I’m a desk clerk in a small privately-owned hotel, and that’s an awkward situation for me because,
fundamentally I’m an inward, and by that I mean socially inept, individual. Dealing with strangers
on a daily basis is not just difficult for me—demanding an exuberance for my fellow man which I
simply do not posses—it is slightly painful at times, at times embarrassing. And, because I have a
very low tolerance for either idiocy or pretence, sometimes it becomes almost unbearable.
It’s natural, I think, at this point for you to ask how I managed to get into this situation. I’ve gnawed
on that so many times that I’ve shattered teeth in the process, but that will be explained in time.
The mystery is how I remain. Why FATE should waste so much effort keeping me in this utterly
hopeless, painful and senseless situation is beyond me. Clearly the gods have taken a real
disliking to Henry Edward Fool.
May I say quickly here that Will Rogers was an idiot. He’s the one who famously declared, “I never
met a man I didn’t like.”
It would be impossible for me to count all the people I’ve met with whom I want nothing to do
whatsoever. At age 62 if I could choose the people I have contact with, first would be my delightful
wife, and after that the list would be very short indeed. Yet, I find myself surrounded every minute
of every day with strangers. To complicate things, my defenses are such that many of these
strangers, guests at this hotel, believe that I am something which I am not; that I am cold or
arrogant, or that I am indifferent to their needs, that I don’t like people in general, or, worst of all
perhaps, that I am French. None of that is true.
At any rate, true or not, our guests are not all immediately enthralled with me—some seem to
develop an almost immediate distaste for me—and because of that I live under constant
reproach. When a guest is dissatisfied, my name is very often attached to their complaint. This
may be mainly because in most cases I’m the one who responds to their call. Whatever the cause
of it, I believe their distaste for me is largely a psychological matter, and largely their own. Until
you’ve read more, if you can, please just accept this as fact: many people checking into a hotel
have needs far above and beyond a nice, clean, comfortable and safe place to sleep. I’ve had
years of experience in this business and I know what I’m talking about. Many people checking into
a hotel have extraneous needs, and, whenever those needs aren’t met, it’s the staff’s fault.
They have a point of course when one of those needs is for the constant reassurance that they
are superior beings and it becomes our job to supply that assurance by professing our own
inferiority through both word and gesture, whenever we find ourselves in their presence. I have to
admit that I either can not or will not make any effort to fulfill this need in any guest, and the more
glorious they are, the less I am willing to contribute to the illusion. You can probably see already
how that might lead to trouble.
What’s unfair about that arrangement (and I speak only for myself here, not for the hundreds of
thousand of hotel and restaurant employees throughout the world who know exactly what I am
talking about) is that I am only allowed to express my feelings about such guests through a
somewhat brittle courtesy; guests however may express their displeasure with me through long
scathing, rambling diatribes, riddled with childish vindictiveness and incised with great force into
stacks of cheap, pastel-colored, personalized stationary, with winged hearts in the corners, and
mail all of that still-steaming vitriol, in matching envelopes, directly to my boss. It is amazing how
many see that option and seize upon it. This book is, in part, my defense to some of the
accusations found in such letters.
It would only disrupt the flow of things for me to say here that many people, many guests, actually
enjoy doing business with me, and that some guests have, over the years, become good friends.
So I won’t do that. Nor, will I slow things down by stopping here to say that my wife, who knows me
best, thinks of me as a thoughtful, kind and somewhat goofy guy who is generally good-natured
and not too rarely in a good mood. (I wanted to be absolutely sure of that statement, and, after
checking with her, I feel comfortable letting it stand.)
Before you pass judgment on the matter however, let me first ask you something and then, let me
tell you something.
Here’s the question I’d like to ask:
Are you in a position where every waking moment of every day, wherever you go and whatever
you may be doing, you are likely to bump into complete strangers who expect you to treat them
as if there could be no greater joy on earth than for you to run into them at that very moment?
That’s the question.
I ask you this because that’s my situation.
Now, the thing I’d like to tell you is this: The average length of ownership of a bed and breakfast
is 5 years, 2 months.
I have no doubt that my readership will grasp the implication of that statistic immediately, but, in
case this book has fallen into other hands, let me explain.
That means that people who consider themselves gregarious; who go about every day chirping
joyously about how much they just love people; who, for as long as they can remember have
hoped and prayed and yearned and planned and saved and pleaded in all earnestness with
pure, aching, innocent hearts for the chance to—if God grants wishes—find themselves in the
hospitality business (breathe here) after a few years of it, want nothing more sincerely than to
GET OUT of the hospitality business.
People who make their living selling these places rarely tout that fact in their chirpy little B&B
seminars however. They never tell you that it will take you nearly as long to off-load one of these
nightmares as it takes you to discover that dealing with guests every goddamned minute of every
miserable day of your rapidly ebbing life is not the dream you had once supposed it would be.
That almost half of those 5 years and 2 months will be spent, first casually but ultimately
desperately, seeking someone—anyone—dumb enough to take the damned place off your
hands, is a carefully guarded, unspoken truth.
With my slightly misanthropic tendencies, my general disregard for authority of any sort, my
contrary nature, my apparent arrogance—which shields a genuine fundamental shyness—and
my driving desire just to be left alone (with my wife, a cello, a dog, a cat, a few books) for long,
prolonged, and extended periods, the “hospitality industry” is the very worst possible business for
me to find myself in. There is no doubt about that.
It would be difficult to find any man less suited to the task of welcoming people warmly.
My father once joked with me saying that he is always glad to see everybody; some people he’s
glad to see arrive and others he’s glad to see leave. It’s the old classic joke. In response I told
him, “You know, Dad, I’d be more than glad never to see anyone, ever.” And that was not a joke.
Nonetheless, in my trial by guest, I hope to ultimately be found innocent. The working theory is
that God will intervene and produce a miracle to save the truly innocent from such a trial—and I
still have my hopes—but no such miracle has yet occurred. The theory is that the innocent will
remain untouched, or lacking that, unscarred by their ordeal, but that doesn’t apply any more.
But, who other than the innocent would choose to subject themselves to such a trial? Only a fool.
I rest my case.
TRIAL BY GUEST
An Accurate Accounting of the Various Reasons
Why I Should Be Hung
HENRY EDWARD FOOL