Seven Nights at the Flamingo Hotel (Tuesday lunchtime. This Sporting Life.)
You cannot wait to finish work. You have never had any interest in basketball but you, like many of your kind, have often dreamed of becoming a professional sportsperson, of scoring the winning goal at Wembley, of drinking in the ovation at Wimbledon as you land that final Championship ace. But it doesn’t even have to be that. Once on a family holiday to the South of France you had stood on the village square, yellow shuttered buildings dappled with early summer sunlight, and watched the old moustachioed men playing boule. Just watch me, you would have said, this is how you do it, and you would have stepped up, as graceful as Ed Moses gliding over a hurdle, picked up one of the boules and, tongue out the corner of your mouth to indicate intense sportsmanlike concentration, you would have launched your boule, Sputnik-like, hush-hush, hush-hush, the old men’s faces mutate into a divine wonder, your boule would have landed millimetres, less than millimetres from the… from the… (you do not know the name of this thing)… small white ball!… and you would have won the game.
You would have won all games.
You would have become a sensation across the whole of France and other boule-playing countries. Le Petit Anglais. The young English boy who is a marvel at boule.
Your pockets would be full of French Franc notes, French girls would flock to you and debase themselves for a feel of your throwing arm, you would live on a diet of baguette, Brie, and pain au chocolat.
You can see it all. It is glorious.
Sometimes you pledge to begin a rigorous regimen of exercise. You make extensive plans. You will run in the evenings after work, starting out slowly but gradually building up, don’t run before you can walk, and soon you will be running five miles, ten. Your ultimate aim, and you spend many hours in the bar dreaming about this, is to run the London Marathon dressed as the bug from Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, your six legs and antennae flailing, Max Brod cheering you on from the sidelines, the least expensive bottle of port awaiting you in a smoky bar somewhere.
Or if you don’t run you will get up fifteen minutes earlier each morning and you will perform circuits in your room, press ups, push ups and something you have heard Eusavio refer to as bird dogs. The results will be spectacular especially if you combine it with eating better and drinking less.
What a specimen you will be. You can see how your body will be different from it now is. You will be able to hold a sixpence between your butt cheeks. A whole bunch of sixpences! You will appear in bold in The Guinness Book of Records, And the record number of sixpences held between butt cheeks is…. There will be a picture of your face, tightly clenched in concentration. Young children will be amazed at your prowess. They will try to emulate you. They will fail.
You find the basketballers out on the crumbling asphalt at the end of the car park whose repair has been imminent for many months. Seven feet tall, eight, they are a thing of wonder, limbs like the rails of ladders, hair shaved close to their skulls in the spirit of aerodynamism.
“Oh yes,” you mutter. “Oh yes.”
The winged sides of their coach are opened up and a hoop is produced. Two teams are formed, one shirts and one skins. Their movement with the ball is graceful. They twist and they turn. They leap and they dodge. But the sky is strange and in the distance the cars rattle past on the motorway and you are unable to enjoy the moment and you are overtaken by a queer feeling.
You are not a homosexual but you begin to contemplate the size of the basketballers’ willies. You can’t help but notice as they flop in their slinky shorts and you are overcome by a silent rage.
Your own willy would not flop even if you were to wear silky shorts.
Many times you have stood naked in front of mirrors in hotel rooms, in clothes shop changing rooms, climbed up onto the side of the bath in your old home to view yourself in the mirror of the cabinet above the sink. Sometimes the urge to see yourself has been overwhelming. Visiting friends you have had to excuse yourself, rush upstairs, unbutton yourself. Maybe this time. But no, there it was, just the same. Your peanut.
And this is what you believe. If you had a bigger willy you could be someone.
Richard Branson, Niki Lauder, the Dalai Lama.
But now a small black guy with COACH printed in big letters on his vest comes over to you and pokes you in the chest.
“Ain’t they sum’int?”
The boy who’s just dunked the ball, Dwayne, he tells you, had his brother and father killed in a drive-by shooting the previous year. Another one he points out, twelve years old was a killer himself.
“You wouldn’t think it to look at him. Butter wouldn’t melt in his ass.”
This coach, like many of his species, those put on the planet to motivate others, is a talker.
He goes through his players one by one recounting their tales of woe and misery and it is an atrocity exhibition of drugs, teenage pregnancy, petty crime and grand larceny and now you are no longer thinking of their huge willies and instead your heart is broken. That these prime specimens should have come through so much only to die in a very short time.
This is what you believe.
Although you don’t believe in powerful spirits in general you believe that this hotel is cursed by powerful spirits.
What started out as a casual thought has developed into something of an obsession.
Every evening you steal the local paper from the hotel lobby and take it back to your room.
You are looking for accidents, unexplained deaths, out of the ordinary events.
It scares you how many of these stories concern people who have stayed at the hotel.
A little old lady who died at the wheel of her car. Room 202! She always wore a blue wig and made you speak in German, although you knew no German, to remind her of her honeymoon in Vienna.
A small child who fell from the mezzanine of the shopping centre, his skull crushed against a cart selling leather gloves. Room 16! He had the habit of picking his nose and wiping his bogies on his mother’s toast each morning. You would wink at each other across the condiment table and wish that you had bred. You would have been proud if your sperm became him.
It made you contemplate how much sperm you had wasted in your life.
It was a lot.
More than a bucketful but not as much as a swimming pool.
Somewhere between the two.
Apart from having nowhere else to go the fear of this curse is one of the reasons why you have never left the hotel. If you leave then you believe you will be signing your own death warrant. You will suffer from a particularly virulent form of cancer, you will die in an unexplainable aircraft incident, you will be kidnapped and held in a cold damp cellar.
‘Pay us £298 or he will be left to rot.’
Having no family or friends to speak of your kidnappers will affix their ransom demand to lampposts around the town, a picture of your naked body chained to a radiator clearly displayed both to drum up sympathy and to indicate their intent.
When this fails they will try crowdfunding.
The arrow indicating their progress towards their target will hover interminably around the £4.50 mark.
You will be left to rot.
In a pair of cowboy boots and a flannelette over-shirt Angela, the kitchen manager, comes out and starts to flirt with the basketballers. She applauds every shot and runs up and down the imaginary sideline making ‘come on’ gestures. You think she is a joke, that the basketballers, who probably have their cherry pick of lithe teenage cheerleaders back in America will mock and jeer this middle-aged overweight kitchen manager, but after one particular play the basketball players gather her up and parade her up and down the car park, like they have won a famous basketball competition and she, Angela, is the trophy.
You decide you do not like basketball, or even, sport in general. Real life takes place in the brain and not in the body. Look at Kafka! Solitary and alone, dying, his body ravaged by tuberculosis.
It is said that he never did a press up in his life.
Not a single one.
Tousle-haired and breathless, one of her large boobs clearly having popped out of her bra, Angela says she has a job for you and that you should come with her and you imagine she is going to take you up to her room again, what does she care for basketballers and their huge flopping willies!, and you will make beautiful love and, naked and on her knees before you, she will beg for forgiveness, through the long and future dark nights of her soul you are the one she wants to be with.
“Don’t you see?” she says. “It’s written in the stars.”
And as she licks you, starting at the big toe and working her way slowly up your body, even including your bumhole which only your pet dog Sparky has ever licked (an event which you both regretted), she will explain how you will steal all the takings from the hotel bar and you will run away together and set up your own hotel somewhere near the sea and on quiet days when you have no guests you will parade naked around the lobby role-playing guest / receptionist scenarios. Sometimes she will be the guest and sometimes it will be you and this will be your favourite time because you have many guests that you desire to be; the Shah of Iran, Pliny the Younger, Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab and one guest whose willy has its own suitcase full of clothes because it is a famous willy who has had many starring roles on national television.
But you do not go up to her room and instead she has a job for you. The ballerinas need to practice and the chairs and tables in the dining room need stacking away.
“But why me?” you ask plaintively, your face unable to hide the disappointment over the months of tender lovemaking whisked so precipitously from under your feet.
“Because you work here,” she says and her words are cruel and cutting and you decide you would not make love to her even if she double begged you which is a term you and your friends used to use to each other in the school playground and is imbued with a ferocity of meaning.
The chairs are innumerable. Their amount could only be described using algebra but you do not know algebra and this is why you have never landed a job as an astrophysicist or as a secondary school key skills tutor.
As on each occasion when you start on tasks you believe to be insurmountable you bring to mind The Myth of Sisyphus which is a book by your favourite French writer and former schoolboy goalkeeper Albert Camus. This book, as far as you can make out for it is not an easy read and you have only ever managed a few dozen pages, is not only about a man who is doomed to be ever pushing a rock up the side of the mountain but is also about how you should find meaning in a world without religion.
You went through a religious period only once and it lasted only fifteen minutes. The music teacher at school had selected you to be a choirboy and you were proud because you had been never chosen to be anything before.
You can still remember being handed the white surplice by one of the older choir boys who had been told to look after you and you had no reason not to believe that you should be naked underneath the garment for in that pure way you would be nearer to God.
It was during that evening’s service, your little head raised and your mouth opened in an O as you sang out All Things Bright and Beautiful, your family and friends all gathered there, that the older boy lifted your cassock from the bottom and over your head so that you stood there completely naked. And everyone was laughing at you. And you thought that if there was a god he would not let this happen and this was the end of your religious phase.
You have cleared only a quarter of all the tables and chairs when the ballerinas file in. You say you need more time, a few years perhaps, and you look despairingly towards the chairs and tables that represent somehow in your mind a vast ocean such as the great Magellan must have viewed on his very first voyage, but to your wonder and amazement the ballerinas start to limber up in the small, but adequate!, space you have already provided.
You are mesmerised.
Whereas the basketball players are tall and black and exuberant, you have heard more curses from them and in more varied a form than you have heard in your life, the ballerinas are small and silent and sinewy and they can do things with their legs you didn’t think were possible on a human being but now you know are.
You watch them for some time and you decide you want to be a dancer and you have a fantasy in which you are on a stage in front of a huge audience and they are all cheering you. In the papers the next day the reporters are all in agreement that they never thought the swan in Swan Lake could have been performed by a man but now they have seen it they cannot doubt the beauty and the grace of it.
For many years you tour the world. Swan Lake is the only ballet you perform. Whenever you set up shop in a new theatre the crowds stretch around and around the block. You become synonymous with the swan and you start to wear the swan costume to interviews with the press, then to social events, then around the house, then even to bed.
The money and the fame sit easily on you. You enjoy fine food and have your pick of the most beautiful women in the world.
You become extremely fat but this doesn’t matter. You can still dance. You can still drink in the applause. You can still catch the thrown roses between your teeth.
When you are no longer able to walk, you are extremely obese now from the pizzas you have specially flown in from Milan to wherever you are in the world, you are pushed on stage in a wheelchair. But your arm movements! They are the movements of a real swan! Such beauty. Such prowess.
And whoever saw a swan walk anyway?