you, they don’t have a saxophone player.  So you’ve got that on them.

Anyway, although I haven’t listened to you in three decades, and though I am now a tattooed, jaded misanthrope, I will always secretly be your biggest fan. Could you please send me an autographed picture of Rindy? And please make it to, “My boyfriend Joe, who is the coolest kid at May Street School and the best boyfriend ever, love always, Rindy.”

Thanks.

And sorry.

Joe

___________________

 

Dear Jay Leno-

My name is Joe and I grew up in Worcester, not far from where you grew up. Hey, I know you’re super busy and I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I was just wondering- how much money do you really need?

Thanks and have a great rest of the day,

Joe

 

___________________

 

Dear Copenhagen (Denmark) Marriott-

I just wanted to send a long overdue letter of thanks to your staff for not telling on me when I stayed at your hotel five years ago and precipitated that rather anxious morning for a lot of people.   As you can see, I’m still alive!  Is there a word for “lol” in Danish? If so, I’d use it right now! lol

Thank you for calling my room so many times that morning to make sure I was OK, even though I did not pick up the phone.  I don’t know which attempt finally worked, but I’m deeply appreciative that you stuck with it until I finally answered. Because of your Danish stick-tuitiveness, I made it into work by 1 p.m., thus avoiding a dreaded no call/no show at the office that day. Can you imagine what people would have thought?

I also appreciate you not sending a letter to my company explaining how and why you kicked my door in. As a testament to your customer-friendly attitude, you didn’t even charge me for the repairs. In fact, had you not called me to confirm that the repairs to the door, post-kicking-in, were to my satisfaction, I might never have known of all your hard work.

I hope you enjoyed my gift this past summer and that it came as a nice surprise when you learned that while in your city for a whole week last July, I stayed at another hotel.

Tak!

Joe Daly

 

___________________

 

Dear American Lung Association-

What’s going on? How are everyone’s lungs today? Hah hah… Hey, I was just wondering what I might be able to do here on my end to get you to stop bothering me. Any suggestions or direction you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

By way of background, my friend did some sort of cycling event a couple years ago. He agreed to raise money for you and you in turn, gave him a snazzy-looking web page where he could direct all of his friends to donate money. It was so cool! His name is Brian, by the way. Ring a bell? There was a little graph that showed how much he had raised and what his goal was. I think it was a giant lung.  Well played, ALA!  What will you guys come up with next??

Anyway, I donated some money, mainly to help him out, but I do agree that lungs are important. I use both of mine everyday! I guess lungs are to me what phones are to you, because since I gave you money, you guys now call me what seems like everyday, asking how much more I would like to donate to your organization.  I sort of feel bad for reminding a recent caller that I subscribe to the “Do Not Call” registry of the United States of America.  I must have caught them after a dentist appointment or something because that caller became irate and angrily advised that charities are exempt from that list and then again inquired how much would I like to give?

Sometimes I don’t pick up, but then you don’t leave a message, so I figure that it can’t be too important, right? I assume that if the doors were about to close for lack of funding, you guys might leave a message at the beep.  And then you send me those emails every couple of weeks, asking me to join your fight by sending you money. But I’m a lover, not a fighter! Can’t I just send some love your way?  Make lungs, not war!  You can use that last one if you want.

So it would mean a lot to me if you could please, please, please stop making me view charity as a sucky and heartless game for relentless people with no souls.  I’m going to continue to ignore your calls and mark your emails as spam but please don’t take it personally! My lungs and I still love you- we just feel like our relationship has sort of, well, run its course, yanno?

Thanks and keep those lungs clean!

Joe

Hotel Bound

By Amanda Miller

Essay

My family loved road trips. Collective confinement we loved somewhat less. My brother and I fought like thugs, my father was seething before we reached the city limits, and my mother’s duties trebled during this so-called time off, as she became not just mother but navigator and referee. Her warnings that we’d better not make our father stop the car earned brief respite from the din of our tiny, angry voices. We knew we deserved a good murdering and believed that one day dad would pull onto the shoulder and deliver.

December 11, 2009 – L.A.X.

In general, I feel good about this. Three months isn’t such a long time, and I certainly wasn’t accomplishing anything in L.A. So what if all anyone has told us about Brazil is that it’s dangerous, and we’ll be beaten and robbed within seconds of landing in Sao Paulo. Just because everyone has a third- or fourth-hand account of a girl who was slashed or a guy who was shot doesn’t mean we’ll be slashed and shot. Never mind that story in the Times about how Brazilian police kill hundreds of innocent people a year. Just don’t ask the police for help. And just don’t think about that other story in the Times that said gangmembers in one of Rio’s favelas just shot down a police helicopter. That was Rio.

Everything’s going to be fine.

 

December 15 – Sao Paulo

On Sunday, Day One, it was raining, so after breakfast we went to a nearby mall. I don’t see how Sao Paulo can be dangerous. At the entrance a man stands with a machine gun strapped to his bulletproof vest, the cuffs of his black cargo pants tucked into his army boots. That seems to be the hip look for scary paramilitary types. When a man tucks his pants into his boots, you can just assume he has no problem with cold-blooded murder. Think about it: those Blackwater Nazis? Tuckers, to a man.

Inside, there are five security guards for every civilian. Men in dark jackets stand about thirty feet apart, watching every move we make.  When I take my wallet out of my pocket to pay for some cheesebread, I do it very slowly.

Yes! We successfully ordered cheesebread! We communicate with the natives via pointing at what we want. As a result, we tend not to get exactly what we want, but we are adaptable and our stomachs are strong.

 

December 16

Stomach pain!

Shouldn’t have gone from being vegetarian straight to eating chicken wrapped in bacon.

Also, Portuguese is hard. It shares words with Spanish, but Brazilians pronounce the Rs like Hs at the beginning of words but like Ds in the middle of words. They pronounce Ds like Js, and Ts like CHs (as in “Chanukah”), except when they don’t, and I have no idea when that is. Basically I have to rely on context to make a guess about what people are saying to me.

Have discovered local Starbucks. Emotions: conflicted.

 

December 17

Karen is jealous that I get to hang out all day while she has to work. I sympathize, but hey, I’m working. These crossword puzzles aren’t going to do themselves! I mean, I’m trying to plot my novel, but well, it sucks. And right now, someone is using a circular saw right on the other side of this wall, and the sound is like a demon screeching inside my head. I would leave this place, but I’m waiting for coffee. Still learning the local customs. I’m relying wholly on tone and context here, but I think the barista just said to me, “Sit down, bitch! I’ll bring you your goddamn coffee when it’s ready!”

I miss my dog.

 

December 18

Brazilian greetings are complicated. Before noon, it’s “Bom dia!” (but you say, “Bong gee-a”). Then, “Boa Tarde!” (“Ta-ch-jee!”) and then at night, “Boa Noite” (“Noichee or Noich.”) But you also might get, “Tudo bem?” or “Tudo bom?” which are apparently interchangeable. If someone says “Tudo bem?” your response is supposed to be “Tudo bom!” and vice versa, but so far all Karen and I have been able to do is smile and repeat whatever they’ve said to us, or lapse into a lame “Hi.”

I’m at a mall. I flew six thousand miles to sit in a mall. Next to Starbucks. But in my defense, it’s an outdoor mall, and it’s the only place in like a three-mile radius where you can be outside without suffering the noise and air pollution from the cars that clog every street.  And I’m not at Starbucks. Just next to it. At Fran’s Café, which, I’ve been told, is the Brazilian Starbucks.

There are security guards everywhere. The patrons of this mall are professionals and the super-rich. I’m the sketchiest-looking person here.

 

December 19

I did our laundry for the first time yesterday. It’s a complicated business, that begins with my calling housekeeping and saying, “Posso reservar a lavanderia?” and the housekeeper’s saying, “Que?” and my trying again and her saying something unintelligible that goes on way too long but ends abruptly so that the silence extends into awkward territory until I say, “Um…” and she says, “Agora! Agora!” and I say, “Oh, now? OK!”

I took the elevator down to the stiflingly hot basement where the laundry room is and where the housekeepers all marvel at the gringo man doing laundry. I don’t know much about Brazil yet, but I’m guessing they don’t have house-husbands here. I think of saying in Portuguese, “A woman’s work is never done!” but my courage fails me.

The machines are slow and stubborn, and the dryers don’t actually dry. I used up my entire allotted three-hour window, and still had to hang clothes from every possible place in the apartment to dry them. I managed to hang all of Karen’s undies on hangers, five each, which I then hung from our dining table chandelier. If all else fails, I will become a panty-mobile maker and sell my crafts by the roadside.

 

January 4, 2010

New year, old shit. Trouble sleeping. How can I detach the critical part of my brain?

I’m in the penthouse common room of the hotel. The view is 360 degrees of high-rise buildings, beautiful in a sort of tragic, pre-apocalyptic way. Every now and then a helicopter flies by and keeps going or lands on one of the office buildings in the neighborhood. Those guys — the ones who take helicopters around the city — just have to be all-star douchebags. There’s just no way around it.

There are security cameras in here. They’re also in the hallway outside our room, and in the elevators. Do they make me want to adjust my scrotum and pick my nose more than usual, or am I just more aware of these urges?

 

January 7

The housekeeper is messing with me. I leave the room at the same time every day to allow her to clean, but today I leave for two hours and come back, and she still hasn’t been here. What do I do? I am a home-person. I’m the roommate about whom other roommates moan to their friends, “He’s always home!”

I can only sit in so many cafés, and the hotel roof gets too hot in the afternoons. Where can I go?  Who will care for me? Is this how my ancestors felt? Would building a golden calf make me feel any better?

 

January 8

No.

 

January 9? 10?

I’ve lost track. Feeling a bit… low. I’m working at the juice place I’ve been going to so the servers at the cafés don’t think I’m stalking them. It’s pouring rain. It’s rained every day that we’ve been here, which is fine with me. I could go back to the room, switch the green Favor Arrumar o Quarto card on the door handle back over to the red Favor Não Incomodar, but then the room won’t be cleaned! What if we should want to shower again today?! The towels will be — gasp! — damp!

Karen says she doesn’t think the room needs to be cleaned every day — we certainly don’t have a housekeeper in real life — but I’m afraid of setting a precedent. Skip a day and the housekeeper may never come back. Or skip a day, and then I’ll skip two, and then three. Before we know it, we’ll be living like animals.

Also, I just left the hotel, and I can’t run that gauntlet again. On my way out I had to walk past the front desk, where no fewer than four blue-blazered hotel staffers milled around, all smiling fakely and saying, “Tudo bem?” or “Tudo bom?” or “Bom Dia!” Then there was the stoic security guard at the door, his deep “Bom Dia,” and then the three valet parking attendants. I just nodded and kept walking, like someone who is busy, very busy. No time for chit-chat, I have places to be, people to order coffee from!

No. Can’t go back to the hotel.

 

January 11?

Why can’t I get my shit together and get some work done? What’s my problem? Why won’t the housekeeper be consistent? Why doesn’t this hotel have a back door?

It’s too hot to think in this climate.

Stomach pain is back. Yesterday we accidentally ordered a stew that had at least four different animals in it.

When we get back to the States, I’m going vegan.