Sunday, July 09, 2006

HOTEL


Fairy Tales by Eugenio Recuenco
Originally uploaded by www.weloveyoureally.com.

I worked in a hotel for five years. I still remember my orientation. The trainer told us that it was our job to make people forget that the pillows on which they rested their heads, or the cups that held their morning coffee had been used by hundreds of other people before them. Maybe even thousands.

One caked fork or a frayed bath towel could destroy the illusion and break the spell. Thus, the silver was always to be polished meticulously; the table linen needed to be crisp and unsullied.

It reminded me of the the similar spell that governs much of our lives. We forget how brief and temporary our tenancy is here. We can't use or touch anything that doesn't bear the unseen mark of those who came before; we can't walk anywhere without treading on a world that millions of others once believed was their own.

And yet as soon as we arrive, we start to claim things: my cup, my pillow, my key to my room. Those who came before become a distant rumor. We grow restive if we're reminded of them.

After the orientation, we took a tour of the hotel; and by the time I left, I knew I was going to love working there. It was, as the trainer unknowingly intimated, a world in itself.

Most of the workers had been there for many years, and within weeks, I had friends all over the building. I loved to sit in the kitchen late at night and talk to James, the erudite dishwasher, who had traveled all over the country with his blues band. I liked it when Maureen, the cranky chef who howled when she caught us filching a roll, let her guard down, and talked about the abusive boyfriend she couldn't bring herself to leave.

Mark, one of the groundskeepers brought his border collie to work every day, and visiting Tilly became a pleasant part of the day's routine. When one day, a heartbroken Mark showed up alone, we all mourned the loss of Tilly.

A trip to the laundry for linen was like traveling below the equator to a country where exotic languages were spoken, and the heat and humidity immediately induced torpor. Whenever I went there, I brought a few smuggled sodas. If I had time, I'd sit on a pile of clean linen and sip one with my co-workers south of the border.

For five years, I thought of the place as my hotel, just like the guests thought of the bed they had rented for only a night was theirs. I forgot the people who'd done my job before me, and those who would do it after I was gone.

Recently, I stopped in for a visit. The carpet was the same, the smell of the place--a mixture of chlorine and coffee-- was the same, but when I ran up to the break room to see my old friends, it was filled with mostly unfamiliar faces.

"Can I help you?" a young woman asked, looking me up and down, and seeing an interloper.

How could I tell her that this was once my hotel, that she was drinking from my cup, and sitting on my chair? How could I tell her that she'd broken the spell by reminding me once again, that I'm just passing through?

45 comments:

Laini Taylor said...

Great take on the prompt, Patry! Your description of your permabulations around the place reminded me of a great old manor house, with all the staff in their proper places, the groundskeeper with his dog, and a cook who's just known as "Cook." And the idea of our easy assumptions of ownership -- interesting and true. Never really thought about it before!

marja-leena said...

Wonderful, Patry! I especially like "we forget how brief and temporary our tenancy is here. We can't use or touch anything that doesn't bear the unseen mark of those who came before; we can't walk anywhere without treading on a world that millions of others once believed was their own." This has a ring of ancient history as well, another twist when thinking about all the cave art made by our long ago ancestors!

Peter said...

Oh. My. Gosh. One of my all-time favorite posts. A world unto itself, like the hotel and the world itself. If it has all been said before, that just goes to show you, and I so appreciate the meticulous polish I found on every word and sentence.

chiefbiscuit said...

As always, wonderful reading!

floots said...

a delightfully crafted tale
of the hotel
and
of the microcoam inside your head
(and mine)
loved it

rdl said...

Great!!loved it!!

paris parfait said...

This is a wonderful post! I loved the behind-the-scenes peek into how a hotel is run and how you wove the ways we live our lives into the narrative. Fabulous!

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Anonymous said...

Whew! Patry! This is excellent! You've created anther world in your writing alone. I once worked in a big hotel and your writing reminds me of it exactly--only I never felt like an "insider" as you did. You actually make me wish I had stayed there longer!

Jessie said...

Whew! Patry! This is excellent! You've created anther world in your writing alone. I once worked in a big hotel and your writing reminds me of it exactly--only I never felt like an "insider" as you did. You actually make me wish I had stayed there longer!

Jessie said...

oops, sorry. :)-

Cliff said...

Another great post. Hotels are funny animals aren't they? They house a family of temporary strangers. I am reminded of airports. They are another space where everything about them is temporary.

Patry Francis said...

laini: thanks for such an inspiring prompt! This one triggered more memories than one post could contain.

marja-leena: It's interesting that you link this to cave art--the artist's perspective coming through. Always great to see you here.

peter: Thank you for adding another dimension to the post; and of course, you're right. It's not just the cups we use or the ground on which we walk; even our most personal ruminations were previously thought by others.

chiefbiscuit: Thank you!

r: xo

paris: Thank you. I'm just hoping that my next experience is from the other side--preferably in one of the amazing French hotels you described on your blog.

floots: Thanks for visiting and sharing your microcosm. It's always a delight.

Jessie: Yes, writing is another world. It was fun recreating the hotel, and leaving out the hard work, the long hours, and the autocratic managers. Reading this post over, I realized that all I remembered was coffee breaks, good friends, and the joy of roaming around the place.

cliff: That one poignant word says so much: temporary.

Dale said...

:-)

Just passing through. We all forget all the time, don't we? If we really bore it in mind all the time I suppose we'd all be buddhas.

What Peter said. Marvellous.

Dave said...

Great post - one of your best. And that's saying a lot.

robin andrea said...

Fantastic story-telling, Patry. When Roger and I travel I can never suspend reality for a moment and simply forget that the bed linens, cups, and pillows have all been thoroughly used by many before me. Oh would that I could.

Scott A. Edwards said...
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Sky said...

sometimes when i read your words, patry, i feel like you are sitting with me in the garden, telling me a story as we drink lemonade. you are such an amazing story teller. this was quite interesting...a view from the other side of my hotel stays. i love it when things are kept so immaculate and pristine that it all becomes mine, in the moment and in the memory.

as you can see, i have been away from posting for a while. i shall return at some point! several times i have started and then stopped. don't know what gets in the way. i may post some pics we took in oregon recently. thanks for stopping by today. glad to hear from you as always. :)

Cliff said...

Patry, thank you for your kind words on my blog.
Every sentiment, however small, is a generous gift.
As I mentioned, I am reading Banville's The Sea, and the language, oh the language is so palpably beautiful. I want to hold his words to sleep.

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yak attack said...

Isn't it funny how we assume ownership of so many things. Wonderful post!

Fred Garber said...

I always wanted to be the night desk clerk at a sleasy no-tell motel. Oh well.... We are all just passin thru....

pepektheassassin said...

A fine piece of writing! I really enjoyed reading this. There is so much here beyond what the words themselves say....

Bill Cameron said...

There was a moment in high school chemistry class when the teacher poured everyone a glass of water. As we drank, he said, "It's just water, no big deal, right?"

Uh, yeah.

"But have you ever stopped and thought about the fact that most of those water molecules have existed for billions of years? And even if some of them formed in more recent chemical reactions, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms have existed for billions of years? The atoms that form your body were created in the heart of a star billions of years ago."

I thought of that when I read your post. Talk about temporary. Every bit of us is temporary, borrowed. On the one hand, there's a certain comfort to me in thinking about how long my fundamental bits have been kicking around. But on the other, when I think about it, I realize I'm ephemeral almost to the point of nothingness.

It makes every brief moment I have that much more valuable.

Sara said...

What a nice post!

And you know I unfailingly think about these things when I stay in hotels, about how my visit is so very singular for me and yet routine for the staff. I also think about this when I provide customer service, that I see hundreds of customers a day, all of them pretty much doing the same things, asking the same questions, explaining, excusing, even joking in the same ways, over and over again, but how each person only sees one of me, and how it's my job to make each one feel and enjoy the uniqueness of his or her experience with me, even though not much about it is unique to me. An illusion, like you say.

And since in hotels I have to will myself to avoid thinking about the number of bodies who have sweated into "my" mattress, drooled on "my" pillow, I wonder from time to time how often that sense of freshness is an illusion perpetrated by the staff or a willful collusion with each customer, without either the staff or the customer really being quite aware that this is so. 'Cause my experience can't be all that unique, can it?

Sharon Hurlbut said...

The illusion of ownership is definitely a comfort in our transient existence. It makes me think of the Egyptian rulers, buried in tombs stuffed with material things. They thought they could take it all with them. We know it was never ours to begin with.

Great post, Patry!

Patry Francis said...

dale: still hoping to be a Buddha one of these days, and after reading your beautiful post about the black oaks, I think you're already close.

dave: And coming from YOU, that comment means a lot. Now do I get a glass of that black beer?

robin: With your acute vision, I'm not surprised you see through the illusion of newness.

Thanks, Sky. I would love to sit in a garden with you and drink lemonade--especially if it was YOUR garden. (Not much of a green thumb here.) I'm looking forward to seeing your photos of Oregon!

Cliff: The Sea was on my list for a while, but then a bad review scared me off. Maybe I should reconsider.

yak attack: So true, and ironically our only real happiness comes in loosening our grasp.

fred: Oh, me too! In fact, I applied for a few of those sleazy night clerk jobs. I envisioned myself sitting up all night writing--and getting paid for it. But unfortunately, no one ever hired me.

pepek: Welcome and thank you for your lovely comment.

bill: Your comment deepens and expands beautifully on what I wrote. I thank you for it--especially the final line. I so agree.

sara: Another interesting perspective. It's not just the pillows and the forks that must be dressed up as if they were new. It's the human experience the guest is having. That is the challenge of people in jobs everywhere. To stay alive and awake to the uniqueness of the moment when it seems so familiar and mundane.

sharon: I hope we've passed beyond the mentality of the Egyption Pharoahs with their well-stocked tombs, but sometimes I wonder...Always a pleasure to see you here.

chuck said...

This post sits well...Thanks.

Cliff said...

Patry, which review was this that scared you off, and what did it say, if you remember?
Have you read Bel Canto? It's what comes to mind when you say "a story well-told".

Mary said...

I find this very moving. The illusions we have of permanence, of what we need to be secure .... me too.

MB said...

It is a pleasure to be back reading your writing. This weaves the spiritual and historical in with the mundane and everyday in a very inspiring way, and you make the beautiful flow seem effortless.

g said...

i worked as a desk clerk and then a reservation manager for an ancient resort hotel on the beach, where rooms came with hot and cold and salt running water. much of my job was keeping the old manager happy, and that was not an easy task. one day, as a couple was complaining at the front desk that there were no towels in the room, we all heard her voice, rasping over the translucent partition that enclosed her office, "well there were towels in that room yesterday."

colleen said...

What a great metaphor or mircosim for life. We are under a spell and think we own things that we can't possibly. I'm also thinking of the Eagles song now...you know the one.

daintee said...

I, too, enjoyed this mini memoir. I work in the food services department in a large urban hospital, and I completely understand how this mini world quickly takes form. Your writing is concise, yet vivid--I could visualize all your friends, and I especially loved the depiction of the laundry room :)

Patry Francis said...

chuck: Thanks for stopping by!

cliff: I don't remember where I read the review, or what it said specifically, but I came away with the idea that the novel's strength was its lyrical prose, not a compelling story. Which may be totally untrue. Anyway, you've convinced me to give it a try.

mary: I can imagine that images of transience would resonate with you now as you prepare to move.

mb: So happy to see you back! I loved your beautiful blue image, but hungered for poems!

g: What a great story! Thanks for sharing it here.

colleen: Hmmm...the Eagles song. You've got me thinking now. Don't tell me...

daintee: Oh yes, hospitals are wonderful places to work, too. My mother manned the switchboard at one, when I was young. After she left for a better paying job, she always missed its "family" atmosphere. Thank you for the lovely comment.

finnegan said...

This is a good reminder that certain things in life are worth the illusion.
Things like magic, movies and elegant hotels all seduce us with their illusions.

I also thought about why condoms come in hermetically-sealed packaging.

Fred Garber said...

Patry....Last Friday night my wife and I went to Council Bluffs, Iowa to see Los Lobos perform at a Casino. We stayed in motel in Omaha. My wife who had once worked in house keeping brought towells. She did not trust the hotel's to be clean. I thought of your post while we were there....

colleen said...

Patry, it's Hotel California about a world in of itself.

Marilyn said...

Love this post, Patry. Reading it, I realized that I DO come to think of those temporary quarters as MINE (and OURS) when we're traveling. I spent two adolescent summers cleaning motel rooms. I used to create whole imaginary lives for the travelers whose rooms I cleaned, and I'd forgotten all about that until I read this post. I used to wish that I could have any one of their lives...to be a traveler instead of feeling STUCK. I suppose in an odd way I made that come true...by keeping my life in such a state of flux most of my adulthood.

Patricia Parkinson for the Canadian Writers Collective said...

I so love you...cheering you on honey...xoxoxo always...

zhoen said...

Oh, Patry.

(o)

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lincoln said...

I like yer words. You must be a very together person. Your friends are lucky.

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