Part I: A Diabolical Plot
Those fancy hotels work like this: first, they take your money, say for a week, in advance. Then they gas you, so you either die, or get fed up and leave early. In either case, they get to rent your room out again to some other sucker, thus doubling their money.
One night I was sitting in my tiny room in the Chelsea, drinking and writing. I had gone out for another six-pack, and had just got back into the hotel and was walking down the hall towards my room. It was February, and the hall was freezing cold. One of the rooms on the hall had the door standing wide open; I could see inside it and the window was wide open too. A middle-aged woman with long, dyed-blond hair came out of the room, wearing a long, suede coat and holding a sandwich. I had never seen her before.
"Hello," I said. "How are you?"
"I have to eat my dinner out here because my room is filled with smoke!" the woman screamed. Her eyes were darting back and forth in her head like she couldn't see very well. She didn't wear glasses, though it seemed like she needed them. There was no smoke in her room.
"That's terrible," I said. "Why is your room filled with smoke?"
"What the hell are you asking me for!? Why don't you ask them down at the front desk?!"
In those days the hotel was filled with crazies. We used to joke that the Chelsea was the last stop on the way to the nut house. Sometimes it made me wonder what I was doing there myself. Crazies and creative types: the line was kind of blurred.
But not in this case. "Well, can't talk now. Gotta run," I said, and turned my back on her and walked away down the hall.
She followed after me, screaming: "I don't want to talk to you! I'm just eating my dinner! Why are you asking me about the smoke?! Huh!? Why are you asking me about the smoke?! You've been living here for years! You know what's going on!"
At this point I had been there for less than a year. But I was beginning to get an inkling as to what was going on. They would rent these transient rooms out to just about anybody: pimps, prostitutes, con men, street hustlers—people who couldn’t get a room elsewhere--often at exorbitant rates. The theory was, that kept the rent down for the permanent residents, the writers and artists and musicians.
Breaking into a run, the old woman hot on my heels, I made it to my door. On the verge of panic, I fumbled around finding the right key, but got it into the lock before the woman could catch up to me. I slipped inside and slammed the door in her face. Goddamn crazy bitch.
Something I had said or done really set the woman off. She screamed for two hours about how there was a conspiracy to kill her. The management of the hotel, and the long term residents, were in cahoots in this plot. Unfortunately, the halls wrapped around in such a way that my window was directly across from hers. I couldn’t concentrate on my work, and it didn’t take long before the old woman was driving me nuts. I was grateful when she went out in the hall and screamed, though I don't think anybody else in the hotel appreciated it. (Copyright 2006 Ed Hamilton)
Next Week: Part II: Ghosts Of The Old Hotel