California Rest Motel

I met Arthur next to a pool. The pool was square. Pools are rectangular, bulbous, misshapen, inexplicable, infinite and occasionally massive. This pool was exactly even in length and width. I have not seen a pool like it. Aging California rest motels have a unique sense of appropriate.

I do not mean unique in today’s sense of the word but instead of its classical some might say unique sense. Today, “He is more unique.” “She is less unique.” Things are “more than unique.” Ideas are, perhaps most perversely, “most unique.” Unique now serves as a crummy synonym for unparalleled, peculiar and, as this paragraph proves, linguistic drift. We can now only look back to when people were [i]merely[/i] unique.

The hotel was unique and two hours, three minutes and twenty-nine to forty-five seconds from Palm Springs heading due east into the desert. Past Blythe: “Last Stop Before Vegas,” past the Navara Indian Reservation, past Happy Mickey’s gas station “next stop: fifty four miles.” Out past Salome, and “Christine’s Cactus Bar,” past Vulture Peak’s Middle School “school closed: heat wave.” Past ‘PTO: bringing back the field 2012,’ and across the street of a used car dealer’s flags whipping their last few threads away in coughing dirty wind.

Around the pool’s edge was a beautiful mosaic set between two runners of pumice that cracked and sizzled when it was wet. A young woman sitting near me, also looking at the mosaic, muttered, “Decorative shit,” and looked away before taking a long drink from a pink skinny plastic tumbler “JUICY BITCH.” There was nothing to be done about it, I decided. Serenely elegant, unfortunately present, the complexity of confidence, well.

In the lobby two people caught my eye. Taller was wearing polyester Capris, a leather bomber jacket and a wide brimmed straw hat. Shorter was wearing a black t-shirt, black sneakers with tall rubber soles and a pair of checkered black-white shorts that extended below his shin. Behind them were two bags Arby’s. “WHAT ARE YOU EATING” was obscured by a splatter of ketchup and BBQ sauce. They were passing out flyers.

I picked one up. “So what is this all about?”

“We are going to protest the city council. Don’t make no mistake, we are change. The speakers are,” he descended to a high pitched sotto voce, “from the college.”

“It isn’t about attention,” Shorter interrupted, “It’s about raising awareness.”

Taller pretended not to notice, “our town’s privilege needs a wake up.”

“Hard to measure—ever been so privileged?”

“I can tell, it’s the gas prices.”

“I,” Shorter paused, “agree. Mostly.”

A mediocre set of plastic-white tables, trying to convince us that we should pay a premium and sit on the sidewalk, screened the final side’s black gate, gray parking lot and brown desert—in that order. A few planters had sicked up a straggle of yellow. Pink lounge chairs lay scattered across the concrete. Guests did not lay they sank. As they walked to the dark blue restroom sign of the Californian Disability Care and Accessibility Act along their body lay a bloody red pattern striping.

Thomas, I would learn later that it was never Tom, decided that my first impression of him would be poor. He placed a towel I recognized as being the motel’s own on my portion of the motel’s artificial shade, plotted out with painful social precision. In his hand was a book about reaction formation. I walked over to him or, I tried walking over to him. Halfway there I began to run to save my soles more pain.

He smiled when he looked up at me. I asked him about his book as I lay down on my towel nursing my feet.

“It’s about reaction formation: Like when I tell myself I’m not going to drink very much but then end up naked on my back porch.”

I laughed. “At least it’s better than the front porch.” I am not a very funny person.

“This is my front porch,” he said and explained that he lived there. His parents owned the place.

“You don’t seem to have heard of chlorine here,” I said with an eye on the cloudy pool water.

“We don’t want to emphasize technology at the expense of traditional culture,” he said.

He may have thought that I was in a less literal mood than I was. “I see.”

“I wasn’t serious,” he said. “It was a joke. Irony.”

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