Thursday, March 30, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part IX)

Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday:
Where’s The Champ when you need ‘im?

In another of the seemingly never-ending series of efforts to date myself, this next chapter in my story brings a particular TV commercial from the 1970s to mind. Back in the days before Don King and Mike Tyson transformed it from The Sweet Science into The Gong Show, the man who was the face of professional boxing was also its greatest ambassador. Muhammad Ali was everything a great sports figure could and should be. But one of the things I loved about him the most was the fact that in addition to being the Greatest of Them All, he was also the easiest to like.

Ali was a crackup. He was the Clown who wore the Crown. From the Ring to the small screen, The Champ was all about entertainment. And in a particular enterprise that some felt was well beneath his dignity, it was his self-deprecation that I found to be the most refreshing.

I remember him doing a TV commercial for Black FlagRoach Motel roach traps years ago (apparently he had a real passion for roach-extermination products — more on that later). “Roaches check in, but they don’t check out! he would say, with that same trademark, faux-menacing, raspy whisper he used for years to antagonize his opponents during many a pre-fight press conference.

With Ali’s Black Flag commercial, the term Roach Motel was added to the pop-culture lexicon; a reference that became much more attuned to describe the genre of typically low-cost motor hotels in which one might likely find the multi-legged creatures scurrying about when the lights come on, than to the actual product itself.

I don’t know if he was busy at the time, but I think I could have used The Champ to “knock out” some nasty-lookin’ cucarachas that were waiting for me in my motel room Monday afternoon when I arrived in Hemet to visit my Dad. I had run out of time and asked him if he could find me a cheap place to stay.

Poor Pop, God love ‘im. He was just trying to save me a few bucks, and he’d obviously never stayed there himself, so how would he have known? I really have no one to blame but myself anyway. In my haste to get ready to make this trip, the one travel arrangement I failed to complete was to book a motel for the two nights I would be in Hemet.

Strangers in the Night II
One might be wondering why I needed to get a room in the first place. After all, I was going to see my Dad, and I had stayed at their place the last time I visited, in August of 2004. The difference was that they had moved since my last visit — and recently I might add.

Dad and his wife Helen had just moved back to the assisted living center each had called home at a time when they were merely acquaintances, while my stepmom Maxine was still alive. They had just moved in to their new one-bedroom apartment just a few days before I arrived. Aside from the fact that they were still unpacking, and maintenance men were still installing light fixtures and such, there was simply no room to put me up at comfortably there.

As I’ve mentioned before, Helen had been a mutual friend of both Maxine and my Dad, one of the first to reach out to them when they initially moved in, back in early 2000. Helen was already a widow, having lost her husband several years earlier. In the months following Maxine’s passing in late May of that year, Helen and Dad, became closer friends through her emotional support to him at an obviously difficult time following Maxine’s unexpected death — the result of complications from a viral infection — and the relationship just seemed to blossom from there.

After Maxine’s passing, Dad found the two of them spending more and more time together. And now suddenly becoming one of the more eligible bachelors at the Center, Pop had to literally fight off the ladies who began coming on to him. All the while Helen was simply there for him, never imposing the obvious affection that was growing in her heart.

And the feeling was becoming mutual.

This is one of my favorite pictures. My Dad and me in the back yard during his visit to Tennessee in June 2001. And no, I wasn’t dyeing my goatee back then…

By the time Pop came to Tennessee for a visit in June of 2001, he was already smitten, yet not quite forthcoming in announcing the news to his family. He was concerned about what we might think, given that it had been just over a year since Mom had passed away. It took a couple of days before he mustered the courage to broach the subject with Michelle and me, fearing we might not approve. However nothing could be further from the truth. Dad seemed a little taken aback when we assured him with no reservation that we were delighted he had found a lady friend to spend his time with. He insisted at the time that it wasn’t serious, but we knew better.

Six months later, my elder brother, TK, took his own endorsement of the relationship to another level, greasing the wheels of an all-out effort to get Dad and Helen to Las Vegas to get hitched. And so they did, in December.

As it turned out, it may have very well likely been a decision that saved my Dad’s life.

Far away from the maddening crowd
It was probably a more uncomfortable scene for Helen than for her new husband, but after losing out to her in the race for Pop’s affections, some of those old hens at the Center turned on Helen. She felt a little spurned by woman she had long considered to be her friends. Combining that with the fact that he’d never felt really comfortable there anyway — and the real kicker — a recent sharp increase in rent and service fees added by the management company, Dad and Helen decided to get the heck outta Dodge.

They moved back to the old neighborhood where Dad and Maxine had lived for years prior to moving to the assisted living residence. They were both in good health (or so we all thought) and figured they didn’t necessarily need the round-the-clock nursing care (nor the price tag thereof) the Center provided. They wanted to fend for themselves. Dad wanted to get back to the vegetable garden he had to abandon. They weren’t old like the rest ‘a them fogies. They could take care of themselves, thankyouverymuch.

Almost immediately, the repercussions of that move would come to roost.

A few months after they moved out of the Center, in May 2002, my Dad suffered a mild, but potentially fatal heart attack at home, and now without the on-call medical facilities that had been available to him previously. If Helen hadn’t been there to call 911, my Pop would most certainly have died. He ended up having quadruple-bypass surgery in the wake of his ordeal, having never shown any signs of heart disease prior to the event.

The good news is, he has worked hard to change his lifestyle and is completely recovered and in great shape for a man of nearly eighty-three years. But the better news is that he had Helen there, or chances are great he wouldn’t be around to celebrate the “good” news in the first place.

And though Dad’s health has been great for the past four years, Helen hasn’t been so fortunate. She began experiencing difficulties with her legs; sores that took forever to heal; and more recently, she had to undergo surgery to remove a blockage in her colon.

So when out of the blue, a neighbor made an offer to buy their house which, in Dad’s words, was “just too good to pass up,” they reconsidered their previous decision and decided to give their old assisted living community another try (and have been very happy there ever since).

Dad and Helen in their new apartment, and still goin’ strong.

‘Cuz I’m a cheap ‘ol bugger...that’s why.
Now you know why I needed to get a room, but here’s how I ended up at The Roach Motel.

Going in, I figured on someplace inexpensive; just a place for me to lay my head at the end of each of the two days I would be spending entirely with the folks. However, per my usual penchant for leaving things to the last minute, I ran out of time and never made the reservation.

So I turned to my Pop for a little travel agent assistance, which he was happy to do. I had phoned him on Saturday to let him know I’d arrived and to ask if he would go and make the arrangements at the local Motel 6 to reserve me a room for Monday and Tuesday, as I had no access to a computer. When he said he’d take care of it, I figured, “No Problem,” and considered it a done deal.

When I arrived at Dad’s place on Monday, he proudly announced, “AJ, I think I got you a pretty good deal on a room.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“Why yesss,” he gushed. “I went to the Motel 6 like you said, and they wanted $49.99 a night, plus tax! But I found a little motel over here on the main drag that only charges $45 a night out the door!

“Well okay then, thanks for doing that for me, Dad!” I said appreciatively.

Now I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t at least a little concerned at that point. Motel 6, say what you want about the stereotypical connotations associated with it, is at least a known commodity. You know, going in that you’re not staying at some kind of resort. But at least there is a reasonable expectation that the room, the sheets, and the linens will all be clean and fresh. One can expect there to be decent cable TV, and you can certainly expect that the only multi-legged creature in your bed is gonna be YOU. There was a level of trust with Motel 6 that I felt good about. And while the notion of moving away from that was disconcerting at first, I can honestly say I really didn’t give it much thought.

My Dad, don’t forget, was a Depression Kid, and anytime we were on vacation, it was Motel 6 all the way. So if he said he’d found an even better bargain, who was I to argue?

After a short visit with Dad and Helen, I left to go check in and drop my stuff before returning to Dad’s to go to dinner.

I pulled in and went into the office. On the outside, it looked like a typical cheap motel: smartly landscaped; recently painted exterior; clean and innocuous office/lobby area. The lady handed me my key and I drove my car down a few hundred feet to where my room was at the end of the row of rooms.

The manager had been sure to mention that the entire motel was a non-smoking environment, which was nice, but really didn’t mean all that much to me. While I do appreciate non-smoking to smoking, I’ve never been one to make a big deal over not getting the former.

When I opened the door I immediately realized that the motel’s smoke-free policy was not something they necessarily put into place voluntarily. I’m pretty sure they had to do it because the rooms were already so heavily saturated with the smell of smoke that one more wisp would have probably sent the whole place down into the damned center of the earth!

Oh. My. GAWD! My eyes hadn’t watered like that since that time Michelle and I got caught downwind of the south end of a momma hippo, cuttin’ it loose at the San Diego Zoo several years ago.

I immediately began to re-think my stance of not being bothered by smoking-allowed. This was easily the worse one I’d ever encountered. Just when did they implement that “smoke-free” policy — AN HOUR AGO? Perhaps by “smoke-free” they meant that they no longer CHARGE people for the freakin’ privilege!

And that was just the tip ‘o the iceberg. True to its Ali-inspired nickname, as I flipped on the lights I saw no less than three cockroaches scurrying off to points unknown. I just rolled my eyes. I had a notion, but I didn’t wish to insult or embarrass my Pop, who actually had tried to do me a favor. Looking at the place from the outside, there really was no to know how bad they were on the inside.

Oh wait. I forgot about the three-pound Yuban coffee can ashtrays that were mounted onto the building just outside the door of every room. Yeah…that might have been a clue.

The best thing I can say is, apart from its aforementioned extremophylic permanent residents…and the broken toilet paper roll dispenser…and the cracked tile in the shower…and the TV on which it appeared they were showing the ice palace scene from Dr. Zhivago on every channel, the place was pretty clean. The bed was comfortable, and when I awoke the next morning I hadn’t yet turned into any kind of Slither-like monster, so hey, I was okay with it.

Next: Days Three and Four — Monday/Tuesday (continued):
He Got Walkin’ Fingers…
blog comments powered by Disqus