Sometimes you have to push yourself for a good story.
Sometimes, the push is alcohol.
…the thought I awoke to late one night while sleeping on the couch of my sister’s bougie Mission District Apartment in San Francisco.
I had seen people hitting stems outside the Mission District’s thin hotels, their punched-up faces sucking scalding smoke into ragged lungs before it could chemically degenerate into something safer. They did this in the open, like it wasn’t a thing, because it wasn’t to them: it was just what they did. Albion Hotel, Star Hotel, Mission Hotel—four stories high, a door wide, crammed between the ritzy bars and eateries of the gentry. The hotels didn’t advertise, had small signs, didn’t have little markers on Google Street View—they catered to an exclusive class that already knew where to look.
I hit the bottle of Jim four times in rapid succession. My past three months of near-sobriety had decimated my tolerance, and I could immediately feel the light, swirly warmth flow from my stomach to my synapses. I sat back in the dim light for a moment, waiting for the full inebriation to hit, to zephyr away my inhibitions.
I strode out onto 16th street to a skewed world. In the daytime, the crackheads and crazies were visible, but now they ruled the streets. I took a right on Mission and looked up to the window of one of the hotels. A woman hung out to her waist, calling out something loud yet unintelligible to the sidewalk. Hunched, jaunting forms moved up and down the sidewalks and the streets, in and out of the hotels. I posted up outside one, a cigarette my excuse for being there. By now I was properly, snickeringly drunk. A dude in his thirties wearing a black leather coat was squatting on a cracked milk crate in front of the hotel, the lights of the street illuminating, then darkening him. The liquor made me flow, and it was easy enough to flow back when the guy addressed me.
“Hey, whachew doin?”
“Just chillin, chillin. In town for a few days visiting my sister.”
“Yo’ sista live around here?”
“Yeah man, just over on Albion.”
“Cool, cool…so, whachew doin out tonight?”
“Just kinda seein what’s up.”
“Aight, Aight, cool, cool. So, I mean, you lookin for something?”
“You lookin for a girl?” He lowered his voice with the argot, leaning a little closer and widening his eyes. “I got some fine-ass girls up there tonight, you know?”
“Oh yeah…so THAT’S what this place is all about?”
“Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm.” His eyes were back on the street, scanning.
“Uh…yeah, sure. I mean, I’ve never like, done anything like that, but sure.”
I knew this was the only way I was gonna get in there, to experience the alien environment. In the light of passing cars, the dude’s head split into three, one looking at me, and the other two aimed in different directions down the street. A stream of water puddled and trickled behind him, becoming vile as it pulled the oil and sludge off the sidewalk. As I stared at the trickle, the flow became heavier, ladling up needles of glass, skittering them along, upending them with a sick power until I could see that the stream was only the upmost layer of something yawning and humming below.
“FINE-ass girls tonight, mm-hmm.” The dude only had one head now, one profile, the strong cleft of his chin stuck out from the rest of his body over the sidewalk.
“You wait here like, uh, like fiveten minutes, one’ll be ready for you. You like white girls? I know you like white girls.”
“Yeah, I know, same here.”
He continued to scan the street, his posture erect, his hands clasped calmly over his knees. He suddenly spoke again.
“Had me this…this…Indian girl…Cree!…from the Cree tribe, that’s what she said she was…jus the otha week. Damn, if you think white girls got it, you just ain’t fucked enough…wild-ass girl…wasn’t even that drunk, neither. Where you from?”
“Uh, New York…New York State.”
“Yeah, you ain’t really got Indians up there…too bad…you should try to get one while you out here. Mm!” He nodded his head sagely with the experience, his forehead raised.
As I waited, I could hear noises from inside the hotel, some muffled, some harsh and high, all echoing through chambers.
It had been 15 minutes. The dude rose from his crate and stuck his face against the rusted diamonds of the security gate.
“Yo, any of the girls ready yet?…naw?…hey, wait…Crissy! Hey Crissy! You wanna date?…Yo.” The dude swung back to me, his face caught by the septic blue of passing halogen beams. I could see his lips were burnt and scarred.
“Yo, gotta white girl ready for you. Name’s Crissy…you gotta give me ten now. Ten for settin this up. Then you gotta give the guy at the gate 30 for the room.”
My hand dug in my pocket and moved the dime in his direction. He snatched it up, his part of the transaction done.
“Yo! Hermano! Open up the gate! Got someone for Crissy!”
The security gate buzzed and the guy swung it open, waving me quickly in.
“Yo, enjoy yo’self, kid.” I turned around, and the dude was gone.
The guy who had buzzed me in was a fat Mexican in a wifebeater who was slumped over a scarred wooden desk. There were other forms slouching around the closet-sized reception area, seeming as though they had been there for eons. The reception area had a chipped, yellowing tile floor that was barely visible from the half-watt bulbs perched high above. The air was fetid with must and the smell of rotting bedding, thick with stasis. A staircase steeply stretched above me, its walls the color of crusting pea soup and diseased pus, fading in and out with the unearthly light.
I turned to the Mexican at the desk, who was staring at me with too-wide eyes—what is he doin here?—I raised my chin to question, and he cocked a finger up the staircase with a single word:
I turned to the staircase, and a thick-torsoed woman leaned up the staircase with a wide shank of black, greasy hair falling over her face. I couldn’t see her features at all, couldn’t see if she actually had a face.
“30 bucks”—the Mexican spoke again. His strung-out eyes were still on me, and I could see a maroon vein running along the side of his left orb. I fumbled my wallet out of my pocket, keeping it secure in case one of the forms tried to grab it.
The Mexican shuffled through the bills, held them up to the light to check if they were legit. He nodded and cocked his finger up the staircase again to the faceless Crissy, who was in the same exact position, a petrified apparition.
She started up the staircase as I did, swinging her hair around so that it now covered her from the back. She exaggeratedly pumped her ass, sticking it out in a perverse satire of seduction.
Her room was on the first floor. The light was even more sickly and alien here. The whole place looked like it was at the depths of a ket-hole—it buzzed with dimmed laser-green, clogged my every input with rank, bizarre desperation.
Crissy swung her hair around and I could finally see her face. She was probably 40 but looked 60, the lines of her face weirdly patterned and deep. The smears of scab-red and dead peacock-blue makeup made her look like a clown from some underworld circus. Her body was an over-used punching bag, each hit of rock, each screw for cash dealing another blow.
“Close the door”—the first thing she spoke. I did.
She immediately started to peel her shirt off over her head. My brain retracted to the back of my skull; this was enough.
“Uh! Uh! Hold on a minute.” She did, her shirt peeled to just below her tits, her flabby gut hanging out, lined with red stretch marks. She must’ve been with child in the past.
“I…um, I just…was expecting someone…younger?”
“Well…I d-don’t know where you’re gonna get a-a YOUNG girl, around here.” She spat the words. She was probably high on crack then, but it was obvious this had little to do with the spastic way she moved, spoke, thought. Her mind was completely fried, an egg that had been on the burner for decades. Even if she stopped sucking the glass dick this moment, her synapses would never recover. She was done.
“Well, that’s just what I thought I was gonna get,” I responded.
“What d-do I get? Hm?”
“F-for MY time?” Each word shot around her empty skull before finding a way out.
I reached back into my wallet and came up with a five. I handed it her way and she snatched it back, immediately stuffing it in her bra.
“I’m sorry.” I turned back to the door and was out.
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