Wednesday, June 18, 2008

City Center Motel

Green Curtains
City Center Motel
Provo, UT
April 2008

City Center Motel
Provo, UT
April 2008

On the flight to Phoenix, I began reading The Executioner's Song for the second time. The first time was in Chicago in the winter of 1997. My girlfriend and I were sleeping on a mattress on the floor of a poorly heated apartment and shared one copy and passed in back and forth and argued over who got to read it on a given night.

This second time around, I got as far Gary getting out of prison in Utah, Gary and Nicole falling in love, Gary getting drunk and high on Fiornal, Gary and Nicole fighting over sex, Nicole breaking it off with Gary, Gary shooting a clerk in a Sinclair Station, Gary trying to have sex with Nicole's stoned sister in a Holiday Inn, Gary shooting a clerk in the lobby of the City Center Motel, Gary getting captured and put in jail, Gary writing love letters - letters full of sexual longing and jealousy and pain - to Nicole, who falls back in love with Gary and tries to take her own life.

Gary's refusal to fight his death sentence, which the book later describes, created a media sensation in 1976 and drew Lawrence Schiller and Norman Mailer and eventually his own brother, Mikail, to tell Gary's story and the story of his family and a story about Utah. A juvenile delinquent with a Mormon mother and a violent father who was perhaps the son of Harry Houdini, Gary spent most of his life behind bars. Handsome in a rough way and intensely masculine with streaks of charisma and creativity, Gary, whose hero was Johnny Cash, had the makings of a dark and tragic American icon. His crimes made history and his character fascinated even Matthew Barney and the art world.

My goal was to find the scenes of his crimes and to discover what exists there now and what psychic energy remains in these places. I had already tracked down the City Center Motel at 150 W. 300 S. in Provo via the internet. I was almost surprised, when I made my first call to the motel, to learn that it still existed, and I asked the clerk on the phone, "Is this where the Gary Gilmore murder took place in 1976?". The clerk sounded uncomfortable and said it was under new management and he didn't know what I was talking about. Later, I made a reservation before I left for my drive to Provo, and it was a good thing I did, since the motel was full when I arrived, and most of its inhabitants seemed to live there for long stretches of time.

I spent the night in a room that smelled like stale cigarettes and felt like any motel room anywhere, really. Dingy, sad, lonely. The most interesting thing to me about the motel was its cast of characters, some of whom I photographed, and whose images will appear soon.

The Sinclair service station in the nearby town of Orem no longer exists as far as I could tell. Norman Mailer describes its location as the intersection of 800 North and 175 East. The closest thing I could find to that address was 800 North and 75 East, where small houses sit at the base of a big sky and snow-capped mountains, and my night pictures of this setting didn't quite make it.


matt olson said...

wow. another great story.

mark said...

i agree with matt, your writing is superb. i bought a copy of under the banner of heaven yesterday at the blacksburg thrift store...i'm about 100 pages in.

Tema said...

Thank you Matt and Mark.

Mark - if you are still interested in the subject after you finish the book, you should watch the documentary, "Banking on Heaven," about polygamy in the heartland of the American West, which includes commentary from women who lived in these communities as well as Jon Krakauer and Warren Jeff's sister. It sheds some light on how little support these women and children have received from the state government despite the fact everyone is well aware that these problems have existed for decades.