The feet of dead people

About five years ago I was staying at this bad hotel on the edge of Denver.  It was a cheap hotel so I should have expected it to be bad.  Like my father says, “You always get what you pay for” which is true except, when it comes to hotels, I think the benchmark should be different.  All hotels should be good and after that, if you pay more, it should just get better.  But this was a bad hotel. I booked a smoking room and they gave me a non-smoking room.  “Nothing else available,” they said.  “Just smoke in there, man.  And leave the window open.”  So I did and I got cold and kept waiting for the smoke alarm to go off or someone to come in and bust me.

 

There was one good thing though; you could see the Rockies from my window. I rang home all the way to Australia and I told my wife and kids that I can see the Rockies from my window but the kids were too young to get it and my wife sounded like she wasn’t really that interested.  Like she did about everything these days.   I wished I hadn’t wasted that picture of the Rockies on her; it spoiled it somehow.

 

Anyway, soon after that I went to the bar in the hotel.  I ordered a Millers Draught because it was American beer and I was having my first night in America.  There was one other guy at the bar and no one else even in the lounge seats.  After a couple of Millers I felt like talking to him.  I had an American beer and I wanted to talk to an American.  But I couldn’t think of anything to say and he didn’t even look my way like he was not interested in knowing who I was or what I was doing there.

 

Then I heard this laughing and talking and when I looked to the foyer I could see a group of Indians in full traditional dress walking out of the hotel. “Shit,” I thought, “I really am in America.”  One of the Indians wore a full feather headdress so I figured he was the chief. Then I remembered seeing a poster about a Pow Wow going on in town.  I wanted to know what that was all about.

 

I turned to the silent man at the bar.  “Do you know what that’s all about?” I asked.  He didn’t even look at the foyer or me.  “Just some Indian shit,” he said.  It wasn’t much of a start but it got the ball rolling.  Soon we were talking pretty easily.  When he found I was from Australia, he said with some animation, “Did you know that Australia has more marsupials than any other country on Earth?” The fact seemed to cheer him up for some reason. “We’ve only got one,” he laughs. “A fucking possum!”

 

He is 48 years old; he’s been a railway inspector for a quarter of a century.  “It’s all I know, Man,” he tells me. Lost the sight in one eye in ’84 and had to give up painting. The inspector’s son was the best pitcher in Trenton, Nebraska, won a scholarship to Dodge City, Kansas but gave it up for love and came home to his dad while his girlfriend studied to be a mortician. And his daughter, who was Miss Hometown Queen, got in a car crash that left her with scars and a bad neck.  Now she works as a dental assistant. “I didn’t know Australia fought in Vietnam,” he says later.

 

There was television on the wall and the news was on.  It showed a bomb blast somewhere and there were bodies strewn over this road near a market.  The American said to me, “What do you look at when you see a dead body on TV or in the newspaper or somewhere?” I really tried to think about that but I was getting drunk and I told him I didn’t know where I looked.  “You gotta look somewhere,” he said and I said I guessed so but somehow I couldn’t remember where I looked, at the blood, I suppose.  “I always look at their socks,” he said.

 

He went silent for a while.  Then he looked at me over his beer and he laughed a bit.  “Now why the fuck would I look at their socks?” He seemed genuinely interested in this.  I went to say something but he interrupted and said, “You know, it just seems such a dumb thing to do on the day you’re gonna die.  Put on your socks.  Why the fuck would you even care!”

 

“They don’t know they are going to die,” I offered.  He looked at me with a faint air of contempt.  “I fuckin’ know that,” he said. “But we’re are all fuckin’ dying. It’s the socks I don’t get. It’s all the fuckin’ little things like socks.” Later he said he had to make a phone call. I waited for about half an hour but he didn’t come back so I went up to my room.

 

I was drunk and hungry now but I was tired too; the flight was catching up on me.  I threw my clothes on the floor and climbed into bed in my underpants. The sheets were cool.  There was a fight going on in the car park and I thought how wonderful it was that beyond my curtain lay the snow-capped Rockies and the great big country of America.  Then I missed my family and wished my wife would cheer up a bit.  I wondered why she was always sad lately and I felt this little knot of fear in my stomach. Then I realised I still had my socks on; I took them off and soon I was asleep.

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16 Comments

Filed under life, loss

16 responses to “The feet of dead people

  1. Love these little slices of life you so willingly and courageously offer up. Moments of verite realism that have an effortless and uncontrived sense of authenticity, making us believe we are THERE. Simple, but profound and utterly convincing.
    Thanks, as always…

  2. Kym

    Jeez, those endings get to me. I read along enjoying myself and then, WHAM, you hit me with the final sentence and I’m breathless on the edge of my comfort zone.

  3. Nikki

    Take it from me – NEVER talk to Americans. You will ALWAYS end up wondering why your sense of humor has been assassinated and you will ALWAYS end up panicking about socks. We are ever-concerned about trivialities like socks and boxers and the question of boxers vs. briefs, or worse, boxer-briefs!

    On a more serious note, this was poignant and very human. If more people could sense nuances like the ones you have described and if more people could see things with such clarity and subtle humor I think we would all be okay. As it stands I don’t think we’re quite okay, but stories like this will make us more okay one reader at a time.

  4. You really have a way of pulling your readers in right there with you. I agree with all the comments above. You are an incredible story teller and more.

  5. Tim

    I have this overwhelming sense of regret that I didn’t happen to sit in on that barstool conversation, at least to eavesdrop. Granted, it would have been odd since I don’t live in Denver, don’t drink, and would have no reason to have stopped into the hotel bar.

    Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t have provided anything nearly as profound as the observation about socks and feet. I’d have been more likely to have wandered over to talk to the Indians, and then come back and given a detailed report of what was going on, the history, and probably said something politically incorrect here or there.

    It’s probably just as well that I’m stuck here in Kentucky. 🙂 – Tim

  6. As someone who spent much of his working life ‘on the road’ I can relate to your well told little story.
    I always found bars in the USA so depressing with their rows of stools supporting all those big fat arses. 😀

  7. It’s funny how a conversation with a total stranger can stick in your mind and even affect your behavior. Have you given up socks altogether?
    WC

  8. S

    For some reason, this makes me think of being in Ireland and hanging out with an Australian girl. I don’t know why, as we didn’t get drunk or have “deep” conversation. But, we did have a lot of fun, she spent a lot of time attempting to imitate my “American accent”, and we were daredevils… so to speak.

    You Aussies really know how to travel.

  9. – Thanks for the feedback, Cliff – I do at least aim for a “sense of authenticity” but wonder if it is ever truly possible to write honestly if we can’t live that way.
    – Kym, I am going to have to watch those endings! They’re actually starting to sound like a health risk (but I love your consistent feedback). 🙂
    – Thanks, Nikki – I sometimes think that most people actually do sense these nuances in their everyday life; it’s just more difficult to articulate them and then draw together various threads to create a shared experience through writing. As you know, that is one tough gig!
    – Well, your nomination of this blog for a Bloggers Choice award was totally unexpected, Jane, and kind of special coming at the time of my 100th post. I always think of this blog as somewhat modest in the scheme of things and am very gratified when people like you show such enjoyment of what I write. Thankyou!
    – Tim, as you can see, I have been pondering your advice regarding the nature of Blogging and the opportunity it creates to bring audience and performer together in a more intimate experience. Dammit, I think you are right!
    – Hi John – I’m afraid that most Australian Bars (in cities, at least) resemble those of America. One of the joys of travelling through England is stopping by any hamlet or town’ s pub and tasting the “local brew.” Up there with Shakespeare as a crowning example of the English contribution to civilisation!
    – Well, WC, putting on socks proved a more lasting habit than putting off my wife.
    – You’re right, S – Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders seem to inhabit every part of the globe. In Venice one Christmas Day I practised my best Italian (very bad) on a passerby, asking where the nearest church was. Back came a very recogisable Australian drawl with “Nah, sorry, mate, I don’t live around here.”

  10. Been a while Oscar.
    I keep finding myself lost in your writing, having a hard time in how to take it in. It isn’t glamorous, or built upon a thesaurus of words.

    Its simple, elegant, and it hits home with emotion, realism, and I genuinely can’t tell when you make up stories or have really experienced them.

    You are a wonderful modern day story teller my friend, and I hope to someday pick up your book at Borders.

  11. Thanks, Jo – I appreciate your feedback because I respect your talent.
    Zaid! You’re back! I’d thought you were long gone and not to return. But I did sometimes wonder how things were with you. I hope you are still writing and that your life is good.

  12. Matt

    Tomorrow, I’m going to Phoenix and booked a flight that stops in Denver. So I decided to google a picture of Denver out of sheer boredom and stumbled upon this interesting little story. I just started reading the first sentence to see what it was without any intention of reading the entire story and ended up reading it like three times haha. I don’t know exactly what it is about your writing my friend, but you turned a really (kind of) boring story into a thought provoking, entertaining, and nearly inspirational experience. Cheers

  13. kat

    wow intresting.

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