Excerpt from "Miranda"
“DOES IT HAVE A VIEW?”
This place looks out of a horror movie.
Lauren D., Yelp
Probably not. Most likely you’ll enjoy whatever the parking lot has to offer. Luckier visitors are treated to condos that are closer to the animals and plant-life, or perhaps to a golf course fairway. The most coveted units are the ones that face the nearby mountains, which famously exhibit different shades of blue throughout the day that all turn violet by the evening. Allowing yourself to gaze at the scenery for just a moment can be as therapeutic an experience as you would like it to be, much like the experience of tasting affordable wine. At the front desk, we rarely had the chance to guarantee prized amenities—the most desperately prized was your garden-variety oven, which many vacationers learned was not a standard appliance in select kitchens on the resort (including theirs), only after they had already brought a frozen turkey and relatives to the scene in late November—which is why it was often gratifying, on a personal level, to offer a nice view to the guests. Or to withhold it from them.
Personally, I’ve worked for two different organizations, both of which were timeshare companies, as a front desk clerk—organizations that shall pseudonymously be referred to as “Dad’s House” and “Mom’s House.” At Dad’s House, I remained a humble clerk for two non-consecutive summers before quietly moving on with my life. At Mom’s House, I was promoted within ten weeks from clerk to assistant manager, a position I held for no more than sixty days before losing a battle with self-righteousness. At the end of my resignation letter, I expressed cynicism about the desk’s immediate future before concluding, “but no matter what happens, at least everyone knows which pot to use for decaf”—a jab at the general manager, “Minerva,” an older lady who never stopped yelling at me about the coffee protocol. Notwithstanding this parting gesture, nor the negligence I showed at the coffeemaker, my track record at Mom’s was far more respectable than my track record at Dad’s (where it was once suggested by a half-kidding manager that I would benefit from a personal supervisor), in spite of the fact that clerks at Mom’s House were burdened with many more duties for only slightly higher pay.
One reason is that thousands and thousands of human beings patronized Dad’s. During high-volume weekends, a group of a dozen or so clerks was responsible for checking in anywhere from six hundred to eight hundred guests, the vast majority of whom did not vacation alone. Securing a $300 “pre-authorization” deposit from as many as possible—without letting anyone know what we were up to—was a top priority. More than a few people, having witnessed a poker-faced teenager swipe their credit card without adequately explaining themselves, were motivated to check their balance later that day, thereafter to call the desk and yell at the poker-faced senior citizen operating our switchboard. As soon as management realized we were averse to finagling deposits, they incentivized us to finagle them. Each week a small prize was offered to the clerk with the highest proportion of deposits earned against a minimum total of guests checked in. Almost immediately, one of the prizes was poached by a manager herself. Not only was the misappropriated item uniquely worthwhile—a $25 Walmart gift card—it was also the rightful property of a single teen mom who tried especially hard to win it because she needed diaper money.
Although many guests had practice sidestepping the traps we were ordered to set, most were untried and vulnerable. Prior to exiting the building, we reminded everyone, you were required to visit the individuals stationed at a satellite desk opposite the main desk in order to receive your parking passes. We made a habit of distinguishing our coworkers by the neon properties of their polo-wear, which lent personality in a way our no-nonsense black attire did not. Most guests readily complied with the directive unless they happened to catch sight of the passes themselves. That an independent group of employees was devoted solely to the task of writing check-out dates and unit numbers on cardstock with a Sharpie gave many of them pause: “Why can’t YOU just give me the parking pass?” Because WE don’t have anything to sell you, my friend. Those who were onto us occasionally begged for an exemption. As discreetly as we would comply, we knew to expect praise that was both incriminatingly high and incriminatingly vague in the comment cards the following week for our trouble. Eyebrows rose whenever a clerk was singled out for having a positive impact on the life of a guest. Positive impacts were not our strong suit. And any suspicions were legitimized if a guest failed to specify what we had done to attain glory in their eyes, since to managers this likely meant we had spared them a mandatory headache, such as a date with certain coworkers.
They’re universally known as “horror stories,” the anecdotes of misfortune related by those who ply the many fields of customer service, and we happily traded them—whether for their entertainment value or to brag about how much psycho-spiritual abuse we could take—whenever we had the chance. But if outrage is pervasive in the world of hospitality, it is due to the nature of the enterprise, not the nature of the clientele. Generally speaking, the periods during which most Americans like to travel coincide with periods during which American weather is completely scorching, if not wintry (it’s either summer or Christmas), neither of which conditions are favorable for long drives, especially long drives whose terminus is a building within whose bounds you must negotiate heavy chrome stanchions in the personal space of irritated Americans like yourself. Once the negotiating was done, certain guests would even learn we weren’t ready to accommodate them yet, no matter if it was well after 5:00 PM, the advertised and guaranteed check-in hour. Since many arrived encumbered by food and children—and hence were in need of refrigeration and a private space to collect their thoughts—they’d be unlikely to “bear with us,” compelling us to designate a special line for all such guests—i.e., those whose likelihood of bearing with us we took for granted was zero point zero percent—and to designate a special employee, considered either adept at, or addicted to breaking bad news, as its keeper.
“Autolycus” of the neon-polo, sales/parking team regularly flirted with me. His go-to proposition was that we split a luxury rental and drink champagne together in the Jacuzzi. He also regularly followed me into the restroom. Only once—thanks to the effects of a coping mechanism I’d been relying on to work at Dad’s—was he comfortable enough to bypass flirtation altogether. Emboldened, in all likelihood, by fluctuations in the clarity of my speech, he had already entered the restroom and was occupying the urinal next to mine before I registered his presence. He openly watched the whole time I used it. Moments later, I was fulfilling his request to show him my torso and he was feverishly kissing my neck. Thanks to the dullness that was smothering my head and body, the experience was at least clinical and bearable. But since I was liable for inducing the dullness in the first place, I was incapable of formally reporting him—as Autolycus might’ve counted on. Not that I was tempted to do so. I had always been on good terms with him. But perhaps there’s something destabilizing, on a primal level, about being kissed by a person—regardless of your sexual orientation, even if you’re at work, but especially if you’re impaired—who finds you attractive.
Although it never crossed my mind to get Autolycus in trouble, it wasn’t long before the universe mercifully covered his debt. After falling asleep in my car during break one night, I woke up to the sound of “Achilles,” one of the front desk supervisors, knocking on my window. I automatically opened the door, betraying evidence of my coping mechanism in the process. He addressed the evidence frankly before letting me know that I should’ve been at the desk an hour earlier. I apologized and walked back with him to the lobby, where he issued me a written warning for failing to return to work on time. We never talked about the incident again. Weeks later, his own supervisor, “Ulysses,” asked me if anything was wrong. I told him I hadn’t been getting enough sleep lately. He mentioned that sleep was important and let me know that his door was open if I ever wanted to talk about anything.
On a day when the welcome center at Mom’s House was deserted and there wasn’t anything profitable to do, I left two newer employees, “Nixi” and “Cressida,” alone at the front desk while I, the only manager on duty, took a lunch break. In place of the fifteen minutes allotted at Dad’s House, we enjoyed thirty minutes for break at Mom’s, time I normally spent either racing to and from 7-11—which demanded the wherewithal not to get pulled over for speeding nor to spill freshly dipped fries in my lap—or sitting in my car and playing games on my phone, trying to stomach leftovers I had forgotten to preheat. As I would find out shortly thereafter, while I was away treasuring milliseconds in a nearby parking lot, an exasperated woman had stopped by the front desk to report a bed bug issue, obliging Nixi and Cressida to attempt the nightmarish task of exchanging the guest’s “in-house” unit for an appropriate substitute. Inadequately trained in this regard, they ended up sending the woman and her family to accommodations that had yet to be cleaned, which they found out about thanks to the woman herself, who called to say she was heading back to the welcome center and looked forward to yelling at me, whoever I was, upon my return—all of which Nixi said to me as soon as I did return. Cressida was nowhere to be found. Upon learning that the guest was on her way back, Nixi explained, Cressida deemed it best to go looking for me in person, defying Nixi’s suggestion that they instead reach out to me via cell phone like always. When I went to the manager’s desk to find the guest a proper unit and otherwise brace myself for her arrival, I discovered a note addressed to Minerva on top of a folded work shirt. It was from Cressida, who announced she was quitting because the job was too stressful. I matter-of-factly demonstrated the shirt and the note to Nixi, who would have been my all-time favorite coworker at any job I’ve ever had even if she hadn’t said, “I guess she snuck out topless.”
Maybe she read disbelief in my body language; or maybe she had a premonition about the way our working relationship would play out. In any case, after describing multiple jobs she had held in the past—police officer, gymnastics coach, EMT—“Deverra,” the supervisor who trained me at Mom’s House, insisted that she had a knack for staying calm during crises. We were going over the steps for opening the welcome center at the time. Every morning, a lone front desk clerk would show up at Mom’s with less than enough time to discharge numerous time-consuming, time-sensitive tasks. Unlocking the building and turning on the lights were only the first of these tasks other divisions of Mom’s House relied on to commence operations; similar chores included individually handing every housekeeper and maintenance worker a master key as they arrived, generating numerous occupancy reports—one of which sales desperately needed for cold-calling—and, above all, making coffee. All in addition to what the guests themselves relied on us for. Rarely could we ever finish opening without having to make fresher coffee over and over for morning dads, taking lengthy phone calls from concerned moms hoping to reach us when we weren’t busy, or checking out talkative retirees throughout. Although Deverra kept encouraging me to ask questions, she made a habit of assuring me I would figure things out the way everyone else did: “baptism by fire.” Later that day, I shadowed the clerk with the longest tenure, “Honos,” who had me practice generating Wi-Fi passwords, an intricate task which entailed giving each guest a personalized guide to internet connectivity and retaining a copy of their guide for our records. Other than the fact that Mom’s House wasted a lot of paper, the main impression I formed with Honos is that he was kind, patient, and committed to helping you. And yet, as she was showing me how to clock out at the end of the day, Deverra unknowingly belied my impression of him by saying, “If you ever want to vent about Honos’s habits, it’s OK. But that’s just how he is.”
It wasn’t until I watched him read the entire guest agreement—including the fine print—to nearly every person he checked in that I grasped what Deverra had in mind. Although Mom’s House regulars often demurred when Honos proceeded to cover unexciting information in detail—such as when he’d give turn-by-turn directions to units certain people may have been visiting since childhood—it would rarely deter him from providing the information anyway; in the event he refrained, he often compensated with different information. Most guests checking in with Honos were eager to praise him—such comments tended to be both about his devotion to his craft and about how easy it was to like him; yet a negligible minority didn’t hesitate to fold their arms, or tut loudly, or attempt earnest conversation with their toddlers—anything to communicate their desire to speed up the check-in encounter once it had exceeded their expectations. Even once he’d finally dispatch them, Honos had no qualms about calling guests back to the desk—no matter how satisfied they had been to go, no matter how far into the parking lot they may have gone—to confirm that he had given them the flyer advertising our towel exchange, for example, a service offered by the housekeeping department which was technically obsolete thanks to the completed installation of washers and dryers.
Due to his exacting nature, Honos was discouraged from performing many of the clerical tasks the front desk had on its daily agenda. Accounting for the six hundred physical room keys that Mom’s House still relied on would take most of us forty-five minutes. For Honos, the process tended to exceed three hours, not only interfering with his availability to assist guests and take phone calls, but occasionally hindering him from addressing the more involved tasks we all had to complete prior to the end of our shifts. After balancing our cash drawers, auditing reports, and ensuring that anything pending in the system was settled, we also had to close down Mom’s itself, for the most part single-handedly. Honos would generally finish going through his mandated checklist an hour after his shift had ended. When he was finally ready to go each day, he would emerge from the employee storage room wearing his coat and carrying his lunchbox, and say goodbye to everyone as he made his way out of the welcome center—for the first time. Rarely would he not re-enter the lobby at least once or twice more, return to his workstation, remove his coat, log back into the computer, and quadruple-check that he had done everything properly. One of his signature habits was to open the compartment where the master keys were stored to make sure that all forty were present. Not because it was part of our job description—on the contrary, he was reprimanded constantly for doing this—but because the thought of a master key disappearing was unconscionable to him. One day I couldn’t resist the urge to ask Honos whether his wife ever got frustrated with him for having to put up with his habitual lateness:
“All the time.”
Even after I got used to Honos’s many scruples, I would still resist his pleas when it came to following protocols verbatim—primarily when we were scheduled to close together. One evening, after taking his final smoke break of the night, he let me know he had just locked the employee entrance, but then panicked when I moved on to other tasks without checking the door for myself:
“Alex, don’t forget about the back door.”
“You just told me you locked it. You’re not lying, right?”
“No. Of course not.”
“All right, then. Let’s go.”
“Wait, I’m lying! I’m lying!”
But although his manner was inflexible when it came to addressing front desk business, being in Honos’s company for an hour always felt like minutes. On evenings when the lobby remained empty for a long period and it wouldn’t yet be time to initiate the closing procedures, we were prone to having restorative conversations, a recurring theme of which was the movies he loved. His all-time favorite was Rocky. He was also fond of Scent of a Woman. An anomalous theme of conversation was the couch in the middle of the lobby. Once, while he was seemingly staring into empty space, I asked him what was on his mind. He said he was thinking about how nice our couch was. As someone with considerable experience sitting on it while waiting for him to finish up, I agreed it was rather comfortable. He brought it up again a few times afterward, wondering aloud whether it was as expensive as it looked. Eventually I asked him what in particular he liked about it. He said it seemed more suitable for sleeping on than the one he had at home. As it turned out, Honos’s nightly routine entailed watching at least one full movie before ever going to sleep, no matter how late he got off work or how tired he was. But since he couldn’t watch the television in his bedroom without disturbing his wife, he had gotten used to falling asleep on the couch in his living room.
“How long has it been since you last slept in the same bed with her?”
“I don’t know, Alex. It’s been years.”
Since not enough people visited Mom’s throughout the day to monopolize our attention, we were relentlessly assigned extracurricular duties. Probably the most dreaded was candy bag bingo. Every Wednesday at 10:00 AM, thirty candy enthusiasts would gather in the middle of the lobby and wait for one of us to leave our post and usher them upstairs to a conference room, where hopefully enough folding tables would be set up, enough chairs would be at those tables, and enough cards would be on those tables to accommodate the bingo aspirants and their chaperones. Upon reaching the entrance, we would have to stymie the momentum of the energized crowd in order to extract five dollars from each participant. Because Minerva ran a highly systematic ship at Mom’s House, taking credit card payments for any purchase, no matter how trivial, required us to write down card information by hand and process the transaction in two different ways on the computer later, a convoluted procedure that nearly gave Deverra a heart attack each time she attempted it. Since Mom’s House was also recovering from a crisis caused by an employee who had stolen nominal sums from her till on a regular basis, balancing cash payments properly was of dire importance to Minerva (Upon finding out that I was short a dime and a penny one afternoon, she looked at me like I had killed a guest). For my first time leading bingo—once I had finished irritating everyone by collecting the entry fee methodically and all were seated, scrutinizing my every move—I touched the lottery machine the wrong way and dozens of balls cascaded out of the hatch, an act which was met with grave silence.
When I returned the balls to the contraption and prepared myself to obtain the first number gracefully, it struck me for the first time just how menacing it feels to have the undivided attention of assembled children. Possibly because I was overly preoccupied with ingratiating myself, I forgot to set an important ground rule prior to the start of the first round: that every participant had to win at least once before anyone could win again. Unfortunately, by the time I realized what a severe oversight I had made, several children had already amassed enormous piles of candy while many other children, who were generally the youngest competitors, had little to show for their determination to sit still and pay attention. All the adults, on the other hand, were looking at me in uniform resentment, even the few who didn’t have kids and had merely shown up for the love of the game.
Although I had never conducted bingo before, I had played enough to know the scientific laws which govern it: there will always be one participant who proves to be incapable of losing no matter how many obstacles are placed in their way (one kid even refused candy at one point, ashamed of his unmatched good fortune), as well as one participant who invariably loses round after round, no matter how well-paved is the path to victory or how many rounds are played. As the half-hour was approaching its end, I called out the numbers offered by the machine with rising anxiety, scanning the look on each child’s face to determine who was the most crestfallen. Finally, an indignant mother took me to task:
“Are you sure that everyone has gotten candy?!”
Statistically it’s possible, woman! Although I had a vague impression that all the children had indeed won at least once by that point, I couldn’t say for sure. Regardless, I resigned myself to my fate, looked the woman in the eye, and said, “Yes.” Anxiously, I waited for a misfortunate child to report their lack of candy and shame me for accidentally teaching everyone about the real world. When none of them did, the woman and I both glanced at each other momentarily with See you in hell written all over our faces. After the game ended and I had returned to the lobby, everybody at the desk merrily asked me how my first time had gone. I upheld the prevailing opinion that candy bag bingo was horrible. The only person who didn’t agree was Honos, who claimed not to hate it. A few weeks later, a concierge representative who attended one of the games he had overseen asked Honos if he would consider becoming an activities specialist. As someone who had covertly witnessed all of us suffering through candy bag bingo at one time or another, she praised him for taking it seriously, describing how the kids that day clearly enjoyed themselves.
Much like her painstaking coworker, Deverra also had a tendency to overlook body language and direct speech no matter how hard she tried not to. During one morning when I was shadowing her, a young couple intending to check out walked into the welcome center a few minutes after the grace period had expired. Deverra let them know they wouldn’t be charged a fee since they weren’t overly late. The man then whispered something suggestive to his partner about their reluctance to get out of bed that morning, leading Deverra—whose sense of humor, I will own, sometimes genuinely made her magnetic—to infer that they’d been having sex: “Guess we all know why you two are late!” she said. The man and woman smiled faintly, Deverra shook her head in inward chastisement, and I stood there quietly, evaluating my life choices. Not long afterward, Deverra handled another late check-out in a way that challenged my preconceived notions about tact. A young woman on the verge of tears hurried into the lobby and told us that she had had an awful vacation, thanks in part to the rudeness of a salesperson who, incidentally, had lied to her about check-out time. “I’m so ready to go home. This week has just been the worst,” she said. “Well, let’s see how we can make today better,” Deverra said. Before the woman had a chance to respond, Deverra completely changed her tone: “Actually, it’s about to get worse. We have to fine you.” A beat. The woman burst into tears, paid the fine, and left. Moments later, her husband stormed into the lobby in a way that reminded me of how Tony Soprano once entered a restaurant to beat the everloving shit out of a guy who had harassed his daughter: testosteronically. The only details I recall from the incident are the first thing he said, “I have never seen my wife like this,” and the last thing Deverra said when he left, “What a good man. Not all husbands would stand up for their wives like that.”
Never one to be outdone by previous selves, Deverra would reduce a second grown adult, a firefighter by trade, to sobs right before our eyes sometime later. All he did to incur Deverra’s wrath was ask about the pet policy. As I was helping him check out, the guest mentioned that his daughter had spent the whole week miserably pointing out the various dogs she would see on the property and wondering why their family couldn’t bring their own dog to Mom’s House. As he further intimated to me while Deverra was standing by, many of the dogs behaved more like stereotypical canines than service animals—the only pets allowed on the resort per a widely ignored policy. Out of nowhere, Deverra took offense with the man’s interest in the capabilities of the dogs in question: “Sir, that is private information. You have no right to ask questions about other guests!” Flummoxed by her outburst, the guest then made the fatal mistake of matching Deverra’s passion. At a point when mutual defensiveness had gotten the better of both, Deverra forced the interaction to end by saying, “Sir, I am uncomfortable. You are making me uncomfortable. I refuse to deal with you any longer.” With that, she left the scene. Seconds later, Minerva, who was somewhat baffled, came out to the desk and politely asked the defeated man for his side of the story. The instant he began trying to speak, his voice cracked, prompting Minerva to usher him into her office for privacy. A few minutes later, “Aurora,” our administrative assistant, joined me at the front and said, “Deverra had every right to treat that man the way she did. That guy was a bully. I know the type. I wouldn't have backed down either.” To which I replied, “I don’t know what she told you, but that guy was far from a bully. He just wasn’t ready for what Deverra brings to the table.”
One of the things Deverra brought to the table was church. In the middle of a slow weekday afternoon, a bearded man in relaxed-fit jeans strolled behind the front desk and glared at one of our computers. He then headed in the direction of Minerva’s office, presumably to single out one of the computer’s many problems and to estimate what it would cost for him to fix it. In the hallway out front, he bumped into Deverra, who, either by intuition or because she had asked him point-blank, recognized that she was in the presence of a kindred spirit. Although they were standing in a heavily trafficked corridor within earshot of every single person who had shown up to work that day, the two engaged in a loud and provocative discussion about the heavenly blueprint of man and woman, the latter of whom, Deverra opined, “ … are supposed to be meek.” In the middle of their conversation, I got a call at the front desk from one of the back offices. It was Aurora. “Are you hearing this shit right now?!” She said they had three seconds to abort their discussion before she would attack. When the pair reached an agreement on society’s major problem: that women no longer deferred to the man as the rightful head of the household, Aurora, true to her word, confronted them with an opening salvo taken out of Deverra’s own playbook: “OK, now I’m uncomfortable,” causing them to dart in opposite directions. Probably since Minerva—who attended a church which frowned upon Finding Nemo because “Nemo” is an anagram for “omen”—secretly agreed with everything Deverra was saying, combined with the likelihood that our HR manager, “Pax,” had run out of ways to discourage the pride Deverra took in being an open book, I was the one asked to talk to her. I decided to point out that since we were all trapped in each other’s vicinity all day, fulminating about delicate matters was a no-go. After I said as much in person, Deverra looked perplexed, though she had been similarly approached in the past. Most employees at Mom’s House, it was true, were unable to restrain themselves when it came to expressing a unique opinion, and no one was ever scolded like Deverra. If she was perplexed when I first talked to her, she was thoroughly dumbfounded when, hours later, I apologized to her for pretending like there wasn’t a double standard regarding her beliefs in particular.
The original front desk manager, “Venus,” a longtime favorite among the guests as well as among her coworkers, resigned just weeks after I was hired. When Minerva opened up the manager position, Aurora encouraged me to apply. Although I was ambivalent about assuming a role that had given Venus daily migraines, I implied to Minerva that I wouldn’t object to the job if it was forcibly thrown in my lap. But just a few days after my interview, which seemed to go well, I withdrew myself from consideration. When I told Deverra, she looked concerned. Even though she had applied to become the manager herself, she often talked about how effective we would be as a team if I were the manager and she were the assistant. Because she had yet to master the software program that Mom’s House used for reservations, Deverra was uneasy about taking on a role requiring much sharper computer acumen. Her hypothetical plan was for us to split the high-level functions; as manager, I would handle the software-intensive aspects of the job, while she would focus on the interpersonal aspects as assistant. Not long after I withdrew my application, we assumed the opposite roles. In a flush of good-feeling and, admittedly, naiveté, I referred to myself once as her vice-president before offhandedly correcting myself, “Actually, I’m more like your secretary of state, since the vice-president doesn’t do very much.” For what seemed like several minutes, she didn’t respond. Before I could say anything else, apropos of absolutely nothing, she yelled for the entire lobby to understand, “I HAVE NOTHING NICE TO SAY ABOUT HILLARY CLINTON!”
On my second day ever at Mom’s House, Venus pointedly instructed the front desk to be on its best behavior. As everyone else automatically understood, her intent was to keep us from stoking the temperament of the board members who ran Mom’s, many of whom would be staying on the property that weekend in advance of their quarterly meeting. As these individuals began arriving that afternoon, I was persistently and ominously advised by my coworkers not to treat them like ordinary guests when checking them in. Much like ordinary guests, however, the board members were both very old—the most powerful was an eternally hatted, hunching gentleman whose only source of internet access was yielded by the Antikythera mechanism attached to the printer in our lobby—and haunted by the notion of disrespect. After I had foolishly asked one of them for his license—a procedure I had been taught to follow unconditionally the day before—he effectively dismissed me from his presence, forcing Venus to take over his check-in. The subsequent board meeting coincided with Deverra’s promotion. As the new front desk manager, Deverra would have been expected to attend the meeting and publicly pledge to support the neverending battle for cost-effectiveness. Out of kindness, Minerva elected not to obligate her to do anything at all. Instead, the general manager organized a preliminary gathering in one of the condos so that her new front desk manager could introduce herself, leaving her free to attend the real meeting alone. On the day of the event itself, once it had gotten underway, Deverra received an urgent message for Minerva. When she went to the conference room to try to deliver it, Minerva rushed over to her new front desk manager, who had been nervous all week about the impression she was making, and instantly shut the door.
Throughout that whole morning, not long after I arrived to open, I had been fielding dozens of complaints from guests who were all in the same predicament: no longer did they have access to running water in their units, a problem we had been dealing with all winter thanks to the susceptibility of our piping system to freezing temperatures. When I called maintenance to report the initial complaint, they informed me that the pipes were not frozen and that they had no idea what the real culprit was. Devoid of explanation and dealing with numerous angry callers, I texted Aurora—who, aside from Minerva, had the most experience working at Mom’s House—to see if she had any advice. After consulting someone with knowledge of the situation, she informed me that an industrial pump in the area had malfunctioned and that it would take a couple of hours for the issue to be fixed.
Although some guests were content to wait, the majority were less than tolerant: at least one third of the resort was scheduled to check out that day, and many of those checking out would’ve preferred to take showers, or to even flush their toilets, before locking themselves in a car with family and driving all the way home. The only solution available to me was to offer the elongating line of unshowered visitors cumbersome five-gallon jugs of water that were meant for the water cooler in the lobby. Had any of them been dying of thirst and not seeking a good deal of pressurized water for hygienic purposes, the solution would possibly have been better received. At one point, a board member who was loitering nearby asked me what was going on. I told her about the water issue.
“And you’re here alone?” Deverra, who hadn’t called ahead, was already an hour late. “Yeah. Someone else will be here soon, though.”
Practically from the first day I started working at Mom’s, I got in the habit of exclusively pestering Aurora whenever I needed help. Not only did she know the most about resort operations, she was also renowned for the ability to strike fear into the heart of an unreasonable human being. Despite her gifts for establishing dominance, however, Aurora adhered to an orthodox tenet of customer service we were all sworn to uphold: give them the pickle. Upon being hired at Mom’s House, new employees are required to watch several training videos, one of which features a restaurant customer who loses his mind when a newly hired waiter doesn’t offer the complimentary pickle he is used to having with lunch at the establishment. Even after the customer presses the issue, the waiter denies him a free pickle, an act which the host of the video condemns: always give them the pickle. After breaking a rule to assist a guest one night, Aurora summed up her actions by saying she didn’t just give the pickle, she gave “the whole fucking jar.” It was no secret that I had spent a lot of time diverting the attention of Mom’s administrative assistant, both to prosecute work-related matters and to avoid them. When a new employee once marveled that Aurora hadn’t flayed me alive after I had made a mistake she was known for not tolerating, Deverra explained that we were both “in each other’s pockets.” One of the last things Deverra did before I resigned was forbid anyone from going to Aurora’s office without permission. She further declared that questions for her would have to be emailed moving forward. The way Aurora’s voice sounded when she said, “So I’m not allowed to talk to him anymore?” froze me, Deverra, Honos, Minerva, “Juno” (Minerva’s boss I didn’t know about), Pax, Nixi, and the guest we were all ignoring, in our tracks. In the aftermath of my resignation, whenever anyone would ask me why I left Mom’s House so abruptly, I explained that the final straw was that Deverra had made these policies. But it was also the asphyxiating nature of the job itself that prompted me to leave; a job whose nature Deverra endured with even less support from the people above her and below her.
My term as assistant manager didn’t last much longer. On the night before my last shift ever, after losing my temper with Deverra earlier that day, I texted her to vent my exasperation. The tone and length of the message stood in contrast with the only message she had ever sent me: “Watching Harry Potter with my kids Alex lol.” When I left the welcome center for good the next morning, neither of us said goodbye. Despite the manner in which we parted, Deverra and I had coexisted sympathetically in the interval between our promotions and the clash we had involving our managerial complexes. She made a point of letting me use her desk, even if she was around. She accidentally called me “sweet boy” from time to time. I started joining her outside during her smoke breaks. During one, as we watched a compilation of cat videos on her phone, I joked that it must have looked bad that both managers were outside laughing and watching videos while everyone else was inside working. She just smiled, unconcerned. On another day when the front desk was slammed, I sat on the ground next to her desk while she showed me a video of her son graduating from military school. As we watched him marching alongside his classmates, she described the different components of the ceremony. Pensively, she remarked that she had never been disappointed with him until recently, when he admitted to having sex with his girlfriend, even though he had promised to wait until marriage. I superficially claimed that abstinence was outmoded and silly. “I know,” she said. “It’s just that he promised. And he’s different from everyone else.”
In light of her sensibilities, Deverra stunned me with the neutrality she showed following a sex-related incident that arose soon afterward. It was one of the last major incidents I would ever have to address at Mom’s House. A young-looking family walked into the lobby and asked to speak to a manager. The parents were visibly upset, apparently because their child had found something objectionable in their unit. They showed a picture of it to Deverra, who apologized frantically. Once the guests had exited the lobby, she turned to me looking utterly dazed. The reason the family was upset was twofold: that an obvious butt plug had been left under their couch by a previous guest and that their child was the first to notice it.
Such a thing would happen from time to time, both at Mom’s and at Dad’s; pornographic DVDs, adult devices, and drugs would turn up in the units, but housekeepers rarely overlooked anything as grievous as a sex toy in a living room. But since they had, in fact, done so, I was asked to draft an official apology on behalf of the resort, and to offer the guests a $70 gift card to our poorly reviewed restaurant—which would be valid for only one week, exactly one year later—as restitution. I told Deverra I would do it on one condition; if I could be the one who explained to Minerva what exactly the object was for. “I bet she already knows what it’s for,” Deverra said unexpectedly. “She’s a worldly woman. She’s done so many amazing things.”
It was standard operating procedure to brief new employees in advance about Honos and Deverra’s respective work habits. While training Nixi early in her tenure one day, Honos asked her to stop what she was doing in the system so he could verify that she wasn’t making any mistakes. When she nonchalantly assured him that everything was fine, he chided her strongly, leaving the wrong first impression. Deverra, for her part, had a tendency to lose patience with coworkers without serious provocation, but only when she was overwhelmed by the stress of being manager and had started to doubt whether she could depend on me to back her up. Midway through one busy afternoon, Nixi voluntarily showed up forty-five minutes early to help out by answering phones. As soon as she got to the desk, Deverra vaguely let her know she was in “big trouble,” without bothering to specify what she was in trouble for. Nixi then looked at me and I shook my head, indicating that Deverra was just having a rough day. But other than the fact that it was customary to brief people ahead of time about their habits, Honos and Deverra—who were standing side-by-side the moment I walked into Mom’s House for the first time—had little in common. Except, that is, for how difficult it was for either to leave work for good. As I was exiting the welcome center one night shortly after being hired, I noticed that Deverra was still in her car in the parking lot, over an hour after she had clocked out. The next day, after once again leaving well past the end of her shift, she once again spent a long time idling in her car. I asked a maintenance worker what she was waiting for. He had no idea. Evidently she was just sitting there in her winter jacket, smoking and staring at her cell phone in the darkness. Although she would do this daily, no matter what time her shift ended, and although I would end up learning many different things about her personal life, one thing I never found out is why Deverra—much like Honos; who, nonetheless, had other reasons for doing the same thing himself every day—always stayed at Mom’s House far longer than she had to before ever going home.
Alejandro Rendón, 29 years old, was raised in Virginia. He recently finished his first manuscript "Miranda." Currently, he is working on a book about WWII called "For Gallantry."