The Paranormal Hotel: Holidays Edition

'won't be long now' by Robert S. Donovan

The hotel is messing with my spidey-senses, I think. I had the strangest experience on Christmas Eve. I was in the laundry room and it was coming up on midnight. I was folding some towels and glancing up at the the lobby monitor every few seconds.

I caught a flash of motion, and the impression of a man, just as he strode out of the camera’s line of sight. He had disappeared from my view into the hallway that leads past the vending machines, then the laundry room, on the way to the elevator. Only two details registered. He was wearing faded jeans and work boots. (‘Not exactly an uncommon look around here.) Still, that glimpse of scuffed leather boots made my heartbeat stutter. A cold urge to slam the laundry room door shut sluiced through me. Instead of lunging for the door, though, I froze.

Of course he didn’t come in. In fact I didn’t see so much as a shadow from his passing.

Considering the fact that I hadn’t batted an eye earlier in the evening, when seven rough-looking giants (at least a couple of whom were sporting teardrop tattoos) had invaded my lobby, I find my reaction to this guy’s boots odd. (Is this a Stephen King thing? As I write it up, I am reminded of The Walking Dude.)


My men-folk and I made fudge in four different flavors so we could put together holiday prize-packages for some of the residents at the hotel. One long-timer, Willard, was too appreciative. When I gave him his box of fudge on Christmas night, he enveloped me in a breath-stealing hug, then said he hadn’t been given a Christmas gift in years.

Willard is a big guy … well over six foot, and probably 275 pounds or so. I don’t know how old he is, but I get the impression he and his wife had their son late in life. (The wife died a couple of years ago, after having a major heart attack in the hotel. Willard stayed on, but he did request to be moved to a different room.) The boy is near the age of my son. (I know this because they got their drivers licenses at about the same time.)

Willard is friendly, polite, and pleasant to be around. When I pass his room on my rounds, I often hear him singing Motown songs in a gorgeous baritone. After I gave him the fudge, while he was waiting for the elevator to arrive, he was singing Jingle Bells.

On the 27th, when I worked again, I found out Willard had been taken away by ambulance on the night of the 26th.

I was just getting the news from my manager when Willard and his son returned from the hospital. Willard  came to the desk to say he’d “just had a little heart event thing.” His son stood back from us, but volunteered that his dad’s blood sugar had been way too high as well  which wasn’t surprising, considering how much fudge he’d been eating.

Yes, I do feel like I tried to kill one of my favorites.


Last night, on New Year’s Eve, I discovered a party of folks smoking A LOT of pot in one of our non-smoking rooms. (Another guest complained about the scent in the hallway.) When I got up there, I sniffed my way to the offending room and knocked.

A well-dressed young guy with bloodshot eyes opened the door just a crack. I told him I had to come in to find out if there was smoking going on. He reluctantly allowed me to enter. The air in the room was visibly swirling in the eddies created by the breathing of the ten or twelve people in there. There wasn’t a joint or bong in sight, and everyone in the room had perfect posture and folded hands. They were the guiltiest-looking bunch of 20-somethings I’ve ever seen.

At the time, I was just stunned that they had requested a non-smoking room when they checked in. I made them pay for a-whole-nother room, on one of the smoking floors, but I didn’t kick them out. I left a note for my boss, telling him what I’d done. I was nervous he’d be mad that I hadn’t rousted them completely, but I did not want to be responsible for any of them driving around, stoned beyond reason, on New Year’s Eve.

Today I got a text from my boss, telling me he was pleased with my decision.

Such is life at:


photo credit: Robert S. Donovan Licensed CC BY-NC 2.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic)
It has been cropped to square, retaining watermark.
NOTE: This post may have been re-titled and edited from its original form,
for inclusion on The Paranormal Hotel homepage.


A bad night at the paranormal hotel.


61 Dodge Patrol Car by Greg Gjerdingen (edited)

I had a rough night at the paranormal hotel.

For those of you that don’t know, the hotel where I work is a like a hybrid of a flea-bag hotel, a 1940s-style rooming house, and a budget motel for low-income travelers. (In form if not function, though, it is technically a modern multistory hotel, located just beyond the edge of St. Paul.) At the hotel, we get all kinds. I’ve seen a lot go down at this place. Some of it has been good; much of it has been sad; a little of it has been frightening. I call it the paranormal hotel not because it’s particularly haunted but because it’s such a strange place — one that absolutely captures the essence of the literal definition of paranormal:

Para- / par-ə / Prefix. ”Alongside, near, beyond, altered, contrary to.”
normal / nawr-muhl / Adjective. “Conforming to the standard; usual; regular; natural.”
-ist / Ist / A suffix of nouns. “A person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principles, doctrines, etc.”

Last night, I had three distinct unpleasant encounters there. In this one shift, I was:

Blindsided by sideways, passive misogyny:

First, a regular guest decided to share his vacation photos with me. He’s always been quite courteous and dignified with me before. He looks and (usually) acts like any late-middle-aged, blue collar business owner from Minnesota. I didn’t think there’d be a problem with his pictures, but apparently he’d spent the week at a motorcycle rally in Florida, and the photos were of scantily clad young women. I was okay with the one of the girl wearing a peacock-feather-themed body paint instead of a shirt. (I mean, that’s interesting, right?) I was less impressed by the shots of him with a stripper’s groin pressed into his face. It felt icky to be shown such a thing by a man who is actually a stranger.

Why don’t more 60 year old men feel weird about having sexual fantasies about and (purchased) encounters with teenage girls? And why did this particular guy think showing his trophies to ME was a good idea?

I congratulated him on having a good time and disappeared to fold laundry.

Accused of racism:

Later, a woman who has a $700+ balance owing implied I was racist when I tried to collect some kind of significant payment from her. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been attentive to the clearly difficult situation her family is attempting to deal with. There are two polite and well-dressed brothers, who seem to have some sort of mental deficit, staying at the hotel. They are never a problem. There are two sisters who are struggling to come up with enough money to keep the two men fed and housed. All of the siblings in question are in their late 50s to late 60s. Last night, I called one of the women over to the desk so that I could let her know that my boss is getting close to the point of evicting the brothers. She promised that she was coming back in a couple of hours with a payment of more than $500. I was relieved — for the family and for my boss. (For the record, my boss has been more than just patient and understanding … he also heavily discounts the room.)

At roughly the appointed time, the OTHER sister, whom I’d previously only spoken to on the phone, came in to pay $60. I was confused and surprised. I told her that her sister had been in earlier and promised a larger payment. The woman standing in front of me said, “Sister? I don’t have a sister. You must have me confused with some other black person.”

I stood my ground, called her by her first name, and reminded her of some of our previous phone conversations. Then she told me that her sister would not have said such a thing and that she was in the car, so she could confirm that. She went out, came back in and said, “She never said that.”

I accepted the $60.

Confronted by direct, active misogyny:

About an hour before I was scheduled to go home, a tall, slim, construction-crew type guy came in to the lobby. The scent of whiskey clung to him. He was carrying a bag of fast food and a cell phone. He strode up to the counter and said, “I have a room here.”

After a few moments of reasonably civilized – if slurry – conversation, it became clear that he though he’d already paid for the room, via Priceline and his credit card. The moment I told him that we don’t list with Priceline, but only (where you can make a reservation but not where you can pay before checking in) things started to get ugly.

He showed me the screen of his cell which, indeed, appeared to show a confirmation message from Priceline. He was so convinced that he’d already paid, that I called one of my bosses to confirm that the policy hadn’t changed recently. While I was talking to her, the guy’s swearing intensified. Over-hearing his belligerent tone, my boss offered to speak to him for me. He listened briefly to her, then started shouting into the receiver. When he told her she should get her lazy ass down here to see his confirmation for herself, I knew the police were going to have to get involved. When he threw the phone back at me, I asked my boss to make the call. I knew she would be watching the security feed of everything that was about to happen, but also knew there was really nothing she could do for me besides calling the police and hitting the record button.

At that point, I just wanted him out of the hotel. I told him the cops had been called. If I couldn’t get him to leave, I wanted to prevent him from escalating too far before the police arrived.

In the next twenty minutes all of the following things happened, most of them repeatedly. (Also, there were a ludicrous number of f-bombs in his rant.)  I’ve listed the events in something like real-time order. (I admit, I’m a little fuzzy on the exact sequence.)

  • He told me stop “batting my eyes” at him and to stop grinning. ( I’m pretty sure I was doing neither. I suppose I was trying to not antagonize him further with my body language; I remember continuing to call him “sir” no matter what he called me.)
  • He called me a lazy bitch who didn’t understand what a real day’s work was because I sit in a chair all day.
  • He accused me of being a scamming whore who was stealing his hard-earned money.
  • He demanded that I give him his money back. Right. Fucking. Now.
  • He leaned as far over the counter as he could. as often as he could, in order to better loom.
  • He put his hands on the desk, and made as if to boost himself over the counter.
  • He began a litany of, “I’m just going come back there and get it.”
  • He said. “I’ll punch you right in your smirk, you cu**.”

By now I was standing well back from the counter, near the door into the hallway, in case he made good on his threat. I was keeping my gaze fastened to his face, to best gauge his next move, but I was also paying attention to the front door, where I hoped to see a cop appear at any second.

Instead, two young men came in. At first I thought this was a good thing. Then it became clear that they were with the psycho on the other side of my desk and that they were drunk too. Mercifully, they seemed to know that First Guy was out of control. Their efforts to calm him, however, back-fired. With an audience, First Guy got more verbally abusive than ever. I noticed that one of the semi-sane guys was holding onto a fistful of  First Guy’s tee shirt very tightly, literally and forcefully restraining him from coming over the counter.

I explained the situation to the other two men while First Guy continued to lunge at the counter and cuss at me.

Third Guy said, ” That’s okay. I’ve got money. I’ll pay for the room.”

I told them – in the most soothing, unconfrontational voice possible — that I would not be able to rent a room to any of them. Not after what had already happened.

Second Guy said I had to, because they didn’t have a car and had arrived in a cab which had left long ago.

I said I just couldn’t do it, and that the cops were on the way, and it would be best if they just left.

Third Guy said in a low, deadly growl, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

It didn’t take a genius to see that I was about to have two psychos on my hands.

That’s when the light from a cop car’s cherries strobed through the window. First Guy peeled away from the other two and walked out, brushing right past the cop that was coming in. The two semi-sane guys continued to stand at the counter, as if nothing had happened, trying to get me to rent them a room. The cop waited patiently behind them. I had to ask them to step aside so that I could speak to the officer. They went outside.

I told the cop what was going on. He went outside.

The next thing I knew, the cop car was pulling away. I ran to the two alternate entrances and locked them so no one could come in off the street without me knowing. I counted out the cash drawer and made an early drop. I spoke to my boss who wanted to know if I was okay. I stepped into the side room and let a few tears come. Then I went outside, very cautiously, to have a smoke.

Someone was standing behind a tree at the far end of the parking lot. I couldn’t tell how many people were there, nor could I be sure that it was any of the men I’d been dealing with. What I could determine was that the person or people were standing very near my truck. I realized I wouldn’t be able to leave at shift’s end without revealing which vehicle in the full parking lot was MINE.

How it all ended okay:

Now, I could have had the Mike the Boxer walk me to the truck when he came to take over the desk duties. And, if the mysterious figures WERE the drunks I’d been dealing with, they would not have been able to follow me home or anything, BUT I really didn’t want to set myself up for some future vandalism, on some future work-night.

I called my newly-licensed, 19 year old son, and he was still awake. This was a break, because I knew he was sick and he might have turned in early. I told him about the guys in the parking lot and explained that I wanted to just leave the truck where it was, safely anonymous, until morning. He was more than willing to come pick me up at the back door of the hotel at midnight. He was asking me if I wanted him to come sooner when the two less-threatening men came back into the lobby.
I said, ” Oh, it is them, and they are coming back in.”
He said, ” I’ll get Dad and we’ll be right there.”

It was Second Guy and Third Guy, of course. They said they had been waiting for a cab, but that it wasn’t coming so they needed me to rent them a room.

Because we live very close to the paranormal hotel, I’d only been talking to the two semi-sane drunks for a few minutes when my husband and son came in. My men-folk took a seat as if they were just a couple of guys waiting their turn. They exuded calm awareness. The drunk men were telling me that the other guy — the foul-mouthed, violent one — was gone so I should go ahead and rent them a room. They said he’d disappeared and the cops had never even seen him.

I was able to convince them that I could not and would not rent to them. After making a quick call to find out if a nearby hotel had a room for them, I directed them down the street. They weren’t happy with me, but they eventually accepted my decision. (At least I think they did. As far as I know, they did walk to the other hotel.)

Even though the danger had passed, we opted to have my husband drive my truck home so that no one would see me getting into to it. (We still don’t know where First Guy went.) My boy and I took the car, which they had parked around back.

Why this shift bothered me so much:

Folks who have been readers of the blog for a while know that I’ve been through some tough shifts at the paranormal hotel — shifts that were probably more dangerous than last night’s. This one, though, shook me deeply and, at first, I didn’t know why.

When we got home at about ten after midnight,  my husband and son needed to get to sleep, so they pretty much went straight to bed. I, on the contrary, was wide awake and totally keyed up. Luckily, my daughter (who lives 1,500 miles away) was available for a conversation about what had happened. She used to work as a clerk at an all-night gas station, so she really understood the feelings I was having. I realized while we were talking that I’d never felt targeted at the paranormal hotel before. I’ve been a witness to some terrible things, and I’ve intentionally inserted myself into some risky situations to help someone else, but I’d never been the sole focus of someone’s unreasoning rage in the way that I was last night.

It wasn’t until my daughter pointed out that verbal assault is still assault that my reaction made sense to me.

I think it was that word. That word which I just now decided to type out without using an * to take the place of  a couple of letters. Cunt. I used to think that the word cunt didn’t bother me so much. It’s just a word for female genitalia, right? I’m a feminist. Why would a synonym for a vagina be an insult?

Of course, it’s not. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the word itself. But when it is spewed, along with droplets of spittle, from the mouth of a man who really wants to punch you — specifically YOU — in the face, it’s terrifying.

Such is life at:


main photo credit: Greg Gjerdingen Licensed CC BY 2.0 (Attribution 2.0 Generic)
It has been cropped to square, and Pixlr-ized.
note: This post may have been re-titled and/or edited from its original form,
for inclusion on The Paranormal Hotel homepage.

Guests of the paranormal hotel: The one I’ll remember as Momma.

On a recent Tuesday night, a middle-aged bottle-blond, wearing rhinestone-studded skinny jeans and a tiger-print halter top, came in and rented a room. She was with a bulky, slow-moving man who never looked up from his cell as she and I conducted our business. After I gave her two keys, she batted at her companion’s phone, hooked her arm through his, and tugged him toward the elevator.

A couple of minutes later, my desk phone rang. The couple was not satisfied with the room I’d given them. Apparently it was very important to them to have a microwave and a mini-fridge. I explained I’d given them the last smoking room I had. They decided to get a refund and try their luck elsewhere.

The pair was not particularly difficult or remarkable, so I didn’t even tweet about them on Tuesday night.

On my next shift, though – on Wednesday night – that same woman appeared in the lobby at about two o’clock in the morning. She was wearing a different halter top (this one leather, with fringes) but the same jeans. She asked me if I’d seen the man she was with the night before. I hadn’t. She said, “Good,” but she didn’t actually look happy about my answer. She walked out the front door.

I checked the register and found her name among the guests. She had obtained one of the rooms that had a fridge and microwave at 11:37 on Wednesday morning – just as soon as the housekeepers had finished cleaning it, I imagined.

Within fifteen minutes, she returned with a man. I didn’t get a good look at him because they didn’t need to register and they were moving fast, but his slight build told me it was not the man she’d been with the night before. The gentleman was in uniform and I caught the glint of a law enforcement badge on his chest. I wondered if she was going to give a statement of some kind in her room. (About a domestic with her boyfriend, perhaps.) That often happens at the paranormal hotel.

There was something about their body language as they whisked through the lobby, though, that made me wonder.

I tweeted (in a string of tweets about the police presence at the hotel):

1st cop: woman avoiding the guy who was with her last night brought a cop back to hotel … not sure it’s an official visit #paranormalhotel

I watched them via the security cameras as they moved through the hotel. When they tumbled out of the elevator on the fourth floor, they paused under the camera to grope each other a bit. She broke away from the clinch, tip-toed over to a door, and pressed her ear against the wood. She laughed, grabbed her companion’s hand and pulled him along the hall to her room.

Perhaps an hour later, the pair came back to the lobby. He was tucking in his shirt. She straightened his tie and kissed his cheek before sending him out with a pat on the ass. I was able to determine that his uniform was actually that of a security guard, and not a police officer. I was also able to see that he was quite young – fifteen, maybe twenty, years her junior.

I tweeted:

Correction on 1st cop: not a cop; a security guard … but I was right about it being not official. #paranormalhotel

After he’d left, she asked if she could borrow my lighter, then invited me to come outside for a smoke. I joined her in the quiet night.

She was still looking for her “old man” (whom she alternately referred to as her ex.) She told me that she was hoping he was around, because she was trying to make him appreciate her more. She suspected he was checked into a different room at the hotel. She told me nothing had really happened with the guard; she just wanted her ex to think it had.

I made noises about how challenging maintaining a relationship can be. She said, “You got that right, Momma.”

The endearment surprised me. Some of our guests have called me “Sister” when I do something to please them, but this was my first “Momma.” Apparently the paranormal hotel is just one big happy family.

I asked her if she had any kids. She said she had two girls, 23 and 27. I said I had a girl about the same age as her eldest and a boy, ten years younger. She asked if I was married. I told her yes, for more than twenty years. She exclaimed, then gave me a high-five. I volunteered that there had been some stormy years early on. Then I said, “Now though there’s not much trouble; just the right amount of drama every now and then.”

She laughed an open, appreciative laugh and surprised me by grabbing me in a tight hug. She smelled like flowers, clean and fresh. I thought, she even wears a young girl’s perfume. Up close, I could see her crow’s feet were deeper than mine … but then she was also very tan. This was a woman who had never been afraid to worship the sun. “You’re all right, Momma,” she said, “You’re all right. I knew that last night. I hope you didn’t think we was hassling you. We was already having trouble by then, you know. And I know you just have to do your job, right?”


We finished our cigarettes. She wandered into the darkness to check the parking lot for evidence that her ex / old man was on the premises. I went to fold laundry.

Sometime around 4:30 am, she came looking for me because she needed a light again. This time when we went outside there was a faint gray glow in the sky, prompting an anxious bird to sing every few minutes. I lit a cigarette and handed her my lighter. After checking traffic levels on the street, and scanning the lot, she produced what looked like a slim cigar from the watch pocket of her jeans. She carefully straightened it out and lit up. The pungent sweet scent of marijuana bloomed on the still, cool air and I was reminded of a night-blooming flower called nicotiana alta that I used to grow.

Flowers in the Wild by Swaminathan

Nicotiana blooms.

After taking a deep pull, she half-offered it to me. I told her I was good as I stepped off a few paces.

“Oh, that’s right. You’re working. Should I put it out?”

“Not on my account. You’re a grown-up. I just don’t want my boss to smell it on me when he relieves me in the morning.”

“Yeah. That’s good. That’s why I came out here. I don’t want to stink up the room, you know?”

She sat on the hotel’s concrete picnic table checking her cell while she smoked her blunt. I patrolled the parking lot halfheartedly picking up garbage while I smoked my cigarette.

I was pushing trash into the flappy maw of the garbage can when she came over to me, holding out her cell. “Listen. The fucker is trying to piss me off.”

All I could hear through the speaker of her phone was some rustling and clunking and heavy breathing.

“He’s letting me know he’s with a woman.”

For a moment I remained confused, then the context she’d provided hit me, and I realized I was listening to someone having sex. “So, he’s, like, pretending to pocket-dial you?”

She nodded. “I’m betting that’s my kid he’s with too.”

“Your kid? You mean one of your daughters–”

“Not the good one. The good one has had the same old man for five years, and all three of her kids are his. This is the 23 year old. I don’t know why she likes to get with my boyfriends, but she does.”

I don’t remember what either of us said after that, or how the conversation came to an end. I think, maybe, I finished my cigarette which made her decide that she was done smoking for the time being too. I remember she said that she was plenty high and that she should get some sleep.

We went inside. She went upstairs. I made a fresh pot of coffee, then returned to my laptop, and my latest work in progress, behind the front desk.


You know, I hope, that I mean no disrespect when I write about these people.

I’m just telling you about life at:

main photo credit: Swaminathan Licensed CC BY 2.0 (Attribution 2.0 Generic)

Photo has been cropped to square.
note: This post may have been re-titled and/or edited from its original form,
for inclusion on The Paranormal Hotel homepage.