Saturday, May 20, 2006

the difference is small

The difference between a swell trip to New York City and a not-so-swell trip can be very small. Infinitesimally small. At least for me.

Last trip to Midtown Manhattan, while I was waiting in line to check out of the Paramount, I had a friendly conversation with a beautiful hotel staff member whose only job seemed to be to chat with the hotel guests waiting in line. To keep 'em happy. She and I speculated on which movie or TV series was being filmed on 46th Street the night before, right outside the hotel entrance. She even went to check on this for me to resolve the mystery. She never found out, but not knowing made my trip even better: it could've been some kind of major star-studded big-money studio release instead of just another episode of Law and Order.

This time, my checkout from the Park Central New York consisted of the following exchange:

"Your bill is settled except for $23.65 in Internet charges and $58 for a room service breakfast this morning."

"$58 for breakfast! You've got to be fucking kidding. I didn't order a room service breakfast. I didn't even have a fucking room service menu in my dismal room. How would I have even known you offer room service? I want that charge removed from my bill. Now!"
Picture Rosie Perez on PCP, and you've just about got the tone and volume of my voice. It's not enough that both mornings I was awakened by events transpiring on the other side of the thin walls (once by an alarm clock left unattended, which beeped for a full hour starting at 6am, and the second morning by the noises that accompany the classic hotel room congress); now they were also going to charge me for breakfast, a meal which holds little interest for me when you compare it with that extra hour of sleep that'd already been rudely denied me.

I don't think that any of these things would've bothered me if the room hadn't been so darned depressing. Sure, when I made the reservation, my aim was to find somewhere to sleep indoors, which looked to be no mean feat in Manhattan on May 17th. It may well've been the last room in Manhattan.

It wouldn't have taken much to redeem the experience: certainly my meetings were fine, the hotel maids were kind, Manhattan was exciting and open late, the go cup of fresh-squeezed carrot, parsley, beet, and ginger juice that I had for lunch on Thursday was envigorating in that peculiar health food way, and my experiences in transit from here to there were uneventful (save a particularly vigorous armrest war on the way from SFO to JFK -- call me an a-hole if you will, but I think the person in the middle seat gets to claim one armrest. It seems to me that if I'm in the aisle or window seat, I invariable cede the relevant armrest to the poor sucker stuck in the middle. I was in the middle of the middle section on a 767, and neither guy would budge. Last seat on the plane. Probably between two 100K flyers. I gave up trying somewhere over Utah, but I was impressed with both guys' vigilant concern for that ambiguous bit of extra territory).

Ah, maybe if my New Yorker hadn't gone astray last week and I'd have known about "Inside/Out", a piece of performance art taking place in a Times Square storefront that involves posted secret confessions of passers-by, I'd have had an unexpected experience to hang my hat on. Something to erase the prevailing memory of the depressing hotel room.

When I got back to San Francisco, I realized that what that hotel room really represented was a replay of the three months I spent living in The Most Depressing Apartment in the World.

The Most Depressing Apartment in the World was an overpriced studio on Sierra Madre Boulevard, just north of San Pasqual, in the no-man's land between San Marino and Pasadena. Was it called the Tiki Palms? The Royale Tiki? The Palm Royale? It had a tropical motif to the name, but that was it. Nothing tropical about the place. It would've been an okay setting for a Raymond Chandler novel, but it was way too depressing to actually live there.

The Leon Capri Apartments! That's it. The Capri was the tropical part. Either that or it was referring to the womens' pants style that accentuates the size of one's ass. One or the other.

It was one of those low-slung two-story 1950s apartment buildings where the studio apartments all look out onto a narrow courtyard. The courtyard had a small ice-cold pool, too small for anything except a kid to splash around and pee in the shadowy water. Or maybe for a particularly determined resident to drown him or herself. The narrowness of the courtyard ensured that the sun would never shine on the pool and warm up the water, and the building's inhabitants didn't seem like the fun-in-the-sun type. They seemed more apt to take a dry dive than to cannonball into a cold, shallow puddle-of-a-pool.

The Coughing Man was dying. You could tell. You don't cough like that if you're going to survive. The young black woman next door to me had just moved to LA from the South, and after spending a week at the YWCA, she'd moved into the Leon Capri Apartments. You could tell that her earnestness and shining-through goodness would just lead to stunning disappointments. You could tell. The fact that she'd rented an apartment in the Leon Capri was an omen: nothing good was going to happen for her in LA. That in and of itself depressed me more.

Our landlord was some invisible rich lady in the Valley, but we had on-site managers. Chip and Marty. Chip handled the financial matters, collecting rent and screwing people out of their deposits as a proxy for the rich lady in the Valley. Marty did the repairs. He had bandages everywhere you could have bandages and his arm was in a sling. Their apartment, which may've been slightly more spacious than the norm, was littered with prescription bottles. You'd have to be on something to be in charge of The Most Depressing Apartments in the World.

The bathtub faucet dripped steadily the entire three months that I lived there. Marty fixed it once, but there was no evidence he'd made any progress. Probably the work had resulted in the need for another bandage though, and quite possibly another prescription. Dangerous work, repairing anything in The Most Depressing Apartment in the World.

I never had a phone put in. I figured I'd never want to talk to anyone if they called me there. If they came over, they'd immediately suggest that we go out somewhere else. No-one even wanted to sit on the brown carpeting; they were afraid they'd catch the depression that seemed so virulent.

The apartment was furnished with The Ugliest Furniture in the World (and here we definitely see why the Park Hotel would evoke these memories). Two day beds with plaid covers at right angles to one another, with a white particle board and melamine table at the vertex. And a coffee table with impossibly sharp metal corners that looked like Marty'd gone on a medieval kick during the last redecorating period.

"Could you take the furniture away," I asked when I moved in, "I basically don't need it."

"No. We have no place to store it," Chip told me.
So I piled it all up in one corner of the room: a holy pyramid, homage to the gods of Furniture Discounters Warehouse. God, that shit was depressing. Piling it in the corner at least made me feel like the ugliness was localized. When I moved out, three months later (after slinking by the Manager's Unit four days into April with my April rent yet unpaid, then abruptly giving notice), Chip asked me if I wanted to keep the furniture.

"We're just going to throw it out," he said.
Cough-cough, the man downstairs would go. Cough-cough-cough-cough hack-hack-hack. He left his curtains open so the rest of us could see in when we chanced to walk by. Cough-cough. There he'd be in his Barcalounger (obviously he didn't have one of the Furnished Units), the TV turned up so loud that Chevys passing by on Sierra Madre Boulevard could hear Bob Barker. Cough-cough. His cough was so loud, and so bad, that you could hear it above Truth or Consequences. We knew that if you stopped hearing the coughing, whoever had a phone (the young woman next to me couldn't afford one; I'd see her now and then at the payphone at the grocery store across the street) would have to call 9-1-1. If we didn't do something right away, we knew the smell would only make the apartments more depressing.

One by one my friends dropped by.

"Man. You weren't kidding. This place is really depressing. Y'know what? You should move." They each said approximately this when they walked in the door and again when they were leaving.

"You're so right." I said. They were. They were right.

By the way, I wouldn't stay at the Park Central New York if I were you. Even if you aren't paying a premium because you didn't make reservations 'til the last minute. The place'll just bum you out. Better to sleep on the cot in the Ladies Room of some nice office building.


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