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John Gembitsky : Carlton Hotel

The flickering experience at the Carlton Hotel

John Gembitsky : Carlton Hotel
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I cannot sleep without the television on anymore; I need the noise, I need a distraction. I have found this to be especially true since winter has come and the streets are quiet, the small garden in the back deserted. I have become predictably lonesome during my stay here, though I cannot tell you the name of one person whom I actually miss.

There is a knock on my door, and through the peep hold I see a young couple holding a basket full of colored eggs
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I cannot sleep without the television on anymore; I need the noise, I need a distraction. I have found this to be especially true since winter has come and the streets are quiet, the small garden in the back deserted. I have become predictably lonesome during my stay here, though I cannot tell you the name of one person whom I actually miss.

The establishment is called The Carlton Hotel, but it is more a kind of old fashioned single room occupancy, multi-bed tenement than anything. There are shared bathrooms on each floor, an open box of donuts sitting on a table in the lobby all day, and a mostly steady group of misfits drifting in and out, up and down poorly lit hallways, our greasy fingerprints like ghosts on windows and doors. I am not unhappy here. I don’t think so, anyway.

I got the idea to leave my TV on from a girl named Clara, whom I share a wall with on the north side of my room. I would hear her sometimes, drinking and singing and fighting in the day, drawers crashing, glass breaking, men yelling and then the making up. “Oh, it’s just my TV!” she told me one day when the noise became disturbing and I knocked on her door to check, to make sure she was alive. “I just let it go and go. I love these old movies,” and she opened her door enough to show me, her room the exact opposite of mine, the same cheap furniture awash in the blue flickering glow of a television screen.

There is a young man on the fourth floor who was an actor on a children’s program in the late 80s. I watch him with such fascination sometimes, sure that the invisible pressure of my interest will lead his eyes to mine, but so far he has only asked me if I know where the communal can opener is. “I’m sorry, I don’t,” I told him, knowing all the time that it is hidden in my room, pushed to the very back of my top dresser drawer. It doesn’t feel like stealing, I have just always thought of it as mine. This, I guess, is the crux of all of my problems.

There is a sign that has been taped next to the stairwell on the first floor since I came here. “PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS: JOIN THE CARLTON HOTEL TENANTS’ ASSOCIATION.” One day I write the names “Conrad Booth” and “Sandra Howell” on the page in two different kinds of handwriting. Beneath this I write an unrepeatable slur in my own handwriting- I’m not sure what this means, it feels mostly like an impulse. I feel ashamed when I see that someone has crossed it out, sure that whoever it is has seen through me and knows exactly what I am like. I try for some weeks to seem engaged and interested, I say hello and hold doors open, I am careful not to seem too secretive or strange. I abandon this, though, like all of my other acts. It is too much work, even to be my real self.

One day, around Easter, there is a knock on my door, and through the peep hold I see a young couple holding a basket full of colored eggs and shining foil covered chocolates. I watch them and listen, the girl’s earnest, round face pointed up and her eyes looking directly into my own. “I told you she wasn’t home,” I hear the boy say, and I see that he is muscular and healthy, his arm wrapped around her waist and his voice low. I watch the girl disappear out of my range of vision as she rests the basket by my door. They walk away together down the hall holding hands and speaking to one another at a volume that disguises all of their words.

Later, in the night when the hallways are quiet, I carry the basket down to the first floor and put it next to the donut box. “FREE: TAKE ME,” I write on the back of a Domino’s Pizza coupon. I put it next to the basket and walk away, sure that it will be in precisely the same place tomorrow and the next day, that nothing will change, and that I don’t want it to.

Back in my room, I flip through the channels on my television- I am trying to find the show that Clara is watching so that I can watch it to, so that I can at least somehow be with someone tonight when I close my eyes and finally fall asleep. I find what I am looking for, a channel that plays only reruns of old game shows 24 hours a day. I hear a knock on the shared wall- “SOLDIER OF FORTUNE COOKIE!” Clara yells at me, the answer to a Before and After puzzle on The Wheel of Fortune. I smile and knock back and shut my eyes, drifting off into a strange and peaceful sleep, the flicker of the TV making fireworks behind my eyes.

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