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.

No comments: