Diary of a Marked Woman


FEBRUARY 2000


2/2

Fri. the 4th: When I return to the room a few hours later I see one of the beds has a cover on it that doesn't belong to the hostel. A short while later I'm lying on the bed reading when a black woman comes in. She's not smiling and looks anxious. I say hello. She approaches my bed and says hello, my name is so and so, what's your name. I tell her my name. She asks how long I'm gonna stay here. I say three days. She says she's here for three days too. Then she says that it would be ridiculous to spend three days together (as if we were going to be constantly together) without knowing anything about each other, so we're gonna speak about ourselves. I say "Excuse me but I'm not in a chatty mood." She pulls back. She hadn't expected this reaction and mumbles something and leaves the room in a hurry. She returns two minutes later, takes the cover off the bed and leaves the room. I'll never see her again.

Sat. the 5th: The maid comes to do the room and starts speaking about her work. At some point I complain about how nosy some people are. I say that people should not assume that everybody is here for pleasure. What if I was in New York to go to a funeral? Or to get medical treatment? I am incensed at the brazen indiscretion of the woman the previous day, although I know that she was sent by the hostel people to find out what I knew. I have some fun with this little mind game and play dumb. I tell the maid: "I swear that next time someone asks me what I'm doing here I'll say that I'm in New York for cancer treatment!" Then she says something to the effect that I should be careful with my things, people wait until the day they leave to steal. I ask if there have been lots of thefts reported and she answers in the negative. Then she says that she likes my coat, asks me where I bought it and ends up saying something that makes me afraid that someone will steal it.

Later the janitor who was fixing the heater yesterday knocks on the door and says that he wants to make sure that the heater is working properly.

A fat black woman comes in and pretends to look at her receipt, then she determines that the bed assigned to her is the bed above my own, then she goes out but does not return with any luggage. . In the evening a young Japanese woman comes in. She sits at the desk and proceeds to cut with a huge knife the plastic string that attaches the label to some panties. Maybe I wouldn't have noticed if she was not taking for ever to remove each label, and was not making an unbelievable screeching noise with the blade while sawing off the string. It takes her about four complete sawing motions, back and forth times four, to break the string. I look on in disbelief. She has six new pairs of panties plus a set of pajamas, which means that she goes through the label-sawing eight times, which means that I hear the screech of the blade sixty-four times! I look at her face, which doesn't show any expression. Is this display of a dangerous instrument a threat?

In the evening she puts on a sterile mask and sleeps with it. This goes on for three days and nights. I hope that she won't complain if I'm not talkative but a masked person is not the ideal chatting companion. The fat black woman is a no-show for the night

Wed. the 9th : a tall blonde moves in. She puts her bag between my bed and my suitcase which irritates me because it forces me to move around it. I'm still afraid that someone will steal my coat but I don't want to be too obviously distrustful so I put my coat on my bed for the night as an extra blanket.

Thurs. the 10th: In the morning while I take a shower I am very afraid that when I return to the room my coat will have disappeared. While I get ready to go out the blonde asks me why I slept with my coat on my be. I tell her that the heating system makes on very thirsty so instead of heating the room I'm using my coat to keep warm at night. I haven't had the nerve to tell her that she puts her luggage in a spot that is inconvenient to me so I'm glad to move to another room, room #228. When I come in I am overpowered with the heat. It must be at least eighty-five degrees in here. A cover and a pillow are draped on one of the two chairs, giving the room an untidy look. The bed assigned to me is not made. A Chinese-looking woman is reading on her bed. This room has three bunk beds and is very small. There is hardly any space to move around and someone has a lot of luggage which takes up a good part of the floor space. I leave my suitcase and go out.

When I return in the evening the first bed is occupied by a fat black woman whom I recognize from last December. She brings potato chips into the room and munches absentmindedly while rustling the packaging. Two annoying noises plus a bad smell. Before getting into bed and after a trip to the bathroom she makes a wad of toilet paper from a roll and, wearing nothing but a T-shirt that reaches just under her crotch she bends over with her huge butt facing me and puts it between her legs. How gross!

Above her is a French-Algerian woman whose travel bag is at the foot of my bed. During the short time I'll be in this room she'll make countless trips to this bag, packing and unpacking, handling plastic bags (rustle, rustle, rustle) and zipping and unzipping, another annoying noise that one cannot complain about since it is of the essence of the place.

There is a two-feet wide aisle between my bed and the second bed. In the lower second bed is the Chinese woman. She spends almost the entire time reading a dictionary. Her abundant luggage is all packed on her bed against the wall: a huge suitcase plus cartons and plastic bags. At least they're not taking space on the floor! When she's not reading the dictionary she speaks to herself angrily in Chinese while pacing back and forth in front of my bed. She also speaks fairly good English and seems to be on friendly terms with the French woman.

The first night I spend there someone comes to sleep above the Chinese woman and she puts her bag right in front of my suitcase. I move one of the chairs and show her where to put her bag in a way that will not block my access to my own luggage. She leaves in the morning.

Fri. the 11th: Another young woman comes to sleep on one of the two top beds. She puts her luggage at the head of my bed and like the French woman she busies herself packing and unpacking, handling plastic bags, zipping and unzipping.... At some point both she at the head of my bed and the French woman at the foot are busy rooting in their luggage while I'm almost going insane trying to read lying on my bed. Even the headphones cannot block out the noise and the feeling of invasion. I know that I'm being deliberately harassed but I wouldn't be able to prove it in a court of law.

Sat. the 12th: When I return to the room some time in the morning I find a canister of air-freshener on my bed. The fat black woman is there and so is the Chinese. I don't say anything and just remove it from my bed, then I go downstairs and ask politely to be moved to another room. I explain that it feels awfully cramped in room 228, what with all the luggage there is no floor space left to move about. Of course I'm not complaining that the women are harassing me, I would sound crazy!

I am switched to room 315. which is a dormitory with two rows of four bunk beds separated by a wide enough central aisle.. I move my luggage there as soon as I get the paperwork done. When I enter room 228 to pick up my luggage I'm glad to see that nobody's there anymore. When I enter room 315 three women are sitting together on one of the beds. The first thing I hear is the word "psychiatrist". When I find my bed I see that a radio-alarm clock is plugged at the head of my bed, resting on the floor. A young black woman gets up from the group and comes to unplug and remove it with a deferential attitude. She says hello, smiles and I say hello. I wonder what the thing was doing there between the bed and the window where it couldn't be seen. My bed is next to the window and the heater so I have a neighbor only on my left side, which reduces the traffic, noise and inconvenience. As a matter of fact, the young black woman occupies in the bed next to me.

Soon after I've made my bed and started reading she comes to open her locker (there's a locker to the right of each bed) and put stuff in and out of it, with abundant rustling of paper and plastic bags. Not only that but she has to be on her knees to reach into her locker, and every time she gets up she helps herself up by leaning with her hands on the beds to her right and to her left, and the one to her left is the one I occupy. I feel that my private space is being invaded every time I feel her weight on my bed but I steel myself to say nothing because I suspect that she is deliberately provoking me. But I can feel the anger build up inside me.

After the lights are out around 11PM she comes into the room., lets the door slam shut, and starts all over again handling her possessions in her locker and making a lot of noise, and then she does it again, she leans on my bed when she gets up. This time I pretend that she woke me up, I give a start, raise my head and say: "Could you avoid leaning on my bed? It wakes me up." Then I let my head fall back on the pillow.

Mon. the 14th: Since my return from Philly I've been thinking about going back there asap to empty my locker and get the whole dreadful episode and actors behind me. I'm waiting for good weather because I have two coats there. If I go on a day when the temperature is not too cold I'll be able to travel to Philly without a coat and wear one of the two on the return trip, that much less weight in the suitcase. And today is the day. Before starting the preparation to go my heart beats like crazy because I can't help but be afraid of the people I'm going to see, although I know that they won't try anything funny inside the hostel.

I also want to leave the NY hostel without anybody thinking that I'm going anywhere special. The day before I have bought a large duffle bag. So I stuff the duffle bag inside my trusty brief bag and leave the NY hostel around 1PM wearing my cashmere sweater and no coat, all the more to deceive the possibly curious security personnel. I walk nonchalantly down Amsterdam, take the downtown train at 96th Street, and since I already bought a round trip when I returned from Philly I don't have to wait in line for my ticket. During the trip I wonder how I'm going to deal with the trip from the hostel to the station in Philly, and finally I decide to go from the station to 8th Street by subway, to take a cab to the hostel at 8th street and ask the cabby to wait for me while I fill my duffle bag because I want to avoid at all cost having to wait inside the hostel for a cab. Everything works according to plan. When I arrive at the hostel it's just five minutes past the re-opening, that is 4:35pm. A young woman with lots of acne is standing in front of the door with a very big travel bag. I ask her if the hostel is open and she says it is. I tell the cabby not to let anybody take this cab, that I'll be back in five minutes max. I had considered telling him to call the police if I wasn't back in five minutes but when the time came I demurred. I just didn't want the young woman to pay off the cabby to leave me stranded in the hostel.

I had wondered what I would say, if I would make any comment about the attempt to waylay me to the boondocks in a snowstorm and the general harassing and heinous attitude towards me by almost everybody in the hostel, but finally had decided that the less said the better. You can always add words if it's necessary but if you speak too much you can't un-say the words. When I come in Goldilocks is apparently alone in the joint, folding sheets. I say "Hi!" He looks up from his sheet, an expression of anxiety on his narrow face. It's a good thing he has beautiful hair because he is really not good-looking. He says hi and doesn't even smile. "When I left the other day I thought I would come back to stay here but I've changed my mind so I've come to pick up the stuff I left in a locker." "Go ahead" he says. So I empty my locker, stuffing whatever my small suitcase cannot contain into the duffel bag I've brought, put my duffel coat on, say bye bye to Goldilocks, who answers with his usual admonition to stay warm (yeah, right!) and leave, hearing with relief the door slam behind me for the last time.

Outside the cab is still there, so is the young woman, looking like a lost lamb with her huge bag. I ask where she's going. She says that she's going to the Greyhound bus station. I suspect that she's there only to disrupt my evasion, who knows maybe to attract me into another ambush. Her forlorn appearance seems to me calculated to pull the heartstrings. Now is not a good time to be compassionate, I have to save my ass first. Besides the bus station is not on my way and I don't want to make a detour and pay for it, and besides if she is so concerned about traveling on the cheap, why does she have a bag so heavy that she needs a cab to go from the hostel to the bus station? I motion the cabby to open the trunk, he puts my luggage inside, I get in and we're off. I feel a great sense of relief. I doubt I've been as much as five minutes inside the hostel.

The ride back to the station is uneventful. I give the cabby a generous tip. He doesn't know he helped pull somebody from the jaws of death! There's about one hour and a half before the next train to New York. I use the time to better pack my clothing in the two pieces of luggage, get rid of some magazines, then I put ear plugs on and look at the people coming and going in front of me as if it were a show with the sound cut off. Ear plugs are a great way of reducing stress. A lot of stress comes from noise. With ear plugs on, I almost feel as if I was high on pot, in a state of intimacy with myself, of concentration. The return to New York and to the hostel go like clockwork.

Around 10:30PM I'm undressed and reading in bed when the black woman walks in and looks for something under her bed. Then her cell phone rings, she answers it and leaves the room. She returns three or four minutes later and approaches me. "Excuse me.." she says walking towards me. She asks if she can speak to me. I know it's bad news. I ask her to hold on and conspicuously remove one of my ear plugs. "Excuse me," she repeats with a hypocritical sweetness, "I know that you are paying for your bed like everybody else, but would you mind if we turned off the light now because I have to get up at 6 in the morning. I work in Connecticut and I have to take the train and I have a two hour trip to get there." I answer that I am not ready to sleep so early in the evening so it would be a great inconvenience if the light was turned off now. She looks completely shocked. She repeats the same thing. I say that I understood the first time and that I'd like to keep reading for another half hour or so."Listen," she says, "I've asked you nicely, I've asked you politely so what more do you want?" "You asked for my permission and I said no but you don't want to accept my answer!" Why can't she take no for an answer? "But I need to sleep now, that's why I'm asking you nicely. You know, I can be very nasty if I have to!" The bitch is threatening me and I get angry. She's like my parents! She asked for my permission only to give the impression that she respects me and when I give an answer she doesn't like she threatens me.

"Listen, I was reading in bed, not bothering anybody and now you're threatening me! Somebody, call security!" I say. But I have a vague impression that she's starting this tiff at the behest of the management so security is not gonna help. Wasn't it someone from management who called on her cell phone a few minutes ago and instructed her what to do? And anyway I don't see anybody around. "You asked me if yes or no you could turn off the light and I said no and that's it, end of story." "Yesterday you complained because I woke you up when I leaned on your bed and now you don't want to let me turn off the light! But God loves you anyway." When I hear this I feel like jumping up and throttling her. She's been showing total contempt for my privacy from the first and now she acts holier than thou. "I'm a Christian..." she says, as if it made her automatically better than me, but I don't let her finish. "You're a Christian? So what? I'm a Christian too. I know Christians who are murderers and assassins so please leave religion out of this." At the instant I'm saying this I know the whole point of the exercise: having failed to elicit confidences through pseudo-sisterly feelings with the first black woman ("Let's tell each other about our life.") the management had resorted to outrageous provocation to make me angry and blurt out what I knew! If they were so anxious to know what I knew, it could only be because they had a guilty conscience, therefore they had actively participated in the set-up. So it wasn't true when they told me that the hostel was full on Dec. 29 and for the two weeks after that. They had said that to make me go to Philly, and at the Philly hostel they had done the same thing to make me go to the Chamounix hostel! "I don't need your blessings," I say. "You can stuff your blessings wherever you want. Why are you bringing religion into this?" "Religion? What are you talking about?" "You say that you're a Christian! As if you could do no wrong" "Christianism is not a religion!" "It's not a religions? What is it then, stupid? A dance?" "You're calling me names! But God loves you anyway." "I told you I don't want your blessings."

It goes on like this for a while. At one point I repeat that I know Christians who are murderers and assassins. She asks again to have the light out and again I deny her request. So she starts packing all her belongings into two large laundry bags without saying anything but looks very upset, drags one of the bags out of the room and slams the door. When she returns for the second bag her attitude is the opposite: she acts calm and mild, as if nothing was the matter. That's when I become certain that the whole incident was prearranged to extract from me what I knew. Some hostel employee outside the room must have told her not to act so upset. The Chinese woman is lying on her bed motionless as if asleep and the black woman asks her "Are you praying?" No answer. "Are you praying?" she asks again in an intimate voice, as if the two of them belonged in a group that I was excluded from. While she's packing I realize that I was wrong when I said that she should not bring religion into this. Actually if she was a true Christian she would not have acted this way.

Tues. the 15th: I'm in the courtyard sitting at one of the two picnic table that are not shrouded in blue waterproof tarp, smoking a cigarette when one of the chambermaids, Kata, asks me if she can sit at the same table, then she offers me a cookie, which I decline. In the afternoon a bad guitarist plays in the courtyard. I wonder if it would be a good idea to ask him to let me play his guitar, then I realize that I don't really feel like playing. If I did ask him it would only be to show off but I'm not sure I could show off because I haven't played my repertoire for so long, maybe I've forgotten the changes. There's a bunch of young Frenchmen I don't like very much. In the evening, in the elevator one of them says that this place is not so great, it's just South of Harlem and the only place cheaper than that is a cardboard box under the Brooklyn Bridge.

DANG! MISSED AGAIN!

Wed. the 16th: Around 9PM I go out of the reading room to smoke. A black maintenance man is sitting next to an Asian tourist and when I come out the staff man gets up and walks away. I put my briefbag on the table and light my cigarette. The young man starts talking to me, asks where I'm from. When I tell him he says a few words in French ("Il fait froid") and says that he was in Paris recently to visit friends. He has ugly teeth. I ask about him and he says that he's from San Diego, Ca. That he's traveling by train, bought a rail pass that's valid for one month. And that he's traveled up the West Coast I don't think he realized how implausible it would be to travel to France, return to California and buy a rail-pass to travel up the West Coast and then come to New York by train! At any rate he certainly didn't go to France with the rail pass. While we're talking the same lousy guitarist is murdering "Hotel California" but surprisingly quite a crowd has gathered around him and out of the corner of my eye I recognize the bunch of Frenchmen. Besides it's almost freezing. How can anybody play the guitar outdoors? It baffles me. As soon as I've finished my cigarette I say that I'm returning indoors "Il fait froid!" I say to him and he doesn't seem to understand. When he sees me pick up my bag and walk away he looks totally dismayed.

It's this look that tips me off to what was supposed to happen: I was expected to ask the guitarist to let me play, and like him I would have been surrounded by the bunch of Frenchmen. Maybe the Asian was there only to make conversation and give me time to hear the music across the courtyard long enough to decide that I could do better. But just the day before I had decided against asking to play because my heart wasn't in it and I wasn't even sure that I could show off! So I remained completely indifferent to the guitar playing.

I suppose that if I had asked to play, the guitar would have been handed me and once I was sitting down, surrounded by this little crowd of countrymen and hidden from view, concentrating on the music, looking at the fretboard, I would not have been aware of anybody sneaking from behind. And my countrymen would have let it happen! That's what they were here for! To hide me from view! Also the table where the music was going on was just a few feet away from a door to some staff-only place, and I surmise that my body would have been taken there...

Thurs. the 17th: "Hotel California" plays over and over at the coffee shop where I have breakfast.

I'm in the elevator with two or three of the Frenchmen. The door is closing when someone arrives to go up so I thrust my arm between the closing doors to re-open. The doors make a rattling noise when they re-open and one of the Frenchies says "She's violent!" He's like my mother, accusing me of his own faults.

Fri the 18th: "Hotel California" plays over and over at the coffee shop where I have breakfast. From now on most of the events will be incidents of harassment, disrespect shown by the people I am forced to deal with because I need to eat or I am forced of necessity to hear them.

At the 101st street Chinese take-out, the counterwoman ignores me when my order is ready and speaks with a black man about the carats of her gold bracelet. I have to interrupt their conversation and I can tell from the cold look of the woman that she was deliberate.

Sat. the 19th: "Hotel California" plays over and over at the coffee shop where I have breakfast.

In the reading room of the hostel, a man at one of the computers turns around and asks a woman if she's American. She nods unconvincingly. He asks her what state Baltimore is in. She doesn't answer. After a while I answer for her. The man hardly thanks me and I have the feeling that by answering I was pretending to be an American. I saw in the young woman's face the same look of cruel satisfaction, like a suppressed smile. As soon as I've answered the question the man leaves the room and the woman follows shortly later.

Sun. the 20th: "Hotel California" plays over and over at the coffee shop where I have breakfast. As usual the volume is very low but nonetheless it grates on my nerves so much I think I'm going to explode. A woman close to me is reading : "The Prideful Person's Guide to Humility" and I feel targeted as a prideful person. My parents always blamed me for being prideful, as if having any sense of dignity was too much for them. God knows for most of my life I felt hardly worthier than an earthworm but still it was more than they could take. The level of self-regard that they were comfortable with was actually a negative. Then they could more easily get their way. Sun. the 28th: At breakfast one of the habitues (the man in a couple of late-fifties teacher types) shakes his coat in my face after getting up to go.

[cont'd: March] [to ToC] [Home]