Tales From the Oregon Trail – Dead Cat Edition

Forgive me for doing this out of order. Narratives ought to start with a What or perhaps a Why, but I’m going to start by by telling you of the Where. I’m going to tell you Where I am right now, because it’s my story and I can do as I want.

I have a strange penchant for shabby accommodations. That’s a polite way of saying I enjoy staying in shitty hotels. I sell stuff for a living, and my territory is wide, so I have many opportunities to indulge this peculiar appetite of mine. I’ve stayed in an array of shoddy inns in questionable neighborhoods, but I believe this time, here in the town of Gresham, I may have taken it a questionable neighborhood too far.

I expected sticky hallways with carpet fibers indistinguishable from discarded gum and tobacco spit. I expected the perpetually running toilet in my bathroom (a shitty hotel staple), the misshapen mattress that makes you feel like you’re falling downhill when you lay on it, the carpets that feel curiously damp under the feet, sort of like shaking clammy hands with a scruffy stranger who tells you My hands are wet cause I just washed them but somehow you know that’s not water on his hands. I expected all of this. But it wasn’t until I parted my bedroom curtains and spotted a dead cat in the dirt courtyard below that I realized I had found a bonafide gem. This is it. Somewhere in the state of Maine is a shitty hotel just like this one, and Stephen King has stayed there and written it into one of his novels.

The questionable neighborhood too far came in when I was propositioned by the same thunder-thighed Lolita twice in the parking lot within a span of thirty minutes. I don’t believe her repeated offer was the product of persistence; I think she just didn’t realize I was the same guy who turned her down both times. Hopefully she had better luck with the next two guys.

There is much more to tell of this Where, and God knows I wish I had time to describe it in painstaking detail, but that would be missing the point. The point of telling you the Where is to get to the Why, and if I have time tonight, perhaps the What.

I am here in Oregon because there’s a boy I’m quite fond of who is swimming here this week. He’s swimming fast along with a bunch of other kids who also swim fast. I won’t share too many details about the nature of this competition or how he got to be here, because he doesn’t like his parents to talk about swimming too much, and I’m hoping he’ll read this and not get annoyed with me. The worst sin you can ever commit against a teenager is to be annoying.

This is the Why, but only part of it. I’m a busy guy, and I didn’t have spare time to come down here. But maybe I had to come. Maybe there is something in my body that wouldn’t let me stay home and cruise blindly through my busy little life while my son has a once in a life experience in another state. Maybe I couldn’t help myself.

I have a confession to make: I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t believe free will is a thing. If the younger me were sitting here now, he’d slap himself for saying such a thing. I’ve thought about this a lot, about the implications of believing we are all walking bags of fleshy hardware, running software we didn’t write, and maybe, if I can find the time, I’ll start writing a book on the subject I’ll never get to finish because I’m too busy doing the other things my software tells me to do.

I have so little time to spend here with you, and it grieves me more than I can say. I like staying in shitty hotels because they inspire me; they inspire me to stop being busy, to stop working so hard for things I don’t really care about in order to impress people who don’t care about me, and to come to this place of metaphor and abide for a time. My life is the stuff of American dreams; I want for nothing in this world, except to have the crushing weight of fear removed from my back. I strive against the fear, strive until I collapse into bed each night, sleep fitfully before rising to strive some more, and none of it works, not for long anyway.

Only this works. It’s the only thing I’ve ever known that makes me feel better––being here with you. This shitty hotel in this questionable neighborhood; it is my oasis in the desert.

I’m going to go now. It’s getting late, and I need to be fresh for the morning because I have timing duty. All those fast swimmers are counting on me to know my right thumb from my left. Maybe I’ll get lucky and be able to time for that boy I’m so fond of.

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