My family and I are at this luxury hotel in Hawaii. I notice people are getting better beach-chair treatment than us. I don’t know the secret handshake that will get us into the club. But I desperately wanted in.
An investigation reveals that some bribery is involved. But I’m lost on the specifics. (Not the same as lost in the Pacific.) I’m in need of an adviser to tell me how to handle things.
Okay, you’re caught up.
I needed to pick exactly the right person. Someone who won’t be offended when I walk up to them and say, “I know you bribe people. Can you teach me how to do it?” I wouldn’t use precisely those words, but there was still the possibility they’d take offense.
I decide I’ll approach the friendliest guy in the hotel. I knew he was the friendliest, because he even talked to me. Friendly Guy had been Christmasing at the Kahala for over forty years. It was clear he was experienced in the “taking care of” arrangement. His beach chairs were ready for him when he got off the plane.
Catching him lunching, I headed to his table and, too nervous for small-talk, I dove right in.
“If you want your beach chairs out there...what is it ...how much. … what do you do?” Not too articulate, but I threw in some hand gestures and he got the idea.
Friendly Guy was very helpful. I was aware that a payment was required at the beginning of the trip, a payment, Friendly Guy revealed, he duplicated at the end of the trip. And what was the amount of the payment, I shakily inquired? Friendly Guy mentioned a figure, hefty but hardly “break the bank.” Having gotten the information I was looking for, I thanked Friendly Guy, and left him to his lunch. I was ready to take action.
But I didn’t. I had risked enough embarrassment for one day. I was tired.
It took a lot of energy to go up to a virtual stranger and solicit bribery advice. And now, I was expected to “do the thing”, money changing hands, accompanied by a “knowing look”? A look that said, “Okay, it’s on” and promising, “There’s more where that came from”? That was going to take a lot of … what I didn’t have a lot of. “Knowing looks” are not part of my regular repertoire.
There was also a timing problem. I’d now heard twice, once from Jane, The Queen of the Beach Attendants, and now, from Friendly Guy, that to get the ball rolling, you had to “take care of” the attendants at the beginning of your stay. It was already the third day of our stay.
You see the problem, right? How do you “take care of” people at the beginning of your stay when the beginning of your stay was two days ago? There was no more “beginning.” The beginning was long gone.
There was no mention of “taking care of” people in the early to middle part of your stay. Was a bribe-induced arrangement at this point still possible? And if it was, was I permitted to bribe a lesser amount, because we were starting things two days late?
I had no idea!
It was then that I made a strategic decision. Since it was too late to “take care of” the beach attendants at the beginning of our trip, I decided I would “take care of” them at the end of our trip. I would reward them with double, the beginning amount and the end amount at the same time, placed inside an envelope with the word Mahalo, Hawaiian for “Thank you” printed on the front. Maybe I’d draw a little palm tree on it too.
It felt like the perfect solution. I’d get the special treatment I coveted, and the beach attendants would be “taken care of.”
There was only one flaw in this arrangement. The only person who knew about it was me. This is hardly a minor flaw. While I’m imagining, “It’s all worked out”, the beach attendants are thinking, “What’s up with this guy? He’s expecting special treatment, but he didn’t “take care of” us at the beginning!” They don’t know I’m planning to “double up” at the end of the trip. They’re not mind readers. They’re beach attendants.
Of course, this problem could have been corrected if I’d only gone to Jane and said, “Now, look here. I want you to know I am fully cognizant of “the arrangement”, and I intend to fulfill it to the letter at the end of our stay.” Something like that, only less British.
I couldn’t do that. Why? Because it sounded like a scam. Big shot hotel guest promising hard-working beach attendants “I’ll take care of you before I leave”? Yeah, right. Requesting special treatment with the assurance of future consideration felt like the beach chair equivalent of, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” I couldn’t do it with a straight face.
What did I do instead?
New Years was approaching. The hotel was filling up. Suddenly, there were more guests than beach chairs. It was “First-come, first-served.” Except for the guys with “the arrangement.” Which was not me.
There was only one thing I could do. To avoid being shut out on chairs, I had to get down to the beach as early as possible. Forget sleeping in. Forget a leisurely breakfast. Forget breakfast altogether.
My only concern was getting those chairs.
That was my job. As the man of the family. The man who had botched “the arrangement.” The last thing I wanted were my children sobbing, “Daddy, there’s no beach chairs!” and a wife thinking, “I could have done better.”
I’d show up at the “Attendants Counter” earlier and earlier. On our last day, I bolted from bed and raced to the beach, only to discover it was six-thirty in the morning. The attendants don’t show up until eight.
I had managed to do the impossible. Turn a dream vacation into a Polynesian nightmare. And why? Because – God help me – I’d wanted more.
I took a final walk along the beach. All around, I saw carefree families, frolicking in the sun. I made myself a promise.
“Next time, I’ll do things differently.”
And then, very slowly, an unexpected question started formulating in my mind.
“How do you get those cabanas?”
Postscript: The "taking care of" problem never got taken care of. At least, not by me. On future visits to the Kahala, the resp0nsibility for bribing the beach attendants was delegated to my capable and scrupulously honest stepdaughter, Rachel. It turns out, though eminently decent and fair a just, Rachel has a natural facility for paying people 0ff.