A Wedding Night Like No Other at The Plaza Hotel
I got a glimpse into "the life" on my wedding night. It made me realize nothing is as it seems
I remember M and I leaving our wedding reception in Greenwich with a driver from town my mother was fond of named Carlos. My wedding gown’s bustle was clumped under me like a soft basketball so I tilted over my new husband and waved goodbye to my parents. Dad had a new warm face on after several V.O. and gingers, pissed the club depended on the nonexistent breeze off the Long Island Sound to cool down the place. He said that move had everything to do with the club holding on to the old school. Mom, next to him, a mauve and pearl blur, was ready to get back to the reception she created. I still had the toast swishing around in my head, the one my husband’s brother, P, made with his affected voice. One of his antiquarian phrases. The one about the journey. He used the word embark. You are going to embark on a journey.
The only journey I could think of was the one we were on — to the Plaza Hotel. The further we got from the reception, I felt the rush of every day that led up to our steamy wedding drain from my feet. M was checking his digital watch, high tech at the time. “About 175,” he said, estimating guests.
M’s comments were linked to statistics, data, futures. Numbers, I suspected, made him hyper, his fast talk, faster. Secretly, I was compiling an ongoing list of his deal-making idioms I overheard when he was on the phone, but I preferred the ones he made up on the spot like there is something in this sauce.
We got to Fifth and 59th and Carlos was already out piling luggage on the cart, blotting his face with his oversized purple hankie. M was counting the bags, checking the back of the trunk. I did not travel light, a trait that never budged over the years, especially on my honeymoon to two different climates — Hawaii and Alaska — the 49th and 50th states because M had never been to the 50th and I had never been to either.
“Carlos,” I said, my veil off and wrapped several times around my arm. “Sorry for all the bags.”
“This is the life,” he said, referring to his life like it was something that dragged him around by the ear. He always seemed to be having a conversation with himself and now he was saying, “Like when I had to take photos of the signs.”
“What are you talking about?”
Carlos’ deeply lined forehead changed direction when he spoke. “I picked up an old couple here. Last week. The old man was peeing on himself. He wouldn’t fly on his private plane like that. He has the pride. The Mrs. begged me to drive them back to Miami.”
“I said OK then there. No time to go home and get a bag. My wife didn’t believe me so I took pictures of every sign along the way to Miami: DC, North Carolina, Georgia.”
He whipped his hankie on each state.
“So, you gave her proof of your journey.”
The image of M’s brother came back to me. P, standing at the mic, holding his champagne glass eye level, reciting advice as if he knew anything about marriage, a good marriage, his hooded eyes settled on the framed nautical flags and yacht club burgees that lined the wall. He had the goatee of a sheik and I was convinced he was not M’s brother at all.
Mom was always giving Carlos bags of Snickers to mail to his daughters and why would he if his wife was in the chocolate business? And how many times did he tell me you can only get white cacao in Colombia? The way he said cacao it sounded like he was coughing.
“Where is she now? And the kids?”
“They’re in Little Dubai.”
“She took them to the Middle East?”
“No. That’s what we call the beach. Behind Aventura Mall. Miami.”
Carlos leaned back in a stretch, looking up at the height of the Plaza, the five flags over the front entrance looking like the life left them. I was enjoying the humidity, thinking this is what it must feel like to be in Bora Bora.
“See up there?” he said, pointing to the green French chateau-y part. “You’ll have champagne. You’ll have gold. You’ll have Jacuzzi.”
M appeared after checking us in, holding out his hand, trilling his fingers. I picked up my gown from the bottom, the sequins glittering a soft-shell pink under the Plaza lights.
Carlos was saying something about what was in store for me in the life, but I didn’t turn back. We followed the bellman.
M and I knew our way around the hotel. I worked for an independent book publisher, SW, an old Yalie, whose pants were so worn at the knee he looked like he was wearing patches. He and his wife lived in the same building as Jackie O at 1040 Fifth, allowing him to ride his old black bike to the office. An original Picasso hung on the wall over his desk, its paper forever slipping down from behind glass that distracted me during our discussions. I believed books were our higher power, that what we did filled us in ways that spirituality filled others. In SW’s office, we talked book deals and our prospective new imprint. I loved hearing about his early days at Free Europe Press when the agency used helium-filled balloons to scatter newsprint editions of Orwell’s Animal Farm over Communist countries. Once, he told me that as a student, he was unable to hold in his urine during an assembly, how ashamed he was until he found out he was a type 1 diabetic, a piece of his personal history he said he hadn’t shared with anyone. Five years later, SW would be found in the waters of Stonington Harbor, from an apparent kayaking accident.
Our office had a balcony overlooking Fifth — and a direct shot into M’s office window across the street at 717. We never had time to meet for lunch — only a drink, late at night, at the Plaza’s dark leathery bar. You could draw a right triangle from M’s office, to mine, to the Plaza, so it made romantic sense to spend our honeymoon night in our spot.
We walked through the lobby in the buzz and light of a casino, passing the open dining room and the ceiling-high palm trees that were unruly and hunched over at the very top. We got on an elevator with an elderly couple. They questioned us about the wedding. “In Greenwich,” M answered. “And now for the good part.” He put his hand on my hip.
We arrived at the suite and I was a little surprised. The room could have used an update, but who cared? This was the moment we’d been waiting for: no more wedding prep (minimal on my part), logistics of guests, rearranging our work schedules, arranging our various groups of friends in one room along with our two families, as different as Hawaii and Alaska.
“Maybe we should get something to eat?” I asked, feeling lightheaded.
M got on the phone and ordered sandwiches while I sat on the curved sofa. I noticed his face had a florescent glow while I had a dangerous tan.
M came and sat next to me, turned me around, and began to undo the silk-covered buttons. The heavy material of my strapless gown stuck to me like a layer of scales. I faced the heavy curtains topped with a rosette distraction, similar to a hotel’s in Galway during Dad’s this-is-where-I-was-born-tour.
Woozy, I watched the curtain sway. I really didn’t want to be getting sick at that moment.
The curtain swung deeper to the left, then the right. I heard a mini-gallop.
I looked down near the woodwork — was that an arm-length glove? Maybe a guest left it here last winter, unnoticed by the cleaning staff. It appeared grey-black, inflated in the palm, with a tail longer than a ruler, skinnier than a pencil.
This was a bold mid-towner, nosing the baseboard in search of a way out, perhaps to get back to the remains of the Artisanal Charcuterie downstairs in the five-star kitchen trash. Or, it just wanted out, because three’s a crowd in a honeymoon suite at The Plaza Hotel.
I jumped onto the high bed, the back of my gown unbuttoned, hanging in flaps like useless wings. My heel caught in the hem, but I managed to get both shoes off. I stood unsteadily and pulled my gown up over my knees to keep the curtain sensation away from me. I stretched my arm toward the ceiling reaching for a savior to pull me through an escape hatch and lift me high over 59th Street.
My vocal cords snapped, a sound I had never made before, a sound that pushed my face against a crystal ball, forcing me to look into the years ahead as we embarked on a journey I had no idea was coming.
M looked around with warrior’s eyes, the fireplace poker resting on his shoulder. Then he got on the phone, and I could hear the voice of the concierge.
“Sir! There are no rodents at The Plaza Hotel!”
“Come on up and I’ll introduce you.” He slammed the phone down and went back to the fireplace, looking up the chute.
Finally, the window treatments had become still. All was silent. I searched for the darkness under the curtain in case this bête noir was hiding like Inspector Clouseau.
There was a knock on the door and M opened it in a flash.
“How can you leave me here?” The lower half of my gown crunched up in my hands.
The night manager and bellman encouraged us to step out into the hallway. I was already in M’s arms, my shoes dangling from his fingers. At the same time, the room service tray arrived with a bucket of champagne and grilled cheeses under silver domes.
“We have another beautacious room.”
Handel’s Water Music, our procession song in church, with all its bassoons, horns, and trumpets, was playing wildly out of sync in my mind as we embarked on our journey down the hall. Our entourage was speechless, except for the rattle of our room service cart. I had once seen a picture in the New York Times of a rat dragging an entire slice of pizza in his mouth on his way down to the subway.
We arrived at a room in the newly-renovated section. The manager opened the door. M stepped in and suddenly returned.
“This won’t do.”
The manager followed suit, then rushed out of the room — with single beds.
“I’m so sorry, Sir.”
We were guided through endless maze-like hallways. I thought of Carlos lounging in his room, waiting for the Mrs. to instruct him, wearing a robe with the Plaza insignia, and the slippers. He told me that she took him to Armani since he had no time to pack. There was Carlos, trying on suits, his skinny hair at the nape of his head in a slicked-back dumpling. I pictured him returning to his room, holding shopping bags by their silk rope handles, picking up the newspapers at the door, skimming the headlines.
“Will this please you?” the manager asked with the first sign of confidence I had seen in him all night.
The gilded suite was bigger than our apartment. The king-sized bed was turned down and rose petals had been arranged haphazardly, as if spilled from a fairy’s sachet.
These curtains were sheer and still. A small table was set near the lime-colored fireplace with an ice bucket, the neck of the bottle in a stole of white linen.
I wandered into the bathroom alone. The pink marble felt cold under my feet. I stopped when I saw my reflection in the mirror. Tall white orchids placed around the enormous bathtub formed a canopy over my head. Nozzles and jet sprays protruded from the tub’s ceramic interior like shiny growths.
I heard comradery — M, the night manager, the bellman, the room service waiter. Friends waiting for the bride. I stopped and closed my eyes, willing Handel’s Water Music to run through me once more, until it swelled to a jaunty warning, casting me into the years ahead. There, I looked back. The image of my parents waving goodbye predicted they would not be around much longer. M’s brother, P, lying on the sea wall in the back of the club, a martini glass balanced on his belly, appeared to be turning something over in his thoughts, a gnawing he tried to articulate. With his doomsday attitude like a vapor around him, P was doing his Shakespeare voice: It’s not for the stars to hold our destiny… Instead, the life proved stronger than he, dragging him around until he couldn’t take it anymore. Finally, I looked for M and me but decided it might be best to let things unfold on their own.
Carlos warned me not to look too far into the life. I imagined him at that moment, driving himself back to his empty apartment, shaking his head, biting into a mango just like an apple, skin and all.
I felt adrift in these futuristic portraits until the orchestral swing in Handel’s overture took my hand and brought me back to my honeymoon night at the Plaza Hotel. I heard my husband’s voice from the suite, his way with words, and I heard him say to the entourage, “Pencils down.”
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