Much like traveling salespeople, concert musicians and professional athletes, flight attendants seem to spend half their careers in an unending succession of hotel rooms. And like anyone who sleeps in hotels on a regular basis, we often get rooms cursed with paper-thin walls.
Late at night, while sleeping in one thin-walled hotel room or another, I've been snapped to sudden consciousness by blaring televisions, driven to the brink of insanity by the "clang, clang, hiss" of water pipe concertos, tortured by electronic shrieks from someone's unheeded alarm clock. Once, at a papier-mbchi hotel in New York, I woke to the sound of fierce grunting. At first it sounded like the mating call of an exceptionally horny wildebeest. Gruuugh! Gruuugh! Gruuugh! But soon I realized it was the guy in the adjacent bathroom -- suffering through a difficult bowel movement.
Errant bathroom noises are probably a hotel guest's most hated nemesis. Next on the don't-want-to-hear list, however, is a somewhat more painful sound: that of two people engaged in loud, unadulterated sex.
My most vivid memory takes me back to Montego Bay, Jamaica. After a brutal three-leg, 14-hour day marred by long delays and disgruntled passengers, I stumbled into the layover hotel with my exhausted flight crew. None of us ate dinner. No one had drinks. We simply retreated to our separate rooms and passed out.
Sometime around 2 a.m., just a few hours before my scheduled wake-up call, my dreamless trance was shattered by a woman's scream. The ear-splitting sound emanated from the room adjacent to mine and blasted through the adjoining wall as if it were made of single-ply facial tissue. Was the woman in the next room being assaulted? Had there been a terrible accident? Was the hotel on fire? I leapt from bed like an animated action hero and promptly tripped over my luggage.
As I reached for the telephone in an attempt to summon hotel security, the woman screamed again. And again. And again and again and again. Slowly, my sleep-deprived brain began to detect a pattern. Each shriek was of the same split-second duration, punctuated by the breathy gasp of a swimmer going under for the third and final time. This woman wasn't in any danger. Quite the opposite, in fact. She was having the time of her life. She was knocking boots. She was doing the horizontal mambo. She was, as Will Smith so eloquently put it, gettin' jiggy wit it.
I knelt there on the floor with the telephone pressed against one ear, frozen by the vocalizations of an unseen woman who was rapidly approaching the apex of her evening. Did she have any idea that I could hear her voice so clearly? Did she have any idea what time it was? Did she care?
Just then I heard a soft, repetitive knocking sound. The sound grew louder, louder still, until my room was filled with rhythmic thunder. It was as if a gang of cops were beating their clubs against a suspect's door. As if a 100-mile-per-hour wind was slamming a shutter against the wall. Knowing full well that room service was not whacking at my door, the source of the knocking was obvious: My next-door neighbor's headboard was banging against the wall at breakneck speed.
Amusement. Embarrassment. Shock. All three emotions hit me at once. The couple in the next room was whipping up a hurricane of lovemaking, and I was a trailer park caught in its path. The walls shook. The knocking intensified. The screams grew louder and louder. It seemed as if the force of their passion would cause the goddamn ceiling to collapse.
But what was I supposed to do? If I stayed there and listened, I'd feel like a voyeur. If I left the room, I'd feel like a victim. If I called the front desk, I'd feel like a jealous anal-retentive moron. So I hung up the phone, sat on the edge of my bed and waited for them to finish.
But they didn't finish. They went on and on, rocking their world, ruining mine, shrieking and panting and slurping like oversexed maniacs. At one point, the woman was kind enough to introduce me to her lover. His name was "Jonathan, Jonathan, oh ... my ... God ... Jonathan!" Judging by the number of times his name clamored through that flimsy wall, Jonathan was a young man blessed with extraordinary talent and energy. His name was repeated so loudly and with such escalating abandon that it seemed as though his girlfriend was screaming directly into my eardrum. "Oh yes ... right there Jonathan! Uh huh ... that's it Jonathan! Harder, harder ... harder Jonathan! Don't stop, don't stop ... Jon -- a -- thaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!"
At first I was impressed. It's not easy to drive a lover to such extremes, and Jonathan had this woman singing like an opera diva with too much cocaine in her system. Her sex-triggered solo blasted through my hotel room as if from loudspeakers hidden above my bed. Yes, I was impressed. Any healthy heterosexual male would be. But I was also becoming somewhat -- well, I guess you could say I was becoming somewhat aroused by her voice.
To counter this perfectly natural reaction, I imagined that the screamer was Janet Reno. This worked for a minute. The mere thought of the U.S. attorney general -- naked, sweaty, locked in an orgasmic twitch -- sprang me from the vicarious trap in which I had been temporarily ensnared.
Still, the walls shook, the screaming continued and I really needed to get some sleep.
But sleep would not come easily. More than the noisy lovers themselves, it was Jonathan's incredible stamina that began to unnerve me. He had this woman screaming for nearly 30 minutes straight, yet he still had gas in his tank. I flashed back on a lifetime of bed partners and could not remember a single instance when my sexual prowess caused a woman to scream for 30 minutes straight. Ten minutes maybe. Twelve or 13 minutes, if I was at the top of my game. But 30 minutes? Without a break?
I decided that Jonathan and his vocal vixen were pissing me off. It was past 2 a.m., dammit! I needed to get some sleep. I had a long day ahead of me. The two of them were being totally insensitive to the hotel guests. Besides, what if there were children down the hall?
I pressed both hands against my ears (wondering why soundproof walls aren't as common as hotel smoke detectors) while plotting ways to bring this lovefest to a screeching halt. I would telephone the front desk and complain. No! I would telephone Jonathan and politely ask him to gear down. No, no! I would pound my fist against the wall, shout excerpts from their racy dialogue and hope that sheer embarrassment would stifle their activity. Yessss!
But before I summoned the courage to do so, Jonathan's name echoed through the universe for one crowning moment and dissolved into unintelligible gibberish. A blissful silence settled over my hotel room. And I drifted off to sleep.
Then, seemingly seconds after my head hit the pillow, Jonathan and his lover dived into Round 2. For the second time, I woke to the sound of a woman screaming. The headboard started up again and Jonathan's name roared through the adjoining wall with a ferocity that made my eyes bulge. Who the hell was this guy anyway? A vacationer hauling massive equipment and an unlimited supply of Viagra? And who was this woman who seemed so pleased with his performance? Was she his wife? (Hah!) His girlfriend? A porno star who had finally met her match?
After their thirst had been quenched for the second time, I heard laughter and muted conversation. A moment later their balcony door slid open on a squeaky runner. Unable to resist the urge to see their faces, I found myself peering through the curtains as the couple stepped outside.
Caught in the soft Caribbean moonlight, cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, Mr. Jonathan, Jonathan, oh ... my ... God ... Jonathan was staring at a full moon with one arm around his cohort. She turned and disappeared into the room before I had the chance to see her face, but I got a good look at super stud. A smiling sort with a balding head and an emerging pot belly, Jonathan stood about 5-foot-6. And if hotel walls could talk, they would bear witness to my honesty -- Jonathan appeared to be about 65 years old.