Terrible nasty things in the Presidential Suite.

As I mentioned in a previous story, I once worked as Security for a famous local hotel, which again, for the purposes of this story and to protect myself from lawsuits, I will not name. At the time, I usually referred to myself as a Security Diplomat rather than a Security Guard, and sometimes as, a Security Blanket, since often what is needed more than anything else, is a calm presence and a soft voice. There was a wonderful old school teacher who stayed with us on a regular basis and every time she came, she would bring me a big box of chocolates telling everyone who would listen how I had saved her life. Actually, when she had a medical emergency at The Hotel, all I did was sit next to her, hold her hand, and tell everything would be all right until the ambulance arrived.

She was a bright, happy, and sensitive old lady who considered me, and virtually everyone else in The Hotel a part of her extended family, and of course we served her like a queen. That is something I often wished I could explain to customers. You can complain and threaten, bribe or argue, but you will never get the service a 90-year-old school teacher gets, just by being herself and treating people with respect and pleasure.

In Security, you can work in-house or you can work contract. In-house is closer to the feeding trough and usually has better pay, benefits, and conditions, while contract is usually poorly paid, has few benefits and is subject to the whims of bosses who generally don’t have a clue as to what your job actually entails. I will mention here that my contract company actually treated me quite well within the limits of their contract system. I progressed within the company quickly and received the training I requested without a lot of argument.

However, I can’t really take credit for any advancement I might have achieved because most of it was not due to my mastery of the subtleties of Security, but because I could walk and chew gum at the same time. Most contract security can walk, and they can chew gum, but they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. This does not mean that there are not a lot of amazing security personnel out there, but they tend to rise to the surface and move on to better things.

The team I currently work with is one of the most amazing and professional groups I could hope for, of course, unlike contract, we are paid well, have good benefits, and are generally treated with respect. The contract world, on the other hand are often, cop wannabes who will never in their lives become what they desire, ex-military who were not very good at what they trained for, but cannot let it go, and generally people who have a desire for authority, but have fallen through the cracks of life… We sometime refer to them (unfortunately) as The Walking Dead.

So work in The Hotel, although contract, required a great deal of diplomacy and an ability to problem solve. Eventually we gathered a good solid team that I was very proud of, but the road to that place was bumpy and filled with false turns and awkward dead ends. My contract company took the approach of simply throwing people at me with no regard for how appropriate or inappropriate they might actually be. I suspect they simply gave me the first person that walked in the door… and so ensued a series of strange and sometimes entertaining encounters.

There were a lot of recruits that passed through that elegant brass revolving door, plenty of lost and confused souls who found themselves standing in the grand foyer of that venerable Hotel. They would arrive at the darkened and sedate concierge desk and I would appear from the nether regions of the administration area, tuck them under my wing like a big black swan in my double-breasted suit and hurry them off for our initial interview…

“I got something to tell you.” One new officer said. “Yes?” I replied, leaning forward suspiciously. “I can’t read or write.” He stated… I said, “How bad is it?” “3rd or 4th grade.” He said.

I could feel my face start to freeze up, 3rd or 4th grade was being generous. Later, when I called the company, they said, can’t you work with him? I remember actually putting my head down on my desk. He can’t write reports. He can’t decipher customer’s names; he can’t read the pass-downs or the emails. He’ll be working alone with some of the most famous people in this country. What… In God’s name are you thinking!? So, no, he didn’t work out.

Then there was the guy with Tourette’s syndrome who honestly thought he was the hottest dude on the catwalk. First words out of his mouth was how they were grooming him to take over the site… I mean, Hello? You come to my site and tell me they are grooming you to take my place and then you say, “Fuck you” and spit on the floor? And not just spit on the floor, but on the immaculately detailed Persian carpet, which on the priceless hand quarried marble floor, in the sumptuous and muted grand entry of one of the finest hotels in the country? Are you out of your mind?

When I called the company they said, “He has a handicap, can’t you work with him?” Work with him! Are you crazy? I cannot have this man stand in front of Meryl Streep, say “Fuck you.” and then spit on the carpet in front of her. Somehow, it just doesn’t compute. I mean, I understand the desire to help the young man, although a better attitude might have made me more willing to adjust, but really, you have other sites. This guy belongs in a parking lot.

We had one gentleman (I suppose I will call him Mike) who showed up looking quite dapper in his own double-breasted suit. He was short and slim and seemed very nervous. His eyes kept darting from side to side as if he were looking for someone, but at least he seemed nominally intelligent. His appearance, other than being almost bizarrely upright and stiff, was impeccable and we gave him a chance. By the third day, I was getting complaints from The Hotel staff. He was scaring the shit out of them. Evidently, he told one staff member that he could kill a man 30 ways with a pencil… Well, honestly I can’t remember if it was 30 ways or just 20 ways, it was a long time ago, but in any case, it was a lot of ways to kill a man with a pencil.

He continued to wear his own suit to work and after a couple of days I asked him to switch to the company issued suit, which was, as far as I was concerned one of the best uniforms I had ever worn. He replied that he preferred to wear his own… He said mysteriously, “It’s been specially altered.” When I asked the boss to send me his references, I discovered that every company he had ever worked for was no longer in existence, which meant to me that either he was very bad luck for his companies or he was in the witness protection program.

Probably closer to the truth was that he had searched out companies that had failed in order to build his resume. I suspected that he had scared a lot of employers in his time. One day he asked seriously and in his usual rushed manner, what kind of gun I carried. I told we didn’t carry guns at this job, to which he replied, That it was his constitutional right to carry a gun and suddenly I knew why his coat had been “specially altered.”

One of The Hotel’s more flamboyantly gay staff members came to me one night and told me in a secretive manner that he had “run into my boy at a local gay bar.” Evidently it was leather night and the place was full of chaps, naked butts, and leather hats. When the hotel employee said hello to Mike, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m not gay! I just like leather!” The hotel employee gave me an arch look and said, “I could help that boy.” And yes I suspect he could.

Mike’s final offense sounds rather mundane considering how afraid of him everyone was. He was seen patrolling The Hotel and littering in the hallways. Compared to everything else this seems so minor until you think about it. You have someone dressed to the nines, walking through The Hotel throwing his trash on the ground. It showed a lack of respect for the job, the staff, The Hotel, and the company, that bordered on insane.

When I contacted my superiors, the first thing they said was, Can you work with him? After I explained that he had the staff terrified and that he was most probably coming to work armed, they agreed to move him to a different site… I told them repeatedly they had to contact him at home. He could not came back to The Hotel, of course Security companies being as they are, no one called him to tell him not to come in, and he walked right in in the middle of the interview for his replacement.

When he asked what was going on, I told him to call our supervisor. He stared blankly at me for a moment and said, “Right.” in a toneless and flat voice that chilled me. Then he turned and walked out. It was obvious that this was not the first time he had been suddenly let go.

We had one officer who showed up wearing yellow tinted shooting glasses and regaled me with stories of his high speed pursuits and ninja like defense skills, then he leaned forward and told me in a hushed and intimate voice about how he had killed a man in his last job. According to him, it was at a construction site and there was this black dude there who was selling drugs to children… So he had pushed a pallet of bricks off the fourth floor and killed him.

I’m on the phone with my company saying, “NO! I can’t work with him! The guys crazy!” Not that I believed him for even a nanosecond, but of all things to say during an interview! Anyway, the company said he was just a braggart (true) and we should give him a chance. After he had worked at The Hotel for several weeks and had told everyone there who would listen about how had beat up a burglar with a baseball bat the night before, or how he had rescued his platoon single handedly in the war, or how was starting his own celebrity security company, the staff got tired of him and set him up.

One of the facilities staff told him there was a pile of porno magazines in the cooling tower along with a pair of binoculars and that they would go up there and watch people making love in the adjacent hotel. I think it only took a few days before someone caught him up there peering down into the other hotel’s bedrooms and he was out. As far as I know, the binoculars are still up there.

There were others, but the one I really wanted to tell you about was my own damned fault. A friend had come to me one day expressing concern about his nephew, who for the sake of this story I will call Mark. He was worried that the lad was not the crispest cracker in the box and would have a hard time finding decent work. He was a nice kid, but just not terribly bright.

I told him, and here I have to kick myself, that there was room for people like him in the world of security. If he doesn’t take on airs and keeps his head down, he’d be fine in a parking lot checking IDs or patrolling a factory after hours. I mean, the kid seemed honest enough, and good-natured too. So I told my friend to have Mark apply at my company and I’d put in a good word for him. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

A couple of days later my contract boss calls me at home and says, “Okay Buddy, you like this kid, he’s yours.” I literally fall over myself to say that Mark’s not appropriate for The Hotel. It was hard talking while trying to get my foot out of my mouth, but I rushed on, trying to explain that he’d be great at the guard gate of a parking lot, or out on the docks, but the boss cuts me off and says, “You referred him, you got him.”

Well at least he could read and write past the 3rd grade level, although not by much. And from that moment, I was trainer, babysitter, lecturer, daddy, and enforcer to this poor sweet kid, who really didn’t deserve to be thrown into The Hotel snake pit. We developed certain traditions very quickly. We had the daily reaming, a time spent during pass-down where I would correct his daily logs and berate him for whatever faux pas he had committed on the previous shift.

I’d say, “I heard you hit on Margaret.” one of the catering staff and one of the hottest chicks on the planet. “Mark… that woman is so far out of your league that she’s on another planet.” Or I’d say, “Mark, I heard you were offering Christian counseling to the customer’s in the bar.”

There were reports of nose picking in the grand lobby, suspicions of sleeping in the office, tales of tennis shoes with his double-breasted suit. It seemed to never stop, although in his defense, he generally took it with a good attitude. And then there was that uniform… The kid cleaned up pretty good. He looked great in the double-breasted suit with a long black thin tie. You couldn’t pry him out of that thing with a crowbar. He might not have been very bright, but he knew he looked like a million bucks in that thing.

He wore it on his days off; he wore it on the bus on his way to work. As long as he kept his mouth shut the kid looked like a movie star. He probably wore it to bed at night. Every time I would bring up some new transgression, he would swear to do better and then he would often ask, “How did you know about that? “Well, hotels live off of gossip. It’s like swimming in a sea of information and tattling. There were simply no secrets there.

So one day, I call him at home to ask him about something on his daily report and the first thing he says is, “I didn’t do it!” this is followed by a long string of incomprehensible babbling about how he knows it looks bad, but he would never do such a terrible thing. It takes me awhile to get him calm enough so I can say to him, “What are you talking about?”

“You didn’t know?” he says pitifully, and then all I can get out of him is that it was a terrible, nasty thing and although it looks bad, he swears he didn’t do it. Whatever it is, it is so bad he can’t even bring himself to speak the words, so I have to wait until I get to work later that day.

As I arrive at the side door to The Hotel, I run into one of the valets, who gives me a sly look and says, “Hear about your boy?” and then he makes an obscene masturbatory motion with his right hand and leers at me. I am dumbstruck. As I walk towards my office, I can see that whatever it is, everybody in The Hotel already knows about it and can hardly contain their amusement. As I approach the Day Manager, he gives me a pitying look and says, “I’m so sorry, but we have to talk about Mark.”

As the story unfolds, this is what I hear. Sometime in the middle of the night, Mark worked graveyard shift; the desk staff noticed that someone in the Presidential Suite was watching porno movies. Since there was no one listed as being in that room on that particular night, staff called a staff emergency to find out where everyone is. They get on the radio and tell every one to call out their location and to go straight to the room in question.

Catering calls out that they are in the catering area, the valets call out that they are in front of The Hotel. The Bellman radios that he is in the kitchen, housekeepers who have radios call out from various parts of the building, and Mark calls in from the roof, which by chance is just above the Presidential Suite.
As the entire staff converges on the sanctum of Presidents, Mark comes bursting out of the door saying that he just saw someone running down the hall away from the suite. He is, unfortunately carrying his coat over his arm and according to rumor… sweating.

He claims that he was the first to arrive and he saw a man running away from the scene, which reminds of the one armed man from the show The Fugitive, but Mark is not Dr. Kimball. Then he says he ran into the room to see if there had been any damage, a story that no one believes for a minute, but no one has the heart to confront him at the moment, no, they leave that up to me.

Then, Mark makes another misstep in a long series of missteps. As the crowd disperses he turns to the night valet, a man known for his big mouth and his desire to stir up trouble and he says, “Do you think anyone noticed my zipper was open?”

He could have just printed up flyers or used a bullhorn. Within a matter of hours everyone in The Hotel knows about the zipper statement and our company’s reputation has plunged to levels unheard of on this mortal coil. Even so, when I talk to my bosses they ask me if I can work with him.

So I call him up and again the first words out of his mouth are about how bad it looks, but he didn’t do it. Then I say to him, “Mark, you have one chance here. Tell me the truth and the company will not fire you (they may have to move you to Siberia, but they will not fire you).” He says, “I wouldn’t do such a terrible, nasty thing!”

I say, with a heart growing heavier by the moment, “Mark, you know me, you know I’m going to find out the truth. This is your last chance. Tell me the truth.” He replies again how he didn’t do it and I can hear the desperation in his voice. I speak slowly and clearly and I say, “Okay Mark, let me explain it to you. I’m going to go upstairs and I’m going to interrogate the lock. Then I’m going to check with the office and find out exactly what time that porno movie started.” Then I slow my voice down even more ad say, “If I find out that your key card opened that door and then the movie started, you are fired.”

“I swear to God! I didn’t do it!” My heart hits bottom. I don’t know what else to say. We hang up the phones and I set about checking the times of the event… A couple of hours later, after the papers have been signed and the calls have been made, Mark calls me back and says, “I have decided to do the honorable thing. I cannot tell a lie. I did it.” Ouch!

“Too late.” As it says in The Rubaiyat, The moving finger writes: and, having writ, Moves on.

Mark, I hear, went on to another security company and for all I know is doing well in the industry. The company sent me other officers and eventually we got the thing nailed down tight with a strong diplomatic crew that recognized the history and tradition of the place we worked, and walked the halls with pride and respect. Mark eventually became just another part of The Hotel history along with the pencil guy and guy who swore and spit on the floor.

I still have the uniform in my closet and I still have a soft place in my heart for the place. If they had paid well and had decent benefits, I’d probably still be there. It was like living in an ongoing sitcom populated by an unending series of barely believable characters. We had a transgendered customer I will call Suzie, who would come to the bar once a week and sit at a small table, nursing a cocktail. She stood a good 6’3” with linebacker’s shoulders and an ill-considered wig.

When members of my team made disparaging remarks about her, I shut them down, saying, “That woman has more cojones than you will ever have, and when you talk to her, you call her ma’am and treat her with respect!” The bravery of that woman to sit there in the hushed and traditional atmosphere of the bar, knowing she did not pass, but striving for her happiness left me in awe and I went out of my way to make sure she not only felt welcome there in The Hotel, but that no one, including other patrons ever gave her a hard time.

One day, there was a rather good looking gentleman from England staying in The Hotel and as he left the bar, I noticed him drop his business card on her table. After a suitable pause she got up from her table and tottered off towards the elevator in her high heels and her dark stockings, looking so pleased and flustered that I was thrilled for her. During the 3 years that I worked there, she became a regular and a favorite, and when I told her I was leaving for another job, she asked me to marry her, which was perhaps, a little more than I had bargained for. “Suzie” I said, “I’m already married.”

I don’t go back there for visits anymore. Most of my favorite people have either moved on or passed away and the place seems a little haunted to me now. It’s strange to walk through the grand façade and know that I cannot pass through to the rumbling kitchens or go up and sit on the roof overlooking the city, but I will never forget the 30 ways to kill a man with a pencil, or the pallet of bricks or the binoculars in the cooling tower.

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