When I was about twenty I lived in a motel, and it was the weirdest place I’ve ever rented in my life.
If you’ve read Bleed, you’re already kinda familiar with it, ’cause it served as the basis for Palm Tree Row and abandoned motel where Aster finds the corpse. If you read the second installment of Flotsam when it comes out, the motel pops up again, albeit in a more inhabited form. It’s one of those touchstone places in terms of my fiction, a secret I’m still trying to unravel.
The motel had these green fluorescent lights running along the first floor patios that turned on automatically at sunset and stayed on until midnight, which meant my second floor bedroom was lit up with an alien-abduction glow that was accompanied by the unearthly buzz that close comes from close proximity to bad lighting. One of my neighbours was a six-four American hip-hop fan with tourette’s who used to come home at weird hours, frequently bombed out of his mind. Another was an short, gnome-like older woman in a leather cap who friends used to spot as a patron at the local strip clubs. Someone living in the neighbouring unit block used to keep a black cat that was easily the size of a small Alsatian, which would freak people out when they first saw it and couldn’t quite work out what it was.
I was broke and sleeping on a mattress on the floor and drinking far to much cask wine. It was my first real stint of unemployment, and I wrote poetry and theatre scripts with a kind of haphazard energy that comes from convincing yourself both are viable career paths despite their dwindling audience. I failed to understand the basics of cooking and ate toasted cheese sandwiches instead. I developed futile crushes and pined, rather pathetically. I played the same four chords on a battered acoustic guitar. At least once, while I was elsewhere, the police laid siege to the place in order to corner an prison escapee, although my flatmate managed to sleep through the entire thing.
At some point I started disliking my flatmate intensely, which is probably what led to me moving out after our six month lease was up.
And it’s my favourite place of all the places I’ve ever lived.
I like to think my affection for the place isn’t just the nostalgia for your twenties that comes of being a month shy of thirty-four, ‘specially since I’m well aware of the multitude of things I absolutely hated about that period of my life. Rather, I love the place because it’s where I figured out who I wanted to be, even if I’ve spent whole years since then trying to convince myself that I was wrong. Without that motel I doubt I’d ever have developed the love of noir, or spent years reading poetry and trying to understand the rhythm of language, or developed my love of a particular kind of horror that embraces the sensuality of the other rather than abjuring it. I would never have learned to recognise my privilege, even if my initial response at the time was to deny it, as if embracing the experience of living in the motel could somehow scrub the fact that I was a white male kid with working, middle-class parents and a university education up my sleeve.
It was a horrible place to live, devoid of any real redeeming features. It was also kinda magical.
And I’ve been writing stories trying to capture that dichotomy ever since.