Why Do Hotels Turn Us Into Monsters?

You wouldn’t believe the appalling things people will do in a Marriott suite. 

Actress Rielle Hunter enters her Midtown Manhattan hotel on June 26, 2012 in New York City. ,136343093RT075_Celebrity_Si
Rielle Hunter once did something unbelievable in a hotel room.

Photo by Ray Tamarra/Getty Images.

What is it about hotels that makes us all go so bizarrely and baroquely berserk?

Give an average bloke a room key and a mint on his pillow and suddenly that person turns into a rule-breaking, wild-eyed, Charlie Sheenian sexual outlaw. Stick an average broad in a hotel bar and she turns into Rielle Hunter. (More about her hotel antics in a moment.) A friend of mine who works in the hotel industry keeps me abreast of all the latest trends in anti-social and revolting guest behavior. According to my “hospitality insider,” nefarious guest activities are only becoming more foul and disturbing. My pal’s job involves the design and refurbishment of soft furnishings in the rooms of gracious hotels. Though he enjoys his work, he has started to feel somewhat constrained, specifically in regard to fabric choices. Whether for upholstery, drapes, or bedding, every textile he selects must now be BCP-resistant, by which he means resistant to—drumroll—blood, cum, and poo.

Before you leap to the comments section to express in no uncertain terms just how disgusted you are, know this: I am disgusted too. The pantheon of gnarly activities people get up to in hotels is objectively disgusting. It would be disgusting if you were not disgusted.

Let’s all try to stay calm and face facts: When you check in to a hotel today, you are entering a veritable Sodom and Gloccamorrah. The most likely outcome? You will wake up in the wee hours to the sounds of adjacent guests trashing their rooms a la Charlie Sheen at the Plaza. Though Mr. Sheen is the ne plus ultra of room-trashers—he was even falsely accused of befouling a room at the Ritz last week—he did not invent the genre. The highly strung thespian is the latest in a long line of people whose talents have extended beyond the world of entertainment and into demolition. Historical highlights include Keith Richards (the Hyatt in L.A.); Johnny Depp and Kate Moss (the Mark Hotel in New York); and Courtney Love (the Covent Garden Hotel London). The most mysterious trashing of all time was perpetrated by the Who drummer Keith Moon. In 1967 Mr. Moon claimed he somehow managed to do $24,000 worth of damage at the Flint, Mich., Holiday Inn—no offence to the caliber of the soft furnishings at the Holiday Inn, but this cannot have been easy—before stripping off his clothes and driving a car through a fence and into the pool. No wonder motel proprietors sometimes snap and then stab guests to death in the shower. They are living in a perpetual state of PTSD.

Sadly, room-trashing is by no means the worst of it. In the 1960s Howard Hughes checked in to the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. He reportedly stopped dressing, bathing, and clipping his nails, and he began accumulating his own urine in jars. Howie shuffled around his suite wearing tissue boxes for shoes while watching Ice Station Zebra on a loop.

The most squalid-est stuff occurs whenever guests get horny, which, in the age of free Internet porn, is beaucoup de guests. Paging Dominique Strauss-Kahn: When he isn’t launching himself at chambermaids at the Sofitel NYC, he’s participating in orgies at the Lille Carlton or the W Hotel in Washington. As sordid as DSK might be, at least he never caused any fatalities. In 1921, silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle allegedly raped and accidentally killed an actress named Virginia Rappe at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Nowadays hotel deaths are not so accidental: Enter the Craigslist killer who did his horrible deeds at the Marriott Copley Place and the Westin Copley Hotel, a personal favorite of mine whenever I am in Boston for business or pleasure.

As horrible as male hotel guests can be, there is something equally sinister about the broads. Especially those Basic Instinct types—doesn’t every episode of 48 Hours or Dateline start with some “innocent” encounter in a hotel bar?—who perch on cocktail stools, nursing a martini and a purse full of resentment and/or malfunctioning condoms, just waiting to pounce. Paging Rielle Hunter.

As you are aware, unless you were kidnapped and kept in a cardboard box, the aptly named Miss Hunter has been on a relentless promo tour for her new book about her relationship with former Sen. John Edwards titled What Really Happened. (In order to write this column I decided to pick up a copy of her book, or rather, I asked my Brooklyn hipster assistant Aaron to pick up a copy for me. Aaron is an ecologically conscious lad who always refuses a shopping bag. In this instance he sobbed and begged the Barnes & Noble cashier to triple-bag Miss Hunter’s book for fear of being seen carrying it on the L train. This would have been social suicide.)

Last week we got to hear, ad nauseam and through every media orifice, the story of how Rielle and Johnny first encountered one another at the Regency Hotel in Manhattan. If hotels have a transformative effect on their guests—and I think, by now, we can all agree that they do—then none is more bizarre than the change that overtook Miss Hunter at the Regency. To the casual observer, she appeared to be just another desperate, narcissistic, sociopathic blonde hoping to shag and grift her way into the life of a moneyed power doofus. After ensconcing herself in the hotel bar—and clocking Edwards at an adjacent table—she shocks the reader by morphing into … Jesus of Nazareth. Yes, who knew? Underneath the blonde ambition lurks “a spiritual teacher, or to put it in more traditional terms, a life coach.” She goes to his room, not to road-test the soft furnishings, but to “help John Edwards become more aware, to help him see his mind patterns.” This might well be the most shocking thing that has ever happened in a hotel room.

As with Rielle Hunter and her Messiah complex and Howard Hughes and his tissue boxes, much hotel behavior defies logic or rationale. To ram home this point, let’s have one final revolting example: My soft-furnishings designer told me that one of his chambermaid contacts—those chicks really should get some kind of Nobel award for endurance—told him that she recently had to contend with a coffee maker into which a guest had—miraculously, pointlessly, horribly, acrobatically—deposited a healthy stool.

On that haunting and disturbing note I think it might be time to wrap this up and attempt to answer the initial question: What is it about hotels that precipitates such horrid, hostile behavior?

My designer pal sees it all in terms of soft furnishings: He feels these behaviors are an expression of customer rage. What are they so pissed about? He surmises that guests are furious at the invisible entity who is charging them all this money for the privilege of sleeping on a mattress that has been slept on by more people than the average pee-stained mattress at the Salvation Army. He may well have a point.

Sweet dreams!