Wednesday, May 28, 2008

In Response To Great Demand

In the past I referred to my tenure living and working in a 1950s motor lodge. In response to the great demand for more information on this period, I am happily enclosing an essay I wrote during that time, c. June 2006. I shopped this around at a few journals and got a little interest but no takers. Now I happily unveil it to Go Independent readers.

Reasons Why—One Year Later—
You Still Live
and Work at
The Cactus Motor
Lodge in Tucson, Arizona
By Ric Jahna

Because, when you claim to be a writer, one way to prove that you’re by-God serious, absent any writerly accomplishments, is to enter a low-paying, unassuming job, the less prestigious the better, this in the name of gathering interesting material and focusing on the work. This way, you can cast the low-end nature of your life as a sort of artistic asset, even the fact that some of your neighbors are prostitutes or, if not prostitutes, at least strippers on the skids. It’s a slippery slope for people in a jam, a point you make—with practiced matter-of-factness—to your hopelessly respectable friends, waiting for that flinch of disapproval or judgment that lets you pounce—but in a controlled, understated way—eyeing them with an expression of measured pity before declaring that, indeed, there are many things in heaven and earth that may not penetrate their rigid domes of middle-class decorum, and then you can wait and watch them stew, backtrack, and make qualifications for being the classist, prejudging, wealth-hungering capitalists that they are, while you shake your head as if to imply there’s no hope for them.
This, and because knowing the whole time that while, in the name of art, you freely choose to debase yourself through such modest circumstances, you are, in truth, no stranger to more erudite pursuits. You can and do discuss potential applications of Foucauldian discursive analysis in relation to popular media of the 1990s, or argue over the most pressing narratological questions facing prose writers today, and occasionally, when meeting the infrequent visiting scholar to the university—someone attracted by the $34.99 advertised on your marquee—you’re able to drop such elements into conversation, not right away but at some point when you are getting the said scholar extra towels or a plunger for the toilet. Here, discreetly, you might let it slip that you have two master’s degrees—yes, and one’s an MFA: that’s terminal, you know—and that you are revising a novel, and watch the surprise in the visiting scholar’s face as you reveal intimate knowledge of the university and answer most any logistical question he or she has, and here at some point there is probably a pause where the visiting scholar ponders, but does not ask, the question: Why is it you’re working in a run-down motel? And again you can smile with heroic satisfaction.
Also, because sometimes, once in a while, Justin, Star, Ari, Ken, and Linda will visit you after the bars close, and you can open up the lounge area and offer them coffee or tea and sit around on the couches and wittily discuss potential applications of Foucauldian discursive analysis in relation to popular media of the 1990s, or argue over the most pressing narratological questions facing prose writers today, and at times like this it does not seem so ludicrous to imagine yourselves as some latter day, Southwestern version of the Algonquin Round Table.
Not to mention the fact that, despite your Marxist leanings, you are no great fan of the exercise of actual physical labor and, when you think about it, you admit that your responsibilities as overnight front desk clerk are few, and having your room maybe twenty yards from your job is convenient, with no utilities to worry about and free cable to boot, but more than this there’s the fact that you are indeed treated to some fairly interesting situations, can actually say "I’ve seen some wild shit, man," things that will stick with you, fodder for the great writing you will produce in the future, when all these heroics are over and you can fondly recollect your tenure at the Cactus Motor Lodge, in Tucson AZ, crazy fights that saw guns pulled, beer bottles broken over heads, but nicer things too—like that one time when a national women’s roller derby tournament was in town—with about five teams in your hotel alone—and how that one night, as you pecked away at your laptop, you were startled by a sudden ruckus in the pool area, so with flashlight and portable phone in hand you bounded out the side door and onto the deck where the pool was churning and alive with a dozen roller derby bodies, then some of them climbing out of the pool, naked—yes, totally naked—before jumping back in, and you stood transfixed in the moment and yet already making notes on how this might play out on the page, how you will describe the scene, stressing certain points in order to subtly allude to some mythical parallel, most likely the Diana and Actaeon story, because that’s what you think they look like, neo-goddesses and nymphs, and you the spying hunter—you watching stealthily as they bathe and frolic shamelessly, nipples erect in the crisp fall air, their lithe bodies blue in the desert moonlight.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Time

I was chased by a three-legged dog today.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Snakes

I don't like spiders and snakes
And that ain't what it takes to love me
You fool, you foolI don't like spiders and snakes
And that ain't what it takes to love me
Like I wanna be loved by you

--Jim Stafford, fellow Polk County son

One of my students was recently bitten by a rattlesnake. As desert dwellers, we know they are out there, but everyone always assures that actually being bitten is quite rare. Still, in the past three years, two people I know have been struck, both at night. The notion of it brings up my own tremulous feelings toward venomous snakes, a class of creatures fairly prolific where I grew up in rural Central Florida, or at least in my perception of the place. They became and remain a bit of a preoccupation for me. (Phobia?) They manifest with disturbing regularity in my dreams: everywhere then, ubiquitous, much so that to step a toe to the open ground is an imminent danger, or attacking directly sometimes, forcing me to grab one at the “neck” (the safest place I reason) to avoid the bite, but then I feel the contracting of the muscles, the head inching out of my grasp with gradual determination until it has enough room to turn back and strike.

In the real world I’ve had a few close calls. Three of them are burned in my memory in all of their serpentine terror.

1. Jogging barefoot through the woods on a trail behind my house, early autumn, the summer heat breaking into a crisp, wistful chill and I am suddenly upon a Florida rattler, stopping short, my toes maybe six inches from its long body, elongated, lethargically crossing the trail, me turning and chest racing as I sprint my way back home.

2. Sitting in the shallows of Lake Aurora, just behind my Grandparents house, alone, just having cracked open a fresh-water mussel and watching the minnows tear away at the pinkish meat, alone in my thoughts, until I look down and—I swear—one millimeter from my big toe is the enormous head of a cottonmouth water moccasin. How I sprang away from its hungry fangs is still beyond me.

3. Tubing down the river at Ichetucknee Springs with my church youth group, the water so cold—too cold—and me not finding any way to keep my body out of it, this cold water, deciding then to walk along the shore, tube hiked over shoulder, until the shore disappeared and forced me to make my way up an incline of woods where I could cross behind a pine tree and descend back to the shore again. My hand braced against the pine and one foot raised, ready to plant it down on …another rattlesnake, a pygmy I think, coiled there in the nether recess, waiting. Me, lunging away, my bare feet bruised against rocks and tree roots, a pointy stick, tube flying in the air and me diving toward the river and landing hard in the shallows just beyond the bank.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Experiment

I'm giving up the TV. Or at least my cable, which is almost the same since we don't get antenna reception where I live. The good goes out with the bad: no more PBS or Discovery. No more IFC. Still, I think it's the right move. I have a problem with the tube, a problem that sees me waste many hours a week. I didn't own a set last year, and some pretty good things happened. We'll see if I can last a while.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"The best-laid schemes of mice and men / Go oft awry"

Fellow mortals,

The rising cost of crude oil, along with a number of other factors, persuaded those of us here at Go Independent to consider alternate tour plans.

We've decided to focus on the West Coast during July and Florida in August. We'll visit other locations periodically in subsequent months. You can see the newly proposed "leg one" above. A working schedule of readings is forthcoming.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Independent Profile: Yuma Cabana

This independent, family-run motel sits proudly on Fourth Avenue in Yuma, Arizona. It’s the best deal in the area by far, with clean rooms, friendly staff, and solid internet access. The pool is actually something like sparkling. Prices run higher during the season, but in the late spring and summer months a single room costs 44.95.

I have a weakness for 1950s motor lodges, due in part to my year spent living and working in one. More on that later.

This particular place also reminds me of last August, of embarking on a new chapter: a new job, that unsettled feeling, a hotel room and a rental car, attending an orientation where every face you meet is new and and mysterious. And there's you playing that one version of yourself--polite and professional, guarded.

It was hot then, approaching 120 degrees in the late afternoon.

Tonight it is cool. It's pleasant and lovely, and I’m overwhelmed by all that I should be doing.

A Riddle

This just occurred to me.

What living American figure played God, played the President of the United States,
and played a murderer?