We called him “Mean Man.” And rightfully so.
This happened years ago, but we never forgot it. We’re a family of grudge keepers. We hold on to grievances with both hands.
“Mean Man” was a personal manager with big name clients. A ferocious negotiator, “Mean Man” was accustomed to getting things his way.
So the Kahala had these big round, rubber rafts, donuts with no hole, so, technically, they could not accurately be described as donuts. Though that will not deter me from referring them as donuts.
I rented one for the day at my family’s request. The donuts were an enjoyable change of pace. You know, you’re lying on a beach chair, you get sick of it after a while. So you get up, and you lie on a donut. It’s different. It’s lying on water.
So I’m on the donut by myself after lunch one day, when suddenly, out of nowhere, “Mean Man” comes hurtling at me, hollering,
“Get off my raft!”
Terrified by his loudness and the pulsating veins in his forehead, I tried as calmly as I could to make sentences. I explained to him that it was my raft. It was like reasoning with a volcano. This guy gets what he wants. He insisted that his clients get paid in gold bars. And they got paid in gold bars!
In the end, things worked out – “Mean Man” realized his mistake, though he never apologized – but the experience left a terrible taste.
“A man tried to throw me off my own raft.”
It is not something easily let go of, demonstrated by the fact that I am still writing about it more than a decade and a half after it happened.
It has never been easy at the beach. (See: My republished two-parter “Too Big For My Bathing Suit.”) Not insubstantial sums of money slipped surreptitiously into the right hands were needed to insure the certainty that your beach chairs would be set up and waiting for you when you arrived at your selected location every morning. (For some reason, though the Kahala is a luxury hotel, the number of beach chairs always the-opposite-of-exceeded the need.) (I cannot think of what word for “the opposite of exceeded” is.)
This year, however, the situation was decidedly worse. It was explained to us that guests had taken to reserving their beach chairs months in advance, creating the necessity for those unaware of the altered protocol to arrive at the chair rental kiosk at 8 A.M., to get their names written down on a beach chair “Waiting List.” (Though this sounds outrageous, a hotel guest I met informed me that when he stayed at the Four Seasons on Maui, to insure beach chair availability, he had to show up at four-thirty in the morning! Imagine looking forward to a restful vacation, only to discover that a chair on the sand requires you to arise in the dark, sacrificing half a night’s sleep on a daily basis!)
But, as the comedian Jimmy Durante used to say,
“Dem’s the conditions that prevail.”
Or, as someone I once knew used to say,
“Whaddaya gonna do?”
What you’re gonna do is to rise smartly at seven A.M., throw on some clothes, and sleepwalk down to the kiosk, joining other sleepwalkers who have lined up to get their names listed as high as possible on the determinative “Waiting List.” (You were prohibited from signing up the day before. The rules insisted that you show up in person every morning.)
So I did.
And despite following the rules and doing everything right…
At eight A.M. an attendant sets up two beach chairs (actually they’re loungers, but they call them beach chairs) in a choice spot, a tree-shaded location, just steps from the hotel’s bar (and the alcohol-infused “Lava Flows” and its outdoor restaurant.
Our “Waiting List” number having been called, we have also scored a canopied cabana, set up closer to the water.
The “incident” in question took place, ironically, on December Twenty-Fourth, the eve of the arrival of the exalted “Prince of Peace.” I am lounging on a beach chair, relaxingly Kindling Les Miserables; Dr. M is ensconced in the sun-shading cabana abutting the gently lapping waves. Suddenly, my tropical luxuriance is shattered by a loud and angry voice blaring hostilely in my direction:
“Hey! You’re sitting in my chair!”
I look up from my Kindle, startled and in the preliminary stages of “rattled.”
“I ordered eight beach chairs. (COUNTING THEM OFF, POINTING AS HE GOES) “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… (THEN, POINTING DIRECTLY AT THE CHAIR I’M LYING IN)….eight!”
Here are the facts. I had stood there at eight in the morning, watching the attendant set up two beach chairs and one cabana. I tipped the attendant seven dollars for his services. I knew, therefore – because I had been there, watching him when he set them up – that those beach chairs were for us. With this indisputable evidence, I addressed the angry man, as calmly as a person uncomfortable with confrontation can speak, and I said,
“Let me tell you what I know.”
“Let me tell you what I know. (POINTING AT THE BEACH CHAIRS, AND COUNTING A SECOND TIME) “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven…(POINTING DIRECTLY AT ME, MORE ANGRILY THAN THE FIRST TIME)…EIGHT!
“YOU’RE SITTING ON MY CHAIR!!!”
“I will state my position once again…”
“Are you one of those dumbass lawyers?”
At this point, under calmer circumstances, the comedy person in me would have said,
“Hey! Who are you calling a lawyer!”
But instead I said, somewhat but not entirely incongruously,
“Are you on vacation?”
To which, unwilling to concede a thing, my irrational antagonist replied,
“Well I am!”
That’s the best I could do at the time. Thinking back the next day on what I could have said, I came up with, all pretty much variations on the same theme, such as,
“If I could imagine the perfect vacation, it would definitely not have you in it.”
"It takes a lot of energy to be unpleasant in Paradise."
And, of course, my all-time favorite, which I have thought many times but never used,
“I’d put a curse on you. But you already have one. You’re you.”
(A friend, hearing the story, proposed, “I thought it was my chair, so I peed in it.” Not my style, but it may well have touched a nerve. Which is the reason it’s not my style. “Touching a nerve” tends to trigger a physical assault, an eventuality I try at all times to avoid.)
The situation was ultimately resolved by the hotel’s Beach Authorities, but the bad taste, as with the “Mean Man” incident remained, and, I imagine, it will continue to stay with me.
Okay, I’m going to take one conciliatory shot at this, because that’s the kind of guy I am.
You know how people who grew up poor often say,
"We were poor, but we didn’t know it, because everyone around us was poor too”?
Well, maybe it works the same way at the other end of the spectrum.
“We were entitled, but we didn’t know it, because everyone around us was entitled too.”
“Who doesn’t get the best table at a restaurant?”
“Who doesn’t travel in a private jet?”
“Who doesn’t get the exact number of beach chairs they asked for? And, if there is one less than we requested, it has to be because some over-the-hill television writer is ‘squatting’ in it.”
You know what? It’s not the same. But I’m not exactly sure why.
Many you can help me with this.
Why am I more sympathetic to expectations of nothing than I am to expectations of everything?
They are both experiential expectations.
What exactly is the difference?