David Narva, a wiry, preppie teenager, grew up in a 372-room house in Bethesda, with an outdoor swimming pool; 16 acres of perfectly trimmed back yard; lush spaces for baseball, Frisbee, biking, and running; and a battalion of maids, gardeners and cooks.
David Narva is not the littlest millionare. He is one of several "hotel brats" living in Washington. His addresses in his 19 years have been some of the city's best known -- the Linden Hill Hotel, the Sheraton-Carlton and the Jefferson Hotel.
Being a kid growing up in a hotel should be a five-star fantasy. Isn't it just like the classic story of Eloise, the irrepressible bane of the Plaza who ordered room service for Skipperdee, her turtle and Weenie, the dog that looked like a cat?
Or like Clifford Peache of "My Bodyguard," who's dinner at the plush penthouse of the Ambassador East in Chicago is served on a silver dish, the linen sparkling, a red rose and the waiter's crisp "Bon Apetit" delivering the extra panache? Or Jack Nicholson's offspring in "The Shining," who wheels around the halls of a Colorado resort before encountering some ghostly and ghastly guests? Or hotel resident Humbert Humbert, who with the revival of "Lolita" will bring another angle of hotel living perks to the public? Humbert recalls in his narration of sexual obsession how he met the forerunner of Lolita at his father's hotel on the Riviera where "I grew, a happy, healthy child in a bright world of illustrated books, clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and smiling faces. Around me the splendid hotel Mirana revolved as a kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the blue greater on that blazed outside. From the aproned pot-scrubber to the flanneled potentate, everybody liked me, everybody petted me. Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa. Ruined Russian princesses who could not pay my father bought me expensive bonbons."
According to Washington's young experts, hotel life is not all room service and raspberries. But then, they don't have to mow the lawns or take out the garbage, either.
Eloise once boasted, "I live down at the end of the hall/Sometimes I take two sticks and skidder them along the walls/And when I run down the hall I slomp my feet against the/woodwork which is very good for scuffing and noise ."
"This is nice," says 9 1/2-year-old David McIntosh, in a hundrum tone usually reserved for the third gray sweater in a row from a relative. McIntosh lives at the Shoreham, where his father, Robert, is managing director.
"When I first heard 'hotel' all I could picture was halls without carpets," he says. "Then I wondered where I would play. What was the back door?"
Besides the question of a playground and the pain of leaving his friends, David McIntosh wonders, why Washington? "I really wanted to go to Florida," he says flatly. "I also wanted to go to Bermuda because there are more mopeds than cars. I don't like New York because it's too polluted but I hadn't thought about Washington."
His friends thought the idea of living in a hotel was super. "At school they were excited; they said you are lucky, you are going to have a maid. But I quickly told them I would have to do chores," says David, turning his frowns toward his parents for confirmation. Like his parents, he brought along his personal possessions to make the apartment seem like the Victorian house back in Winchester, Mass.
Celebrities don't seem to faze him. His father prompts him about his introduction to Muhammad Ali. His sigh sounds much like Clifford of "Bodyguard," who tells a friend, "I guess I have met a half-million people and never any children."
". . . and if there is an open door I have/to walk in and pretend I am an orpahn/and sometimes I limp and sort of bend to the side and look sort of/sad in between the arms/and they give me a piece of melon or something," says eloise.
When 6-year-old Eric Knipp was living on the 12th floor of a hotel, he took an exploratory trip down the elevator. The down button was easy to reach, but the top button was beyond his toddler's arms. He had to wait for a bigger person to finish his journey.
Eric does have daily maid service, though he long ago abandoned the cordon bleu of the Marriott Twin Bridges kitchens for the instant gratification of fast food. At the Capital Hilton, he had a balcony equipped with a swing, long halls to explore with his Big Wheel, and a whirlwind of captains of industry and politics to watch. Last year, he says, he met Mickey Mouse.
Yet he, his sister, Kristen, and his parents now want a dirt yard, some permanent neighbors and elbow room. "I just like living in a house because in the city there's lots of smoke," explain Eric, his blond hair wet from an afternoon swim in the Marriott's indoor and outdoor pools.
Though he has strict rules, he has had a few escapades. One day Eric and a friend had finished swimming and wanted to play the hotel's pinball machines. They didn't have a quarter, so attired in their bathing suits, they went panhandling in the lobby.They were successful until Eric's father found them out. There was no ice cream for a week.
His sister, Kristen, has found little that he 3 1/2-year-old outlook can't deal with. "I like my bed. It's very tall. It's white and big. The furniture here is pretty," she says.
Eloise took the opportunity of a grand life quite seriously: "Every night I have to call Room Service to send up that menu/so we can order our dinner for Lord's sake/I always have to read it for a few seconds or so/Then I just say 'I'll have the Planked Medallion of Beef Tenderloin/ with fresh vegetables maision please and two raisins, one strawberry/leaf and one clams in season s'il vous plait and charge it please .'"
The wood-paneled, softly lit lounge of the Jefferson provides an apt background for a chat with a young retail executive, which 19-year-old David Narva now is. But once he was the frisky, sandy-haired kid, who entertained the scientists and celebrities at his hotel home.
"I wouldn't exactly call it [his childhood] normal," says Narva, straining for objectivity in an obviously excited tone. "Because I had what was called the biggest house of anybody, there was a lot of envy and jealousy. The teachers and parents criticized me because they thought we were rich -- they said mother was neglecting me and the maids were raising me. But it wasn't true."
Narva says he, too, once pressured his parents to buy a house. "I thought I wanted a yard, a staircase, a two-car garage. But when Dad and Mom went out, I was alone. I didn't have the switchboard to play with," he says.
The one bonus was a Maltese puppy, now is part of the Narva entourage.
Narva remebers the day Barbara Eden fulfilled one of his dreams by staying at the hotel. "There was the excitement of having parties and playing with the children of Edie Adams, Steve and Edie, and Barbara Rush," he says.
The hotel's close proximity to the Shady Grove Music Fair opened the door to scrapbook photos and autographs, free tickets and an exciting part-time job. "I saw 'Mame' 21 times," he says. When he was 9 years old, he appeared in "The Front Page" with Robert Alda. "My role was a boy scout; I appeared in the third act and made $150. From hanging out backstage, I learned I could have earned $600 if I joined Equity."
When Narva took his mother to see "Bodyguard," he nudged her more than once. The hotel kid on the screen had a hotel limousine chauffeuring him to and from school, and away from the bullies. Narva says he has seen the official car parked at the curb of Siwell Friends. "Sometimes the hotel limo would pick me up.For a couple of years I had a friendly taxi cab driver. He was the one who took me to get my license."
Hotel halls, says Narva, do inspire their own special kind of competition: throwing ice down the corridors, knocking on doors and yelling room service, stopping elevators between floors.
One of the disadvantages of hotel life is that the many helping hands are also available for discipline and gossip. "There were a lot of eyes watching me," said Narva. Rules were strictly enforced: Loudness was discouraged, stairs were preferred to elevators and appearances had to be neat. d"Keep the stereo down and don't invite too many people or sign too many checks," he says.
By now he has learned how to put on the dog, quite naturally, in the best of taste. Last year on his parents' wedding anniversary, he schemed with his mother's secretary, the hotel chef, catering manager and comptroller, to hold a formal buffet for them. His mother never suspected the preparations were for her; in fact, never saw the "30" ice sculpture. "It was a gas," says David, with his father adding, "and he paid for it himself."
Not quite Eloise calling the valet to have her sneakers cleaned and pressed.