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Sleuthing the View from the top 

Wednesday, Dec 20 2006
A friend of mine recently told me that he has taken to reading to his wife before bedtime. Lately he's been thinking of diving into the Sherlock Holmes oeuvre, which seems like a good choice.

"I used to love those stories," he told me with the wistful look of a fellow remembering those bygone days in which he wore a younger man's clothes.

"Oh boy," I rejoined, "Me too. I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was a kid, especially since he snorted cocaine all the time. That was soooo cool to a sixth-grader."

At this, my friend paused and looked at me as if he were searching for the Lost Scrolls of Atlantis in my eyebrows. "He took cocaine?" he let out, somewhat aghast.

Jeez, I thought. How someone could miss something like that ... then again, I was a vice magnet as a child. My father likes to tell stories about a certain fascination of mine — whenever we rolled into a new city on a road trip, I demanded to be taken to the hookers.

But another cool thing about the Sherlock Holmes stories was what I like to call the Scooby-Doo principle. Sort of like how the movie Rashomon spawned its own "effect," Scooby-Doo can also be seen as a progressive plot device. In the cartoon, the ghosts seemed real until the very end, when the mask of the old caretaker is pulled off. Sherlock Holmes stories are the same. There are phantoms and zombies and hauntings, but in the end they all turn out to be strange sleights of sight and hand that have a scientific basis. What you see is not what you get, and Sherlock was good at separating the two.

Maybe this is why I love hotel bars more than any other taverns, saloons, or dipso-depots in the lower 48. They are full of people who are pretending to be something they are not, or are hiding from somewhere else. Then there's the staff, which usually bends and scrapes to please you in a way that can only be described as phony. And there are the hookers.

I am particularly partial to hotel bars that sit far atop fancy hotels ... the kind of places that require their own elevator. On this jaunt, I chose The View at the top of the Marriott.

What would Sherlock say about a "fancy" place like the Marriott? That the people who stay there are New Money or lower- to middle-income folks treating themselves; that most of these people order the combo appetizer plate instead of the fig tapenade crostini with chèvre; and that one or most of the dapper staff have their trousers on just a tiny bit askew; that is to say, that they are not used to wearing tuxedo pants.

The lounge is on the 39th floor, and is surrounded by windows that fan dramatically like gigantic orange slices. The lighting is dim and atmospheric, the seating cozy, and the drink prices not as ridiculous as I would've suspected. I sat directly across from a couple, sharing the same table. We gave each other cursory smiles and then proceeded to pretend that the other wasn't there. At least, they did. I was in Holmes mode.

The cocktail waitress came over and looked angry with me. I can handle a lot of things: hair in my soup, long delays, dirty silverware, but please do not be rude. Please do not make me feel like I am taking up space or sleeping with your boyfriend. That's all I ask. It was all I could do to muster up the courage to ask for some bar snacks. She chuckled at the suggestion. What the fuck did that mean? OK, that did it. She was only getting a 15 percent tip. Excuse me, I thought to myself, but aren't you supposed to be kissing my ass?

I pulled out my magnifying glass and decided to take a closer look. Her shoes were brand-new Payless loafers, the heel barely scuffed. OK, I bet her feet were killing her. She had the hint of dark circles under her eyes, somewhat concealed with concealer. She had wash 'n' wear hair cut into a cute style but not overdone. Single mom? And the final clue was the clock on the wall. This place had Last Call at 11:30 p.m. It was 11:15.

Proud of my superior deduction skills, I moved on to the couple across from me. The man was Caucasoid with hair like Gavin Newsom and a face only a motherfucker could love. Pinky ring, button-up shirt under a sweater, and clipped ear hair. The female was Asiatic, wearing a low-cut blue number.

Sherlock Holmes wasn't one for irony, but Justin Timberlake's "Sexy Back" was coming from somewhere in the lounge. Despite all the hostility that my chi was encountering, I was blissfully happy. It is nice to sit high atop a building, looking out over the city through a reflection of yourself perched with a beer.

"I got season two of Project Runway for you," said the man across from me very kindly to his date. She jutted her chin up and smiled in a way that said, "Aw ... that's my guy." It was very endearing. I had read them wrong. Perhaps I am a better Dr. Watson.

Before I knew it I was paying the bill and leaving 20 percent, with nary any time to try and suss out the call girls in the room. Despite this off visit, I still love hotel bars and the promise they hold.

On the way to the elevator a busboy crossed my path in a rush. "I'm so sorry, ma'am!" he said to me, stopping to see if I was all right — you know, if the breeze he had created had hurt me or not.

Now that's more like it, I thought. Case closed. — Katy St. Clair

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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