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‘The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites’: Lobby

Saul could’ve bought the Last Hotel in 1972. Saul recalled that Otto Stern, the original owner, offered to sell it to him. “I can’t take the aggravation no more,” he had told him. He wanted $125,000 in cash. It was a steal.

Editor’s Note: The Last Hotel: A Novel in Suites by Sonia Pilcer. This is the 14th installment of her tales of the Upper West Side in the 1970s. Look for it every Friday. To read the 13th installment, with links to previous ones, click here. Of this work, the author Anne Roiphe writes: “Bittersweet, funny, human and humane, a movie surely waits.”

  Lobby

Saul looked up to see Pete Mahoney still sitting on the turquoise vinyl couch by the elevator. He’d been there for an hour, holding a brown paper bag.

“Why aren’t you working, young man?” Saul approached him. It was a joke between them. Pete was in his fifties.

“They canned me last week.” Pete took a sip from a straw in the bag.

“That construction company?”

Pete shrugged. “Their loss.”

“You getting unemployment insurance?”

“You bet.”

“What are you drinking?” Saul asked.

“Misery loves company.” Pete took another sip from a straw. “It lasts longer this way.” He began a slow motion forward lean.

Saul approached him. “Pete, you know you can’t sleep here.”

“I’m not sleeping.” He dropped further into the couch.

Saul tried to rouse him. “Pete!” He shook him. “Come on, you can’t sleep in the lobby of the hotel. Do you hear me? PETE!“ He shook him a little rougher.

Still no response.

“Pete!”

Saul unlocked his office. Inside, he found a bottle of seltzer. He carried it over to Pete, who had begun snoring. “PETE!” he yelled. When he still didn’t stir, Saul began to shake the bottle of seltzer. Then, he opened it. A stream of seltzer exploded all over him.

Startled, he shook his head. “Wha’ the fuck?”

“Go to your own place if you want to sleep.”

Pete stood up unsteadily. “It’s the company I like, Saul.” He wiped his face with a red cotton handkerchief, from his back pocket. “That wasn’t very nice of you.”

“Get out of here before I call the cops.”

“You wouldn’t do that.”

“You’re right. But go somewhere. I don’t want to see your face.”

“What’s wrong with my face?” Pete pressed the elevator button.

“The only face I want to see as often as I see your face is my wife’s.”

“My wife, less was better.” He opened the elevator door and entered. “Never was best.”

Saul smiled to himself. The residents in the hotel. One character more meshugenah than the next. But he loved to come here everyday. To put on a clean shirt, a tie. The place had been good to him. He picked up the business page of the Times. He was checking his stocks when he noticed two men in suits enter the lobby.

The younger one, fair-haired, with a pudgy face and tinted aviator glasses, introduced himself. “Mr. Ehrlich, I’m Jonah Last. Viktor’s son.”

“I remember you,” Saul said, staring up at his face. “I was at your Bar Mitzvah.”

Jonah grinned. “Leonard’s in Great Neck, Long Island.”
“I have still the yarmulke.” He looked at him. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

“You’re a very young man to have such a valuable property thrown into your hands.”

He nodded. “I know.” He paused. “And this is Jesse Hellman,” he introduced the other man, who was short with dark hair and narrow eyes. “Jesse’s my old friend and lawyer.”

“Hellman,” Saul repeated. “Is that your original name?”

“No. Horowitz,” he answered.

“Horovitz. I knew a Horovitz. Where is your family from?”

“Lithuania,” he answered.

“You’re both Holocaust kids,” he said. “Like my daughter Leah.”

“I remember her,” he said. “What’s she up to these days?”

He shrugged.

“So?” Saul stood up, taller than both young men. “What’s up?”

“We want to talk to you. We also want deli at Fine and Schapiro’s across the street. Would you like to join us?”

Saul looked doubtful, then agreed. “I can get away for a few minutes.”

As he walked behind them, he noticed that Jonah wore a black ski jacket with white passes attached to a metal square. Saul tried to imagine Viktor or any of them skiing down a mountain.

 

“Lean pastrami sandwich, please. And a cream soda,” Jonah ordered from the elderly waiter, who appeared almost immediately.

“What about you, Saul?” Jonah asked. “This one’s on me.”

He shook his head. “I ate already.”

Jesse ordered a corned beef sandwich and a Heineken.

“All right. A cup of tea with lemon for me,” Saul added.

The waiter walked away with a slight limp.

Jesse plucked a sour pickle from a metal dish and took a bite. “I forgot what real pickles taste like.”

Jonah began. “As you know, my father Viktor passed his share of the hotel to me. That’s 45 percent.”

“Are you married?” Saul asked.

“No.” He shook his head. “Not yet.”

“Neither is my daughter,” he said.

“Anyway, what we came to talk to you about is — we’re offering all the partners – “

“How is Viktor doing down there?” Saul asked.

“He loves it. Goes to the swimming pool. The Jacuzzi. He and my mom eat Early Bird specials. The Chinese buffet. They’re in heaven.”

Saul shook his head. “Not until they put me in a box.”

The waiter returned, leaning over to place Saul’s tea in front of him. “Cream soda and Heineken,” he grumbled.

“Still the same rude waiters,” Jonah said, as the man walked away.

“It’s part of the décor.” Jesse took a sip of his beer.

“As I was saying,” Jonah continued. “Viktor’s share is 45 percent. There are four other partners, three with ten and you with your 15 percent.”

Saul looked up. Ronald Reagan and his wife smiled from the TV set.

“Only in America can an actor run for President,” Saul commented.

“He’s got some good ideas,” Jesse said.

“He’s an ignoramus!” Saul said, raising his voice.

“All right,” Jonah said. “Anyway Saul, we know you’ve done a good job as the manager. We are aware of that.”

“Thank you.” Why was he glad-handing this arrogant whippersnapper?

“And we want you to continue, of course. But we’re making offers to all the partners. We want to buy out your share.”

“Go on,” Saul said, calculating numbers in his brain, betting on their generous offer. Ten thousand? Fifteen? Twenty? Fifty? Seventy-five?

“We know you paid ten thousand dollars.”

“That was in 1960.”

It had taken all his energy to save that amount. How he had worked overtime at the factory, into the early hours of the morning; how he had begun to play the stock market, studying the columns of numbers till he knew them by heart.

Jonah’s voice brought him back. “We know that. What do you think your share is worth?”

“What I want to know is why you want to buy our shares,” Saul said.

Jonah and his shrimp of a lawyer looked at each other.

At that moment, sandwiches arrived. Huge, over-stuffed, rye bread slices balanced on several inches of red meat. Cole slaw and potato salad on the side. Jonah took a rhinoceros-sized bite. Oh, those beautiful white teeth must have cost Viktor a pretty penny.

“I promised my father I would be generous to you. We’re prepared to offer twenty-five thousand dollars.”

“It’s a substantial buy-out,” Jesse added.

Saul nodded. “Well, I can retire and live on that.”

“No one’s talking about retiring. You’re a good manager and we want you to continue. Things won’t change too much. And we’ll keep Henry on, of course.”

“Twenty-five thousand dollars is a lot of money.”

“Yes, so?”

“Who’s paying for this thing?”

Jesse interrupted. “I don’t think that’s your concern, Sir.”

“You want to sell the hotel, and you don’t think that’s my concern?”

Jonah looked at Jesse, who gave a slight shake of his head.

“We’re not planning to do anything at this point.”

“Why do you want our shares?”

“It’s a business decision,” Jesse the lawyer declared.

He could’ve bought the Last Hotel in 1972. Saul recalled that Otto Stern, the original owner, offered to sell it to Saul. “I can’t take the aggravation no more,” he had told him. He wanted $125,000 in cash. It was a steal.

Saul could have raised the money, but he was afraid. And he had no family to help him with the business. Certainly not Leah, who was just going to college.

“What about the other partners?” he demanded.

“We’ve contacted them too.”

“How come they didn’t speak to me about it?”

“We told them it was confidential, just as we’ll tell you,” Jesse said.

“Listen, you. I could’ve bought the hotel a few years ago. They wanted, $125,000, 12.5 down in cash. Now it’s worth over a million dollars. And you think you can buy my share for $25,000. Add another zero and we’ll talk.”

“I don’t know where you get the figure of a million dollars. That’s not happening yet on the Westside,“ Jesse said.

“It’s a generous offer, Saul,” Jonah said, smiling his gorgeously straight, white American teeth.

“I’ll think about it,” Saul said, pushing his chair back.

“Don’t think about it too long, please,” Jonah said.

“What does that mean?”

The other man answered. “Mr. Ehrlich, with all due respect, we wish to finalize the matter.”

“What about the hotel?”

He shrugged. “Residential hotels are going out of business left and right all over New York. Unless you’re the Plaza or Waldorf, it doesn’t make sense anymore. People will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for co-op apartments and condominiums. This property has an excellent location.”

Saul stood up to his full six feet. “This isn’t just a job, all these years. It isn’t just a property. I’ve made the Last Hotel what it is. I installed an automatic elevator which saved thousands of dollars the hotel was spending on the elevator men.” He paused for a moment. “What about the people who live in the hotel?”

“We’ll have to see.”

Saul peeled two dollars from his money clip. “That should cover my tea.”

He walked out on 72nd, crossed the street, continuing to Columbus Avenue. Jonah. That awful son of Viktor’s should only be swallowed by a whale. He would be swallowed soon because there were much bigger, shrewder fish out there in the ocean. As for himself, Saul thought, he was just a minnow, actually a slippery eel. How he had slithered through the camp on his stomach. That’s all they were. Hungry stomachs. And he had bribed his way to work in the kitchen, where he traded food for favors. So he could live. For this. He stopped to catch his breath.

_______

Sonia Pilcer is the author of six novels including The Holocaust KidThe Last Hotel will be published in December by Heliotrope Books, available at Amazon.com. Visit Sonia Pilcer’s web site here.

 

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