A Bad Trip

The inane 'Lamp Post Motel' is best left unvisited

Craycroft Road south of 29th Street is an arid, sun-baked river of asphalt that flows into Tucson's inland sea of military pomp and power, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Along its banks, you'll find a scraggly accumulation of bars, motels, restaurants, dilapidated strip malls, pawnshops, palm trees and flags. This part of Tucson, like so much of the city that has metastasized into the desert, could benefit more from a good bulldozing than from any attempt at architectural rehabilitation.

On the other hand, this homely stretch of road is not without its uses. It often serves as a playground for young, adventurous airmen who, after a busy day tending to homeland security, are itching for some wholesome and educational recreation. It's a handy and profitable workplace for the hookers and street pharmacists who are happy to assist them. And, fittingly, it's also the main setting for The Lamp Post Motel, a new novel by former Tucson journalist Joe Gold about heartrending loss, sexual brutality and the amazing curative powers of mind fusion.

The Lamp Post Motel, now a Super 8, was an actual Tucson inn, built by Gold's father and managed by Gold himself for a time. Like most motels, its walls, if they could converse, would probably have a few interesting tales to tell--but doubtfully none quite as off the wall as this one.

Actually, the walls of the fictionalized Lamp Post are capable of one form of communication. Its proprietor, the bitter, misanthropic Elmo Skinner--who, years before, underwent his own, personal tragedy when an Air Force jet crashed into his house, killing his wife and son--has outfitted his rooms with hidden video cameras enabling him to regularly self-medicate with scotch and voyeurism.

By day, Skinner goes through the motions, fiddling with his elaborate computer system, sparring with an eclectic assortment of generally deadbeat customers and having cynical discussions with the bar and porn-shop owner next door. By night, he comes to life--sort of--getting a bleary-eyed taste of intimacy thanks to his ever-revolving video kaleidoscope of copulations.

There's no telling how long Elmo's emotional funk and creepy form of therapy might have lasted had it not been for the arrival of three unlikely guests: Thea Nikolas, a man-despising lesbian and ultra-feminist writer whose primary thesis is that the world's most malignant problem is testosterone poisoning, and Yot and Xaq, a pair of horny graduate students, time-tripping from 40th-century Saturn (by that time, Earth has become a nuclear wasteland, and humans have migrated throughout the Milky Way) bent on studying 21st-century sexual behavior and snagging some mind-blowing xufa (Saturnalian for "sex") in the process.

(Warning: Spoilers follow!)

It all ties together when Thea is sexually assaulted and left to die on a Rocky Point beach. She's rescued by Loretta, a kind-hearted prostitute who calls the Lamp Post both home and work. Yot and Xaq happen by in their infrared space bubble and follow Loretta and Thea back to Tucson (they had witnessed the rape but thought it was a primitive form of consensual "big fun"). Once ensconced at the motel, Yot quickly catches on to Elmo's nocturnal shenanigans and, using methods known only to time-travelers, gives him the ultimate voyeuristic experience: mind transference.

Elmo is righteously freaked when he finds himself inside the heads of some of his cavorting guests, but when Yot projects Elmo's consciousness into Thea's wounded psyche, his true humanitarian instincts emerge. He exacts retribution on Thea's Rocky Point assailants, discovers the closed-off origin of her aversion to men (childhood sexual abuse) and devotes himself to her healing--which somehow seems to hinge on his ability to convince her to give him a hand job. The two fall in love, decide to spend the rest of their days as Siamese minds in Thea's body and, of course, consummate their union with a lively lesbian love-fest.

When this book began by describing the Lamp Post as a "temptress batting her eyes painted in turquoise and coral hues," I knew I was in for some inane reading, but I wasn't prepared for the blatant ineptitude that followed. Lacking insight and interesting detail, The Lamp Post Motel has a plot that's hopelessly improbable and contrived, with characters as devoid of substance as the castaways on Gilligan's Island and amorous antics as insipidly lubricious as any you'll find in a sexploitation flick.

With a fiasco of this magnitude, one can only wish that Gold could also acquire a time capsule--and the good sense--to return to an earlier time and abort the whole mess.

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