CHAPTER ONE

Checking Out

   

Today is Monday.  Again.  
    I’m broke, broken and cold as hell.  I would give anything for a decent set of wheels and a future.  But I have neither, except in wistful moments when I allow myself a brief indulgence of hope.  So here I stand, my toes pressing the curb through second-hand sneakers.  Leaning into the icy gusts of passing traffic I wait for the 8:11am local in this has-been, rustbelt city.  This bus, number forty-seven, is a hulking reminder of a bygone era.  It gulps diesel fuel by the gallon and farts thick, acrid exhaust on every grade and with the least exertion.  When the snorting beast finally arrives, it splashes grimy, four-lane gutter wash on my frozen ankles.  
    Perfect.  
    But don’t feel sorry for me.  I don’t.  I did this to myself.    
    You see, my story is as twisted and colorful as the ink and needle artwork etched neatly into the subcutaneous layers of my skin.  It all started about two years and three thousand miles ago.  The small, intricate design on the back of my neck turned out to be the swan song of a ten tooth, fifty-one-year-old hippie who earned a meager living as a tattoo artist.  The deed was consummated somewhere deep in the bowels of San Francisco.  I wasn’t conscious at the time so I can’t tell you the full details of what happened or why.  All I can say is that I have always had a knack for adventure mostly those that are not of my choosing – and cheap scotch whiskey.  The latter being definitely of my choosing.
    I finally awoke, days later, to the stench of the old man’s corpse.  He was slumped over a large, crumpled Zip Lock baggie – his personal stash.  A last supper of seeds and stems.  It didn’t take long before a little voice told me to run.  I have no idea it was real or imagined.  It was later that day that I noticed the tattoo.  And years later that I found out what it represented.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. 
    With a raucous hiss, the bus kneels and delivers me to my destination - the Hotel Macungie Falls, where I shed my coat, and settle in for a long shift at the front desk.  The Mac, as it is known by the locals, is both my workplace and safe haven.  Much like a discarded Sunday paper, windblown against a twisted chain-link fence in the middle of nowhere, I found myself on the doorstep of the Mac, carried by the winds of fate.  Or so I thought at the time.  
    It was a year ago today.  As I turned twenty-eight, my luck and money ran out, surrendering the last of my cash for a room at the Mac to hide out for a day or so.   I was marooned for good when my rusted, ‘86 Corolla passed effortlessly into Toyota heaven without a whimper.  It gave up the ghost in the front parking lot of the hotel, dwarfed on both sides by identical, oversized Ford 450 Super Duty pickups bearing the obnoxious logo of a national waste management firm.  I swear the brutes beat the crap out of my little Japanese car in the middle of the night when no one was looking.  Just for the fun of it.  
    Bastards.          
    Luckily the hotel needed a clerk and I needed to eat.  So I took the job, moved into a dilapidated four-story tenement in the nearby city.  And so for the last year, I’ve pressed the clutch of life to the floor and allowed myself to coast.  Checked out.  But truth be told, I’ve recently discovered new opportunities and adventures in this God-awful place.  In particular, I’ve set my sights on a certain waitress named Melissa.  She works on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the hotel’s restaurant.  
    And today is Monday – again