I have been so fascinated and obsessed by this business of presentations and salesmen and faux free handouts to vacationeers that I start my day actively in search of the man who seals the time-share deal, the Closer.
I throw on my clothes, gargle, and to Carole, still in bed, and curled up with Max—well, not really; they both are doing their best to capitalize on a fairly uncomfortable mattress that, for the duration of our stay has played havoc with our sleep patterns, giving us all the appearance of curling up together but in essence necessitates the fetal curl to avoid a pervasive stiffness on one or both sides of the spine that does not recede until we either stretch with purpose and determination about two-thirty each afternoon or begin the third drink about nine each night—to Carole I whisper, “I’m off to meet a Closer. It’s my destiny. Back soon. I love you.” I kiss the foreheads of wife and child, stand slowly so as not to anger the kink in my back, lingering now like a two-day cold front, and leave the room.
At the lobby’s coffee cart, I meet an Apple Vacations representative wearing a shirt of floral patterns way too vivid for my eyes. His name is Xavier, and he looks like a young Ted Danson.
I say, “I heard a rumor that it’s possible to walk into a group of Closers and actually live.”
Xavier considers me a moment, smiles, and agrees. “But,” he says, “I have never actually tried this.”
Upstairs now near the Concierge station, I approach a Concierge named Luis from Tabasco.
“So, Tabasco is not only a sauce?” I ask in Spanish. Surprisingly, even with my rusty high school language education, this is very easy to ask in Spanish.
Luis laughs. “Yes. It is also a place.”
Yet, I haven’t at all softened him up for anything. He’s a Concierge, and by the very nature of his work—more accurately: his opportunity—he must be prepared to soften the guest, to begin developing a psychological profile—temperament, dress, level of eye contact and dilation, body language, place of residence, strengths and vulnerabilities.
He starts to pull a ticket from his shirt pocket. “Have you. . .?”
My hand on his arm, I stop him.
The Concierge is the first line of offense in this cat-and-mouse game with the guest, the guest who has already paid for an all-inclusive package averaging $120 a day, plus airfare. And they are shamelessly, unapologetically—sorry: apology doesn’t even belong in consideration here—aggressive. Again if we are to believe that they receive no salary, they depend entirely on commissions of $125 for each successful seduction. Successful here means agreeing to a 90-minute tour and presentation of time sharing opportunities. One a day would gross a Concierge $30,000 annually, less whatever they use as bait with us. My Concierge has given me an example: “If I offer you $100 to attend the tour, I make a commission of $25.” I’m guessing she does not often offer $100.
Once hooked, the guest is gutted and stuffed by the Liner at breakfast. These guys are unwaveringly handsome, confident, and prone to eating sparsely populated plates of fruit and maybe a bran muffin. All this across from their prey’s heaping plates of scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, chicken fajitas, and fried hash brown triangles.
For the most part, these breakfasts consist of the Liner sitting directly across from the engaged half of the couple—in my week’s experience, almost exclusively the wife. Seated dourly between them, grazing on his pancake or omelette or all-bran cereal, staring at his plate or an unfocused point straight past the empty chair, into space, is some variation of the Lawn Mower, and if he weren’t chewing on breakfast his jaw would still be in tense motion. These pairings are largely middle-aged, thinly veiling a suburban retirement that grows further and further out of reach with each passing Liner-grasped minute.
With even a small knowledge of U.S. communities, the Concierge and the Liner can make a few broad assumptions about a guest’s demographic and disposition. They way we dress, the jewelry we wear, table manners, eye contact, confidence in conversation, our degree of willingness absorb information: like a large jigsaw puzzle for children, the psychological and economic profile is pieced together, the information compartmentalized into a rubric for presentation to the Closer, our vacationeer taxidermist, who can swing the fence-sitters with things such as free airline tickets and various gratis upgrades.
Well, maybe the economic profile was easier two years ago, before the economic downturn. Not that it matters to the Concierge, Liner, or Closer, whose motivation largely shuns personal narrative and appears, even with purported empathy, to be the profit of the game itself.
Here’s the rub. Consider the young couple we meet early in our stay. Both from Poland, living in Chicago a dozen years now. She works in HR at a sports club; he’s a carpenter. Their son is about the same age as Max. They forewent a honeymoon and saved their money for 11 years in order to have this vacation. They check in only to find a horrible stench in their end of the hallway and room and a broken air conditioner. Not until the fourth day of their seven-day stay is the Occidental able to change their rooms.
Something is terribly wrong on a food chain in which they endure that scenario, and we get a free upgrade because I stole a spoon.