Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grand Old Dame

I had been looking for a place for my husband and I to live. Newly married, we had decided to move to the city so that he would be near to his office. We wanted all the advantages the city could offer for an up and coming business man and his artist wife.

I looked all over and visited some very new and upscale buildings, with their huge marble fa├žades, sweeping views, and clinical interiors. They didn't interest me. I wanted a special place, with history and character and grace, yet needing the kind of attention only I wanted to give. So I moved on, to the older and lesser privileged parts of the city, finally to stand in front of an aging hotel that had been converted long ago into residential apartments.

Before I had arrived for my appointment with the property inspector, I looked up the history of this old building. It had been constructed back in the early days, and for many years the hotel had been at the center of the city. Frequented by politicians and movie stars alike, this building was the place to be if you were somebody. But with the cycles of economic boom and bust, and the movements of the well-to-do out to suburbia and eventually to their McMansions towering in the distance, the city center moved as well. Away from this old place towards newer, bigger and flashier hotels that had grown up miles away from where I stood.

I had scoffed at my husband when, after telling him the location, he told me to be careful. I realized what he meant as I looked up and down the street, at the edges of decay and ruin creeping along the sidewalks and up the wood and brick walls. When the inspector came out from a dingy glass revolving door, it squealed and creaked as he moved through it, and I steeled myself for the worst. I hoped I wasn't going to waste hours of my day on a building that had no life left in it.

The elevator groaned as we rode to the top floor, and I stepped out into a wide and open area. The entire floor had been the hotel owner's living space, and I could tell someone had once lived here who had loved this place, who had called it home. Still, as we moved about and around the building, the property inspector pointed out all the things that were wrong, jotting down on his clipboard and grumbling about how expensive renovation would be and the fees for all the city permits we would need.

The inspector guided me on a purposeful tour of the hotel, to make sure I saw every blemish and every crack. He pointed out the leaky water pipes, the dilapidated furnace, the broken stairwell, and mumbled on about property taxes and insurance. He disregarded the worried stares from tenants, peering out from their apartment doors as we trod across worn carpets and through torn wallpapered halls.

Back at the revolving glass door, he ripped a sheet off his clipboard and handed it to me saying he would call my husband with the details. I hesitated. Something made me want to stay, to wander the halls without him and his critical clipboard. I thanked him for his time, hoping he would leave. But there he stood, holding the door open and waiting for me to exit.

Startled by a sound, I turned to see an old, gray-haired woman standing behind me. Small and frail and looking quite ancient, she smiled at me with a bright and most pleasant smile. She clapped her hands together and asked if she could give me a tour. I looked to the inspector who shrugged his shoulders as if he neither cared nor had the time to dally. I thanked him again, and as I turned back to the old woman I swear I caught just a glimpse of her flipping him the bird as he departed.

She grasped my arm and gently led me back into the hotel. She wanted to show me all the special and wonderful places she had known and loved since she was a young girl. I smiled back and agreed, and she began to tell her story...

As a child, her parents had brought her to the hotel for wonderful week-long parties that the mayor would hold. Her father had been an important and well-to-do business owner from out of state, and this "captain of industry" was courted to invest in a young town with a very bright future. Her parents fell in love with the town and thought it would be a wonderful place for their daughter to grow up. They invested in the mayor's dream, bought the hotel, and the family lived on the top floor. Her father brought in the best materials and artisans, the best staff, and her mother threw the best parties to bring in even more investors. For many years the hotel was the lifeblood of the city. Politicians, businessmen and movie stars were ever present, staying at the hotel while they acted their parts in locations across the region.

As the old woman weaved her story, she walked me through the building and described each of the rooms we lingered within. Here, a hotel lobby filled with plush rugs, beautiful paintings, statues and towering flower arrangements. The wide and warm halls filled with porters all bustling off with the baggage of hotel visitors. There, a large kitchen once filled with the finest chefs, all hustling their unique and wonderful culinary creations for the eclectic tastes of the VIPs.

When her parents died, she tried to run the hotel by herself, but it was just too much for her. She could not keep up with the needs of the building, and it began to fall into disrepair. The VIPs drifted and the city center shifted away. Some shyster of a politician took advantage of her and took her parents fortune, leaving her with next to nothing. She had to sell her beloved hotel to a company that converted the rooms into apartments, allowing her to stay on the top floor until she could no longer afford even that. She moved into a small room with a small kitchenette, yet no one lived on the top floor because no other tenant wanted her to lose access to it. She would visit her old home every day and care for it as best she could, until she could no longer.

I was heartbroken by her story. But as we stood in the old ballroom, I saw the hotel as it had been and I knew that I loved it as much as she. I called my husband and pleaded with him to buy the building, and when he finally acquiesced, I turned and smiled at the old woman. We clasped hands and giggled, and together we swirled around the ballroom while she hummed a light and cheerful tune.

There is life in this grand old dame, I thought to myself. And there would be life in this grand old hotel, once again...

<word count: 1194>

(used by permission, photo and original works by Emily Tellez)


Emmy said...

Why aren't you submitting your writing for publication? What a wonderful story! Check out:

Anonymous said...

Great story. You really painted a very vivid picture.


Parabolic Muse said...

This is really awesome. I look forward to the next installment.




My Mother's Daughter said...

I agree with Em, Kerry and Chris. Great story. And yes, another installment please!