my time in the land of the untouchables.

I go upstairs, and the hallway upstairs smells like pork chops, and there’s an open door with a half naked fat man leaning next to the window, possibly eating pork chops, though I didn’t see any….


by paul ash


So at around 6.30pm I arrive at the Motel Unicorn Inn. Here in the heart of the land of the untouchables. Untouchables in the east indian sense, not the gangster kind.

This is a temporary place, caught static pressed into the shadow of it’s own consequence. In the spent off motels offering hourly turning beds to the sidewalk furniture, or weekly rates and family rooms to imaginary Americans passing through on the way to somewhere else. To lousy $2.99 Chinese lunchrooms, stoic and slow so much they don’t care if you come back, against a background of sex shops flashing through the cracks between car dealerships and convenience stores.

All hidden in plain view if you want to see it, like an old family secret every one knows but won’t talk about.

So when I go in the clerk turns around in his chair from the magazine, and looks me over from across the room with a drooping face and some sort of white scum caking across his lower lip. And also there’s one of those guys you see sitting around in motel lobbies, or anyplace else you find them with a waiting room, and he looks at me like I’m going to rob the place, or do something interesting, until he figures I’m not and goes back to absently eating his 7-11 hot dog.

So I tell the caking clerk I want a room for the night, and his voice comes back at me paper thin like a horse parody of itself, like he’s playing a musty clerk who should be wearing a bow tie on the television or something, and he tells me, The room will be thirty five dollars plus a five dollar key deposit.

I nod, which makes him pull a form from one of the boxes they keep on the wall for such a purpose, and he says, There are no refunds, so I nod again, which makes him pull out the key that has the number 201 taped on it.

And he looks at the key, and he says, I want you to take a look at the room before you pay, which makes me ask him if there’s anything wrong with the room, and he says, No they’re just a little worn out inside.

So I go upstairs, and the hallway upstairs smells like pork chops, and there’s an open door with a half naked fat man leaning next to the window, possibly eating pork chops, though I didn’t see any.

And also there’s sitting on the edge of the bed, a withered girl in a torn slip wearing eyes twice her age staring at the blank wall from the kind of face you make, when you try to forget the part of Time when she knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.

There are two knobs I guess on my door for extra security, and I go in after I figure out which one has a lock on it.

The bed in the room, which is mine now because I have the key, is low almost to the floor and squared over with crooked wall lamps clocked against the fake wood paneling. And also there’s a cabinet of empty drawers like there always is even in this kind of motel room.

But the drawers aren’t really empty because one of them has a bible in it. And when I shut the bible back in the drawer, I think about how it’s mostly with the stories about the people who eventually get let in on the joke just before the punchline happens to everyone else.

You know, because it’s like the times when God tells them he’s going to do this or that, so Go build a boat, or, You can live here but don’t eat that thing, or, Get out of town and don’t look back or you’ll turn into salt.

And sometimes he even lets them in on the joke at the last minute and says, Go up on the mountain and kill your kid, and when they’re just about to do it, he say’s, Wait a minute, I was only joking.

So it’s like that with the empty drawers I figure, except for the bible, to make it seem more like the room in your house or something. Or also maybe people put their clothes in it, but I don’t know about that because if they do I’m not one of them.

The carpet is stained but was never meant to look any better when it was new because it’s one of those kind of carpets. And on the carpet there’s the mostly round table coming up at the edges underneath the window.

And scratched into the table in the kind of angular letters writing with a knife always makes is, I tried but now I’m bad.

Which is just fine because it wasn’t me with the trying or the being bad part. At least not enough to scratch about it.

And you know, it doesn’t matter anyway because by now I don’t have to look at any qualified confessions because my crap is all over the table covering it up already. So it’s one of those times when you can make it so it doesn’t matter anymore, because you made it already, so you don’t have to look at it again.

So after I write down, pretty much what I just told you, I decide after a while to break the isolation I promised you in the beginning. Even though I didn’t tell you about it because I forgot to write that part down.

Which makes me call my friend working a few blocks away and she says come over, which is what I do, except now I’m back.

But when I was there it was different than like I thought it would be because I’ve never been in that kind of place before. Because I don’t want to go to them, or understand even why they have them like that in the first place.

You maybe know the place I’m talking about. It’s the kind when a guy goes there because he’s horny. And when he gets there a girl, maybe even my friend, meets him and takes him into one of those little rooms.

You know, the little dirty rooms most of us make believe aren’t really there. The kind with a chair and a couch, and probably even a black light for effect next a big thing of hand lotion. And everything in the room is covered with towels for when he comes all over.

Because that’s why he’s there is to come all over, and so that makes it the job.

But they won’t touch him no matter what because it’s against the rules laminated on the wall under no drugs or liquor permitted on the premises, and no meeting the girls on their off hours.

So I figure it’s really his job to make himself come all over and not theirs, even though he thinks probably it’s their job, but really all their job is is to give him something to look at while he does the job he thinks the girl is doing because that’s the rules.

I guess it’s supposed to be like the sex that stops before the touching starts that was never really going to happen anyway. Maybe it’s supposed to be like the sex that stops before it ever becomes sex. But it’s really only jerking off with someone else in the room while they take off their clothes and pretend they enjoy it as far as I can tell.

This land of the untouchables, the temporaries, and the permanents to other lands that service them, is densified with the simulation that feeds desire by showing you the fix to send you home even more sick than you were when you got there.

Because it’s the feeding of those empty places without fixing them what makes them grow I figure. Because all it does is remind you of what you think you want, even if it’s not real and you know it.

The sleazy motels with family rooms, the two knobs on my door with only one lock, the flashing sex shops trying to make you think they have it for real, the car dealers making friends until you don’t buy one. It’s all a simulation, maybe even one step removed from television.

Hey, did I ever tell you I think the buying things channel is the only honest television? Because at least they tell you why you’re watching it.

But even with all that, even with all the honesty, when it arrives in the mail and the simulation is thrust into the unforgiving tangible, it mostly goes into the junk drawer instead of what you thought would happen when it was real gold.

But that’s how it happens sometimes when it becomes different from like you thought it would be after they finally let you touch it.

So anyway, when I walk down the dark street to the place where my friend works, and trip up the stairs trying to sure nobody can see me, I go in and my friend takes me down the hallway with the nice mirrors and lavender wallpaper to the room where they relax in between it, and she says she wanted to make herself look all sleazy before I got there, but I figure I got there before she could do it because she just looked like she was relaxing around in her underwear with two other girls dressed pretty much the same.

And the room where they relax in between it has three couches, but these ones aren’t covered with towels like in the other rooms because the girls don’t come all over while they’re relaxing I figure.

This is the room for the real part of it because this is the room where the girls don’t dance or take off their clothes for a horny guy, and there’s no black light for the effect or a big jar of hand lotion, or anything like in the other rooms as far as I can tell.

Because this is the room where they don’t bring men into unless they’re like me and just there to visit, and not to come all over.

So I sit down on the couch and have some soda my friend gives me in a white trash champaign flute with a black stem. And while the girls watch the television and cut pictures out of magazines, I look around the room to notice the papers tacked on the wall.

And these papers on the wall, they each have each girl’s real name in parenthesis next to the name they use in the room with the guys who aren’t like me and want to come all over, because they have two. And underneath the names is the size of certain body parts of their body so when the men call they can pick what they want to look at in the room with them.

So while I’m drinking my soda and reading about the girls on the wall, one of them comes in wearing a see through dress and I don’t look at her, until she sits down which is when I can’t see her certain body parts anymore.

And I figure I wouldn’t be a very good customer if I don’t even look at them when they’re wearing almost something, much less nothing. But that’s okay because like I told you before, I don’t want to be a customer anyway.

So the girl in the see through dress sits on the couch and starts counting her money. And when she’s done with the counting the money part, she says to the other girl, who I could look at now because she finally put on a sweat suit, you know why I got that one? It’s because Cheri told him I had big boobs, go figure.

And I figure he wasn’t there to talk about how the world population grew to 6 billion today, and how that’s twice as many people as there was in 1950, and how that means people have had sex at least 3 billion times in only 55 years and 3 months now. And who has the time to add up all the people anyway? That is, if they really did it like that. Which I’m not sure of. I mean, It’s not like anyone asked me if I’m here.

So I leave after my friend shows me the rooms where the guys go to come all over, and on the way back I start to wonder if maybe the reason why we have places like the land of the untouchables, you know, why we keep grasping at the simulacra in the first place (simulacra being simulations which eventually come to replace that which they were originally created to simulate), is because we’re not so used to what’s real being there to touch anymore when we finally have a chance to anymore.

And maybe we even like it better that way. Because if all they let us do anymore is look at each other from behind the velvet ropes protecting us from touching anything, then all we have to do is agree with what we want to see there.

Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Seven
June 2005


(illustrations: paul ash)

Paul Ash was a Portland writer, monologist, designer, and the editor of Sniffy Linings Press. “My time in the land of the untouchables.” is part 3 of his book, What I Think About When I Go to the Job, which is a collection of monologues he performed around the northwest and in New York.


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