Nights Like This

You have reached your bewitching hour.  While most people will unwind inside the cushioned margins of prime time, you won’t shrug away the day until it’s ready to expire. You are not governed by office hours or bedtimes. You will review and research and design and sort and package and analyze and schmooze until your limbs and attention vehemently protest.  When you can no longer deny your hunger, fatigue, neck cramps or that blister on your left heel, then you will stop.

You will stop long after your neighbor has put away the gardening tools and your kids’ soccer coach has read a chapter of the newest best seller. Long after the dog has been walked one last time, your ambition will watch the hour hand gracefully sweep across the meridian of a new day.

It is typically this late hour that helps grind your gears to a slow coast. It’s true what your relatives say about you. That you never truly stop.  That slowing down is enough for you.  You can still catch your breath at a crawling 100 mph.

Your work day has ended, but you can’t surrender easily to sleep. You make your way to the bar, welcoming its foreign familiarity. You’re in another hotel. Another city. Another lush penthouse lounge with votive candles flickering all about. You have never stayed here before, but you like it, you say to the woman at the bar. You’re in town from Chicago. Business. Banking. She buys your first drink. Hands you a card. She’s a writer. Or a reporter. Something for the hotel. You thank her for the drink and hope she’s not going to talk your ear off. She smiles. You both watch the rain.

Her best friend always gets sleepy when it rains like this, she says.  She says she likes to look at the rain or watch a movies. You’re inspired in other ways by the rain, but you don’t say so. You save that humor for people who know your edges. You don’t know this woman. In fact, you’re not sure why she’s talking to you.  She’s clearly sizing you up for something. You pick up her card and read it. Narrator.

You ask her why a hotel would have an arts residency program. She asks you how often you travel.  She tells you she’s been writing since she was a kid.  You tell her you never planned on banking, just knew you would be in business. You ask her what other things she writes. She asks what makes you good at your job.

You tell her that you’re good in front of clients.  You tell her that you work your ass off.  You tell her that you’re persistent and patient and you’re always prepared.  You tell her about taking clients to dinner. Fishing. To ball games. You tell her how the rookies only see the glamour of it all. You tell her that you’d rather give the box seats away sometimes.  You tell her that you’re not socializing; you’re working.  Always working.

You tell her that some deals take years to close.  She asks the common mistake that rookies might make.  You tell her they don’t know when to walk away. She asks what made you join this new company.  You tell her about the better offer.  She asks about life balance. You can hear the air quotes in her voice. You say that no one really has balance, we’re all making the best with what we’ve got. She tells you about taking her laptop to the beach. You say working and vacation don’t have to be mutually exclusive terms.  It’s your life and your time, you say. She agrees, but says her body started to disagree and she had to pay better attention to that life balance thing.  Air quotes again.  You nod and sip your drink. You silently toast your strong body.

She asks if you plan to repair sailboats or invest in a winery or open a little bed and breakfast one day.  You tell her how you want your investment properties to cover the mortgage on a second home one day.  You don’t tell her how close “one day” is.  She doesn’t ask.

Instead, she asks about Chicago. You tell her it’s home. You say you don’t mind the snow. She calls the city her favorite suburb. You buy the next round. Gin and tonic. Whiskey neat. You hadn’t expected to talk with her this long. She smiles again and is quiet. You feel the weight of the day begin to press into your shoulders.  You’re talking about barbecue.  The joint on the west side with the great sauce until the new owners took over.  Shameful, you say.

The drinks and the rain and the late hour have begun to converge into their nightly spell. You catch a yawn with your closed fist. You see her eyes slip out of focus for a second as she listens to you. Sleep has finally come to greet you both.

You order one more. She signs her check and wishes you luck on some throw away comment you’ve already forgotten. You tell her to be careful driving home in the rain. You watch her leave. You turn back to your drink and the tumult outside the window. You imagine this would be a gorgeous view on a clear night. You imagine what tomorrow will bring.

Piano for Three: Sunday Snapshots

Lobby Lounge

Where: Parking garage
When: 7:30pm
What: Power-washing of the parking ramps. Motors running, water streaming, hoses draped across the cement. Cars with license plates from Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee all sport bike racks. Perhaps for people taking part in the UPAF Ride for the Arts which went on over the weekend?

Where: Elevator bank in hallway
When: 7:35pm
What: The soft hum of the A/C reflects the summer heat outside as fans circulate cooled air.

Where: Café at the Pfister
When: 7:36pm
What: A man in a khaki shirt moves rhythmically through the space, circling with his mop, shoulders flexing, reaching and swirling as he cleans the floor.

Where: Lobby
When: 8:03pm
What: Automatic doors at the main entrance open with a squeaking “swoosh” and a man on a mission brusquely enters, sweeping past tall vases cradling Birds of Paradise flowers. He’s holding aloft a white box topped with a brown paper bag: a guest’s order from a local eating establishment, arriving by delivery, the grease starting to spot the corners of the bag.  The phone rings.  Someone needs another bathrobe.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 8:36pm
What: The crinkle of paper and soft breath of pages being turned as a man sits in one of the plush chairs, reading the latest issue of TIME magazine. Ellie & Jeff quietly confer over the drinks menu, shoulders touching as they examine it where it sits on the end of the bar. Another guest stands with arms crossed in front of the corner armoir, open to reveal a previously hidden television, tuned to the (muted) NBA Finals.

Where: Business Center
When: 8:50pm
What: Minesweeper working fine.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:02pm
What: A guest returns from dinner. At the front desk, Stephanie, a gently gregarious soul, cheerfully inquires about how his meal was at Elsa’s on the Park. He has nothing but glowing enthusiasm and asks her for another recommendation for when he’s free another night later this week.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:15pm
What: Piano music begins again: strains of a soft waltz drift through the room, bouncing off the marble floors and expanding upwards into the arched ceiling. A bar stool squeaks.

Where: Lobby
When: 9:16-9:23pm
What: The phone rings. Two arrivals check in within quick succession – one right after the other. Footsteps on carpet, followed by wheels of luggage trailed behind. Guest #1 noses around on a tablet-style device, waiting while Stephanie finishes up a phone call. The clattering of keys follows as she swiftly checks him in, giving directions on where to find the pool.  Guest #2 is dressed similarly: casual, comfortable traveling clothes. She, too, is checked in within moments.

Where: Lobby Lounge
When: 9:26pm
What: The automatic doors swoosh, squeak. A gentleman in a polo shirt and baseball cap rushes in, practically charging to a table that stands adjacent to the rear of the piano. He grabs a chair and sets it directly facing the enter of the instrument, his back to the lobby. Elly is by his side within seconds, confirming his order (which she already knew: he’s definitely a regular). He teases her. Jeff lobs a few remarks their direction, punctuated with laughter. He removes his cap, offers some cash to the piano player’s tip jar and murmurs some requests. The piano player’s head nods an affirmation, never ceasing the dancing of his fingers across the keys.

Where: Lobby bar
When: 9:42pm
What: Recently checked-in guest comes down to the bar and takes a seat, spreading her newspaper out before her, open to the crossword puzzle, her pen tapping in hand, in time to the music.  The gentleman who sat by the piano has joined everyone else at the bar.  The piano shifts from a lilting, soothing melody to something more bright, bubbly and lively – mirroring the increase in chatter as banter between Elly and Jeff and the other guests picks up slightly.

A humming fan, footsteps on the carpet, soft laughter, clattering keyboard keys, a tapping pen, the squeak of a bar stool, piano music, the swoosh of the automatic front door, a door being shut as someone departs…