Stalking Woody Allen at the Carlyle Hotel

by

10/18/2020

Neighborhood: Upper East Side

It’s silly really. It’s just this picture I took on the stairs outside my apartment building five years ago of a black Remington typewriter with a blazer and skirt below it, like a body. And coming out of the typewriter was a headshot of Woody Allen.

Five o’clock. I was putting on my stockings. The skirt was not wrinkled, although my waist was so round that the button on the side popped off. I did not get mad, I simply went to my thread and needle. Part of me, I suppose, was hoping I’d be too late: the seats would all be full and I’d have to try again the following Monday. 

But when I arrived the place was barren. A dark-skinned man in a tan jacket looked startled when I headed toward the revolving door. “Evening,” he pushed me through. 

I paused in the foyer and let the wide yellow light fill me. The Carlyle Hotel is beautiful. Did you hear me, beautiful. The busty couches were shiny and soft. I thought of sitting on one—but the time, six-fifteen, I had to get in line for my barstool. 

I went down the steps, and entered the main lobby. The hotel was empty. The further in I got, the poorer I felt. Smaller, less attractive, and, with my big beret, bag and photographs, more crazy. 

The elevator men all said hello, I blindly smiled. Everything looked so polished that it wilted me. I wasn’t standing straight enough. I wasn’t walking straight enough. Into the little mural room. I was sad. I want to live here. I want money. It takes money to live in a place like this. A palace. 

I asked a man with a badge about the show. 

“This way.” He had me follow him. The Carlyle Hotel has so many twists and turns. I’d never even been up this way. It was off of the Madison Avenue entrance. A glass door covered by a frilly curtain led into the café, then another door led to the front entrance of Bemelmans Bar. 

Since the café was closed, I sat down at the only table in the hallway on a gold chair with a pointy back. I was directly below a set of stairs leading up hotel rooms. It reminded me of my rich grandmother’s house and her back stairs with the fuzzy piña colada colored carpet that led to where the servants slept. 

Wait, close eyes, take a moment to reflect on the trip to grandmother’s house: Newtown road, driving in the car with windows down, fresh cornfield air, bumps in the road, watching leaves make shadows between sun patches of gray asphalt. Then get to her big stone house (mansion), no shoes, feel the hot tar driveway under my feet, run through wood gate. The swimming pool: round, blue, deep, rubber chairs, frosted glass table and pine needles under it. Swim, wade, bob, float, feel sun, lie on the lawn in my wet blue bathing suit on a beige towel eating expensive potato chips, the sound of a lawn mower and the cows. See grandmother standing at the window.

Unbelievable. That reservationist had told me to get to the Café Carlyle at six-fifteen to make sure I got a barstool. It was now six-thirty, and no one was there. I went through my bag, counting and recounting my money, looking for the hundred-dollar bill I was sure I’d brought. 

Finally, the glass door opened—it was belittling, the way this gnome man looked at me with my money in my hand—oh, and just for the record, let me tell you, it was only two hours since I’d showered, and already I felt like I’d been walking through the jungle. I was the first one in. No one there, but eager me and the set tables and the waiters walking in circles inspecting the silverware. The maitre d’ made me check my coat. 

I took the barstool against the wall. That was the one good thing to happen to me all night: Being the first one there, I got to choose where to sit. It was a high velvet stool, and I liked the way mine was the only one not facing the bar; it pivoted, so I could see the small stage where the black piano sat. It was a large and shiny piano that reminded me very much of Woody Allen’s glasses.

“Dinner.” The short-tongued bartender handed me a menu. I looked at the choices. Fish, steak, sides—I did for a moment consider a side of the steamed asparagus, rehearsing in my head what it would sound like to order something I could not afford. “I’m sorry, I’m not going to eat,” I told the bartender. He clawed the menu out of my hand, “What to drink?”

“May I have a diet coke,” I politely asked, and then turned around to face the empty room. It reminded me of a neighborhood. The aisles were the roads, the walls were the trees, the steps were the hills, the tables were the houses, and in-between were gardens and yards and babbling brooks. It did look nice. The lighting was so low, I was sorry I didn’t bring my flashlight—just in case Woody couldn’t see his photo. Oh, please dear god, he just had to be nice, he just had to like it, and me. I looked good. My face was queen pale. A bottle next to a short glass with three ice cubes appeared. My Diet Coke. “Bon Appetit!” 

I did not use the straw. I took the slowest sip you ever saw—going out alone teaches you not to take sips for granted. When I’m out with Edward, I suck my drink down in two seconds then get another one and down that one just as fast. HMMMMMM. Cheers to the first Diet Coke I ever bought at a bar. It tasted good, strong enough to relieve my gnawing stomach. 

I stood up, smoothed out my skirt then walked over to the door where the Maitre d’ and his band of unmerry servers stood cracking jokes in French, looking at their watches. 

“I’m just going to use the ladies’ room,” I said, stepping back out of the café and into the hall, where there was now an evening-gardenias-in-bloom party atmosphere; white votives lit the tables and my heels made clicking sounds on the checkerboard floors. 

I cut through the short-tabled room, the way any Carlyle resident would, and saw two men eating shrimp and drinking champagne. They were jolly and looked at me, but the barrier was up, they were in their world, I was in mine…Although…PAUSE!!! Who was the squashed fellow in the tuxedo resting on the corner banquette, like he was on a cloud, eating chocolate fondue? He looked at me and I at him, “Good evening,” we both said like old friends as I rounded the steps to the ladies’ room. 

The ladies room. Bare, stark, creamy, empty. Lonely—I will say that word to myself a lot tonight. The sinks were lonely, the floors were lonely, the cabinets were lonely, the mirrors were lonely, my reflection in them was lonely; yet perfectly centered, like a figurine on top of a snow globe. Fa la la.

I turned to the side and examined my waist. Fat. I was glad that button had popped off at home and not here, I wondered what I’d have done if it had popped Woody Allen in the eye and shattered his glasses like a windshield. Then the show would be canceled, my button, NOT ME, would be famous, and I’d never get to give Woody the picture.  

I went into the stall. I sat down and stared at the cracks in the door. I didn’t even think about what I could steal. At the sink, I checked my face again. I wiped my forehead. I did not wash my hands. I walked out of the ladies room, back past the squashed good evening man. This time I did not look, I just held my head high— I wanted to keep the warm memorable feeling that someone had finally noticed me and said hello.  

Do you know that some girl was just killed the other night coming out of a bar on the Bowery called The Falls, she was raped in a car, bludgeoned, brutally wrapped in duct tape then tossed off the Belt Parkway in the dead of fucking winter. Why didn’t I just stay home and do something innocent like wash my hair and watch reruns of The Odd Couple?

Back inside the dark Café Carlyle, I drank what was left in my glass, and then the bartender, with immense disdain, rushed over and emptied the bottle all the way, so that the foam ran over the side. Of course, the bartender didn’t see the foam because he was too busy throwing away my bottle, and that made me furious. I wanted to pour that Diet Coke. That was my money, Mr. Bartender. You just took all the fun out of, the only toy I would have to play with all night. I mean I have two hours to kill here sir, and nothing to do. I was going to take my time with that Diet Coke, I was going to pour it slow, I was going to look at the bottle…

“Do you think I could have a glass of water,” I said when he soared past with a well-done salmon dish. I made a brief observation on my napkin for my book—‘too many waiters in room, turning in circles like fish in tanks, heads bent, hands behind back… demons, demons go away, do not come another day, loneliness and rain,’ I wrote. I did have my gloves and put them on each time I picked up my water. Once the glass slipped and made a loud sound on the bar. No one turned. Hello? I think they heard, or at least they saw, or who knows, maybe no one did. Maybe I wasn’t even there. 

My diet coke was gone and it was 7:30. There were two tables of people eating dinner. The idea is, if you are a party of two or more you book your table for eighty-thirty—the show starts at eight forty-five—most people eat during the show. It’s a very fancy uptown thing, one I could have enjoyed much more if I had been at one of those tables myself, drinking wine and breaking bread as those busboys kept sailing past me. 

Bang clang, bang clang, rumble, rumble, there is just something marvelous about the clang bang of hunger. It absolves you of everything; when you are walking through the streets, you feel light, like a kite, the weightlessness carries you

Bathroom. I left through the glass door again. Then skirted the short mural room where I’d seen the old man sitting low and eating chocolate fondue. He was still there with his age freckles, under what remained of the white hair on his head. I adjusted my beret. He waved his hand. 

“Darling,” he gargled into his napkin, much to my delight. He was sunk all the way into the cushions, and I sank down with him. I felt my skirt pleat out as I leaned into his side. Other tables watched; I didn’t care. I was just happy to be noticed.

“Why darling.” He held my hand and smoothed his fingers over mine. 

“Oh sir, I’m just so stressed,” I enunciated my words so I wouldn’t sound stupid, and also because I could tell he was at least one hundred and fifty years old.

“What,” he said. 

“Stressed,” I repeated, “I’m so stressed sir.”

“Darling,” he looked deeply at me, “Why, it’s a magnificent dress.”

“I’m here alone…” It felt good to finally tell someone “…This is the first time I have ever been out alone sir, I’m going to see Woody Allen, I’m over in the café.”

He stroked my hand and listened. A waiter drew near. 

“Would you like a drink,” the little old man asked. I did. Badly. At that moment I wanted to forget my Diet Coke, the café, Woody Allen, the typewriter picture, I wanted to tell the waiter, a breadbasket, a glass of your best red wine, and dinner.

“No thank you.” 

The little old man looked disappointed then asked me what I was doing there. Oh. He had a poor memory—I soon discovered that—after I told him four times where I was from, where I lived and what I was doing there. 

“How do you make your money darling?” he continued to stroke my hand. The old man was sweet, and I didn’t want him to let go. He was rich. He had skinny legs and a fondue belly. There were two pieces of bit into chocolate on his plate that I COULD HAVE GOBBLED UP. 

“I don’t really work,” I told Jerry. 

Jerry Finkelstein was his name. 

“Darling,” he smiled, “How do you get money then, you’ve got to do something?” 

“I’ve saved,” I said.

“What?” Jerry said.

“I worked for a long time and saved money.” 

“Well not that long,” he coughed, “You’re not old enough to have worked that long.” 

“I just don’t spend money sir, I’m working on a book.” 

“A what?’

“A book.”

“A book?”

“Yes, fiction stories.” 

“Short stories, darling.” He put his hand on my skirt, “how short,” he grinned, crookedly.

“Actually, stories about The Carlyle. I want to live here one day, the only reason I’m writing the stories is to sell my book so I can afford to live here.” 

“Well.” Jerry pulled at his suspenders. “I live here darling,” My eyes grew wide. Jackpot: apples, cherries, lemons… “Can I be in your stories,” he winked. 

This was unbelievable, I mean, I must have been sitting with the richest man at the Carlyle. It turns out Jerry Finkelstein has the penthouse, which  he told me, had “A terrace as big as this whole room…Would you like to see my penthouse darling, we could have dinner in my suite or on the heated terrace, it’s a wonderful night darling, under the stars.” 

Oh, Jerry might have been old, but he was fast and I wanted to go fast with him. I wanted to fine dine at Jerry Finkelstein’s fine dining room table, but would we really dine? Hadn’t Jerry already eaten? What about those nibbled chocolates and the bit of fondue stuck to his chin. 

“Jerry I would really love to, but I have to see the show.” 

“What show, are you with a man?” he asked.

“Woody Allen,” I yelled.

“You’re with Woody Allen?” Jerry coughed. 

“No, I’m here to see the show, in Café Carlyle,” I yelled trying not to be conspicuous—there were many people passing. “So do you eat in here every night Jerry?” I was jealous. This great Alice-in-Wonderland mushroom room with the pillows and banquettes. Just look at it. God. What a dream to come down here like this, eat after dinner chocolates and get waited on. 

“Cocktails at five,” Jerry smiled, “You could too, we could eat here every night if you wished.” Wish. I did. Starlight, star bright, first star… I suddenly thought about Edward. If Edward were not around, this could be my new man. But what would he expect? Sex, company, I wonder if he’d pay more than Edward, or at all. Sometimes the very rich are the very cheapest. I asked Jerry if he was retired and he got serious. 

“Retired? I have companies darling, have you ever heard of Warren Chemical,” he said and I said no, “Well darling,” he patted my hand, “That’s a nice place in Pennsylvania, Warren. We make chemicals…” 

“Oh really, how fascinating.” I was now watching out of the corner of my eye the two men to my left, who were thoroughly enjoying my conversation with Mr. Finkelstein. 

“All sorts of chemicals, darling, what kinds of chemicals do you like?” he asked. I mentioned something about the chemicals in popcorn, Jerry cupped his ear, “What?” that’s when I made the transition into goodbye, and he said, “Call me when you’re done darling, room 1856, have the desk girl buzz me.” We didn’t kiss, I just let my hand slip out of his. 

Yes. I would think about Jerry the entire way through the show and if I should call him, if I should dine with him or if I should just go up and visit his suite. Then I’d have a story to tell about how I got to see a penthouse at the Carlyle. 

The room was now filling up, the waiters walking faster, dropping napkins, then elegantly, as if rehearsed, picking them up. They seemed nervous, checking their watches, making sure the reservations were here on time and the guests’ coats were hung up. Nobody got past the glass door without checking a coat. That is the biggest ‘no’ at the Carlyle Hotel. You cannot take your coat to the table unless you have a permission slip from your doctor. I felt my coat check stub inside my glove turning to litmus paper; I’d memorized the number just in case I lost it. 390. My diet coke was gone, only eight-fifteen, and still a half hour before Woody would arrive.

But finally sweet baby, WOODY ALLEN was sitting at a table just three feet away from my barstool, and well, just let me say, my first reaction when I saw him sitting there gently polishing his clarinet until it shone brightly in the lenses of his black glasses was that he was not the Woody Allen I knew from Bananas or Annie Hall or Manhattan. This man looked tired and slow. 

Note to napkin. Is Woody medicated? He looks it.

He wore a blazer, a striped oxford shirt, and his neck skin was loose and pale, like the shell color of this paint I’ve been using. He had on baggy corduroy pants; I couldn’t see his feet. His hair was organized and geometric, divided into three orangish gray triangles that he would occasionally sweep back methodically with one hand. He had marvelous hands, delicate, long like stems, ivory piano hands, true artist hands—and despite looking old, his presence was great. It filled up the room. 

I glanced around. The waiters were out in full force taking plates. Dinners went whizzing past. I felt separated. Poor. Watching, the upper class—the country club fog of tables and chairs, champagne flutes, pretty girls my age whisked in with their handsome beaus, spenders, and shakers. The band was now on stage. Woody looked terribly tired under the lights. He sat in the middle chair. He unbuttoned his shirt collar. He held his clarinet. He set the case beside the chair. He touched his hair. He sat cross-legged like a woman. His flesh seemed to evaporate to only those hands and that soft-shell neck. His eyes were black as beads, and they looked down most of the time, either in concentration, or in sleep. I watched his mouth cough without making a sound and when he moved his head, he did it so slowly I wasn’t sure it moved at all. There were four other band members, one was on banjo, one sang—an unattractive lady with a barely audible voice, one person played a piano, and another something else. 

Some people say Woody can’t play, but he blew. I watched his old face fill up with air like a fire fan then bellow out. There were no microphones, but the space was small. You could hear. Everyone except me had a camera—some with a flash, while others just held up cell phones. That was depressing. (I hate cell phones.)  Occasionally the banjo player, who you could tell was having a shin-splitting good time, would hit Woody on the leg, and Woody would sit up, take stock for a second, touch his hair then blow very hard into the clarinet. In the beginning, it was exciting. The audience applauded a lot. But I quickly got bored. Only fifteen minutes of playing, I wanted the show over.

The night wore on. Jazz pierced my ears, hunger enveloped me, but at least Woody’s bodyguard, who had a wiry mustache with potato chip pieces in it, had gone outside. I hope he waits in the car, but if he’s here it will be trickier, I thought. That bodyguard isn’t stupid. 

9:15. Feet numb in boots, prettiness beginning to dissolve. I stared at Woody, motionless in his chair. 

“One more diet coke…” I told the bartender. 

He seemed pleased. I overhead him tell a coworker that he was leaving in May. It was a dreadful job. I sympathized. I love The Carlyle, but I hated this café. The murals were of white horses, dancing dogs, and big ladies. 

I drank my soda. I fixed my hat. Get serious. Get clear, I told myself. Forty-five minutes to go. Sit up straight. Put on your ChapStick. You can’t talk to Woody Allen with cracker-dry lips. There was a mirror on the wall and while everyone was busy applauding, I went over and looked into it. If I had to say I looked like something, it would be a penguin with a big blue hat. I went back to my stool. I ate an ice cube. Okay. Plan. The minute he stood up, I would stand up. Yes, that’s a good plan—get to him first then whisper in his ear. “Excuse me, Mr. Allen, I’m sorry, but do you have fifteen minutes, please, I’ve waited five years to give you something that I made, please don’t say no.”

And he wouldn’t, could he? Well, maybe five minutes was a more reasonable piece of time to ask of him.  “We need to go where there is light,” I’d tell him. “You see I have a photograph for you that I took and I want to explain it.”

It was almost too painful to watch anymore, my hero, blowing, turning red and waiting for his cues. Occasionally he’d dab his forehead then tap his foot or pat his leg, sometimes he’d push his glasses up his nose, or lean over to consult with the banjo player. 

I had finished my second diet coke, when next to it appeared a puffy black leather slab. 

“Is this mine?” I asked the bartender. 

“Yes,” he said. 

I opened it over my lap. The bill said sixty-seven dollars. Wow. It turns out the cover for the bar was thirty dollars less than the tables. Good news—actually great, I love unexpected windfalls. I smiled, reached for my bag and counted my money. I laid out eighty dollars then decided upon ninety, then decided upon ninety-two to make his total tip twenty-five dollars. I set the money on the counter, he picked it up, and frankly, this moment of watching the bartender’s face as he counted my bills was more exciting than watching Woody. He counted again and again, and looked back at me. I looked down, I looked up. He put money in the register and the twenty-five in the tip cup, and the next time he passed he leaned over to me, “Thanks, I really appreciate that.” And that my friends, was the greatest feeling I’d had in a very long time. That is the feeling this life is all about, making a man who’s served you all night grateful. 

Ooh, hold on, quiet everyone. FINALLY. Woody was finished and standing up! I was up. Watching. Waiting. Fuck, I couldn’t believe it, that bodyguard guy was back and moving fast. Woody was moving fast—ready to make his getaway. But where was he heading, not where I thought, through a back way passage. No, wait, you, stop. I rushed through coats and pressed my hands lightly against dresses, clutching my wrapped parcel. I could see Woody’s head bobbing, when suddenly, that curtain thing opened—and that is where Woody went, along with a pack of followers. “Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen,” people called. Periodically he’d pause and let people take pictures and give his autograph. I crept behind the pack cautiously, quietly—too tired almost to try, but I had to try. I had just spent nearly one hundred dollars and still had to tip the coat check. I couldn’t let Woody leave without my autograph, I mean photograph…

I went down the stairs and followed the group through the lobby. Knee deep in hunger, I was now coaching myself on how to get one foot in front of the other, taking deeper than usual breaths—running at him, serious and awake, those diet cokes had done me good, except…where’d they go? There, over there, winding through the revolving doors. I wound through too. A dreadful feeling was moving through my body. The pack of ten had dissipated, just Woody now, the guard and two other men, walking under the hot lights of the Carlyle Hotel sign. I could see the back of Woody’s pink head. DON’T GO. I almost flung myself onto the hood of his car. Oh god, don’t go, you can’t, it’s me, please, wait for me. I ran over to the shiny black Mercedes as it started to pull away.

Jesus.

Jesus Christ. I held onto my bag and let the moment fade into the cement.  It didn’t happen. Nothing had happened. 

The hotel was still there. 

The hot lights were still on. 

The wind still blew.

I stood alone on the corner.

The emptiest feeling I ever knew.

***

Elizabeth Schoettle is an artist and a writer, living in New York City. She is currently working on her first memoir about her life as an artist. 

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