In 1981, age 24, I spent a year living in a little hotel room in the middle of nowhere (Eureka, California, technically). I was trying to start over after a somewhat bruising first attempt to make an adult life for myself in San Francisco and Berkeley (had spent a couple years living on the streets of SF on Skid Row, another couple of years working dead-end minimum-wage jobs, was trying to recover from a failed romantic relationship — the first in what would be a long series of failed relationships — and I had even managed to get myself in the middle of a murder trial when my next door neighbor — this big drug dealer — shot and killed someone right outside my apartment).
So I was licking my wounds and seeing if I could come up with a Plan B.
So I got a little room on the second floor of this flophouse, the Greyound Hotel. I think the rent was $75 a month back then. My room had a bed and a sink and a bathroom down the hall (though everyone secretly pissed in their sinks). And one window with a view of the alley out back. And I had an electric hot plate that I could cook hamburgers and fry eggs on.
And I enrolled at this local college, Humboldt State, to resume my sophomore year and see if I could come up with some kind of career or shit. My grades actually weren’t good enough to get in, but I met with one of the Deans and managed to talk my way in (when I cleaned up my act I could sometimes project this up-and-coming All-American Boy image back then that sometimes helped me open up some doors).
I ended up getting to know, and be friendly with, just about everybody who lived on the second floor of the Greyhound Hotel with me that year. Which was unusual. Usually people kept to themselves in those kind of hotels.
The guy who lived in the room next to me was this large man who worked at a local fish processing factory (Eureka was a seaport town). And some nights he’d bring home a big bag of fresh fish and he’d invite us all into his room for a big fish fry on his hot plate. And that fish tasted great. Then we’d watch re-runs of Saturday Night Live on his TV (Belushi and the original cast). And the more pot we smoked, the funnier the skits were (we all agreed the new Saturday Night Live sucked).
The guy in the room on the other side of me was this lonely old guy in his 70s with a big round belly. His main hobby was walking around the streets of Eureka and looking for change on the sidewalks and payphones. And he kept a detailed calendar — going back several years — of how much money he found every day (“12 cents on Monday, 37 cents on Tuesday,” and so on).
At the end of the hall was this other lost soul, Victor, this middle-aged man who eked out of living painting window displays on the local storefronts. Santa Claus and reindeer during the Christmas season, pumpkins on Halloween, and so forth. He knew I was an aspiring artist and would sometimes give me unsolicited art tips for how to improve my art technique.
The guy who lived across from me was my age and he was taking classes at another local college, and he must have had some money because he was the only one of us who could afford to live in an actual studio apartment — his place came with it’s own kitchen and bathroom. And he took a special delight at mocking the storefront painter — who could be a bit pompous — and busting his balloon when he tried to be the big know-it-all. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, Victor.” (plus he could tell my artwork was already more advanced than Victor’s, a fact he delighted in rubbing in Victor’s face)
At the other end of the hall by the stairs was this swaggering little Keith Richards-wannabe who went by the name Butch, who seemed to be trying to live out some kind of Rocknroll Outlaw fantasy. Butch usually had a cigarette dangling from his lips and a pint of Jack Daniels in his back pocket. And when I’d pass his room I’d often hear him blasting out heavy metal power chords with lots of fuzz tone on his electric guitar and amp. He was actually an excellent guitarist and songwriter. But was a little too dysfunctional, personality-wise, to pursue his dream of a career as a rock star. Though one of the hot local bar bands did perform cover versions of some of his songs in their live act. Some nights he’d invite me down to his room to jam with him. And he’d mix up a big batch of magic mushroom tea (shrooms were all over Eureka during the rainy season). And we’d get all glassy-eyed from the shrooms (and whiskey and pot). And the music would take on a magic tone as we jammed to Rolling Stones songs and “Hey Joe” and his own originals which were great too.
Everyone on the floor was a single guy without a wife or girlfriend. And we were all people who were either hoping to become successful, or who had given up on being successful. So we all kind of had this aura of losers who had been cast adrift from the mainstream of American life. Holed up in our lonely little hotel rooms on the second floor of the Greyhound Hotel. It reminded me of this thing I once read about, this place called Losers Beach. According to this article I read, these whales would all meet up every year at a certain time to act out their mating rituals. The male whales would fight amongst each other, jousting, ramming against each other over and over. Until one of the whales finally gave up. And then the victorious whale would go off and have sex with the female whales. The age-old two-bulls-fighting-over-a-cow routine. And they actually had these tours where you could pay money to go out there on a boat with a bunch of other people and watch the whole spectacle of the whale-mating ritual.
And the other thing was, all the loser male whales, who wouldn’t get to mate, would wearily swim off to this other cove, far from the action, and hang out together and sort of commiserate, and lick their wounds, and drink Olde English malt liquor, and try to build up their strength for another jousting session. And the area where these whales hung out was dubbed Losers Beach.
I always thought that would be a great title for an album of tragic love songs. “Losers Beach.” And it kind of fit us on the second floor of the Greyhound Hotel, too.