Eloise is a city child. She lives at the Plaza. I too was a city child. I lived on the Upper West Side. Being city children is really where the similarities ended. The Plaza was as fictional a place to me as the prairie in the LITTLE HOUSE books – I knew it wasn’t technically made-up, but it sure wasn’t in my real world. I never set foot in there until high school, when I would occasionally duck in to use the fanciest public bathroom in the city. Eloise got up to much more mischief than I ever did – truthfully, I was a little on the goody-two-shoes side as a kid.* I did once draw all over a few of my dolls in the course of an afternoon game of hospital, but I definitely was not in her league for imaginary games. And I was a bit shy as a child, not the sort that would have made friends with all the hotel staff even if I had lived in a hotel. So it wasn’t exactly identifying with the character that made me love Kay Thompson’s ELOISE. Reading it later, I appreciated the humor, the irony, the perfectly expressive and detailed illustrations by Hilary Knight. Maybe I appreciated all of that when I was little, too – or maybe Eloise was just fun, plain and simple. Whatever it was, ELOISE was definitely a favorite since before I can remember. I used to sprawl on the livingroom floor with the elevator/stairs escapade fold-out map open (I remember it seeming so big!) and trace that up and down journey for ages. I still have that same copy, and I’ve read it probably a few times a year ever since. And to this day any time I spot a mail chute, I think about pouring water down it.
Then a few years ago I began working as an organizer for the NYC hotel workers’ union. During the period I worked for the union The Plaza was actually closed for renovations, but I found myself wandering the basements and back hallways of many of the city’s other fanciest hotels. And the first time I picked up ELOISE after starting that job, it took on a whole new meaning – because now I knew hundreds of housekeepers (they don’t go by “maid” anymore), room service waiters, bell captains, front desk clerks, and even a few managers that make up the cast of characters in Eloise’s world. Occasionally in my imagination I would sub in some of the real-life characters I knew to her interactions with the staff, which led to some pretty hilarious dialogue. But mostly, now I had experienced the adventure and excitement of running around the plush labyrinth that is a large NYC hotel. I never got to slomp my skates. But I have been to the boiler room.**
*For the record: I was not the kind of goody-goody that tattled on other kids, just the kind that tended to worry about getting in trouble. Key genetic traits, like worrying and arguing, expressed themselves quite early on in my case.
**Aaaahhh, I wasn’t even thinking MSCL reference until I finished typing!