Hotel California

The bellhop smiled a youthful grin as he held the gold push bar of the luggage cart, “Welcome to the Hotel California.”

Amanda appeared to be a very pretty expensively accessorized thirtyish travelling business woman. Her tight frame rose three and a half inches above the marble floor in her Manolo Blahnik creation. Magazines call the designer the holy man of heels, a term ironic in that the women who wear them seem to be least holy persons to sport such fashion. This pair of pumps in open toe with straps that wrap her ankles suggests bondage topped off with diamond crusted buckles. The soft blue velvet matched her blue suit tailored to own any room she entered. The young man, very happy with his task, ushers her to the elevator and announces, “Room thirteen thirty-three.”

“Thirteen? Isn’t that the unlucky floor number never used in high rises?”

“Yeah, the room is duly noted as fourteen thirty-three, but I don’t buy all the superstition.”

“Oh, a realist are you?”

He smiled and raised his eyebrows in enough of a small arch to make his point.

Once past the boringness of the elevator rising to stop, the sliding of the door, and the unveiling of the hall, he leads Amanda to the suite’s double entry doors, “Ready?” he asks.

The grand entrance unwraps her present with a breath taking corner window view of the Santa Monica Pier below. Turquoise floor to ceiling drapes carry the theme of the building’s art deco facade inside. Cool colors to pull the feel of the Pacific vista into the living room area closed off by French doors that lead to the king size bed.

“Will you be with us long?”

She answered, “That depends.”

With that, she slipped him a folded fifty and ushered him away.

She then opened her Louis Vuitton to retrieve her  phone and texted, “Ok, I’m here.”

The return, “Meet you in the lounge.”

He strolled in with the sunset behind him dressed casual, except for the brass G G logo showing off his Gucci loafers. Any guy that can afford seven-fifty a pair can afford to buy drinks and dinner, “Hello,” he utters to Amanda.

She removed her Bulgari sun glasses showing him the diamond inset on the gold frame before letting him soak in her eye contact. She wanted his attention.

“I’m Stephen.”

“I guessed.”

He sat and arranged the dinnerware before asking, “Have you done this before?”

“Do I look like a virgin?”

He chuckled back, “I would say you know what you are doing.”

“Of course,” she said back and sipped her Chateau Blanc. “You know why they call it virgin wool?”

“Why?”

Amada puts her glass down, “Ugly sheep.”

Stephen’s head jarred back in laugher, “That’s something you will never have to worry about.”

The moon had risen just over the blackness that a once sundrenched ocean becomes when night falls over the Hotel California. The flashing round Ferris wheel on the pier could be the source of light reflected in the white globe hanging in the sky. Distant crowd noise had become a murmur and traffic on Ocean Blvd nearly non-existent. Amanda had earned her living. Stephen was in the bath; shower running. She noticed his laptop open with a screen saver of a manicured clean cut woman with two kids; his family somewhere over the far side of Temescal Canyon Road in a three thousand square foot home where he should have everything he ever wanted. But, instead he was here on Ocean Blvd with Amanda; a beauty he had never met and had nothing in common, except for the hunger satisfied in room thirteen thirty-three.

Amanda left the king size and found her way back to the living room side table where her white powder was neatly spread among the remains of tracks now inhaled. Stephen had found that powder to be more than he wanted. He could not get enough, “Another track?’ she had asked. “Be careful. This is the good stuff.”

“You bet,” he said. “Hit me again.” He repeated that over and over.

Her hair hung down in a long tail over her shoulder as she leaned in for one more snort one more time. The numbness she needed to survive could only come from losers like Stephen. Enough times such as this, and she had developed a special kind of hate toward the selfish assholes that can never get enough of someone else. She may be high priced and in demand of those Sunset Strip jack offs, but the reward had grown empty. The time had come she devoured and loved the coke in her life. It was time when doing anything was too much.

Her text message rang, “You back yet?”

“No. This damn guy wouldn’t stop the coke. I thought I would never finish him. Finally, he’s now in the shower.”

The shower kept running. Stephen must have been trying to wash away whatever of Amanda had become distasteful. The very idea of Stephen, Mark, William, John, or whatever name popped up on her screen made her feel sick. She looked again at his laptop. The smiling faces of those who knew nothing of the person he was. She opened his email. That letter to her about his business trip flipped some switch in Amanda’s mind. From her return email, Amanda read where the wife had told him of the kid’s school day and her chance to unwind. Amanda hit ‘Reply All’ and typed, “See you soon” and attached a link to Amanda’s escort website. The curser flashed twice and she pushed ‘Send’.

Amanda then closed the laptop, gathered her things, and opened the door to the hall that would take her away from Hotel California. She stepped into the hall, but it was no longer what it had once been. The four walls made up nothing more than a room; an empty room with no other doors and no elevator. She turned back and the room number on the door Thirteen Thirty-Three was clearly in the same place where the normal fourteen thirty-three would be. Thirteen. She went back into the room and could hear the shower still running. Amanda went into the bathroom and the naked Stephen was in a fetal position on the shower floor with streams of water bouncing off him.

“Damn,” she said. “Stephen, get up.”

There was no movement; just the water running over him.

She leaned into the shower and shook him. Nothing. The water was falling over Amanda, sending her long brown hair down in soaked tangled curls over her wet shoulders. “Stephen!” she yelled then she heard, “Amanda.”

Again, “Amanda, get up.”

She could hear her name being shouted, but could not move. Every inch of her felt trapped. Her name again pierced the darkness, but her eyes would not open.

“Amanda, you have to get out of the rain. Amanda, get back in your tent.”

The glamour of high rises and thrill of men with power had taken the toll. Amanda found hell in her own version of Hotel California in her makeshift tent on a back street of Santa Monica with just the far off site of the Ferris wheel on Santa Monica Pier going dark in the early dawn before the sun.

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A Few Books for You

My name is Matthew. An old man named Peter Stone impressed me with what you may call radical ideas. Then, he told me it would become my mission to elaborate and share those ideas with you. The thing is; old man Stone died before dealing me in on these secrets as our visits became more frequent. That may sound spooky to you that some old dead guy turned the tables and started visiting me. Our visits started some time ago at a nursing home. It’s been just shy of fifty years since that day. As a pastor of a small church, that was my job. Visit the nearly dead to say a few prayers and hear some confessions about sins that are long forgotten. After all this time, that first meeting still stands out in my memory. He said he never knew his purpose and felt most of his life had been on the sidelines just watching events and other people. One line he spoke really got my attention. He said, “I’ve seen the back of the house.”

When pressed, he explained the older one gets the clearer the picture gets of what’s next from behind the scenes. He did have an opinion about preachers being half assed. That lead me to think he may have been an atheist, but he corrected me saying there are too many religions and God wanted no part of them.  The concept challenged me, so I challenged him to do something about it and make that message a mission; a reason to keep living.

It wasn’t too long after that day that we held a funeral service for Peter Stone. That day there were no family members or friends, just a care taker from the home. About a week later a lawyer representing the home called to say he was the executor for Mr. Stone. That’s when I learned the old man had named me in his will to inherit his library of books. He mentioned in his will that his books may help me grow in understanding from the back of the house. I had to laugh when the lawyer asked what that meant, and explained just an old man rambling.

A week later a man known fairly well around Mechanicsville as an antique dealer came to visit. He came to the church office and sugar coated his way past the secretary. The man known as T.J. walked in dressed the way he dressed every day wearing one of his Stetson Cowboy hats. The El Presidente black hat had set him back over nine hundred dollars and was one of many used to brand the man around town. T.J. never told anyone what the T.J. stood for, but he had the letters embroidered under the red roses on that day’s black cowboy shirt. The letter ‘T’ on the right pocket and the ‘J’ on the left pocket. Some days the shirts might be denim with tan horses raring, however, the letter always displayed on each pocket. He liked to stand out showing off his diamond studded horseshoe ring. Some say it was his height, as he stood about five six with a big beer gut hanging over his silver belt buckle. T.J. sat on the sofa and propped his cowboy boots on the ottoman, “I understand a passed brother named Peter Stone named you to inherit some books.”

“That’s what I’ve heard.”

“Since I have been hired to liquidate the assets of the estate, it occurred to me to ask if you want me to auction the books off or arrange to have them delivered.”

“I really didn’t know the man. Just one of the retirement homes on my circuit,”

“He must have liked you. You are the only individual listed by name in the will.”

That idea the man thought something of me played on my mind and just selling off a few books did not sit well, “No, the books would be nice to add to the church library. Can’t be too many of them.”

T.J. smiled and said he’d have his men drop them off. A week later I knew what he meant by the smile. The beeping warning got me out of the office to see a twelve foot yellow box truck backing up to the church office. A big picture of T.J. smoking a cigar was displayed on each side with his slogan Call T.J. Timeless Things. Just right.

“Reverend,” he said rolling out of the truck cab. “A few books for you.”

When he unlocked the back roll up door on the truck box, the thing was stacked full of box after box, “Turns out the old man had quite a library. The inventory sheet listed close to four thousand books.”

So, now that we are up to date, what was in those books? Of course, the more pressing issue concerns what old man Stone has been telling me, and if those conversations have something to do with you. He told me about a spooky universe. That universe he said had nothing to do with ghosts.  That universe related to science as a quote from Albert Einstein when he spoke of a theory in quantum physics called the quantum entanglement. The scientist said that the whole idea was spooky action at a distance. Stone said to look it up in one of his books. That’s where I learned in standard quantum theory, particles have no definite states, only relative probabilities of being one thing or another until they are measured. The theory goes on to explain when two particles interact; they can become entangled as both particles come together. To me that meant that as far as science goes, nothing exists if it can not be measured. We can measure atoms, particles, cells, DNA, but one thing that can not be measured is the debatable existence of the ether. The belief is there is ether that fills the universe, some say dark matter that is the energy force that becomes the sea that floats the planets, solar systems, and galaxies across the universe. A force field of energy that some have written has every thought, and every answer to everything within. This is where the universe does become spooky. The flow of all minds lives in eternity that can not be measured. Science can’t measure it, so religions have popped up across time trying to explain in terms we can measure. We can measure the image of some bearded old man dealing out punishment, but the definition will always be debated.

After reading these accounts, the weight of another sleepless night pressed against me. Earlier just after midnight, rain had danced loud stomps in the metal gutters over the patio, and once ended, a chorus of frogs and crickets celebrated the end of their torment. Something must have frightened them as every insect and amphibian instantly stopped. Quiet bound and trapped me. From the darkness and silence I heard Peter Stone speak, “Do not be afraid my young friend.”

Strangely enough, there was no fear, yet more of a comfort and calm feeling in the presence of this voice. “Have you found joy in the books left to you?” he asked.

“That’s quite a library to go through.”

“The right books will call to you when the time is right.”

“You must have quite an education,” my comment prompted an answer.

“Not the way you think,” he said. “There were no diplomas on any of my walls. However, each of us manages to accumulate a substantial education throughout life if we live long enough.”

Experiences such as this would normally raise skepticism. That feeling of doubt had grown in me from my younger days as a minister. All the bogus believers telling me over and over they talked with God. That was my job to convey talking to god as a way to muddle through their lives. This was the thing that drove me away from that profession to seek another path. That night lying in bed, a conversation with a dead man must have been a sham my imagination concocted. The man continued, “What good did all the years of your study in a seminary do you?”

“That was an education to qualify me to become ordained.”

“Nevertheless, you chucked the job. So much for education.”

“How could someone with so many books negate the importance of education?”

“Like I said, we all find all the education we need. As an example, my father was raised on a farm back around the turn of the century when work in the fields was more important than the time it took to finish the sixth grade. When he grew up, he moved to the city and owned a grocery store that he ran successfully without a diploma. But, when it came to education, as a boy he learned how to kill a hog without killing his family with tainted meat. Now, that my young friend is an education.”

“What’s this have to do with me?”

“You have just begun your true education. The first step was stepping away from that identity of preacher. Remember what I said that day you visited me in the home for the nearly dead? I said there are too many religions. The thing you should seek and the one purpose you should follow is to find that relationship with God. Reading about the quantum entanglement is a beginning. Once you understand the ether is real.”

A bright light flashed across my room and reflected a glare from the bureau mirror. Peter Stone was gone, although the light was only my neighbor’s headlights as the car turned into the drive next door. I listened to the car become quiet and the car door shut. The night was still enough to follow the sounds of his footsteps to the front door and metallic clinking of keys needed to passage past solid walls. My world became real again.

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The Problem with Too Many Choices

Mathew Pietersen drove his ten year old Volvo north on Lee Davis Road through what at one time was the countryside of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Bennett Funeral Home to his right and Stonewall Jackson Middle School on his left put him in that position between the beginning and end that was part of his stock and trade. The radio was broken, but that did not stop him humming some tune. Nothing was real familiar about the melody, and his mumbling off key lyrics, “You have been good to me, you have been good to me…” did not make the song any more recognizable. Mathew continued his humming and got to the chorus, “And I still believe there is more.” His fingers tapped the steering wheel in time, and he belted out, “I believe there is more!”

Once past the school, a gray fall sky reflected off the surface of Beaverdam Creek that was mostly overgrown. Several fallen trees stretched across the width closer to the road and somehow had not disturbed the Lily Pads just off the opposite bank. Mathew thought of the possibility of some large mouth bass or pike waiting just under one of those umbrella leaves for dinner to float by. If only he had time to drop a line in the water, he could avoid a visit to the retirement home up ahead. Soon, on his left the neatly painted white fence could be mistaken for a horse ranch. The cross boards of the fence made the staff lines of sheet music with posts marking the different bars. Every fifty or so feet a brick column separated the measures. He levered his left turn signal and waited for the red pickup in the opposite lane to pass before he edged into the entrance of Covenant Woods. Flowers in the median and young oak trees lining each lane softened the coldness of the last home for people waiting to die.  The three story structure boasted newness that could be an apartment complex for young families and singles. The singles here were not single by choice. They were the ones left alone.

Mathew greeted the receptionist as he pulled the sign-in register to him, “Here to see Mr. Stone.” He said as his eyes ran down the lines on the page to witness the fact that no one else signed in to visit Mr. Stone.

“Mr. Stone is in two twenty,” the receptionist said. “Down the hall the elevator is just past the coffee shop.”

Mathew turned and used a short cut across the living room to the linoleum hall. A gray loveseat, several wingback chairs, end tables with flowers, a small bookcase with a dozen books all sat empty by an inviting stone fireplace. Inanimate objects waiting for a purpose to ease lonely souls. The elevator door to the second floor swished open and a nurse nearly collided with Mathew, “Sorry.”

He nodded and read the directional signs to room two twenty. On the way, an open dining area was in use. Four-top utilitarian tables took up eight squares of the room. Several people sat with coffee cups, some in wheel chairs were accompanied by a nurse or caretaker spooning soup into mouths that dribbled.

Upon his entry to room two twenty a man sat in a recliner brought from home facing a view out into the woods overlooking an unused gazebo, “Mr. Stone.”

“Name is Peter. Call me Pete.”

“Pete, I am Pastor Mathew Pietersen. Call me Matt.”

“What fine church sent you Matt?”

“I’m the new minister at the Baptist Church up the road.”

“Good for you,” Pete said and removed his red ball cap revealing a very thick head of silver hair in long waves covering half his ears and giving him a distinguished manner.

“Mathew Pietersen; Matt. Sounds kind of Jewish for a Baptist.”

Matt explained, “Yes it is. Family name goes way back to be settlement days in the sixteen hundreds. As far as being Jewish, I have been told that my great-great-whatever was named Solomon Pieterson and gained some notoriety as the first known American Jew to marry a Christian.

“Now, that is something,” said Pete. “What brings you here, young man?”

“I suppose you can say it’s my job, but it’s not. I call this time my mission; my purpose.”

“At your age, that idea of purpose can be a powerful pull. Never knew mine, though. I must admit. There have been times there was a feeling there had to be more.”

“What did you do when you were younger?”

“Mostly, I excelled at sitting on the sidelines and observing the world.”

Matt took some time to nod as if he knew what the man meant, “You can feel free to elaborate with me.”

Pete scratched his ear some raising a silver curl slightly, “You preachers are good at that.”

“What?”

“Listening. Then giving some half assed acknowledgement you think you understand.”

“Really. I do honestly want to understand.”

“You probably think a man my age has a few things to get off his chest. Confession I suppose. Well, I don’t. The way I see it; it is what it is.”

“What do you mean on the sidelines?”

“Never played sports. Just watched. Actually, television came along and made it easier to just watch and not get too involved. I saw a president killed, a man walk on the moon, and I saw all those protests over Vietnam. There was more to what I witnessed on the TV news though. Back in the sixties all over the Fan District, I actually watched the hippies wearing sandals and beards dancing in the traffic yelling shit.”

He paused, the young preacher did not oppose the language, so he continued, “I still think most of them really knew nothing of the war. Most of them just wanted to get high and have group sex. I didn’t get to do any of that either; just watched the crowd go by and get old.”

“Sounds like you witnessed a great deal,” said Matt. “You never felt any kind of calling to be part of the action, instead of just sitting on the sidelines as you call it?”

“Nope. Mostly, I didn’t understand all the commotion. Sometimes in person events merged with stuff on television.”

“Such as?”

“A real important date when I was in Chandler Junior High. There was a whole lot of commotion that I thought was blown out of proportion. Oh, it was a major milestone; I just didn’t see any need for the fuss.”

“What was that about?”

“TV crew was outside school one day, so all the kids gathered around to see what the deal was. Finally, a big Oldsmobile pulled up and two sweet girls got out carrying books about as big as they were.”

Pete nodded and smiled. “You see, these two young ladies were black. The very first students in Richmond to be part of the integrated school system. I can say black, because I lived through all the identities that at one time or other seemed fair, but changed. Once the term Negro was okay. Before African American. I, myself, always hated the term colored or even worse names. At any rate, these two young women should have always been in school with the rest of us. Hell, they were smarter than the boys on my street that spent their lives in trucks. These young ladies went on to work in careers using their brains. That says something good.”

“It does that. But, you said you did not understand all the commotion and TV coverage of such a historical event.”

“Should have been that way all along. You being a preacher must do a few sermons a year about loving each other.”

“True,” agreed Matt. “Anything else you observed you have feelings about.”

Pete leaned back and took a deep breath, “I’d say one thing that gets under my skin is the way you make a living.”

Matt seemed just slightly offended, “My profession. You realize that is my calling. My ‘something more.”

“Nothing against you, Matt. It’s just there are too many choices. Too many religions. Bet you can’t name them all, and it’s your chosen path.”

Matt sat up, “There’s Christian, Jewish, Buddhism, Muslim, Hindu ….”

“Stop right there pastor. You’re missing the point. Try to Google just Christian religions and you’ll find over thirty three-thousand denominations.”

Matt said nothing.

“Too many choices. See? And, they all muck up the basic idea for believers. And you are a believer, right?”

“Of course.”

“Then here is what I have observed from the sidelines. All the noise and endless rituals have nothing to do with what God really wants.”

Matt became very defensive, “And what is that in your opinion?”

“All God wants is a real relationship with you, me, and every other being on this planet.”

“Relationship?”

“That’s it. That’s the feeling that’s been nagging at me all my life. No one needs all those rules and confessions to some other person. Just try talking to God. That’s a relationship. Everything else is just commotion. Too many choices and only one is needed.”

The two men sat quiet.

Pete sucked his teeth and put his baseball cap back on.

Young Matt stood up, shook his hand, and turned to go.

Before he reached the door he turned back, “Maybe that’s it.”

“What?” asked Pete.

“That message. It could be your purpose. Understanding the relationship may be the thing that’s nagged at you so many years on the sideline. Maybe you should get off the sideline and let more people know.”

“I’m old.”

“So was Peter in the Bible. That wasn’t always his name. He used to be Simon. Another Jewish name that played big in Christianity. But, Jesus changed his name to Peter because the name means ‘rock.’ That’s why he said that Peter would be the rock to build the Christian faith on. Hmm, the rock. And here you sit on the sidelines with the name Peter Stone.”

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