Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Goodbye, Skamania: Soul Music, Beer and a Big, Fucking Indian

It was my last day working in Skamania. Gary, the large Native American I worked with, always asked, “Aren’t you excited to get the hell out of here?”

I would turn my cigarette between my index finger and my thumb. “Yeah, but now I am attached.”

“Fuck that,” he said. “Fuck this place. I hate this fucking job. I hate fucking Mary.” Mary was the woman he lived with. They were together for thirteen years and raising two daughters, one 8 the other 12. He claimed they only had one good month together in all thirteen years. I asked if they slept together. “When she wants it, I am not in the mood, you know? And when I want it, she’s not in the mood. That’s just how it works out. We haven’t been together in a long time. She’s a God damn fucking bitch. When she took the kids to Idaho on vacation, I had a good time. I played records and smoked weed, you know? But then I kind of missed them so I cleaned up and was ready for them when they came home, you know? She walked right in and blew right by me. Didn’t say a God damn word. That God damn fucking bitch Mary.”

There were a few people in Skamania trapped in bad marriages. Terry lived with a couple cats and her husband who barely said a word to her. They haven’t had a real conversation in years. “Do you think he is with other women?” I asked.

“Oh, I know he is,” she said. “I saw one in my garage one morning and I chased her out screaming ‘Get out of here before I fucking kill you!’ That was the only one. He hasn’t brought one home since.”

“Eugh,” I groaned. “Do you do his laundry and cleaning?”

“Are you fucking kidding me? Hell no,” she said.

Then there was Bob, who was a Houseman for the Hotel since its genesis nineteen years ago. He was in his 50s and groaned a lot through his crooked smile. You could tell the long hours and physical work was wearing on him, but so were the house payments, the children struggling with methamphetamine addiction and the alcoholic wife of whom he claims he no longer loves. When the Old Man first came home, I asked everyone if I could move in with him. When I asked Bob he smiled and said, “Maybe in another life.” He laughed at my jokes.. He looked happy to work with me. When the Housemen were tearing apart a conference room, I tried to clean off the Banquet table and knocked down a few things including the presentation easel behind everything. “For fuck’s sake,” I grumbled. His laugh always rung out from far away, like he was watching me the whole time.

When his shift was over, the smile would fade and he would sigh a “Well … I guess its time for me to go home.”

“Aren’t you happy to go home?” I asked.

“If there wasn’t an alcoholic there, yeah,” he said.

“Poor Bob,” I said.

“Well, I guess its time for me to go home,” he said again.

I had my own problems. My writing school needed twenty pages of manuscript for residency in December. I submitted my pages for the month to my mentor two weeks before but hadn’t yet gotten them back with her notes. A week went by, then another and by the time she submitted her notes back to me, it left me 24 hours to do a revision and submit to the school in time. I was exhausted from working and was going to drive down to Los Angeles the day of the deadline. That morning, my last full day at the Hotel, I ran around complaining that I wasn’t going to be able to finish it, how tired I was, how fucked I was … One of the Housemen stopped me, “If she waited to give you your notes this long, explain it to the administration. She shouldn’t have waited so long. Its not your fault and your work shouldn’t suffer for it.” He was right. My breath steadied. I bit my lip and nodded my head.

One of the servers grabbed my shoulders and shook me, “Its going to be ok. You are going to write that paper and its going to be great. Ok?” I smiled. “Ok.” Then I thought of how my parents would have dealt with it. They were never cool or collected when I was frazzled. If I was upset, they got upset. It struck me that these people provided a support system and gave me a glimpse of what I wanted for myself.

Around 10am, most of us were given our first break from the 6am shift and most of the breakfasts were over. We would convene in the empty banquet room, dragging carts of food behind us, lock the doors from the outside, put a post-it over the peep hole we often use to check on meetings for service and settled down for breakfast together. This would be my last one.

The Housemen’s two way radio went off. “We need a Houseman in the Business Center with a chair for a guest.”

“Copy that, working on it,” the Houseman said into the radio. Then he resumed his scrambled eggs, sausage links and bacon. "Bob, do you work tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Bob said.

"Not me, I don’t work tomorrow."

"You got a fucking day off. God damn it," Gary chimed in.

"But I still have to coach," the Houseman said.

"That's not work, coaching is fun," Bob said. This Houseman coached high school girl’s soccer.

"You don’t know how hard I've worked to get these girls out of losing in the double digits,” he said.

“Did you see the General Store’s note on their front door about not accepting change over $4 anymore?” another server asked.

“Some dude bought $20 worth of gas in change last week,” the Houseman said.

"I thought it was because of Mary's God damn mother and son of a bitch brother going down there to buy cigarettes with change,” Gary added.

“Trixie thought if was because of her,” Tina, a teenage server said.

Fifteen minutes later, the radio went off again. “We still need that chair in the Business Center.”

The Houseman sat back in his chair, wiped his mouth then clicked on the radio. “I am working on it. Having some trouble finding a chair in here.”

“We have a guest on her knees,” the radio voice said in a dry, unamused voice.

“Copy that. Working on it, I will be there asap,” he said before leaning back in his chair again and sipping the rest of his coffee.

It was my last breakfast. I was laughing too loud, as usual, and I was shushed for the last time over my last plate of hash browns in tabasco sauce, my last glass of orange juice, my last healthy serving of fresh pineapple. It was my last breakfast with my real family in Skamania.

"Break time?" Gary asked after our 20 minute feast.

"Yeah," I said.

We stepped outside on the steps in the cool mountain air, lighting each other’s cigarettes under a canopy of cedar and pine. “It’s going to suck when you leave. Nobody will laugh. Nobody will sing. I hate this fucking place. I would be so glad to leave. I am going to smoke this cigarette, then take my lunch and smoke through that hoping I die of lung cancer,” Gary said.

“Jesus,” I responded. “Don’t be miserable. Just change your life. You will end up like Terry or Bob.” I put my hand on his shoulder and he looked into my eyes. “Look at them if you want to see your future. You are on the same road.”

“Fucking hell, you are right,” he said.



Since pulling double after double on back to back days, my new favorite song to sing at work was “Get Up Ofa That Thang” and would start dancing upon entry into the Back Hall jingling, “I’m back … I’m back.”

“If I have to hear you sing that song one more time, I am going to break something,” the Quarterback said. “Don’t you know the rest of the words?”

“♫ ♪ Get Up Ofa that thang, and dance til you feel better ♪ ♫ … what is it?” I asked for days. Then one day it spilled out of me, “Dance to release the pressure.”

“That sounds right, actually,” he mumbled under a smile.

James Brown got me through the last two weeks of work and no sleep. “♪ ♫ Feels Good ….”

When the swing shift started, the boys Tate and Harry walked in with rap playing on their Smart Phones. I threw open the doors to the Back Hall, “I can smell you!” I said. “It’s my last day so I am giving out spankings.” In turn, Harry and Tate both bent over slightly so I could wallop them on the butt.

The Quarterback came in to start a lunch service and stay for a plated dinner later in the night. I wasn’t working either. “It’s your last day, [StarFire], you wanna fuck?”

“I think I have five minutes,” I said. Harry and Tate exchanged a smile.

The Hotel had me making floral arrangements for the services. The first time they asked me to work with the flowers, the floor was covered in petals and stems, wrapping paper and ribbon. It was a mess. Anytime someone would comment, I threw my hand in the air, “It is part of my creative process,” I dismissed. A wedding planner came in that first time and said my arrangements were better than the ones she brought from the florist and ended up leaving hers in the car. After that, the Hotel asked me to keep doing them.

So there I started again, cutting, fluffing, sprucing, clipping and mixing flowers. The Quarterback came in to set for service. Gary was there too, but he was usually quiet, occasionally providing a little amusing story. “Yeah I was robbed at knifepoint in Arizona. They were talking to me in Spanish. I said, ‘I ain’t Hispanic. I don’t know what the hell you are saying.”

“That’s right, you say I am Native American. This land is my land, mother fuckers!” I said. The Quarterback stared at me and then broke down laughing. That made me happy. “I am having a drink tonight to celebrate your leaving,” the Quarterback said, “... do you wanna come over?”

I smiled and I thought about it. I wondered how this would end. A goodbye kiss. A drink behind a gas station. Something more ... then he started again with, “You have the flattest ass I have ever seen.” “Do those even count as tits?” “You can’t come to work looking like that. This is a place of business.”

As service approached, more people worked in the room. The Housemen moved and arranged tables. The Bartender stocked her bar.

“Have you ever seen someone with no ass before, it’s embarrassing,” he kept saying.

I snapped, “I have never heard someone talk so much about my body before. Not a boyfriend. Not anyone. Just deal with the fact that you want me.”

“Eugh, why would I want an old lady? You are practically my mother’s age.”

“I don’t know, but you want me and I have to hear about it every fucking day so do us both a favor and deal with it!” I said.

The Housemen from breakfast stopped working. “I don’t know what’s going on but we just walked into something amazing.”

“You want me, why can’t you just say you want to fuck me?” the Quarterback asked.

“Oh my God, would you deal with your feelings? Just deal, ok?” I said.

“What feelings?” he said.

“You like me,” I said. “Its ok, go ahead and say it.”

He stopped working and stared at me smiling. Everyone in the room stopped and was staring. “You wish,” he said. Everyone groaned and we all went back to work. The Quarterback’s mother, my boss, came in to look things over. “[StarFire] wants to stay for the dinner service,” he said. She ignored him.

When I pushed the linens down the hall, the Quarterback came up behind me, put his hand on the rack to keep it steady as I pushed the flimsy bar on wheels through the kitchen. I felt his chest against my back. When I walked by, he would start falling backward into my arms. I dodged him, “Oh, I thought you were going to catch me,” he said. He was so desperate to touch me. It was kind of beautiful. “Since it’s my last day, I am giving out spankings,” I said. He turned around and bent all the way over. I threw my whole body into the blow and felt my hand burn. 

“Geez, I didn’t think you were serious,” he said, turning back around.

“Oh, I am serious.”

My shift stretched into the late afternoon. I was given one job after another. Around 3pm, I walked up to the Quarterback as he was pushing an ice chest to a service. “Ok, [his last name], I am leaving.” He stood up. His face turned scarlet as his mouth dropped into a frown. “Psyche!” I said, slapping my hand against his chest, once again reminded of how rock hard that kid was under his button-up.

“I saw you get teary eyed!” he said. “I saw it, don’t lie.”

Later he asked me, “If you had to fuck Martin or me, who would you rather do?” Martin was the 58-year-old server who partnered with me on most services and spent the most time with me outside of work. Towards the end of summer, he dragged along his family and co-workers to the brewery with us, I suspected to make it less controversial. His son was thrilled to drink with us. His wife … the opposite of that.

"I would rather fuck you, ok?" I said.

"Really?" he smiled. It only then occurred to me he really wasn't sure.

My last full day at the Hotel, I ended up staying until 8pm. When I was released, Kelly (my favorite 18-year-old girl) asked me to buy her alcohol. I agreed after giving her a speech, “If you aren’t responsible with this, and something bad happens to you or somebody else- a car wreck, anything, I won’t be able to live with myself. I will have to kill myself. Do you understand?” I said.

“I promise I will be responsible,” she said. I left the Hotel a little after 8pm to buy her a bottle of flavored vodka, rum and something else foo-foo only high school students would prize. I got back and threw the bottles in the back of her car then repeated my speech. She walked me back inside the Back Hall and I picked her up to hug her goodbye. I loved that girl and held her in my arms as I walked down the hall, accidentally hitting her leg on a cabinet. “OWW!” she screamed, laughing.

I made my goodbyes to everyone, the bartenders, the boys, the girls, the older women. I hugged. Sometimes I stopped to let the tears come out in a corner somewhere where no one could see me. I quietly picked them off with my fingers and reminded myself I had to leave. There were a few I would see the next morning on my breakfast shift, but I made a clean sweep saving him for last. “Where’s [the Quarterback]?”

“He is on break,” the PM Manager said.

“Why do you have to see him?” Kelly asked, looking worried. She had a flirtation with him too, not nearly as intense but with more potential.

“I have to say goodbye.” I walked down to the lunch room and there he was, sitting alone with a bowl of soup. There were two other night men there, sitting at their own tables. I walked in happy, nervous, giddy, and sat directly across from the Quarterback. He ignored me to watch the football game on the television behind me. He had a little smile and his eyes were wet glossing over those green eyes.

“I am saying goodbye,” I said. He ignored me. “What the hell are you eating?”

“Cream of bacon soup,” he said, not looking at me.

“Fucking disgusting. Everything here has to be a cream of something,” I said. “How is it?”

“Tastes like you,” he said.

“It must be the best thing you have ever had in your life then,” I said smiling. My knees were shaking, why were they shaking? His eyes kept on the screen behind me and I pulled out my phone to check Facebook. He suddenly turned his attention on me, leaning over the table to stare at my phone, then stare at me … as if I was being rude. I put away the phone.

“Come on, let’s get it all out. I have to go,” I said.

“You don’t have to go,” he said.

“I can’t stay here. I need to make money,” I said.

“You can make money here,” he said. I leaned back and smiled, “Year round?” Silence. Someone in the Smoke Shack told me once winter hits, you are lucky to get one work day during a pay period.

“Why won’t you look at me?”

“Because you are weird,” he said.

“No, I’m not!”

The night man at the closest table chimed in, “Yes, you are.”

The Quarterback couldn’t finish the soup. “This is disgusting, actually,” he said. He slowly got up and dropped his dirties in a tub by the door. We walked out together.

“Your dreams are about to come true,” I said with my arms outstretched. He leaned into me and wrapped me in his arms, resting his chin on my shoulder. My smile fell off of me immediately, as he walked down the hall back to work, embracing me. Our feet fell back step-for-step in synchronicity as if we had been practicing the waltz all summer. He held me perfectly. I felt his breath on my ear and hair, wishing I hadn’t smoked so many cigarettes beforehand so he could remember the smell of my shampoo instead of tobacco. 

He pulled away from me and we put our masks back on. His hand dropped to my left ass cheek and he squeezed. “Sorry, I just had to,” he said, twisting away his smile again. I took a step towards him but he was walking away too quickly. There was no big kiss. There was no collapsing under the tension into an afternoon of lovemaking. There was no admission of love, lust or indifference. There was just a kid who couldn’t look at me to say goodbye. That meant more in a way.

I went home that night and cried.                                      


Just as the Hotel asked me to stay an extra week to help with October banquets, I was asked to come in on the morning service the day I planned on leaving. I obliged and showed up puffy, pale, my throat sore from chain smoking and my hair in a greasy bun.

I trudged in and took a lot of breaks to smoke with Gary outside. “I wish I was going to Los Angeles. Here, I bought a new pack of cigarettes last night. Take as many as you want. I quit smoking for Mary ten years ago. What has that God damn bitch done for me? Nothing.”

When I returned to the Back Hall, I started detailing some silverware. Tate was there, playing rap on his cell phone, killing time until someone complained that he wasn’t doing anything.

Out of the blue, he said, “You should stay here and date [the Quarterback].” I didn’t look up. I polished a water stain off a knife. “That doesn’t sound like a good idea,” I said, sadly. Since our goodbye the night before, I couldn’t stop thinking about him.

Earlier that morning, before anyone was there, I copied his phone number into my cell phone and texted him “Stay in touch, my Apple Blossom.”

He texted back: “Alright, Hollywood.”

Martin worked that shift with me. He was my other big goodbye. He put on his white hat and plugged in his ear buds. “You’re not leaving are you?” I asked.

He chuckled. “....yeah. It’s my 8 hours. That’s when I go. I am not like you.”

“Let’s go get a drink,” I said.

He smiled. “Ok, just tell me where.” He told me three weeks before that he wanted to cook me dinner before I moved out of Skamania. We also had a flirtation and a deep friendship. I couldn’t imagine his wife loving the idea of Martin cooking me dinner but I agreed to it. We simply ran out of time. We worked too much. He went to Vegas for their anniversary. By the time he came back, we barely had time to grab a brew after work anymore.

“Bob, will you come with us for a goodbye drink?” I asked.

“No, I gotta go home,” he sighed in that groan that reminded me of my senior pit bull who only now gets up if she hears the rustle of food in the kitchen.

“Well this is goodbye then,” I said. We hugged. “I hope you find your little spot of sunshine.”

“I do, too,” he said.

When Bob left, I walked to a dark corner and picked off my tears like they were spilling off an assembly line. The fatigue contributed I am sure, the stress, but I understood why we need to believe in a place called Heaven; only in the faith of a magical place where everyone we love and have loved coming together at the same time can we soften the sting of goodbye.

I grabbed the teenagers and hugged them goodbye, they all seemed fairly reluctant but later added me on Facebook and sent me affectionate messages.

My boss, the Quarterback’s Mother, asked if I wanted to stay for the swing shift or leave. I opted to leave, huffing in pink tears. “I am not emotional right now because I know I will see you again. You always show up next door after a few years, so I am not going to cry,” she said. I knew that I would never show up next door again.

Martin and I met at a restaurant serving beer. We sat across from each other, shooting the shit about work, where we want to go, what we want to do. He was worried his kids and grandkids would never find jobs and move out of his house. “Your generation may never get ahead with the way things are going.” Still, he wished somebody else would wash the dishes once in awhile.

Gary pranced in wearing his Blues Brothers sunglasses and work shirt. He ordered a pint and we all toasted to my goodbye. When Martin picked up his white hat, I felt myself crumble into tears and made a face plant into my hands. Martin laughed. “I will see you again. Don’t worry about that. Whether its here or down there or in Hawaii someday. I will see you again.”

We hugged goodbye and I ignored the waitress, who was waiting to see if I wanted another drink, and I stood there watching Martin until he disappeared around the corner. He looked back once and laughed at me one last time.

Gary and I resumed drinking. The habit of not eating, working day and night while rarely sleeping made the alcohol buzz turn over into an all out belligerent mid-day drunk fest. No better company for such a party than a bitter Native American. We corralled Terry into coming down and I bought her an expensive vodka drink while drunk texting the Quarterback. She solemnly looked at me, “He is just a kid.” My smile faded and I nodded. Shortly thereafter, my cell phone died and I missed calls from Matt, my Skamania lover, who wanted to find me for one last goodbye.

Terry, Gary and I moved to the bar The Bungalow to keep the party going. There were only a few regulars there that night, but all eyes were on us. Here is where the night gets spotty. Terry ordered drinks for us. I popped a dollar into the juke box and turned around as James Brown squealed “♪ ♫ Owwww … I’m back … I’m back … ♪ ♫” Gary’s eyes grew wide, “It’s your song!”

We drunk dialed the Quarterback. We all vowed to go to Disneyland together and take psychedelic mushrooms. Gary called his mother. “Mom? Mom! I want to talk to you. Yeah, I’m drunk. So what? So what!” He held out the phone, “She just hung up on me.” Then he dialed her again. He asked me for a kiss with sad eyes. “On the lips?” he added. I offered a quick peck before dancing next to the pool table a little more.

When it was time to leave, we all stood in a little triangle. “Fuck it! I want to come! Fuck this life. Fuck Mary. I want to go to LA with you!” Gary pronounced.

“Ok,” I said, “Do it. break the cycle. Come be free with me. Terry, you have to come to!”

“I can’t come right now, but I will meet you down there later, when I have money,” she said.

“You promise?” I asked.

“I promise,” she lied. Then she looked at me and her face dropped into tears, her mouth opened revealing the gaps in her teeth, the prominent missing tooth in the front. She pressed her hands against her face and I wrapped my long arms around her.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you too.”

“Goodbye, Terry,” Gary said.

“Yeah, see you tomorrow at work,” she smiled. Then she walked out.

Gary and I walked out to my car and he shouted, “Fuck it!” and threw his phone into the forest. “Take me back to my place so I can grab my record player and my weed.” So I did. I parked outside in a fog of beer, delirium and God knows what else. I settled in expecting it to be awhile. The night was creeping in through my car windows. Gary would fight with Mary and maybe he would change his mind. In under three minutes, Gary walked out with his record player under one arm, a Wendy Rene record, a bag of ganja and his pipe in the other. 

We drove back to the Old Man’s house, I charged my phone and threw my things at Gary so he could pack while I unloaded from the house. Most of my things were already packed up since there was a forest fire not far away. I took my computer with the speakers, mouse and keyboard still connected. We shoved everything in and slammed the trunk closed. I took my dogs and packed them in a tight spot in the back seat. Then I wrote a note to the Old Man:

Thank you for letting me live here and not raping me.

Later, I told Gary about that note. “He probably woke up, read that note and said ‘That God damn woman.”

“That’s what most men in my life say,” I said.

I put Brad on my lap and checked my phone. Someone called. I called back.



“Where are you?”

“I am at Mamma’s (a bar). Where are you?”

“I am in my car with a big fucking Indian.”

“Come on by.”


I drove us through Carson for the last time, past the dark house where my parents lived. My headlights blew through the leaves like the wind off the river. When I pulled into Stevenson, I parallel parked on a hill and backed into someone’s truck who was behind me. Thrusting my head out the window, I shouted, “Oh fuck!”

Gary laughed. Two men crossed the street from the bar, tossing their cigarettes out of their mouths. “Holy shit!”

“Sorry, is this your car?” I asked.

“No, but you really hit that car.”

I got out and saw the license plate bent backward underneath the bumper at a 90 degree angle. “Doesn’t look too bad,” I said, walking into the bar.

“Who called you?” Gary asked.

“I don’t know, I guess I will know when I see him,” I said. Mamma’s is kind of a hole. People in Skamania will describe it as “hit or miss”. A hit would mean you can enjoy some good tunes while playing pool. A miss is a rat will eat your slice of pizza while a fight breaks out. It is dark inside with red walls. There are more tables than there should be making it difficult to walk around but you get the feeling the place was thrown together without much thought. It feels like a storage unit for drunks. I looked around and saw the am dishwasher with the skull handkerchief wrapped around his head fighting heavy eyelids at a table. “Fucking TJ,” I said.

“Hey gurl,” he slurred. “What’s going on?”

“I am all packed up and leaving town. I have three dogs and a big, fucking Indian in my car outside,” I said.

“Did you say you have a big, fucking Indian?”


“Ok. Just making sure.” We chit chatted a little while, it couldn’t have been long since I didn’t even order a drink.

“Whatever you do, don’t do meth. That shit is evil,” I pontificated.

“It’s all good. I have been doing meth for 13 years. I know when I am doing. I am a professional,” he said.

“That means you started doing meth when you were 11 …” I said. He raised his eyebrows and smiled.

I got up and gathered my purse, “Please be very careful. I am very worried about you and I won’t be here anymore, so...”

“Wait a minute, you are driving drunk with a car full of dogs and a big, fucking Indian, and you are telling me to be careful?” he said.


“Is there really an Indian or are you bullshitting me?” he asked.

“No,” I said, “There he is.” I pointed at Gary as he walked from one end of the bar to the other with his sunglasses still on.  We left and Gary promised he was ok to drive. It was around Portland that he said he blacked out while driving. The only thing he remembers is my deaf pit bull, Esther, nudging him awake whenever his eyes and head dropped down.

He told me later, I woke up in the passenger seat and pulled out the loose wind piping from my door. The summer before, I rescued a German Shepherd who destroyed the lining in both passenger side doors in the 5 minutes I left her alone in the car. “What the fuck is this doing hanging over me,” I grumbled, yanking it all out before passing out again.

I should probably state here that I am not proud of driving drunk or having a drunk drive me, especially with my dogs. If something bad happened to us or them, I would never have forgiven myself.

It was in Eugene I remember coming to at a truck stop. The air was ice cold and I was grouchy from the alcohol and the chill. “Where the fuck are we?”

“Eugene,” Gary said. “They won’t give us a room unless we have a trucker’s card.”

“What the fuck?” I grumbled. The next thing I remember is Motel 6, trudging into the desk clerk and getting a room before jacking up the heat and collapsing on a motel bed still in my work uniform.

At 7am, I woke up to a text from Martin. ‘Where is Gary?”

I looked over at the other bed. He was asleep underneath my two pit bulls. I wrote back, “He is here with me. I asked him a thousand times if he was sure. He said he was, so I took him with me.”  

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