Hotel Edison

by

12/15/2007

Hotel Edison, West 47th Street, 10036

Neighborhood: Times Square

Since my father’s suicide in the Hotel Edison, I made sure never to pass that hotel. I would not even walk down West 47th Street. But suddenly there I was, smack in front of it, thirty-nine years later on a brutally cold night in 2002 with my boyfriend Craig, who innocently suggested we stop in and have a drink. I had never been inside the Hotel Edison. I must have felt brave with Craig beside me. We walked through the entrance and down a hall with mirrors on either side. I wondered what the hotel had looked like back in 1963 when my father checked in. When we reached the end of the corridor, I stopped. I could not go further. I could not have a drink at the Hotel Edison.

A few years earlier, among half-eaten sandwiches and junk mail piled half-way to the ceiling in my mother’s tiny apartment at The Williams, an assisted living facility on the Upper West Side, I had found a copy of my father’s death certificate and a snapshot he had carried in his wallet. Without reading the document, I slipped it inside an envelope with the snapshot. I took the envelope home and hid it away in a drawer. Just weeks before Craig and I entered the Hotel Edison, I happened to find that envelope. I opened it. By then, my mother was no longer called The Junk Mail Queen of The Williams. She was living in a nursing home eleven blocks south. She was ninety-one. She no longer remembered my father.

Before I looked at the death certificate, I examined the black and white snapshot with frayed edges. It was familiar; a picture of me he had taken on visiting day at summer camp when I was twelve. I looked slim and shapely in my regulation green short shorts and my favorite salmon-colored cotton sweater, my burgeoning breasts thrust out as I sat on the railing of my bunk, head tilted back, wearing a big smile. That pose is too sexy for a girl of twelve, I thought. Was I trying to imitate my father’s beautiful sister, Lil? According to my mother and grandmother, women who “flaunted” their bodies like Aunt Lil were lewd and whorish. I had wanted to be like Aunt Lil. She was proud of her body, proud of her large breasts, her small waist, her hips that swiveled when she walked. I admired her as much as my father did. At camp that day I must have been posing to please him. No wonder he liked that picture. He carried that snapshot in his wallet when he died.

According to the death certificate, the time of death was 12:55 AM. The date was March 25, 1963. Under usual occupation, I read: Contractor. It should have said: Compulsive Gambler. That night before he rented a room at the Hotel Edison he went to the track and lost $5000.

The certificate said that my father was sixty-seven years old. But his birth date, April 1, 1896, had been the whim of an immigration officer at Ellis Island when he and his family arrived from Russia: they didn’t speak English. The cause of my father’s death “after the post mortem examination and autopsy” read: “Visceral Congestion: Pending Chemical Examination.” He died of a barbituate overdose. In our Upper West Side apartment, he had taken barbituates every night for three weeks. He had been practicing his death.

Thirty-nine years later when I walked into the Hotel Edison with Craig and realized I could not go to the bar, I told him that my father had taken his life in that hotel. “I’m so sorry,” he said. He took my hand and we hurried out into the cold night air.

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