And Words Are All I Have

Quinn had never stayed at a hotel that used real keys. Most had plastic keycards—
like credit cards that you slide through a sensor—though her aunt Deirdre
had told her about a tiny hotel in Paris she'd once stayed at
that still had brass keys attached to enormous key chains
shaped like the Eiffel Tower.

Marina Cohen
a poem by Tricia McCallum. April 10,. 2020. A long apartment hallway, dimly lit.

Workin' It

I wrote this piece after many nights on the road…

Stay Awhile

The anonymity is only part of their appeal.
Each time you slide in the keycard
comes the chance to create a whole new world
for the night.
Lining up your toiletries just so,
turning down the bed’s overstuffed duvet,
pizza ordered from room service,
the lap desk awaiting you.

When TV no longer appeals
and sleep doesn’t come,
there's the late night trip to the deserted lobby,
and maybe a conversation with the bored desk clerk
if he’s not too stoned,
or depressed.
An apple from the garishly painted ceramic bowl,
not quite hot water for a tea to go
and the last copy of the local paper.
how they all read the same.

Folding the towels the next morning,
one last check before leaving,
closing the door so quietly behind you,
you might never have been here.

In my sixteenth summer I hitchhiked from Toronto out west to Alberta to take a job at the Banff Springs Hotel. A massive structure with 800 hotel rooms on 15 floors, the majestic 125 year-old beauty has welcomed guests from British Royalty to Marilyn Monroe. Its two major dining rooms seat several hundred guests at a time, the common areas all gargantuan and grand.

I had several jobs within the hotel that summer. I was the head chef's secretary for a time. That's because I said I could type (which I could, barely), anything to get me out of my benign sounding job as a kitchen salad girl, with split shifts that included cleaning huge barrels of shrimp, cooking up vats of bacon on griddles the size of aircraft carriers, and preparing 300 individual tri-colored Jello desserts at a time. (Think about those logistics...)

I moved to one of the small specialty restaurants when I heard of an opening, rotating between short order cook and waitress. But my most memorable position of all was my stint cleaning guest rooms. No contest whatsoever.

If you want to uncover the mysteries and contradictions that lurk within our particular species, take a job in a large hotel as a chambermaid. If you'd rather not be utterly disillusioned about your fellow human beings, I'd avoid it. On its worst days, the job could stand as the perfect metaphor for hell, here on this very earth.

There are things I saw that summer beyond the turn of my large brass master key that I simply cannot include here, nor would they enrich your life to learn, dear reader. Think of those as locked away in a lead lined vault, like Madame Curie’s radium research.

Let's start with the generic disasters. Rooms left in shambles. Riotous spills and unsavory situations to contend with, no rhyme or reason in most cases. Every towel in the bathroom left soaking wet on the bed … the TV blaring at full volume, lights and A/C on ... water running in the shower.

All standard issue stuff for chambermaids: We become inured, you see. But some things mystified me. In one room, I discovered both the mattress and box spring had been pulled off the bed and propped up against a wall. These were large beds and would have required some muscle power to move. My co-worker called down for help and we soon had the bed returned to rights.

When we went in the next day we found the pieces up against the wall once again. I still come up empty as to why. If they’d been placed in front of the windows I’d have figured it was protection from a mafia hit. But it remains, in the eloquent words of Winston Churchill, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.

Who coild forget the handwritten note left by a guest on hotel stationery, the envelope marked For the Cleaner. It read:

You insist on changing my sheets when you must know I sleep on the floor. I have a fear of being alone in large beds.”

Someone needed a hug, doncha think?

Entering these rooms, one after another, week after week, I realized I was becoming unshockable.


Two cats left in a crate in the bathroom, a 100 dollar bill clipped to it, with a note reading: Take care of these two, would you? I’ll come back for them in a week. Um, he/she never did. The cats luckily found a home with one of the hotel security guards, an inveterate animal lover.

The job was monotonous, despite the eye openers witnessed daily. To keep my brain from turning to dog kibble I invented a game. (Don’t judge. You try cleaning 20 toilets in a row and swapping out 100 pillowcases.) After entering each room I would have a good look around before lifting a finger. As I worked I'd piece together character sketches of the occupants. Even though I rarely laid eyes on them it seemed clues to their personalities were ubiquitous.

If their beds were made up, I figured we were talking military personnel, or perhaps obsessive compulsive tendencies. (Both?) These neatniks proved predictable. They lined up their toiletries neatly on the bathroom shelves, refolded their towels, and wiped down the mirrors and sink. The Do Not Disturb sign was in its rightful place on the doorknob, lights and A/C turned off. A few left handwritten notes of appreciation, often with a tip included. In short, they were dream tenants.

Then there were the rest, namely the people who it seemed grew up in a barn, although that characterization insults people who actually grew up in a barn.

Globs of toothpaste randomly splattered across countertops and floor ... clothing scattered on the floor where it had been taken off ... half filled coffee cups left atop the bedsheets. I once found a suggestive message scrawled in lipstick on the mirrror.

Garbage cans seemed a mere decoration to this lot. Time and again I found piles of detritus lying on the floor alongside the trash bin. Logic, alas, does not enter the equation here.

Towels and kleenex and bed linens were the least of what guests absconded with. I found coffee makers missing, unbolted from their serving tables, and on multiple occasions the cover plates on electrical outlets. Did they bring screwdrivers in their luggage? Ratchet sets? Entire sets of curtains went out the door, along with countless copies of the room's Gideon Bible. (A parody in itself.)

Cleaning staff often traded horror stories during breaks. If half of these were true, it brings to mind Hamlet's quote, when he suggested that human knowledge is limited: There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

I learned a great deal that summer. Some of it I could have lived never knowing, but we don't get to choose how the lessons come. I saved enough money that by September I was on the road to California where I visited Big Sur, Hollywood and Vine, Alcatraz and San Francisco.

When I checked out of my motel there I left behind the tidiest room any chambermaid had ever entered. Anywhere. And some chocolates for good measure.

She deserved them.

My greatest regret is that I never found a job that would pay me
to read books in air conditioning. But I will never stop searching.

Tricia M


"The lap of luxury"

Ad Slogan for Spa Paws Hotel.

This is what's beautiful about staying in a club or hotel:
you're invisible, as is your neighbour.

Amit Chaudhuri

At A Day’s Inn in Barstow, California.

It’s dusk on a Tuesday in June. A hot wind bears down and east.
In my room, a stranger’s hairclip lies
like a gilded insect beside the sink.
Hours later, it’s still dusk; it will be dusk all night.
Last month, I cut the masking tape from a box my mother left
my sister and me. On the lid, she wrote,
Life is hard, not unbeatable.
If I can do it, darlings, so can you.
2 am. A rosy dark
dusting the window,
the heat a ladder into sleep.

Chloe Honum

pencil drawing red heart

I am here, listening. Share your own stories with me, gentle reader.
tricia handwritten signature

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Simply too good not to share.. Bioluminescence There’s a dark so deep beneath the sea the creatures beget their own light. This feat, this fact of adaptation, I could say, is beautiful though the creatures are hideous. Lanternfish. Hatchetfish. Viperfish. I, not unlike them, forfeited beauty to glimpse the world hidden by eternal darkness. I subsisted on falling matter, unaware …
Jello 🌊
woman solitary

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