Finding a bed for the night: isn't that what it is all about? When we take journeys, one of the things we miss the most is our faithful old bed at home, our long-time companion for at least eight hours a day, to sleep in or lie there fretting. It is, at times, our study hall, our tea-room, our telephone booth, and on wonderful occasions, our passion-pit.
In strange beds, the lighting is all wrong, the lumps are not distributed as they should be, the telephone is just out of reach, and there is no place to put all our nighttime necessities: books, the watering pot, and all the bottles and jars containing our nostrums, lotions and potions.
We find ourselves bedded down with strange smells from previous occupants, or, worse, uninvited hairs, dark curly hairs along with crumbs, dust motes, roach droppings, and unidentifiable and mysterious grease-laden stains. For those of us forced to inhabit bodies that exceed two meters, the covers cramp our feet and make turning over a major operation; our toes (or our heads) hang out at all the wrong places.
One of my friends describes the pain that recently grew out of his friendly old mattress, the one he had loved and lain with for years. He discovered that his sciatica came from that shadow of himself, the indentation that he had imposed on it by twenty-five years of bedding down with it. He said with regret that he was going to make a rare excursion to a bed store:
I plan to replace the mattress entirely with a new one. I have ordered a super, high-tech mattress topper made of ViscoElastic cells. These are little sentient, thinking foam-rubber beings which sense your body weight distribution and adjust to it, hold medical consultations, massage the patient's back during the night, teach you Buddhism while you sleep, and make breakfast for you in the morning.
He went on,
On the other hand, the remaining mild pain and stiffness in the morning (for which I do some exercises) may be just another of those irreversible blessings of the Golden Years. Which one of those Browning idiots was it who wrote: "Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be"?
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The best places to stay as you move down through Mexico are the sex motels, even if lust is the last thing on your mind. They all have curved entrances so you can't identify the cars parked within and, for good measure, there is a heavy curtain affair hung at the mouth of the tiny garage where you park. You draw it over the back of the car so people can't read your license plate and presumably rat on you to your wife or your husband or your political enemies.
Most visitors stay in these places only long enough for a good hump, then they go home. The rooms are admirably cheap --- 280 pesos --- $25. Since my humping days are long gone, I favor them because they always have plenty of hot water, soft towels, huge beds, and long-
winded grainy fuck movies on the TV. They also have room service of such a nature that the waiter cannot see one's face: the wall is fitted with a little turnstile device so that he can leave the tray with its hamburgers, quesadillas or whatnot, and you can leave your money in exchange --- and none will be the wiser as to the identity of the other.
The last sex motel we stayed in was called the Motel Paraiso. All the towels were light gray and the ashtrays were glued down so we couldn't take them home with us. We could only get two channels on the TV: a kiddy channel with fuzzy, cute animals doing fuzzy cute things with each other, and the sex channel which had a problem with the color resolution. All the participants in the latter were neither fuzzy nor cute but a light gray color. Their hair, above and below, was reddish-gray, their body parts dark gray, and the ladies' faces were inevitably tinted a rose-gray.
There were extensive shots of gray studs sitting around on stiff beds in their starched white shirts with stiff collars and bow ties, revealing rigid lower body parts. They were getting blow-jobs by enthusiastic roseate women, and, later, these insouciant paramours gave the ladies cause to pant and howl at the moon.
My two companions were agog but I was blind in the hot-tub because my glasses got steamed up with the hot laving jets I turned on to rid myself of aching twelve-hours-
on-the- road muscles. § § §
That night I dreamed that I was going to be interviewed on radio. In times of stress, my mind goes gray-white like all those TV studs and nothing comes in the way of creative thoughts. I was nervous about the interview but then I remembered one of my favorite writer's recurring image from his childhood concerning the color of letters and words --- some are short and hot (red, yellow, orange) and others are languorous, of darker hue (green, blue, purple) --- a very few white, gray, or black. I thought this the perfect subject for a radio talk so I didn't worry at all.
The next day Pablo and Jesús told me that they enjoyed the TV mini-series immensely, and wondered if we couldn't make these lust-rooms our nightly dropping-off place, but I wasn't so sure. I wasn't listening to them anyway I was thinking of something more than bodies wrestling about in the snow of television passion.
I was thinking on what we had seen the day before at the side of the road as we were passing through Nayarit. The highway had grown narrow and treacherous, reminding me of many of the roads of Mexico so many years ago. High noisy fast buses and double-trailer trucks vie to pass you and each other on the curves and one always operates at high tension wondering if Time's wingéd chariot will be coming at you just over the next hill.
Outside of Charco Seco we passed a small thatched hut café and on the tarmac a man was lying not far from the highway entangled in his bicycle: obviously he had just been hit by a car, truck or bus. And the way his body was twisted in the spokes and the way his head was turned made it certain that he wasn't just taking a rest.
We passed him quickly so I only had a chance to note his colorful, clean green-and-
yellow striped shirt, his smartly pressed pants and the strange liquids leaking out from around his head. If he were merely injured people would be crowded around, but the six or seven witnesses were standing about ranged at the furthermost edges of the pavement, far from him and far from each other as possible, looking everywhere but at the tangled reclining figure.
Recently, more and more, I find myself uttering, sotto voce, "Death." It's not a morbid or sad song this but it serves --- as the English say --- "to put paid" on the many things that preoccupy me. I may be worrying about some frippery --- the constant nagging ache in lower back, the mortgage, endlessly fretting about what's left of my love-time on earth, stewing about America's preoccupation with hurting the innocent ... and then the word "Death" pops into my mind. I find it strangely soothing.
My friend Nancy once told me that we either fall in love with our mothers, our fathers, or ourselves. I thought that so wise (I have often used it as a measure on others, as well as myself) that the last time I was with her I complimented her on this insight. She couldn't remember ever having said it, was convinced I was lying again --- I had made it all up.
She like the rest of us sometimes forgets her own wisdom, but I can still hear her voice intoning the phrase (which is grammatically incorrect since mothers, fathers, and ourselves are not an either/or proposition). I can even remember exactly where she uttered it: it was at the "It'll Do Tavern," one night in Seattle, in late November, 1968, a night replete with fog, us at the table in the far right-hand corner, over schooners of Rainier Ale, stale pretzels and ashtrays laden with cigarette butts.
After all these years, even her denial implies a wisdom from The Reluctant Guru. Thus I felt it was appropriate to ask her about Death.
"It's The Great Beyond," she said, wisely, calmly, smiling.