By Joshua Feyen
We arrived at 7:30 p.m. for our 8 o’clock entry, and shivered in line for 20 minutes on a dark and wintry New York City side street in Chelsea. The line moved, and we were grateful to enter the warm lobby. The bellhop showed us where to hang our winter coats, and how to stow our phones for the next three hours. The receptionist checked us in, handed each of us a playing card, the two of hearts to me and the three of diamonds to my husband Jay. “These are your room keys,” he said, “Enjoy your stay.” We proceeded down a hall lit by dim electric wall candles and arrived in a 1920’s style cocktail lounge. A woman welcomed us, saying “Hold onto your cards, get yourself a drink, and I will call you shortly.”
Jay and I take an annual trip to New York City to attend a conference, and we make time before or after to do something fun. On this January night, we visited the McKittrick Hotel. In one corner of the lounge, a three-piece jazz band played quietly. The bartender wore a thin mustache, a white shirt with black sleeve bands, and looked like he only served martinis in fragile glasses. To his chagrin, we ordered two sparkling waters and sat with a view of the trio.
Within 10 minutes the woman asked that guests with room keys 2 through 10 follow her. Six people met her at an elegant elevator door. Our hostess handed each of us a white plastic mask, asked us to put it on, and then delivered a brief set of instructions.
“From this point forward you are not to talk. You are not to remove your mask. And do not touch the performers. If you get lost, need some help, or simply want to get some air, find someone who is not wearing a mask. These are your hosts who can return you to the lounge. You may re-enter the Hotel whenever you want.”
We boarded the elevator and our hostess selected the fourth-floor button. When the door opened, she silently nodded to me to step out. Jay started to follow, but sensing that we were together, she stopped him, indicating that someone else should disembark instead. As the elevator door closed, she whispered a final bit of advice, “Fortune favors the bold.”
The other person disappeared into the darker reaches of the room, and I was left to explore the scene before me and ponder those final words. “Fortune favors the bold,” I said to myself as I entered a grove of leafless trees planted in the wood floor. Except for the three instructions, there were no further rules. I touched the trees, I ran my hands along the walls looking for hidden places, I sat down on a bench.
“Fortune favors the bold,” I repeated. I came across a tub full of reddish water. Wet footprints lead away from it; someone had just taken a bath. I picked a piece of paper off the floor. It was a correspondence scribbled in small handwriting but was difficult to read in the dim light, so I moved along.
This is how I started my three-hour exploration of the five floors of the McKittrick Hotel, a vast warehouse decked out like that 1920s hotel lounge, the leafless grove, this bloody bathroom, a taxidermy shop, an antique apothecary, and many other exotic scenes. This was “Sleep No More,” and as fascinating as the scenes were to explore, this was also an interpretive dance performance and I had yet to see a cast member other than the woman on the elevator.
Come back next week to read the next part of Josh’s story.
© 2022 Josh Feyen
Josh Feyen was raised on a farm, went to college in Milwaukee, lived abroad for four years on three continents, and now finds himself with pandemic free time and stories to tell. In the middle of 2021, Josh set about writing 50 short memoir stories in his 50th year. Sharing this story with truestorieswelltold.com is an unexpected surprise; the main focus of Josh’s 50 in 50 writing journey is to share what he’s learned with his four teenage nieces and nephew. Josh lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and writes from his COVID-converted attic studio.