The Star Hotel
By Paige Hoffer
January 24, 2024
I’m good at waiting. I sit down and let the buzz fill my ears until I know it’s over.
Sara’s right hand is on top of the wheel, the left resting on the nook.
She’s wearing the silver ring with turquoise fill I gave her on our first anniversary, and I take it as a sign this may just work out. To 1984 and forever, the interior inscription says.
She’s accompanying me while I finish my research on the Basque community in Elko, Nevada. I’m drawn to them because they’re a lot like us; Sara and I, I mean.
Her eyes are cast forward, looking at the road. If she sees me looking at her, she gives me no indication. I look back at my journal. In neat handwriting, I copy (Gallop, 1970), followed by:
The mystery surrounding the origins and history of the Basque people, the difficulty of their
tongue, and the great reserve which they display in all their contacts with the outside world, a reserve to which is due, in all probability their survival as a race, has invested them with an air of remoteness, and woven around them is an atmosphere of romance.
It makes me uncomfortable. This man, Gallop, is clearly an outsider writing in. His attempt at making the Basques familiar to a new audience makes them feel other. They are not the agents of the sentences he writes; to Gallop it appears some unknowable, otherworldly force has invested them in remoteness and woven them in romance like a warm blanket for which they should be grateful. He casts the Basques as a group who is acted upon, which in his mind, grants him the ability to do so, too.
When I read it, I think of Sarah and I. At McDonald's, for example, I wrap my hand around hers, and feel the stare of an older man. When I catch him looking, rather than being embarrassed, he stares back and licks his lips because he knows he can.
I fear Gallop gets something right. In small towns like Elko, Sara has made it clear to me that we are roommates, just like her family believes. We speak a secret language made of glances and codewords, which is both integral to our survival and to maintain the centripetal force of our private life. Because she is the only person allowed to know I am a lesbian, she is the only person it feels natural to confide in about anything, really.
We eat it in silence in the car. Sara doesn’t think the man was a big deal; I do. At this point, I wish she would turn on some goddamn music. We’re tired of fighting, of this god-awful summer.
Sara picked the Star Hotel for us to stay this weekend; she thought it would help with my research. After a blow-out fight last week, I’d thought she was going to end it, but instead, she threw a pamphlet at my head. Elko, Nevada: Where You Come to Remember, it said on the front cover.
Now I hold the same pamphlet, worn from her obsessive reading and rereading, up to the actual hotel.
Pete (sometimes Pedro) Jauregui was a holetero who opened the Star with his wife Mathilde in 1910. They were part of the first generation of Basque immigrants to Nevada, most of whom became sheepherders. Though the hotel was named in English and painted red, white, and blue, visitors exclusively spoke Basque, ate traditional food, and afterward cleared the tables so they could dance and drink into the night before they returned to herding on new, foreign American terrain.
As we’re walking past the entry desk toward the bar, Sara steps on a cricket with the sole of her boot and doesn’t notice.
She tells me to go upstairs while she drinks Jack at the bar because she knows I like to settle into a place as soon as I get there. The ritual of hotel check-ins is second nature for us.
In the room, I think of her at the bar with the Elko cowboy we saw sitting downstairs. She’s probably struck up a conversation about their nephew’s baseball game. This is magic about her; strangers feel comfortable enough to talk to her like family, unloading the mundane on her and never worrying if she’ll be bored.
I strip down and get in the shower, rinsing the dried sweat and dust from my skin. I scrub hard, and look down to see all of the dirt that’s washed off. I scream.
I’m not kidding, Sara. Not one, not five, fifteen crickets in the drain. I can’t stay here.
She tells me I’m being dramatic, but picks each one out and tosses them into the trash bin, adding I should get ready for dinner while she asks about the crickets.
I can’t sit still and decide to go downstairs to check on Sara. I find her in a tense, hushed conversation with a woman at the desk.
Mormon crickets, and summer, they say. What the hell is a Mormon cricket? I walk up to Sara and grab her hand, but she pulls it away.
I don’t care if it’s seasonal, take care of it. Take care of it. I didn’t pay for the suite to have to pick crickets out of the drain. Send someone up there.
When we walk away, she’s muttering something, but I’m too angry to listen.
Do you realize what you just did, Sara? Why the hell did you just push me off like that?
This was a recurring fight. We love in hotel rooms and behind closed doors like I’m her dirty fucking secret.
She pulls me aside, says if I wanted to fight, we could go back upstairs, but actually that’s the last-fucking-thing-I’d-actually-like-to-do, so we sit a foot apart at the bar next to a woman with big hair in a tacky, cheetah print dress instead.
She tells us about the crickets.
Apparently, it's rare. Crickets lay their eggs in the spring, but they can lie dormant for years until there’s a long, summer drought followed by rain. Elko has had a few infestations: 1857-65, 1932-48, 1951-55, and apparently, now. There’s nothing you can do; you wait through the season until they’ve died out.
So, it’s going to get worse?
The woman nods her head and takes a long, slow drag of a cigarette.
That night, I can't sleep, so I research.
After forty-three years of hotel keeping, Pete and Mathilde retired from the Star after a series of troubles: cricket invasions, rising prices, declining basque presence in Nevada. They sold the Star Hotel to Fred and Bibaina Bengoa in 1944, another Basque couple. They were the only Basque hoteleros who "turned to American hotel keeping." They operated the no-Basque-allowed Townhouse nightclub followed by other local motels for a while.
It feels like a cop out to give up an investment that meant something to people. I couldn’t possibly know the circumstances, but I can’t help but feel that no matter how bad it hurt, they had an obligation to maintain the legacy of this safespace.
When I can’t read anymore, I walk to the window and see the crickets. They sound like rain, and there must be thousands. They move in a humming, red mass; each buzz amplifies in a frustrated, cyclical motion that swells every time a car drives down the road. The road itself is covered with what looks like a slick of black oil, so thick I can’t see the yellow lines. I’ve never seen anything like it. And the stench–it’s subtle, but already it’s started to stink through the wall.
I get back into bed, look over at Sara, and feel like crying. I consider waking her up. Her breath, too, swells, jagged and broken at intermittent points. She has nightmares when she’s anxious about something, but she rarely tells me about them.
It makes me remember when I told her I loved her. As the fights have gotten meaner, I often find myself calling on the memory.
She was washing her face; I sat on my bed, watching from an angle. The water was still running when she took her hands off her face and braced herself over the sink. She probably thought I didn’t realize she was choking back tears. I stood up, and without words, I wrapped my arms around her. I felt her whole body release, and she sobbed into my shoulder for a while.
I told her right then about how I knew–clearer than anything else—the truth that I loved her so fiercely that I was willing to withstand every sideways stare, lost friendship, and lonely Thanksgiving dinner if it meant I could be a whole thing every night when I watched her wash her face.
I thought after that conversation we were going to live together, and I mourn that time constantly. That was three years ago. I am still awake, and she is still having nightmares.
If it’s so far gone, I wonder why it still hurts so much.
She jolts awake.
Have you been crying?
I’d moved into the bathroom, sitting on the floor in my big Boy George t-shirt. I nod. I think she’s moving to me, but she walks toward the door, grabs the handle, pauses, and looks at me.
Those goddamn crickets. Myra, I’ll fix this. I’m sorry, I’ll fix this. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.
She walks out the door, and I lie on the floor.
The crickets hit the hotel window, which is slightly ajar, and push it open. I watch with a dead stare, get up, and make a shallow effort to close it, but there’s no use; it's too late. At least a hundred crickets have already made it into the room.
I’m good at waiting. I sit down and let the buzz fill my ears until I know it’s over. ■
Layout: Colin Cantwell
Photographer: Dylan Haefner
Videographers: Shezan Samanani
Stylists: Cythia Lira & Myranda Gonzalez
Set Stylist: Ashley Nguyen
HMUA: Azucena Mosqueda, Floriana Hool & Anoushka Sharma
Models: Tanya Velázquez & Leilani Cabello