The Lloyd Saga

3. In the Hotel at Last!

The elevator was by Westinghouse. He liked that. He trusted the Westinghouse name because it evoked the days when household appliances were magical objects, really big toys grown-ups got to play with: washing machines, dryers. Why did grown-ups get so excited about them on game shows when they won them? They were useful, sure. But why jump up and down and scream about it?

Lloyd realized that he knew the guy across from him in the elevator.

"Do I know you?" Lloyd said to the guy.

"I'm Rab Lowe," said Rob Lowe. Lloyd immediately realized that it was, in fact, Rob Lowe, and that he didn't know Rob Lowe, not really, even if he did recognize him. "I love your work" was all Lloyd could come up with, and not before a couple of floors had gone past.

"Thank you," said Rob Lowe.

Lloyd got off on the fifty-second floor. The carpet felt ankle-deep. The corridor stretched off into the distance without end. Lloyd peered at the five-digit numbers that signified the direction he should go if he wanted to reach room 52876, the Matador Suite. Across from the elevator bank was a glassed-in room. THE SKYTOWER CLUB said gold lettering on the glass door. EXTENDED AS A COMPLIMENT TO THE MOST EXCLUSIVE BUSINESS TRAVELER. Lloyd looked at his watch, which read 7:56.

"I have four minutes," said Lloyd, pushing open the heavy glass door.

The Skytower Club

The place was jammed and there was fruit everywhere-bananas and pears and bruised red cherries, apples in red and green. On a sideboard that in the evening must have served as a bar was a splendid assortment of breadstuffs. There were croissants the size of footballs, so oily that the paper beneath them was a soft green, iridescent. There were some very strange bagels, quite plump, but also unexpectedly tiny, bagels that were never intended to receive anything but one bite-sized dollop of cream cheese, not lox or smoked salmon or gravlax with capers, bagels that were produced by people who had never had a real one, who viewed the object as an oddity that must be served to certain exotic guests from the East. There were enormous bran muffins with raisins so plump, Lloyd was suspicious of them, and baskets lined with cloth towels containing respectably hot toast, English muffins, and salt sticks. Behind the bar in a kitchenette, a large and somewhat haughty black man of about twenty-four years of age stood in a tall white toque, serving from steam trays of eggs, sausages, bacon, oatmeal, and what looked like grits and gravy. The smell of the hot food seated on those sweating metal trays began to hoist Lloyd's stomach from its seat in his midsection up through his esophagus to a point just south of his uvula. I can't hurl here, he thought to himself, not here. He sat down in a ridiculously roomy leather chair with brutal grommets that subtly impressed themselves upon his buttocks. His face had once again turned to the consistency and texture of Silly Putty. He even tasted Silly Putty. He found himself thinking about Silly Putty.

"All right?" It was a semi elderly executive in a cream-colored business shirt, suspenders, and a blood red tie. He was holding a Wall Street Journal folded vertically, a pair of angular reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose. Although it seemed impossible, Lloyd could swear the guy was laughing at him, not a big chuckle or anything, just a sort of gentle sneer of amusement.

"Yes," Lloyd said, looking up into those warm, gentle eyes. "Just popped in. Bite to eat. Sit and think. Nice room."

"Well, then," said the man, drifting across the room. He put down his coffee cup and paper and picked up a suit jacket so supple and dark, it was not a physical presence at all, just a spatial area that absorbed all light that came near. "See you later."

Lloyd wanted to be him, to be past the excess and sickness, past the riot of spirit, past all caring and wanting and fearing and full of nothing but the ease of it, fully in command of the fact that it was all just a game, like tennis, or golf, or poker. Lloyd knew that if the man he had just seen was terminated without cause this very morning, he would still be set for at least the next three years to do nothing but relax and think about what he wanted to do next. His heart ached. He pounded his chest for a while, trying to burp. Eventually, he did.

On the table in front of him were neat rows of newspapers and magazines, all the reading matter a learned businessperson would need to achieve the mythic state of perfect informedness mandatory for any who wished to achieve the true higher levels of omniscience necessary to conduct even a moderately successful business career. Lloyd picked up USA Today but couldn't really look at it. It was more of a prop. Just to sit there without appearing busy doing something was a clear tip-off that here was a dysfunctional individual of some sort who did not belong in these exclusive surroundings.

He was now five minutes late.

Outside, about a mile below, the Monongahela River met the Allegheny and the Ohio, forming the confluence of waters upon which stood Pittsburgh. Three Rivers Stadium yawned, empty and frozen in the early-morning mist. Traffic moved with stately calm to and from the tunnel that fed into the downtown area on one end, off to the ancient green hills of Pennsylvania on the other. I wish I could open a window, he thought. Of course, that was impossible. Once you get to a certain level of success in American business, no windows open.

"I gotta get out of here," said Lloyd.

And yet he did not go. 

Next: At the 8:30 meeting, an almost-tragic mixup 

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