by Shaun Terry
My black no-show socks are still full of sand, sweat, and water.
I thought that I’d “find” myself at the beach, two hours from home, in the grey stone catacombs that are an Eastern American winter. Back home, all my clothes were hanging neatly on white plastic hangers, except for the ones that lay haphazardly among remnants of packaging from mom’s presents that had arrived a few days early. I’d left with no money, no food, and without enough gas in the car to get back. Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that’s pretty stupid.” But really, this is all pretty normal for me.
Anyway, I’m still around, right?
I keep “looking” for myself, and I keep “finding” parts of myself in strange places: in the gutter alongside some dingy street, in a conversation with a foolish old man, in some dialogue in some ill-reviewed movie, or in a quiet thought in a crowded café; never in interactions with any of the women with whom I, for a few days, convince myself that I’m in love; sometimes, in something that my squatty, precocious daughter shows me.
But I’m right here.
Why am I looking?
I just broke up with my not-quite-girlfriend again. We were already broken up. I keep breaking up with her, anyway. But maybe I’m not breaking up with a girlfriend so much as divorcing from myself. Is it that men truly urgently feel the need to propagate, or is it really that men do such a shitty job at understanding and forgiving themselves? Sometimes, I can forgive myself. Sometimes, I break up with my girlfriend instead.
I’ve gotta figure out where I’m staying tonight. It’s too damn cold to sleep in the car again. I did that in Lawrence, Kansas, one night, and it was so awful – with the cold, the uncomfortable lodging, and the physical insecurity – that I phoned up my aunt in Springfield, Missouri, and ended up staying with her for several months. Springfield sucks. It sucks bad.
I haven’t stolen things too many times, but I’ve snuck into a few places; not a lot, but a few. I feel like a superhero or a man-god when I do, but I don’t really do it much. I’m too scared, if you wanna know. My mother’s one of those insufferable rules people. She doesn’t approve of the way I live, but she doesn’t really know that because she doesn’t ask. If she asked, she wouldn’t send me Christmas gifts anymore. Or I’d just lie. She probably knows, really.
There’s a motel very near the beach, and it looks nice. I tell the cheery, half-baked, middle-aged lady at the desk some bullshit story about driving up to see my daughter and having gotten robbed, so she offers me a room. She tells me, in her slippery, mild Southern accent, that she’s not supposed to do this, but with the holidays having just passed and it being a new year and her being a Christian… well, it helps to be a good-looking white boy, sometimes. It also helps to be a good liar.
She puts me in room 404, and walking up the stairs is unbearably cold. The elevator’s one of those ancient, deadly elevators in which you know that nothing’s really gonna happen, but you’re scared to hell, anyway. Windchill’s in the negative, the guy on the radio said. My winter coat is not a winter coat. It’s just a moderately thick windbreaker that I got from Goodwill with someone else’s name on the left breast. People often say stupid things about it having the wrong name on it, or strangers try to call me by that wrong name, thinking that I work in some chain restaurant that gives moderately thick windbreakers to its superstar employees.
I try to turn the key in the top lock, but the door won’t open. I’m sorta squatting, with my elbows pressed in tight and my chin squashed into my chest; I guess I’m trying to make myself into a small target for this cold, salty air. I give up on the top lock and insert the key in the bottom one. The key turns, and I hop into the room – I mean really hop into – with my lanky arms pressing into, and then swinging back from, the door. I unsnap my jacket and deliberately start forcing off my cold, soggy shoes. There’s sand all over the front halves of them. They cost seventy-five bucks, and they’re just some slip-ons with this Incan-looking embroidered pattern on them. Kind-of a rip-off, kind-of a stupid thing to buy, but I’m vain and insecure. Maybe that’s redundant to say like that. God, I hope that sand comes out okay.
I step into the motel room, and the walls are the color of a banana smoothie. I’d describe them in some more-creative way or something, but nothing else is that color. These walls’ color: I could take it or leave it. The decor is nice enough in general – maybe it’s not these walls’ color, maybe it’s that I can see the seams in the walls. It makes it look cheap, ya know?
But the place is nice. Is this a suite and not just a room? I don’t really know the difference. I mean, it’s more than just a room, which is nice. It has a whole little kitchen area, and you don’t even usually get those in pretty decent places. I guess this is a pretty decent place, if I really think about it. I probably wouldn’t actually know.
I’m poking around the place, looking to see if anyone happened to leave behind a million dollars or porn or something. Instead, I find that someone’s left an avocado in the fridge. The thing looks too ripe to eat, anyway. It’s all black and almost-squishy. I grab it, and I immediately worry that it might burst open. I hate when the avocado meat gets all that grey shit in it. I still eat it when it does that, but I worry that the grey shit might kill me. Maybe it’s still good; we’ll find out tomorrow.
I slide the vertical blinds from the middle of the big glass sliding doors, and the ocean is just a few yards away. The door slides open, and with the beauty of it all, I almost forget how cold it is outside. The sun has already set, but the sky still has that pink-and-grey cotton candy look to it. It’s really fucking beautiful. For a free motel, this view makes for a hell of a good value. Maybe I should move to a beach town and teach Socialistic economics to snobby, delusional, terrible white kids. Ha! I think I’d love that.
With each step around the nice-ish little motel suite or room or whatever-the-fuck it is, I feel my black little socks squishing beneath my toes. They feel like they’re making more noise than they really probably are, but it’s annoying, anyway, so I quickly yank them off, and I’m relieved to no longer be wearing them. But the floor tiles are cold, too. Of course.
I’m barely hanging on to the nasty little socks as I get them hung over the shower rod. The bathroom attaches to the bedroom, and each of those attaches to the corridor/foyer. The bedroom and bathroom are each decently-sized, but nothing to really brag about. In the bedroom, I half-expect the salmon-and-forest comforter to have a hole or two from cigarette burns, but for just a nice-ish motel, the place is really pretty pristine. Really good value, actually.
I shove my arctic feet down under the sheets and comforter, and pull it all tight around me, like I’m a messy, dirty Caucasian taquito. And I let out a pretty good sigh. It’s a relief to be able to relax and feel safe for a night.
I grab the TV remote, so that I can try and relax for a little bit. It looks both cheap and futuristic; it’s like a baby gadget and/or sextoy. Maybe the people who tend to buy one are typically the same people who buy the other. I press the red button in the top right corner of the remote, and Juan Williams is talking shit about Muslims. No joke. I’ll have to leave it on MSNBC when I leave.
Except that two minutes later, I figure out that they don’t have MSNBC on my TV. Of course. Every second channel or so is black-and-white pixel-chaos and awful, loud white noise, and trying to find something worth watching is just a pain in the ass, so I turn the thing off and I realize that I’m sleepy. It’s like 5pm, so I have no idea why I’m sleepy, but I take an involuntary half-hour nap, anyway.
I wake up feeling like I was re-born from Mother Mary’s perfect ladyness. I for real let out a big, cheesy stretch-and-yawn, like I’m some forgettable character in an under-funded Indie film, and I just lay there for a sec. I’m hungry. I should try to eat. Maybe I can read something, if I’m not too distracted or whatever.
My socks and shoes aren’t dry, exactly, but they’re drier than they were before, and I have no choice, anyway. I put them on, thinking that I’ll eventually manage to leave. Unlocking the door is just as painful and stupid as locking it was. Why don’t they fix these stupid locks so that frito-brained Midwesterners can figure them out and avoid robbery? But who around here would rob someone?
Just a few hours ago, I saw a three-story beach house with glass walls and a spiral staircase running up the middle of it. No one here robs anyone.
I finally get sufficiently motivated to eat something, and I head out the door. After landing at the bottom of those freezing fucking stairs, I decide to walk through the lobby just to avoid a few moments of cold on the way to my car. That cheery desk lady asks how I’m doing, and I think, Surviving, if I’m seeing it right, but I just say, “Fine.” I ask where I might get some free food in this little Southern beach town, and she makes a stupid, sad puppy face and gives me ten bucks, so I smile and thank her, but I’m worried that my smile looks fake; are my eyes smiling?
My dad always used to tell us to smile with our eyes, but his smile always looked stupid, like he just got hired at Abercrombie and Fitch or something. It won’t matter, anyway. At worst, this lady will just chalk it up to me being stressed out. I’m just a hard-working man off to see his precious tiny daughter, after all. I guess that you’re not supposed to use your kids for shit like this, but the whole thing was really bullshit, anyway, so I don’t think that it should count.