I can sometimes play the trope of the obnoxious American. I like to write, drink, read and say all sorts of problematic things that slither into my sinister mind. I’ve done some shady shit over the years. Stuff that I wouldn’t be thrilled for any future girlfriend or employer to find out about. I’ve found myself in some sleazy, fucked up places. Getting hammered and then getting hungry for the embrace of a woman–any woman–might plant your horny and drunk ass into some corners of Long Island that would make your local parish priest give you some holy stink eye. All you usually need is to be willing to purchase some drinks, fork over some cash and then find a place to go.
Long Island has a plethora of potholes on its shitty, congested roads. It also has dozens upon dozens of cheapjack motels that have crusty sheets on their creaky beds that you can use said crappy roads to drive to. You’re risking a flat tire and, depending on your business at one of these shady motor lodges, a possible STD or night in the local slammer. Not exactly the suburban paradise you might see advertised on posters on LIRR trains or commercials on Channel 12 news. If you’re drunk take a cab to get your business done. You might even be rewarded for your responsible drinking. It happened to me once.
One Good Friday, about a decade ago, I was picked up in a cab to meet some buddies for a session of day drinking. To commemorate Christ getting nailed to a cross, I started drinking cheap wine at 10am. I lived in Long Beach and had to meet them further up north. By 1:30pm I was already pretty buzzed. Listening to music in blissful solitude made the vino flow down my throat like water from an open fire hydrant. I called one of the local cab companies, at the time Long Beach had a few, to shuttle me to meet them.
I’ve rode drunk an endless amount of times in cabs. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on them during my drinking years. Beats getting a DUI. Real boozers don’t drink and drive. It is a horrible and selfish act. If you have the money to drink, you have the money to call a cab. They also have this thing called Uber now. Instead of sending a happily married ex a drunk text, fire up the app on your phone and get driven home, safely. Don’t ruin your life or the lives of innocents because you don’t want to leave your car in the parking lot of some gin joint overnight. End of public service message.
I can also say with certainty, I am a very good tipper and usually a good natured conversationalist when I am drunk. Cabbies knew my address and, I shit you not, they all raced each other to pick me up when they got the transmission from the grumpy dispatcher. Several of them told me this. They were probably just blowing smoke up my hairy ass. Flattery is a great friend to a drunk with low self esteem and ten twenty dollar bills in his wallet.
A beat up Ford Taurus with the taxi company’s phone number stenciled on its dented passenger side doors pulled up to my house, honked the horn and I was out the door like a sprinter exploding after the starting gun. Day drinking always gets me excited and the adrenalin starts to flow. My very own degenerate triathlon. I recognized the driver at once. She was one of my favorites. She was an attractive black woman, probably a few years older than me. This lady was funny, liked good music and had the common sense smarts of someone that had been around the block a few times. On a couple of those trips through that neighborhood, she was probably mugged by life a few times. She had that weathered look people get when dire circumstance is up in their face everyday like a sadistic drill sergeant.
This chick was pretty and friendly. She also seemed to be a little bit on the wild side. Not a bad quality in women that are passing acquaintances. I would always tell her she would be a perfect bartender at some old man’s dive bar. Geezers would be handing over half their social security to her in tips. Everyone needed additional revenue streams.
I flirted with her and she would always politely laugh it off. I didn’t change my game plan on this trip. If you’ve read my poetry you know my rap probably isn’t any good in this particular arena. She turned toward me, casual as Saturday morning, and said she would be willing to do some things for an extra tip. My brain and gut mixed me a cocktail of excitement and terror. A beautiful chick is a beautiful chick, no matter how it went down. There would be no mystery how this ended. I had the cash on me. Would that make things tougher? Would this experience be the sexual equivalent of one of those totalitarian military parades through some drab city square? That generic communist march played in my spinning head and it wasn’t helping my libido. I still had to perform, you know? She would probably pick me up as a fare again. A classic disco song from the seventies came over the ancient radio in her cab and I settled down a bit.
Where to complete this transaction which was not completely above board? She only had a small window in which she could stay off the road. Time was money and the dispatcher was an oily taskmaster. Traffic already made going back to my place out of the question. And I wasn’t paying good money to get all twisted and uncomfortable in the back of a taxi cab. Lucky for me, she was able to pull into the parking lot of one of Long Island’s finest no tell motels and I was able to pay for a room. Please don’t judge her. She had her reasons for doing it and we weren’t hurting anyone. Judging me is fine and I’m cool with that. I have a garbage side that I’ve finally been able to embrace. We were consenting adults and she gave me a heck of a memorable time. God bless America and one of the institutions that, I believe, is unique to it.
The no tell motel.
The word Americana, in a nutshell, means things associated with America and its culture. Some historic examples of this are baseball, apple pie and that famous poster of Uncle Sam pointing at you, telling you with those hard eyes that he owns your ass. I’m not ashamed to say I love my country. I am also not blind to its problems. I would like to call myself a pragmatic patriot.
The items that I would put on the shelves of the Acme Americana Department Store in that nondescript suburban mall in Boringtown, USA probably differs greatly from what many others would stack them with. That, by the way, is a good thing. I am a cynical degenerate, after all. People like me aren’t the majority of the population. Another lucky break for society.
I’ve been fortunate enough, despite my flaws, to have had a pretty decent career in a strong field that can survive economic downturns. That’s a blessing. I need a paycheck to feed my demons. They’re always ravenous and trying to derail any success I might achieve. I have avoided any major tragedies, thus far. Never been jammed up by the cops or the IRS. Any contact with the criminal element has been fleeting and not binding by any state or federal laws. However, sometimes I feel that each time I unscrew the top off the bottle of cheap booze I am playing a game of Russian Roulette against a cackling shadow that is shaped just like me. Eventually, that trigger pull might produce something louder than an empty click.
My geographic location and network of real world friends and associates has allowed me to rub elbows with beautiful and refined people with high society status. I never had any issues keeping up with their conversations about art and world events. I was always able to entertain them with my wit and swindler’s charm. I’m quite comfortable around members of the modern day aristocracy. Half the people I work with live on The Gold Coast of Long Island. Look that area up, Gatsby. It might not be what it was back in The Jazz Age, but they still have some platinum zip codes with enough history to fill a bootlegger’s fleet of boats as they steam towards the most popular seaside speakeasy on Long Island Sound.
On the flip side, my self-defeating habit of sometimes drinking too much has had me partying in the gutters of skid row with the fringes of society. Most of these folks are solid citizens who don’t have the facilities, for whatever reason, to pull themselves into the middle class. Shit happens to all of us and we have to do what we have to do to bring home the bacon. However, not everyone of meager financial means carry noble souls under their thrift store threads. And that shit can get scary. Don’t expect to flirt with the fringe without repercussions. If you want to share drink with them you best realize that when you want to leave their party they might want to take a chunk of flesh and mark you, permanent like.
Walking around with a scar like that makes the reputable people you interact with regard you with a lukewarm contempt. There’s no trust for you in those clear eyes they always seem to be sporting seven days a week. Not a single broken ocular capillary from substance abuse in any of them. You can never catch a whiff of booze on their breath before 5pm. They will strangle you with their rigid society etiquette. There will be no more dinner invites for you. Your buddy’s wife suddenly reneges on introducing you to her hot co-worker who has a fetish for middle aged drunks that are tech savvy. Your boss scrutinizes the times you arrive and leave work; makes pointed remarks about the clutter on your desk. Your relatives aren’t laughing anymore when you’re showing your cousin’s kids your JAWS and Darth Vader tattoos at the annual family picnic. In a land of freedoms, consequences are paid with steep interest rates.
I often joke that if you want to get a real American experience you need to eat a meatloaf dinner at a greasy spoon and make sure you sit at the counter. Three cups of coffee and a slice of pie are a must for dessert. Make sure you tip your waitress, cheapskate. Then head out to a local dive bar and get blackout drunk with a bunch of characters you would be embarrassed to be seen with during the daylight hours. Top all that off by waking up next to a complete stranger in some skeevy motor lodge with a tv from 1995 playing an infomercial hosted by some bland Satan who is hawking people’s souls and amplifying your shame. The unsettling stains on its frayed carpeting and the toilet bugs that glare at you as you take that morning piss are nice touches that will linger in your mind like the stank from a wet fart . If that six month gap on your one night stand’s resume is because of time served in a local correctional facility then you just took a First Class Tour of Tarmerica.
Barnstorming the no tell motels is the national pastime for the depraved. These sleazy bastions of suspect American Values are usually located in the bad part of town. Adjacent to the airports or in nearly deserted industrial areas are prime locations for these joints, as well. A benefit of these places is that you can usually pay for a room with cash. The right to privacy is something spelled out for Americans in The Bill or Rights. It’s a shame that one of the few institutions still willing to abide by this basic principle are roach motels that are crawling with hookers, drug dealers and other assorted criminals on the run from the law. Not having to lay down a credit card means there is no paper trail for that snooping spouse. And if some homicidal pimp, who substitutes angel dust for sugar in his coffee, strangles one of his bitches down the hall you can sneak out a window and make a clean getaway. You won’t get a visit at work from nosey cops who plucked your credit card receipt from the front desk. Most of these places you can just slide a few twenties through an opening in the bulletproof glass and the wheezing, sweaty clerk hands you an actual key to your room.
I’m fairly certain that all of these type of motels on Long Island are “mom and pop” operations. This means they aren’t owned by some unseen conglomerate lording over its Kingdom of Vice from a far off land. I believe they’re locally operated by small business owners. They still say the American economy is fueled by small business. I can’t say for certain that the moms and pops that run these dumps aren’t into some slightly sinful shit. At the very least, many of them turn a blind eye to shady and felonious shit that goes down in their dirty parking lots, behind the dumpsters out back, and in their outdated and smutty rooms.
What’s cool about many of these places is that they aren’t cookie cutter. They have style and soul in their architecture, even if the years and the illegal activity going down in their rooms has scarred them. America is supposed to be about originality. I see nothing unique in these boring strip malls and nondescript shopping centers that blemish the suburban landscape. On present day Long Island, it seems the most interesting architecture is reserved for the local Starbucks or some branches of the multi-national banks. Even many of the bars have no character. The pre-fabricated designs look like they were pounded out of templates that roll off an assembly line in some factory in rural China. Who wants to get drunk in some franchised tavern that has the personality of an embalmed corpse?
These motor lodges, unsavory as some of them may have become, were built in a time before all these soulless buildings began to sprout up like hair from an old man’s ear. They look like they were built anywhere from the 1940s to the 1970’s and their retro coolness makes the possibility of getting mugged at the ice machine worth the risk. Many have cool and wholly original neon signs that appear to be decades old. They remind me of the signs you would see in the classic film noirs or described by the great writers of the pulp magazines. Noir and pulp are as American to me as a doubleheader between the Yankees and Red Sox.
I often drive around Long Island and scope out all of these places, so I can take pictures of them. I like to photograph the signs as they all have a sleazy charm. It fuels the imagination for the type of stories, articles and poems I pound out on my laptop. “Write what you know” says that literary axiom. When I am on these excursions I will usually stop at a diner in some crumbling area of a town in Nassau or Suffolk county and order a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. As I sit at the counter, drinking my coffee, there is usually an American flag on display next to a menu or framed autographed headshots of low level and faded celebrities who allegedly ate there. It’s all so American.