Home: The Last Place On Earth

8 Feb

arrived in LANic and me  arrival in LAUnlike my other overnight stops, for Flagstaff, I actually made a reservation.  The Hotel Monte Vista, built in the 1920’s with funds provided by, among others, Zane Grey. Once the main speakeasy in town, and still the tallest building in Flagstaff (not saying much), Hotel Monte Vista was dark and kitsch-raunchy inside; the lobby had an aged, sexy aura: murals of deserts on the walls and gold tassels twirling from heavy drapery.  It smelled like gin and sauerkraut and Emeraude perfume. Sixty two dollars a night. Mine was the Bob Hope Room–back in the day he’d stayed there, as had Bing Crosby, Esther Williams, Spencer Tracy, Jane Russell, and other glamorous ghosts from a bygone era. It was painted midnight blue and had spare furniture, a sitting chair that looked tired of being sat on, and a chest of drawers from the fifties. Haunted for sure.  That’s one of my favorite qualities in a room on the road–an occupying  spirit  that’s not just some homebody,  but the kind of ghost that appreciates  historic hotels.

The tiny restaurant/ bar reminded me of The Shining–no one there looked like they were from the 21st-century. Food service had just ended, so I went to Pita Pit, bought some  local cuisine, and brought it back to the lobby. Then I had a glass of wine at the bar and flirted wildly with the young,  Swedish bartender. Too young, not my type, not a cowboy, and not named Casey, but I’d been on the road for six days and five nights and a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.  Usually I  flirt with a stranger every third day, so it was high time.  When it looked like he might actually join me for a drink after he got off work, I high-tailed it back to the safety of the haunted Bob Hope room. Had dreams of driving and driving and never getting where I was going. About 3 am,  the bathroom door creaked and opened  a few inches on its own.  “L.A., L.A., L. A., L.A.,” I said to the ghost, as if the incantation might simultaneously make friends and ward it off.

In the morning, it had snowed.  “L.A., L.A, L.A., L. A.,” I said, gazing out the window.  But the snow didn’t make friends or go away. Natasha texted me, “GET OVER HERE.”  It snowed for an hour on my way out of Arizona. It was the last leg, over five hundred miles.  “Lord I’m one, lord I’m two, . . .Lord I’m five hundred miles away from home,” I sang. The first song I learned to play on the guitar.  My mom closed her bedroom door when I practiced. Now, I could feel her presence– Audrey the Intrepid Traveler, and all around Tough Cookie. She was the first divorced woman most of my friends knew.

The summer of my twelfth birthday she took four of  us camping in the Indiana dunes. After dark, we drove to the empty beach parking  lot and the four of us scrambled across the sand, threw off our clothes, and screamed into Lake Michigan. From the cold waves, I could see her cigarette ember; she was sitting on a towel close by.  Shortly it was joined by a flashlight aimed at us, and a stern man’s voice. “GET OUT OF THE WATER. THE BEACH IS CLOSED.”  His beam scanned our bobbing heads.

“Point that somewhere else. They don’t have clothes on; they’re girls.” My mother’s voice said firmly.  We got out, our teeth chattering, and quickly wrapped ourselves in towels. Though the park ranger had pointed his light away from us, I noticed that out of of all of us I seemed to be the one with the least to show for being pubescent. I was a girl; they were something else. My mother herded us to the parking lot and into the red Opel, waved goodbye to the ranger, and cackled: “Well, we made his night.”

As I traveled from snow-covered mountain forest to the black, lunar landscape of the Mojave Desert, I felt Audrey, driving that tin car of a car, cigarette in hand, seat belt-less, ready for anything. Haunted by my mother, I am. Haunted as in: Can’t let go of her, so I  keep her memory up my sleeve, pretending  she can see me, living my life, driving in the Mojave. Actually, I’m probably haunting her. She may well  prefer to be left alone to do Dead People Stuff.

There are no billboards in the Mojave.  There is, in the Mojave:  little vegetation, no gas stations,  few cars, a few horses with no names. . .mostly just ashy volcanic rock and a sky that beckons one to disappear inside. In fact, I thought I might already have, unbeknownst to me, died. And gone to the Mojave. Death Valley was near. Acutely, I felt not only Audrey’s  spirit but others’ too, though I didn’t recognize them. The dead are alive and well, roaming, living large in the Mojave.  I felt God too. There are no signs proclaiming things about God because, Duh, God rules the Mojave.

I wanted to stay with this. And then saw myself there for eternity:  Me, Mom,  God forever. I couldn’t do it.  God, no–Oh, sorry God,  just please get me out of this godforsaken–no I don’t mean that–place. Can I meet you again, somewhere else? Rodeo Drive, they need you there, surely?  I will become a better person, God, just let me do it in Beverly Hills. 

Then there were little towns,  bigger towns, and billboards and gas stations and malls and other signs of human life and mortality.  My chosen path. And then my road became a four lane highway and intersected with other highways, and then there was a sign for Santa Monica Boulevard. Tunelessly I shrieked ” All I wanna do is have some fun/I got a feeling I’m not the only one/All I wanna do is have some fun/Until the sun comes up on Santa Monica Boulevard.” Thank you, God. Clearly I was indeed not the only one wanting fun; for an hour and a half I sat in traffic. Finally, I careened into Beverly Hills.  I parked in front of my new apartment, where Natasha also lived.  In the window, she was looking at her cell phone, dark hair in her face.  I tapped the window.

When our screaming subsided, she directed me to a lot where I parked my fearless companion, my Prius, my Prince. She ushered me into her apartment, a mirror of mine, and we screamed again.  Then she poured champagne and handed me a plate of cheese made without milk and crackers made of sprouted something, never baked. Raw food made by the woman with whom I used to scarf pizzas and burgers and Cheetos. I screamed with delight (her food really did rock).

Out came the yearbooks. Our photos:  ridiculous hair and attempts at knowing smiles. I read what I’d written in ninth grade–about our “amazing, crazy year” and certain boys who were referred to with initials, and how we’d be friends “forever.” More screaming.We’d actually lost touch for a decade here and there. As Natasha put me to bed on her couch, it was all I could do to mutter, “Whodathunk it, Nat?” “Not me,” she replied, on the way to the bathroom, with that familiar hair toss.

I feel so at home. So far from home. It had been a while since I knew where or what home was, and I was haunted by the idea of it. Or maybe it was me who was haunting home, searching for it, demanding its attention. Natasha turned off the lights. She had to get up at 6:30 for culinary school.

There are nights when something creaks, and seems to move by itself in the dark. And there are nights when, sleepless,  I creak, and then rearrange something–a chair, say,  to see if that is where it belongs. I had arrived in L.A., made it through snow, almost no gas, great beauty, desolation, desert, great beauty, snow, desert, traffic, self doubt, spiritual renewal and vaguely profound and mind bogglingly stupid thoughts. I made it.

My eyes were watching. What I didn’t know, but they were open.  And my ghosts were close, right where they belonged.


11 Responses to “Home: The Last Place On Earth”

  1. Beth Tractenberg February 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Dear Kirsten,

    Congratulations on your trip home. I’ve been reading your blogs with interest and admiration.

    Your Old Roomie


    • kwasson2012 February 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

      Thank you so much, Beth! This is a somewhat daunting journey, and it helps to know friends are following!


  2. Jill Swenson February 8, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    This missive reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s remarks about the allure of hotel rooms. The anonymity. The brevity. A liminal space. To feel so at home and be so far from home. Grounded yet traveling.


    • kwasson2012 February 8, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

      All about the liminal. Hotels. Airplanes. Sometimes I think about sleeping in the street. Then I reconsider.


  3. ma2x2tt February 9, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    Great stuff, K.


  4. Robin Botie February 11, 2013 at 11:51 pm #

    Good to hear something can have an aged AND sexy aura even if it’s just a hotel lobby. L.A. I’m so envious. Can’t wait for more L.A. Cheers!


    • kwasson2012 February 12, 2013 at 12:09 am #

      I’m doing this for all of us! Thank you for reading!


  5. nic February 13, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    I think THIS is the “amazing” “crazy year”. I am enjoying every beautifully composed sentenced!


    • kwasson2012 February 13, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      Who knew how long we’d have to wait! Better late than never!



  6. nic February 13, 2013 at 7:11 am #



    • Parveen Talpur March 26, 2013 at 1:33 am #

      Haunted Bob Hope room and all that description of hotel, loved imagining it.


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