Tuesday, February 17, 2009

September 25, Part 2: Meeting Amber

The phonebook listed a Woodbine Hostel as a potential place to stay. It might be cheap, and the location was 466 Main Street, which sounded downtown enough. When I arrived there the first thing I noticed is it was Woodbine Hotel, not Hostel. I walked in and so no one at what I took for the front desk: a kind of white, drywall counter. I felt foolish just standing there, so I went back to the street, walked around the block, and the second time saw 466 1/2 Main Street by the first door I had tried.

This door led immediately to a stairway leading straight up to the second floor. A dingy middle-aged couple were talking a half flight up and it was too narrow to pass them. I waited for these important people to disperse before I could get upstairs, where I squeezed through the hallways hoping to figure out what was going on here. It was still early afternoon but loud voices and televisions shouted through the scratched doors until I accidentally found myself downstairs again, back out in the street.

Once again I entered 466. This time I did not stop at the empty counter but continued into the bar behind it. There was a couple there indistinguishable from that I squeezed by on the stairs, and a plump blonde girl talking to them until I entered and grabbed everyone's attention.

I said my name was Kevin and I asked if there were any rooms available; no, there were not. But the blonde said she had an extra room available at her hotel, and without having time to think about this we were walking down the street towards it.

I asked for her name. "Amber," she said, "and wht's yours?"

"Kevin," I said, and then because I had already said this, added, "Still."

Tears filled her eyes and she said she suffered from memory loss due to a car accident in 1996.

She was on permanent disability since then.

Then, she explained that she didn't really have a second bedroom.

Or a second bed.

But this would be okay because we would take the mattress off of the bed and she would just sleep on the boxsprings.

Before we arrived at the Quest Hotel, she warned me that there were a bunch of old people sitting out front who "had nothing better to do" than watch people come or go. She thought it would be best if we went in separately because the people at the front desk were "really nosy" and she didn't want anyone to think she was having people over.

Compared to the easy pace of the river her statements hit me like a supersonic train and I did not have time to think. A minute after she entered the hotel I followed her through the gauntlet of wrinkled Indians, avoided the front desk, and found her at the elevator, which we rode to the second floor.

When we got to her room I paid $40 for staying two nights. She told me to make myself comfortable, take a shower, make some phone calls, and that I looked like the guy from Nickelback and could use whatever makeup I wanted.

I took my shower, and made a couple phone calls but when she returned an hour later she didn't seem to think I was comfortable enough. Not that what she was about to say was going to help this. Allow me to quote from my journal:

When she came back she was distraught and asked for $20 more.

"Do you drink?" [she asked] -- "Sometimes."

"Ever do any drugs?" -- "No."

"How old are you?" -- "28."

"Smart. I did something 1 time and now I'm in trouble.... if I don't get $20 to this guy he's going to kick in the door."

She was very worried about being seen w/ me & although I gave her $20 I am extremely suspicious of her at this time. Hope I can contact someone to stay somewhere else tonight. Her address is Rm 2xx, Quest Hotel, (Quality Inn) ph. (204)956-xxxx

I took photos inside her room to prove I had been there. Her full name is Amber xxxxxxx.

When I left, I took all my things, just in case -- I almost hope I can find someone else to stay with, even if I'm out my $60. I feel like the rube from the country.

....At the laundromat now. I hope I can find someone other than Amber to stay with ASAP

Although Amber told me she would be back at the hotel "way before" 10, I got there about a quarter after nine, and there was no response to my increasingly heavy knocking. Now I was the the one wanting to kick her door down. I couldn't believe I had become so naive to be taken in by just anyone I happened to meet downtown.

I sat outside the hotel, on a stone wall around the nearby park. I thought I would catch her as she went in and force her to live up to her part of the bargain. I realized she was not in; her room was dark, and the curtain left as I had seen it.

After some time of the old people at the entrance staring at me, I gave up my post and went into the lobby. There were four public phones in the Quest Inn, the leftmost lower than the rest like a children's urinal. At the right one I could keep an eye on the stairs and elevator.

I hoped to get in touch with Luke, who said he knew someone who might live in town, or Kathy, who might have contact information for a mutual acquaintance who had moved to Winnipeg a couple years previous. Instead I got in touch with my friend Richard.

"Hey Richard, apparently I'm not very smart..."

"So you're saying you're a dumbass?"

(I know Richard cares deeply about me but sometimes his timing is off.)

All of a sudden around the corner came Amber, who grimaced in the direction of the front desk and said she was going upstairs. She took the elevator and I took the stairs, to appease the all-seeing eyes of the "high maintenance" people at the front desk. She asked if they'd given me any trouble.

At the hotel we take the mattress off the springs and she asked me if I wanted to do anything. I just said "Sleep."

She lay on the box springs, saying, "Don't worry, I'm comfortable up here."


Minutes later, she said, "How do you sleep?"

"Well," I said, "sometimes I lie on my stomach like this; sometimes on my side, my back; whatever's comfortable."

She said, "Do you toss and turn alot?"

She said, "Okay, this is not comfortable so I'll just come down there and sleep by the wall, and you can have that side." She brought down her blankets, lying beside me.

She said, "Don't worry, I'm not going to try to do anything sexual to you!"

With finality, she said, "Good night!" She reached out and slapped me in what turned out to be the most ironic place possible.

Day 96 ended: Room 2xx, the Quest Inn


wychykibwp said...

Great post Kevin. I laughed loud and often.

Bryan Scott said...

No trip to Winnipeg should begin at the Woodbine Hotel.

Thank you for surviving.

Rebecca vdW said...

I was really sad to read this post.... mostly because I know some wonderful people in Winnipeg who actually DO have a spare bed, and would probably have been more then happy to let you stay with them.
I hope your stay in Winnipeg went up from here.

PsySal said...

Kevin, awesome! This thing keeps getting more and more surreal...

John said...

There's a story in Annie Proulx's "Bad Dirt" which this reminds me of, I think it's "Wamsutter Wolf". Not because it's about a traveler, but because it's about a certain kind of tawdry squalor.

This summer I had visited my hometown to go to a wedding reception. In the past, it hadn't taken me but a few days, no matter what was going on, to get a feeling in my gut that I had to leave. But, I had forgotten so much, it was just another generic small town place, with generic small town people.

It wasn't until I read that story that I remembered why I left: there was a certain class division such that some folks would never, ever have a certain dignity and not even miss it.

I don't know if that's the vibe you meant to give off, but I caught a little glimmer of that in my mind.

Kevin Saff said...

wycijqnefpjnp: Thanks, I knew you would like this one.

Bryan: You're welcome! Surviving is one thing I can do, it's good to finally get some credit for it.

Rebecca: At least it turned out okay in the end.

PsySal: Well, this /is/ Winnipeg, what did you expect? If you thought this was surreal, you'll like the bicycle portage to Lake Itasca and most of Minnesota.

John: I was just trying to get across what happened and how I felt about it. I am not sure how much I care about "dignity" but I don't like it when people mislead me and effectively threaten that my head will get kicked in by an angry drug dealer if i don't give them cash. But I probably don't know completely what you mean, not having grown up in that environment.

John said...

Yeah, it's clear I didn't communicate it very well. The story would help, though, and I recommend that volume of short stories generally anyway.

Kevin Saff said...

John, I've requested that book from the library. I was surprised at how many Proulx's there were.

I hope I can read that story. When I requested that David Foster Wallace book you recommended I think it went to the wrong library. I picked up Infinite Jest instead yesterday but it is a thousand page book with few paragraph breaks, which is intimidating.

John said...

Infinite Jest has the distinction that, despite the length, it's still entertaining, thoughtful, and generous on almost every page. I read it in high-school, and it was not at all difficult compared to other works I was managing to scale at the time. Other than that, I prefer Wallace's non-fiction. His first works are too sardonic (a tendency he later heartily regretted) and his later stories are so sad that their texture, form, and soul hardly makes up for despairing spirit.