Lovers & Latchkeys: Tales From a Greenwich Village Girlhood

Surviving the Hotel Marlton

ON a bleak winter afternoon in 1957, I sat in the lobby of the Hotel Marlton (vintage 1900), located at 5 West 8th Street, watching my mother try to negotiate with the desk clerk. The weekly rent for our two room suite (plus kitchenette) was way overdue, and we were locked out. All my schoolbooks were upstairs, not to mention my toothbrush and pajamas. I was in the 9th grade at P.S. 3 on Hudson Street and much was expected of me. To show up with my homework undone…and I was hungry.

To distract myself from the unbearable sight of my mother’s pleading face, I took out some hotel stationery and wrote down a brief description of my plight, our hotel room number, and signed off with a depiction of my favorite cartoon character, Pogo.

Then, inside a big heart, I wrote I GO POGO and stuck the note inside the top desk drawer of the writing desk.

Lo and behold, my mother beckoned to me and indicated that we were going to be able to stay on, at least for a while. I stepped eagerly into the elevator and soon we were wolfing down Hormel canned chili con carne and saltine crackers. My homework awaited me.

The Pogo-strewn plea for help was forgotten.

A week later, the clerk handed me an envelope addressed to me with no stamp. Inside was a whimsical typewritten letter signed, “The Man in Reverse,” from someone who claimed to be a fellow Pogo fan and also a Hotel Marlton dweller. For several months, we corresponded. I was 12; he told me he was a journalist and I finally figured out that Man in Reverse meant that he lived in Room 712 while we resided in 217. Eventually, the Hotel Marlton lost patience with us and we had to transfer to the Albert Hotel (vintage 1882) on University Place.

Both hotels had long been home to a variety of writers, musicians, and actors down on their luck and hoping for better times. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lillian Gish lived at the Marlton; Jack Kerouac wrote The Subterraneans there. Hart Crane wrote part of The Bridge at the Albert, and much later, the Mamas and the Papas composed California Dreaming there one nasty winter when “on a good day the hallways smell somewhere between old socks and vomit.”

Recently, I found a sheaf of yellowed typescripts from The Man in Reverse…herewith some unsettling quotes:

Hi, Genius:

I’m leaving town—by land, sea and air (over and under)—so this is farewell. But I’ll be back to “Sweet 712,” in fact in time to celebrate Washington’s birthday under the Arch. (In case of rain, I’ll repair to Nedick’s.)

I hope you didn’t mind too much my tracing you to the Hotel Alligator, I mean Albert. It’s just that I don’t like minor mysteries dwelling on my mind. So, I put my Paul Pry instincts to work, and—Presto! Rest your fears, however. I shall refrain from stealing into your room some dark night and strangling you in your sleep with your bobby sox. The worst I might do would be to fill your bobby sox with a few spiders, scorpions, sharp tacks and a purple-toed elephant.

This was acceptable chitchat in 1957 between an adult man and an adolescent girl?

Somehow I survived the Hotels Marlton and Albert, and the Man in Reverse, and did become the writer I confided it was my ambition to be.

I’ll say this much for him—he did encourage me in that pursuit.

(Did I forget to mention, Valerie Solanas was living in Room 214 of the Hotel Marlton at the time she shot Warhol in 1968?)