July 27, 2018: “Other Resort Cities” by Tod Goldberg

Boy, am I glad to see you, Story366! Those of you who follow me on Facebook know there’s been a crisis this week, a crisis of an absolute Story366 nature: I forgot my WordPress password. The Karen and I set this site up on January 1, 2016, and ever since, the login info has been stored on my laptop and I’ve just been going to the site, to my logged-in WordPress account, ever since. Somewhere along the way, my office computer lost that password and I hadn’t been able to use that computer to make posts and was unable to figure out how to log int. But that was fine: I had my laptop! Surely the password and login cookies would never disappear from my laptop, right?!?!

Nope. This past Tuesday, I read a few stories from today’s book and was ready to post, when all of a sudden, I wasn’t logged into Story366. I tried logging in—tried logging in a dozen times, using all kinds of go-to passwords and such—but no dice. I tried having a new password sent to my two active email accounts—my MSU and my gmail—but both of those led me to a blank WordPress account, one that did not allow me access to Story366. I contacted WordPress and they said I simply needed the account confirmation from when I made the site, which I didn’t have: I had literally never received a single email from WordPress about this website account I’ve had for over two and a half years. I immediately worried, as this started to sound odd, that I hadn’t received notices and emails, like, every day since I had the blog. But no, nothing.

Eventually, I got in touch with WordPress techs and after a few emails of guessing (and beggin), I surmised that I set this all up with my old, now-defunct BG email. Without saying so (because they can’t), WordPress kind of winked at me:  “Yeah, that’s it. Go get ’em!” That brought about a new problem: I hadn’t had access to my BG email since early 2013, so I couldn’t have a new password sent to me there. Still, to get back into Story366, I had to get into my BG email account. I jumped through some hoops there, explaining why I needed it, and a sympathetic IT person said that she’d patch me through to the Alumni Association, see if they could verify me as an alum, help me out. Two days later, this morning, another Falcon techie called to help me get my account going again, and voila! Here I am, back in, posting my little heart out.

I have to admit, I kind of lost it at several points in this process, despair growing inside and transforming me into a complete blabbering fool. I’ve put a lot of effort into Story366, have made it part of  my identity, and simply didn’t want to lose access to the ongoing site. Sure, I could have started another account and went from there, made it “Story366 II: The Revenge” or something like that. Or I could have started a new account and copy-and-pasted all four-hundred-or-so posts over to the new site and started over. But really, would I have wanted to do that? No. I would have done it, but I’m glad I don’t have to. The Karen was quite instrumental in keeping me together and figuring out what I had to do, so eternal thanks to her, yet again, for being there for me.

As I said, I read a few stories from Tod Goldberg‘s Other Resort Cities (OV Books, 2009) a couple of days ago, and after a refresher, here I go. From what I can tell, from the stories I read and from the blurbs and reviews, Goldberg is a master of loss. His characters seem to have all experienced some great tragedy, losing someone in some final way, and shuffle through the stories trying to piece something together, forging ahead while not quite able to let go. The sheriff in “Granite City” lives through the deaths of two wives—one long ago, one recently—to deal with the discovery of a missing local family, found brutally murdered up a nearby mountain. How he handles the case is certainly affected by what he’s gone through, what he wants to steer others from if he can. I also read “Palm Springs,” about a cocktail waitress named Tania, living and working in the desert oasis, who’s also … wait, I don’t want to say. Why? I read “Palm Springs” first, rather randomly, then read “Granite City,” and then read the title story, “Other Resort Cities,” which turns out, is a prequel to “Palm Springs.” “Other Resort Cities” tells of how Tania ended up in Palm Springs, meaning by the time we all get to the title story in the collection (if we read the book in order), we’ll kind of know what happens, both in the resolution and in the denouement. Interesting approach for sure, but no less impactful.

In fact, knowing how Tania’s story turns out—a dozen years later, anyway—makes “Other Resort Cities” all the more powerful. Maybe this is a drastic comparison, but it’s kind of like watching the Episodes I-III of the Star Wars franchise, or the superior Clone Wars animated series, knowing full well that the hero of those stories is going to turn into Darth Vader. You still root for Anakin, want him to defeat evil, but know he’s doomed; before long, he’s going to kill a whole lot of people and take over the galaxy. Nothing that drastic happens in Goldberg’s Tania stories, but I still read this title story in that same light, hoping that something wouldn’t happen, but knowing that it would, yet still wondering how it came about. That’s the hook, I guess, to already know but not know how.

Anyway, “Other Resort Cities” is indeed about Tania, at the time a thirty-something cocktail waitress in Vegas who one day gets a generous tip from a creepy ogler. Instead of saving it or sensibly applying it to expenses, she puts in all on a single hand of poker. Wouldn’t you know it, Tania draws a royal flush and at the end of her shift, on the way out of the casino, and finds herself fifty grand richer.

At first, Tania thinks she’ll spend the money on new house, a nice investment for herself, a nest egg for the future. That night, however, her dog and longtime companion pees blood. The next morning, that longtime companion is put down and Tania is alone and depressed. While crying herself through her nightly television watching, she runs across a documentary about Russian orphans, and right there and then decides she’s going to use the fifty grand to adopt a needy Russian kid. This process, Tania finds out over the following months, is difficult and expensive, and Tania ends up having to borrow ten grand more from her parents to just get to Moscow. There, she has to wade through a month’s worth of paperwork, during which she gets to visit with her new daughter, Natalya, for fifteen minutes a day. Tania, on leave from her life in America, soldiers through, and gets to take Natalya back home, where Tania plans to be the girl’s best friend, mom, and confidant all at the same time.

The sad twist of the story is, by the time the whole adoption process plays out and Tania has Natalya home, Natalya has changed. Gone is the sad but hopeful and sweet little girl that Tania first picked out. Instead, Natalya has become a stiff, disinterested twelve year old, a girl more interested in texting her friends at the Moscow orphanage than forming any real bond with Tania. Tania feels it during those fifteen-minute sessions in Russia, but assumes that once Natalya comes to America, once they spend time together, Natalya will come around. A couple of weeks into their new life together, Natalya is just as cold and disinterested as ever, and Tania begins to regret this major life decision.

But kids are like that, right? Hard to connect with because they’re always on their phones. Moody. Needy, but not affectionate. Natalya will soon grow out of it, Tania figures, and perhaps she will.

I won’t go any further into what happens at the end of “Other Resort Cities,” how Tania’s conflict plays out. Nor will I go into the flash forward that is “Palm Springs,” Tania still dealing with her choices over a decade later. You’ll have to read both to find out, but the journey there—Goldberg’s timing, his rate of revelation, the side stories he tells along the way—make everything well worth it. Goldberg has a real knack for diving into his characters’ thoughts, guiding them through their tragedies as they face new challenges, or even just everyday life obstacles. He also paints lush backdrops, the towns these stories take place in as much a character as any of the people. I really love how all of this adds up to Goldberg finding these people at their lowest—so much of the conflict already in their pasts—but finding story in the healing—or not healing. It’s a tough trick to pull off, to place those greater conflicts, those larger incidents, off the page, but Tod Goldberg, in Other Resort Cities, does it as well as any author I’ve seen. Great collection by a talented and heartfelt writer.