Thursday, December 31, 2015

"New Year's Eve In Hawaii"

A quiet moment to assemble my thoughts.

“You always break your New Year’s Resolutions.”

So how about this strategy?

You make a bunch of New Year’s resolutions, 

Including the following:

“I will break all my New Year’s resolutions.”

Then, since you always break your New Year’s resolutions,

You will break your New Year’s resolution to break all your New Year’s resolutions,

Thereby keeping all your other New Year’s resolutions.

Is that genius?

Or have my standards plummeted because it’s the holidays?

Wait!  What about this one?

You make all of your New Year’s resolutions…


“I resolve not reach my “Ideal Weight.”

“I resolve to lie and cheat every chance I get.”

“I resolve to think only about myself.”

You break all your New Year’s resolutions,

Because you always break your New Year’s resolutions,

And you’re off to the races!

Okay, I’ll stop now.

You guys do what you want.

Which, of course, does not exclude heeding the foregoing suggestions.

You could resolve not to listen to anything I say…

And then you will.

You know what?

I’m going back to the beach.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

'Too Big For My Bathing Suit (Conclusion)"

I am now aware of the specific procedure for bribing a beach attendant to get our chairs ready before we come down to the beach.  But before I put my knowledge into action, I infelicitously run out of gas.  After which I immediately develop “Cold Feet.”

The bribing would take place tomorrow.  Providing a day for my rich and fertile imagination to think of what might possibly go wrong.

For example…

What if they took my money and they didn’t do anything?  What would I do then?  There was nobody to complain to.  Even if there were, what would I say to them?  “I bribed a beach attendant and he didn’t deliver”? 

I was still thinking I would do it.  Which triggered the issue of “The Look”, the unspoken acknowledgment accompanying the payoff, a subtle nod between the participants saying,

“It’s on.” 

That “Look” involves a wink and a smile… actually, I have no idea what it involves.  I just knew I had to do it.  And I had no idea how.

There was also a timing problem.  I had now heard twice that to start “The Arrangement”, you had to “take care of” the beach attendants at the beginning of your stay.  The thing is, by then, it was already the third day.  You see the problem? 

How do you “take care of” people at the beginning when the beginning was two days ago?  There was no more “beginning.”  The beginning was over.  I’d heard no mention of “taking care of” people in the early to middle part of your stay.  Was “The Arrangement” even still possible?  Also, I mean, I’m not trying to be stingy here – but since we were beginning “The Arrangement” later, would the bribe now become cheaper?  I had absolutely no idea. 

The next morning, much to my surprise, I discovered that without doing anything, “The Arrangement” had inexplicably kicked in.  Our chairs, I was told at the “Attendants’ Kiosk”, were already down there.  I went to the beach, and there they were.  Set up, amply betoweled, and awaiting our arrival.

I must admit to a tingle of excitement.  But I was also confused.  Why was this happening?  I guess they thought…I don’t know what they thought.  All I knew was “The Arrangement” was in motion, and I had not “taken care of” anyone!

At that point, I made a unilateral “Decision of Decency”.  I would “take care of” them at the end of the trip.  I would even give them double, the “beginning” and the “end” money at the same time, writing Mahalo, the Hawaiian word for “Thank you” on the envelope.  It felt like the perfect solution.  I’d get my “elite” treatment, and they’d be appropriately “taken care of”.

There was only one flaw in my decision:  Nobody knew about it but me.  This was a major problem, because, while I’m thinking, “Everything’s worked out”, the beach attendants are thinking, “What’s up with this guy?  He’s getting upgraded treatment.  Where’s the money?”

Of course, this misunderstanding could easily have been avoided if I’d just gone up to the woman in charge of the beach attendants 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 sojourn.” – something like that, only less British.  But instead, I said nothing.

Why?  Because it sounded like a scam.  “Mr. Big Shot Hotel Guest”, promising hard-working beach attendants he’ll take care of” them at the end of the visit?  Yeah, right.  Requesting a favor with the reassurance of future consideration felt like the beach chair equivalent of “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”  I could not pull it off with a straight face.  I decided to simply leave things as they were.  I would pay them at the end, and hope “The Arrangement” continued.

It didn’t.  The next morning, there were no preset chairs for the Pomerantz family sitting on the beach.  

Once again, I was back at the “Attendants’ Kiosk”, amongst the hoi polloi of the “Waiting People.”  Only now, our chairs were transported by attendants totally bereft of the “Aloha Spirit.”  I was not a popular person at the beach.  And it was not a good time to be hated. 

Nearing New Year’s, the hotel was filled to capacity.  Suddenly, there were more guests than available beach chairs.  There was no question who would be shut out.  The guy who wanted something for nothing.  (I didn’t, but how could they know that?)

Through inexperience and timidity, I had bungled “The Arrangement.”  There was now only one thing I could do – get down there as early as possible, to beat the rush.  Forget sleeping in, forget the leisurely breakfast, forget any breakfast.  My single concern was my daily obligation.  I was the Man of the family.  The last thing I wanted were teary-eyed children sobbing, “Daddy, where are our chairs?” and a smoldering wife thinking, “I could easily have done better.”

My concern became an obsession.  At night, I would dream of murderous “Chair Wars”, jolting awake in a battle-soaked sweat.  Every morning, I’d appear 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 beach attendants don’t even arrive until eight.

I had managed to do the impossible – turn a dream vacation into a Polynesian nightmare.  And why?  Because, God help me, I had wanted more.
Standing by the shore before leaving for the airport, I pondered what it all meant.  I had lost my way, stumbled into a strange and forbidding world, only to be brought crashing down to earth.  And as I scanned the scene before me, carefree families frolicking happily in the sun, a final thought played lazily across my mind.

How do you get those cabanas?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Too Big For My Bathing Suit (Continued)"

I‘ve been told I had engage in the unfamiliar practice of bribery so that our beach chairs would be set up and waiting for us every morning.  I now had to do what was required – descend to that nefarious netherworld and quietly pay somebody off.

Being a first-timer in this dark and alien underworld raised immediate questions.  First and foremost, how much do you have to shell out to a person before they legitimately feel taken care of?  Forget any exact numbers – ballpark, knowing this was essential for avoiding the “Embarrassment Factor.”  What if my “taking care of” payment was dismissingly puny, or even worse, egregiously over the top – a C-Note for a book of matches? 

What exactly was the etiquette?  Where were the guidelines?  Take my hand!  I’m a “Stranger in a Sleazyland!”
My only hope was for professional guidance.  I had to pick exactly the right person to ask, someone who wouldn’t be offended when I walked up to them and said, “I know you bribe people.  Could you teach me how to do it?”  I wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but they could still take offense.

“You calling me a gangster?” 

Considering my selection carefully, I landed on the friendliest guy in the hotel.  I knew he was the friendly because the man even talked to me.  “Friendly Guy” had been Christmasing at this hotel for more than fifty years, and it was clear he was experienced in the “taking care of people” arrangement.  His chairs were in place when he got off the airplane.

Catching him lunching, I made my way to his table and, too nervous for small talk, I dove immediately in.  “If you want your chairs out there… what is it… how much…“taking care of” …what do you do?”   Not too articulate, but throw in some gestures, and he got the idea.

“Friendly Guy” was extremely helpful.  As I’d already learned, a payment was required at the beginning of the trip, an amount “Friendly Guy” then duplicated at the end of the trip.  What was that amount, I shakily inquired?  He mentioned a figure, hefty but not “choke a horse.”  Having received the information I needed, I gratefully thanked “Friendly Guy” and I left him to his lunch.  I was ready to dive in.

But I didn’t.  I had done enough hard stuff for one day, talking to a stranger.  I was officially worn out. 

For me, it took great energy to go up to a virtual stranger and ask advice about bribing people.  And on the same day, I was expected to approach another stranger and give them money in exchange for future services they may or may never deliver?  That was unquestionably too much.

It would have to wait till tomorrow.

As will the conclusion to fthis story.

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Too Big For My Bathing Suit"

We are currently vacationing in Hawaii, at a hotel we have regularly stayed at for over thirty years.  My family likes the place more than I do.  And here’s why.  Not why they like it – let them write their own story.  Why I don’t.

Okay, here we go.  And by the way, I am fully aware of how spoiled I am going to sound.

(Note:  If you have read this story before, remember, whenever I republish something, I inevitably make it better.)

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 thirty-two 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 “reserves” 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 began 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 less shameful 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 beach 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 had no idea.  All I knew was I felt an overpowering desire to go someplace else and breathe.  

Why was this so difficult?  For one thing, to me, dealings of this nature put me deeply into “Grown-up Country”, and although I am officially old, I perceive myself, especially in adult-type negotiations, to be significantly younger.  Most troubling was what I was told was required to set the beach chair arrangement in motion.  I mean, I had 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, that 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 disoriented, bordering on nauseous. 

And now, I was in it.