But what a change has come over the Seneca in the space of two years. It is now managed by an Indian couple, and they run it more like a penitentiary than a hotel. The lobby – once a paradise of senility, an anomic oasis of worn red leather – has fallen into a sad state of malignant decay. All but one of the old-fashioned pay phones and most of the arm chairs have been removed, and the smoking ban has spoiled lobby life: the tenants smoke alone in their rooms now.
I take a room with a bath on the 6th floor for $35, a significant increase from two years earlier. The rooms used to be clean and timeless, with a bible on a worn dresser and crisp sheets. The first thing I notice this time around are the torn filthy curtains that don’t cover the window. A broken-legged bed slopes uncomfortably on to the floor, the sheets are bloodstained. Little piles of cigarette butts and other trash are swept into tidy little heaps in the corners of the room. Some graffiti on the wall reads ‘Buttfucka’.
I venture into the bathroom: some roaches dart up the wall. There is no shower to speak of, only a large claw foot tub of ancient origin. It is very deep and I consider lying in it and reading ‘Mansfield Park’ until I notice that the surface of the tub is thick with undrained filth. I appreciate that I am not lodging at a 5-star hotel but I draw the line at cleaning a stranger’s scurf out of the bathtub. Nevertheless, I attempt to clean it out with toilet paper and water, these being the only materials available. The grime, however, is far too viscous to eliminate in this manner.
The task proves too much. I ride the elevator down to the lobby and ask the Indian woman at the desk to give me another room. She gives me the key to a room with a bath on the 5th floor.
The elevator is stalled. An old man in a suit and baseball cap (a charming combination that fortunately still remains the exclusive sartorial domain of the superannuated) stands patiently waiting. I give up and walk up to the 5th floor. I open the door to room 501. Trash is strewn throughout the room. It appears to already be occupied. I walk back down to the lobby and notify the bitter, crusty little Indian woman that the room is unacceptable, owing to its clearly still being occupied. She says that it isn’t occupied and that it will be ready in 15 minutes. I ask her if she could just have the bathtub in the room on the 6th floor cleaned out. She says that she will send somebody up.
I go out to move my car to avoid street cleaning penalties, which takes over an hour. I have to park so far away that it is necessary to ride a bus back to the hotel.
The bathtub still isn’t clean. “I send him up now,” says the Indian proprietress upon my return to the lobby. I catch up with him on the 2nd floor, the cleaner of tubs, and try to guide him to the room on the 6th floor. But he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. I run back down to the lobby and again confront the Indian woman behind the counter. She screams back at me: “Where d’you think he’s going, he has to get off on the 2nd floor and get his rags and mops out of the closet.” “I don’t know what the fuck he’s doing,” I yell back at her. “How am I supposed to know what business he has on the 2nd floor? I merely requested that the scum be cleaned out of the bathtub.”
“What’s he shouting about?” asks her husband – he of the alveolate complexion – appearing behind the counter. “Oh, he’s just complaining about his bathtub. It’s not even dirty,” his wife lies. “The bathtub has six inches of filth in it,” I protest. The words trail away. I storm out of the lobby and attempt to enter Norby’s – home of the 50 cent draft and a potential balm to my soul – a few doors down, but the door is locked, the place is closed. This is almost too much to bear. I return to the Seneca. The elevator is still not working. I walk up to the 6th floor. The bath has been cleaned, but far from thoroughly: clusters of begrimed bleach remain.
On the way back down to the lobby I notice that the janitor is ‘cleaning out’ a smaller room on the 2nd floor: the squalor is less spacious but it’s relatively clean. I ask the Indian woman if I can rent that room and forfeit the extra fee I had already paid for the bathroom on the 6th floor. She informs me that after this I will not be allowed to change rooms again.
On each floor there’s a communal shower. In the 2nd floor shower the light switch doesn’t work. I turn the water on: it is tepid and there’s no surge. I check the shower on the 3rd floor: it’s the same, and additionally the lock is broken. I check the 4th floor shower: the lock is broken, the light doesn’t work, and the water is tepid, but there’s slightly more surge.
I elect to take my shower, as best I can, on the 2nd floor, because the bathroom is situated directly next to my room and I can steal in with a towel wrapped around me and probably avoid encountering any fellow occupants while attired semi-nakedly. The towel can’t be tied around my waist, it isn’t long enough. I hold it around me as I enter the corridor. I turn the shower on: a thin jet of barely lukewarm water issues from a broken spigot. I get underneath it and it immediately turns off. I shake the shower-head and wail helplessly.
I make it back to my room, violently shaking from cold and humiliation, put shirt and trousers on, and walk up to the 3rd floor bathroom. I am able to stand underneath the mean drizzle for about 20 unrefreshing seconds, as long as it takes to passably clean myself. Then I beat it back down to my room.
In the lobby a 300 pound hairball of a woman slumps in front of the television, which is encased in a theft-restraint device of bulky plywood. At 11.30pm, he of the deeply-pitted visage emerges from behind the desk, walks across the lobby and turns the television off. One of the residents complains. The manager states that it has already been left on for half an hour longer than usual.
I return to my room and lie on rather than in the bed – as these sheets are also bloodstained – reading Jane Austen and masturbating (not simultaneously). Throughout the night a mad growling issues from one of the many rooms bordering on the trash-strewn breezeway outside the window, and footsteps crash up and down the stairway directly behind the bed.
At 8.30am, having slept little, I rise, forgoing the pleasure of a shower.
A sign on the front desk reads: ‘Check out time is 10am. After this time you will loose key deposit and face the police’. Charming hospitality in these parts. Next to it another sign reads: ‘Rent is to be pain on the due date.’