… knock, knock.
recovering from coming away from a long weekend of working at the paranormal hotel. It’s true, I quit that job months ago, but, when I left, I agreed to occasionally fill in when the owners go on vacation. I’ve known, almost since I quit, that I’d be covering four day-shifts in early May.
I didn’t expect anything particularly dramatic to happen, in the hours between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Mother’s Day weekend, and, mostly, I was right.
Of course it was still hard. Having had many weeks away from that environment, I had nearly forgotten how dreary and hopeless if feels there. Just one day of dealing with the hand-to-mouth existence of the residents and guests drained me.
Knock, knock …
To be fair, I wasn’t at my best. Lately I’ve been having some trouble with absent-mindedness. I’m told it’s a function of my age and stage, and that it will pass, but it pisses me off. When my brain stops cooperating with me, I get cranky.
I’m trying to keep a light tone here, but the truth is that it’s scary when I have these little lapses. They aren’t exactly like what you’re probably imagining right now. Yes, we all have occasional brain spasms when we forget where we left our keys, or drive for a few miles on autopilot without really seeing the road. Usually, these things happen when we are sleep deprived, or upset, or trying to multitask too much. A deliberate deep breath and a good mental shake will clear the mind and allow full functionality to return.
This hormonal stuff is more like being drunk. I know there’s a problem, I can try to shake it off, but sometimes I have to accept there’s going to be a period of a few hours, or even most of a day, when I just can’t trust myself to think clearly, or even perceive accurately.
It’s enough to make some small part of my mind start toying with the idea that I just might be going mad.
The paranormal hotel is a terrible place to be for a woman who distrusts her sanity. People there lie to you. Ineptly, yes, but with absolute conviction that you will believe whatever they concoct. On Saturday, in particular, deception seemed to be the order of the day.
… knock, knock.
Allow me to share some of the versions of reality I heard:
Guest (upon check-in): “I’m supposed to be seeing a doctor tomorrow, but I’m not going to need to do that, because I’ve got an appointment in an hour with a woman who can pray over me and take the tumor away. Isn’t God amazing?”
Me: (Non-committal nod.)
Guest: “So I only need the room for one night, not the two I reserved. It will just be me and my Michael.”
Me: “Not four people? The reservation says you wanted a room with two beds, to accommodate four.”
Guest: “Yes, that’s right, but just one person. I like to lay my stuff out on the second bed.”
Me: “Two people then; just you and a Michael?”
Guest: “He’s my kitty cat.”
Me: “Oh. I’m so sorry, but we don’t allow pets in the hotel.”
Guest: “He’s my service animal. And he’s so good, he always uses his litter box.” (She goes on for a while about the cat.)
Me: “He sounds lovely. I’ll just need to see his papers then.”
Guest: (Absolutely blank stare.) “Umm. They are somewhere in my luggage, and I have to get to that appointment, so I can’t get them for you now. I’ll find them for you later. If you’re still here. When is your shift over?”
Me: “Ma’m, I’m sorry, but I can’t let him in until I see his papers–”
Guest: “But he won’t make any mess.”
Me: “It’s not that. It’s a matter of inoculations and health codes.
Guest: “He has his shots. I don’t understand why hotels don’t welcome a nice clean cat like Michael.
Me: Hotels are legally required to accommodate service animals, but when it comes to pets, they are trying to avoid allergens–”
Guest: “Oh, he’s a Turkish angora, so he’s hypoallergenic.”
Me: (In my head.) Well that’s just not true. You know this, Renae. You raised purebreds when you were a little girl, and you know a hell of a lot about cats. There’s no such thing as a hypoallergenic cat, really, and a Turkish Angora is NOT on the list of lower-allergen breeds.
Guest: “It IS true!” (My face must have shown what I was thinking–which is another sign that I’m not operating at my best.) “I’ve read lots of articles on The Internet.” (I could hear the capitals in her voice.)
I like cats. The paranormal hotel used to accept pet guests, and only really changed its policy because a large dog did some major damage. Plus, I was only filling in for a few shifts. I judged the situation to be not worthy of a fight. I checked her in and warned her that she’d have to show the papers to whomever was at the desk when she returned.
What happened later:
When I cam back the next day, I was told she never produced papers, claimed that she was leaving the cat in the car overnight, then had the inexperienced girl who was covering the early morning shift carry the cat from the hotel room to her car when she checked out. Apparently the cat sprayed on most of the upholstered furniture.
Room 343, 410, 112:
Guest(s): “I’m waiting for my friend to bring me some money. I absolutely have to stay here again tonight, because (fill in the blank.) I know I agreed to check out at 11:00, but he/she will be here before noon. I promise I’ll come right down as soon as I have the money.”
What happened later:
They each delayed as long as possible with frequent promises that it would only be a few more minutes until they could pay, then were just gone when I went to clear them out at 12:45 p.m. As far as I can tell, they were in no way affiliated with each other; that’s just the way people are at the paranormal hotel.
… knock, knock.
The laundry room:
As the housekeepers strip each room, they gather the dirty linens into a bundle, then toss the bundle down a chute that descends through all five stories of the hotel. The bundles end up in an industrial sized bin in the laundry room. Part of my job is to stand at the bottom of that chute and sort the laundry into loads. Staff members are supposed to shout “clear” before they drop a bundle down the chute, but sometimes they forget to do it.
I can forgive that.
On Saturday morning, I had just spent four or five minutes in the quiet laundry room, emptying the bin. I was bent into it, fetching out a few loose towels from its bottom, when I heard a trap door from somewhere far above me open. I didn’t have enough time to get out of the way before a heavy, wet bundle dropped onto the back of my neck.
It hurt. I swore. In a clearly annoyed voice, I shouted up the chute, “Hello?” There was no response. I thought, You scared him or her. Watch your cranky level, Renae. Then, Well, at least now it shouldn’t happen again today.
Later, the guy who had been helping out by stripping rooms for the housekeepers came up to me, his sky-blue eyes wide with sincerity, and said, “You didn’t hear me when I shouted clear. Good thing it was a light load, huh?”
An apology from him would have been followed by one from me, for snapping. His words, though, left me speechless. I had to wonder if I was going crazy. Maybe I had missed his warning, even though the machines hadn’t been running yet. Maybe it had been a small, dry load, but my neck was still sore from the blow I’d received. Then I remembered another encounter I’d had with him.
What happened before:
The guy lives at the paranormal hotel, of course. He and his wife have a habit of narrating the world to be as they prefer it to be. They are convinced that they are good liars, too.
Once, they found a very expensive bottle of liquor in a room and appropriated it for themselves. (This doesn’t bother me much. I can see how they could have considered it a gratuity.) I didn’t know about the cognac until the guest who had left the bottle behind came looking for it. When I contacted the couple to see if either of them had found it, they told me they’d thrown it out, and that they’d fetch it from the dumpster for me. (It’s common to find liquor at the hotel, by the way, and it’s standard practice to bring it to the laundry room in case a guest returns for it. Usually, though, it’s a half-case of cheap beer.)
Eventually they brought the bottle to the front desk, in pristine condition, with its contents intact. The husband regaled me with how he had to climb into the dumpster and move bags until he found it. He also let me know he’d washed it off in his bathroom before bringing it to me. The couple was anxious to tell me that they had no idea it was valuable because they don’t drink ever.
But back to the stories from Saturday.
Knock, knock …
Guest (on the phone, at about 11 a.m.): “Can I get a noon checkout?”
Me: I’m sorry, we are booked up for later today, so we need to get the housekeepers into the rooms as soon as possible. I can give you until 11:30 though. Will that help?”
Guest: “Yes. I’ll have time for a quick shower then. I really appreciate that, and I’ll try to hurry. Thank you.”
What happened later:
Just before noon I called all the rooms that hadn’t yet checked out, (including 317,) in preparation for my first sweep of the hotel. This is standard routine. When the phone is unanswered, it’s an indication that the guests have probably left. Once I’ve noted all the rooms that are likely empty, I go check each one in person, by first knocking, then–assuming there is no response–opening the door with my pass key to confirm the room is empty. Once I’ve visited all the rooms in this way, I can give the maids an update on where they can go next.
When I got to room 317, I knocked, then slid my pass key into the lock and tried to open the door. I immediately hit the security bar which can only be fastened from the room’s interior. I let the door close, then called the room with the portable phone I was carrying. I heard it ring five or six times before the same woman I’d given the 11:30 checkout to answered. Her voice was groggy. I told her it was now past noon, and she’d agreed to leave by 11:30.
She said she’d never spoken to me. I didn’t argue; I just told her she had to vacate the room as soon as possible.
When she finally cleared the room, after 12:30 p.m., she left a wad of foil-lined paper and some food scraps in the microwave with the timer set to maximum.
… knock, knock.
432 was another of the rooms I had called just before noon. There had been no answer, so I had every reason to believe it was vacant. By the time I got to the fourth floor, however, I had run into several rooms that were still occupied, despite the unanswered calls, (including 317, above, where the security bar had been engaged.) When I came to 432, I was a little gun shy. I rapped firmly on the door
… Knock, knock.
then paused to listen carefully.
… knock, knock.
From inside the room someone rapped back. It was a soft sound, but distinct. I looked up and down the hall, in case someone was knocking at another room, but I was alone. I tried again and got the same response. My cordless doesn’t always work well above the third floor, but I dialed the room anyway. The phone behind the door rang ten times as I strained to hear any movement beyond the door, but all was silent, save for the rings.
I tucked the phone into my back pocket and tried again, this time with a louder, triple strike
Knock. Knock. Knock.
which was promptly returned.
… knock, knock, knock.
It occurred to me that maybe someone was messing with me deliberately. I checked my occupancy list and found that the rooms on either side of 432 were empty — one had been so all night, and the other had checked out earlier, by turning in their keys to me. Again, I looked up and down the hallway. I paged through the papers on my clipboard. Telling myself it must be an echo, or a sound coming up from the floor below, I raised my had to knock one more time, but I didn’t have the chance. From inside the room came an impatient-sounding
KNOCK. KNOCK! (Pause.) KNOCK!
It’s my job to open that door, no matter what I think I might see or not see, so I did.
What’s going to happen now:
I think it’s best for me to avoid the hotel until I have a little more confidence in my ability to perceive things are they really are. It’s bad enough when the residents and guests are lying to me, but when the hotel itself gets in the game, I’m out … at least temporarily.
Because such is life at: