Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Too Big For My Bathing Suit"

Due to a confluence of conditions, we are not vacationing in Hawaii this Christmas season.  But we're not entirely unhappy about that, the reason explained this (reprised) two-part post.  

Hubris – a man over-steps.  The throbbing center of many a classic story. 

And this one.

Ever since Anna was six months old – she’s now twenty-five – my family and I have, with scattered exceptions, spent “Christmas Week” in Hawaii, primarily at the Kahala…something.  They keep changing their name.  (Over the years, the place has been bought and sold three times.)

A week to eight days at a very comfortable hotel.  It’s a vacation we all look forward to.  Lying on the beach and doing nothing.

Hawaii’s a great spot for baking in the sun and gazing at the ocean.  You want to do things, go to New York.  You know what?  I’m lying.  There are tons of things to do in Hawaii.  But we did them all during our first ten visits.  (Well, not all.  There are other activities involving enormous waves, surfboards and concussions.  We generally avoid those.)

Our vacation is committed to tanning and napping.  With a little shopping for those so inclined.  Some people get bored with sedentary activities.  I can’t get enough of them.

Daily routine (and I mean every day):  After breakfast, I head to the “Attendants’ Counter” to arrange for our beach chairs.  (Actually, they’re not chairs, they’re chaises.  But it’s too pretentious to say chaises, so I’ll say chairs, but you’ll know what I mean.)

A tanned and cheerful attendant wheels one chair per family member to the spot I’ve selected on the beach.  He drapes towels over the mattresses and leaves with a tip.  Such was the beach-chair procedure on all our previous visits to the hotel. 

On this visit, things would be different.  

For years, I’d sensed an unspoken hierarchy in the way hotel guests were being treated.  Some basked in canopy-draped cabanas.  Others had locks on the limited supply of inflatable rafts.  I also noticed some guests had their beach chairs waiting for them when they arrived at the beach. 

Very convenient.  No losing time at the “Attendants’ Counter”, no waiting for the chairs to be dragged out, no wondering whether you’d get your favorite spot.  The people just showed up and started tanning. 

On previous visits, I’d never given this unequal treatment a moment’s thought.  I was just happy to be there.  (Hawaii in December?  Compared to Toronto?  Are you kidding me?)  But this year, I found myself looking at those pre-set beach chairs, and thinking, “I wonder how that works?”  Which is the passive-aggressive way of saying, “I want that!”

Suddenly, I was dissatisfied with my totally adequate level of luxury.  I suppose, like an addict whose habit inevitably requires a bump in dosage, I had, after many visits to this service-driven hotel, developed an uncontrollable need for an upgrade in pampering. 

Which explains why, on the second morning of our stay, I found myself talking to Jane, the Queen of the Beach Attendants, asking, “How does it work, that some people have their beach chairs already out?”  I was surprised by the level of self-assurance in my voice.  Considering the words, “Who do you think you are?” were pounding in my ears.

In a business-like manner belying her green shorts and Polo shirt, Jane explained that some guests elected to “take care" of the attendants at the beginning of their stay, and by so doing, the beach-chair arrangement would be guaranteed.  I nodded thoughtfully, and headed away.  That was all I could handle for the moment.  I had this overpowering desire to go somewhere else and breathe.  

For me, dealings of this nature put me in Grown-up country, and although I’m officially middle-aged, I imagine myself, particularly in adult-type negotiations, as significantly younger.  Most troubling in Jane’s explanation was the method of setting the beach-chair arrangement in motion.  I had tipped people my whole life.  But to that point, I had never “taken care" of anybody.

I am not a stranger to the concept.  “Taking care" of people, a maneuver popularized in the glitzy showrooms of Vegas, involves the handing over of unspecified sums of money in exchange for exceptional service, such as a ringside table at Nudes on Ice.  Basically, it’s a bribe.  An agreed-upon payoff of an uncertain amount. 

I have to admit, not having been raised by mobsters, the whole idea of “taking care" of people makes me extremely uneasy.  It’s not just the money, though that’s certainly a part of it.  Okay, it’s a big part of it. 

What really throws me is the disturbing lack of clarity in the transaction.  We’re in this netherworld of quasi-contractualization.  There’s nothing on paper.  If they stiff you, you can’t run to the Better Business Bureau and complain, “You know, I bribed this person, and they didn’t come through.”

Rock stars live in this world.  They pull out a wad of rock star money and get what they want; and if the deal goes sour, their bodyguards will “mess somebody up.”  That isn’t my world.  I don’t have bodyguards.

Even if I did want to party like a rock star, I had no idea how to do it.  Starting with the particulars.  For example, how much do you have to shell out to make someone feel fully “taken care of”?   Knowing this is essential when considering the “Embarrassment Factor.” 

What if my idea of a “taking care of” number turns out to be laughably insufficient?  Or, even worse, embarrassingly over the top?  A “C-note” for a book of matches. 

What was the etiquette in these matters?  Where were the guidelines?  Help me!  I’m lost!
My only hope was to seek out a mentor.  A Guru of beach-chair-bribing Graft. 

I wasn’t certain whom to ask about this.  But I had some ideas.

Tomorrow:  Our hero enters the netherworld of beach-chair corruption.

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