"Up In The Old Hotel"

Up In The Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

There's a lot of reading in this book and very good reading it is. Joseph Mitchell was a reporter in New York city during the 1930's and 40's so he knows how to tell a story; "Up In The Old Hotel" contains 37 of them. It takes a while to get through this book but it's pleasant reading and interesting stories so I don't think you'll mind the time.

The people in these stories are (for the most) real. They are the everyday people he got to know on the streets and in the diners and taverns of the city. There are many of them, so I'll just highlight some that stood out to me.

First, meet the Rev. Mr. James Jefferson Davis Hall, a street preacher who doesn't approve of soda fountains, dry-cleaners or modern women. "They've gone hog-proud and hog-wild. Wearing britches, wearing uniforms, straining their joints for generations to come with high-heeled shoes...their mouths smeared and smiddled and smoodled with paint, and their cheeks and their fingernails." The Reverend spends his days answering calls - he gives out his phone number and invites people in trouble to call him - and his nights walking Broadway, standing in the doorways of bars and preaching the consequences of drinking.

Then there's Jane Barnell, the bearded lady who began her career at the age of four, when she was given away to a traveling circus. She's had four husbands and in public wears a veil and a scarf around her neck to hide the beard.

Mazie P. Gordon is the "bossy yellow-haired blonde" who works the sidewalk ticket booth at a movie theater seven days a week from 9 am to 11 pm. She knows everybody and hears all the neighbourhood gossip. After work at night she walks the bowry handing out cakes of soap and change to people who need them.

And there's Phillipa, a 9 year old girl with an IQ of 185 who has been writing music since she was three years old, and John Smith, who writes big cheques and  gives them out to people who are nice to him, untroubled by the fact that he has no money at all.

One of my favourites is Arthur Samuel Colbourn, head of the Anti-Profanity League. Arthur, know as the "No-Swear Man" has handed out over six million cards asking "Please do not swear, nor use obscene or profane language. These cards are for distribution. Send for some - they are free. "His address is included on the card.

One story, called "A Mess Of Clams" is about the day he went out with a "buy-boat" off Long Island that came back carrying 145 bushels of clams destined for various markets and restaurants in the city. Another story is about the KKK, and another about the rodents that live in and around the city.

One story was very different. It was a sad account of a lonely man living in a furnished room. Short, and unique in that the authour wasn't involved in the story in any way, it had a completely different feel, like fiction. Mitchell does say in the introduction that though most of the book is true, some is fictional. I don't think it will matter to you when you're reading, because in the end it's all just good. 

I recommend this one to anyone who's looking for something interesting to read; it's not a page-turner so if that's what you like it may not be for you.

Favourite quote: 
                 "...it takes almost a lifetime to learn how to do a thing simply."


Post a Comment