The San Francisco Years
Chapter 2 – You Can Check In But You Can't Check Out
To quote William Powell in Life With Father, “Egad!” The faded elegance, the hint of former glory was lost on me as I sat on the orange chenille bedspread in my room on the third floor at the Hotel Andre. Alone in my new home, I saw for the first time, things I missed earlier. The farther a guest got from the lobby, the more the passage of time had tarnished the guest rooms at the Hotel Andre.
It's time for a tour. It won't take long. The room wasn't large. At some time in the past 20 years a wallpaper border trim had been added at the top of the wall. This did little to lessen the impact of the 2 foot diameter dent in the plaster just over the corner desk. When I moved the desk chair a huge carpet stain, obviously the result of a murder, remained, waiting for a CSI team to microscopically pry and probe for its source. And the carpet. I couldn't be sure if the carpet was green by choice or by mold. To be kind, the carpet was the color of Robin Hood's jersey. It matched jarringly with the brilliant aqua walls. I can just imagine someone taking one of Don Johnson's jackets from Miami Vice and saying, “Match this color!” Remembering the 50's era cachet...I was enjoying the luxury of wall-to-wall carpeting. Speaking of the walls. Two walls had doors and one, a window. (There was a fourth wall, thankfully, but aside from dings from stiletto high heels, cat-o-nine tails, and flying bottles of lube, it was just an expanse of eye-bleed-causing color) The entry door from the hallway was in one wall. The tall, almost floor to ceiling window was opposite. In the corner was a radiator. Another wall had a closet door and the bathroom door. (It was almost a week before I opened the closet door. I didn't know what I'd find if I did. Perhaps the body that produced the stain evidence under the desk chair was currently mummifying in that closet.)
The bathroom was a model of efficiency. I have ridden Amtrak trains with larger bathrooms. A shower opposite the toilet with a sink and wall cabinet in between. Next to the wall cabinet was the quaint reminder of another time; In the wall was the little slot for used razor blades. It was, of course, where the killer had slipped the blade he used to cut the throat of the body in the closet that produced the stain under the chair by the desk. As the innocent man sat writing his memoirs, the Hotel Andre serial killer wearing stiletto heels and black net stockings, crept behind him to pounce and do his dirty deed, thankfully, freeing the room for the next victim tenant.
All the fixtures in the bathroom were circa 1930 or so. If the Hotel had a face lift in the 60's, this little room missed their attention. And that was a good thing. Makes me think of Martha Stewart when ever I use the words 'good thing'. I can imagine Martha wearing those high heels wielding a razor blade. (You can get her razor blade holder in the Better Living Section at K-mart) Do I think that Martha Stewart is a murderer? Wouldn't surprise me. That bitch can do anything. Back to the bathroom. The tiles were little one inch hexagons in very good condition. Tile work like this today would be retro and expensive. The toilet really deserved the name “throne” and flushing it was an experience similar to the flooding street on the Universal Studios Tour or any self-respecting tsunami.
And what a wonderful shower. No silly eco-friendly shower head, here. A little old lady, fresh from eating saltine crackers and peanut butter could spit a better shower than most modern shower heads. I am surprised there isn't a huge black market in 'good' shower heads. Every Mexican who climbs the fence to get into the U.S. Of A. should bring with them a shower head just as visitors to the Soviet Union used to bring along suitcases full of Levi's. They would be welcomed with open arms. Think of millions of showerers who have to run in circles just to get wet. With acclaim they would say, “Mr. Gorbachev...tear down this wall.” Of course the Mexicans would say, “Who the fuck is Mr. Gorbachev? We don't get this joke.” Wait a minute. Actually they would say it in Spanish and in spite of my year of high school Spanish, I wouldn't have any idea what they were saying. Yes, the shower at the Andre was warm, powerful, and wonderful. It is regretful the rest of the place didn't equal that single magnificence.
I was traveling light and moving in was simple. It involved lugging a suitcase and a carry-all through the door and tossing them on the brilliant fire-engine red, imitation Naugahyde, 50's - era chair that so complimented the green rug, orange bed-spread and aqua walls. I fell back onto the bed and in the fading light coming from the huge window contemplated life and the ceiling. It wouldn't be the first time I stared at a ceiling to contemplate life and it wasn't the last.
I was working that night, so my rest couldn't be long. At least I had a place to be the next morning.
I have to pause here to salute those who work the grave-yard shifts. Whoever you are and whatever you do, YOU labor above and beyond the call of duty. During the years I worked the morning show, it wasn't the getting up that was horrible; it was the going to bed. The anticipation of that 4AM or 3:45 AM or even 4:45AM alarm was enough to ruin the evening. Anticipating the Monday morning get-up was especially bad. I used to begin dreading it around noon on Sunday.
Leaving for work at 11PM or 11:30PM is equally disconcerting. I admire those who can function with that deadline looming in their immediate future. If you can grab a nap you are indeed special. If you can go out to a movie, say, or have dinner with friends and then...go to work. Wow. I am impressed. During the following month when I worked each night at Midnight, I found the easiest way to deal with life was to spend 8 hours at work and 16 hours in bed. (With obvious allowances for travel and glorious showers) The following years I got into a schedule (typical for the theater) of working evenings and going to bed at 2am or 3am. I still ended up spending most of my days in bed. The winter of 1994-95. Spent in bed.
Ah...but I'm getting ahead of my story.
The little old man who rented me the room was named Joe. He looked like he might smell bad, but since I never really got any nose time with him, it may have just been a 'look'. In my first few days at the Andre' I saw Joe often. I also met Margaret. My first impression of Margaret was how perfectly she fit the Hotel Andre' ambiance. Every faded bit of elegance was reflected in Margaret. The Andre and Margaret were clones. Peas in a pod. They, frankly, deserved each other. Eventually, I realized that Margaret was most likely a former guard at a Nazi concentration camp and Joe was the sergeant who said, “I know nuzzing!” Joe lived in a room down the hall from the lobby on the main level. Margaret lived in a room on level 2..or the mezzanine level. For a least a month, I assumed that Joe and Margaret were brother and sister. I found out eventually, they were man and wife. Time is a cruel taskmaster. It works that cruelty on our bodies, on our minds, and on our loves. And come to think of it, on our hates. (Sometimes, the latter is a good thing)
The only time I ever saw or heard Joe and Margaret converse, Margaret was yelling and Joe was ignoring. I guess it worked because they produced two children. I met the children.
Remember the Munsters? A family of freaks and one perfectly normal daughter (everyone felt sorry for that daughter because SHE was the odd-ball). Joe and Margaret's children. The boy was something out of a Gunter Grass novel and the daughter was a suburban soccer mom. Go figure.
Ahh...but I'm getting ahead of my story. Again.
Coming in Chapter 3 – I See Strange People!