closer . . .
The Occidental Grand Discovery \ Breathing
Dear Blanca,

And then I thought that maybe your Closers walked among us, incognito, like an alien or a spy, waiting for the right moment to pounce, because I never knowingly met one.

It was a blow, really, to my perceived journalistic and observational talent. One afternoon, a bit forlorn about the whole thing, I took Max for a walk on the grass in front of your ocean-front buffet. Max scampered toward a man. I chased after him. The man asked if we wanted to see a really big iguana. Now, that might’ve turned into a bad joke at, say, the lobby bar of a Marriott, but there really was a really big iguana sunning herself on a rock, here in Mexico.

As Max stared, mesmerized, at the reptile, the man and I got to talking. A French Canadian, he said he was, from Montreal. So I began to recite for him the French that Carole taught me while we were dating, just before I met her family in Paris. Translated: “I cannot eat spicy food because it makes me hiccup. My girlfriend is very spicy but she does not make me hiccup.”

These words were significant because a) they were true, b) at the time they constituted my entire knowledge of the French language, and c) they got me through an entire—and successful—week of meeting Carole’s family. The rest of the time I mostly just smiled like Stan Laurel, slightly befuddled and the better alternative to crying over the bizarrity of life around us. Me and Stan Laurel.

And here at the Occidental Grand Xcaret, sitting before me, enjoying the sun and the wind, keeping tabs on the iguanas, finally, is my Closer. I have met The Occidental Closer, and the entire brief experience was—and still remains—my great pleasure.

His name is Normand. Right away he tells me that he also hiccups when eating spicy food. Right away, we have established connection. And right away he begins to encourage me to visit Montreal. (RCI, the resort group to which you belong, has eight properties in and around Montreal and another eight in the Province of Quebec.)

Normand cites the restaurants, the culture, the museums, the Montreal Jazz Festival, “where only three people have been killed in its entire history,” he says proudly. A bit of a stretch of a major selling point, but with festival now in its 30th year, one death every 10 years or so really is pretty low; my chances of survival, I calculate, would be excellent.

His pitch continues the next evening, our last at the Occidental, where we join Normand and his brother at Le Buffet for dinner. He’s brought a bottle of wine; we’ll have two more before the night is over. The thing is: I don’t mind in the least that he’s pitching Montreal to us. I want to visit Montreal, especially now, after spending such lovely time with Normand, a Closer par excellence, and his brother, who are not in your purview because they are not employed by the Occidental hotel group. They’re guests, very different from us, but guests, just like us.

Our rhythm of conversation is instantaneous. Topics are free flowing. We talk of music and literature and movies, the Occidental, the nature of time shares. Normand tells us how he became a quadriplegic (car crash, July 1980, 11 years, he says, after Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon), how he spends much of his time with various groups promoting auto safety, how, a year before his accident, he bicycled from Vancouver down to San Diego.

How monumental and bittersweetly satisfying, Blanca, to have accomplished such a thing a year before losing the ability to walk.

And he’s funny as hell.

Rather than selling, Normand has engendered something far more lasting, endearing, valuable: by sheer presence, bonhomie, and gift of gab, he’s bound us in friendship. Our mutual commission is a time share of stories and commonalities and discovery, an organic interaction based on the pressureless desire to communicate.
Dear Blanca,

I get the Concierge/Liner/Closer angle. It’s business. It’s how these people make a living. Only, a vacation for us means a vacation. And the Occidental Grand Xcaret, on a daily basis, glitched that.

A week into our stay I meet Enrico, another Concierge for our building. He’s muy friendly, really, and has a choir-boy’s face, replete with rosy cheeks. I’d recommend him for the clergy if his commission schedule doesn’t pay the bills. Maybe Enrico is a great salesman. Worse, maybe his good-natured approach is a technique. But he’s seemingly just too nice, and I’ll take that at face value.

By now I’m battle-tested and, with proper eyeglasses, I might well qualify for Lawn Mower status. Still, I can’t help myself. While he tries to introduce his offers, I dance and subvert the subject until he says, “Have you taken our—”

“Whup,” I say, stopping his momentum. “Enrico, I like you too much for us to go down that path. So what I want you to do is breathe with me.”

“But have you—?”

“Breathe with me, Enrico. Breathe. Inhale.” We inhale together. “Hold.” We hold. “Good. Now exhale.” And we do. “Once more….Excellent. You’ve done very well.” I pat him on the back and get on with my day.

This is the Concierge with whom I will engage in deep-breathing exercises twice more before we leave Mexico. He will not make $125 from us, but we will breathe together, with purpose.

Really, Blanca, in these moments it feels like I’ve taken a working vacation.

Still, I want to let you off the hook. Because I’ve been closing in on this all along: your resort provided a place where my little man Max scampered up a hill and allowed us to meet Normand. You don’t owe me. Let’s call it even and walk away.

Also, I’ve taken home two glasses from our hotel room at the Occidental. Carole really liked them. I kept them locked in the room safe for eight days, then rolled them carefully inside the suitcase, and I want you to know that they arrived intact.

Please tell me if you want the glasses returned.

I’ll mail them.

Hal Klopper
hal max klopper occidental grand