It was our first big trip out of state together, Rebecca and I; for a poetry festival in Kansas City, Missouri.
We were naive, broke, and in search of marijuana. Three attributes that led us to book a stay at America’s Best National Inn.
“What’re you in town for? You in town for trouble?” Mike, the front desk guy, asked. The question was straight and matter of fact. His eyes were two sunken opals that I couldn’t read.
“Nah man. Just poets in town for a show.”
“Poets? Like Shakespeare?”
“Kinda like that, yeah.”
“You have to understand that when you’re broke, red flags like these aren’t signs for alarm, they’re more like stepping stones that you just need to be careful manoeuvring around.”
Our room was up at the top, on the third floor. The place was like the Overlook Hotel from The Shining if it was run by friends who kept spending the budget on powder to put up their nose instead of more essential things, like Windex or a cleaning staff. The one maid was nodding out, laying on her side smoking a cigarette, while she pushed the vacuum cleaner with her foot. Being a multitasker is a trait that many hiring managers look for in an employee. This place wasn’t the best at anything. Perhaps America’s Best National Tragedy would be a more apt name.
We opened the door and were greeted with what you would expect: walls plastered with old smoke; cigarette holes in the blanket, making it more like an Afghan than a comforter; a massive mirror, in front of the bed, covered in blotches that we hoped wasn’t cum or any other stray bodily fluid – but we knew better. Our view: a green pool filled with filth and decay.
Now, you have to understand that when you’re broke, red flags like these aren’t signs for alarm, they’re more like stepping stones that you just need to be careful manoeuvring around.
One morning, after a walk, I found a black SUV was parked blocking the entrance and a man was stomping a woman out in front of the door. I’m not sure if you know this about folks from the Midwest, but they’re nicer than the kinds of savages you find haunting the East Coast. In New Jersey, “fuck you, cock sucker” is a colloquial greeting. I made my way across the street to stop whatever was transpiring. The guy took his foot off of the woman, waived to me, got in his SUV, and tore off out of the parking lot. The woman brushed off her shoulders and vanished. In the Midwest, even pimps say hello to you.
During the day I would be at Prospero’s Books for the shows; drinking, hanging out and keeping my ear to the ground about grass connects. But there was no dice. One of the veterans of the scene had a bowl that we could hit here and there, but we were looking to get zooted. When you smoke all day, every day, a weekend off is like sunbathing in Miami and then jumping into a frozen lake in Michigan.
In the mornings, the small lobby was filled with weird, white, corn-fed Americans from places I’d never heard of, shoving dry dollar store muffins into their moustache clad mouths. I ended up making friends with the floor-bound maid.
The final night, after the show, I came stumbling in drunk and collapsed on the bed, beside Rebecca. It was somewhere after three in the morning and the hotel phone rang. I come from a place where a knock on the front door or the house phone ringing are signs of trouble. A hotel phone ringing certainly couldn’t be any good. I sobered up within an instant and grabbed the phone.
“This Shakespeare?” It was the guy from the front desk.
“Yes. Is everything okay?”
“You got a fiver?”
“A five dollar bill, Shakespeare,” he grumbled. “Bring it down, sit at the computer in the lobby, and slide out the keyboard. Leave the fiver under the mouse pad.”
I hung up the phone, descended down the elevator, and sat at the computer. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but sometimes you just have to go on faith. I pulled out the keyboard; there sat a mound of dark brown, dirty weed. I slid the fiver under the mouse pad and placed the weed in my pocket.
“Welcome to Kansas City, baby,” he said. Right then Mike, the front desk guy, became my shaman, “I know poets like the green.”
There was nothing green about the weed he had given me, but I thanked him.
In our room, we rolled joints out of toilet paper, like we were convicts in a prison, turned the shower and sink faucets on as hot as possible until the bathroom filled with steam, and smoked those jailhouse jays until we were delirious. Smoked until we laughed at America’s Best National Tragedy dressing as its Best National Inn. Smoked until the pool outside the window became an oasis and the bodily fluids on the mirror became a Jackson Pollock painting.
We checked out in the morning and headed for the airport to return to our life on the East Coast, knowing full well that when we returned next year, we were coming back to this little Midwestern tragedy.