By Andrew Ramirez
The Sofitel Hotel in downtown Chicago is French-themed and perfumed. From street level, it’s angular and tall, a modern and narrow structure cutting upward in the sky. The sharp exterior is confirmed by the buildings dim interior halls ending it points instead of walls. At breakfast in the downstairs lobby, the waiters serve pastries and black coffee out of French-press pitchers. The bar has free-standing steel ashtrays throughout, waiters running in circles balancing trays of absinthe on their shoulders, a giant clock ticking over the bar like something out of a comic book where a mustachioed man pushes a note into the detective’s pocket—your pocket—and says, Run Run Run.
It was my brother’s wedding. In the early afternoon I had had my tux on, with my tie knotted all the way up, no buttons undone. Earlier that day we had taken pictures, smiled, hugged one another, and climbed into a white Excursion limo outside the Sofitel bound for St. Michael’s Church, and then to Salvatore’s for the reception dinner. A few people shuffled through pieces of paper and read their speeches. I toasted the bride and groom, winged it, called their relationship organic and visceral and headed for the open bar.
Five hours later I’m lying face down in the hotel hallway outside of room 702, alone and wondering what time it is, where my jacket has run off to, missing a cufflink from my sleeve and feeling a general sense of unease when I look up and notice for a second time that these hotel walls end in points instead of walls. I’m certain of a few things: the Russian feeding me vodka at the bar wasn’t a part of the wedding party; the woman who told me I downright looked like my brother was startled when I slurred back I am my brother. It’s boiled down to this: I am sunk knee-deep in classic wedding night quicksand with no bed, no jacket, no sense of anywhere to go but down, down, how far?
I had taken the plane out of LAX at six in the morning but the shuttle picked me up from the house on Menlo at three. No clothes packed, forty-five minutes of sleep stuffed into my head, the phone was jammed to my ear and the voice was telling me the shuttle was outside.
“We’re outside, sir.”
“We?” I said. “What do you mean we?”
“It’s a shuttle not a cab. Other people have to catch their flights too.”
“Five minutes,” I said. I fell out of bed and reached under it for my suitcase. I opened a few drawers and threw things into the suitcase. Then I pulled on a bottle of mouthwash and put my head under the bathroom faucet. My breath had whiskey on it. I spat it all out. Luckily I was dressed; I had woken up in my clothes. After saying sorry and pardon me to the other riders, I collapsed in the back seat and started to snore. I started to dream that my suitcase was crammed with knives and bullets and box cutters in assorted sizes and colors. There was a disassembled AK-47 in my carry on. I dreamt that my passport had a picture of a dark and bearded man wearing a picnic cloth for a turban. The dogs started to bark at me in the security line, a few men dressed as Nazis approached and pulled their Lugers. I put my hands up and a large amount of cocaine fell out of my trouser legs. One of the Nazis holstered his piece and pinned me the ground. Another held the mace to my face for a long time. My eyes bled out onto the blue tile, mixed with the cocaine, and formed a pool of red and white and blue, eventually the American flag. Then the military arrived and—in a blur of green and yellow—was gunning everyone down, not just me but the entire airport, roaring with laughter, scattered applause, the national anthem playing over the loudspeakers but in German.
“AMERICAN AMERICAN” I was screaming, out of breath and kicking the two shuttle-goers in front of me. “GOD DAMNIT I’M AMERICAN!” My tears tasted salty.
“Okay,” the driver said, and dropped me off at the American Airlines terminal.
I jolted upright, out of sleep for a second time but this time from turbulence. The lady in the middle seat was praying a rosary.
“This plane is going to crash,” she said.
“Holy shit,” I said.
She finished a Hail Mary and leaned over me to look out of the window. “It’s an exercise: This plane is going to crash.”
“I’m not ready to die,” I said. “This is terrible luck. When’s the last time an airplane crashed?”
“This plane is going to crash,” she said again.
“Can you please stop saying that?”
“In a few minutes, we’re all gonna be vapor.” She made her hand into a fist and slowly opened it. “Vaporized.”
The plane dipped hard. The pilot came over the intercom and sounded nervous. “Flight attendants take your seats.”
“Say it,” she said. “This plane is going to crash.”
I figured what the hell. “This plane is going to crash.”
“I’m a certified reverse psychologist. Did you know reverse psychology doesn’t just apply to human-to-human interaction? Did you know that? I teach a course on it at UCLA.”
“This plane is going to crash,” I said again.
“Good,” she said. She didn’t strike me as a witch or a gypsy. She was wearing a business suit instead of a loose one-piece dress. She was putting her rosary back in her briefcase. Gypsys aren’t Catholic. The man in the aisle seat next to her was asleep. “Try this one,” she said. “In a few minutes I’m gonna be nothing but dust and bone.”
“In a few minutes I’m gonna be nothing but dust and bone.”
“How do you feel?”
“Good.” The plane did one-fourth of a barrel roll.
“That’s the point. Keep saying it. Look at my husband.” She patted the sleeping man’s gut. “This stuff doesn’t even wake him up. He’s probably dreaming about drowning in the middle of the ocean or getting hit by a train. The more you practice it and the more you expect the absolute worst, the better you get at dealing with silly things like turbulence.” She smiled. “He teaches a summer seminar at Chico State.”
“How’d you learn all this stuff?”
Ignoring me: “Or this one: After this plane crashes into the ground, my funeral is gonna have to be closed-casket.”
I repeated it word for word.
“Are you scared?” she said.
“Not at all. I’m actually kind of thirsty. When does drink service start up again?”
“You should enroll in my class.”
“I go to USC.”
“Oh a Trojan?” she said.
“Hey,” I said. “What’s the story with the rosary? Is that just in case? Plan B?”
“What are you, some kind of gypsy?”
I met my family at the baggage claim and we took a cab downtown to the Sofitel. It was overcast and threatening to rain. But the hotel was clean and all the carpeting was soft and freshly vacuumed. I fell face down on my hotel bed in room 702 and didn’t wake up for five hours.
When I did come to, I was holding a margarita and toasting my brother and his soon-to-be wife. They were smiling and I started to think of home and how it used to be when my brothers and mom and dad had all lived in the same house. Our family was getting older. My oldest brother had just turned thirty. The middle one was getting married. And I—hours earlier—had asked for a closed-casket funeral. Times were getting stranger. My uncles were all losing their hair. My dad has been bald for years. I remembered the day I found out one of my uncles wore a hairpiece. My father was nearing sixty. My grandfather was in his eighties. All the people in my life, including myself, were getting deeper and deeper in that black and goopy stuff called time. I’ve always known myself to be a mess, but what about the people I’m following? I’ve always trusted the person in front of me but what’s the person in front of me walking toward? I shuddered and wrapped up my toast. The crowd applauded and I sat down and finished my margarita, then another, a few more after that.
I’m face down in the hallway. I’ll have the pictures to look at later. It’s not my wedding. I gave a good toast. I did my part, I did my part. I hear stumbling in the hallway, my brother comes and picks me up. I’m back in the room. I’m back in my hotel bed. This hallway doesn’t have a wall, it has a point. I’m back under the covers. I didn’t walk to the end of the hall. I should have walked to the point. I’m going back to LA in the morning. I like Chicago. I think I learned a lot. Where’s my jacket? Has anyone seen a cufflink? There is a point at the end of the hallway, it’s an architectural choice, but I never got to it.