Previously, I have written about the old Jack Tar Hotel in Galveston, which unfortunately isn't there anymore. As far as I know, the largest remaining piece of that hotel is a single weathered brick sitting on a shelf in a bookcase in my office. Several hurricanes ate the rest of the old hotel, taking a bite or two from me in the process.
This is just about the end of the hurricane season, so I have been thinking about the old hotel lately. Every hurricane gnawed at the hotel (in some cases the damage was spectacular), but even the smallest tropical depression brought wind damage and flooding--this is the inevitable fate of anything built directly on a beach. An oceanographer once told me that the ocean eventually either buries or washes away everything it touches, and a little of both eventually destroyed the hotel.
Not all the hotel's destruction was caused by nature, however: It suffered through a few man-made storms, too. Some of the "storm damage" was caused by the exuberant application of the law by the off-duty police officers I employed as hotel security. Someday, I really should record a few stories about "Too Cold" Taylor and "Colonel Klink”. (I'll have to check on the statute of limitations first).
The worst man-made storm damage, however, was caused by conventioneers. The only safe way to attend a convention of the Telephone Workers of America is from inside an Abrams battle tank--And keep the hatch firmly dogged! It still mystifies me how such a group of harmless-looking people could hold such a wild drunken convention and it was simply amazing how many of them ended up in either the county hospital or the county jail!
One convention that stands out in my memory is a convention that started out fairly mildly, anyway. The Mattress Tax Tag Collectors of Texas (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) was the kind of mild-mannered group that could be counted on to arrive with a dirty t-shirt and a five dollar bill...and by the time the convention was over and they had left the island, they wouldn't have changed either one.
So it was something of a surprise when the front desk got a call about 3:00 AM, from a guest in one of the of the lanai rooms, complaining about the noise from a room occupied by one of the Mattress Tax Tag Collectors..
It was standard policy at the hotel that in the advent of anything really weird, the front desk was to call a manager instead of security, who would then make the decision about whether to call security.
The lanai rooms were strange, two-story bungalows, scattered around the pool; each one was comprised of only two rooms, with the upper room accessed by a flight of stairs. This shows the age of the hotel: not only would this kind of room fail to meet current ADA compliance, but cleaning these rooms would be far too labor-intensive for today's wages.
When I got to the room in question, sure enough, there were loud sounds of a man's moaning and sighing. I couldn't make out all the words, but I could occasionally hear what sounded like someone saying, "Help! Help me!"
When no one answered my knock on the door, I used my passkey let myself into the room. The television was on, the room was obviously occupied, no one was in sight, but there was loud moaning coming from the bathroom.
As I moved into the bathroom, I found the source: A very large--and very naked--man was lying on the floor, covered in splintered pieces of wood, lying half across what had once been a sliding pocket door separating the shower from the rest of the bathroom. His badly scraped and slightly bleeding body was half in one room, and half in the other, and the remains of the door had a large man-shaped hole right through it.
Note. When Rene Magritte painted the picture to the right, I doubt that he had this use in mind, but it did sort of look like this.
The man was all but unconscious and incoherent, and it took almost an hour to get the poor man to calm down, to stop crying, to remove most of the tiny splinters of wood, to get him covered with a towel, and to be relaxed enough to tell me what had happened. For the record, there is an awful lot of naked on a large panicky, semi-conscious, naked, (Did I already mention that he was NAKED?) man!
The story unfolded like this: Despite being somewhat claustrophobic, and alone, the guest had locked the door while taking a shower, but when he tried to unlock the door, it had become jammed. Before long, according to him, he had "run out of air", had begun choking, and had passed out. The next thing he knew, I was helping him up and he had absolutely no memory of crashing through the door.
Now, this had been a standard pocket door that slid in and out of the wall. There was no way it could actually jam: the latch could be flipped open with a hard stare, so it was rather obvious that the man had just freaked out and in a blind panic had simply crashed through the door.
Eventually, I got the man reoriented and calmed down, and with the help of a bellboy, moved him to another lanai room. I wasn't too worried about the destroyed door since maintenance could replace it the next day, then housekeeping could vacuum up the remaining wood splinters, and the room would be ready for occupancy the next night. I wasn’t even going to try and get the guest to pay for the damages, I figured the poor guy had suffered enough embarrassment.
The next morning, as I was making the rounds of the hotel, I passed the room with the destroyed door and saw a note taped on the front door. Curious, I walked over and read it:
"Jerry, I've moved to 233. I had a little trouble with the bathroom door in this room. I had to get tough and use karate on it. Steve."