I was impressed. In less than five minutes, Magda here had managed to check us in, book us our wake-up calls, add our Ibis points onto our Ibis Elite Members Club Cards, and all that while being practically shot at through the hotel window. That’s a damned sight better than I could have done, let me tell you. I had a job as a receptionist myself, once. I did. It was while I was working in a hotel in a ski resort in Colorado for a few months during that period of my life when I was game to try any new job with half an eye on the possibility of pursuing it as a career. However, it soon became apparent to me and to my work colleagues that I was astonishingly inept at it. While the free hotel guest wine must be held accountable for my overall poor performance to a certain extent, I suppose, nevertheless some of the blunders I used to make are as follows: often, when someone would ring up the hotel, I would pick up the phone (I was under the illusion I was capable of doing this part of the job) and say: “Aspen Highland Inn, this is Patrick speaking, how may I help?” and when they”d ask to be put through to so and so or such and such a room, I would chirpily reply: “No problem sir……putting you through!” Then all I had to do was press the HOLD button, then the TRANS button, enter the room number on the key pad, then as soon as I heard a ringing tone at the other end, simply put down the phone. And yet it never failed to amaze me that I wasn”t able to get even that right. Roughly thirty seconds later, the same person would call up again, I”d go through the same routine: “Aspen Highland Inn, this is Patrick speaking, how may I help?” and a familiar voice would say: “Yeah Patrick, I think something may have gone wrong there. Do you think you could try that number again for me, please? Thanks.” To which I would reply: “Oh, I”m sorry about that sir, let me try that number again for you……putting you through!” And I”d go through the same process “ all the time thinking “I know I”m doing this right” “ HOLD, TRANS, 105, ring tone, hang up. Good. Thirty seconds later the phone would ring again: “Aspen Highland Inn, this is……” and to my great disgust, the guy who had already rung up twice before would be on the other end of the line again, and he”d interrupt me, usually in quite an irritable tone of voice: “Yeah, look Pat. Whatever you”re doing, it doesn”t seem to be working. Let’s try it one more time and if it doesn”t go through, could you leave a message for Larry saying “could he urgently call Bill because his wife and children have been taken to hospital and could he call me back on my cell as soon as he can.”” Genuinely worried by this stage, I would stammer: “I really am very sorry about this, sir, but I”m sure that won”t be necessary. Sometimes up here in the mountains, we get what’s called a bad high altitude connection. Let’s try it one more time” (for the sake of tact, I would tend to omit the “putting you through” bit at this critical stage of proceedings): HOLD, TRANS, 105, but this time I”d wait until the guy in the hotel room physically picked up the phone at the other end, then I”d say to him: “Hey, how are you doing? This is Patrick down at the front desk……yeah, fine thanks. Look, I”m sorry to bother you but I”ve got a call from a friend of your’s and he says it’s urgent……O.K great……putting you through!” Then I”d put the phone down and, appalled, sit there praying that that would be the end of it. Thirty seconds later, the phone would ring again and I”d grab the handset and sob into it: “Oh God! I”m so sorry about this, I don”t……” but this time it would be the guy in the hotel room and he”d say something like: “No, no, this is Larry in room 105, we seem to have got disconnected there……” That kind of thing. Do you get the general idea?
What else? Oh yes “ how could I forget? Listen to this: on more then one occasion, I would find myself having booked people into entirely the wrong room. The finest example would have to be the time I gave the wrong set of keys to a couple of newly weds who had got married earlier that day and had arrived for their honeymoon in the middle of the night. Bleary-eyed and half-drunk (me, not them, I mean), I gave them my warmest congratulations before handing them the keys to the Honeymoon Suite along with a complimentary box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers for the bride. As they turned to leave, full of the first flush of love (them, not me, I mean), I gave the groom a knowing wink that was as if to say: “Good luck buddy. And remember- don”t fuck it up!” and he smiled back at me in that knowing kind of way that was as if to say: “Yeah, we”ll talk about it in the morning, dude……” It was a beautiful moment. Then, my work finished for the night, and feeling that for once in my life I had done something truly good, I retired to the office and went back to sleep on the sofa. Five minutes later, I awoke as if from a bad dream to the sound of shouting and screaming coming from the direction of the front desk. Totally disorientated and wondering if perhaps the hotel had caught fire or a grizzly bear had found its way into one of the rooms, I rounded the corner to be confronted by four of the angriest people I have ever seen in my life. I couldn”t understand it: the two newly weds were there, which was a pity, but so too was a couple I had checked-in the day before. The man was a Hells Angels-type with a long grey beard like the lead singer from ZZ Top, and his girlfriend was thin and muscly and blond and vicious. They were both standing there completely naked demanding to know why they had been burst-in upon half way through having sex. Can you imagine? It’s an experience I never wish to repeat. Never. Mind you, I did end up making the same mistake a few more times after that, just not with the same catastrophic results.
Another lamentable incident that occurred during my sojourn at the hotel (this won”t take long, by the way) was the time I was working the night shift and was rudely awakened at the crack of dawn by a queue of about fifty German tourists wanting to know why they had each been charged four dollars for drinking the bottled water in the rooms. They had all paid their bills the night before and were about to leave on a coach that was waiting outside, when one of them had noticed that they had been charged for something that they had expressly been told they would not be charged for (oh no!). They weren”t angry, they assured me – they had very much enjoyed their stay at The Aspen Highland Inn – but would I mind simply deducting it from their credit cards then reissuing them with new invoices and new receipts. Now, the main problem I had with this, aside from the fact that there were fifty of them lined up in front of me, was that not once during my grueling and protracted training period (which never formally ended, come to think of it), had I shown the slightest proficiency at operating the credit card machine, much less the computer invoicing program. Yes, I had worked out early on how to access pornography on the internet and yes, I suppose I had fluked the odd transaction here and there, but generally speaking, the whole system baffled me. So anyway, to cut a long story short, I did what I usually did in such situations which was to act all professional, tap a few keys, move the mouse around a bit, frown, tap a few more keys, move the mouse around a bit more, frown some more, and then say: “Oh no. It’s done it again. I”m really sorry about this but the whole system’s crashed.” What I expected to happen at that point was what usually happened, ie. for them to go: “Don”t worry about it. It doesn”t matter. We leave now anyway. Goodbye!” But what happened instead was a dialogue probably much like this:
“But vee must have zee correct bill. Zis is outrageous!” “I know. I agree with you but there’s nothing I can do about it. I”m very sorry.”
“Every year vee come here and always vee pay zee correct bill.”
“Yeah, I understand. I heard you the first time.”
“I want to speak viss zee manager. Now!”
“Look. I”ve been trying to call her but she’s not answering her fucking phone, alright?”
“You have been drinking, yah?”
“No of course I haven”t.”
“Vee refuse to leave until vee speak viss zee manager!”
“It’s only four dollars, for fuck’s sake! Does it really matter?”
“Yah of course it matters! Always zeese zings matter!”
You get the picture. After about twenty minutes of this kind of to-ing and fro-ing, I eventually stood up and announced to the heaving throng:
“I tell you what. I”ve just had a good idea. Hopefully this should sort everything out. Wait here for five minutes and I”ll be back.”
And with one finger still raised in the air, I hurriedly vacated the front desk area, grabbed my jacket and keys, opened the back door, and charged up the road behind the hotel. Up and up I went, all the way to the top of the mountain that overlooks the town, where I perched myself on a rocky crag and gazed out at the snow-covered valley below. The sun was just starting to appear over the Eastern ridge and the cloudless sky was turning from grey to pink to blue. The air was crisp and, as I exhaled great plumes of steam, I knew then what it must be like to be a bald eagle surveying his mighty kingdom. A long way underneath me, I could see where the hotel was; I could even make out the coach that was still waiting outside, and at that moment I experienced a feeling of giddy exhilaration as I considered the pandaemonium that was going on in that building below and that I myself had caused. What exactly was going on right now, I wondered? Had they managed to summon the manager or had they taken it upon themselves to raze the building to the ground? Ha! None of that mattered any more. My God yes, there were more important things in life than money and jobs and bottles of water and German tourists and anything else you could care to think of as long as it wasn”t right here, right now, where I was at the top of the world! I stood up carefully and hoisted my arms high above my head and let out an ululation towards space, towards where the blue sky turned black, towards the very face of God Himself. Unsteady on my feet, I looked down and just at that moment, I caught sight of the coach, as small as a pin prick, moving slowly away from the hotel.
That was the first time I got fired. I managed to sweet-talk my way out of it, though, somehow, incredibly, thanks to the sheer comic brilliance and audacity of my opening line as I strode back into the hotel some hours later (“Well I guess I won”t be getting employee of the month, then!”) and secondly to the fact that it was the staff party that night and, what with my skills as a guitar player and a prodigious consumer of alcohol, I was considered central to the planned festivities. Plus the lesser known but equally valid fact that my boss, who was a woman (theoretically), had taken quite a shine to me. Now, I know what you”re thinking. You”re thinking: “Hey. Not bad! He gets to do whatever he wants while he’s at work and he can”t get fired because he’s having sex with the boss! Lucky bastard! Why can”t I ever do something like that etc, etc……?” NO: no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO. Alright? No. Why not? Because Sally was what you might call an almost unrealistically obese woman. She really was. Platonically, I”ve always had a bit of a soft spot for fat people but there’s only so far I”m prepared to go. I”m not prepared to go anywhere near the bedroom, for example. Her constant flirting with me when I was trying to concentrate on doing my job (to the best of my abilities, I might add) eventually wore me down so much that my life became a living hell. I mean, there were only so many times I could lean back in my chair and squint at her all the way up and down and left and right before agreeing with her: “yes, you know what, I think you have lost quite a lot of weight!” Or making out one day that I never dated anyone I worked with, the next day that I had a girlfriend back in England, the next day that I was gay (all of these became virtually impossible to justify when I did end up going out with one of the maids who worked in the hotel). One night, she cornered me when I was drunk in one of the local bars and compelled to me to snog her. Before I took the plunge, I remember thinking: “Fuck it. I”ve watched the Jerry Springer Show. There are loads of guys who live in trailer parks who actually enjoy this kind of shit. Maybe I”m one of them and I just don”t know it yet. Here goes……!” I hoped that the experience would be maternal somehow, a symbolic regression to the womb perhaps, at least a legendary story for my friends down the pub, but it turned out to be none of these things. It turned out to be so unpleasant that it managed to put me off women for a while. Hell, it even put me off going out of the house for a while! (O.K maybe I”m exaggerating a bit.) No, but the thing is, I don”t want to be too nasty about her because she did have a beautiful personality and let’s face it, she did let me off about a hundred serious misdemeanors at work without so much as once carrying through with her numerous threats to give me the slip. And that goes a long way with me, let me tell you. Also, to be fair, she did have quite a pretty face, and bizarrely “ get this – months after I had fled the hotel, I ended up involving her in some of my dirtiest lesbian fantasies (would you believe it?!), but that’s a story for another time.