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Friday, June 19, 2009

Magic Fingers

The inventor of Magic Fingers died today. In bed, I hope. I humbly dedicate this post to him.

It was a dark and stormy night. I'm not just saying that to create a mood. It was dark and stormy and I was in Texas for reasons too complicated to go into. And I was in a hotel room, alone in bed, watching the dark and stormy night through a large window.

Houston. Shit.

This was not my first visit to Houston. I'd been there once before, when I was much younger, less wise.

Outside the hotel window, lightning bounced off a building, went wild, plunged into a tiny convenience store. The nuclear white of the store went dark.

I tried to read--I was reading the latest Harry Potter book--but the rain beating against the hotel window kept breaking my concentration. I took a shot of Diet Coke, listened to the sirens of the firetrucks as they rushed to the convenience store. I was tense. The convenience store was burning. The firetrucks sounded like whooping Indians taking a last stand.

The lightning strike reminded me of all the things that could happen, all the two-bit unexpected calamities coming down at you like a bolt from the gods to turn out your aggressively bright lights and set your skin on fire. I lit a cigarette.

I watched the cigarette smoke curl through the light of the fake brass lamp beside the bed. The smoke curled and twirled in slow motion into darkness, like the feather boa of a cheap stripper at a club I'd never visited. Everything seemed sleazy in Houston. Everything was nuclear bright or oily dark.

My first time in this town, my grandmother was dying. Brain cancer. She'd never been to Texas in her life, but she'd come to Houston at the end, seeking treatment for her cancer from a place that treated her fading soul but did nothing for the tumor planted in her head like a stalk of asparagus. I hate asparagus. If the good lord intended my pee to smell like that, he'd've... I don't know. He'd've given me an asparagus stalk for a penis. What he did instead was give my grandmother asparagus for a brain tumor. The good lord works in vegan ways.

Now, for my second visit to Houston, it was raining, and the good lord was giving lightning strikes to convenience stores and throwing rain so hard against the window of my room that I couldn't read about Harry Potter's journey on a night bus. It's a cruel place, this Houston. Cruel with its cracked streets and viciously polite waitresses and strip malls that stretched off to the horizon like a field of asparagus.

I called a friend. I used the phone beside the bed because I'd broken my cell phone hours earlier while yelling at the bar tender in the hotel bar. The bar tender didn't know how to make a Shirley Temple, and I got mean, and perhaps did some things I shouldn't've done, like throwing a cell phone at him. "You forgot the cherry," I'd said, leaning over the concoction he was trying to charge me good money for and tossing my cell phone at him without looking up from that infernal concoction. "What kind of a bastard forgets to put a cherry in a Shirley Temple?" I didn't look up, but I heard the cell phone shatter. It sounded like rain pounding against a lonely hotel room in Houston, Texas. "How can you get a Shirley Temple without getting a cherry?"

Yeah, so I called a friend. David. Known him for years. Had a voice like Kleenex--you always had to pull his voice out of his mouth, and there was always someting left hanging so you'd have to pull again.

"My dog died today. Or maybe yesterday, I'm not sure," David told me.

David paused.

"I'm sorry," I said. I wasn't sorry. I was prompting David to go into more detail.

"Makes me sad," David said. "We buried him this morning, beside his favorite tree."

"That's good," I said. I took another shot of Diet Coke, and another lightning bolt scratched itself out of the Houston sky.

"Good for the tree anyway," David said. "Reckon ol' Tibbles will make some fine fertilizer come the fall."

"Yup."

I got off the phone and considered my options. 10pm in Houston, on a stormy night with bad cable and a convenience store nearby now considerably less convenient since God had smited it with a lightning bolt. A book about a wizard I couldn't concentrate on because there was a rainstorm outside. A hostile bar tender who didn't know his ass from a cherry in a Shirley Temple.

I surveyed the hotel room. Not much of a room, more like a cell. Creamy white sea-shell wallpaper, a round table with blocky wooden chairs, a desk with some optimistic-looking hotel stationery and an ill-used pen. Couple of ash trays. A squat, mean chest of drawers I'd never use. A television filled as full of Jesus channels as if I'd died and checked into the Hotel Heaven.

And a slot to insert a quarter. Magic Fingers.

I fumbled around in my pockets for a quarter, and found one. Dug it out of lint and receipts I was keeping for tax purposes. A shiny quarter with the decapitated head of George Washington on it, round but rough, just like a decapitated head should be.

The box for the Fingers was on the bed beside the fake brass lamp, and I fingered the quarter before inserting it into the slot. There was some rain, a lot of thunder, and some flickering residue of light from the convenience store fire lighting up my room better than the fake brass lamp. Everything in the room seemed tense because of that convenient firelight--everything trembled and shook just enough to make me think the room was alive, was unable to sit still. Was dying to be more than a hotel room in Houston.

If that hotel room had've grown legs, I wouldn't be surprised. It already had fingers, after all.

I still had two shots of Diet Coke and a Shirley Temple in me, so I missed my first attempt to shove the quarter into the slot of Magic. Magic always needs a quarter. I tried again.

The bed. It was still wrapped tightly in the comforter because I'd yet to unmake it. I'd spent all night with my legs crossed, leaning back against the vinyl headboard nailed to the wall, trying to read.

The quarter slipped into the slot, plunked down into the innards of the box, and the bed came to life. There was a steady hum, as if some monks were beneath the bed, Gregorian-chanting their way to salvation. The bed, which already was vibrating in the light of the burning convenience store, began to buck like a horse, and I jumped onto it, and for 15 minutes rode that horsey mattress like a pro.

I laid there, and vibrated, and not once did I feel as if I was being massaged by magic fingers. Instead, I felt like I was being shaken to death by an angry au pair. The Diet Coke and the Shirley Temple mixed together in my guts, and I thought about asparagus growing in my brain, and got sick, and before my magic 15 minutes were up I felt like throwing up on the neutral grey hotel room carpet.

But I'd put my quarter into the slot, on the dark and stormy night, so I took the Magic Fingers ride, and knew I deserved what I got.

Somewhere, Tibbles, in his lonely grave, wished he could join me. And in that same distant somewhere, a tree was grateful Tibbles was close.

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