Be My Guest
As I sat in my study at home in Hampstead Heath on a drizzly April Saturday, pen in hand and lips pursed, I realised I had become one of them, one of those obsessive complainers for whom nothing was ever satisfactory, no matter how hard you tried to make them feel like
royalty. But, I decided, I wasn’t that bad. Here I was, a General Manager of a five star hotel in London, ordered by a cheeky Guest Relations supervisor of a hotel in New York to write a letter of complaint to her General Manager.
My wife, Lorraine, and I had been in desperate need of a relaxing weekend break. She was a successful attorney in her own right, taking on more than what fitted on her plate and I had just hosted a large delegation of foreign diplomats with extensive experience in the art of
mingling. Dark rings had started appearing under her otherwise youthful eyes and her radiant face had begun to sag as if the air was being slowly let out of her cells. I was constantly uptight and impatient with every person I came into contact with, especially Lorraine, and
total exhaustion for both of us was nigh.
We had just returned from Heathrow after this unspeakable weekend. Lorraine put her bag down and went straight into her prize-winning garden to water her thirsty Chrysanthemums. She was ever so good at not allowing things to get to her. Personally, I couldn’t get inside the study fast enough and settle in my swivel chair at my desk to start
creating the gem of a complaint letter which was going to make Mr. Chevalier’s seven hairs on his billiard ball head stand erect like the queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace. The attitudal method of ‘front garden, back garden’, always putting on a friendly face while hiding your true feelings inside, was something I had never been able to master, never would and, quite frankly, didn’t wish to either. Whatever I felt was visible for all to see. No confusion, no surprises.
Arriving home and having to waste the remainder of my precious free time writing a letter didn’t help lessen my irritation. I would have rather had the matter resolved on the spot as I, myself, always did in similar circumstances when they occurred in my establishment.
Although, to be honest, they rarely did, given the luxury and top service we offered without exception. That’s precisely why I had gone downstairs to the reception yesterday afternoon and had asked to see the General Manager. Instead, the Front Desk Manager, a plump matron-like blonde with oddly small breasts, which had clearly been made cosmetically smaller since they were completely disproportionate to her body, entered through the door of the back office.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?” she asked.
“There are two problems, actually, Miss...,” I squinted to read her name tag. “...Bryden. No, three. Firstly, there is mouse in our room. Yes, indeed, a mouse.” I paused for a reaction but received none. “Secondly, my wife found your previous guest’s pubic hair in the bathtub and, thirdly, you are not the General Manager.”
“It’s Bryson, sir,” she replied.
“I beg your pardon?”
“My name, sir. It’s Bryson, not Bryden.”
I couldn’t fathom if she was smiling or not. It was a sort of Mona Lisa expression, neither here nor there.
“This is very disturbing, sir. May I have your room number?”
“701,” she repeated, examining the information on her screen. “Ah, Mr. Butterfield. Mr. Butterfield, sir, are you sure it was a mouse?”
I stared at her for several seconds, stunned by her raygun of a question.
“You can’t be serious, Miss BRYSON.”
“Mr. Butterfield, I’m just trying to get a full compass bearing of the situation.”
“A compass bearing? Oh, I see. Well, I can tell you your ship is about to hit a very nasty iceberg. Now, I demand to speak with the General Manager. Immediately.” I felt my face heating up and, no doubt, reddening like a beetroot as it usually did moments before I lost my temper.
“I’m sorry, sir, Mr. Chevalier is not available. He is in a conference.”
If anyone knew the real meaning behind that phrase, it was me. “That’s a load of hogwash, Miss Bryson, and you know it. I’m a GM of a hotel myself and I am shocked at the way my complaint is being handled. I wish for someone from your management to go up to our room this instant to witness the appalling state with their own eyes.” She turned around, summoned a young gentleman from the back to take over the reception and lead the way to the lift. As we ascended, we were both drawn, hypnotically, to the digital numbers on the panel above the door, a welcome distraction in the uncomfortable silence. I had the feeling the sound of my rapid breathing through my nostrils was amplified a thousand times.
At the door to room 701, I knocked lightly to alert Lorraine but there was no movement inside. “She must have gone for her morning swim,” I said to the matron, forcing an artificial smile. I inserted the key card and entered.
“The rodent ran right across the carpet and disappeared behind that dressing table,” I said, pointing to where the furry gnawer had scurried, almost over my bare foot. Miss Bryson went over to the dressing table and with the strength of a man, lifted it with television set and all and shifted it away from the wall. She stepped closer to take a look and then turned to me with an expression one usually sees on the face of an empathetic priest, seemingly apathetic to the problem at hand but who can absolutely ‘imagine’ the distress you are going through.
“Well, obviously it’s not there now, is it?” I said. “And anyway, whether there was or wasn’t a mouse in the room is no longer relevant.” I stormed into the bathroom. “Even these...” I stared into the bathtub. “...even these hairs are...” Lorraine must have forgotten and showered the springy evidence down the drain. I cursed under my breath and walked back into the room to face the matron.
“How are you going to resolve this situation?” I chose not to reveal of which hotel I was General Manager. It shouldn’t have made a difference anyway. A guest is a guest, no matter whether you were royalty or a lower middle-class mechanic.
“Mr. Butterfield, I understand your frustration and feel terrible about your experience. Please allow me to offer you and Mrs. Butterfield a complimentary bottle of champagne and a bowl of fresh fruit.”
“A bottle of champagne and a bowl of fruit?” I said, incredulous. Her raygun was still full of ammunition. “And that is supposed to erase the image of a previous guest’s pubic hairs in the bathtub and a disease infected animal running across the floor of our room? I find your compensation completely unacceptable.”
Just then, I noticed a couple of dark brown pellets on the carpet next to the skirting board.
“Aha! What is that then?” I could almost smell victory. She stretched out her neck for a better view.
“I think that might be chocolate, sir.”
I picked up the pellets and shoved them in front of her. “Really? Well, go on then, pop one in your mouth.”
“I most certainly will not. I do not eat off the floor,” she said, pushing my hand aside. “Mr. Butterfield, how can I resolve this matter to your satisfaction?”
She was surrendering, I thought. This was the first professional question she had asked me.“Firstly, you will not charge me for my stay and, secondly, you will ask your General Manager to contact me in London personally to apologise.” She agreed.
During the course of that day, my exasperation seemed to wane somewhat, after a long Turkish steam bath in the spa and a cocktail with my wife Happiness on the terrace. I was a trifle annoyed with Lorraine. Not for flushing the hairs down the drain but because she had
acted so calmly and nonchalant during the whole episode. She had gone for a swim and then breakfast, leaving me to deal with that Bryson woman alone. I wasn’t amused. She was also awfully quiet, too quiet under the circumstances. In fact, she seemed to be sulking. Her hair
was wrapped in a turban and her large Prada sunglasses obscured her eyes so that I had no clue what was going on in that fickle mind of hers.
I cleared my throat. “Dear, I must get something off my chest. I find it rather unfair that you disappeared this morning, leaving me to deal with this mess on my own. It’s as if you couldn’t give a damn one way or the other. You haven’t even asked how it went. After all, it was you who alerted me to the hairs in the bath in the first place. What’s the matter?”
She never looked at me when she was annoyed. If I wasn’t sure before, I was now.
She replied without turning around. “Henry, you’ve kept me up two nights in a row with your loud snoring. Topped with jetlag, I feel like I’ve been run over by a steamroller in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Don’t expect me to be cheerful and understanding.”
“I can’t help it. It’s my post-nasal drip,” I said in my defense. “You know I can’t help it. So, what, you’re punishing me now with the silent treatment?”
“I’m exhausted. I don’t even have the energy to talk, let alone fight with a hotel manager about hairs from some stranger’s head and a stupid mouse.”
“They were not hairs from someone’s head, they were clearly vaginal hairs. And anyway, the hairs aren’t the problem, it ’s cleanliness and hygiene, for heaven’s sake!”
“Oh, how do you know? And keep your voice down, people are staring.”
“And what about the mouse? You have no problem with sharing your room in a five star hotel with a filthy rodent?”
“You’re so damned pedantic, not to mention critical. Perhaps understandable to a point, given your type of job and workplace but it can get a bit much sometimes. Tell me, Henry, do you remember the story you once told me of the couple who came to stay in your
hotel? The wife was apparently in the shower when a cockroach crawled out of the drain and up her leg? Remember that story?”
“Yes, of course I remember. So?”
“How did you resolve their complaint?”
“A bottle of wine. But,” I reiterated quickly, “the guest’s husband was a raving lunatic, one of those pathological complainers who was looking for one thing and one thing only - a free overnight stay with all the trimmings. He drove my staff completely mad, phoning down to reception every two minutes with a different complaint about the room, the minibar, the temperature, the traffic outside his window, the type of down in his pillow. You name it, he complained about it. I had had enough and so all I offered them was a bottle of wine or they could leave the hotel. They deserved no more than that.”
“I rest my case.”
“Fine. You just rest whatever you please.” I got up in a huff and left. I lingered in front of the hotel’s entrance, smoking a cigar and chatting to Jorge, the porter, about the difference between Hispanics and Anglo-Saxons, before deciding to go for a proverbial bite of the overripe Apple. After about an hour’s leasurely stroll, taking in the architecture and observing the pleasant chaos of this city, I found myself standing at the intersection of 7th Avenue and Sheridan Square. The tall concrete giants had given way to quaint brick houses and everything seemed more manageable here. I turned around and walked back up the avenue toward midtown where it crossed Broadway and 42nd, browsed around in an alternative bookstore and then returned to the hotel. In the room I found Lorraine sitting on the bed with her hands in her lap and the samsonites fully packed in the passage. This hotel had not only caused me grief but was now to blame for a rift between my wife and me. It was at that moment that I started formulating in my mind the letter to General Manager, Mr. Chevalier. On checking out, Matron Bryson was no where to be seen and a friendly but inexperienced clerk who had not been made aware of our complaint handed me a print-out of the bill with charges for the minibar and pay tv. After refusing to pay, we stormed out of the lobby, almost knocking over an old lady and her poodle, where a taxi was waiting to take us to the airport.
My thoughts returned to the letterhead on my desk in front of me. I stared out the window and observed Lorraine as she gathered up the hose pipe into a neat tube around her elbow. She was just as gorgeous as when we met, twenty-five years ago at a party in Notting Hill. To this day, I can’t believe she chose me, at the time a tipsy, bespectacled hotel school student who danced like one of those puppets on a string. I got up and walked to the window.
She rolled the last bit with the spout onto her arm and hung the tube carefully on the hook on the wall above the tap. She stood with her hands on her hips and admired her handy-work, a green oasis, interspersed with magnificent colours, which had even appeared in a magazine.
Suddenly, her head turned towards the study window and she caught my gaze. She stuck out her tongue at me, playfully, and then I knew, her mood had lifted, the snoring forgotten, the love was back. I glanced at the piece of paper on my desk and then back at Lorraine. Then I grabbed the letterhead, crumpled it up and threw it in the bin. When I got outside, she was sitting on the swing under the weeping willow. Next to her, there was just enough space for me to squeeze in.