Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Too Big For My Bathing Suit"

For the past thirty years, off and on but mostly on, our family has vacationed in Hawaii at the Kahala Resort and Hotel, formerly the Kahala Mandarin Oriental, formerly the Kahala Hilton.  It is in tribute to those visits and or upcoming visit next week that I am reprising this story.

Enjoy.  And to those concerned, Mele Kalikimaka.

Hubris – a man over-steps.  The throbbing center of many a classic story.  And also this one.

Background.  Just about every Christmas for the past seventeen years, my family and I have traveled to Hawaii where we spend a week at a very comfortable – okay, luxury hotel.  I tried to sneak that by, because my wife insists that nobody cares about people staying in luxury hotels.  If she’s right, then I guess you should stop reading.  That is, if you don’t mind missing my humiliating comeuppance.

Assuming somebody’s left, I’ll keep going.  Hawaii’s a great place to do nothing.  You want to do things, go to New York.  Hawaii’s for baking in the sun and cooling in the ocean.  Actually, that’s not true.  There are tons of things to do in Hawaii.  We just don’t do them anymore.  After a dozen visits, we now commit our entire vacation to tanning and napping.  (Affluent and lazy.  Am I trying to drive you away?)

Anyway, here’s our daily routine.  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 cheerful attendant wheels our chairs to the spot I point to on the beach, drapes towels over the mattresses and leaves with a tip. That’s how it worked on our previous trips, and how it started on this one.  And then things changed.

For years, I’d sensed an unspoken hierarchy in the way guests were treated on the beach.  Some enjoyed canopy-draped cabanas, others had locks on hard-to-get inflatable rafts.  I also noticed that certain guests had their chairs set up and waiting for them when they came out.  No standing at the Attendants’ Counter, no waiting for chairs to be dragged out, no making sure you got your favorite spot.  People just showed up and started tanning. 

On previous visits, I’d never given this unequal treatment a moment’s thought.  Well, maybe a moment’s.  Two moments tops.  But this year, I found myself looking at those preset chairs and thinking, “I wonder how that works?” – which is the sneaky way of saying, “I want that.”

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

All of which explains why, on the second morning of our stay, I found myself standing by the woman in charge of the beach attendants asking, “How does it work that some people have their chairs already out?”  I was frankly surprised by the level of self-assurance in my voice.  Inside, I felt the nervous apprehension of “Who do you think you are?”

In a business-like manner belying her green shorts and Polo shirt, the woman explained that some guests liked to “take care of” the attendants at the beginning of their stay.  By so doing, the arrangement would be set.  Nodding understandingly, I said, in a lowered voice, that I’d be interested in such an arrangement, after which I immediately walked away.  Was the matter settled, not settled?  I wasn’t sure.  All I knew was I felt an overpowering desire to go someplace and breathe.  

Why was this so difficult?  For one thing, to me, dealings of this nature put me in Grown-up country, and although I’m officially middle-aged, I see myself, especially in adult-type negotiations, as significantly younger.  Most troubling was what I was told was required to set the beach chair arrangement in motion.  I mean, I’d paid and tipped people my whole life.  But to that point, I’d never taken care of anybody.

Of course, I’m no 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, like a ringside table at “Nudes on Ice.”  Basically, it’s a bribe, a pre-service payoff of uncertain amount.  Say goodbye to the mathematically determinable percentage of the check.  We’ve entered the world of the “No Limit” game.

I have to admit, not having been raised by gangsters, the whole idea of taking care of people makes me extremely uneasy.  And it’s not just the money, though that’s part of it.  Okay, a big part.  What really disturbs me is the complete lack of clarity in the transaction.  It’s all under the table.  Nothing’s nailed down.  And there’s no Better Business Bureau to turn to if things go awry. 

In this heady world of sky’s-the-limit hot shots, serious high rollers peel bills of considerable denominations off huge wads in exchange for getting exactly what they want, (with the implicit understanding that if they don’t get what they want, somebody’s going to get hurt.  I threw that part in, but I think it’s true.)  This is not my world.  I’m not a hot shot.  I don’t hurt people.  This world makes me dizzy. 

And now, I was in it. 

Being a first-timer in this dark and alien world raised immediate questions.  First and foremost, how much do you have to shell out before a person feels taken care of?  Forget exact numbers – ballpark.  Knowing this was essential to avoiding the Embarrassment Factor.  What if my taking care of payment was laughably low, or even worse, embarrassingly over the top – a hundred dollars for a book of matches.  What was the etiquette?  Where were the guidelines?  Help me!  I’m lost!


1 comment:

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Find one of the staff who *doesn't* work the beach chairs and ask what that person thinks the beach chair folks expect.

(I, too, hate this kind of thing.)