Here's something I jotted down a while back, while on a three-month long drive across the United States (with a special gues appearance by Japan). Not really my dodgiest, but it is the one that amuses me the most. I'm long winded though, so watch out. This is actually two dodgy experiences in one.
Sorry if this gets a bit blue in a few spots. I have done my best to keep it PG-13.
Tulsa -- a town known for its oil-rich past, art deco downtown, and, more recently, the Oral Roberts Prayer Tower. There's also the crowning jewel in Tulsa's art deco skyline, the towering Boston Avenue Methodist Church. Wait. A cool looking Methodist church? Since I was raised Methodist, I'm allowed to poke more fun at them than I am other religions and denominations, but for now I'll leave it at the fact that Methodists may be known for many things (actually, I think maybe they aren't really known for all that many things), but architecture is not usually among them. The churches I attended with my family or with friends as a kid could best be described as resembling the cheap conference room at a small city airport. You know, fluorescent lighting, pressboard tables, that thin gray or brown carpet you most often find in middle school hallways. There's a reason we all go to Italy and gawk at their cathedrals, but folks rarely leave the Vatican to tour the architectural highlights of American Methodism. That said, Boston Avenue Methodist Church is a horse of a different color. I guess God is down with just about any sort of architecture, though I generally associate him primarily with classical gothic cathedrals and Renaissance duomos and less so with places where it looks like the pastor will pop in wearing wingtips and a fedora so he can say in a snappy voice, "I just spoke with God, and he says 23 skidoo!"
Anyway, much of downtown Tulsa shuts down once everyone leaves work for the day, which is true of most American cities, I suppose. But it's still an art deco wonder, and the fact that you can tour it when its still daylight out with practically no foot or auto traffic is a big plus. I'm certain that for the properly prepared, Tulsa offers a wealth of fun and informative places to tour, from grand hotels to old train stations, all of which remain spectacular to this day despite the sad lack of cap-wearing newsies and bootblacks. We, however, were far from well prepared. We weren't even poorly prepared. I guess we'd been too dazzled earlier in the day by being in the hometown of Garth Brooks or something. Though I read up, in my zest for everything old that looks new and modern, on most of Tulsa's architectural delights, I'd neglected to look up a few basic facts like where to eat or where to sleep. And the Route 66 books upon which I was depending for much of my info were overly romantic about the road and failed to mention that through Tulsa, it ran straight through a sorry looking stretch of urban decay and blight with almost nothing to offer the weary traveler other than strip clubs and seedy looking liquor stores with metal shutters over the windows. We could have stayed home for that!
One would think that a town like Tulsa, which prides itself on its history, would take equal pride in the fact that America's Mother Road runs right through it and seek to preserve that as preciously as it preserves the art deco architecture downtown. Instead, 66 through Tulsa has been allowed to lapse into a dismal strip of vacant buildings and warehouses, greasy garages (which are at least at home on Route 66), and seedy looking topless bars. Not the good kind, but the ones where you know people are showing their boobs for crack money and food. What hotels may have once lined the storied street in its heyday have long since withered and died, and Route 66 there just seems like your stumbling upon some partially decayed, scavenger-stripped carcass.
Our choices were simple enough. The sun was hanging low in the sky, and we needed to either skedaddle on back to the chains lining the interstate, which were bland and overpriced but at least open for business (we were traveling under the rule that we would not stay in chain hotels unless there was absolutely no other choice), or we had to turn up some undiscovered gem amidst this shriveled avenue of has-been. Or if not a hidden gem, at least a passable piece of gravel.
Desert Hills Motel it was called. It had a decent looking neon sign out front, and a big, happy looking Indian family sitting on the lawn in the middle of the parking lot, which was filled with decent looking cars and trucks. Little kids frolicked in the grass while a middle-aged woman sat next to a dried up mummy that had been propped on the porch swing. Upon closer examination, we discovered it was not a mummy but was in a fact a grandma so old and tiny and weathered that she looked like she'd been created by tying a couple Slim Jims together. Now really, how bad can a place be if the owners let their children cavort merrily around the courtyard while they entertain a granny so old that she looked like not only could she tell you stories about the day the British finally returned independence to India, but also stories about the day they first took it away?
So we checked in, too exhausted with the search by that point to mount a proper inspection of the rooms before forking over our hard-earned $35. The lobby smelled of exotic spices and curries, which was a nice break from the smell of BBQ that had followed us throughout Oklahoma. Not that there's anything wrong with the smell of BBQ, but the smell of curry and garam masala gets me just as worked up, and I was ready for a change. So yeah, lobby smells good, so the motel must be good. Good omens. Good omens which, I quickly discovered, stopped short of checking in to any of the rooms.
Upon initial inspection the room seemed shabby but acceptable. Some discoloration and peeling wallpaper, worn carpets, furniture whose edges were rounded and worn of their finish, but overall not the sort of place that will make you throw your arms up to the tumultuous heavens and scream, "Why have the gods forsaken Hercules!" Closer inspection, primarily of the bed linens, resulted in my partner demanding that I just go get our sleeping bags out of the car. I was quick to comply. There's something funny about hair. Attach it to a head, and it's fine. Sexy even. But disembody it and spread it in little clumps and tangles in the bed, and it's suddenly a whole lot less appealing than when it's cascading down the back of Carole Bouquet, and no one is so gung-ho about running their fingers through it. This is doubly true if the clumps of hair are small and curly. Sure, they could have come from someone with a head of short, curly hair, but then it also could be, well, you know. You wouldn't want to eat the stuff, though I'm willing to bet there's a website with an address like eating-pubic-hair.com somewhere out there. I'm not even that wild about lying down in a plush nest of my own pubic hair, to say nothing of doing so in something that came from a stranger.
The big question for me, however, was a two-parter. One, how does that much pubic hair get on the sheets? Did someone just sit there and shave themselves (admittedly, it could have been someone's back hair, too, but that's no more appealing) while they were watching a rerun of Night Court
on the 1970s television set on the dresser? Or did they bring bags of the stuff to scatter about like some impish fairies spreading glittering magic dust? Or was Piltdown Man going at it in this room the night before? And the second part of the question is how can housecleaning not notice that? They were in there. The bed was made. They must have seen the impromptu insulation that had been added to it. Why would they leave it? Could they really be that lazy? Maybe it was their
Or maybe it belonged to Johnny Cheezecake.
I don't know Johnny Cheezecake, but I certainly have an image in my mind of what he should look like. We found his name written on the wall in the bathroom. "Remember to call for Johnny Cheezecake," it said, and then either "Peace" or there were just some random scribbles where someone had scratched out the phone number. I'm pretty sure it says, "Peace" and then something I can't decipher, which leaves the obvious question of how do you remember to call Johnny Cheezecake if there's no phone number? Maybe it's one of those things like Bloody Mary. If you look in the mirror and say his name three times, he will appear and rock your sexual world. Maybe the sprinkling of pubic hair is part of the ritual to summon him up Hellraiser
-style so he can step out of the mirror and show dumpy middle-aged Oklahoma housewives a world of unspeakable pleasure.
Given the state of mind we were in, it's probably for the best that there was no number, because we damn sure would have called it. It's not just a good thing there was no number because that meant we avoided getting knifed by some irate gigolo who didn't appreciate prank calls. It was good because it allowed me to maintain the fantasy of who Johnny was and what he looked like. When it comes to such things, I have a depressingly active imagination. He was, for me, a porno star straight out of the 1970s and forever frozen in that decade. Big feathered hair with lots of pompadour grease in it. A thick Maurizio Merli mustache, which is also known as the "gay cop" or the "Tom of Finland." He'd wear tight white flared jeans, a tan polyester shirt, and one of those light brown leather jackets. Mirror shades, a big silver chain he'd keep on even when stripped down to his skimpy red bikini briefs, allowing his glinting necklace to lie in dazzling contrast to the jungle ape-thick pelt of dark chest hair. Everywhere he went, he would be followed by wakka-wakka guitar music. And his catch phrase? "You can't make a cheesecake without a little cream cheese."
It could happen. When we were in Tokyo the year before, we met the most perfect pimp in all of Japan. I'd gone off to the information booth at Tokyo Station to find out which local train we needed to take to get to our hotel in the Asakusa district (that hotel, the Taito Ryokan, is another good candidate for the questionable hotel roll call, though in its defense, I have to say that it has a long way to go before it's as bad as Desert Hills or Margaritaville in the Smoky Mountains). My gal stayed with the luggage, though even in a big city like Tokyo, I bet you could just leave it unattended and no one would mess with it, at least not for a while. When I came back armed with knowledge of the proper trains, she was in the middle of trying to suppress the urge to crack up as she nodded and shrugged while some old dude in Sonny Chiba's wardrobe from Battles Without Honor Humanity II
reeled off a whole endless stream of Japanese. I mean he had everything going for him. A purple shirt – silk looking, but I bet it was polyester or some poly-rayon blend; a white suit trimmed with shiny purple; a greasy, dripping perm that was, I understand, quite in vogue with junior or failed old Yakuza at the time; white loafers with no socks; lots of chintzy looking chains and medallions which matched his gold-capped teeth; and of course he had a pair of those amber-vision sunglasses that start out dark and fade to a sickly vomit-yellow toward the bottom. Really, this guy exists, and this was 2001. He was showing her credit cards and car keys, trying we assumed to lure into a lucrative career in a hostess bar or as an urabon porn star or hooker. When I approached, he flashed me a shiny smile then wandered off to pester some Italian woman with what was presumably the same spiel.
As with Johnny, we've built up the back story of Tokyo Tony as I call him to near mythic proportions. I can tell you every single detail of his life, and every one of them has been made up. He was a five-time loser, a lifelong Yakuza who had never been able to rise above the ranks of chump errand boy and had to spend his time trying to hustle cute girls into a life of porn. Actually, that part was probably true. He never had any luck, but he still harbored delusions of being a big man, probably in line for boss status before too much longer. As it stands now, he works with Johnny Cheezecake, and the two of them pimp, hustle, and make grainy porno movies in cheap, dirty Oklahoma motel rooms. This is when they're not saving the world from alien invasion, of course.
Could the reality of Johnny ever live up to the mystique? Of course not. Tokyo Tony we knew looked the part, but what if Johnny turned out to be some milquetoast nobody with a comb-over and one of those brown and white short-sleeve button-downs favored by abused computer programmers and emo kids? No, better to leave him out there, a larger than life mystery, forever and always Johnny Cheezecake.
Cool as he was in our minds, Johnny Cheezecake's pubic and/or chest hair didn't make the room all that comfortable. An attempt to get clean sheets lead to us discovering that the family that runs the motel either gets the hell ou tof Dodge before nightfall, or they barricade themselves deep within the confines of their office and refuse to come out, while patrons wander about like Night of the Living Dead
ghouls, banging on the door and demanding more condoms or bedsheets with less pubic hair on them. Phone numbers were carved in the headboard of the bed (Tulsa residents, try 955-1512), and throughout the night we watched the nice car come and go and shockingly regular intervals, arriving in general mere minutes before a cab would drop off some woman who would walk into the same room as the driver of the car. And curiously, both would depart an hour or so later. Someone was getting whipped furiously in the room next door to us, and through the tissue-thin walls, all we could hear was, "Mommy doesn't like it when you play with her toys." A fight in the courtyard between two crispy-haired, sun-baked bleach blonde women perched awkwardly atop towering stiletto heels did not, unfortunately, end with them falling in the pool Melrose Place style, but it was good entertainment never the less, especially when the wormy guy who looked like he just got off his job at Radio Shack tried to break things up and got walloped in the face with a shimmering gold-sequined purse. And then we saw a big, burly looking hulk of a man walk into his room while carrying one of those jumbo-sized boxes of adult diapers.
More than a few times, the cops showed up and there would be some shouting. We watched the ten o'clock news eagerly in hopes of seeing our motel on one of the reports. I would have gotten a kick out of looking at myself looking out the door at some police activity that involved a fat guy in a red leather thong being wrestled to the ground -- which was, to the best of my memory, the last thing I saw before I decided to call it a night.
By and by, cocooned in our sleeping bags, the soft flickering of red and blue lights lulled us into a dreamy slumber.