I KNOCKED ON THE DOOR. There were people inside, but nobody got up to answer. I checked my notebook: 52 Romford Road, London, England. I was on the right street at the right house, but the neighborhood didn't look like it was any place for a backpackers' hostel; there were appliances, toys, and car parts overflowing from lawn to sidewalk. I knocked again.
In the yard to my right a mattress soaked up rain. In the yard to my left I saw a phone with its cord slammed in the window. The phone drew a white line straight across the muddy lawn. The handset rested inches from the gate. The phone had been trying for a heroic escape from its ghetto home but had come up short.
"You damned near made it," I said to the phone. I peered into the hostel window again. I knocked again on the door. A silhouette moved from its seat on the couch.
"Is this the Slide Inn?" I inquired into the bright hallway.
"Yes, yes. Come in," said the swarthy man who answered the door.
I stepped inside. The door shut behind me and locked with a clack.
The man motioned once again and said, in a heavy French accent, "Come in. Come in."
In the front room, seated on the couch, two guys passed a glass pipe back and forth. A baggie of what I assumed to be crack cocaine and a red translucent cigarette lighter littered the coffee table. One of the young gentlemen, remote control in hand, flipped between pornography channels, watching the preview, declining to pay for the movie, and carrying on to the next.
This is one of those places, I thought. One of those places where travelers are lured in and bonked on the head so their credit cards can be freewheeled about town. This sure as hell isn't an "inn."
"Please. I cannot give you a bed, but you can call Mr. Ali," Pierre the Frenchman choked out in broken English. He looked at the dudes on the couch. I looked at the white phone on the desk. It was almost identical to the one in the other yard. I decided to play this all the way through and picked up the receiver.
The line was dead.
Here we go! I thought. I raised the phone back over my head to get a clean whack at Frenchy. Here we go!
WHAT I WILL AND WON'T WATCH THIS WEEK
Thursday, March 31
They Live (1988)
AMC, 12:15 a.m.
In this movie, Rowdy Roddy Piper can see aliens only while wearing a special pair of sunglasses. When I was a kid I thought this was a great movie. Now it makes me long for the professional structure and high-budget production value of Another Stakeout.
2004 Hot Dog Eating Contest
ESPN2, 9:00 a.m.
My body is in a state of constant need. I have habits that employ entire villages in Colombia, tobacco farms in Virginia, and the fine brewers, bottlers, and distributors of alcoholic beverages. It is a paradox that I am foursquare against eating contests. No good can come from eating six pounds of meat byproduct in tube form.
Showdog Moms & Dads
BRAVO, 8:00 p.m.
These people have nothing better to do than dedicate their lives to breeding show dogs. What's more, there are producers, camera crews, and a host of assistants beaming this void-of-interest into your home via outer-space satellites. An entire industry of boredom like this hasn't been seen since the vomitoriums of Rome opened for business.
Friday, April 1
CNBC, 7:00 p.m.
Oh, this is going to be great. Remakes of BBC sitcoms for American television always turn out great. April Fools. This show will suck just like our version of Fawlty Towers (called Payne, starring John Larroquette) and Fawlty Towers II: Electric Boogaloo (called Amanda, starring Bea Arthur) but very much unlike Tiffany Towers in The Greatest Big Bust Video, Volume 2.
A Different World
KSWB, 1:30 p.m.
There's an MTV documentary called Time Out: The Truth About HIV, AIDS, and You, in which Sinbad plays the character "Condom." This is what turned the tide. Now when you say "Sinbad," nobody thinks "mythical sailor," they think, "prize-winning ass who's seen way more notoriety than he deserves."
Saturday, April 2
Quilt in a Day
PBS, 11:30 a.m.
Because that's what you want: an antiquated system of making garish blankets. PBS wonders why they have no money. Pandering to a niche market of maybe a dozen people in the tri-county area who are looking for an inexpensive, laborious way to make bedding might have something to do with PBS's financial troubles.
Sunday, April 3
Wilt Chamberlain: Larger Than Life
CBS, 12:00 p.m.
I hope this reveals the truth about Wilt Chamberlain's acclaimed sex life. Seeing as how it's CBS, they could make it into a crime drama, CSI: NBA. The Mystery of Wilt Chamberlain's Missing Pants.
Monday, April 4
SHOWTIME, 10:00 p.m.
I've been in love with Kirstie Alley since her days on Cheers. I don't care how big she is.
Wednesday, April 6
The Jamie Foxx Show
UPN, 11:00 a.m.
Somebody at UPN got a huge raise for not selling this show into syndication. Now that Foxx is an Academy Award winner they're hoping to hitch onto his shooting star by repeating his obscure post--In Living Color show from 1999. Bravo, UPN.