Sometimes I cannot help myself. I move into a different world than the one I inhabit. At the West Hollywood bar Rage, for instance, Justin Timberlake can become Frank Sinatra and Rage itself morphs into the Cocoanut Grove. Recently I had such an experience at the Langham Hotel. (The one in Pasadena, I think. I know it took a long time to get there from where I live, area code 90069.)
While sitting on a cushioned sofa in the hotel lobby, I caught the eye of a young man at the concierge desk. He was The Most Beautiful Young Man in the World. He was a tad over six feet, a young Ruritanian prince straight out of an operetta. He had the posture of a royal figure—slender, proud, erect. I saw him with epaulettes, a heavily crested and embroidered jacket with gold cords dangling here and there and a sash across his chest. I was certain he was the heir to a long-forgotten European monarchy.
He was actually wearing a concierge uniform—a long coat and a name tag on his left breast. I couldn’t make it out from the distance between us.
I blinked again. Once more, the uniform. I heard marching bands, cheering crowds, a parade of pampered high-stepping horses. Feathers and things. I strained for the sounds echoing as the procession passed. It was impossible. The hotel lobby pianist drowned everything out. The young prince saw me looking at him and sweetly came over to see if I was alright.
I drowned in his blue swimming pool eyes. I became lost in the golden forest of his hair. He seemed to take this as an invitation to sit beside me.
He flicked his coat tails. (“I have to lift my skirts to sit down,” I swear he said). I noticed his name tag: Greatrex. Am I really in another world? Greatrex means "great king." The young man is definitely royal. From one of the blonde countries. Scandanavian? No, my instinct told me he is Austrian. He is the heir to the Hapsburg dynasty. He belongs on a stamp. I asked him what he is doing at the hotel.
“I am 18 years old and am on a gap year,” he smiled. “I want to be a geophysicist."
“What is that?”
“It is someone who studies the earth—gravity, magnetic, electrical and seismic impulses. I want to work as a geophysicist in the oil business."
“Not on an oil rig?” I was aghast. (Reality can be very intrusive.)
“No,” the young prince replied. “High up in a skyscraper office in a room full of computers.”
“A king in the sky!” I said it aloud.
“What did you say?” he asked.
I waved my hand towards to the pianist. “I thought the song he was playing was 'A King in the Sky.'”
“No, it’s 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,'” said the heir to the throne of Austria.
Smoke was certainly in my eyes—Strauss waltzes, cotillions, chandeliers all whirled through my cloudy mind.
“I prefer Lorde,” the young prince said.
“Of course,” I rejoined. “Royals.”
“What?” He seemed puzzled.
The medals on his uniform were blinding me. I blinked again. He was gathering the skirts of his long concierge coat and returning to his desk. As he did so, I saw him in an ermine cloak approaching the altar where he was to be crowned emperor. The Vienna Boy’s Choir raised in celebratory song, obliterated the pianist who was now well into "The Way You Look Tonight." I swear I saw Greatrex of Austria kneeling at the altar, the Imperial crown raised in the air, ready to be placed on the young prince’s golden hair. I pulled myself together. This is not the Rage. It is not the Cocoanut Grove. It is not even Austria.
It took me a long time to get back to 90069, climb into bed between crisp white sheets and fall asleep.
I saw Greatrex at the balcony of the Hofburg in Vienna—golden, shining, much admired, accepting the approval of a roaring crowd.
I left the lobby. It was starting to twirl around.
Days later, I picked up photos at CVS. There among them was a picture of me on a couch in the lobby of the Langham Hotel. Next to me was the young concierge. I immediately returned to the Langham Hotel. The concierge desk was manned by someone else. Elderly. Grey. Tired.
“Where is the young Greatrex?” I asked.
“He has finished his gap year and returned to his geophysicist studies,” I was told.
What I heard was “He has gone to Austria to claim his birthright—the throne.”
“I thought so,” I said.
I drove home in filthy air and gridlocked traffic. It seemed very, very long.