Friday, March 31, 2017

Swamp (excerpt 2)

The first stop was the Crypt, a room just inside the passageway to the rest of the caves. Three sides of sheer rock closed off with a brick wall about eight-yards long and more than a foot deep, the Crypt’s door had been torn out long ago. Having served as the sanctuary and hideaway for previous owners of the hotel, it was packed with what could have been props from a movie: trunks with straps and skeleton-key locks, labels marked with the spidery characters of cultured penmanship; airtight wooden crates built to last for centuries; various iron safes, open to anyone aware that all lock combinations were listed on the front desk’s blotter pad, and; a Porsche Boxter-sized maple desk – loose papers dropping from the top to appear as if it were wearing mullet wig – from which the rest of the room appeared to radiate.

“I’m not looking forward to going through all this crap but I can see this being a really nice space… once it’s cleaned out,” their father mused as his gaze darted around the room. "So… let’s see the rest of this junkyard!”

Outside the Crypt, the passageway grew warmer as it wound its way to the next cave, a much larger room encrusted with calcium and lime, green and white drips covering everything like guano. Gooch’s eyes widened at the series of ovate vats in the room, pumps he imagined as gigantic fossilized dinosaur eggs. Pipes large and small crisscrossed the ceiling, chattering and clanking with life, needle-like stalactites forming where mineral water dripped.

“The whole town’s geothermal heating system runs through this contraption. Old timers say Pogo used to cut the heat when he was mad, which I’m told was pretty often. If he did, it happened here.”
Next, an expansive room revealed what had been the employee cafeteria during Pogo’s reign. “Lights don’t work from hereon in,” their father muttered as everyone’s flashlight beams scissored madly through the darkness. “Someone took almost every slab of metal outta here and ripped the copper wiring out of the walls. After Pogo, the later owners didn’t appear to have much use for this place or anything after this. Kinda scary, the caves beyond this room.”

Just across the hallway from the cafeteria, an open expanse revealed numerous roller-type washing machines, washtubs, and corrugated washboards, giant fans huddled in the corners with dusty faces drooped as though they perpetually mourned in the laundry graveyard. Beyond, several caves appeared to have been residences – curtains for walls, places where bare bulbs dangled on strings like dingy Christmas balls, cots and broken furniture strewn about, boxes of mildewed clothing and bedding rotted on the floor.

In a cave the size of a one-car garage, Kris whooped when she discovered crates of plumbing supplies, electrical equipment, and other implements of construction, buckets and boxes stuffed with pieces fused together by rust and calcium. The tour ended in a long room where heavy timber and rebar held the mountain from tumbling into the hotel’s basement.

“This is where it ends,” and their father threw his hands up to show that it was time to go back. “I told you there wasn’t much to see. Just junk but I know you kids thought it was interesting junk. I’m with you. It is interesting. Old junk, junk from even before Papa-san’s time.”

Before making their way back to the wine cellar, they stopped in the cafeteria to explore the construction of it. A cracked parquet floor was littered with piles of plaster and pieces of shredded conduit, the copper and scrap metal raiders not tidy with their work. Walls that separated the dining room and cafeteria line from the kitchen, dish pit and pantry, were torn open where wiring and plumbing had been ripped, wounds exposing chicken wire and the bones of a frame. “We’re going to get this place back up and running,” their father boasted as he led them back past the damage. “I want the main dining room for paying customers only, not people eating stuff from bags. The residents can come down here for meals, to socialize. The elevator opens up right over there,” and he pointed his flashlight to where scrap wood had been tacked together to create a barrier. “Probably put up to keep guest who hit the wrong button from wandering around down here.”

As they made their way back towards the wine-cellar steps, Kris’s hands knotted up and pounded out a savage rhythm on her thighs. “Dad, there’s a dumbwaiter in the kitchen. I saw the doors for it on every floor when Mom was marching us around upstairs. Artie is small enough to fit in it. All I have to do is lower him into the kitchen and he can open the door for me.”

“Let me talk to your mother about you kids playing down there,” their father winked as he clicked the key in the cellar door’s lock. “I could use your help down there, anyway. Going through all that stuff and figuring out what’s garbage and what’s worth keeping.”

In the weeks that followed, in which their mother was buried under yards of fabric that the chattering tooth of her sewing machine turned into curtains, bed spreads, pillow cases, or covers for any salvageable stick of furniture, the two spent countless hours sifting through the things in the basement with hopes of finding some rare gem or nugget of gold. As Kris inspected crates and buckets of U-joints, C-clamps, E-boxes, and things not identified by the alphabet, Gooch and his father scrutinized letters from another century.

After several hours of shuffling papers, reading their contents and then determining their worth, their father gasped, “Man, this guy was a real prick,” crinkled sheaves of fine stationery appearing to drip from his pinch. “He tried to bully town council – people he bought and paid for – into letting him build on Monument Hill. Offered em good money but they weren’t having it. Then his lawyers threaten to shut em down, whatever they do, but they don’t care, they got people buried up there and they’re not going to move em, not for anything. Every council member, he saved all the letters. Incredible.” 

From what Gooch read – letters demanding payment for this or that, Pogo’s attorneys responding with,  “… the amount listed above and not one dollar more!” – it was apparent Pogo was prone to paying pennies on the dollar for work that had been contracted in good faith but then found some cavil he could use to cut into what was initially agreed upon. When builders and contractors went after wages they’d been assured they’d be paid, Denver lawyers replied with the kind of legalese that local sheriffs were obliged to tell friends and neighbors, “Looks like you’ve been fucked, well and truly.”  A “total prick” seemed understated.

Interminable and redundant legends spun from the hotel’s oldest residents also helped the Yamaguchis further gather a story of the town, one that was probably more accurate than what was presented in the lobby of the town’s visitor’s center. There, in what had been Mrs. Pogo’s itinerant residence, an oleaginous account was presented on typed pages arranged next to the creepy portraits of Pogo (who many visitors confused with “Lurch” from “The Addams Family”), his plain wife and daughter, along with various photographs of streets that made it look as though it always rained or snowed in town. Story and pictures were pressed beneath plexiglass on various daises, improvements the mayor had sprung for when he and his town council had been shitfaced drunk. The written content was taken almost exclusively from the musty pages of Oldham’s , “Snavely C. Pogo: Being a Frontier Philanthropist and Titan of Economics, His Story One of Inspiration for All Young Men Seeking to Make Their Way in the World.” A book confined to an extremely small circle of readers.

By all accounts, Pogo had come to the Silver Chalice mining camp in the spring of 1883. Locals said he’d hawked Spanish knives, exploding pistols, bull whips, French pornography, and nostrums infused with dangerous amounts of laudanum.  While Oldham’s biography merely mentioned that Pogo had, “generously provisioned mine workers with the sundry requirements of their trade,” accounts from the hotel’s oldest residents hinted Pogo did substantial trade in whatever miners couldn’t find from the camp’s stores, including women or cocaine. By the next year Pogo held the deed for one of the most profitable mines in Colorado, his silver hitting the market like a giant-sized pumpkin. Remarkable to no one but Oldham, who wrote,

“What providence! O! Fortuna’s wheel did lift him to Olympus in mere months, in a manner and with munificence befitting gods of industry, capitalism and beneficence of the Invisible Hand, most certainly directed by our Lord!”

His fortune made and the town his barony, Pogo bullied other business owners into scrapping the Silver Chalice name (a local pastor pointed out the name’s suggestive connotations) for his own, adding “Springs” as a way to promote the waters that poured out of the mountains like his blinding whiskey and heated spas that would bring affluent visitors to his resort. As Oldham put it with typical oaken prose,

“Snavely Pogo endeavored to attract the cream of the Republic’s eastern aristocracy to the salubrious environs of the Vino de Magdalena Mountains, where they might partake in the palliative properties of the area’s God-gifted springs. Built during the seasons of benefice in the glorious year of 1885, the hotel was the largest jewel in Pogo’s silver crown, an apotheosis of Victorian opulence and a testament to his self-made plenteousness.”

“We sure have a lot of these books,” Kris-Kris dropped copies on the floor for the popping sound.
“We’re keeping those,” Old Gooch said, “stop doing that. We’re giving those away in the VIP baskets our best guests get.” He also said to save the ones every guest left behind, like a Gideon Bible, to go into the next set of VIP baskets.

In time, father and son joined the few who’d read Oldham’s vaunted tome. After agreeing that the book was terrible, Gooch admitted, “Miz Purdy Byrd said he wrote it that way cuz he didn’t want anyone to read it, that he knew it was all lies and things only Pogo wanted to tell. And she said Pogo didn’t know bad writing, thought all those big words made him look more important.” Eleven when he slogged through Pogo’s biography, it was the year he and his father spent nearly an entire ski season discussing the book between runs that were poached or paid for.

“If that craphead realized the real money is on these slopes, he might not have died so lonely and miserable,” his father squeezed past lips stiffened by frigid winds blasting the lift, the chair rocking with each gust. Gooch idly digested his father’s take on Pogo while looking at the sheer drop beneath the tips of his skis, imagining what the land below looked like in the days of miners and Indians. The history of the town and the hotel had become a constant topic of conversation between Gooch and his father, especially when the two of them shared a day on Chi-Chi’s double-black diamonds. A puzzle they could both solve as they caught their breath after plowing through powder that exploded on the tips of their boards.

Mostly just the two of them. His mother was a blue slope skier at best and had lost affection for snow and cold with each passing year. Kris was overly-cautious, even when she was boarding and had more maneuverability, always overthinking the terrain ahead. Getting April onto the slopes was like trying to corral a cat into a car carrier. Gramps usually stayed in the lodge, playing gin with the other shuttle drivers. When Old Gooch wasn’t making extra money as a ski-instructor, father and son were left to themselves on the slopes, dad blasting down the mountain with moves that made other skiers stop and watch. Just the two of them talking town history in moments shared on the lift, shedding gear, or after one of them spilled out and needed time to gather nerves back into a tight frame. Sometimes, Old Gooch talked about his childhood, his time in the Army, or his desire to own the resort.

“Your Papa-san used to say, ‘I don’t know what’s fun about sticks on your feet in that snow.’ He and your uncles didn’t understand what I felt in these mountains. For them, it was all about work and getting the most out of country that’s pretty particular about what gets to grow. And we all worked our butts off but there’s not much to do but ski after snow got everything covered. Hero and Rye were on teams at school, so they were busy with those things and neither of em cared much for skiing or the cold and snow.”

Too young to remember the mild winters of Kyushu and California, Gooch’s father said he came into himself buried in the snows of the Vino de Magdalena Mountains. While his family got on each other’s nerves during their first winter on the new farm – five weekends of storms that dumped two to three feet of snow with each pounding – Old Gooch climbed trees that had once had branches out of reach, sledded off eaves on outbuildings where drifts curled over roofs like waves battering a dyke. When he was old enough to take on farm chores, he failed to see how his parents or Hiroto and Ryo found joy in the toil of the land. Conversely, the rest of the family never understood Haruki’s gusto for snow deep enough to bury elk. Of the five Yamaguchis, he was the one who loved the farm less than the snow. 

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