Giving Good Head(s)

Given my druthers, I’d live in a hotel. Everything about them fascinates me – and I travel as much to experience a new location as I do to experience a new property. Given that, ‘Heads in Beds’ is my new favorite book. It’s the story of Jacob Tomsky’s hotel adventures, and his journey from a parking valet to a front desk agent, and it held me captivated from page one. At turns riotous, clever, despondent, and inspiring, the tale has you rooting for Tomsky as he navigates the often-soul-sucking service world, where the customer is always (yet never) right. While most of us only know what it’s like to be on the receiving side of the counter, it’s a testament to Tomsky’s voice and narrative that we feel like one of the insiders. If anything, this book is a powerful defense of those helping us out on a daily basis, and a much-needed reminder that no one is better than anyone else just because they have more money.

That’s the most potent part of the proceedings, and the thing that stayed with me long after I finished the last page. Tomsky brings a nobility to hotel service, and a sense of honor to employment. Kindness and loyalty are, today, mostly forgotten virtues. Compassion is largely gone too. He never loses sight of those traits, even in the face of rude clients, unbearable managers, and shady co-workers. It comes through, even in the most disturbing and hilarious stories, mostly due to his erudite, witty way with words, blended in an impossibly seamless way with his raw New York/New Orleans vernacular. North and South, silly and serious, compassionate and cold, Tomsky manages a fine balancing act with his prose, while liberally sprinkling enough helpful hints to aid the most hapless hotel guest into getting superior service. Sometimes all it takes is some genuine kindness. Some genuine gratuity doesn’t hurt either – and if there’s one concrete take-away I’ll bring to my next hotel stay, it’s the latter.

I’ve always thought of myself as a decent tipper – nothing less than twenty percent to wait-staff (unless I witness cruelty or apathetic ineptitude), twenty-five to thirty percent for a good haircut (that doesn’t involve a lot of mindless chatter or ear-nicking) – and I always remember to tip the bell-men, housekeepers, and taxi-drivers (as well as the guys who get the taxi-drivers to stop). Thanks to ‘Heads in Beds’, I’ve learned to tip the front desk agents as well – which will bode well for future trips.

My cheap friends usually scoff at this, but tipping, to me, is never a waste. Maybe it’s a superstitious desire on my behalf to build up good karma (God knows I need all the help I can get), but it’s also about knowing what it’s like to be in a service position. Four years in retail (and a brief but life-altering two weeks as a bus-boy) schooled me on what it’s like to deal with the public. There should be a mandatory life-course for everyone: in order to receive service, you must first work in a service position for at least a year. The world would be a better place for that.

Author Jacob Tomsky

Tomsky gives a face to the faceless, reminding all of us guests that behind the uniform and name-tag is another human being. In Tomsky’s case, it’s a guy who only wants to help you out while making a living providing exceptional service. In the end, ‘Heads in Beds’ will not only leave you a better hotel guest, but a better person. That’s worth more than a Benny.

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