Seven Nights in the Flamingo Hotel
At five o’clock in the morning you are woken by the sounds of the couple in the next room arguing and this surprises you because the previous night they had kept you up with their passionate love making. And why should they have all the fun! Leaping up from your bed you had pressed your ear against the wafer-thin wall, Oh yes! Oh yes!, and squeezing shut your eyes, shoddy member gripped tightly over your sagging underwear, you had been transported to a moment in your hopeful youth when, one of your father’s Playboys spread out below you, you had imagined yourself and the lissom centrefold displayed therein married in a mountaintop ceremony, doves cooing, matching and gigantic diamond rings glinting in the brilliant sunshine, your classmates, the bullying boys who took daily pleasure in holding you down and peeing on your face, standing ursine in the celebratory crowd, open-mouthed with jealousy.
Of course, this did not happen.
You have a certain barroom story. Who doesn’t? In it you are a superhero. And this superhero, you say, has the power to take out his eyes and throw them around corners to secretly watch, and then thwart, crimes in progress.
How does he do that?! Eyeman strikes again!
Your barroom buddies are impressed. This is no Batman, no Superman. Throwing eyes! Who’d have thought it?
You bask in this inebriated glory, standing drinks with pride, but in your heart of hearts you know that the first time you would have thrown those eyes a passing child would have picked them up and secreted them down the back of his trousers, nestling them snugly between his buttocks. And there they would have stayed year after year, his most revered possessions, while you remained blind and fat, trapped in your bedsitting room, dreaming of all the crimes you might have solved if only you weren’t staring perpetually up a boy’s, a teenager’s, a young man’s, a man’s, bumhole.
This is it. You are awake. Hotel Flamingo’s resident dishwasher. You remember your first day, the result of a phone call made from the Wanted ads, circled once and then again to form a kind of bull’s eye. No experience needed. It sounded you to a T. There was hope then, a new new start. As you got off the bus, the flamingos flaunting themselves on the lawn seemed to you to be one legged beacons of a better life. You and them in a kind of symbiosis. But Hotel Flamingo does not have any flamingos any more. They were let out of their pen by a disgruntled guest, a Mexican, and, fleeing for their lives, were squashed flat on the motorway that runs between the hotel and the adjacent retail park by an articulated lorry. It was you who had to scrape up their bodies, an explosion of guts, their legs stick-like, the kind of thing a decent person might throw for their dog in another kind of life.
Your underpants have ended up on top of the lampshade. Someone, you, has scrawled Jerk in toothpaste on the lurid orange curtains. A tiny tower of toenails, yours, stands tottering on the bedside table. The longer ones you use as toothpicks which you see as both a sign of your ingenuity and of how far you have fallen from the mores of polite society. You let out a groan.
Another day, another douleur.
This is one of your favourite sayings and you say it often despite it being met by blank and perplexed stares.
It is a play on a phrase, you say. Another day, another dollar. Only douleur is French for pain.
Another day. More pain.
You are a funny guy.
Roll me over and tell me that one again.
In another life you could have been up on the stage. You could have had them rolling in the aisles.
It is just a question of timing.
All the great comedians say that.
It’s all in the timing.
Reaching over to grab a couple of the large pink pills you have recently pilfered from an elderly guest, and you do not feel any Anglo-Saxon guilt about this, all of the staff steal, it being one of the only perks of the job, it comes back to you how at two fifteen in the morning, venturing outside into the cold night air, beckoned by the flirtatious caterwauling, standing up on tiptoe, nose pressed to the glass, you had attempted to see into next door’s room.
And this is how Eusavio, returning from his job at The Hot Top Nightclub, Bar & Grill, had found you. Of course you had to pretend you were drunk, this much at least was true, and how you had lost your key, in fact you had been mugged, wrestled to the ground by two hooded giants in the car park, and you had even gone so far as to mime this part, throwing yourself onto your back and rotating your arms and legs in the air.
It’s all in the timing.
Cool as a cucumber Eusavio had pointed out that your door was, in fact, standing wide open and he could even see your keys right there on your bedside table, ‘so it doesn’t look like the muggers got them after all,’ and he had smiled in a way that made you think he didn’t believe in your muggers one little bit and, thanking him for his perspicacity you had gone inside and lay down on your bed in shame.
Although you are not exactly a homosexual you have developed something of a crush on Eusavio. Casually sporting the dark good looks of Rochus Misch, Hitler’s telephone operator, he is magnificent and you have long wished that you might become friends; fold your underpants together in the laundry room, go to late-night subtitled movie showings, snicker conspiratorially over the number of guests who misplace their prostheses and shout incoherently at the reception desk claiming theft/misadventure/sheer-cunting-prankiness.
You have not become friends.
Instead you think he thinks you are a fool and this is because one Tuesday night when you happened to be standing next to him in The Birdland Bar you had told him a story about how your room was haunted.
“Oh yes,” you said and although you could not believe what you were saying you went on and on.
The ghost was of a woman who had been murdered in your room. At first she had only appeared to you in pieces, the sleeve of a diaphanous robe, the collar of a nightshirt as you were shaving in the mirror or pulling on a fresh pair of underpants. But then as she came to understand how you were not ‘averse to the machinations of the spiritual world’ she would appear fully formed, sometimes floating above you as you lay in your bed performing a kind of dance.
You even claim, having done the research, to know who she was.
In 1986 she and her husband had been on overnight stay here, on their way to visit the husband’s elderly parents in Stirling, Scotland.
The parents had never approved of her. She was a waitress and they felt their son could have done better than a waitress.
And this is what the argument had been about that night.
“What is wrong with being a waitress?” she had said and getting up from the table there and then, she had begun to take orders from the other guests.
“Two teas and a piña colada,” she had called out while at the same time mimed writing with a pen on an imaginary pad. “I’ll just have to see if we’re not out of piñas. We had a run on them earlier.” And turning towards the kitchen she had screamed.
“ANOTHER GODDAM ORDER FOR PIÑA COLADAS OUT HERE! HOLD YOUR HORSES AND LAY OUT THE PIÑAS. I’M COMING TO GET YOU!”
“You always do you best to embarrass me,” said the husband.
The argument that started at the table carried on into the room and didn’t finish until the husband put her hands around her throat and strangled her until she was dead.
You tell Eusavio that although the ghost is dressed as a downtrodden waitress, and she has a pen sticking out of her left ear as if husband has rammed it in there as well as strangling her, she is pretty and you have often imagined making love to her and how grateful lovers are the best lovers because they will do anything.
“The piece of shit hotel wasn’t even built in 1986,” said Eusavio, as you finished. “It’s on the bumpf, Hotel Flamingo, Serving Excellence since 1993. What do you take me for? An asshole?”
He has never spoken to you since although you have often watched him exercising in the motel communal garden, shirt off, muscles rippling, body gleaming in the hazy sunshine / sleeting rain / thick snow and you have often thought that if you hadn’t told him that stupid ghost story you could have been out their with him. Mr. Beautiful.
Instead you become more and more slothful and every day the stairs up to your second floor room seem a little harder, more wearing on the heart.
It is 515. The digits on the clock click and the alarm whines for thirty seconds before the radio kicks in. It is a local station which you hate because you have no interest in local news, teenagers running amuck, a house fire on an estate somewhere, some do-gooder raising money for a charity you do not care about.
You have tried changing the settings on the radio alarm numerous times and once even, miraculously, managed to tune it into a German station and for fifteen whole minutes quite believed yourself to be living in Berlin, the trendy tenant of a loft apartment, a Scopitone Model 450 jukebox your dresser, lighting thanks to Tiffany’s lamps.
You would meet Bowie for lunch on Alexanderplatz. You would have a small but instrumental role in the ending of the Cold War. Hansa studios would be begging you to come and ‘lay down a track’. But then the next morning when the alarm went the local station was back, a school was doing a fun walk for charity in the park, the local fire station had adopted a cat, CarpetZone were having a once in a lifetime sale. In despair you ring them and a teenage carpet-fitter, pink-rimmed Aussiebum pants riding up out of his too tight jeans crawls fretfully on his hands and knees around your hotel room, asking you if you wouldn’t mind picking up your feet. This time he has to get the measurements right. Like a lot of your kind he is on a final written warning.
Stepping out from under your covers you practically slip on your battered and much abused copy of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
In your drunken state the previous night, although you have no recollection of this, you must have been searching for wisdom.
Like many adults who take a teenage obsession on with them into later life yours is Kafka. Or rather, the idea of Kafka.
For what is he but an idea?
In truth you have never managed to finish one of his books.
“But he didn’t even finish them himself in his lifetime!” you will argue. “That Brod did it for him after he died.”
You find that a little Kafka goes a long way. You only have to read a few pages and in the bureaucratic convolutions described you find a solace akin to that which a penitent must find as they bend themselves over the Bible.
‘That is I!’ you cry. ‘I see it! That corridor I went down it!’
And when you find at the end of the corridor a man you didn’t know angry at you for a girl you didn’t love your heart sings.
Isn’t life a puzzle that even the greatest minds have failed to solve? But it is in this joint failure that love and empathy are found.
It has been affirmed. You are part of a tribe. We are the human race.
In fact you have a picture of that very same Franz Kafka, 1883-1924, German speaking Bohemian Jew, folded up into squares in your wallet. On occasion you take it out. Those large and haunting eyes haunt you. He worked as insurance agent until he retired from ill health. When he died his writings and his genius were largely unknown.
It is only thanks to his great friend Max Brod going against his wishes and publishing his works posthumously that he is now so widely regarded.
This is your own secret wish.
You want your own Brod.
After you die he will cry out, “Look what you have lost! Look what you have lost!”
This thought is of some comfort to you but also it causes you pain.
You have no Brod.
You do not know what the world will have lost.
You are an ant upon the globe, lacking significance as much as you lack a purpose.
You hit the shower pipe three times with the flat of a hand, unkung-fu style, but still the water is cold. To avoid it you push yourself, cringing, up against the shower wall and then, remembering a scene from a Hollywood movie in which a lady walks through a spray of perfume to douse herself, you jump through the flow of water. That’s the spirit! Pleased with yourself you pull on, like old friends newly met, the clothes discarded from the day before, take two more of the large pink pills, and head out of the room and so to work.
Another day, another douleur.
You feel worn out as if you have done hours of physical exertion. You have not even started yet.
This is the true lot of the working man.
You used to believe that women have it easier. One night you went for it, venting spleen on this very topic, beer in hand, right upon the decking of your former home. Women can put on make up, show some cleavage and men will buy them drinks, take them to Paris, put gold bracelets around their delicate wrists.
You were married then. Your wife smoothed down her moustache, looked at you over her John Lennon glasses and asked if you were up to the challenge. You were!
From her cupboard she took out clothes you had never seen; stockings, short skirt, suspenders. Underwear with a zip. There was a certain erotic thrill as she dressed you, made you pucker your lips for lipstick, sat astride you to pluck at your eyebrows.
She dropped you at The Jolly Jester.
There was a wagon wheel on the wall, Elvis Presley on the jukebox. In the toilets the Durex machine sold condoms which were long past their sell-by date. Another machine sold plastic combs and little pots of hair oil.
Six beers later you met a builder called Steve. He had bad breath and three children at home who didn’t understand him. Or appreciate him.
At the end of the night he offered to take you up the alley at back of pub. You thought this was a euphemism. In a way it was. He spelt it out to you tapping one of his fat fingers against your chest. He didn’t mind doing you up the bum. That way you wouldn’t get pregnant. It was a ‘win-win’ situation.