The fourth-floor corner room we hired looked over verdant hills through painted-shut windows. A wasp was trying desperately to get out into those promising hills, but like a metaphor of previous residents, it kept hurling itself hopelessly against the glass. The walls were done in thick, swirling rusty paint of flaked blood, bordered by baby-puke green. Imbedded in the rusty blood was a sprinkling of gold blobs that may have been intended as stars, but were in fact gobs of sputum hurled there by coughing moribunds. In 1937, a former Vaudevillian named Norman Baker, then the most prominent dealer of snake oil to the dying, bought the Crescent, which he dubbed his "Castle in the Air" because of its 2,000-foot elevation, and turned it into a cancer hospital, having claimed to have found the cure. "Doctor" Baker's cure was actually a blend of alcohol and watermelon seeds. He was arrested by the feds for fraud two years later and sent to Leavenworth, but not before giving this hoary Edwardian monument its permanent connection to agonizing death. Today the hotel's lounge bears "Dr. Baker's" name, which made me wonder about the contents of my after-dinner drinks.
The message light was blinking on the phone. I picked it up. "Nancy," a nursely voice intoned, "Your peach bubble bath is waiting for you. We are closing in 17 minutes and we wouldn't want you to miss your bubble bath." But Nancy was gone, bathless and perhaps forlorn.
Judging by the ages and girth of the lobby loungers hoping for romance rekindling, many of them were working with wet matches in a downpour and some sorry-looking twigs. Still, you can't underestimate the power of a peach bubble bath, or that of a pedicure, for that matter. A nurse-therapist in a very short skirt with a low-cut blouse smiled wanly as she went back into the spa after a soul-restoring Marlboro in the 85-degree humid sunshine outside. The smell of sweat and smoke wafted from her. She looked a bit like the woman in the print above the bed, an art-nouveau damsel gazing at a brightly flowering bush which distracted the casual viewer from noticing her elegant fingers buried candidly between her thighs twixt the flowing folds of her dress.
Surfeited by humanity, I turned on my computer. The Internet bars came on, indicating the presence of Wi-Fi, a good sign. The only thing is, the bars were purple, something I'd never seen. I Googled Dr. Carr, and my screen filled immediately with purplish email addresses. Here are some of them: Asmith@death.com, Mprice@death.com, Earlyseth@death.com. There wasn't a Yahoo or gmail or AOL address among them, and I had the feeling that death.com was a server that preceded all of them somehow. I had tapped into a whole other Internet, a secret intranet perhaps, that listed the email addresses of dead people. The Crescent had Wi-Fi all right, but not in the usual cyberspace. Did you have to be dead to communicate with these people? I typed a brief message for Asmith@death.com, and I didn't have to wait long for the answer.
Next week I will reveal what Asmith wrote. Be prepared to get the willies.
Andrei Codrescu's latest book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing From the City (Algonquin Books).