Does Touristy Mean Detoxified
Through crystal chandeliers, the rose colored banquet hall of the Inn was refracted. Pink everywhere, as far as the eye could see. Silver haired vixens, cloaked in its warmth, were dancing below the small stage to a Benny Goodman mix. No band in sight, but there might be one later.
This was Irem’s first night in San Luis Obispo.
Recently hired by an alternative paper to write short stories, often but not exclusively of an investigatory nature, she’d passed by a plethora of cheap motels alongside the highway, forsaking them all for the Grande Dame herself - Marie’s Inn; knowing that if she didn’t hit it up tonight then she probably never would.
Smiling as she watched the dancers, Irem reached for her water glass which was in this instance, the Inn’s hefty signature glass goblet. Scarlet, blue, violet, amber, and the essential pink among other picks dotted the tables’ linens, creating a rainbow, a kaleidoscope on their varied surfaces.
For the most part, Irem was digging the scene from the restaurant’s pink vinyl booths to the gold lit vines, though every now and then a doll here, or an old person there, would unnerve her. Eating her chicken caesar salad, she began to feel like she was living The Lawrence Welk Show or was perhaps locked inside its corresponding resort village – a place Irem normally wouldn’t have known anything about except that she’d passed it once before while driving the Avocado Highway up from San Diego to Los Angeles to visit friends.
Maybe it was time to leave.
Lifting a hand, Irem brushed her smooth black bangs out of her face and tucked them behind an ear, adjusting her Gargle Glasses in the process. Before her, with his arm clasped tightly around his partner’s waist, an elderly man sang, in time with the music: It had to be who, It had to be who, I wandered and found, finally sound, somebody you--
Irem yawned. Must be all the driving, she thought, but somehow all these old ducks have got more life in ‘em than I have. Her waning attention hadn’t escaped the waitress, who, eager beaver, rushed over.
“Something else, ma’am?”
“Nah – just the check, please. Thanks.”
“Sure thing,” said the waitress, slightly disappointed that there wouldn’t be a dessert or a couple of cocktail drinks added to the tab.
The check came. Irem left cash, exact change plus a generous enough tip, on the table and pushed open the door of the banquet hall to be enveloped by the warm summer air. It was dark outside, but the path back to her room was lit up with a small smattering of colored lights. A pink one here. A blue one there. They look just like fairy lights, Irem thought.
Climbing the stairs up to her room, Irem caught a glimpse of a cemetery a short distance from the Inn. Well that dampens the mood, doesn’t it? She shrugged off the impression and was about to let herself into the room when she noticed a flier, on the floor, a few inches from the door.
“What’s this?” mused Irem, bending down to pick it up.
Irem’s Gargle Glasses had slipped off her head and hit the floor hard. Picking them up to inspect them, she saw a large splinter in the glass on each lens. Looks like I’ll be freeballing it for the rest of my trip, she fumed.
Turning the weatherworn flier over in her hand, she noticed something amiss. At first blush, the flier appeared to be your standard touristic advertisement: Come Ride a Train, Visit the Wineries, Eat Lobster on a Ferry – that sort of thing. On closer inspection, there was something fishy about this flier. For one, it appeared to be homemade rather than hot off the printer’s press in high gloss. The words on the flier had been penciled in, and then inked over casually, often falling outside of the original lines. Irem was no expert on art supplies, but, if she had to make a call on it, she’d have guessed that the ink on this flier had come straight from a Sharpie marker.
Beyond its cheap execution, the content of this flier also struck her as suspicious. Stenciled directly under a pirate insignia: Ahoy, thar matey! Thar be tunnels here! Stretching from here to out yonder, all the way down to the Emerald City.
“All the way to Chicago? The White City?” asked Irem, familiar with that city’s nickname and Baum connection. “Not possible,” she scoffed.
Turning the flier over, she found, as if to set the record straight, the scrawling print: There’s more than one Emerald City, you know.
A series of brief flashbacks, to family vacations of yore, and the lumpy moonscape beach of Coronado followed. She had seen some tarnished copper signs or plaques posted around the village talking about Baum, hadn’t she?!
Could Oz be real? Was it underground? Did everyone know about it except her? Or was it worse than that? Perhaps she lived inside some kind of optical illusion, thinking that the tunnels on this flier led down when really her down was an objective up?
Paranoia had set in.
The Escher-inspired staircases were taunting her again, as they had done before on such occasions.
Irem had often wondered if her ex-boss from Rockets R Us was the Gnome King, thinly disguised. There was just something so not right about that guy. Once at a holiday work party, toasted out of her mind, she’d even muttered something to that effect, loudly. Luckily, no one had understood a word she’d said that night. And she’d quit shortly after anyhow, having scored her current gig.
Irem stopped her ruminations and stuck her broken Gargle Glasses back on, but things seemed somehow, less rosy at the Inn now, nonetheless. Unable to hold back, her fingers drew small circles over the flier’s rumpled surface . . . maybe . . . maybe.