Are hotels dangerous?
That question was the headline of an essay on the editorial page of a recent edition of The New York Times.
The article quoted a Supreme Court decision in which Justice Antonin Scalia characterized hotels as hotbeds of criminal activity, ranging from drug dealing and prostitution to pickpockets and human trafficking.
I don’t know what sort of quarters the good justice has lodged in. But the New York hotel I favor, the Algonquin, has nothing in common with that description. It is a smallish, quite intimate place with a friendly little bar and a sociable cat, Matilda, who greets new arrivals and presides in the lobby.
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The Algonquin is a favorite with writing folk, due in part to the fact it was the home for many years of humorist and playwright James Thurber and his wife, Helen, who had two apartments in the establishment — one for his office and the other for their living space.
In New York some years ago to report on a political convention, I learned from the desk clerk that Mrs. Thurber was recovering under nursing care from an injury suffered in a fall.
I thought she might be cheered to know that The Star had recently republished several of her husband’s essays, so I telephoned to ask if a visitor would be welcome.
“Oh, please come!” the nurse said. “There’s been no one in more than a month.”
In a place like New York, that’s how quickly people forget.
Mrs. Thurber received me graciously and was kind enough to ask about my own work and my wife’s part in it.
“She’s a tough editor,” I said. “Fair but tough.”
“Yes. That’s how it needs to be. In the morning, in his office, James dictates to his secretary. And at lunchtime he brings what he’s dictated for me to read.
“Sometimes I have to tell him that it’s awful.”
Writers’ lives, if they marry well, are very much alike.
Criticism may sting a bit, but it doesn’t amount to criminality.