Little Boxes: snippets of life in an old hotel

Word of the Day: modicum

A small portion : a limited quantity

Growing up, my family lived in a high rise called the Carlyle on the Lake in the suburbs of Cleveland. A relic of the bountiful industrial age, the former hotel was transformed into a residential building in accordance with the city’s assimilation into the rust belt afterwards. Being raised in such an environment subjected me to an eclectic socialization process. I always remember finding the amalgamation of so many people in a confined area odd. Interactions were brief: thank yous for holding the front door open, a quick nod in the mail room. Daily life was a solitary process, minus the elevators. It was the elevators in fact that allowed me to investigate the personalities in the complex, as each suspended modicum of residents was forced to interact for a few minutes. And over eight years of elevator interactions, I certainly accrued a few favorites:

  • Lynn, the front desk lady. Lynn may have been the most perpetually afraid person I have ever encountered, or possibly will ever encounter, in my life. All of my memories of her are of her head peeping behind the wall of the front desk as residents passed by. Her neck muscles were undoubtedly strong from all the extending, which came in handy for the day her head got stuck in the elevator. I’ll never forget the image of her dashing through the lobby and, instead of using her hands to block the sliding doors, substituting her head in place. Six-year-old me had to watch a levitating face of a middle-aged woman get nearly decapitated as the elevator started to head upwards. Thankfully, emergency stop buttons saved the day, and perhaps Lynn’s already conditioned neck muscles prevented further tragedy.
  • Drunk guy who never wore shoes. The Carlyle, somewhat inexplicably, was a hotbed for senior citizens in the prime of their “golden years” as well. One individual was a gentleman whose daily routine consisted of getting completely plastered and running around the complex barefoot. One night, my aunt and I had the pleasure of boarding the same elevator as him. His maudlin state was in a rare form that evening, as he stumbled through the doors and stepped on my aunt’s toes. Her well-known sassiness caused a stir on the ride up as she scolded him for his behavior. His response: wishing us a good night, stepping on my aunt’s toes again and falling out of the elevator.
  • Austrian millionaire. This 90-year old man was the paragon of old money. He dined nightly at the hotel’s attached restaurant, took leisurely walks on the lake afterwards and exclusively wore beautiful designer suits. Our interactions on the elevator were always nice, and I always remember his small talk as being the most pleasant. My family always guessed at his story: industrial mogul and mob kingpin were just a few ideas. He apparently passed away recently in his apartment, which was another morose motif at the Carlyle.

So when my family moved out in 2008, the elevator antics came to an end. Long gone was Lynn’s neck brace and drunk, mysterious old men. These confined elevator interactions offered a small representation of the entire building; an experience I’m glad is now ingrained in my childhood memories.