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In May 2013 I was in New York for a few days. The first morning I was there, I had breakfast at Gemma’s, the restaurant of the Bowery Hotel, in the very fashionable East Village. Next to me, and I mean next, as in 1 meter away, was Julie Delpy having breakfast with someone. I know it was her because a) I recognised her and b) outside the restaurant and in my vision range was a limo with her name on an A4 inside the windscreen. A short while later, she kissed the guy, winked at me, went out, got into the limo and disappeared. I thought “things are picking up a bit”.

Now, rewind a few hours. My first night in New York, I arrived from Los Angeles, got in a cab and gave the address to the cab driver to take me there. When we arrived, a porter of the very posh Bowery hotel, in a top hat, opened the door of the taxi for me to get out. I thought to myself: “this can’t be right”. I knew that because the hotel I had booked cost 32$ a night and I’ll be damned if anyone here can find a Manhattan hotel that costs less than $200 where a porter opens the door for you. I knew also that the other options I had anywhere in Manhattan were upwards of 200$ a night, so that was why I booked this excellent bargain. So, I asked the man “Is this the Bowery Whitehouse Hotel?” which, by the way, is at 340 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. Of course it wasn’t. This was the Bowery Hotel, 335 Bowery, New York, NY 10012. The porter smiled and pointed across the street, to a building with scaffoldings all over it. He said nothing. I got the hint. Got my suitcase, crossed the street, got in what would have been a hotel lobby if it wasn’t 100 sq.m. of almost empty space with 8 plastic chairs scattered around 2 metallic tables, a coffee vending machine and a cold drinks vending machine. There was also an enclosure which doubled as the reception, in which a generously sized 20-y-o was playing a game on the computer.

Full dialogue between me and him:

“Good evening. I have a reservation for 3 nights”

“It is 32$ a night, non refundable. Cash only”

“Don’t you want a name?”

“No. Passport”

I produced 100$ and passport – he gave me change and a key.

“Third floor. No guests”

“Thank you”

End of conversation, during which he did not raise his eyes to look at me even for a second.

I assumed that most things will be self explanatory, and to be honest, I feel a little like an idiot when at hotel receptions they explain to me that the towels are there and the tv remote is by the bed so I almost appreciated the ‘word economy’. Maybe I flatter myself but I always feel I am odds-on favourite to find what I need in a hotel room!

I went towards the only door in the room to what I assumed would be the lifts and turned out to be the stairs to all floors. The door doesn’t open. I try again. Nothing. I look around in case there is a button to press for the door to open. Nothing. I try again. After the 4th time, the silent receptionist, who can see me all this time, says:  “I need to buzz you in”. I look at him. He does nothing. I look at the door. Nothing. I look at him again, then the door, then suitcase. He says: “SO, do you want to go up?”. I thought he was pulling my leg but I thought, let’s not start a fight. “Yes, thank you”. He buzzes me in. I go up the stairs with the suitcase, no lifts, and look for the room. As I wonder around the rather chilled corridors of the 3rd floor, I realise that nowhere in the whole procedure of reading, booking, or talking about it was the word “room” used by the hotel or the receptionist. This was the reason:

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The hotel has what I can only describe as cubicles which do not have walls. They have painted wood and cardboard sides, a wooden frame for the wooden door and some metal bars on top so that you can’t get out of your cubicle and into the one next to yours. In addition to that, the cardboard ‘walls’, don’t go all the way down, there is a gap of about 10cm at floor level. That was more or less the case for the shared toilets too. Now. For those of you who don’t get it yet, this means that if the 3rd floor is cold, your cubicle is also cold. As it happened, the 3rd floor also had the windows open for better ventilation! (I asked!). Downtown Manhattan on that night was 11 degrees. Great. If the floor has the lights on, your room has lights on. The floor HAS the lights on, as people come and go all night, it is a bloody hotel, right? Right. Well, I was jetlagged, it was about midnight, I was tired, I thought “I’ll sleep tonight and see what I do tomorrow”. Yeap. At about 1.00 in the morning, I hear footsteps for the umpteenth time that night, but this time they came to the cubicle next to mine. This was not like all the other footsteps, as there was also talking. They both got in the cubicle next to mine, which I thought was a bit cheeky considering the “no guests” policy of the hotel. Then I thought, “maybe they have a double room”. They didn’t. It was a gay couple who were out in the town drinking before coming up. They were both drunk, but one of them was sober enough to keep telling the other to be more quiet, which, of course, wasn’t gonna happen. The plot unfolded rather quickly. The more sober one was the ‘legal occupant’ of the cubicle. The other, the eager one, was asking him to stay the night with him promising that he would make it worth the while (Keep in mind I am cardboard width away, and there is no ceiling, right?). I coughed discreetly to raise awareness of another human being very near them, but the eager one didn’t seem to mind. The other one gradually did, but this went on for a bit. They kissed and talked and were often stretching the resistance of the cardboard wall, much to my annoyance and my (ignored) deep coughing. The dialogue went into a spiral of the eager one arguing that they are having such a great time together and they are such a great match that they are really made for each other and the other guy saying “yes but you need to go” in one way or other. This went on for an hour at least. No sleep for me, and I also started to say “hey” every time they got too loud, but still, no resolution. More kissing, more talk, no departure. At some point, the eager one proceeded to give the other one oral pleasure. This, excluding the minor issue that a man was sucking another man’s dick about 30 cm away from my ears, I thought was brilliant. First, because it was silent. The one who was doing the loud talking, wasn’t talking anymore. The other one, who was objecting to the overnight stay, wasn’t talking either. Great. Second, I thought, this will lead to a resolution one way or another. Either the guy who has the room will sweeten up and let the other stay and we’ll all sleep happily ever after, or he’ll insist the guy goes, and I can’t see what other more persuasive argument the other guy is going to bring to this debate. It was also 3.30 by then. At some point, the honourable endeavour came to what I assume was the mutually desired ending and I thought, “it is now a question of minutes”. Indeed, after the successful physical performance-based presentation of his view, the eager one also articulated his view with an argument along the lines “…see what a great match we are? We belong with each other. Let me stay”. The other one however, stood his ground. He insisted the guy left, no matter what. The eager one got aggressive. “How dare you treat me like this?”. “What kind of man are you?” and so on, questions to which I, personally, wide awake, jetlagged, and all of 30 cm away, had really good answers, but I thought, I’ll keep them to myself. At about 3.45, the guy left the room. By that time, I didn’t care that my brightly lit cubicle was even colder, I was going to get some sleep.

About 5 minutes later, footsteps again. All the way to the door next to mine, knocking. “What the fuck do you want?” said the guy from inside. “I forgot to ask you” said the eager guy from outside “what’s your name?”

“That’s it” I thought to myself. “Tomorrow morning, whenever I get up, I am treating myself to breakfast in the very posh hotel across the street.”

Darren. His name was Darren.