Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Ice Queens (Sonnet)

Fine crystal dancers twirl from obscure skies,
To pirouette amongst dark, barren trees.
And dress the land in elegant disguise,
Carried upon winter's crisp Arctic breeze.

Dreary life is covered in pristine white,
That gives refuge to filth and dirty shame.
Exposed guilt enjoys a reprieve from sight,
As frosty ballerinas stake their claim.

But when their performance is complete,
And the world sits back in quiet awe,
The Ice Queens take a bow and then retreat,
To reveal truth as snow begins to thaw.

Purity soon melts completely away,
To again betray the damp, old decay.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cursed Motels and Blessed Squalor

Guinevere was adamant she would NOT be leaving Vancouver with me in the morning and she certainly would not be going anywhere near the northern community I was heading.

“I will NEVER set foot in that bog EVER again!!” she vowed with the kind of passion she normally reserves for her hair.

I merely smiled. I know my daughter well enough to know there is no point in trying to sway her from her ideas with my own passionate pleas. So I simply said, “Fine”. Total acceptance. Very Zen of me.

Fourteen hours later we had left the city and were well on our way with an unabashed Guinevere in the front passenger seat and Lizzy and DJ mercifully occupied with their various electronic devices in the back.

Already Guinevere’s expected-unexpected presence was interfering with my itinerary, which is usually the case when she decides to tag along on these road trips at the last minute. I don’t drive fast enough for her, I stop too often and my choice of hotel is never nice enough for her liking. She would rather I drove the straight 20 hours to our final destination without stopping at all, but that’s where I draw the line. I am not driving that long and I’m definitely not trusting her to drive.

Guinevere has been able to bend me to her will since the day she was born, but not this time, which is what I told her: “We are staying overnight in at the same hotel I always stay at and that’s final!”

She merely smiled. She knows me well enough to know there is no point in trying to sway me. No need in pleading a case she knows she will ultimately win if she times her manipulation right.

She bided that time for maybe the first 7 hours of driving, a few hours after the last of a series of interesting conversations that inevitably turned into minor disagreements, perhaps a raised voice or two, and then finally into our signature reconciliation and resultant laughter. It's our normal mother/daughter cycle. It was soon after the last of these reconciliation cycles that Guinevere began her seemingly innocuous, serpentine campaign: “Mom, do you want more money?”

What kind of question?  

“Well, I’m not a self-depriving Buddhist, so what do you think?”

“I think you do want more money. One way to do that is to save money. Do you want to save money?”

I looked at her suspiciously, “What are you getting at?”

“If you drive just a little further past your usual hotel, you will save BIG money. I found another one – it’s clean, cheap and they have vacancies. What do you think?”

What did I think? That was irrelevant. I would like to say I stuck to my guns, but I didn’t and kept driving past Prince George. By the time we arrived at this "great" money saving hotel it was nearing midnight. It was called Glen’s Motor Inn, which the name alone should have tipped me off that this was not the place for us, since Glen was the name of my first stepfather, a drunk with a rage problem and a hypocritical predilection for Christian fundamentalism, but only when it suited him – NOT a fun combination. It was a sign.

Always heed the signs.

Unless the sign includes the name “Glen”. If it says “Glen” keep driving.

But alas only a select enlightened few ever take signs seriously, so I turned into Glen’s even as my inner voice stirred in protest.

Guinevere’s voice, in comparison, filled outwardly with noisy dismay when she saw where we were going.

“Mom! What are you doing? This is some ghetto Chinese restaurant! This isn’t the hotel!”

Music blared so loud from this restaurant that it made my SUV bounce and I realized the “restaurant” was actually a bar. There was also a cold beer and wine store and loitering in front of this entire complex of hillbilly "fun" were clusters of riffraff, all of them inebriated and uninhibited. They were out looking for a good time and they had found it.

Guinevere was horrified and the younger children terrified.

“No, Guinevere, THIS is the hotel you pushed for, so here we are!”

I pointed to the signage, but not wanting to believe what her own eyes were telling her, Guinevere quickly reread the online description. Sure enough, the hotel featured a beer store, pub and Chinese restaurant. There was a picture – a nicer image than the one we were now witnessing, but it was the same place nonetheless.

I pulled into an empty spot right in front of a group of 5 or 6 men and women hooting and hollering, falling down, making lewd gestures and speaking in Drunkenese.

In the backseat Lizzy whispered that she was scared and DJ began to cry. In the front, Guinevere exclaimed, “We can’t stay here! You’re not going in there are you??”

I took a deep breath and with every ounce of self-control I possessed, I did not lose it on her, even though she was at least partly to blame for the predicament we now found ourselves. Instead, with a calm I did not feel, I opened the door, told the kids everything would be fine, I’d get us a room and be right back. 

Everyone simmer down.

As soon as I shut the car door, I was treated to the rowdy slur of a drunk man hollering absurdities at me. I am familiar with Drunkenese though – it’s an ugly language – and I know to ignore it.

Trying to converse with The Inebriated like this is like trying to reason with The Walking Dead. It can’t be done, there’s no real brain to work with, there’s a lot of repetition and if you get too close they slobber all over you. They also turn on you with a lightning speed that defies their otherwise retarded reflexes. One minute they love you, the next you’re a “stupid bitch”. They are weakened souls who choose to cater to their weakness with booze rather than rise above it. In other words, I am not a fan of drunk people.

While I know it is best to ignore them, their indecipherable insults and taunts nevertheless always put me on edge, so it was with some anxiety already in the pit of my stomach that I walked past the slurs and into Glen's Motor Inn. That anxiety was in no way lessened, however, when upon entering the lobby, and closing the door on the fools outside, my senses were instantaneously slammed with the smell of cheap air freshener mixed with mildew, the teeth shattering vibrations of booming music from the pub next door, the strange stickiness on the counter where I set down my purse ,and the sight of the clerk who came shuffling in from a back door connected to the Cold Beer and Wine Store.

It appeared she was working both places and she was a sight to behold. She was an enormous hulk of a woman, half André the Giant, half Big Bird, with frizzy red hair, half-closed eyelids as if she was stoned, one missing front tooth and one gold tooth. The remainder of her teeth were in various stages of decay.

She addressed me with the kind of slowed speech and movement you see with people who never really learned to read and who spend most of their time in Jerry Springer type scenarios, the kind Dr. Phil likes to exploit.

Warning bells went off in my head. I did not want to stay there and I knew none of my children would stay there and yet I handed over a cash deposit, signed on the dotted line, took the key from André and in a daze, maneuvered up the two flights of stairs – no elevators at Glen’s – to the second floor.

As I heaved the door open my ears were immediately assaulted with the unmistakable sound of creaking – possibly breaking – bed springs and some chick in the throes of a fake orgasm. She was putting on quite the performance too. If my kids were with me they would have thought someone was killing her and would have been even more traumatized than they already were at that moment waiting in my vehicle, panicked that someone had taken their mother hostage and would come get them next. Perhaps somebody would.

As I continued down the hall and the pig-like squeals of pseudo-ecstasy got louder and louder, along with the voice in my head screaming to turn and RUN, the word DISEASE flashed through my brain. And still (because I was tired and the thought of having to keep driving at that late hour was still slightly more objectionable than staying in this den of iniquity) I walked forward to room 234, which of course was directly beside the room that it would seem was rented by the hour.

When I entered the room, I might as well have been in the room next door. I could hear everything they were doing and as a consequence, feeling mildly nauseous, sat on the bed, which crinkled underneath me. The mattress was covered in plastic. That was IT for me! Having to cover something with plastic further implies filthy disease, and as such, I snapped out of my trance, jumped off the bed and went in search of André. I wanted my money back.

She was confused by the request. I told her with the music blaring, the drunk zombies outside, and the prostitution ring they had running, there was no way I could let my kids stay there. She went silent trying to figure out this apparently bizarre turn of events. No one had ever asked such a thing of her before.

Finally she offered to move me to a different room as if that would make ANY difference. No. I just wanted my money and I’d be off. So, unable to think of any other way to persuade me to stay she reluctantly handed me back my money and robotically said, “Thanks for staying at Glen’s,” without a hint of sarcasm.

I stared at her for a good 30 seconds before replying, “You’re welcome”.

She smiled. It was weird.

The children were relieved when I returned to them without a key, but not so relieved when they noticed my tears.

“Oh my god!! What’s wrong with you??” Guinevere grabbed my shoulder, alarmed, until she realized I was laughing, the kind of laughter where you can’t talk, the kind that’s contagious, where everyone in the car also erupts into laughter and they don’t know why. It was a good thing too, because if not for the laughter I don’t know what I would have done to Guinevere, who at the time I held wholly responsible for the entire fiasco.

We didn’t find another vacancy until 2 o’clock in the morning, in a literally rat-infested motel in the middle of nowhere. And it wasn’t funny or at least it shouldn’t have been.

“It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor,” I angrily whispered to Guinevere through gritted teeth in the darkened motel room, over the younger children’s sleeping heads.

In the background was the sound of scuttling feet running through the walls and I was wary of the other shady characters staying at the motel, including the guy managing the place. I did not feel safe and felt the urge to get mad at someone, anyone. But Guinevere didn’t answer. She was sleeping, too.

Even Thor, our Chihuahua, was sleeping at the foot of the bed, all of us cocooned there together, everyone else evidently feeling safe enough to sleep. And just like that my anger dissipated and I smiled, feeling like André who smiles when superficially it doesn't seem like there is anything to smile about. I smiled not because it was funny, but because for the first time in that long gong-show day, even amidst my fatigue, insomnia, unease and all the other million things that were wrong in my life, I thought how blessed am I?