Monday, December 22, 2008

"Too Big For My Bathing Suit"

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 ocen. 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. 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’m 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. A pre-service 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 sordid world of beach-chair corruption.


Anonymous said...

Man, I'd be happy to be in Hawaii just sitting on the sand without the beach chair. It's frigging cold up here in Toronto! You aren't missing anything, Earl.

Rusty James said...

Let me saddle up here Earl and help you out.

First. You have to take care of someone twice. Yep, that's right.


Once when you get there, and the second when you depart.

And this part will torment you...

'What if the person is only working today - what if they're off for the rest of the week?'

What then?

Well. First, you have to think that this (the taking care of) is about them first, your wife first-and-a-half, and you last.

Jane is you're go-to gal. Belly-up to that service counter next time your in town, and talk to the girl. Tell her you want to make this the most comfortable stay for your family as possible - and you think she's the perfect person to help you.

Once the money's dolled out willy-nilly, and everyone's wearing their 'happy to see you' face, you can look forward to settling into your anxiety suit... That's right.

'Did I give enough? Will they expect MORE tomorrow. What if the other employees get jealous?'


Your holiday is now ruined.

You should have gone to Toronto and stayed inside.

*the 'taking care of' is the initial transaction; the departing gesture is just a tip - a gratuity for service well executed.

**ballpark figures: $20 per person/per day with an extra $20 per person on departure day.
'Good job team!'

NOTE: An arrival and departure gratuity of $20 should be given to Chambermaid staff. But this is where you should see the most effect: Swan towels, extra water bottles, Champagne! or sparkling wine depending where you're staying.

Anonymous said...

This is all so familiar. Glad I am not the only one who suffers. Why don't they teach us this in school?

MikeThe Blogger said...

Anonymous said..."...Why don't they teach us this in school?"
They do; but you have to tip your teacher for the lesson. ;-)

Gracie Charters said...

Earl, I'm reading your blog! And I know who you should ask -- ELLIOT. He'd so know... although he might have to ask one of his ten million assistants.

Unknown said...

Nudes on Ice...

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