A mile from my house in Kerhonkson, a hotel beckoned. The Granit. A big resort, with all kinds of buses and limousines pulling up each weekend and people walking all over the place, taking in the country air, not to mention a little abuse from local drivers who felt that the roads were only for cars, not “city Jews” as they were often known, at least in some circles. I do recall an incident where a friend of mine was driving his Jeep, open top type as two ladies were stepping gingerly along the lane he was driving in. He stopped his Jeep. “Ladies,” he said, “do you see those power lines up there?” He gestured upward with a pointed finger. With question marks on their faces as they glanced upward they said, “Yes….” And with that he raised his volume and said, loudly, as he began to pull away, “That’s where they’re going to be pulling you down from if you keep walking in the middle of the road.”
I knew the Granit Hotel fairly well. As a child I used to ice skate there and occasionally would play tennis when guests weren’t using the courts. In 1975 when Chuck Wepner was training there to fight Muhammad Ali I was there every single day after school, and got to know Wepner, who was Sylvester Stallone’s inspiration for Rocky, on a first name basis, although he tended to call me “kid” more than “Jim”.
It would be the Granit Hotel that would be the locale for my second job, working as a bellhop. Our jobs were to meet guests as they came in, carry their luggage to their rooms, make sure they were comfortable and if necessary, provide room service if they called for anything that we were able to provide.
The manager of the bellman’s desk was a man named Jim Kroot. He wore bad suits and had been in the same job at a place in NYC called the Hotel New Yorker in Hell’s Kitchen. A nice guy with a perpetually confused look, he was easygoing and clueless about what his bell hops were doing half the time. At various times they were outside smoking weed or sneaking booze from the cabanas out near the pool.
The hotel in those days was run by three families---the Cohens, (Milton and his wife, whose name escapes me,) Michael Hopson and Henry Zabatta. Mrs. Cohen was in wheelchair for unknown reasons and would often be seen tooling along through the lobby chit-chatting with guests. Bellhops and staff were generally ignored with a purpose.
I recall an incident that could have ended in disaster. Bellhops and staff were allowed to eat dinner or lunch with leftover food from the kitchen after the guests had been served. One day, I was in the bellhop’s little office eating some chicken, rather greasy. I heard the bell ring out at the desk, and ran out, looking for a napkin or towel to wipe my very greasy hands on. It was Mrs. Cohen, who said, “I am late for my hair appointment and need help getting to the salon.”
The salon was about 50 feet away, but it was down a 4 or 5 step stairway and she needed me to hold the plastic handles on the chair and lower her down to the salon level. I frantically looked for a towel but couldn’t find a single thing with which to clean my hands. And when Mrs. Cohen said, “Now” she meant it. I gave up the quest for the towel and took Mrs. Cohen’s wheelchair by the handles and guided it towards the salon. So far so good. As we reached the steps she instructed me to just tilt the chair back a bit and hold tight to the handles as I lowered her, step by step. Each step brought a little more slippage of my hands from the chicken grease and by the next to last step I basically had no grip on her at all. She hit the bottom with a little bigger bump than she was used to. She looked at me pathetically as I apologized. I opened the door for her and she glided on in. I was done for the day so it was up to another bellhop to get her out of there later.
Occasionally things in life happen that we have no explanation for. What follows is one such occurrence.
I was still fairly new as a bellhop---no more than a month on the job. I was in the back room behind the bellman’s desk when Mr. Kroot called for me. I came out and there were customers, a man and his wife, mid-forties in age, waiting with their luggage. They had requested that “Jimmy” be their bellhop. Now, I had never seen these people before, so I’m still wondering all these years later how in the hell they knew my name or to ask for me. I grabbed their single, large suitcase and escorted them to their room.
Later that evening the phone rang. It was my friends who requested “Jimmy”. They needed a bag of ice in their room. A bag of ice was about a buck and a half or so. I grabbed the ice and headed up to the fifth floor where their room was. I knocked on the door and the husband’s voice called out for me to come on in. I opened the door, and there, directly in front of me on the bed, sat Mrs. Guest, naked as the day she was born, except for a see thru chiffon type garment. Mr. Guest was standing off to the side, with a smile on his face. I did a Ralph Kramden-esque “Humanahumanahumana” and as quickly as possible set the ice down and didn’t even wait for the money or my tip. Perhaps the sight of the rather attractive Mrs. Guest in her natural state was my tip. Later, when they left after the weekend was over they again requested me and tipped me a crisp twenty dollar bill for one suitcase. I don’t know how or why it all happened , but looking back, I treasure that moment as one of the strangest and coolest things that has ever happened to me.
My bellhop career lasted for several months until late spring of 1978, after Passover, when things died down and I decided to go for a real, adult job. I was going to be a knifemaker.