Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Studio 30 Prompt: Hotels,or why I'll never sit on a polyester bedspread

At one time I had a job that required fairly regular travel for business. Every couple of months I'd be packed off, usually at short notice, to a city that required a flight and a hotel stay. I was still enough of a peasant to be delighted by these opportunities, and every hotel with a free continental breakfast, however frightening the instant eggs and flaccid english muffins, seemed super nice and I sat at my small table under the everpresent bleat of CNN feeling smug and important.

One trip in particular took me to Atlanta for a GSA conference. The GSA, or General Services Administration, is in part the purchasing department for the federal government. This trip involved the standard conference experience of standing around smiling, smelling stale popcorn, handing out swag and business cards, our only entertainment whipping the occasional squeezy hand exerciser shaped like a moving truck at the douchebaggy lawyers across the aisle. 

My getting there was a whole 'nother story, which is explained here . Once we got there we discovered why its really better to make your own reservations.

The  salesman who was coordinating this shindig told us to stay at a particular chain hotel on Peachtree. Now for those of you unfamiliar with the fairest of fair cities, Atlanta, Peachtree St NW is a main corridor that runs through downtown. And there is one of these hotels very close to the conference location. This is the one he meant. The only wee problem is, its not on Peachtree. Its one block off. The other wee problem is, there was another of this chain on Peachtree. It was six blocks away. This is where we had reservations. And as every other hotel downtown was sold out, we had to keep them.

We got there and from the lobby, the hotel seemed to be full of old world charm. That is, after I shook off the creepy feeling from the historical marker outside, which detailed a horrific fire that took place there earlier in the century. Our rooms were done in early Miami Vice. Very, very early. In the case of mine the dusty floral and aquamarine-appointed room was obscured in a layer of funk comprised mainly of nicotine and despair. The night stand was sticky and scarred with multicolor stains much in the way a toaster gets when you leave the bread bag too close to it.

I peeled the gold bedspread off with two fingers and flicked it in the corner.

At this point in my life I wasn't much for making a fuss and complaining so my meek request to move to a non-smoking room was dismissed with the explanation that they couldn't move me until the middle of the day and WOULDN'T move my stuff if I wasn't there. I decided to make the best of it. I spent my life camping. I was a camp counselor. How bad could it be?

Any hopes of a luxurious soak in the tub were squashed by the jaunty, cheerful curl of a rogue pube. At this point I had no real desire to even take off my shoes. But the best was yet to come. The closet in this room had been moved in a remodeling, leaving a shallow recess in which a safe had been installed. Some terrible compulsion made me poke my head into the dead space alongside the safe, in the unused right hand side of the old closet. 

This was a mistake.

Unfurled and stuck to the carpet was a used condom. A furiously whispered conversation at the front desk resulted in its removal....the next day.

These days, I get to stay in better hotels. Even so, I inspect them before I take off my shoes, checking  all corners, scrutinizing surfaces. So far these inspections have yielded no more unpleasant surprises.

I still hold my breath when I peek into the closet.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Where the words come from

" a child I was given much of the language of adults, and I continue to use it, even to describe my youth. I court the freshness, the immediacy, and all the resources of language that make the past tense strangely shine as though it were the present."
----Ahab's Wife or, The Star Gazer    Sena Jeter Naslund 

I was one of those kids. One that was given 'much of the language of adults'. I don't know where it came from. I grasped, comprehended, and seized on words in great greedy fistfuls.  Adults would laugh and comment about the way I expressed myself. At the time, it confused me. 'This is what I have,' I thought. 'This is how I say it. All these words are here to use.' To me, settling for less was eschewing the box of 64 Crayolas with the built in sharpener for that four pack of generic crayons you get in a family themed restaurant so you can color on the placemat. I didn't want quadrichrome horses tacked up behind a cash register. I wanted great oceangoing behemoths heaving on swells of murk and shimmer, decks of walnut and ochre creaking under the dappled shade of snapping sails. 
I wanted the words AND the color. These things have always been strongly and closely related. When I picture a calendar of months in my head, that calendar is and always has been exactly the same both in orientation and organization. Even the angle at which I view it in my mind has never changed, though it twists slightly as we progress through the year, almost as if it hangs on a wall not quite high enough to keep the bottom (October, November, and December) from resting on the floor. My mental calendar of a single week or entire month is much more simple and appears in my mind as if it is written on a chalkboard. But it always slants slightly downward toward Saturday. Centuries march through my mind as if in a parade on a broad city avenue. I look to my left toward the 1600s-1800s (where the buildings just begin) and see big skirts and horses, carriages and carts, which give way to early automobiles as I turn my head (in my mind) to the right; the cars get first bigger and then smaller, and then I can insert myself in this left to right progression of time. Its almost as if every block the fashion changes. Some of the cars have presidents, musicians, poets and writers in them.
I've always been fascinated with synesthesia, and wondered if I had it in one of its forms, first because of this calendar business, and second because I am instantly drawn to any series of objects that are identical except for their color. Eyeshadow palettes. Sets of colored pencils.  I can stand in front of a paint display and stare at the cards of paint chips for several minutes and the only explanation I can offer is that seeing all the colors together makes my brain happy. I own close to 130 bottles of nail polish and choosing one to put on is one of the small but deeply enjoyed pleasures of my week. And if something is packaged like this, you can be sure I'm going to get it. I found this in a local drugstore and it was in my hand before I ever consented to purchase it. 
Whatever its called, and whatever it means, the colors, the words, and the memories are tightly braided and always at the ready. I like to think that my strangely shining past tense is not a maudlin recitation of past glories or a desire to cling to things as they once were. I just enjoy taking out the colors of memory, laying them carefully side by side, and looking at them. 
Maybe it makes my soul happy.