An independent journalist since the 1980s, Flammang
Tales of Travel and Back at Homeby James M. Flammang
Out in the dusty lobby, the old lady wasn’t bothering anybody. Just sitting, staring. Sure, she didn’t really belong there. I knew that. She wasn’t a guest at the hotel. That’s the rule. The requirement, which lets a stranger occupy a seat in the lobby.
Still, why should I have to insist that she leave? And call the police if she refused?
Because I was in charge, that’s why. While taking home minimum wage, from 5:00 to 11:00, six days a week, my word was law at the Delaney Hotel (Weekly Rates, Private Bath, TV available).
Outside the hotel, my word was shit, counting for nothing. But for six hours a day, I was virtual lord, master, king. Whatever you wanted to call it. Maybe all of those together.
The hotel's owner left by 5:00 nearly every day – provided he'd showed up at all. “It’s all yours, Sharkey,” he’d said to me as I arrived behind the front desk and he was halfway out the front door. The hotel wasn’t mine, obviously. It was his. He’d inherited the place from an old uncle or something, and had no interest in it. Not the rooms, not the guests, nothing. Whenever he made an appearance, he just gathered up the rents they'd all paid, looked around a little, and went his merry way.
This same scenario had happened so many times, I’d lost count long ago. Maybe the same old lady, maybe a different one. Didn’t matter. Getting her out with the least commotion was my job. And I’m embarrassed to say so, but I was good at it. Isn’t that great? I was skilled at booting little old ladies out into the street; or calling the cops if they resisted.
Who was she, anyway? Was this really one of the old women who’d been here before, sitting quietly, unruffled, in the lobby? I just couldn’t tell. They kind of looked alike, all of them. Coat too heavy for this weather, but worn tightly closed at the neck. Worn-out old-lady shoes, scuffed and tired. No lipstick or anything. No jewelry. But a hat. They all had hats. Hats that had probably been stylish at some time in the distant past. But not anymore. Nobody wore hats anymore, except little old ladies in the lobby of the Delaney. Waiting for me to act.
Did she live around here? Except for the Delaney, this was kind of an expensive neighborhood. I couldn’t afford to live here, that was for sure.
Anyway, what was I, some kind of policeman? When I took this job, I thought all I had to do was rent rooms occasionally (not many people came to inquire), and take rents from the residents. They all paid by the week, or even by the month. So there wasn’t much rent collection duty, either.
Little old ladies weren’t the worst, though. At least they didn’t often resist, or try to fight. No, the worst were the couples. Married couples, or whatever they were. Gay couples, too. Like the man and woman in 216. Every Saturday evening the two of them would stroll out of the elevator like lovebirds, cooing and preening. Not a worry in the world, all dressed up for a night out. They were probably 40 or 45, and acted like they’d been together a long time.
By midnight, they’d be back. Screaming, clawing, frantic. Often as not, she’d already be marked up from a fight somewhere along the way. Scrapes, cuts, maybe a bit of blood oozing down her cheek, making its way onto her party dress.
Usually, when they came back, he’d be quiet. Not always, but usually. She was the one yelling, trying to drag her longish fingernails down his face, or flail at him with her arms like some mechanical boxing toy. Even knee him in the groin, if she could get close enough.
He was a muscular-looking guy, but if he’d been doing any talking at some point, he was finished now. He was obviously drunk, but the kind of drunk who shuts up eventually. She was the hysterical drunk, the angry boozer, ready to fight some more, letting the world know what a rat he was and how he’d ruined her life.
Maybe he had. How would I know? All I knew was that I couldn’t do a thing to control her outbursts, her attacks. Except call the cops. Which I did, almost every single Saturday night around midnight. Might as well have made that call automatically, before they actually walked in the door.
A district police station was only a couple of blocks away, so a pair of cops usually showed up pretty quickly. But they didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Why should they? There were no surprises at the Delaney,
“You two again?” one cop would cry out as they ambled in the front door, hands on their billy clubs. “Don’t you ever give it a rest?” ....
Note: This story is intentionally incomplete at this point, intended to serve as a sample.
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