The pool at the Grand Hyatt Downtown Denver burns with chlorine. Three businessmen are playing at being big shots. They lean back in their lounge chairs, make sweeping arm motions, and laugh too loud. I can feel them checking me out. They’ve got energy invested in this way of life. They puked on each other to join a frat. And here I am swimming laps.
An overweight woman with two kids—the Virgin Mary of Middle America—organizes magazines, her cell phone, and flip flops while her two future managers take over the pool. I get out and dry myself off. The elevator up to my room is tight. Convention name tags aren’t helping break the ice. I ask a brunette what the convention is for and get no answer. I am another potential source of fear.
I jack off in my room and then turn on the TV. CNN Financial explodes: trade deficits, rising oil prices, devaluation of the dollar, other nations maybe reconsidering their currency reserves—the death of the goldilocks economy. I reach into the drawer next to me and pull out Gideon’s. Ecclesiastes 1:15: “What is crooked can not be made straight. What is lacking can not be numbered.” I take a swig from my flask and fall asleep.
An old pal shows up at 8 p.m. We used to raise hell together and are now in our mid-thirties. We haven’t seen each other since he came to New York two years ago. He’s in telecommunications. I order up a bottle of Jack Daniels and it’s going all right. I’m talking about my life in innocuous terms. Not every interaction has to be a protest. There are times when you need to have a good time. But after three whiskeys I mention the secession reading I’m doing in town tomorrow night. He says: “This isn’t going to turn into a bitchfest, is it? I’m sick of people bitching about the United States. I voted for Kerry, but people don’t know how good they have it.”
I’m still thinking about trying to have a good time out with this guy. “I hear you...”
“I like to work, okay? Maybe that’s the difference between us. I work hard.”
“That’s great, but...”
“Like the blacks, right? That’s what you’re going to say—the blacks don’t have the same opportunities as the evil white man. Look, if you want to make it in this country, you can make it in this country. Some people just don’t want to work.”
“What the fuck, you’re coming into my hotel room and telling me how it is. I’ll call you in another two years.”
So there goes my night. Getting arrested at a protest is one thing, but the real sacrifices go down on a personal level. My friend had things lined up for VIP Denver. Who would you rather hang with on your one big party night: a lefty who guilts you out about South America when you come back from doing a line, or a degenerate businessman who still calls women “chicks?” But the “lazy blacks” thing is tired and there’s only so much clichéd bullshit I can take.
I sit with the bottle of Jack listening to the classic-rock radio station on the hotel alarm clock radio. The playlist: Seger, “Turn the Page”; Steppenwolf, “Born to Be Wild”; Skynyrd, “Three Steps.” I decide not to let Captain Red State ruin my night and take a cab to the Larimer Lounge. I dig the joint, a swanky punk dive. I shake hands with the bartender who pours me a nice shot of Jameson’s. Things are looking up, but then two hipsters in a band hear I’m a reporter and introduce themselves as “Independents.” I have zero interest in interviewing them, but they’re compelled to talk to me. They think they’re being heavy, but it’s all Fox News. Hipster guy one: “I understand that some people have it harder than others, but I’m into personal responsibility, not blaming everyone.” Hipster guy two: “Nothing against gays, but gay marriage...” They go off on 9/11, how we were attacked and had to respond. I was living on 17 John Street in the Financial District watching the planes hit; these two were living in residential Denver watching TV.
A punk girl flirts and I’m saved. Talk of writing, she’s a writer. Moved here from Chicago to be with a musician boyfriend who dumped her after five weeks. Some things are the same everywhere. I go to the bathroom for a piss. When I return to the bar she’s writing in my notebook: “Denver has been sold as easy urbanism in reach of a recreational wonderland. The city markets the Rocky Mountains to corporations who attract a young work force raised on pop culture. We are being breast fed the American dream.”
Bone-breaking hangover, but I will let nothing derail me on this trip. No 35-year-old sense of keeping things in check. No law school maturity. I get a Coke from the machine down the hall and mix in the rest of the Jack. It takes the edge off, keeps things honest. Tonight is the secession reading and no writer is worth a shit if he lacks the courage to go behind enemy lines.
I drive the rental car up to Red Rocks. Last time I was there was almost 20 years ago for a U2 concert. It was peak life: my first big road trip, the first time I ever took shrooms. Red Rocks was beautiful. Bono looked heroic when he wrapped himself in the flag. But then a year later I saw him do the exact same thing at the exact same time in another concert. Still, Red Rocks is beautiful.
There is a wall in the tourist center dedicated to the geologic history of the area. I’m reading about how Red Rocks was formed 35 million years ago. There is a family standing next to me. The dad explains to three kids, while mother looks on, that the scientists are lying about when Red Rocks was made because God put Noah on the ark and the world is only 6,500 years old.
I wake up at 7 p.m. back at the hotel and order another bottle of Jack. Turn on CNN, that black guy went off in the courtroom in Atlanta. Big emphasis on a Christian blonde talking him down. I stare out at the Denver skyline. There is no escaping the sadness of this time in America.
Interaction with the concierge for the sake of ego. Take a cab to the Other Side Arts—30 minutes late and there are six people in a 200-person space. The guy who organized the reading—I’d met him when I came through last year on a book tour—says it’s still early. I sit on the wood floor against the wall. I’m horny but there are no options.
Ten or twelve more people show up. Still no options. The MC does his shtick, then some kid who thinks Foucault is meant to be read aloud drones on for 20 minutes. The vibe is polite, but turns sour with the introduction of a “New York writer who’s come to read about how New York City wants to secede from the rest of America.” A literal hiss comes over the small crowd. I hear, “Let’s go, Sandra,” and a couple gets up and walks out. The one punk rocker in the audience surprisingly (I guess) stomps out as well. The space, somehow, has become both empty and angry.
In the land that elected George W. Bush president, what do I care what people think? I know revolutionaries are supposed to come from a place of love, but it ain’t me, babe. Moments like this give me the opportunity to individuate myself from the herd. I start adding erroneous, ridiculous, offensive parts to the “Call to Secession.” I intentionally refer to Colorado as a “slave state.” I rage about “the people of Colorado sending the Bronx to go die in Iraq!” I say, “We lived through 9/11...we didn’t watch it on TV!” I throw in some shit about the Bible, then warn, “You better not come around Jersey City with your Jesus stickers.”
Inspired, I stop the political reading and cut to the transvestite sex scene from one of my novels. The liberal literary hipsters are starting to get up and walk out. I yell, “I fucked the Virgin Mary up the ass!” It’s beautiful. I feel clean and productive. Like I’m really doing art. I take a big swig of the Jack and end the gig on a sincere note: “If we can all just work together—there’s a real window of opportunity.”
I had big plans for the night, but you can’t do a secession reading in a red state with a tranny fuck scene thrown in and expect to make a lot of new friends. I walk in the snow to let it fall from me, then catch a cab back to Grand Hyatt Downtown Denver. Businessmen and families do double takes at the baldheaded bad guy sitting in their fancy corporate hotel next to the fireplace. I sink deeper into my lounge chair and sip straight from the bottle of JD. I think about the political situation in this country. I think about consumer capitalism in the world. I think about mass media. I think about multinational corporations. People should be freaking out. People should be losing their minds. We’re going off a cliff.
JASON FLORES-WILLIAMS is a lawyer in New Mexico.