Another Sunset Lodge, TX.

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.

Me: No…

Barbara: Long way from home, ain’t cher, honey? What you doing in Texas?

Me: Um. I’m looking for something.

Barbara: Not oil?

Me: 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.

Barbara: Sure.

Me: Where mutants come to town.

Barbara: Sure.

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.

Barbara: Sure.

MS: 27 years of wedded bliss.

Barbara: No, my husband died ten years ago.

Meanwhile. Back in Texas.

Dr. V is really Mother’s doctor, inane, as most doctors tend to be, in between taking shots of morphine. In fact he birthed me and prophetically claimed, “She’s perfect!” where other doctors would be content to note a child had the correct number of unwebbed fingers and toes. Dr. V has a famous approach to patient care, which is to blame for Mother’s longevity. Loosely summarising, Dr. V’s theory positions dipsomaniacs and cynical youths such as myself as standing at the precise intersection of a psychological, physiological and spiritual malaise. As any fool knows, repressed libidinous desires lead to ill health; without relief, ill health, having in effect “hollowed out” the patient’s cells, will let the fulfilling effects of all constructive social, political and spiritual activities simply flow out, as through a sieve, into a void. The body, perceiving thus, cries out for another airy kind of sustenance, then depending on the type of initial repression, the subject attempts to “stop up” this gap, but only develops a boundless appetite: for food, drink, dope, tobacco, abnormal sex, self-obsession, murder, theft, or whatever the case may be.

“However,” says Dr. V, in scientific tones, by isolating and then relieving all of the original symptoms, with a complete, if complex, combination of modern medicines and products to aid mental and physical exercises – starting at bottom with Eno’s Fruit Salts and Barbitol for sleeping, then varieties of rubberised girdles and electrified massage devices, and so on. And then, once all of the “delicate and spiritualised machinery” of the physical body has been worked out and a fix applied, the subject will experience the “fullness” of health, develop “normal reactions” to constructive [Christian-Capitalist] activity and hence the natural cessation of his (or her) mania.

“Criminal activity was once thought to be incurable,” said the Doctor, and so on, and so forth, a whole theory worked out and expounded upon across three consecutive half-hour sessions (at $70 per half hour), at the bottom of which was a quite sincere and originally harmless belief in the benefits of Eno’s Fruit Salts. “O ye gods of health—.”

I had gone to see him on the Friday after the vegan thing, afraid I’d become all too used to weeping. In the end he said I simply had to gain some Rest & Perspective. Obviously Dr V was unaware that I’ve already had long years of Rest (i.e. uninterrupted idleness) and have gained a very long Perspective indeed due in no small part to the telescoping properties of real Texas peyote, which can make everything come to a neat, sharp point then wink once, like a boat in the sun before it disappears over the horizon line.

It is no coincidence that every time I feel close to having a nervous breakdown I think about going back to Texas. When Dr. V recommended Rest & Perspective I immediately thought of Mineral Wells, TX, (“Where America drinks its way to health”) which I passed through on my way to Shitsville last year. Picture postcards show downtown Mineral Wells dominated by the The Baker Hotel, “a famous spa and health resort”, with 14 storeys and over 400 rooms. The Baker was opened in 1929, shut up in 1972, and has since been empty and rotting. It’s supposed to be haunted, for the benefit of the few tourists who still will fag to Mineral Wells, TX, without the promise of a first class resort (meanwhile everything is bigger in Texas and everywhere in Texas is supposed to be haunted), when I would have thought the most frightening thing is that anyone would lock up an Art Deco glory and let it rot.

You can find some really awful, digitally blurred photographs of the interior of The Baker Hotel on the internet. They’re awful because the artless photographer has set their digital camera to “Black-and-White” and under-exposed the pictures, in order to convey a sense of decrepitude and hauntedness in James Cameron’s Titanic-at-the-heart-of-the-ocean style. In short, it’s cheap sentiment, where a good photographer will have some sensitivity to subtleties and can let an image speak for itself.

In decent pictures you can see there’s a particular shade of faded-out art deco aqua-mint-green everywhere: on the far wall of the lobby beside the elevator doors; the bathroom fixtures; the lie-down, strap-in exercise machines (still there) and a fountain near the empty swimming pool.

I got stuck the other day trying to convey this particular shade of Texas-tourist green to a shop girl, who would say things like, “I like the way this jacket is… ‘cropped’ at the back,” and then appeared bewildered when I said, “I think it’s revolting… I’ll buy it.” This in a shop where the music shouted some repellent number, “I’M A FASH-SHON SLUT!” (I’d prefer respectful silence). Guess is a brand that makes that perennial oxy-moron: good quality trash “fashions” – without irony – and it’s incredible tasteless shit, but every now and then they’ll come up with something that I adore precisely because it’s truly awful. The type of green I long for in eyeshadow reminds me of – empty swimming pools, Texas Motels and caravans with 70s print lino, plywood cupboard doors and bathroom sinks painted to look ‘hygienic’, and even though there’s no worse a scent than mint (unless it’s something fecal like ocean breeze), when I was in Texas, in my fagged mind the shade somehow became associated with relief.

That is, respite from carrying a pair of black lungs through the shimmering, baking desert, trying to breathe through a screen of golden dust and always struggling to focus my poor eyes through vintage Dior pink sunglasses in order to read un-syntactical evangelical signs apparently written in mock-biblical pidgin (“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness”) and ads for Coca-Cola, all faded to a nostalgic brown, on the outskirts of a one-horse town famous for their “Chicken Shack.”

The Baker Hotel depressed me no end, until I heard somewhere that the Baker Hotel was almost a copy of the New Arlington Hotel (Hot Springs, Arkansas) and that the Arlington has been maintained through the years. So I high-tailed it to Arkansas when I could (stopping at the famed Chicken Shack on the way).

The New Arlington was built in 1924, replacing the second Arlington Hotel, which had burned down the year before. A souvenir picture postcard shows the dramatic event. Then, when I got there, glory of glories – there was Coca-Cola! Air-conditioning! A pool with water and chlorine in it…!

The lobby of the New Arlington is yellow, and at either end is an alcove, one is the “lobby bar” and the other is the band stand – and the alcove walls are painted with fanciful murals: jungle scenes in Henri Rousseau fashion, cheeky monkeys and juicy oranges, glossy leaves, big flowers that look like oversize daisies, impossible birds, and that very particular shade of aqua-mint deco green… A Rousseau-like jungle scene being quite spectacularly out of place and unexpected in the arid cultural backwaters of the US, and for that reason one of the most fantastic, beautiful things I have ever seen.