The Story Of My Fucking Life


Posted by ilbebe on February 11, 2014

During the spring semester of my second year of college, it became a semi-regular thing to drink on the Thursday night cashier shift I worked at the cafeteria. At the dorm cafeteria I worked at, there were two cashier stations and an extremely underutilized espresso bar with a third register, and except for the odd occasion when L would be sick, I worked with the same two folks at the front. L or C would procure the handle of Smirnoff and it would be stashed in a cabinet behind the espresso bar for L to administer. The shift started at four, and as a matter of decorum we usually waited until five to pour the first round.  C and I would take turns going into the beverage isle and filling up 24-oz plastic cups with cranberry juice, which would be then delivered to L for augmentation. Occasionally, L needed a refill on her juice, and I always felt very gentlemanly aiding her in our noble quest to be trashed by the time the shift ended at eight o’clock.

This greatly added to the fun we had with the Thursday Night Trivia Question. Without any solicitation of approval whatsoever, C had decided to start asking people a trivia question during the last half-hour of the shift, from seven to seven-thirty. A correct answer meant a free meal.  A good handful of people would get it right every week, and a select few started looking forward to it- once someone came through the line at 6:50 and said he was really in a hurry but still wanted to hear the week’s question. C took a hardline and told him he couldn’t reveal the question until seven, but would be happy to tell him what it was the following Thursday. Another week the question was “In what foreign country was Che Guevara killed?”, and someone answered “Texas”.

In any case the true joy of drinking on the job is the mischievous feeling, and that we had in spades. As the drinks went in L and I started singing along with the music on the PA, and C turned up the heat on his notorious “asshole cashier” routine. (SEE: the example from last paragraph where he won’t break the rules of a game he made up and tell someone a trivia question) In retrospect, I would have to imagine that L’s heavy pours made it fairly easy to smell what was going on and that a fair number of people, both patrons and co-workers, were on to us. But we never got in trouble, unless you count the night my girlfriend came in to tell me her period was late, prompting some instant and terrible queasiness on my part. That also remains the most discrete memory I have of sobering up instantly.

The period wound up coming the very next day, by the way. Such unnecessary nausea!

A more lighthearted story involving young lovers happened one evening when L went to freshen up about five minutes before the serving period ended. Her boyfriend M was due to come in any minute, and she didn’t want him to know she’d been drinking, going as far as asking C and I to keep mum on the topic when he showed up. L went to the back, and C and I spent a few minutes bullshitting until M came in, walked right up to us, and said “Hey guys, I’m really stoned, but don’t tell L”.

I wish there was more to it, but I guess the whole point aside from mentioning a few notable moments is just to bathe in the happy, non-specific entirety of these memories of youthful hijinks. I worked myself into a little mood there again over the last few months where I got nervous about picking up the writing again, so I wanted to jump back in with a short one. Did you need to know that? I don’t know, but I guess I needed to say it anyhow. I need to remind myself that this is the place to speak my piece- If the place where I’m telling my story isn’t where is?



-8:35pm, Tues 2/11/14, home in West Oakland, lovin’ it.


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Posted by ilbebe on October 18, 2013

Earlier today someone older than me said “The….hashtag” in reference to a key on a computer keyboard I would have referred to as the “Number Key”. A slanted version of this character can be found on most phone keypads and is generally referred to in that usage as a “Pound Key”. The person who said this chuckled at themselves for their nomenclature and said “Sorry, you can tell I’ve been on Twitter too much.”

I remember transferring text files from five-inch-floppy to five-inch-floppy by command. I say this not as someone who has much knowledge of computer programming, let alone computers in general. I’m saying that when I wanted to transfer the substantial inventories of my baseball card collection from one disk to another, so as to free up more room to expand the inventory (which ran in line-item to five digits), I had to type commands on a black and green screen using what was called PIP commands in the primordial word processing environment my obsessive documentation program was couched in.

PIP stood for “Program Interface Program” if I’m not mistaken. Sophisticated.

And O! The tactile joy of:

I had complained to my Dad about needed more blank disks for storing my files on. He said that there was a way to transfer files around, and he would find the manual for the program. The next night, he had found the manual, and I sat in front of the computer when I should have been in bed, typing in a series of command lines that eventually resulted in a file-transferring orgy between disks that took nearly an hour. I would later learn through experience that floppy disks, especially re-writable ones, would physically burn out if overused, and this led to adoption of a somewhat elaborate back-up system where I would back up files like “CURRENT INVENTORY 6” and “CURRENT INVENTORY 7” to a second location before trying to add “CURRENT INVENTORY 8” to their home disk. I had run some other command to check the available space on said home disk (labeled BASEBALL 3 on an adhesive label that came in the package with the blank disks) before attempting such a risky maneuver as floppy-to-floppy file transfer on old (1986 vintage) drives in 1993- I heard and watched the drives spin out and destroy disks a few times. My data, shredded! Drat! And such an unpleasant noise!

The tactile joy, though, the tactile joy!

-12:12 AM, 10/18/13 Alphabet City. Happy.

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Posted by ilbebe on September 14, 2013

It’s laid out in many ways: allegorically, metaphorically, mathematically, actually-

Simply put, it’s the distance from THERE to HERE, NOW. The gap between what you wish yourself and the world you see yourself being that way in,… and the way it is now. The disparity between the two scenarios, with the added consideration of a) how you see the gap, and b) how you feel about the gap.

The maddening, self-immolative path of asking yourself What is it that I want to be? and getting hung up on I have so many qualms with who I am now.

The shortest distance between point A and point B is a straight line, but straight line is an avenue of action that cannot be considered. There is no way any person at yr particular point A could consider a straight line.

(If that’s the case, is there any hope? Is there any hope in considering paths of an obscure nature??)

Yes. The self that sees you walking down the sidewalk thinking about the possibility that there is a version of you that is worth a damn is that person that is worth a damn. To see the fire potential in life is to light that fire, and be that fireman at the edge of the flame saying

Holy shit!! I’ve never seen a fire quite like this one…

-1:07AM, 9/14/13, home.

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Posted by ilbebe on August 22, 2013

Where is the story? And how would you tell it if you knew what it was?

I found myself in the dilemma of having an excellent if overlong title for a story that I didn’t know how to tell. The title was Flying Across the Country with Tractor Rape Chain on the Brain, and it germinated while it was happening- yesterday I flew from Oakland to Denver to Philadephia. It pretty well stopped after a nearly two-hour delay due to lightning storms in Denver, but for the initial Oakland to Denver stretch, I had Tractor Rape Chain on my mind. I’d listened to Bee Thousand twice in two days in anticipation  of flying to Pennsylvania to see my pal Joe; it’s one of his favorite albums, and in listening to it I became increasingly stoked on how much I was looking forward to the visit and also what a GODDAMN GREAT album Bee Thousand is.

It’s a mark of a great album that yr favorite song is constantly on the move, and this week it was the one that is most likely to get you put on a watch list if you ever unwittingly start singing it while walking past a school. I had ruminated on the unfairness of this- it was okay to sing along at peak volume while home alone, but rape is justifiably one of the words that can’t be yelled out in public without attracting negative attention.

“But I was just singing a Guided By Voices song, Officer!”

“Yeah, tell me more about these voices…have you been drinking? Any weapons on you?”

Without any such confrontation having taken place, it nonetheless made me wish that there was just a different word in the lyric.  I know that it would be a different song. But make it easier on us, Bob, pick a different metaphor, and we’ll still get it, and then we can sing along!

But it just wouldn’t have the same punch, wouldn’t be the same.

I think Bee Thousand is one of the great album titles, and up until today, I thought so mainly because I liked the sound of it, and that it was sufficiently and hiply vague. BUT THEN! Today, while trying to explain this whole scenario to Joe, how I was in the air over Utah thinking about society’s mores and good rock and roll and how good it was going to be to see him as I was then seeing him, a point that had come up earlier in our conversation came back to to me in stark illumination of a meaning behind Bee Thousand- there is so much. So so much. Think of the mind-bending visual array a bee’s eye perceives, and then multiply it by a thousand. That is somewhere near a half-decent description of how much there is in life at any given moment- a song a lyric a point of contention a Pall Mall a warm summer rain a damn dear friend…an understanding, a growth, another small piece of the big love that is life if you hang in there and live it.

This promise of infinite possibility was central to what Joe and I agreed was at the basis of what makes life good.  You can’t know for certain what someone else means, but in that it is open for interpretation there is the potential to craft a meaning that holds water for you, and that is the gift of art.

Don’t get me started on Hardcore UFOs, because, again, The Artist’s Dilemma-

Where is the story? And how would you tell it if you knew what it was?

-5:43PM 8/22/13, Joe’s place, Bethlehem PA. Really living again, and lovin’ it in jagged waves of exponentially increasing beauty.

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Posted by ilbebe on June 10, 2013

Have y’ been paying attention to the numbers? Have y’ been or are y’ becoming aware of the deep meaning that may or may not be residing within them, waiting simply for that moment to be recognized as the important signifiers they are to reveal to Y’; only but JUST what you have been waiting for!

And thus wish to see in them!

This is to say the numbers are there doing only as much as they’ve ever done- numberin’. They’ve gotten pretty good at it.

I didn’t want to talk to my Dad about moving away from Oakland, so I asked my Mom if I could borrow her van to haul what I hadn’t given away back to her house in the dreaded burbs. The moving-out process was a perfectly banal one-man non-waltz; that is, though I expected some great feeling to burst out at some point, the whole sequence of events played out as a singularly good job of putting one foot in front of the other for the first time in months.

I borrowed the van, left it in Oakland for a day while I went to a best friends’ wedding, woke up the morning after and packed it up. The old van has a tape player and a radio, and I laughed as I started it up and “I Can’t Drive 55” was the first song I heard. I’d expected some astonishingly poignant song to sum up the collapse of emotion I had expected to feel on giving up and moving back home to sort it out. This was but a small example of how much of my fate I’d invested in half-serious expectation of some weird miracle to lay out any sort of path for me to follow once I unpacked the van.

My memory collection had been sufficiently worked over in the moving process. I sold and gave away books, CDs, records, movies, pictures. I threw out old clothes; printouts of old emails; and napkins with children’s drawings on them. I couldn’t bring myself to sort through all the photos, so I packed those up without bothering to try and edit out all the parts of my past I felt would hinder moving past the present impasse I felt towards my future. This was the main goal of throwing out these things that I did throw out- breaking away from what I perceived was the ruinous conduct of my life to date that had led me to throw out a picture of two people given to an ex-girlfriend by her 4 year-old niece, which used to hang next to a picture that same ex-girlfriend had drawn in crayon on the back of a paper placemat from a “Greek” family restaurant in Milwaukee that was the only restaurant I’ve ever smoked a cigarette in. The drawing was of a friendly ghost.

For all the times in my life when I’d heard a good song and it made life recognizably better, and especially the times when I heard the right song at the right time, “I Can’t Drive 55?” Dissapointing; though, whether or not I wanted to admit it, apropo.

Halfway home, y’ go over a set of hills and y’ have to change classic rock stations to keep the sweet classic rock pouring into yr tired mission. The song that slowly crackled in once the switch was made was “Comfortably Numb”. Not amused.

I spent the whole first week in the burbs sleeping a lot, watching baseball, and taking walks after sunset, just as I’d intended to. I had some great dreams, the A’s won 6 of 9 over the stretch, and the walks around town after dark were lonesome but nice. It was a surprise to see how many cockroaches ran over the pavement, and more or less however much the town had changed it was the sleepy, hot burg I had expected. Next to a downtown plaza with a few up-and-coming businesses was an old, dilapidated house that was a meeting point for a good handful of young feral cats. I wanted to think that there might yet be enough mystery in the town to spark the mad desire for mystery in myself that I had been waiting to re-emerge for almost  a year.

My ninth day in town, the wind was roaring. Around midnight the clouds rolled in, and a little before one in the morning, the lightning started. I’ve seen lightning in Brentwood maybe five times in twenty years. I started counting Mississippi’s between the lightning and the thunder, the way I used to in New Hampshire. The formula is that for every second between lightning and thunder is how many miles away the lightning is, and when I was young in NH, it was thrilling to realize the lightning was getting closer. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I hope the sensation is not hard to imagine. Repeat: The lightning is getting closer.

My first count was 24 Mississippi’s. 24 miles away- ha. Out Here In The Great Central Valley, There’s Just So Much Goddamn Distance!! But it kept moving closer. The last fifteen minutes the storm was circling around me as I stood in my backyard. Dogs howled and car alarms went off. I smoked a cigarette and felt the first few drops of rain. When the lightning ceased and the rain started in unusual earnest for early June, I walked around in it and felt the germ of this writing grow.

I went back inside, tossed Rain Dogs on the turntable, and started writing.

Will I see myself again tonight?

Well, self, I guess if you really think yr still there, y’ must be.

-2:55AM, home in Brentwood. Bride of Rain Dog.

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Posted by ilbebe on April 28, 2013

Something I need to remember more often is that someone saved my life. When I think about the amount of time I’ve spent pondering my self-worth, it boggles my mind that I haven’t more time spent meditating on the fact that one time I actually might have died, but a friend saved my life.

I was 19. Bummed. It was a  Monday in February, it was cold. I was hanging out at the house where several friends including my ex-girlfriend lived, drinking vodka and feeling lonely and getting sloshed on a weekday for one of the first times ever as some some lame half-experiment/half-cry-for-help. Absolutely nothing memorable happened, and I passed out on my back on the living room floor. At some point in the middle of the night, my friend Stephanie heard an awful sound and rushed in to find me choking on vomit. She rolled me over and I started breathing again.

I’ve mentioned this story pretty casually to people over the years, but as I’m thinking about now it’s as if I’ve really considered it, as if the full gravity and significance of this have finally sunk in, after thirteen years. Just when you were hoping for a nice little bit of type of growth that happens when yr still growing.

There was a dream, ahh…

-1:18AM, 4/28/13, home, Avett Brothers, as has been the case for so many inspired moments over the past sixteen months.

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Posted by ilbebe on April 22, 2013

I will say that I’m pretty pleased with how my hair is looking these days. At this moment, my hair is as close as it’s ever been to the look I’ve secretly aspired to ever since 2005: Rick Danko in the Last Waltz. I’ve come close a few times, but this past week I’ve really been feeling it, and I think the secret may be the shampoo I started using two weeks ago, which I found under the bathroom sink at my apartment.

I was ready for a new chapter in my shampoo life; I’m pretty conservative with my usage, so for the past decade the average length of time a bottle of shampoo has lasted is around a year-and-a-half to two years. The bottle that just ran out I distinctly remember purchasing in November 2005, and hung on to it for six years before I started using it. In the interim, I won a bottle of shampoo from a prize wheel at the grand opening of a new Long’s in Brentwood, and received 3/4 of a bottle from my Mom, who couldn’t explain it’s presence in the guest bathroom and gave it to me.

I guess the point is that hair care is something I am not too picky about, and when I realized in February that I was going to run out of shampoo in the next few months, I figured I’d find a new one under the bathroom sink, under which there’s perhaps ten years worth of cleaning supplies and personal care products purchased by past residents of my apartment. I coulda sworn there was a nearly full bottle of White Rain under there, but I couldn’t find it, and if one of my roommates threw it out, I guess I don’t blame them- there was some mold on the bottle the last time I saw it. Instead I found an unexpected treat, “Shampoo Sidal Hidraloe Neuvo”. The label is in Spanish, which has brought a slight smile to my face every time I’ve picked it up.

Anyhow, I was just thinking about how happy I am re:my hair and it occurred to me I could use an internet translation to confirm my suspicion about the Spanish word next to the date 01-Jun-2007 on my new shampoo. My hunch proved correct, vence does in fact mean expires.

I’ve been using some Spanish-labeled shampoo that expired six years ago, and it’s got me feeling pretty good about my looks.

“Put on Pinkerton and write about it!” -my internal monologue circa half-an-hour ago

Writing the important ones,


-1:23am 4/22/13, home, now listening to Weird Al “Lasagna” thanks to the alphabet! This chapter brought to you by the letter W.

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Posted by ilbebe on February 18, 2013

It came to thinking about my mojo tonight.

I was outside, thinking about how writing is crucial to making me feel whole, and I thought Man, Not Writing Is Affecting My Mojo!

Then I thought Shit, Did I Just Use The Term Mojo In My Inner Dialogue? That’s Fucking Ridiculous.

That I might be subcounsciously thinking about Austin Powers more than I knew was a troubling notion.

But I was laughing.

I have found the most crushing aspect of depression to be the feeling I adopt that I can’ write when I’m down, can’t write when I’m sad. Saying to myself repeatedly, obliquely: I want to write positive things, and I can’t write it unless it’s real…how can I make it real again?

This is how you start to convince yrself that yr own life doesn’t have worth. However, one kernel of knowledge I’ve gained from numerous turns through the cycle of depression is simply that they end. I always find myself teetering on the edge of going nuts because I can’t remember how I snap out of depressions; I know that I’ve done it before, but I can’t for the life of me remember what the catalysts for change are. How can I not remember such an important lesson? It is a fucking intense feeling the first time you feel like you understand the phrase “It’s enough to drive you nuts” in a mature way that basically refers to your ability to maintain your own sanity. One step beyond! I’ll have the mackerel!

Somewhere along the trajectory I finally accumulate enough little moments to allow me to write when I’m down. I can tell myself it’s okay to write and be down, to write and not end on a happy note. You can write whatever you want.

Several years ago now, on o a day that looked like rain in the midst of the worst depression of my life, I started drinking around 9am and walked from where I was staying in Alameda to the Coliseum to see a dollar Wednesday afternoon game. I brought a sprite bottle with Old Crow in it, which was wrapped up in an extra sweatshirt in my backpack. I was sorta nervous about trying to sneak booze in, and also sorta nervous about what the hell I was doing drunk and walking to a baseball game I didn’t care about just for something to do.

Walking up towards the box office a guy offered me a ticket which I declined at first, but when he said he was just giving it away, I figured I might as well save a dollar and took it. The guy then shuffled off pretty quickly, which I self-consciously assumed was because he had smelled the booze on me and was fleeing the scene of a grave mistake. This amplified my nerves about the booze in my backpack being discovered, so I killed a few minutes trying to act normal. At the gate my backpack wasn’t even checked.

I go find my seat and am amazed to discover the guy who gave me the ticket sitting next to me. He seemed startled, and luckily I had no room to shame myself for startling him, as I was instantly consumed by the realization that I had not considered that our tickets would bring us together again. Thoughts of the Jesus, What Is Wrong With Me? variety, but the kind that usually turn into a good gonzo laugh. We sat there for a tense minute before the guy said something about going to get something and leaving his seat. He never came back. The game went into a rain delay in the fifth inning that it never came out of, and as the rest of the crowd gradually left their seats to wait out the delay under the eaves, I sat in my free seat and drank Old Crow out of a Sprite bottle.

-11:15pm 2/18/13, home

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Posted by ilbebe on October 27, 2012

Something I’ve always blamed my early adulthood in Arcata for was a strong aversion to some sound ideas that for better or worse find themselves expressed very commonly on bumper stickers. In fact, much of their attendant vocabulary similarly raises my guard to this day- I will probably be forever wary of people using the word ‘community’, which after much deliberation, I have decided is just an unfortunate reality and not, as I have sometimes feared when I think about it, evidence of a hopeless heart of stone.

The upside to this whole condition is that I can still be knocked over when, alone at home on a Saturday, listening to some great tunes makes me nostalgic in the best way, the way that traverses a weird variety over the spectrum of good and bad feelings, and think about simple phrases in a nice little way that I haven’t done too many times before.

Love life.

-10:43PM 10/27/12, home.

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Posted by ilbebe on August 17, 2012

There have been plenty of times that a trip out of town has gone awry and beer has not been to blame, but I never thought that would be the case for the night I spent in Milwaukee.

It was October 2008, and I was visiting my girlfriend S in Chicago. S was nineteen, and had a great sense of humor. We had had met on a train about two months earlier, and despite my reservations about getting into a long-distance relationship, we went for it. We talked and texted on a daily basis, and that was my first experience dealing with extended text conversations. Those were difficult on the dinosaur cell phone I had, and she was constantly berating me to program the T9 capability so that I could respond at the same pace she was accustomed to. This I always brushed aside, and tried to spin it as one of the numerous charming aspects of being with someone of the older generation. The debate never resolved, but in any case we generated a ridiculous amount of MC names via text banter. Based on the example a friend of hers had set, we formed a band that didn’t exist just as a repository for song titles that crossed our minds. We named it Chronic One-Uppers, after our mutual tendency to try raising the bar when countering each other’s stories, and we made a MySpace page. Did I mention it was 2008? We were both determined to hit upon some million-dollar internet-based idea as our long-term plan for success amidst the ever-unfolding economic collapse. The country’s ever more evident financial woes played  a large part in the whimsical decision making process I was utilizing at the time, and I felt very romantic as I quit my job and extended the visit  I’d planned to see S around Halloween. It was going to be the second time we’d spent time in person.

In the weeks leading up to my visit, we had joked about me renting a 70’s Caddy from some vintage agency so that we could cruise the South Side in style, but given my recent self-imposed unemployment, I had to be realistic and reserve an economy car. The joke then became that at least when you’re driving a Kia, no one mistakes your girlfriend for a ho. I wound up with a Chevy, but it had a decidedly Kia-esque lack of character.

The first day I drove to Calumet City as part of an ongoing cheesy mission to get closer to the characters in the Blues Brothers. I was also keen on finding a hat to complete my Halloween costume, which I was calling “Failing Private Eye”. When I landed in Chicago, the costume consisted of my only suit, a lengthy backstory I was prepared to give anyone ready to listen, and a picture of a muppet I had torn out of the in-flight magazine that I decided was a picture of the guy I was looking for. The outfit really needed a hat to tie it together, and I figured the fictional home of Jake and Elwood Blues would supply just a hat. I didn’t expect to pick it up at the Burlington Coat Factory, but who cares about that part?

I found driving in and around Chicago to be really frustrating, so the use of the Chevy in-town was limited to one evening where S and I rolled over to the Gold Coast after midnight to pick up some crusty friends of hers who were staying with a drug dealer. We got rippin’ high and drove aimlessly around town for hours, at one point passing an all-night pumpkin patch on Fullerton. I wanted to turn around and check it out, but S successfully convinced us that it must be crawling with lowlifes, so what element of society demands/supports a 24-hour pumpkin patch remains beyond my knowledge. I ran a stop sign that I didn’t see at one point and freaked everybody out, and they were unamused by me trying to play it off as “part of the fun”.

Anyhow, the main reason I had rented the car was to make a voyage up to Milwaukee the night before Halloween. S had to work again, so we didn’t leave Chicago until after eight. The original plan of stopping by her old hometown to meet her folks was canceled due to the late departure, leaving us no real agenda once we got to Beer Town other than to get a hotel room, get hammered, chain smoke, and hopefully find COPS on TV. The first crimp put into this plan came when I stopped at a convenience store and found the beer cooler locked up. Noting the thick glass protecting the cashier, I figured we must be in a rough part of town where the cooler had to be unlocked by request. The cashier responded to this request with the terse and cryptic “After nine.” He repeated this statement several times, and, thinking I was just dealing with an asshole, I left, resolving to find a friendlier store. I went back to the car and grumbled to S about the jerk in the store, and the color drained out of her face.

“Oh shit, babe. I forgot. You can’t buy beer after nine.”

I’d considered stocking up before leaving Chicago just in case such a stupid law existed, but I worried about being judged a paranoid alcoholic, so I demurred. Now my paranoid alcoholic fears had proven well-founded, and I was in disbelief.

“Aren’t you from this Goddamn state? Why didn’t you tell me that?”

“Babe, I’ve never bought beer.”

Idiot, what are you doing in Wisconsin with a teenager? Why did you quit your job? You’d better hope the economy collapses and the credit record is erased like you’re counting on. My first night in Milwaukee and I can’t get a beer, what is wrong with my life?

“Sorry, I didn’t think about it,” she said. “We’ve got that Vicodin…”

This was true. A friend of hers with some sort of connective tissue disorder had given us a criminal amount of painkillers and muscle relaxants. All was not lost. But I had to ask…

“Well, you mind if I stop into a bar really quick just to grab a beer?”

“And leave me waiting in the car?”

It was worth a try.

While we commenced searching for a motel, S revealed that while she had been to Milwaukee several times, there was really only one part of town she was familiar with. This was the area surrounding Marquette U and The Rave, a venue she’d been to a few times. This irritated me; when we’d discussed visiting Milwaukee and what we might do while there, she had portrayed her familiarity of the city along the lines of “Oh yeah, I’ve been there a bunch of times”. While this was technically true, the fact that she hadn’t explored the town beyond the campus area further drove home the point that she was nineteen and I couldn’t get a beer.

We stopped at the first place we came past. The Village Inn fit the description of the sort of place I was looking for, i.e. cheap. We were buzzed into the front office, where the desk clerk grumped behind the counter while some guy sat watching a small black-and-white TV in the minuscule area on the customer side of the lobby. I started getting a clearer picture of the sort of lodging we were signing up for when despite my paying with a credit card, the clerk asked for both of our IDs to make a copy of. The impression deepened when we saw the room.

The lightswitch by the door did nothing for us, nor did the bathroom light. Instantly full of trepidation, I had to step slowly to the middle of the room while S held the door open to find a light that worked. The pale light revealed that the headboard of the bed was gone, though a jagged half of the two-by-four it had been mounted on dangerously remained. There was an impressive array of tears in the carpet and cigarette burns in the comforter.

“I think this is a hooker motel,” I remarked to S.

“I’m getting the same feeling.”

“I think my California ID made me look like a John.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, next to your Wisconsin ID that still has the under-18 stripe on it…”

Even with an economy rental car, my girlfriend had been mistaken for a ho. Milwaukee was not a complete bust; in the morning we took a nice stroll along the Lake Michigan waterfront, had breakfast at a crummy restaurant where I could smoke inside that gave me my change in three two-dollar bills, and visited the Miller Brewery, which was fucking wonderful. But that first night, as I lolled around on Vicodin, chain-smoking in a hooker motel and listening to for-pay sex through the wall, I should have anticipated the reaction of a Marquette student we encountered back in Chicago when we told him where we stayed.

“Oh shit, that place? And you didn’t have any beer or heroin?”

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