An Ode to Hotel Rooms

The smells, the sounds, the bodywash

Illustration of a hotel privacy door sign marked with a smiley face.
Tim Lahan

Always different, always the same.

Which is to say, whatever the size or mood or condition of the room, whether there’s hair coiled blackly in the bathtub or an orchid in a vase on the table, what greets you as you open the door, every time, is a neutral waft of possibility. A sense of your self-in-waiting. Who are you going to be in here ? As you mingle with this careful anonymity, as you drift and lightly settle into this fancy or not-so-fancy non-place, what might happen?

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Not much, probably. The old gravity asserts itself, the old you-ness; you spread out your things, you build your shrines, you start making your little traditional messes. You arrive, and then you arrive. Somehow the hotel room, in the mystique of its banality, maintains the invitation. Especially if you let housekeeping in. Another day. Another chance. Clean, crispy sheets. Your crap politely rearranged. Maybe this time.

Even before you get up to any real mischief, the hotel room promotes a minor moral collapse. Your instinct here is to loll, sprawl, degenerate, create crumbs. Unseen hands have labored for your comfort—that’s not good for you. The citrus-scented bodywash and the robust Wi-Fi will make you slightly vicious.

I do love the noises. The whine or wheeze of the bathroom fan; bovine thuds in the hallway; the fridge clicking on as you lie there in bed, and then that strange breathlessness in the air after it clicks off. Those muffled voices through the wall—the low, honking, incomprehensible vowels; the cellolike groans—surely they recall the experience of being in the womb? They put me, at least, in a state of baby-minded suspension. Recently, in a hotel in the San Fernando Valley, I became convinced a porn shoot was going on in the room next door. It could just as easily have been a very committed game of Trivial Pursuit.

And then it’s over. Checkout comes galloping, always too fast, and now all of a sudden you have to get it together: your exploded luggage, your exploded brain. You’re trapped in a time-lapse movie about yourself, packing. Did you change in here? Advance, wallow backwards, go sideways? Hustle, hustle, and don’t forget to leave a nice tip. Propitiate the hotel room, because you’ll be back. You’ll pop in on another day, in another city, somewhere else in the eternally hanging dream-honeycomb of hotel rooms. Wide-eyed with expectation, almost innocent, you’ll open another door.


This article appears in the May 2022 print edition.