The midget concierge coughs as the inkjet commences copying an itemized statement regarding my financial debt to the five-star Seabottom Casino & Aqua Resort, where I’ve been hiding out ever since the dual accusations of Obscenity and Plagiarism tarnished my pen name and forced me underwater, like the rest of the pseudo-celebrity fugitives I’ve met at the hotel karaoke bar. There’s something about this concierge (maybe how his eyebrows are lined like freshly-mowed lawns? or the way his mouth resembles the nozzle of a garden hose?) that makes him come across as comical, yet ominous—a koala bear hypnotized by halogen beams. Despite his diminutive stature, this little man has a strange power over me, especially with his buddy Rodney – the extra-large bouncer – lurking nearby. I can’t see Rodney, but I can sense him.
The concierge twirls his tiny thumbs on the marble countertop. “One moment,” he sneers through his snide mustache.
Moments accumulate and add up to nothing.
I try counting backwards from infinity, but the second number keeps eluding me: “Infinity… Shit… Infinity… Shit… Infinity…”
Now he passes me my receipt as if it were a viral infection. My heart beats like a coked up drum machine; burns like a trick birthday candle. Holy fuck am I fucked! Two thousand dollars worth of handjobs from the staff masseuse. Hundreds of losing two-dollar exacta bets with the casino’s electronic bookie. Not to mention the charges for the repeat long-distance phone calls to my publisher in New York and my analyst in Great Falls. Plus room and board.
Yes, it appears everything checks out, but the question remains: will I?
I’m hoping that the new manuscript in my duffel bag will solve everything. After all, it’s a (me)moir and my publisher assures me that the market is ripe for this sort of detritus. I mean, I did a fairly excellent job of blaming my parents for my current plight. I’m thinking Best Seller List, Book of the Month Club stuff. Like the old days.
O to be atop the Best Seller List again!
What I remember, I remember fondly. Crazy nights turned into crazy days that turned into crazy nights. Wild, wild times! After my debut novel, “The Phantom Asshole of Akron, Ohio,” sold two million strong, I reined as King of the NYC Cocktail Circuit.
Parties: I wore a paper crown cut from the Norton Anthology of Literature, a corduroy suit with velour smoker’s patches appended to the sleeves, monogrammed ascots, and Cormac McCarthy’s old cowboy boots, which I purchased on eBay for a small fortune. I even put a pirate patch over my right eye – à la James Joyce – and affected a slight Irish accent. Yes, in my mind, I’d become the literary lion that every bearded dude in an Iowa City pub envisions becoming.
Q: How did I spend my leisure time?
A: Mostly approximating Hemingway.
I maimed antelopes in the Serengeti, caught ginormous marlins off the coast of Sarasota, and when I appeared on Oprah I charmed the panties off the studio audience and got invited back. Received fan letters from legions of Soccer Moms. Jerked off into champagne flutes in the backs of limos. Scaled Mount Everests of cocaine. The entire time, I don’t recall ever once lighting my own cigarette or paying for a drink in any Manhattan bar, especially the KGB.
Those were the days!
Eventually, things settled down after I married my charming publicist, Annie. We bought a ranch in Montana and I set to work writing the Great American Novella! © (Sure, the Great American Novel had already been written a dozen times over, but not the novella. No one had written the Great American Novella! ©) However, before I started on the novella, I penned an award-winning collection of Erotic Flash Fiction for posterity. Little did I know that that book would force me underwater to gaze at sharks through plexi-glass portholes and contemplate one hundred suicides while watching ostracized outlaws sing karaoke in the lounge by beer-light. So little.
A Muzak version of “5 to 1” leaks from tinny speakers, hidden somewhere in the pressurized lobby, and I’m struck by simultaneous urges to go grocery shopping and joyriding in an elevator. The midget is busy refiguring my bill, punching numbers into a pocket calculator.
I turn and greet a couple of Big Name Renegades by their underwater aliases as they pass by en route to the Milli Vanilli Lounge. You’d be surprised by the former status of some of the fugitives who have taken rooms here.
One man, we’ll call him Charlie, used to be the coroner of L.A. County before the Feds caught him posting autopsy photos of dead actors on the internet.
Another, a bare-footed NFL kicker named Scotty, had been excommunicated from his hometown for missing seven game-winning field goals in a single season.
Even though my own crime of Psychic Plagiarism got dismissed in a televised trial (a Court TV exclusive) the severity of the charges were enough to capsize my career and cast me here, into this under-imagined place, like the wreckage of an obscure battleship.
I feel like an aimless torpedo, which is an improvement.
The midget glares at me with IRS eyes and I know I’m screwed the second he says, “Sir, these numbers are legit.”
I attempt to speak, fail, and attempt again. Nothing.
In the Milli Vanilli Lounge, a Chinese diplomat croons:
“5 to 1, baby, 1 to 5
No one here gets out alive.”
A smile betrays my face as I hand him a cancelled credit card, hoping against hope against hope. I watch as the American Express charges forward like a doomed cavalry.
In the Milli Vanilli Lounge, a former lingerie model – her chiseled face marred by airbrush scars, her half-eaten Adam’s apple – sings a Stone Temple Pilots song out of key:
“I’m half the man I used to be.”
Before my career spontaneously combusted, I’d been living in Great Falls, Montana, working on the Great American Novella! © Things were ideal. I’d type away feverishly for consecutive days. My dear, sweet Annie brought me cucumber sandwiches and wiped away the ammunition of sweat from my brow with a washcloth. Then we’d make love and afterwards eat chocolate chip cookies. Then, out of nowhere, came the obscenity charges: career-ending accusations brought against me by The Mothers Against Sons Against Daughters Against Fathers Who are Turned On by the Slightest Appearance of Vulgarity. In addition to being obscene, they claimed that I was a psychic plagiarist. They said my O. Henry Award-winning collection of Erotic Flash Fiction, “Backseats Were Made for This”, had been telepathically stolen from the collective wet dreams of teenaged sons with Romance Novelist mothers.
Oprah invited back me on her show, only to chastise me on national TV and smash my literary rep into a million little pieces. My vast housewife readership rioted in the suburbs. They filled their SUVs with my books and flooded en masse to soccer fields, where they burnt them by the thousand. Soon my beautiful wife became my vindictive ex when she served me a Cleveland Steamer of divorce papers and a half-decade of tax forms she’d neglected to file. And to think that before the Feds seized my Montana ranch I’d surpassed Rick Bass as the Greatest Living Writer, Living In Montana, From Somewhere Else.
Now, after the credit card company denies me, the midget snaps his fingers and says, “Rodney. Oh Rodney…”
Rodney, the remarkably robust bouncer, soon emerges from a column of plastic palm trees by the casino.
He leads me down the hallway, through a dark corridor, and into the men’s room.
Once inside, I receive a series of swirlies so severe I begin to cry.
The last thing I remember is Rodney ripping a paper towel dispenser off the wall and hitting me once, then twice…
And I’d be dishonest if I claimed my last words were original. Like so many last words, they were obligatory.
Why, I must’ve asked why.