Here's the thing about hotel
rooms. It's illusion.
You know it. The guy who gives you the key knows it. It's the job of housekeeping. Of room service.
You slide the key in the door and you're the first person inside. The first person who ever crossed that threshold.
You drop your luggage. You sit on the bed. Kick off your shoes. Thumb the TV remote.
No one else has touched these things. Not tens, not hundreds, not thousands. Nobody.
It's your illusion as your head sinks into the pillow - no one else has had their head in this spot.
It's not that you're Howard Hughes. It's not that you fear the microscopic vermin left by the previous tenants. It's not that you worry about the unmentionable outrage that may have been performed in that small space.
You have to sleep. It's better not to cloud the mind with theories and mental dissonance so you pretend you're the first. No one has ever been before you.
We got married. We went to Big Sur.
It's a beautiful place.
Someone said that Big Sur is the way God meant the whole world to look, but he got distracted along the way and out came South Holland, Illinois. Sheer cliff faces drop into a sea as blue as the Caribbean. Lush redwood forests cloak the mountaintops in fertile green must. Everywhere you look, something is beautiful. Something smells fresh and life giving. Something feels soft and inviting.
The place is full of hippies. In spots it's still the 60's.
We went to the Henry Miller memorial library. In case you forgot, Henry Miller wrote Tropic of Cancer, which was banned for obscenity in the U.S. back in the 50's. It was the book to read if you wanted to be talked about.
The library is a bookstore. It's an art gallery. It's full of Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.
I picked up a 33RPM vinyl disc. Jefferson Starship Red Octopus. Still in good shape. A dollar.
They wanted $20 for a new copy of Tropic of Cancer, and Tropic of Capricorn, and the other Henry Miller books.
I scanned through the former.
"Doesn't seem so subversive," I said to the Blonde-haired girl, now my wife.
"Everything mellows with time."
We ate dinner at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn which is where we happened to be staying. Wondering what to say to my new wife with whom I have been making small talk and love the past five years, I picked up the fork at my place setting.
"How many mouths do you think this has been in?" I asked her. "How many different foods has it scooped?"
"Does it matter?"
"Only if it hasn't been washed well. They may not use dish detergent up here. This might be an all-organic place. Maybe they use river water and moss to clean their silverware. Some of these people don't believe in viruses."
She pondered my question as a meta argument. The look on her face, "What have I done marrying this guy? He's good in bed, but he's unemployed and most likely insane. Criminally."
But she said, "It's not worth thinking about."
"Did you see the bumper sticker on the car that parked next to us? It said, 'Don't believe everything you think.' That's what you're saying to me. Isn't it?"
"No. But it's a good idea."
At Deetjen's Big Sur Inn the rooms don't have numbers. They have names.
We stayed in a room called, "Faraway." They gave us that room because we told them we were on our honeymoon, which we were.
When I spoke to the woman on the phone to make the reservation two months prior she said, "You're in luck. We have a good room for you. It's our most sound-proofed. You'll like it."
I wanted to argue with the implication. The insinuation that we would be loud. That we would be spending our time making noise in confined spaces. That one or both of our heads would wind up pounding against the headboard. That nails would be run across backs and wallpaper. That someone would be yelping or worse. In a fit of cognitive meltdown, I got echolalia.
I said, "Soundproof."
"Well, not soundproof. But you know. Privacy."
"Unless you're really creative, that is. I mean, we can't guarantee it."
"That will be five-hundred thirty dollars. Up front."
"Now. You prepay. That's our policy. Non-refundable."
"Pay now. Five-hundred thirty. Non-refundable. Policy."
I did what she asked. There didn't seem to be an alternative.
When we got to Deetjen's and checked in they asked me to sign the register. Made sure I included my name and address. The license number of our car. It seemed security was going to be quite tight as it was Memorial Day weekend in America. Lots of out-of-towners would be around. Thieves. N'er do wells out to fleece the tourists.
"You're in 'Faraway,'" she said. She pulled out a map. "You get there by going around this road. Park in the spot that says, 'Parking for Faraway.' Have a nice time." She handed me a sheet of information for their guests. An FAQ to Deetjen's.
We got into our car to drive to Faraway and about halfway there I realized I had made some kind of mistake.
"Did she give you a key?" I asked the blonde-haired girl. "She didn't give me a key."
"Maybe it's in the lock or something."
We parked in the requisite spot. There was no key in the door. It was opened. I was about to head back to the front desk when the engineering me examined the door hardware.
Not only was there no place for a key, the damned thing was unlockable. There was a simple hook and eye arrangement you could latch once inside. But that was only the stupid suggestion of a lock. It would hold the door closed in a stiff breeze. Maybe.
"There's no key," I said.
My wife read from the Deetjen's FAQ, "It says here you should lock all your valuables in your car."
"Goddamned hippies," I said, or something like that. "Like anyone can just walk in on us at any time. You can't even put a chair in front of the door because it opens outward."
"Relax. Just enjoy being in this beautiful place."
"Sure. When the gangbangers from Oakland team up with the Hell's Angels they won't even have to plan a home invasion. It will be a home invitation robbery. Come rob us. Locks on the door? Surely you jest. Have a nice rape while you're at it."
"Oh shut up."
"Who the hell picked this place, anyway?"
"I think it was you."
"Damn. They were the only ones in Big Sur who had vacancies on the holiday weekend. Now I know why. It's a hotel for professional victims. Let's sleep in the Jeep."
But it was too late. She had unpacked her stuff into the ancient chest of drawers. I lay on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
It hit me. The woods. We were right next to the ocean and a waterfall.
"No heat. We'll freeze tonight."
"You won't freeze," she said, seductively.
"When we stop the love, I mean."
"No we won't. You'll light the stove."
"That black thing is with the pipe sticking out of it? That's a stove? And what do we do for wood? Role play a little Dorothy and Tin Woodsman? This whole forest is one huge tinderbox waiting to go up, you know. One spark blown in the wrong direction. Whoosh. It happened two years ago. Google it. The smoke jumpers will find our charred remains."
"There's a wood box outside. Now it's our honeymoon and if you're going to keep up this paranoid bullshit, you're spending the night in the Jeep. Is that what you want?"
I shook my head. It was not what I wanted. What I wanted was what she was doing.
"All right, then," she said, and began unbuttoning and unzipping things.
Some moments later we ate dinner. And then some moments even later we were back in the room. Worried the night time forest temps would drop to near freezing I got a roaring fire going in the stove. The room rapidly warmed to 70, 80, 90 degrees. Probably more. I wondered how to set it to something lower than "thermonuclear".
When I finally got into bed I said, "Five-hundred thirty bucks paid up front and you can't set the stove on anything less than eleven. I guess we have to think of this as camping at Conrad Hilton's personal campsite."
But she didn't answer me. Instead, she laughed at the book in her hand. It was one of the twenty or so hard cover books that were on the night stand beside the bed. I thought they were decoration.
"What's so funny?"
"These are journals," she said. "Everyone who stays in this room writes a couple pages in these books."
I picked one. The pages were rippled in places from where the book had been wet with one thing or another. The ink had run, and in places was blotted completely so you couldn't see the writing.
Each entry was handwritten. Different pens. Pencils. Printed characters. Script. Drawings.
I read - "We stayed here on our honeymoon. We hope you like oh-so-comfortable Mr. Bed as much as we did. Have a bounce and think of us, Ken and Sandy, Madison Wisc. 1995" and immediately felt a sense of unease.
Another entry: "We did it in the striped chair next to the window. Then in front of the fire. Then on the table where these books are. I am still naked as I sit here writing this. Jim the guy who brings the wood came in unexpectedly. We invited him to join us and he did. He and my new husband are spooning on the bed beside me. We can't wait for the maid to show up."
"Oh my god," I said to my blonde haired wife, imagining the threesome somehow superimposed on our own reality, as if they had just been there and I could smell the remains of their sex making. There would be parasites and disease. I needed to autoclave everything I could reach.
"Don't worry. It's not true."
"You say that with such authority. How do you know? This is where Richard Brautigan wrote Confederate General and you know what a lecher he was. And you have the ghost of Henry Miller right up the road. These people are hedonists. God knows what moral insults have occurred here."
"You can't believe everything you read."
"Well I believe this:" and I read aloud, "'If I were you I wouldn't touch anything. I'd put down this book and scrub with alcohol.'"
She looked at me with disbelief, but her eyes betrayed a sense of worry. I know her well enough. I looked on the page she had been scanning. In handwriting I could barely decipher I read aloud, "'Look up. See that stain on the ceiling? That's how far it shot.'"
Indeed, over my head, a faint coffee stain that housekeeping would never think to eradicate.
"How far what shot?" asked the blonde-haired girl.
Now it was my turn for disbelief. I furrowed my brow in by best Fred MacMurray imitation and said, "Now darling...surely when you were younger..."
We read deep into the night as the wood stove heated the room to well over one hundred degrees.
"You have to open the windows if you don't want to bake like a turkey," said one entry about the stove. "Drink water. It gets dry." I opened the windows. I pushed aside the curtains.
"Don't worry about the privacy when you open the windows because the stove is too hot," said another entry. "Everyone here is a voyeur and the walls are paper thin. Privacy is an illusion, anyway. We just got back from Easlen and we've been naked for a week. You get used to it. We entertained the road crew for a two whole days. They couldn't believe Randy could keep it up for so long. The people over in Chateau Chaos can see you straight out their window. But it's okay because you can see them, too, and they don't have as good sound proofing as you. Carla and Randy, Austin Tx. 1999"
And so on.
We read the Faraway diaries when we weren't out sampling the Big Sur beauty. Many entries were simple and sweet. "Jim and Margaret spent their 20th wedding anniversary in this magical place. Uxbridge, England. 2001."
Many were simple soft-core pornography.
"We fucked like weasels until the couple next door in Stokes complained we were knocking shit off their walls. Damn, my new wife has a great ass. Dustin and Tara - June 2005"
Some people had drawn pictures. "Things we saw today: a seagull, a ghost, a racoon, the ocean, my breakfast, my beautiful wife, naked."
Some claimed the room was haunted. Some said they heard strange howls in the woods. Lots complained about the lack of locks. About the blast furnace heater. About the noise from the ever so scenic pacific coast highway, which was just a couple yards from the room.
Lots claimed they felt a strange and strong sexual energy in the room that drove them to lengthly bouts of lovemaking, the likes of which they never felt they had been capable of in the past.
"We can't seem to stop doing it. Every time I look at her she goes down on me and it starts all over. Bob and Laura, Watertown NY"
Of this is certain - the proprietors of Deetjen's put all their honeymooners and anniversary celebrators in the Faraway room, and most of them skipped the pleasantries of getting acquainted with the surroundings, succumbing immediately to their primal urges, and upon finding the diaries, added their stories to it.
"We have been married forty wonderful years," said one entry in beautiful script. "I wish you the same happiness, dear reader."
Happiness. Love. Joy. Sex sex and more sex. No one stays in Faraway alone.
"We have been married three days. The wedding was perfect. We came to Big Sur for our honeymoon. You're sharing our nuptual bed, and I hope it's as good for you as it was for me."
"I am now Mrs. Lundy. I just love writing that. I hope you will be as happy as I am right now."
"I was so scared before the wedding. I almost ran out. Don't tell her. But I'm so glad I didn't. She's beautiful. This is the best thing that's ever happened to me. My advice to you is to stick with it. Don't chicken out. You won't regret it!"
"Yes, we are two men alone here in Faraway. First we can dispense with the sex. Over there on the striped chair, and then here on Mr. Oh-so-comfortable bed, where you now lie. But there's so much more. This is the only place I feel we can be in totally unchained love. This is where we radiate. Tomorrow it's up to San Francisco to get married. I can't describe how happy it makes me. This vibe is strong, and I wish to you the same happiness I feel today."
"Don't you feel strange reading this? Why am I writing it? Maybe there's some goodness. I stayed here with my wife twenty years ago. It was our honeymoon. We had three kids and then cancer took her. It was ovarian. It was slow and ugly and I almost ate a bullet. I swear, I would have done it if it wasn't for the kids. And now my Tina. Please don't hate me, but I've been so alone. We were married yesterday. I couldn't think of where else to go, and so we're here. It's weird, but it's good. I think I can begin again. I really do. She's good for the kids. It's not wrong, is it?"
I let the book fall to my lap.
"Did you read this one?" I asked the blonde-haired girl.
"Why do we need to know these things? Why can't this just be a spotless room in the woods? You know, like those paper bands they used to put on toilets in hotels - 'Sanitized for your protection.'"
"We don't need protection. They wish us nothing but happiness."
"But all the people. So many. All these lives passed through here. I mean, you usually don't know who's been in a room before you -- it's leaving a stain. You know?" I touched my chest where it could feel it the strongest.
"I know," she said.
"I can't get it off." I wanted to cry or laugh or yelp. Maybe the energy. "I didn't come here to become one of these people."
"Too late," she said, and turned off the lights.
In the dark, on oh-so-comfortable Mr. Bed, we watched the ghosts waft past and listened to the howling in the woods.