Paul Myette ~ Day Drinking at the Harris Suites

2009-10-08 01.57.50c

from a nov­el in pro­gress

The Harris Suites crum­bled slow­ly on the back strip of Virginia Beach. Alex paused and looked up at the bleached yel­low paint of the façade. In each room, save one, the win­dow blinds were drawn. Even in the bright sun of mid­day he could sense the dark­ness inside those rooms. He felt cer­tain that if he opened a door he would feel the pal­pa­ble bite of the des­per­a­tion as it leaked out. A man no less than six­ty-five stood out­side the one room with the blinds up. His girth and the white bush of his beard might have qual­i­fied him as a shop­ping mall Santa Claus, but at a glance no par­ent would send their child near him.  His shirt, an adver­tise­ment for a com­pa­ny Alex had nev­er heard of, was stained with grease of an inde­ter­mi­nate orig­in. His beard was tan­gled and his hair dan­gled down over his eye­brows like­ly obscur­ing his vision. Alex felt that if he had ever seen a per­son whose inner fire had gone out it was this man.

As Alex stood look­ing up, not car­ing if he was caught watch­ing, the man leaned down and reached into a small cool­er at his feet. He pulled up a can of beer, opened the tab and began drink­ing in thirsty gulps. The action seemed to tire him though and he returned to lean­ing on the rail­ing and star­ing out towards the strip. Alex would dis­cov­er soon enough that the sec­ond floor bal­cony of the Harris suites afford­ed a nar­row view of the ocean as seen between two of the upscale hotels across the way. In the weeks to come he would mar­vel at the pow­er of the water to trans­fix even the most down­trod­den of men.

Alex hitched his can­vas duf­fel up onto his shoul­der and walked through the front door.

I need a room for a while,” he informed the wom­an behind the coun­ter with­out any attempt at greet­ing or intro­duc­tion. Alex was com­ing to under­stand the­se estab­lish­ments. He summed them up with the suc­cinct phrase, “nobody wants to know.” When he hand­ed her the cash across the coun­ter she wouldn’t wor­ry about his name or what he’d come there to do. When he took the first walk to his room his neigh­bors wouldn’t intro­duce them­selves. They wouldn’t even give the curt Yankee nod that he’d known grow­ing up in Boston. They would stu­dious­ly ignore him while tak­ing a sip of beer and star­ing at what­ev­er else was avail­able. With this check-in Alex had come to accept the fact that despite being at least two decades younger than the age of the aver­age occu­pant, he was one of them. He’d be liv­ing in places like this until he caught up with the aver­age or died try­ing.

As expect­ed Santa sipped his can of Rolling Rock and said noth­ing as Alex walked past and entered the adja­cent room. Alex stood at the thresh­old and exam­ined the room care­ful­ly before step­ping in. Two flops ago he’d stepped on a hypo­der­mic needle on enter­ing the room. Not think­ing, he’d cleaned the result­ing mess up with bare hands and while he hadn’t pricked him­self the fear of what he might have con­tract­ed just by con­tact led to six months of sleep­less nights and a mas­sive out­lay of cash for the nec­es­sary tests. The self-imposed celiba­cy of those months only added to the frus­tra­tion.

Satisfied he stepped in. The room reeked of fail­ure. He turned on the light, reveal­ing wood pan­el­ing that would have been at home in 1961 and bed­ding near­ly as old. The tele­vi­sion, some­what sur­pris­ing­ly, was of a new­er vin­tage, flat screen. Alex took that as a sign of what mat­tered to the peo­ple he’d be call­ing neigh­bors for at least the next two months. That was what he’d paid for, with an option to extend. He knew enough to pay for hous­ing while he was flush, before the mon­ey start­ed burn­ing a hole.

This room seemed clean enough and he flipped his duf­fel onto the top of the dresser. No need to unpack just now. He col­lapsed on the bed, tired from the bus ride, tired after walk­ing from the bus sta­tion, tired from the oppres­sive under­stand­ing that this room rep­re­sent­ed the bound­ary of his world for the next eight weeks. He flipped on HBO and fell asleep watch­ing a shit­ty movie.

 

The new gig was fine. Alex recalled car­ing once about what he played or where or with whom. He had moved past that. The club was sedate, the clien­tele main­ly old­er wom­an play­ing for one last chance at avoid­ing spin­ster­hood. The few men there had their pick of who’s roman­tic fan­tasies they might kill off for good. Alex, play­ing some­one else’s drums, kept the beat, noth­ing more noth­ing less.  Fuck it. He had a steady pay­check in a house band for the sum­mer.

The guys in the band bought him a drink after the show. They stayed after hours and shot the shit with the bar­tender, a young man rak­ing in gen­er­ous tips from those self-same  almost-spin­sters.

It took twen­ty min­utes before one of them asked the ques­tion, “So what’s it like?”  Some got there soon­er. Some a lit­tle lat­er. They all asked. When you played with small time bands like this, played with kids who still had dreams, they want­ed to know what it was like to make it. Almost make it, Alex remind­ed him­self. He won­dered how many gigs he got just for this rea­son. That he had been the drum­mer for Mayflower Hill.

He dodged it. “Not like you’d think. This is where the real music gets made.” Platitudes. Make them feel bet­ter about being in a shit­ty band play­ing shit­ty bars. As quick­ly as he could drain his beer he made his apolo­gies and stepped out onto the dark­ened board­walk to make his way home.

The ice cream stands were dark and shut­tered, the arcades qui­et. Even the bars had long since turned off their neon signs. The peo­ple left out at this time of night were look­ing for some­thing. Sex for most. Drugs for some. A quick mug­ging with no wit­ness­es?  That couldn’t be ruled out. Alex put his head down and walked with his hands loose­ly in his pock­ets. Alex didn’t like walk­ing with the wad of cash he’d been hand­ed at the end of the night. His stance clear­ly com­mu­ni­cat­ed that he didn’t want com­pa­ny or con­ver­sa­tion. He hoped it made him look tough. When he came to the cor­ner with the tat­too par­lor over the t-shirt stand, he had not­ed it care­ful­ly on the way out so as not to get lost lat­er, he turned right and walked the last block to his room. As he had that after­noon, he shared his bed with HBO.

 

He woke late the next morn­ing to the sounds of Saturday at the beach. Out of curios­i­ty and a degree of hope he could not jus­ti­fy, he opened the small refrig­er­a­tor in the unit. The pre­vi­ous ten­ant had left two car­tons of Chinese take out. Alex opened one. Inside he found a mossy green sci­ence exper­i­ment. He put it back.

He dug a pair of swim trunks from his duf­fel, pulled them on, unfold­ed a ten dol­lar bill from his stash and head­ed out to find cof­fee and a donut. He downed them slow­ly while sit­ting on a bench on the board­walk, his feet up on the rail­ing, still cool before the mid­day heat would ren­der the green paint­ed met­al too hot to touch. He watched Virginia Beach stream past as he ate. He guessed at the ages of the wom­en he checked out, care­ful to avoid glanc­ing at any­one he thought might be too young.

A bar­tender at some stop along the way had told him that the for­mu­la was half your age plus sev­en. He tried to pic­ture who had said it or where, but the cities had been too many and the bars…forget it. Going by the math of his for­got­ten friend his cut off was some­where in the late twen­ties.

The sun warmed his bare chest. This was what had once again drawn him East. Alex nev­er loved the water. He could look at it but had no desire to be in it and flat out refused to be on it in a craft of any size. For Alex it was the sun, that warm pulse touch­ing his skin. What reli­gion Alex had came from his under­stand­ing of sev­en­th grade sci­ence. The sun made every­thing go. Plants, ani­mals, weath­er. Fuck, the­se days, even elec­tric­i­ty. All that shit need­ed the sun and so the sun was what he wor­shiped. At thir­ty-sev­en he still wor­shiped the same way, a bit of a burn on the first day that slow­ly grew into a tan. After that, his skin bronzed, he could be out for hours and not burn again.

His months in Nashville had left him pale. Landlocked, cramped for so many days in record­ing stu­dio ses­sions run­ning hours over time. He cringed and shook his head as he thought about Frank, the pro­duc­er, in his ridicu­lous hat, com­ing at them through the stu­dio speak­er and say­ing, “okay boys, one more time.” They played until Frank and his ten-gal­lon over­com­pen­sa­tion were sat­is­fied. Then they cleared the stu­dio while the pret­ty boy coun­try star came in and record­ed his karaōke over their tracks.

Nashville’s win­ter had been long and gray. If it lacked the snow he knew from back home it main­tained all of the drea­ry melan­cho­lia. The bars seemed the only places that were warm, the only places that were still in col­or. After that the sun felt like kiss­es on his skin. He spread his arms wide over the back of the bench and closed his eyes. When he woke the sun was dip­ping low­er in the sky. His tor­so glowed red.

 

 

He guessed her to be fifty. He didn’t care. She’d watched him through­out the show and now, dur­ing their break she came over to him.

Can you drink on the job?” she asked.

It’s the best part of what I do.”

Lynne.” She extend­ed her hand.

They took their beers to a cor­ner table under which she slid her foot up and down his leg. He found her attrac­tive enough, or he saw that he would have found her attrac­tive at one point in her life. Her voice was nasal and annoy­ing, her hair too teased, her skirt too tight. He ignored that. He wouldn’t split hairs tonight. The band had invit­ed him to extend his stay. It called for cel­e­bra­tion. Besides, four weeks of celiba­cy since his arrival in Virginia had left him antsy. Just as well that he get back in the game with a sure thing. He endured the req­ui­site chitchat and they made plans for her to wait for him until the show was done.

Midway through the set a thought caused him to lose the beat. He got back on-time but the thought lin­gered. His place?  Did sex hap­pen at the Harris Suites?  Could any­one cut through the gloom of the place and find him­self still in the mood?  The oth­er ten­ants were, and he hoped he was right about this, well past the age of hav­ing sex at all. He was the only can­di­date for a roll in the hay, but the idea of that act in that place hor­ri­fied him.

The wor­ry was unnec­es­sary. Lynne sidled up to him even as his drums still rang from the last num­ber.

My hotel’s only a few blocks away. Let’s have a drink there.”

 

 

Alex woke up squint­ing at the ceil­ing. Unlike the water-stained drop ceil­ing over his bad at the Harris, it hov­ered, solid and white the whole way across. The bed smelled like laven­der, the sheets thick and lux­u­ri­ous. Air con­di­tion­ing beat back the humid­i­ty of the Virginia sum­mer. Slowly the dis­parate mem­o­ries of the night before coa­lesced into a nar­ra­tive. Sex. She hadn’t wast­ed any time get­ting to that. Then the mini-bar. A one night stand played in reverse. After that, things got hazy.

He rolled over and found her gone.

Hello?”  He called out won­der­ing who leaves last night’s con­quest alone in their hotel room. He want­ed a show­er, des­per­ate to bathe in a place with the kind of scour­ing water pres­sure the Harris lacked. The idea though, seemed point­less. Alex had nev­er under­stood peo­ple who show­er only to put the same clothes back on.

He root­ed around at the bot­tom of the sheets until he found his under­wear. He pulled his clothes on and was try­ing to decide between leav­ing a note and sim­ply van­ish­ing when he heard the door. She walked in car­ry­ing cof­fees and a white bag that promised some man­ner of baked goods.

Were you walk­ing out on me before break­fast?” she asked.

Alex didn’t both­er to deny his inten­tions or to point out that for all he knew she had walked out on him. She looked bet­ter in the morn­ing. Was it the pink light that fil­tered through the cur­tains or her hair pulled into a pony­tail instead of chem­i­cal­ly defy­ing grav­i­ty. That was the only point in the morning’s favor. Free from the din of the bar and the haze of alco­hol-fused lust her voice grat­ed.

They made morn­ing-after con­ver­sa­tion while they drank the cof­fee and ate apple dan­ish, driz­zled with icing.

Where are the­se from?”

Maybe he’d go back for more. Alone. On his way home.

She didn’t answer, but flashed him a look and raised her eye­brows in invi­ta­tion.

I don’t do morn­ing sex.” he said. “I can’t actu­al­ly. Can’t get off before lunch.” He watched her face fall. “No. Really. It isn’t a lie. It’s frus­trat­ing as all hell. I mean I’d like to. There’ve been lots of times where…” He stopped. Too awk­ward. And she wasn’t buy­ing it any­way.

She grew cold after that, impa­tient. He invent­ed some­where he need­ed to be and left with­out the pre­tense of offer­ing a phone num­ber.

 

Back at the Harris Alex unpacked his duf­fel. His’s rule was that no place was home until you spent a night away from it and then came back. A shit­ty lay in some­one else’s bed qual­i­fied.  He could move in now.

The draw­ers had dead bugs in them. He pulled them from the dresser and dumped the bugs in the trash before he placed his clothes in. He had reached a point in life where the sta­bil­i­ty of his sit­u­a­tion was marked by whether or not he had a dresser with a speci­fic draw­er set aside for under­wear.

The last thing he pulled from the bag was the wad of cash. It had grown in the weeks of play­ing. He took from it only for food. Now, before stuff­ing it in the back of his under­wear draw­er, he pulled enough to cov­er anoth­er two months and then a ten beyond that. He went down to the front desk and booked the room for anoth­er mon­th.

Afterwards he walked to the con­ve­nience store across the street. The air con­di­tion­ing in the tiny space prick­led his skin. Still, he enjoyed it. Even the morn­ings were grow­ing oppres­sive.            He picked out a six pack of Sam Adams, took it home and didn’t both­er with the pre­tense of going into his room or the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion of say­ing, “It’s five o’clock some­where.”  He pulled out a bot­tle and banged it again­st the rail­ing to take off the cap. The beer was too fan­cy for the Harris, but Alex didn’t care. Just because you cast your lot in with a group didn’t mean you had to adopt their shit taste in beer.

He took a swig and leaned again­st the rail­ing. Santa emerged tongu­ing a cig­ar and car­ry­ing his cool­er of Rolling Rock. He took his place at the rail­ing a few feet down from Alex. Santa looked at the drum­mer and tilt­ed his can with a “here’s to you” ges­ture. Alex acknowl­edged it before they both turned away to look at their small sliv­er of the sea.

 ~

Paul Myettes fic­tion has appeared in the Elm Leaves Journal and Apt Literary Magazine and has been nom­i­nat­ed for a Pushcart Prize. A grad­u­ate of the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English, Paul is cur­rent­ly at work on his first nov­el. He lives with his wife and chil­dren in Byfield, MA where he shares his writ­ing space with sev­er­al aggres­sive squir­rels.