MAINTENANCE MAN - ROBERT CRISMAN
Heaven is hell for the poor schlucks who work there.
A couple of years back, I got this job at the Clifton Hotel in downtown Seattle. Maintenance Man. I lasted three months. Imagine a wino flying a jet. Three months was forever...
You know the Clifton. It opened in ’80, on Madison and First, when First was still part of skid row.
That was back then. But skid row has been spitshined, the winos got broomed, and First is a whole other world.
The Clifton was one of the first of the changes. They wanted it cute: a tiny hotel in the heart of the city. Plush in the lobby, Swedish antiques, a touch of old Europe throughout. A rug in the lobby from out of Arabian Nights. Thirty-odd rooms, each one done different, one painted lilac, the next pale yellow, the one after that a soft tangerine. Ready and waiting for Tokyo bigwigs and other upper-crust fuckers.
The Clifton was high-class, if high-class is money. Movie stars in from L.A., and sultans with harems and hookahs and stuff. And then, all those rock stars that don’t tip for shit. Lastly, the yuppies, from Boston or someplace, out scouting the landscape. They’re all going to move here, drive real estate prices toward Neptune, and screw up the traffic some more.
Dudes always would ask me, the women they got coming through, they’re fine, am I right? I tell them, yeah, if you like pussy freeze-dried. They’re climbing the ladder, my man, and have no time for you...
Some fucking place. The hotel gig’s a kiss-ass kind of a deal, you know? You’ve got all these hotshots, and some of them ought to be locked in a zoo. Trashing the rooms, abusing the help, and then they expect you to kiss all their ass, like they’re doing you a favor just breathing the same fucking air. And you better be ready to kiss their ass, too, or management jumps right up yours.
I didn’t kiss ass. They couldn’t pay me enough. Plus, we were maintenance, right? Down in the basement, or up out of sight in the rooms when nobody’s there. Fixing the leaks and screwing in lightbulbs, and stuff. But the housekeeping staff and the bellhops, they had to eat it. I heard all the stories...
Dig this one: Gayle Dunlap was staying there, right? Doing some show up on Fifth. Each time she hits town, she stays at the Clifton, Suite 308. And, whenever she comes, it’s a big fucking deal. This broad is a star, am I right?
The day she comes in, the whole goddamned place is like Bedlam. She’s coming this morning at 10, they’re scrubbing the place with toothbrushes, man, and it’s been, like, two weeks of this shit, and we’ve got to get ready. See, Gayle Dunlap, she’s not just a star, she’s one hat-trick bitch straight from hell.
She’s 60 now, or something like that, and, you see her picture, she’s still looking good. But, scrape off the makeup, and, hey—Jimmy Hoffa!
I ask the desk lady, Christine, what’s this broad’s story? She says, “Well, Ms. Dunlap’s...high maintenance.” That’s hotel code for, “We’ve got T-Rex coming in from the jungle. Get ready!”
So anyway, she gets there. She hasn’t even arrived at the desk, and she’s cussing a bellhop there in the lobby. He left a bag by the limo lugging the rest of them in. Bitch had luggage from here to St. Louis and back. A million people around, and she’s ripping him, man. Loud as a siren, waking up dead folks. Been me, I’d’ve clocked her, right then and there.
So then, it’s up to her room, and the housekeepers catch it. Wrong kind of soap in the soap dish. Phone’s on the wrong side of the bed. That kind of piddly-ass crap. Then, there’s the lights. She needs a special kind of light in the bedroom. So her skin won’t fall off like a snake’s while she’s snoring or something. And it figures, we don’t have the light that she needs. On purpose, of course, to spite her, you dig it?
We call around town. It’s Sunday, mind you. And it’s nothing and nothing and nothing some more. No place is open that’s got it. We finally send a guy to Australia or something, and he digs it up. Comes back, he’s got to come in on his knees, with the light in his mouth like a bone, and she kicks him or something. She’s hot that it took him four hours.
I never actually saw her, myself. I just kept hearing the stories. But I did have to go in her room one time when she’d gone out for lunch. I can just see her at lunch: she’s someplace, she orders, dead busboy on toast, they slowcook the body, she cusses the maitre ’d out for not bringing ketchup and barbecue sauce.
Anyway, her room. The air conditioner’s fucked, making noises—which you could just barely hear, but, of course, it was keeping her up past her bedtime. Hell wouldn’t have it. She tore Stevie the bellhop a new one about it, and I had to fix it.
She’s got this exercize stuff that she had them lug up there. They banged through the door, and the frame’s all chewed up, which means that I’ve got to come back and fix it the minute she finally checks out. Another big pain in the ass. Those doors, man—it looked like some 500-pound rat had gnawed on the fuckers. Gouges and gouges, and gouges some more, and these big fucking slivers and chunks, sticking out every which way. If you didn’t watch where you’re going, they’d skewer your ass and you’d die.
She finally checks out and I go to take care of those doors. I hit the room—and the room fucking stinks, like an Alabama roadhouse back porch. Almost gave me the dry heaves. She’d had this dog. Pekinese, something, one of those snarly, yappy, rat-fucking dogs that you just want to toss out a window on sight. The cleaning girls were telling me, man, they’d go in, the fucker’d go right for their ankles. Dunlap, she thought it was funny. Ha-ha, you nasty-ass bitch...
Also, she’d just let the fucker dump where he wanted. The whole goddamned room. You could see the stains on the rug where they’d had to clean it. Plus, there were dog hairs all over, and—it was just pitiful, man.
And it wasn’t just up in the room. There was this one time, he did it right there in the lobby. Right by that couch that they’ve got by the door. Smelly pile of nasty old dogshit right there, and it’s steaming and probably eating the rug just like acid. Something to greet the new guests.
This was Saturday, right? Late afternoon. The people around could have filled up a Safeway. And she’s there, of course, got the dog on a leash, now that the damage is done on that rug—and now, he’s yapping and lunging at people, and—you’d think she’d be fucking embarrassed or something but fuck no. She’s looking at people like they let their dog take a shit on her rug! I couldn’t believe it.
See, what happened, she’d let the prick off the leash while she’s at the desk, and he went, did his business. She probably told him go do it. Then, someone starts yelling. She goes, grabs the dog, and then, I don’t know, but she turned the whole place into a battle zone quick. All these people, the dog’s going nuts, and now, here comes Richard, our dumbfuck GM, and, oh boy.
Richard, man. Little blow-dried, three-piece-suit-wearing rim job. All the time running around like the sky’s falling down. Always stuff fucking up. All these fires and goddamn disasters, and—he’s always pulling us off one thing to put out the new thing, and we’ve got to get that one, and meanwhile, the first one is raging like shitstorms, and six more are starting in some other corner, and all of it’s absolute bullshit, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
But, right now, it’s this broad and her dog, and here’s Richard, french-kissing her asshole, and practically saying he’s sorry her dog had to dump on the rug! Also the fact that she let him off the leash to go do it! See, he’s scared this bitch is going to go off like a bomb. Probably worried she’ll sue the hotel if the dog bites someone and gets stomped through the floor. She would, too, you know?
So, Richard’s licking up one of her legs, and the broad, man, she’s hardly even paying attention. She’s, fuck him, fuck the rug, she’s got a show to go do. And she’s tapping her foot and checking her watch, and Richard’s down kissing away, and probably got shit on his lips by this time—and here comes her ride, and bam, she is gone. Scoops up the dog, she don’t say a word, she’s just, out the door like a heat-seeking missile or something. Old Richard’s kissing thin air.
And now, she’s out on the sidewalk—and, all of a sudden, it sounds like a war just broke out. She’s cussing the doorman. Limo was three seconds late, and where’s all her bags? You can hear her all the way in from the street, broad’s drowning out jets, it sounds like a gangfight, dog’s got a hold of the poor fucker’s pants and—I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!
Man... It was two whole weeks of this kind of crap, and then, finally, she leaves. I don’t know how they ever got the stink up out of that room. You figure, how could so much shit come out of that one little dog? She must’ve had a secret rottweiler stuck in the closet or something, to take up the slack when the little dog ran out of shit. Either that, or, it was her taking dumps on the rug, which, why not? She shit on everything else in the place, so, why not the rug?
And you know what gets me? This bitch got hickies all over her ass where Richard was down there sucking away. She got royal-ass treatment the whole fucking time she was there—and, what they should’ve been doing was stuffing her ass in a cage, and sticking it out on the street where people could come and throw rocks at her ass. Sell tickets and Kool-Aid and stuff. And blowtorch the dog.
You’re asking if that’s why I quit? Well, not really, no. It was the whole fucking place. Four-star hotel, and the damn thing’s a junkpile. Seriously, man. They half-stepped the fucker. Shit’s always breaking, the pipes are plugged up, the basement floods when it rains, the goddamn ceilings fall down... It’s like they used string and old, chewed-up bread to stick it together or something.
And, here we are, maintenance, right? Supposed to keep it from falling apart. And we’re running like track stars from one fucking thing to the next, old Richard’s calling, like every 10 seconds and flying around like a methedrine bat, he sees something wrong, he hops on the box. The problem is this—a scratch in the paint the size of a pinhead, you think the roof just fell in. And then the roof does, and we’re hoofing like goats up the stairs, and then, bam, he’s back on the box. He just saw old Noah loading the rats on the boat in the basement. Fuck the damn roof! So, back down we go, and it’s all goddamn day, forever and ever amen, swear to God!
Four guys on the maintenance crew. Me, and then Fred, who got me the job, and he’s nuts. And then Pat, the resident junkie, 60 years old, selling weed to the housekeeping staff. And then Steve, who’s the chief. He’s a vicodin freak, weighs 400 pounds, and can’t move three feet.
I’m the new guy. All I can do is trail Fred around like a beagle. I don’t know shit. Fred could fix the whole planet with three feet of duct tape. He’s going to show me the ropes.
Two weeks in, I knew it was not going to work. Two minutes, really, but I needed the money, so, fuck it, I gave it a go. But, fix a toilet? I can jiggle the handle and hope it’ll stop, whatever it is, the leak, or the thing’s all clogged up, or whatever. Electrical stuff? Man, forget it. Flipping a light switch is far as I go with that shit.
Fred, he kept saying, it’s cool. There’s nothing to sweat. I’ll pick it up. But, some guys can do this and some guys cannot, and, I am a maintenance retard. Plus, man, I hate it.
The first time I had to change this fluorescent light—you got any idea how long it took me? Forty-five minutes and change. You think I’m kidding.
First thing I did, I went to the second-floor janitor’s closet. That’s where they keep all the lights. And, yup, there they are, and the room where the light is burnt out is like right down the hall—but, see, I forgot the ladder and screwdriver, man, so I had to go back to the basement to get them. All the way down, and back up, and some elevators go faster sideways than the one at the Clifton did straight up and down, and—anyway, I get back to the room where the light’s all burnt out. I check the thing out. Hard plastic cover. I can’t get it off.
Swear to God, man. There’s no handle, no deal you can pull, no printed instructions, no class time... I try bending the things, take them off by the side, and they just will not go, and I’m going right out of my mind—and the housecleaning lady comes by and says, slide them off from the end...
Boop, I do it, and it slides like you greased it. Put her on maintenance, right? Now I can get to the lights. This part’s supposed to be easy. Twisting them off’s not so hard, but, twisting the new ones back in—man, they just wouldn’t go.
First of all, man, they’re like, almost too long to fit in the fixture. You’ve got to slide them just right or they jam in all crooked. And that’s what I’m doing, jamming them in and then yanking them out, and I’m sweating and cussing, the ladder’s all shaky—and I go and drop two of the fuckers. They sounded like bombs going off when they broke.
I’ve got to go back to get more. Then Richard calls, some paint chipped or something, I gotta go down, get some paint and a brush and go fix the fucker and, three more days wasted. I finally get back, up the ladder, same shit. I’m sweating and cussing and jamming them in and yanking them out, and I’m tearing my hair—and by now, man, I’m drawing a crowd. People heard all the racket, they come up to check it all out—and cannot believe what they’re seeing.
Lunch comes and goes. I’m whaling away. People check in at the desk, drop their bags in their rooms, and come watch the show. Guys flying in from Sweden and shit, caught the Six O’clock News, I’m the lead story, they came to see for themselves.
Stevie the bellboy was there selling tickets, ten bucks a pop. “The guy’s on stage longer’n Springsteen, my man, check it out.” And they did.
Stevie retired next day and got into real estate, man, buying houses and shit, and got rich.
Meanwhile, finally, I get those pricks in there! They’re going to give me a lifetime achievement award. I start to come down—and fall off the ladder. People start clapping! They thought it was part of the floorshow!
I hated that shit. And, then, the last month I’m there, check this out. Pat, the granddaddy dopefiend, gets shit-canned. Been there six years, no warning at all. What the fuck happened?
Fred ratted him out for selling that weed is what happened. See, Fred used to geez, but he quit and got into the 12-step, alright? So, now, he figures, you use, you’re the devil or some fucking thing. Plus, Pat was slinging, so—and Fred told me he ratted him out! Man’s on a crusade, he’s Elliot Ness after dopefiends, and wants me to back him.
I told him, fuck no. Pat was a knick-knack, but, uh-uh...
So now, I get nothing but stinkeye from Fred. Also, no help with the toilets. That’s deep hell, my man...
Things are tensed up all around. The housekeeping staff, they knew it was Fred. A whole lot of brothers and vatos, and they’re not too happy.
One morning, Fred gets there, and he’s got a gun in his bag. Says, check this out. He opens the bag, it’s this .22 pistol. And he’s pacing around, and he’s mumbling and stuff, and then tells me that Billy, a housekeeping guy, was giving him shit, and now Billy’s got problems. And he’s looking at me like I’ve got some, too. Crazy eyes, man. Meanwhile, Steve’s off at the doctor’s, refill his prescription. Just me and Fred in that basement.
He stashes the bag in his locker. Goes off to stop up a leak on the roof. I’m thinking, this dude has flipped out. Maybe the best thing is, go grab the gun and flush it someplace and deal with Fred later.
But I had to go paint. So I’m up in this room, and a guy comes and tells me that Fred’s in with Richard. Awhile after that, Billy comes up, says Fred’s out the door. I’m, what’s the deal? He tells me Fred quit. He was yelling at Richard, came slamming on out of his office, went down to the basement and grabbed up his stuff, and he’s gone. Just like that.
That all sounded weird. I asked Billy, so what was the beef? He tells me, Fred went in to see Richard, get Steve’s ass fired so he could be chief. He’s telling Richard, old Steve’s a doper, he’s gone half the time, we need to shape up, and so, ship him out. Richard says no.
He doesn’t like Fred. The fucker’s a snitch. That’s not what he said, according to Billy, but that’s what it is. He’s wrinkling his nose like Fred stinks. Then Fred went ballistic, and that’s all she wrote.
Good thing he didn’t bring that gun in the office. I’m surprised he just left. But, to hell with it, man, it’s all jake with me. Just me and Steve now. I can’t fix a thing and he can’t get out of his chair.
And then, a week later, Steve quits. Turns out he got a new job, by the airport. The Ramada or something. Close to his doctor. So now, it’s just me.
Four-star hotel—and me the head of the fix-it department. You can see the ship sinking and stars falling out of the sky.
Lights winking out, the toilets backed up, and I can’t call Fred. This is not going to work. A week of this shit, and I turn in my notice, pick up my paycheck, and boogie.
Then, two weeks later, I’m driving by, and there’s Richard, out in the street in the rain looking lost and forlorn. The rain’s pouring down. He looks like he’s drowning.
Drowning in hell. Hotel hell, my man. I did my bit there. Now I’m off paper. The light turns to green and I’m gone.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.