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hotel bar

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Hotel bar…. the ambient chatter of middle-management, just slightly above middle-management. Administrative costs are too high. I sit too close to soak it all up. They are setting up a call center. I have trouble coming down in a hotel without time in the hotel bar with a beer, two beers. I keep pace with those who sit with me, near me, discussing the virtues of flying in through Atlanta or Dallas.

People who sit in hotel bars are roughly divisible into four groups: parents with children on vacation, making it halfway (but not even halfway, not nearly halfway) to the night out that the long for – whether together or alone; people who never go to bars except in hotels (lots of Americans seem to fall into this category); people who are always in this type of bar, nearly every night of their lives because they live on the road; and people like me, who can’t get to sleep without observing some members of the other three groups. My group, of course, represents a considerably smaller percentage than the other three groups, but it remains – I have to believe for some reason – a real group nonetheless.

They are discussing firmware, the limitations of their firmware. Their firmware is limiting growth. Someone has an idea. They are a group of four – three men and a woman. They are drinking two cokes, a mineral water, and a red beverage that comes out of a bottle. The company does not pick up the tab if they drink alcohol. They are not of that stature in the company, and they never will be – they are middle-aged, even late middle-aged. They have hit their peak. They are staying at the Marriott and they are not drinking.

“He’s not going to be the right man for the job if he’s going to get flustered.” They have given them peanuts even though they are not drinking alcoholic beverages. I have refused my dish of peanuts, because you don’t know where they’ve been, who has touched them before you.

A flat-screen mutely displays CNN International. A woman in khaki standing at a checkpoint somewhere. It is Kurdistan. There were bombings in Turkey today; yesterday was India. The Dow was down 239 points today. There is a set of sofas closer to the front door of the hotel where a group of Arab children are sitting. Big sister wears a headdress of some sort. There are always Arab children on these seats, or at least there were last night too.

I have spent the day, for some reason, waiting to get down here to my large Hoegaarden and my laptop. I have had a sense today, that I described to my wife, that if we were to spend three months traveling through the three and two star cities of Europe, staying in hotels like this one, and if I were permitted to spend every night in the hotel bars, I would, perhaps, think and work myself through to a new fictional form. I would become, I said, an avant garde writer – less worried about my job and the market for fiction, more interested in getting the form / content relationship exactly right.

They are discussing “cyclical investing,” “what’s coming on the horizon for technology,” and “storage capacity.” My next trip will be to Florida and my parent’s condo there, where I will not have access to a hotel bar. After that, who knows. A conference in Tennessee in November, but I will be too busy with friends new and old to write. Academics are not, definitely, the sorts that I want to listen to and write.

The internet access here is too expensive to use, so I cannot post what I write. Nor can I read what others have posted, nor check email, order books that I have thought to order during the day.

I believe that the context in which I write determines what and how I write. When I work, as I do daily from 3-5 PM (excepting weekends and vacations) at the Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road, my work is full of passing stories derived almost purely from the physical appearance of those that I see there. It is a mixed crowd: students from UCL, doctors from the hospital around the corner, tourists who stop in (and often have their bags stolen, assorted young characters on their way out to better things in Bloomsbury or Soho, further down the road. My work is shaped into bursts, a single page at a time – it takes me about as long to write one of those vignettes as it takes the average customer to sit and drink their coffee, flip through the newspaper or a book that they’ve brought. My stories and poems orbit on the axis where daily life slips away from the historical event – those featured on the cover of the Times prominently displayed for sale in the middle of the store.

Here, I do longer work, both in turns of form and content. In terms of the latter, I strand in a longer view, I think, as it were, globally. I head towards “state of the world” type pieces, which are probably impossible and the wrong thing for me to work on right now, however attractive it is to start at the moment. In terms of the former – in terms of form – well, you can see, this is more than a single page, is meant to have a beginning, middle, and an end. It is meant to conclude – and conclusions are not something that natively grow in the soil of Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road.

When the Hoegaarden starts to hit, I type into sudden roadblocks which stop thought in its tracks – beg me, softly at first (so far), to return to my room, my sleeping wife and child, and go to bed. A contrary impulse tells me to head across the street to a dusty looking bar named Le Coq, where I could drink and probably talk to who knows whom, but of course I cannot write. I suddenly have an urge to confess how much I love to talk to people, just anyone, but only under the right conditions, in the right situations. The stars have to align. Perhaps this makes me a writer – perhaps I would be a better writer if I indulged these impulses whenever they arrive.

“Jim,” apparently, “is working overtime to get us to tell him what the issues are.” Jim, I learn, “has even taken things too far,” has “bent over backwards once too often for his own good.”

If I were to develop a new fictional form, whether or not it took three months in hotel bars, it would, I hope be minimalistic. It would stare into the panoply of detail in the world and suck out the common materials, the universals, the generic outlines that frame the local details. It would focus in on such subjects as the way, for instance, we use money to pay for things that we want, we ration out the goods and experiences that we wish to have based on the amount of cash that our work has left us after paying for necessities like housing, supermarket food, and utilities. I half fear, though, that the new form would also be chattily subjective; that it couldn’t sidestep the temptation to thread it all through the thoughts and observations of the perceiving self. Could it help but editorialize? Could it “refine itself out of existence”? It feels doubtful to me now, but of course I haven’t had the three months on the road that I have said that I believe I need.

On CNN International, someone is cutting up dolphins, or maybe they’re sharks. It’s hard to tell with the sound off. It looks like whatever manner of fish or aquatic mammal it is, they washed up on the shore, dead, so no harm, no foul. People who last night stood directly in front of the flatscreen watching the Tour de France (they are on a tour; they were in Paris that morning for the end of the race) move across the lobby and out for late dinner or drinks on the town. They do not stop to have a drink here where I am.

“This is a huge investment. This is also a huge risk, to do this.” Middle-management dissects and critiques the decisions of the higher-ups, in age-old tradition, sitting in the hotel bar of the Marriott-Brussels. Each one of them, on some level, is thinking “But I am not really sure I could do better if I were in his shoes.” Do not ask me how I know this. One of the four has changed to beer when I wasn’t looking. The female of the bunch is on a tirade – she knows how he feels, but she still doesn’t understand why…. “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” she wants to know. Now two have beer. Laughter ensues.

In the toilets (to the right of the concierge, thank you very much) someone has painted a fly on the inside of the urinal. I have read about this somewhere. It improves aim, reduces splash. While I contemplate the fly, the urinal flushes and reflushes four times. I have, it seems, tricked the system by standing still. In revenge, when I return to the bar and order a Stella, the bartender mishears and pours me another Hoegaarden. There was a time when visiting Europe was a big thing for me, but now the glamours starting to come off.

I want to go to Le Coq across the street. The business types at the next table are leaving, wheelie-bags in tow. It is 11:11 PM. As a parting shot, she (the female of the four) says something about “getting your diapers off.” She has a nasty, pouty crook in her hip that she is too old to carry, just barely.

Breaking news: the card one of them tried to put the drinks on “didn’t go.” She charges it to her room. Decline and fall? Collapse of the American Empire? Mortgage crisis, is he upside down, in over his head, in the flickering realms of negative equity? They resolve to someone’s room bill and leave.

I want to bring this to a conclusion. I am not sure that the form supports a conclusion. I spend my night out a week on the Southbank, drinking and writing, but this is better. Fiction thrives on chaos, and as buttoned-down as my night’s protagonists are, there is chaos in this garden. I should go and have a drink at Le Coq, for the sake of having a drink at Le Coq. My wife and daughter are sleeping upstairs. I have probably had enough. Lovers drink by as I smoke my cigarettes on the sidewalk: young and old, young with young, young with old, fat with thin, and so on. Salesmen for struggling companies disembark from cabs and stumble in, even at this late hour.

But I’d like to come to some conclusion. The Hoegaarden and the negative equity are a clue. The Pakistani barkeep is a clue too. The lack of tolerance of the customers, the Arab kids, both a clue. I will not get there tonight. Somebody new says into a mobile phone that “Everything went well. Mary Ellen said everything went well too. There is a new CFO, but everything went well.” More too. I should send this to a magazine for their website, I have a standing offer from an editor, but he doesn’t write me back anymore. I forgot that I’ll be in a hotel in New York in late August, a Marriott, with a great bar for writing.  Bar girls there – interesting in and of itself. Or themselves. I tried to write a fiction there, once, in part about them. It was part two of something. I should interview one, just for you.

If I had a conclusion, I wouldn’t be in this fix. I will not go to Le Coq, as I have had enough. The world, and I, only bear so much. Someone received an instant message – I have heard it. It is 11:30, though my computer’s clock indicates an hour earlier. I will be back in London by tomorrow night, and back at Starbucks on Tottenham Court Road the next day, working, working…

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 29, 2008 at 10:48 pm

Posted in distraction

2 Responses

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  1. I do hope that this post, though likely composed in an entirely different mode, becomes the first chapter of your novel.

    Dave

    July 30, 2008 at 2:40 am

  2. too kind, Dave!

    adswithoutproducts

    July 30, 2008 at 10:43 am


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