Somewhere in Texas I formed a generally unfavourable impression of Texas tourist camps, Motels, Hotels, diners and all manner of “attractions”. I remember one room very particularly, tho I don’t know what town it was: single bed on wheels, orange carpet-like blankets with raised terrytowelling patterns. I was kept awake for hours by the sound of my neighbour transferring their legs from the right to the left as they slept, transmitted to me through the wall in vibrations which made my bed rock on its wheels; the same shudder caused the hangers in my closet on the opposite wall to rock & tinkle together. Then in the morning I awakened as my neighbour was dressing and I heard their hangers being scraped along the pole in their closet. Shall we say it was mildly unpleasant hearing metal screech so close to my hang-over.
Not long afterwards, my unkind neighbour and the owner of the motel stood outside on the sunny landing having one of those erudite shouting conversations praising the weather so typical of the native Texan, at which point it became evident that like everything in Texas the hotel was a dodge, the walls were made of cardboard, the furniture was pasteboard, the sugar glass in the window was held in by sticky tape, and they’d fall out when the tape dried out in the afternoon. As long as I kept my eyes closed I couldn’t say with any certainty that they weren’t in fact standing over me one on either side and shouting directly into my ears. I could have said to myself, “I wish those idiots would shut-up,” in a normal voice and they would have heard me with perfect clarity.
About a week before I got to Shitsville I arrived in a township called Providence – un-ironically, because if you can cover 10 miles without mishap in a Texas that abounds with fatalistic evangelists then you should consider yourself fortunate (“REPENT FAST JESUS SAVES PRAY”).
Unhappy event, that night it rained and flooded in drought-stricken Providence for the first time since 1953 – I was shown the picture, well I had time to see all of the pictures ever taken in Providence, as I sat trapped in the Providence diner (nb. the only diner in Providence) that night and saw the faint No and bright ‘VACANCY’ and sleepy little “Beds!” of the hotel sign in burning red through the rain across the road, the water flooding over the drainpipes, pouring in solid drapes down the veranda, turning the road to mud, then mush, then a river, with incredible white swirls on top, sweeping the lucky few out of Providence and back to the heavenly New Arlington. On my table was a bottle of mustard, a bottle of ketchup, a silver sugar pot and a vomiting jug of maple syrup on one of those black plastic trays that are printed with grains to look like wood. Then a middle aged waitress with “Barbara” embroidered on the breast pocket of a green cotton dress, that exact shade of aqua-mint I’ve been trying to describe, came over with a glass coffee pot filled with percolated black turps. She was wonderfully sympathetic to the fact that we all risked drowning if we tried to leave the diner. Scene as follows:
Barbara: You want more coffee honey?
Me (Miss Shitsville): Sure.
Barbara [pours coffee]: You want a side a bacon with your eggs?
Me [desultory]: No.
Barbara: Coleslaw, chips, onions, beans? Special sauce?
Me: What’s so special about your special sauce?
Barbara: Oh, well, that’s our world famous Texas Bar-B-Q pickle sauce.
Me: It’s pickle sauce? Is it made entirely out of pickles or is it sauce with pickles in it?
Barbara: Made with pickles in it, I guess.
Me: No. Thank-you.
Exit bounteous Barbara.
It rained so hard for so long in that morbid hell hole that the water soaked through the cracks in the tarmac and the clay swelled up underneath and broke up all of the water pipes, so the sewerage reappeared in the toilet bowl in bulimic fashion from somewhere over the other side of the S bend, where the rats had a feast of it. Like I told you, everything is bigger in Texas. The amount of sewerage is bigger in Texas, the rats are bigger in Texas. Suddenly it seemed like there wasn’t a hotel or motel left in Texas where the walls didn’t drip with fecal matter.
Enter Barbara, bringing whisky: You okay, honey? You ain’t from around here, honey.
Barbara: Long way from home, ain’t cher, honey? What you doing in Texas?
Me: Um. I’m looking for something.
Barbara: Not oil?
Barbara: Most peoples come to Providence looking for oil. You see them out here. They’re always sniffing around. But everybody’s lookin’ for somethin’.
Me: Do they pay you extra to give advice?
Barbara: Take it from me, honey, whatever it is you’re looking for, it sure ain’t gonna be in Providence.
Me [skeptically]: How do you know?
Barbara: Cos there is nothing in Providence. Not a blessed thing.
Me: Good people in Texas.
Barbara: So they say.
Me: Nothing in Providence.
Barbara: It’s where mutants come to die.
Meanwhile my eggs appeared on the counter on a red tray. Barbara collected them and brought them over. I beheld the eggs. They looked like plastic.
Me [reflecting]: Surely this is the most putrid, soaking rat trap in all of Texas.
Me: Where mutants come to town.
Me: To die.
Barbara: Sure they do, honey. I’ve seen them.
Me: And nothing else.
Barbara: Not a blessed thing. You want salt? You want Pepper? Chicken salt? Worchestershire? Tobasco? Chilli flakes?
Me: Why do you live here?
Barbara: Ohh, I came here when I was married.
Me: Oh. When were you married?
Barbara: Married in 198…4, came here eighty-five. My husband got a job here.
Me: 27 years. You’ve been here for 27 years?
Barbara: That’s right honey, 27 years, in February.
Me: 27 years in Providence.
MS: 27 years of wedded bliss.
Barbara: No, my husband died ten years ago.