Category: Vagabond writer

Downtown L.A. 1984

The Rainbow Hotel in downtown Los Angeles was next to the Church of the Open Door.* The church was famous for its huge ‘Jesus Saves’ sign on the roof. The hotel and the church were on a section of South Hope Street that dead-ended at the Public Library.

Guido Michelini had stayed at the hotel before. The room cost $70 a week. The shower was down the hallway. There was a phone in the room. It hardly ever rang. It went six days without ringing. Guido only left the room to eat and drink at a bar.

He had sold an op-ed piece to the L.A. Times but the paper hadn’t paid him yet. He didn’t have the money for next week.

On the seventh day the phone rang. It was the housekeeper wanting to know if he wanted his sheets and towels changed. Guido told her no, never. She said okay and hung up.

When you get kicked out of the Rainbow Hotel you know you’ve hit bottom.

Guido and his canvas suitcase went to the library at the end of Hope Street. He sat down with a book. A woman sitting across the table said, You look beat. He looked at her. She had seen better days.

You look good, he said. Do you live around here?

Not far, she said.

Saved again.

*The church was demolished in 1988.

39,000 feet

He was lost. He took planes all over America. He became an expert on airports. He invested such large sums in airline travel he figured he must own a piece of the sky, or rather pieces of the sky — thin, high corridors of illusion between real cities; timeless strips of fantasy between pestilence and death. An ethereal investment to be sure; other men had pieces of the rock.

He flew back and forth across America like an insomniac pacing his room. Planes of all sizes and colors transported him north and south and east and west in an odyssey that skirted heaven and hell. He was searching for many things: Success, fame, the perfect woman, a new identity, freedom, independence, truth, cunning, honesty, immortality, a secret Swiss bank account, a cabin in the woods, a house in the desert, a job in a lighthouse, a penthouse in Manhattan, a pad in the Hollywood Hills, unlimited credit, inner piece, a new life, a tolerable death, immortality, and sometimes nothing more than a perfectly clear sky. 

At rare moments of clarity, perhaps at 39,000 feet, he felt he was on the verge of a breakthrough, on the edge of a great discovery about life and himself. Sometimes, he would doze off and suddenly awaken with the startling notion that he had heard the voice of God — not so much a voice as a perception of the idea of God, an ephemeral, wraith-like presence in his mind, a fleeting brush with fate, the briefest touch by destiny, a speck of understanding, a hint of cosmic truth that vanished as fast as it had appeared, but left him with, at that perilous moment of waking, an unmistakable impression of the meaning of life, and specifically, his purpose in that life, agonizingly elusive but sufficiently noticeable to excite him with new motivation and direction.

Desperately he would scribble down his ethereal notes at the very moment they dissolved into nothingness. But when he tried to pursue the clues, to pin them down, to put them together, bits and pieces of his mind flew off in different directions at increasing speeds and higher altitudes, and then he no longer believed he was on the verge of a great breakthrough, but on the edge of insanity. 

At the end of two years his mind was totally fragmented. On a physical level there was more chaos. He was broke, bouncing checks and exploding credit cards. His personal stuff — books, manuscripts, letters, documents, photographs — were crammed into suitcases, briefcases and footlockers in girlfriends’ apartments, and bus and train station lockers in cities and towns across America—

[Manuscript abruptly ends.]