Today has been an extremely weird and awful day. I work at Hotel Alexander, an extended stay hotel in Manhattan, and today has been permanently burned into my brain. One of the guests complained to the front desk that there was a horrible smell coming from room 307. The general manager was working from home for the day, so Erica, the girl working at the front desk, came back to the office to tell me. “Room 307 is a permanent tenant,” Erica said. “He’s an old man and I think he has mental problems, maybe we should check on him.”
I tried calling the manager but he wasn’t picking up, so we found Johnny, the head of the Fix-It staff. Johnny had also been smelling something strange for several days around that area. Then Erica decides to add “the guest who complain, mentioned several times that they think he might be dead.”
We immediately called the police. Three officers arrived, and they asked for my file on the tenant in room 307 and a key. I frantically started looking around the office for any information on the tenant. I realized we don’t have keys for the permanent tenants. Two guys from the Fix-It staff and the three officers began chipping at the lock with an L key and a hammer to break it open. I stood watching at the top of the 3rd floor stair case and could see Maria, the head of the cleaning department watching from the other end of the hallway. The second the lock fell to the floor and the door cracked open, the entire floor instantly filled with a strong odor. I saw Maria’s hands instinctively fly up to cover her mouth and nose. I ran down the stairs and went to wait by Erica behind the front desk. The officers had to force open the door because there were piles junk and trash. The man who lived in 307, Frankie, was a hoarder and he was dead. His body was face up sprawled across a pile of junk. There was not a single place in the room that you could still see the floor.
I was back downs stairs behind the front desk and my nose was stained with the horrible smell. The police thought his body must have been there for over a week. They said his body was bloated and that the second they try to move it, it will explode, with a smell 100 times worse that current one. I immediately thought about a viewing earlier in the week I had done. I was showing a tenant a studio they might want to rent and as we walked down the hallway on the third floor, I comment on the smell. “What’s with the weird smell?” I said, “I promise it doesn’t usually this bad.” How many times I must have walked passed that door in the past week? The thought literally gave me chills.
The hotel manager and I finally connected on the phone and I explained everything that had happened. He and I are the only people who work in the office and since he wasn’t there, I was too freaked out to go back to my desk alone. I stayed with Erica at the front desk as more police, EMT’s and the medical examiner came. They tried contacting people who knew him to write up reports but couldn’t find anyone. When one office finally had his daughter on the phone, she calmly asked what had happened and said she hadn’t spoken to him in several months. I had expected screaming and tears and disbelief. It all seemed so unbelievable, so unreal.
Some of the EMT’s were laughing and had taken pictures of the dead body and were making fun of it. The whole experience was insane. How had this man been dead for a week and nobody had noticed? Where were his loved ones? Why is everyone so insincere? How are people being so causal about this? This is literally INSANE!
One of the EMT’s who was standing guard outside the door of the room came down to the front desk before he was leaving and the stench had stained him. He smelled dead, like he was covered in death and he had just been standing by the door. How was the smell so penetrating? We sprayed the EMT down with Febreeze but it wouldn’t even come close to covering the smell. I ended up sitting behind the front desk for a few hours, pretty much for the rest of the work day, while medical people and police ran in and out of the building making calls and arrangements. Evan never came in, or really showed much concern at all. He was barely even answering his phone.
As we were all sitting around the front desk, another one our front desk’s boyfriend walked up and he actually knew Frankie. He said he was a little crazy. Like literally crazy and he always had pushed his family away. They said he always smelled bad because he hated to shower, which explains why nobody paid attention when people started to complain of a smell a few days ago. His mail had piled up and he used to pick it up every day.
Everything that was happening was bad and it was all out of my control. I felt so helpless and I was at a complete loss for words. Nothing anyone said would have made me feel better. I felt like I was watching as everyone run around but the sound was on mute. I couldn’t listen when people were talking to me and when I finally did try to go back to my desk, I couldn’t really even process my thoughts. It was weird. People would call and I wouldn’t understand what they were trying to ask me and it took me 20 minutes to write a three sentence email.
I decided I needed to leave because being there was completely unproductive at that point. So I left and I started walking. I felt like a child, desperate to feel normalcy and comfort, I needed to talk to my mom. So I called her and explained everything and she couldn’t believe it. She know how uneasy me and Mel get around dead bodies and “death”. She started being religious, which is rare for her, and only happens when she wants so much to protect and comfort us, and she feels like it’s the only thing she can give. She started praying for me, and the man, and the building and everyone involved. Sometimes things seem worse or more dramatic when mom starts being all religious, but not this time. Her words actually made me feel better, I felt like she understood how scary this all felt. I don’t really think things could have been worse so hearing her concern was really what I needed. I wished so badly I could hug her when we hung up.
It’s weird that we go for such long periods of time where it seems like death doesn’t really touch us. Then in the blink of an eye, death can be everywhere and all-consuming. Marnie’s cluster friend, Billy, just died last week. It was suddenly and he was drunk and it shocked everyone. We had been talking about death and things had been feeling weird lately before today ever happened. Just the void, the distance and shock that usually accompanies death.
It makes you feel so bad. Why? We all die. Why does it still feel so gross and bad? Why does it still make uneasy to think about? Why do we forget that death is happening all around when it isn’t directly happening to us? If it is so natural/normal, why is it still so scary?
I hate death. It always causes pain. It’s this jolt from normalcy and it seems so impossible to ever feel normal again. But you know you will and maybe that’s the worst part of all. Know thing life just continues no matter if we are alive or dead. Its knowing that one day you will die, and besides a few loved ones who feel sad that you’re gone, everything else just goes on, seemingly untouched. Like we were never even here at all.