Ye Olde Carlton Arms

Down the busy block from Baruch College – an undergraduate school of CUNY – in a residential neighborhood of no distinguishable character, the Carlton Arms (or “Artbreak Hotel”) sits. It feels seedy as you approach the locked front door and buzz for admission. A Buddha with a nose polished from years of guests’ rubbing his nose for luck sits in the grotto in the entryway.

You walk up the stairs, a stairway painted psychedelically, a sign warning not to let the cat out, and arrive at the second-floor lobby. To your right, an office in which there always are four or five guys talking. Groups of Scandinavians in their 20s mill about, checking in, checking out, asking questions about public transportation to JFK. You catch one of the office-workers’ eye – “Do you have a room for a couple of hours?”

This turns out to be a surprisingly complicated question to answer. He looks around at stuff behind the door, behind the window. He’s noticeably NOT looking at a computer. Maybe he asks one of the other guys, “Hey – did the kids in 12C leave?” Finally, he turns to you. “I have a room, but it doesn’t have a private bath. I’m really sorry.” Or alternately, “Yes, and it has a private bath.”

He gives you a key – a real-live metal key. He tells you a room number – a number, followed by A, B or C. The letter tells you if the room is on the first, second or third floor. The number tells you (roughly) where on the floor it is. He gives you precise directions to the room: down this hall, turn right after the broom closet, it’s the second door on the right.

The hallways are all painted psychedelically. The layout itself is a bit psychedelic. Improbable objects abound – totems, dolls, keyboards, ceramic fruit. Each room has been given over to a different artist. Several of the rooms seem to have been given over to multiple artists.

Murals cover the walls and the ceilings, even the furniture. Flimsy, brittle towels sit in a pile. Threadbare sheets are on the beds. The smallest bar of soap, or maybe two, is wrapped in shiny paper, evoking hotels in the 1970s, before they began competing to provide more fancy-seeming soaps. Two plastic cups are there, should you wish.

You finish, you leave. You slide your metal key back under the window, walk down the dark stairway, and emerge onto the street.

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