In hell there’s a big hotel
Where the bar just closed and the windows never opened
No phone so you can’t call home
And the TV works, but the clicker is broken
It’s true. There’s a big hotel here. It’s the team hotel. It’s not a Westin or a Hyatt or even the Travelers near LaGuardia. It’s the Windsor. Yes, the Windsor, the very same hotel where M. Donald Grant deposited his charges in Montreal when the Expos came into existence. George Vecsey described it as such:
…the ancient Windsor Hotel, formerly the showplace of the city with its high ceilings, great dining rooms, and ornate luxury of the Old World, but now it was merely a run-down old barn, dark in the corridors, musty in the rooms, dreary in the lobby. The players knew they stayed at the Windsor because M. Donald Grant had grown up in Montreal and had relatives who had helped to run the hotel during its days of splendor.
Those days were long gone when I arrived. Ever longer gone than they were when George offered that little Fodor’s writeup. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
This is a weird place. Most hotels have the lobby where you walk in at street level, maybe an escalator ride up. Not here. You go straight into an Otis Elevator and there’s only one button.
So I pressed it. There was a great zhusshing sound. Where were we headed exactly? The logical answer would be 6, as in the Sixth Circle of Met Hell. That’s where I said I was going. But the elevator didn’t work like that.
I noticed the digital readout. It said in bright red letters 2006. I turned around and realized I was in a glass elevator, that I could see what was going on on every floor. Every floor except 2006. I caught a glimpse. There was a runty reliever, walking off of a mound in a dejected hunch. He wore 13, which seemed ominous. I thought I saw a Jheri-Curled leftfielder laughing his ass off silly even though a baseball had obviously landed over his head, but I couldn’t be certain. Honestly, I’m not sure what I saw on 2006, but it wasn’t great. What do you expect, though? This is the Windsor, official hotel of the Sixth Circle of Met Hell.
I turned back toward the panel with the DOWN button and pushed it. I must’ve pushed it too much because it had the effect of flipping a light switch on and off. The glass gave me fleeting views of other floors. I saw 2003 and 2002. There were surly first basemen who could barely walk and sullen second basemen who would barely field. I saw 1998 and a succession of zeroes on a scoreboard that went on for like 45 straight innings, though they were a bit hard to read in the late September sun. We stopped for a moment at 1996 and I caught three strapping young pitchers, two righties, one southpaw. Each was rubbing his pitching arm. None of them was smiling.
The elevator fell all at once. When we halted, the digital readout flickered between 1962 and 1963. There was lots of dark green and pigeon droppings and no numbers on the uniform. There was a very old man sleeping on a bench. There were lots of guys running around in circles. It didn’t look like much fun. We popped up to 1964 and 1965. The setting was different, the action was the same. Then, as if levitated, it said 1987. A man in a gray uniform with a red cap circled the bases. We creaked up a little to 1988. A man in a gray uniform with a blue cap circled the bases.
Then the elevator stalled for a while. I watched out of the glass as that man in gray gave way to another man in gray, this one limping but also circling the bases. This was more than I needed to see. Slowly, however, the lift pulled itself up. The next readout said 1991. Everybody looked very sad. Then 1992. Everybody looked very angry. I could feel the elevator almost exhaustedly climbing one more level.
Oh, I get it. I’m about to get a look at…
NO! I wasn’t! The elevator wasn’t going to stop at 1993. (That just seemed too obvious.) Instead, we took a moderately precipitous drop. The door opened underneath a digital readout that read 1986.
Could it be? Could it be Paradise? Am I going to going to get to experience the single, greatest moment in Mets history? Oh man! I turned to the glass to check out the reflection so I could fix myself up for this.
I squinted at what I saw. I looked at my sleeves. They were navy. I was wearing a team jacket.
A Red Sox team jacket.
I pushed the button and forever left 1986. The jacket turned royal blue. Geez, that was scary.
The elevator shot downward again. This time the readout told me I was at 1969. There! That’s more like it! I was still in Mets garb, so it was OK. When the door opened, I was going to take part in the miracle of miracles.
The door opened and there was a blowback of confetti and ticker-tape. Whatever great thing that happened had already happened and I missed it. I cleared the paper out of my eyes and for the first time I saw another passenger on the elevator.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m just a kid ballplayer. I play for the Mets. Well I did.” With that he pushed a button.
“Gee, I don’t mean to insult you, but I don’t quite recognize you. Who are you?”
“I’m just Amos Otis. Feel free to use my elevator though. I’m getting off here.”
We stopped at 1970. Amos Otis got off. Joe Foy got on.
“Yeah, hi. I’m on the Mets now. I don’t plan on doing much. Mind if we make a couple of stops? I’m gonna pick up some buddies of mine.”
Before I could respond, we stopped at 1971. Foy got off. Bob Aspromonte got on. Then we stopped at 1972. Aspromonte got off. Jim Fregosi got on. Then we stopped at 1973, but only long enough for me to push Fregosi out. The door slammed shut before I had a chance to escape.
I hated the Windsor Hotel. I had seen so many bad things in what felt like an interminable ride. I wondered where it would end.
With that, another drop. A really steep drop. The digital readout went blank. The glass became concrete. I had no idea of knowing where I was going. It was like all time and space disappeared. It didn’t feel hot as much as it did desolate…very lonely, very scary, very, very hopeless.
At last, we landed at rock bottom, the basement of the Windsor. There was still no readout, but the door did open and it stayed open. I stepped out and tried to turn a corner but couldn’t. There was no corner to turn. There was just a brick wall and a dead end.
I walked into it anyway. I walked into it once, bounced off and fell down. I got up and did it again. I did a third time. I did it exactly 99 times until the wall disappeared and finally the lobby of the Windsor Hotel appeared before me.
It was terribly musty. The oxygen must’ve been sucked out of this joint at least two years earlier. This was the last place I’d expect to find any sign of life. But at least there was a front desk. I went over to it and rang the bell.
The bell didn’t work.
“HELLO? IS THERE ANYBODY BACK THERE?”
There was no one behind the desk, but there was a bellman. He looked very familiar. And haggard. He had a real bout of 5 o’clock shadow. When was the last time this guy shaved?
“Hello, welcome to the Windsor Hotel, official hotel of the Sixth Circle of Met Hell. My name is Joe. How can I help you?”
“May I ask you something, Joe?”
“Where am I?”
“Why, I just told you. The Windsor.”
“Yeah, but, uh, this will sound like a strange question but when am I?” I began to explain my elevator adventure, how I seemed to bounce from floor to floor, shooting up and down from one disturbing stop to the next until I got out here and there was no digital readout.
“I have to apologize about that. The owners of the Windsor have been a little reticent to fix things up. There’s talk about them selling. That’s why they’ve been slow to hire a full staff. In fact, I’m not really a bellman. We don’t even have bellmen. We don’t even have a working bell.”
“Yeah, I noticed. But if you’re not the bellman, what do you do here?”
“I’m the manager.”
“You’re Joe the manager?”
“Yes. And I’m all alone here. No Rube, no Piggy, no nothin’.”
“All right. But my other question, you know…when? Or what floor am I on?”
Joe flashed a half-smile and led me back to the elevator. He dug into his uniform and fished out a sign that read ELEVATOR DOES NOT STOP AT THIS FLOOR and taped it to the wall next to the elevator door.
“Ever see a sign like that?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Yeah, I gotta do everything around here,” he muttered as he pulled a screwdriver from his pocket. “Two ladies own this place and they don’t know squat about diddly.” He pried open the elevator door, shoved a broken piece of wood between it and the shaft to keep it open and, with the screwdriver, fiddled with the DOWN button.
All the lights went out. Then all the lights came on. And then all the lights went out. And then the only light that there was glowed from the digital readout display.
“There ya go,” Joe said in the harsh glare of the red light. “It’s fixed and now ya know when ya are.”
Yes I did. The readout was quite clear. There was no doubt about it.
When I stepped off that elevator, I had stepped into 1979. All the lights came back on and I looked down at the frayed carpet. I realized I had stepped into something else.
“Oh sorry,” said Joe, who didn’t sound all that convincing. “It’s that damn mule again. I tried to tell ’em the Windsor’s no place for a mule, but they just cackled and said we need to show more mettle, whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
With that Joe had himself a chaw and spit.
“So, what are you doing here? We don’t get many guests. We’re not even gonna draw 800 this year.”
I was about to explain to Joe the slightly bewildered manager that I was on assignment from a blog in 2005 to seek out the one Met who would inhabit the Sixth Circle of Met Hell, but the more I attempted to articulate it, the more I was like Joe with the chaw. Except I couldn’t quite spit it out.
“No offense, buddy. But this is kinda high-concept and we’re at a low point around here. If ya don’t mind, I gotta go make some lemonade.”
“Well, I’m not a soda jerk if that’s what you’re getting at, but like I said, I have to do everything around here, and those crazy ladies who own the joint gave me 25 lemons. So what else am I supposed to make?”
Frankly, I was lost without Joe. He didn’t seem like much of a manager and I couldn’t imagine he’d ever amount to a very good one, but he was all I had. Joe the manager disappeared and there was still nobody behind that desk. Without any real ideas as to what to do next, I walked back into the heart of the lobby and sat myself down on the pilling couch.
Funny, I thought I was alone, but I found myself sitting between two men. One was kind of old and one was very young. They also looked familiar. The funny part was depending on the angle I looked at them from, I couldn’t quite ascertain which was the young one and which was the old one. I mean the old one was old but I could swear I’d seen him when he was 17. And the young one was young, but weirdly enough, he also looked like he’d been 46 when I last saw him.
“Hi,” said the seemingly older one.
“Hi,” said the seemingly younger one.
“Hi,” I said.
“What are you doing here?” the older one asked.
“Yeah, nobody comes here,” the younger one said.
“Nobody comes here because it’s too crowded?” I chuckled.
I was met with two of the blankest stares I ever imagined.
I’m terrible with small talk, so I got to the point. Told them I came to Hell, to the Windsor, to find a guy who fit the description of being the sole occupant of the Sixth Circle of Met Hell.
“Met Hell?” the older one asked. “I don’t get it. This is my eighteenth season here. Actually it’s all I’ve ever known and I’ve been pretty comfortable.”
“Eighteenth season?” I asked.
“Uh, is your name Ed?”
“Yeah, how’dya know?”
Then the younger guy interrupted. “Eddie’s always going on about how old he is or how long he’s been here and what it used to be like. I think he thinks he’ll be here forever.”
“Shut up ya whippersnapper,” Ed demanded. “You just got here. You’ll be lucky if you stick around at all.”
I looked over the younger guy a little more.
“Say, are you really that new?”
“Sure am. Barely made it to the hotel staff this spring.”
“Um, is your name Jesse?”
“Sure is. They even gave me a number.”
Up to this point I hadn’t noticed that the fellas were wearing Windsor Hotel Temporary Help uniforms. You’d think I would’ve noticed that sooner. Ed wore 7. Jesse wore 61.
“61?” I asked. “That’s kinda high.”
“Oh, it’s just temporary,” he assured me. “They’re gonna get me 47 pretty soon. They promised.”
“They’ll promise you lots, kid. They promised me I’d grow up to be better than Hank Greenberg.”
“Do I look better than Hank Greenberg?”
I hated to interrupt their repartee, but for the first time on this journey, I was getting excited. “Hey,” I asked the older guy, No. 7, “Did you know you used to be 17?”
“Uh, I think so.”
“And you,” I told the younger one. “You’re gonna be 46!”
“Uh, I hope so. They told me I’d be 47. I feel a little silly in 61.”
They didn’t understand. Time and space really weren’t a factor. But I had seen them. When the elevator stopped at 1962, the older guy was there looking really young. And when it stopped at 2003, the young guy was really old but he was striking out that sullen second baseman.
“It’s an honor to meet both of you.”
“If you say so,” they said in unison. The older guy, No. 7, whipped out a can of Gillette Foamy and started shaving — right there in the lobby. He was getting hair all over the carpet, but quite frankly, given what that mule was doing over in the corner, it wasn’t that bad.
“Fellas, you know your way around here, around the Windsor, around this floor.”
“Ya mean 1979?” the older guy who was shaving asked (the younger guy was too young to shave).
“Yeah, 1979. That’s where I am, right? Or when I am?”
“Boy,” the younger guy said. “You’re kind of stupid.”
“Regardless, I need your help.” I asked if they could introduce me to some of the people who were staying on and/or in 1979. Both laughed. They said nobody was interested in any of them. Not even 800 were coming to see them.
“Tell ya the truth,” the older one whispered, “none of us much care for any of the rest of us.”
“I understand, but I need to seek one of you out. I can’t say just who just yet, but I need to confirm something. A hunch.”
“Hey,” the youngster asked. “You’re not the repo guy, are you?”
“‘Cause the repo man came last week and took the bullpen car with the cap on it. That thing was cool.”
I assured them I was on the up and up, that I wasn’t the repo man, that I wasn’t the Post beat man, that I wasn’t Bill Stoneman. I was just a man on a mission and that I actually liked them.
“Yeah. I always have.”
They both laughed and pointed me at a lot. But they agreed to help. Next thing I knew, they led me down one of those dark corridors George Vecsey mentioned.
“Help yourself,” the older one said. “Knock on any door you like.”
With that, the older one and the younger one disappeared. I was on my own one and/or in 1979. Time was running short and the high concept was threatening to run out of steam, so I knew I had to act quickly.
I started knocking on doors, trying as hard as I could in the crummy light to make out the room numbers.
I knocked on 41. No answer. I knew there’d be no answer, but as long as I was here, why not?
I knocked on 40. A gaunt, bearded figure with his left foot all bandaged up answered the door.
“Maybe I don’t have the right room.”
“And maybe I don’t have the right team. Things haven’t been going all that well for me these last couple of years.”
“Uh, what happened to your foot?”
“Oh, the foot.” He shook his head. “The foot. Why don’t you ask me what happened to my SOUL?”
“Uh, OK…what happened to your soul?”
“Why don’t you ask me what happened to all our souls?”
I followed the gaunt, bearded figure with the bandaged left foot into the room. He wasn’t alone. It was him, a fella with a guitar and two other fellas practicing their swings. The whole room was bathed in red.
“Gosh,” I said. “What an eerie yet somehow pleasant shade of red.”
“Hey,” twanged the guy with the guitar. “Maybe I’ll write a song about that.” He let out a squeal of delight and started fooling around with what sounded like Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale.
“Yeah, it’s damn pleasant,” said one of the guys swinging. “It’s pleasant thinking you’re gonna be Big Red someday, part of a Machine, and then you wake up one Thursday morning and you’re here.”
The other guy swinging didn’t say anything. He just kept switching from right to left, from left to right. To be honest, it didn’t seem to be helping.
“Damn Rose!” shouted the gaunt, bearded figure with the bandaged left foot. I didn’t know if he was cursing the shade of red or perhaps the lack of rosé in the hotel minibar. Or maybe the lack of a hotel minibar, one of the amenities that the Windsor surely lacked.
“National TV! And I’m giving up a record-tying hit. Of all the Jack Billingham, Fred Norman…”
“Did you want me?” asked the guy switching from right to left, left to right without any success.
“No. Sorry man. Rose!”
A door that was connected to the very red room opened up and out stepped a man in camouflage.
“Huntin’ season start yet?” he asked as he stroked his beard. “Or do I gotta learn to play another infield position?”
“Yee-haw!” shouted the fella with the guitar. “Blood’s always ready to go huntin’! Huntin’ season don’t start ’til our season’s over, Blood.”
“Dang.” The camouflage guy stroked a three-day beard. “Hey, blood red! Nice touch. You guys still aren’t over it either, are ya?”
“I can still make it, you know,” said the fella swinging — not the one who was switching right to left, left to right sans results; the other one. “You watch me. I’ll hit a big home run one night. They’ll remember me for something else besides not being Red.”
“Yeah,” said the suddenly melancholy guitar picker as he put down his instrument and picked up his glove. “I’m gonna be golden.”
“You dopes are dreaming,” said the gaunt, bearded figure with the bandaged left foot who opened the door marked 40 for me. “I was young once. I had it made. I shared something very important. Shared it with a guy named Butch. Now I’m stuck here. ROSE!”
Room 40 was about to boil over in resentment. As soon as I heard the camouflage guy say something about fetching his “shootin’ gun,” I slipped out and into the hall. Just in time, too, because I’m pretty sure I heard shots.
The next door I knocked on was marked 33. I didn’t knock all that loudly but I guess I startled the occupant. When he answered, he seemed all jumpy.
“Whadjadothatfor?” was his greeting.
“I was just looking for somebody.”
“Well, ya broke my concentration.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. What were you doing?”
“I don’t remember anymore. I was trying to concentrate and you broke my concentration and now my concentration is shot. My confidence ain’t doin’ too good neither.”
The concentration guy had a thick Brooklyn accent. And he wasn’t kidding. He really lacked concentration. Self-confidence, too.
“Ya’d think dis’d be good f’me, y’know? When dey brought me here, I was 0-9 against ’em. 0-9! I’m the one guy dey could beat and dey brought me here. Now I don’t beat nobody. Maybe it’s God’s will.”
“STOW THAT CRAP!”
The defeated Brooklyn guy had a roommate, I guess. He was in full catcher’s gear and barking. I got the feeling he barked at everybody. “YOU: PITCH BETTER! DON’T GIMME ANY OF THAT ‘CONCENTRATION’ BULL! I WANNA WIN! DON’T MAKE ME TACKLE YOU AGAIN!”
“AND YOU” the barking guy barked at me. “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”
I don’t respond well to yelling but somehow I felt bad for this Dude. He really wanted to succeed but it was obvious nothing was going to happen to his satisfaction for quite some time.
“Um, I was looking for somebody and I probably have the wrong room.”
“THEN FIND THE RIGHT ROOM! DON’T BE A LOSER ALL YOUR LIFE!” He choked up and started to sob. “I’M NOT A LOSER! I’M GOING TO MAKE EVERYBODY AROUND ME BETTER. JUST YOU WAIT!”
I patted him on the back. Poor guy. Still and all, this wasn’t the room I was looking for, so I kind of backed out toward the door.
“Hey, did you want something?” asked the guy who plead no-concentration. “I don’t remember because I can’t concentrate. 0-9. Go figyah.”
I was back in the hall. I was going to knock on 27 but I heard something that sounded a lot like rolfing and decided not to find out what that entailed. Instead I chose 16.
“Hi, I’m looking for somebody…”
“Must be me.” The Bee Gees were blasting in the background. “C’mon in. I’ll sign a poster for ya.”
Sure enough, the guy had his own poster. He was the only one I’d seen here with such a thing. Had a lot of mirrors in his room. From what I could tell, he needed them.
“Ya got here just in time,” he told me while he fixed his hair.
“Yeah. I’m goin’ to 2001 in a little while.”
It took me a moment to realize he was talking about a night club, not the floor.
“They love me there. All the broads wanna be with me. All the fellas wanna be me.”
“Guys from here you mean?”
He laughed. “You kiddin’? They’re barely stayin’ alive with or without me. How deep is our batting order?”
I thought it was a rhetorical question. It wasn’t.
“I’ll tell you how deep is our batting order…it’s me.”
He turned off the Bee Gees and grabbed a Sharpie from the bureau. “Now how ya want me to make out this poster. To your sister?”
I told him I’d take a raincheck.
“Suit yourself, though you won’t find nearly as nice a suit as I’m wearing.” True enough, I hadn’t noticed that he had donned a really nice white polyester number. I think he bought it as part of a two-for-one at Bonds. “Whoa, it’s like an inferno in here. Burn baby burn!”
He was gone in a puff of smoke. When it cleared, I came to a room that had no number. In fact, the door was open. There were a bunch of guys drinking and laughing and, to the naked eye, having a great time.
“Hey,” one of them shouted, “come on in! They call you up, too?”
They had mistaken me for one of them. I didn’t see how since I was old, out of shape and by no means athletic. But I thought if I could blend in maybe I could find my way to who I was looking for.
“Uh, yeah. Just called up. On the phone. Next thing I knew…”
“Hey,” one of them asked. “Did they call you collect, too? Cheap bastards.”
Everybody laughed. They passed a bottle of tequila around. When it got to me, I took a swig. It was nasty stuff.
“Yeah,” one of them said. “This is no life for a ballplayer, staying here with this team at this hotel. You know we’re not even gonna draw 800 this year?”
“I hadn’t heard.”
“But what do you expect? C’mon fellas, let’s tell the new guy…on the count of three…”
They counted to three and let out a hearty “WE SUCK!”
I laughed along but for all of us it was tears of a clown stuff. I didn’t recognize the faces but I saw all their equipment bags — no bigger than gym bags — lined up against a wall. The names were as interchangeable as the faces:
KOBEL…ELLIS…HASSLER…TWITCHELL…CARDENAL…FLORES…MURRAY…DWIGHT FUCKING BERNARD…
That’s what it actually said, I swear.
I didn’t want to hang out with these guys. They were having a good time, all right. Too good a time. I never saw so many people so happy that they sucked so much. I backed out into the hall, shaking my head
“They’re not happy, you know.”
A small figure approached. He put a hand on my right shoulder as if to comfort me. “They’re not happy. They merely laugh to keep from crying. To keep from realizing where they are and how powerless they are in these circumstances.”
Such wise words from such a diminutive (5′-7″, 145 lbs.) man.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Think of me as your guide.”
“Yes, you need a guide. I know of your quest and I am here to lead you down the hall, as it were, to where you need to be.”
“Gee, thanks.” Like a lot of the faces I’d encountered here on 1979, he looked familiar but didn’t seem disconcerting or upsetting. I almost wanted to smile at the sight of him.
Who could possibly be prowling 1979 to make it seem almost bearable? Who awaits us in the Sixth Circle of Met Hell? Why can’t we find a blog host that will allow us to post Hellishly long entries all in one shot? Find out in the exciting conclusion that follows.