Japanese Hotel by Steven Schrader
After a few weeks as a student in the MFA writing program at Columbia, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to write at home. Every time I sat down at the desk in the dining room my wife began vacuuming. We weren’t getting along and spending more time together didn’t help things. My plan was to write three hours a day, beginning at nine, after I’d taken my son to kindergarten at P.S.84, a few blocks away, between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West. The neighborhood was in the midst of a large urban renewal project and was filled with deserted tenements. The new buildings were supposed to have special units for the local residents, who were being displaced, though eventually hardly any of them were allowed to remain.
But I wasn’t thinking about the low-income residents being squeezed out of the neighborhood. I was just worried about a place to write in, and I ended up renting a room on the tenth floor of a tall, narrow residential hotel on Riverside Drive and 80th Street. The hotel was run by a Japanese company and was filled with students and young professionals from Japan. My room was tiny, with just a single bed and a desk and a wooden chair. But it had a view of the Hudson, and the flow of cars on the west side highway sounded like the ocean.
I’d look out the window, and soothed by the traffic sounds I’d forget everything and start writing. My stories were about seductive, slender Japanese women. I became so excited that I had to urinate often. My room had a door that led to a small bathroom that I shared with another room. The man in the other room also seemed to pee a lot and I listened constantly to hear if he were in the bathroom. Every time he flushed the toilet and slammed his door I’d rush in to pee, afraid he’d come back and lock me out. Some days we seemed to have a contest over who could pee more often. Once I saw my neighbor unlocking his front door as I walked to the elevator. He was thin and non-descript and wore thick glasses and was holding a notebook.
Every morning when I arrived at the room and sat down at the desk I felt a sense of happiness and excitement. I liked looking out at the Hudson and then closing my eyes for a moment and pretending that the traffic from the highway was really waves breaking onto a beach. I felt as if I was becoming a writer. One night at dinner I told an old friend of mine about how productive I had become. He was a lawyer and the next day he called to ask if Dave, a colleague of his, could share the room with me. Dave had a writing project and wanted to use the room in the late afternoon. Splitting the cost of the rent seemed irresistible and I agreed, though I wasn’t comfortable about having someone else in my private space.
A few weeks after Dave started coming to the room I was stopped at the front desk by the manager. In broken English, he told me with an air of betrayal that I’d have to leave. “Your friend bring girls,” he said. “Not that kind of place.”
“But he told me he was writing,” I said.
“No more room,” the manager said and held out his hand for the key.I was embarrassed by the thought of Dave bringing girlfriends there and making me look like I was a procurer, and I handed the manager the key. With no place to go, I began spending time at Columbia in the study halls and at Butler Library. Soon I was writing stories about full-breasted Barnard girls. But sometimes, sitting in the crowded study at Lewisohn Hall, I’d think of the room on Riverside Drive with its view of the Hudson and the soft sounds of the highway and the flushing of the toilet and wish that I could be back there, waiting for my neighbor to slam the bathroom door.
© 2005-2009 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas