Don't Get Caught Napping (2008)

The untold legend of Room 207, and other supposedly free places to sleep when you have no bed

These are stories no one should share. But as with hugs, or ice cream, or facts about lyme disease, we'll all be better off if I do. Twenty-three years in this game, I've had my fill of follies and first-degree murder sentences. But what shames me most, still, was my bout with homelessness from September 2004 through March 22, 2005, my time interning ("for experience") at this fine publication. Not bouts in the "fistfights with bums" sense (though pick the right bum, and there is no greater pleasure). We're talking bona fide cardboard box-cutter homelessness in the world's biggest city—fistfights with Mother Nature herself.

Am I a professional boxer? No, but I know how to bite off an ear when I need to. New York has more free and safe places to sleep than you might think, and except for the time I had to rough it out on First Avenue in a pile of tires, I always managed to find one.

Uptown is the key. Don't say I didn't warn you: If you try to sleep in the service compartment inside the Washington Arch (Washington Square Park), you will get caught. But the Fordham University Lincoln Center Campus (60th and Columbus), specifically if you enter from the corner door, specifically during the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift when the Carl Winslow look-alike security guard uses the bathroom at exactly 11:13 p.m.—this is pain-free freeloading. Some advice: Don't sneak up to the student dorms, but do "accidentally fall asleep" by Jazzman's café (lobby), where Fordham students wait for the Ram Van shuttle bus (the street), your most mobile housing option in the Bronx. More advice: Don't give Jazzman's café employees a hard time about how Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters is not really jazz.

Fordham's good for Thursdays through Saturdays, but what about Tuesdays? Three blocks down from the campus is a 24-hour restaurant called The Flame (893 Ninth Ave, 212-765-7962). In truth, I didn't find this place so much as it found me. I was working on an Arrested Development script about Buster joining the priesthood, when around 3 a.m. I fell under the table and slept undisturbed for several hours. This strategy is fickle, though, with success only in the back booths near the bathroom, or the handicap booth by the window (which involves the added step of being handicapped).

Wednesdays? The Sonic Yoga building (51st and Ninth Ave, 212-397-6344) is never secured, and at the top of the fourth floor is an old mattress—something to keep in mind when you're out with your homeless ladyfriend.

Mondays? Stop by the turreted Jefferson Market Branch Library (425 Avenue of the Americas, 212-243-4334) at 7:30 p.m., hide in the local-history section nobody visits until close, and sell the rare books you lift for lunch money.

Going crosstown, but a little homeless? Jump into the 42nd Street shuttle (Times Square subway stop) right before its final run at midnight. Crosstown, homeless, and hipster? There's a wet futon under the steps of the Bedford Avenue L stop, and a stack of Doobie Brothers vinyl waiting for your approval.

Any college-educated, doctorate-holding hobo could tell you about the places I've mentioned. But Room 207 (Room 207) is something else entirely—a state of mind, a religion of the streets, and quite possibly the biggest international swindle since the second Harry Potter book.

No reasonable person would believe this, but here's the legend from what I gather. Since the beginning, hotel employees around the world have toiled for minimum wage and zero respect, but not a single one of them has ever complained—or will. Why? For the rest of their career, they have access to a secret, fully serviced room in any hotel, in every city, in every country. The Rule of Room 207 states that all hotel employees must leave Room 207 secretly unlocked, so hotel workers from afar have a place when they travel. If the room is occupied at one hotel, there's a Room 207 just a hotel away. It might not be next to Room 206, and sometimes the Room 207 you're looking for is inside a larger Room 207. As a courtesy to other vacationing hotel workers (and an antidote to suspicion), checkout is 11 a.m. Feel free not to pay.

Some Room 207s are better than others. Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square (1568 Broadway) has comfortable mattresses, but the Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park (50 Central Park South) has the best view. Good luck finding Room 207 at the Inn at Irving Place (56 Irving Place), but be sure to order the peanut butter and Nutella sandwich from room service when you do. Thrifty travelers might consider Trump International Hotel & Tower (1 Central Park West)—it's free.

You have two questions, don't you: How did I discover Room 207, and why am I ruining a good thing by telling you about it? Let me answer the second question first: I am equal parts poor and asshole. If I don't write this essay, I don't eat, and I most definitely couldn't make my exorbitant Williamsburg rent.

As for the first question: I stumbled upon the room entirely accidentally. Late November, I had been invited to an informal MP3 blogger/wireless Internet party in Room 217 at the Hudson Hotel (356 West 58th), but I never fully got there. I had smoked too many clove cigarettes beforehand, my memory made one crucial numerical mistake, and the rest, as they say, is secret. Was secret.


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