Longform

NIGHT IN A LOG CABIN

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The best way to describe the inside of this sin den is to say that it is a place you don't want to go; it's 100 square feet of spent desperation and half-assed evil. Brown carpeting sporting stains and coagulations of varying shapes, sizes and densities. Cheap white drywall. Ripped curtain. TV mounted on the wall. It is sticky. You know what the air smells like when you open a refrigerator that's been closed and unplugged all summer? Exactly. I turn on the air conditioner, which makes the air loud instead of cool.

Tim's cabin, Number 2, is a different story. Here, the essence of log cabin is still alive--if not particularly well. The walls are the original dark varnished redwood, and the odor of stale sweat and cigarette smoke is not too overpowering. I try to imagine what it used to be like. I do this for about 15 seconds and give up.

What to do now? Maybe my wife was right. Maybe this was just a pointless exercise in unpleasantness. We sit out on the steps of my log cabin as the last golden rays of the sun sweep across the fake brick water well and the Log Cabin Motel sign. The sign is painted with faded green pine trees and has shards of dead neon tubing hanging from it. Someday someone will take this thing down and sell it as folk art for a lot of money in Los Angeles or New York.

An older woman strolls by wearing a tee shirt a few sizes too small. "Real Women Love Jesus," it says. A hooker--sorry, ho--walks by, a Rubensesque black woman with a bovine gait and a package of Kools sticking out of her shorts. She looks about as bored as we are. And then, like the Wizard of Oz emerging from behind the screen, the owner of the mysterious voice behind the one-way mirror makes himself known. Actually, he's a diminutive Asian man with a slight gut and beige polyester pants stepping out of a side door to light up a smoke. We shake hands with Taiwan's own Jim Chien, current manager of the Log Cabin Motel, U.S. of A.

Jim has had many predecessors since the LCM was erected back in '39. Folks with names like Marion Pike, Mrs. H.W. Overell, Walter and Elenor Sayers, L.J. Ackerman, Norbert and Barbara Warpach, and Al Kasney. People who didn't have to worry about patrons unloading weapons into rooms, or if the porn was coming through clearly on the set in cabin 8. Jim's job is no piece of cake, but it's the best thing he could get, he explains, with his limited command of English. Yet he knows things were different, once.

"One man tell me, he come here 40 years ago for honeymoon, nice then," says Jim, dragging on his Marlboro. "But now, they all drunk. People come here to make fun. One room, it was filled with grease, everywhere grease, everywhere you touch. Vaseline. On the TV, on the ceiling. You walk in, you slip, you slide. I don't know how they make fun with grease."

He looks down the row of cabins as a lowrider burns past bellowing a shifting soundtrack of bass-driven hip-hop. "Time has killed the beauty. But the wood is still good." A pickup truck pulls up, and Jim heads back to the office. A guy goes in while his female friend waits in the truck; he comes out and they motor down the driveway, park, and slip into cabin 14 (there is no cabin 13 here; that would be bad luck). They do not unpack any luggage. They come out and leave in just under 15 minutes, probably not bound for the Grand Canyon or the Painted Desert. Jim returns, tells us what that was all about. "He said he needed shower. I charge him 12 bucks." So much for the Cleavers. We coerce Jim into letting us check out the room, in search of--what? Grease? The lights are on, the bed partially unmade, there is a towel crumpled on the night stand. We all stand in the doorway taking in the scene as the TV broadcasts channel 4's hard-core humping and pumping to a cabin filled with nobody. Mark Psomas is the Norm Abrams of the Log Cabin Motel, the man responsible for fixing walls, sinks, showers, toilets and whatever else gets destroyed by cabin dwellers on an almost nightly basis. He and his wife, Beth, live here, as does Jim and his family, a little group of people just doing their jobs so that others may stop in and screw by the hour. Psomas shows us the cabin he's refurbishing. ("The bathroom's too tight, but to build this today would cost a mint. These are inch-thick redwood planks.") Outside night has fallen, and the procession of whores is picking up. We step out of the cabin as Jim, ever the gracious host, offers refreshments. "You like pop?" He returns with Diet Pepsis and hands out butts. "Have cigarette, we make fun." So here we all are, making fun in the driveway of the Log Cabin Motel. It's all pretty innocuous; it seems we're in this little enclave of humanity having a swell time. Hard to believe.

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Peter Gilstrap
Contact: Peter Gilstrap