He wasn’t rich enough to stay at the hotel for more than a week, or for that matter to actually afford anything more than a tourist trap resort hotel which in itself held all the trappings of actual luxury while at the same time telling you that a lot of people occupied that space and most of them wore cameras strapped across pot-bellies. The hotel came with the standard deep red lobby carpeting that tried to imply sophistication, but that was offset by the large mirrored chandelier hanging above the front desk which reflected stains and the unfortunate wallpaper. It was clear that while the hotel was expensive, it wasn’t a haunt of the actual wealthy. There was also a pool, which held again, everything one would picture in a pool at a movie star’s house. That is with the conspicuous lack of movie stars.
He was travelling alone of course, and paying “good money” for this place, and therefore it was beyond reproach. He was dressed uneasily, in clothes that weren’t used to being worn on that type of person. It wasn’t especially warm out but the shorts were worn with commitment—no doubt he had paid “good money” for them as well. He gave the impression of someone who normally wore a tie and in the absence of one he looked more like something was tied tightly around his neck. He wore his shoes by the poolside because he would not wear his flip-flops, because he believed that he was not the type of person to wear socks with sandals. Passers-bye thought the opposite. He had of course paid “good money” for a bathing suit which lay still folded, and packed, in his suitcase three stories up in his moderately sized room, unused. His reasoning was of course, that he did not know what to do with the contents of his pockets (which included his wallet and room key) which he didn’t want to get wet and wouldn’t leave out in the open for anyone to take. He wasn’t stupid.
He resolved this dilemma by ordering a drink from a too-friendly bar attendant and musing that it was nice and warm out and he didn’t feel like getting in the water. He also had the impression that when he finally did jump in the water, it would be around the time everyone else had been getting out anyways. He never did seem to be doing the same thing as everyone else, though he might admit that it was not for lack of trying. The drink was a hotel special, which meant it was nine dollars and tasted mostly like a pina colada, and when it arrived he charged it to his room and sipped it pensively. He cast an occasional look around the pool deck as if to say to no one in particular; ok, now what? His expression was hard to pinpoint through his flip-down sunglass lenses attached to prescription frames, but a slight downturn in the corner of his mouth was the only thing that might suggest he was anything but perfectly contented.
How long had he been sitting there that day? The day before he’d tried the indoor pool and found it to his vague kind of liking. It had also been completely empty as the sun had really come out that day. He could imagine people there now who didn’t feel like putting on a brave face for the only warm weather and the partial cloud cover. Then the other day was check in, where he took a long nap in his room after thinking about unpacking. His suitcase remained loosely packed. That night he’d put on a striped polo shirt and a pair of kakis (which had only been a poor choice of attire as that was the night he’d worn his sandals) and gone out to try one of the local restaurants. The food was good, but something about the scenery, the wait staff, and even the clientele gave him the impression that he hadn’t left the hotel. He felt awkward ordering from them, servers in general, whenever they looked down at you from their notepad full of secret shorthand writings about your order, maybe even quick judgments about you to share with the cook and have a laugh about. He wasn’t rich enough to be comfortable when the wait staff laughed at his jokes, but was still well-off enough that it happened.
So now here he was, casting the odd glances around the pool with that hint of dissatisfaction across his face while inwardly already telling colleagues and relatives that “Puerto Rico was great” and he’d “loved his hotel” and he “was having a great time.” He put a special emphasis on that last part, as someone in his office (he couldn’t remember who) had given him the flip-down sunglass lenses, and they probably expected to see a return on their investment in the form of enthusiastic retellings of vacation hijinks. For something to do, he ran a hand through his sandy-colored and thin hair, coarse from the lack of complimentary conditioner, and his misunderstanding that shampoo and conditioner were not always the same thing. He watched some of the other vacationers by the pool, skipping from person to person, feeling slightly guilty whenever they happened to land on a bikini-clad twenty-something or a gaggle of college co-eds. To make up for it, he’d then glance over at the nearest pod of the elderly or portly as they performed activities ranging from lounging to full-on sleeping, which he pretended to have a mild interest in. He tried watching some of the children as they darted in and out between lawn chairs and cannon-balled into the pool next to the “no jumping” sign, but abandoned it as he kept imagining a scenario where someone noticed his politely interested people-watching and make all sorts of accusations, for which his continued protests would only seem to legitimize. He then experimented with closing his eyes, then opening them, then closing them again because maybe he hadn’t done it right the first time. He wished he hadn’t left his book on his bed and his sweater was still balled up in his suitcase.
He sat up and got to his feet thinking that going back to the room to get them would be something to do for at least the next five minutes. He walked towards the door out of the pool courtyard, back toward the main wing of the hotel while the sagging corner of his mouth twitched upward for a moment now that he had some form of occupation. And, he thought, if the weather is better and my chair is taken, I will have to bring them both back to the room as well. The prospects of such events raised his spirits all the way to his room and back to the courtyard, but the weather as it happened was the same, and nobody had even paid him enough mind as to steal his lawn chair, so he might walk up and say to a stranger “Excuse me, I was sitting there,” and while smiling wryly adding “so you’ll have to move over.” This was merely funny when he mused it might be another man who stole his chair, whom he might befriend, dine with, drink with, and correspond afterwards thinking back “ah those were the days, I wonder what Pete is up to now…?” And when it was a lady sitting in his pilfered lawn chair, it was funny and charming, and his mind would revisit all those same activities however with an altogether different color to them. He had taken it as a given that he would meet people on this vacation, and three days in he had to conclude that people didn’t really meet each other on vacation. Everyone had come with someone.
He opened his book and began to read, and turned three pages when he realized he hadn’t taken in a word of it as he was still glancing around the courtyard at people in vague hopes that there might be some opportunity to walk up with a swagger and a joke to a complete stranger and have it not be weird. All the simulations he ran in his head concluded however that it would be, so he flipped his pages back and read again. This time he made it a whole page before his mind began to wander again. A bar attendant who remembered his name refreshed his drink and was nice to him, and it made him feel more uncomfortable. He always felt uncomfortable when people whose job was to be nice to him were nice to him; he always suspected it was just because it was their job. Back home he was used to gloomy cashiers and moody high-school students behind fast-food counters, and the general assumption that as the customer you were imposing on them and they would talk about you with their coworkers after you left. They weren’t nice to you while you felt yourself imposing, that would just have been cruel. As he sipped the next drink he tried to calculate the probability that the bar attendant wasn’t just drawn over to him because of a kind demeanor, and laughed and joked with him not merely for a better tip but because she felt de-stressed, like she could be herself with him, that she didn’t feel the pressure that all these other tourists put on her with their orders and pleases and thank yous. This vision occupied the same metaphysical space as the bartenders and private dicks of noir films where phrases like “tell me your troubles” and “here’s lookin’ at you” could be bandied about freely. He had an idea of what flirting entailed, and was eager for a chance to try it out.
It was while he was ordering the third drink from a different bar attendant that he realized he had a problem. Realized isn’t the right word—the problem had been dawning on him ever since he thought at his desk one day at work, “I could really get out of here for a few days,” but it really dawned on him when over the shoulder of the bar attendant standing over him he saw a string of little lights wrapped around a palm tree blink on in what he just now realized was the low light of early dusk. People had been leaving the poolside in search of whatever other pursuits these people engaged in, and he could help but feel just a twinge of jealousy—the thought they were too cool to stay in the hotel all day and if it weren’t for people like that he wouldn’t be alone in the hotel for most of the day. He realized as he accepted the drink what the problem was and that there was no solution. In his mind’s eye he pictured himself sitting opposite the bar attendant, with a large oak desk between them as the bar attendant surveyed him behind a somber pair of reading glasses, in an office that made him think of the high school guidance counsellor who he hadn’t seen much of back in the day.
“Well, what is the problem, Sir?” The bar attendant would ask in flawless English (he felt nervous being served and cleaned after and cooked for by non-English speakers; the guilt of so many foreigners waiting hand and foot on the almost exclusively white American tourist body was almost overwhelming). He would look down at his lap, then back up to the bar attendant’s somber eyeglasses and sigh. “Well,” he would reply as the bar attendant listened seriously, possibly a pen poised in his hand to take notes, “I suppose the problem is… I just don’t feel welcome.” The bar attendant would make a note and look very concerned—that was after all the service they as a hotel were meant to provide, and he as a customer was entitled to it, having paid “good money” for the privilege of staying there. It would be a serious matter, for which the bar attendant would suggest many immediate treatments, actions, and vouchers to ensure that all staff knew to provide him with extra quantities of welcome.
Then of course, by nature of the solution, he would now know that they were merely being nice to him for the sake of the job, and if he were to attract that kind of niceness unsolicited, he would already have. No, he thought, feeling ridiculous and self-conscious about his imaginings as he took the drink and charged it again to his room and sipped it. There is no solution.