Hemmingway's Fault Part Two
When it's time to check out
The next morning I looked for work and in the afternoon I sat with Linda in the dark lobby with its rickety chairs that over looked the front desk which itself led into her room. I liked her, she never asked embarrassing questions. You paid your rent (god knows how) and that was the end of it.
Published on LatinoLA: June 24, 2004
She told me about all the cancer in her family and then how the state had taken her children away under ?unfair circumstances? her eyes watered up and she looked at her empty plastic cup and filled with it with whisky. Suddenly she squinted, looked down the staircase and her face brightened
?Hey, hey! The gangs all here!?
?Hey Linda? said the voices below
Then I heard the crashing of the floorboards and up the stairs came several men in gray and blue uniforms. They all had a cross on the sleeve. One man was tall about forty with a mop of blond, sandy hair and a blurry face. He extended his hand and spoke loudly as if all in the room were deaf.
"Hi, I?m Don! And you?re the new guy, right?"
"Yep, that?s me all right?
Another hand belonging to a guy about my age reached out
?What?s up Holmes, coulden?t get into the Hilton??
?I heard Trump stayed here and raved about the dust, so I had to try it, I?m Carlos?
? Cool, I?m Ricky?
?So where do you guys all work?? I asked checking out their outfits He pointed to the badge on his sleeve that showed an angel with writing from an evangelical organization above it. ?Charity work thrift stores, that kind of stuff? he said
It was then a ritual began that never seemed to end began. When they all came home from work they tossed off their gear, headed for the liquor store across the street. After that they brought their favorite mugs out of their rooms and began to throw down for hours, usually malt liquor.
I know I should have been writing then but the truth was I was terribly lonely. Every day my original ideas of what I thought my life was about were becoming more muted and impossible. So instead I joined the family.
Linda brought out a boom box and we took turns playing DJ and drinking, except me who never developed a taste for alcohol.
?Anything but that Mariachi shit, it makes me want to cry,? said Ricky who was brought over by a coyote from Mexico with his family when he was nine.
Two more men, less friendly also wearing the uniform sped past, looked me over with suspicion and went into their rooms.
It was then I heard the heavy breathing from the other night again. It was far beneath the staircase and as it?s breathing stopped and started again with great labor some cursing could be heard. Finally the tip of a baseball cap could be spotted. A mountain of a man, at least 350 pounds and about six foot two followed this. He was dressed in a shabby amalgamation of sweatpants and a dirty plaid shirt slightly torn at the sides as if by a knife. His face was riddled with ticks and twitches and his eyes were dark and cold.
?Did that little girl turn up??? he asked.
Linda frowned and lowered her eyes away from him. Her voice was harsh. Linda did not like David and that was something, as Linda liked just about everyone.
?I don?t know anything about that and I never will, I don?t want her here and you know why!?
?Jesus Christ! I just asked you a damn question, why can?t I ask you a question, don?t you love me anymore? his mouth curled up into an evil grin. You could tell he smiled that way after he handed a man back one of his limbs after he tore it off.
His name was David. What could I tell you about David? Lots I am fortunate enough to forget but there are a few incidents that make me laugh, even if they really shouldn?t. David had done hard time about two years. I found out why around Christmas time.
One night I came down to the lobby and spotted a beaming David with his arms around a large older man with silver hair.
?Family! It?s all about Family!? He kept repeating.
I leaned over to Ricky who was half awake sipping his bottle of Mickey?s.
?What?s with David, man??
?That?s David?s Papi! He?s a cool old dude. Victor, or something?
?His Dad? Wow, I just figured they invented him in a lab?
?You want to trip out on something? Check this out. Hey Victor, show my buddy hear your stripes!?
The silver haired man turned around smiling and lifted up his shirt. There was a large patch of deep scars that ran down his chest that looked as if a lion had attacked him.
Damn!! I said
The man turned his attention back to his son. Ricky whispered in my ear, his breath almost taking the flesh of my lobe due to it?s alcoholic content.
?David stabbed him 14 times and the old bastard lived, now they have reunited? a tear began to form crazily over his left eye.
?Well, it?s a Wonderful life? I replied.
It was hard to have normal conversations at the Preston, even if you were not drunk, alcoholic reasoning seemed to permeate everything. One time I actually tried it with Don and Ricky. I was screwed up in a million different ways I didn?t understand but I decided Ricky was who had a girlfriend and a job but was constantly drunk, was somehow worse off then me.
?Ricky, man, don?t you ever worry where your life is going, like there?s no plan at all?
?I got a plan, it?s called drinking. I plan to do it a lot,? he said
?I planned on being a writer, but I?m shit. I can?t write anymore, it all sucks, terrible stuff, maybe I?m finished? I said, Don the eternal optimist chimed in
?Don?t believe it man! You?re an artist. Artists have to do their thing! Even in a shithole like this. That?s why I play and sing every night man, I feel the music in me and, it just has to come out?
?Hey, vomit has to come out too, but you don?t see me doing it in the lobby in front of everybody? said Ricky, who loved to get Don?s goat. But Don took the high road.
?That?s an ignorant comment, you know what your problem is, you never had a dream, how can a man want or do anything without a damn dream??
?So how come you?re here? what happened to your dream?? Ricky said defiantly.
?I forgot it, but at least I had one. I?m trying to find a new dream?
?Hey Carlos, Listen to Martin Luther Budweiser over here! he had a dream!? Don became stoic and stopped talking but I started to freak out about my circumstances.
?What if I?m not really a writer, what if i am supposed to be a Janitor or an adult diaper salesman?
?I wish I had one of those diapers now? he said unhelpfully.
?What the hell am I doing here? I can?t breath in here, it?s like Willy Loman happy hour every damn day and night?
?Willy?is he that Pendejo who always clogs the drain with his weird ass herbal baths? He smells good but there?s freaking pinecones in the tub when he?s done?
?I screwed up I should have gone to school; or something. I?m totally screwed?
?Man, either you start drinking or I finish because you?re bumming me out?
Suddenly Don turned and kind of blew us away.
?Life just gets away from you, you can?t see it when your young, it?s under your wings then but it?s moving so fast and all it takes is one mistake, one wrong road chosen and you can spend the rest of your life trying to get back to where you started?
Ricky and I looked at each other amazed, usually by now Don recited old Bob Dylan lyrics at us, or tortured with the John Denver songbook on his guitar but not tonight.
?Damn!? said Ricky ?I?m drinking alone tonight, this shit is depressing?
I looked at Don and I wondered if that was my future. He was basically a good man, but like he said, one wrong turn is all it takes. All those homeless people, junkies, prostitutes, didn?t somebody hold them in a hospital room one day and was glad they came into the world even for a moment? At what point did people decide to stop caring, stop investing? When did love become as likely as gold in some peoples lives?
A day before I left the Preston Don almost met his maker. He was a frustrated musician, everybody there was a frustrated something or other but most had given up, decided to strictly play defense in their lives with no expectation of winning any prizes. But Don loved entertaining in the lobby, it was his Woodstock.
He had this habit of caterwauling really loud with his guitar and it?s only because he was a nice guy that it was barely tolerated. Barely and certainly not by David who by this time had increased the dosage of medications that were keeping his anger and irrational behavior in check. Unfortunately for Don, David?s benefits had been cut and he was newly med free at the moment.
Even among the damned there is such a thing as simple courtesy and Don did push his luck. His main thing was launching into a harrowing version of Hotel California. He loved that song to death. Literally. I think he related to being in a haunted place where you can check out but can never leave.
It was at about 1:30 in the morning on a Monday. I was up pounding on the typewriter in my room when I heard the familiar refrain ?ON A DARK DESERT HIGHWAY!!!?He would stop and start, always out of tune several times. I am pretty sure singing that bad actually would get you out of the Hotel California. Then I heard David huffing and puffing his way into the lobby.
"Damn fool, it?s almost two in the morning, knock that shit off, go to bed!?
He walks back to his room, there is silence. I go back to typing. Then five minutes go by and I hear ?ON A DARK DESERT HIGHWAY? this is followed by David?s door swinging open again loudly. There is shouting and one very clear statement.
?Screw you fat man!?
Nobody spoke to David like that. Next was a terrible rumble, and then I hear Linda?s voice.
?DAVID STOP IT OR I WILL CALL THE COPS!!!!!? YOU COULD KILL HIM?
?I want to kill him, no respect, I have to have respect and there no respect, never from no one? he mumbled.
?HOLY SHIT? said another
In need of future material I poke my head out of my door to see David dangling Don over the staircase as if he was a rag doll. It was a long way down those steps but like Don?s beloved Eagles say ?it was life in the fast lane?
?Apologize right now, right now, goddamn you!!?
?Whaaahghhh! ?Replied the terrified Don who still managed to hold on to his guitar. Is this the day the music died? I though to myself. More doors opened amused at the sight of the flailing musician
?Put down that white man David! It?s the guitar you need to kill!? Ricky shouted.
Don eventually apologized and David lumbered back to his room. Another door slammed from somewhere and like a cat the deaf/mute prostitute who came around ran down the stairs with Linda yelling after her to never come back.
Actually the only decent thing I ever did there was call a social worker to have her checked out, I was not too sure if she was really eighteen and though I never had any dealings with her the feral look in her eyes made me feel ashamed anyways. I made the mistake of telling this to Ricky who told David who used her services on a regular basis. When she stopped coming around David had it in for me.
One night he pinned me up against a wall. I felt his crushing weight on me and I will always remember the crazy sound of his heart beating out of control like the wings of a dying bird while he threatened me. I don?t remember what he said, I was to scare but I remember the room being blacked out by his enormous shoulders. This was to dark, to real, this was no place unless you had to be had, chose to be
That was all I needed. I began packing and called on a friend for a little couch surfing. I just took off, lots of people who lived there did that. A few days later when I told my friend what happened, he said it sounded like a good story. It told him it was hardly a Movable Feast or Paris in the 20?s and I would never write about it. instead I would forget it, ?no, man you will write about it one day, you don?t have a choice? he said. I said no way. It?s amazing how wrong you can be.
Mark Sotelo is a Writer/Associate Editor with LatinoLA.com. He was written feature articles and interviews with Gregory Nava, Paul Rodriguez and Los Lobos. Like every other guy in town he is working on a screenplay.