Monday, January 16, 2006

From the First Solo Flights

My room at the Gorham Hotel during a rare stay, February 1983

For Colleen, who is "curious to know more about your situation at the time when you spent days in hotel lobbies."...

When I left my marriage at the end of January 1983 (age 24) I was on my own for the first time. For a month I had a "home base" with a cousin and her parents, but it was mainly a waystation. I stayed with friends, in the 24-hour student lounge at my graduate school, and on rare occasion (two, maybe three nights) at the Gorham Hotel in Manhattan. I spent my days hanging out in hotel lobbies or the New York Public Library, writing copiously in my journal. I've omitted many details here out of third-party privacy considerations.

I had sent out letters to friends across the country, knowing that I was leaving New York -- but to go where? The two cities I could most see myself living in were San Francisco and Boston. A friend of mine who had been living near Boston for 10 months called; she was ready to move back to southern California. Two days later I was on a Greyhound bus to Boston, where I spent a week with her and registered with temp agencies before I even signed the lease to take over her small rented house in Woburn.

Part of this excerpt has been published in Diarist's Journal.

Journal excerpts, February 1983

I am back at the warm, quiet women’s lounge at the Hotel Roosevelt, where I have walked from 57th and Lexington to 45th and Madison. Fortunately it is not too cold, and I have gotten good walking exercise and traveled at a leisurely pace. It is the type of distance and the type of neighborhood where I prefer the walk to using public transportation.

The banquet room opposite this lounge has a convention reception of dapper young executives, all of them men. I can almost hear my mother say, “There’s your opportunity, like fish in a net.” My cuticles, chipped from the dry cold air, continue to heal; I hardly chew on them, or my nails, at all. I am the homeless of leisure, taking for myself what I can take within my own mores. I need, right now, the lobby and lounge of the Hotel Roosevelt. I am not a paying guest here, I have no room in the hotel registry … but I am quiet and composed, well-dressed and clean and perpetually sober. I do not occupy one space for too long. Until I replace the lining in my coat, I fold the coat neatly and in such a way as to hide the rips and tears that rend the inside.

I feel safest when I am in the middle of Manhattan, mobile, not pinned down and vulnerable. When I was in Manhattan yesterday, “two strange men” ran my uncle’s doorbell; my aunt didn’t answer. Last night, between 1:15 and 1:30 AM, their dog barked about once every 30 seconds. When I asked my uncle if he always does this or does it at all, he evaded the question and still hasn’t answered me. Fugitive life has its drawbacks....

I travel to the Big Kitchen in the World Trade Center. I instinctively saw that my time at the Roosevelt was up; one can shuttle between the lobby and the lounge for only so long before one gets antsy, and I was getting antsy. I headed down close to the Ferry, to my other “haunt,” to write, read, relax. As I passed subway stops from Times Square to 34th Street to 23rd Street I worried about being tracked, stalked. Then, at the 23rd Street stop, something clicked. I thought, “Fear is a form of dependence.”

I purchased a traveling alarm clock. The cashier recognized me; we’d gone to the same elementary school. I found myself wondering: Does she still live at home with her parents? Is she married? She looked well-protected. She asked, “How have you been?” and I answered, “Fine,” thinking: Try compacting ten years including high school, college, graduate school, marriage and separation into answering the question, “How have you been?” Still, meeting her was fun. I was businesslike and cheerful and got an informal discount on the clock.

This is what I get for paying $53.96 at the Gorham Hotel: room 502 under my own name. A window facing out onto 55th Street, directly across from the incredible mosaic façade of the New York City Center. A round table, which I have moved by the table lamp and where I sit on one chair with my feet propped up on a second. A convertible couch. The usual color TV but with digital control, and drawer space with writing table and dozens of stationery sheets. The usual night table with Manhattan yellow pages. Queen-sized bed. Walk-in closet with extra pillows and blanket. Second closet, with extra pillows and blanket. Clean, private bath with fake marble sink and, ironically, the same vanity as in the place I left. Foyer with refrigerator, stove, and shelf space, a kitchen sink. A walk to Carnegie Hall. And an easy chair.

I could live here; these should be apartments -- but if they were apartments I couldn’t afford them. What luxury. The lobby is opulent gold. The Ziegfeld theater, showing Gandhi, is around the corner. The Gorham is identified by having its name painted on the brick wall of the building and by a doormat inside the enormous, gold-handled glass doors.

What I miss here is a radio. I am comfortable with the silence and street noise now, but when I first arrived I needed to turn on the TV and cut the brightness and contrast to have a blank screen. I had it on PBS so as not to be distracted by commercials and jingles.

I closed the curtains, stripped, and showered. In the background the TV played The Electric Company; as I dried off I heard a grown man sing about his night light.

First I feel elated, on my own, alone in a hotel room of my own choosing. Then I feel strange, registering solo in a hotel. I have broken some sort of tie.

I have moved the easy chair from its corner to the table. Even this little gesture to make me feel more comfortable had to be learned -- but if I don’t treat myself right, how can I expect others to? (Alternate thought: If I don’t treat myself right, who will?)

After I showered and put on my sweats, the phone rang twice. First it was the front desk, saying, “You left some articles here when you checked in.”

“No,” I said. “It must be someone else; I have all my baggage with me.”

The second time I answered the phone I heard a click. I thought, “Don’t do this to a paranoid runaway wife.”

No one knows where I am. I’m registered as Malcohn [not yet my legal name at the time], so if someone looks for me they may have to guess a while. I thought: Maybe the front desk is checking to see if I’m still alive. People alone check into a hotel room with next to nothing so they can kill themselves in privacy and the Gorham’s afraid I might do away with myself and give them bad publicity. Suicide is the last thing on my mind.

On the F train, an elderly woman with a cart of bags, looking more matron than derelict, was shouting. She lit a cigarette, a man told her there was no smoking on the train, and she exploded: “You will not dare to tell me what to do!” She ranted about having properties everywhere. I thought: Here is a complete breakdown of rules. This woman’s rule for restraint and rules of communication have been wiped out. Now, sitting here, I think of other breakdowns of rules and credos, those closer to home.

When I woke up this morning I felt good but did not know where I was.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad people keep journals. I enjoyed reading that and felt right there with you. What an adventure (looking back, probably at the time you didn't think so).

9:57 AM  
Blogger e_journeys said...

Actually, it was an adventure at the time, considering what I'd left behind. Back then there was an off-off-Broadway play (I forget the title) whose ads included a song with the lyrics, "And I don't know what's comin' -- but this new day feels fine!" That became my theme. Exhilarating and frightening at the same time.

11:34 AM  

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