Prelude: I Stole a Spoon

January 20, 2010

Blanca Bartely
Assistant to David Ocete,
Director General en Occidental Grand Xcaret
Carretera Federal Chetumal – Puerto Juarez Km. 282, #307
77710 Solidaridad, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Dear Ms. Bartely:

My wife and I are looking forward to our stay at The Occidental Grand Xcaret with our son, from this Friday through the 31st of January.

Three years ago, we spent our honeymoon at the Occidental Grand Aruba. One day, I borrowed a spoon from a friendly waiter to eat some yogurt we’d purchased at a local grocery. He asked if I’d kindly return the spoon when I was done; I assured him I would.

Three years later, I’ve yet to return that spoon. I think about the Occidental whenever I see it (about once a week). And I don’t lose a lot of sleep over this, but that spoon still looms large.

Now, finally: with our upcoming visit, I have my opportunity to return the spoon—if not to Aruba at least to the Occidental Hotel group.

Please forward this message to Mr. Ocete so that I may present him with The Occidental Spoon upon our arrival.

Muchas gracias,

Hal Klopper

P.S. I am unfamiliar with the terms of a complimentary upgrade, though I hope you consider that my good-faith effort with The Occidental Spoon will qualify us.


From: Blanca Bertely
Date: January 21, 2010 10:42 AM EST
To: Hal Klopper
Subject: The Occidental Spoon

Good Morning Mr. Klopper. First I would like to thank you for choosing our Grand Xcaret for your next holiday place, its nice to hear that our clients come back and that you had a good experience at the Grand Aruba. We will be glad to receive the spoon back. In behalf of our GM, I can confirm you a free upgrade to a Junior Suite upon availability at check in time.

Please let me know if you require special bedding request.

Best regards:

Blanca Bertely
Asst. Manager
Occidental Grand Xcaret


From: Hal Klopper
Date: January 21, 2010 11:17:38 AM EST
To: Blanca Bertely
Subject: The Occidental Spoon

Good morning, Ms. Bertely.

Please pardon my not spelling your name correctly in yesterday’s message to you.

We are most grateful for the generosity of your upgrade. A mattress pad would be most appreciated for the bedding; if your Junior Suite comes equipped with a king-size bed, that would be great.

Also, if our room has any spoons, please remove them. I just don’t want to be tempted again.

We look forward to our stay and to meeting you.


Hal Klopper

We Fly / We Meet the Concierge

Dear Blanca,

Next to Carole on the flight over was a large man whose volume seemed slightly more than the seat designed to contain him. Well, to be a bit more blunt: his girth spilled into Carole’s personal airspace. I realize this may not be within your purview. Still, I want you to know the crowded mindset that we’re bringing to the Occidental.

Oh, and he spoke—mostly too loudly—on what may or may not have been actual cell phone calls. That was at the airport in Charlotte, where the man at the gate took one look at Carole’s French passport and said, “You have to open to the picture page,” as he looked away, not to other official airport business, just away from someone carrying a French passport.

You have to open to the picture page.

We bring such mantras to your resort.

On the flight to Cancun’s airport, our flight attendant was friendly in a fairly frightening way. First, he told me I couldn’t keep Max in the papoose during takeoff or landing, and when Carole asked why he started talking about the odds of child vs. adult survival in the event of a crash. Then he told us about seeing a tarantula yay-big—here he made an oval wide as a manhole cover—in a parking lot in Xcaret. And he made much of spotting this tarantula in a common parking lot—made it sound, really, like a Kmart parking lot in Peoria—and not in the exotic, mysterious jungle, where tarantulas belong.

And oh, he said, there are scorpions.

Then, as he started to slouch down the aisle to catch up to the drink cart, his lips mysteriously managed to arc back to my ear, and they stage-whispered, “But what’s worst are the mosquitoes.”

I realize USAir flight attendants are probably not within your sphere of influence. Still, maybe your people could speak to their people and ask them to tone down the fear-mongering. We think it might be better for business.

Presentation of The Occidental Spoon
to Ms. Blanca Bertely, Assistant Manager
Occidental Grand Xcaret

Dear Blanca,

Please do something about the Concierge situation. Ours made us feel very important by interrupting a meeting with another guest to introduce herself to us. Later, after she’d made us dinner reservations at two of your specialty restaurants, she tried to sell us on the idea of a 90-minute tour of your property for a time-share thing.

“You’d really be helping me out,” she said, with a smile that remains kind of creepy in my memory.

Frankly, I’ve not come all the way here to help out a Concierge. If she needs help, she should call Maintenance. Or a therapist.

(A few nights into our stay, our taxi driver, 27, will tell us he makes good money and lives in a four-bedroom house with his wife, a psychologist, and their two daughters and a dog, Paco, and a television set wide as one hand at the driver’s window and the other hand halfway into the passenger seat, and they’ve been to Xcaret Park seven times and Disneyland once. So maybe your Concierge could moonlight as a taxi driver. Or seek therapy from our taxi driver’s wife. Or go to Disneyland.)

Later, I flat-out lied to her, told her we were trying to buy a house in the south of France; all of our resources, besides this trip and our son’s education fund, were dedicated to the investment, and anyway we’re here to spend quality time together, which doesn’t include a time-share presentation. She wouldn’t take no for an answer; I wouldn’t give yes to her question. This is called a standoff; I feel like we’re playing the part of the Alamo.

Of course, she tried again yesterday with a faux change of subject, offering us two free tickets to Xcaret Park. I told her that I’d accept her generous offer with one condition: that free meant absolutely free, as in: she gives us two tickets, we go to the park, end of story.

She answered, with a smile that continues to creep me out, “But of course you must first go to breakfast and join a small presentation and tour of our Royal Club.” Which sounded a lot like her first offer. I refused.

To put this into perspective, Carole met a sweet, deflated couple from Canada (those Canadians are everywhere around here, melted Macintosh Toffee bars oozing like hot lava toward beach and buffet) who were duped into the time-share presentation by a nasty hustler who nabbed them at the airport; they got pressed through the presentation mill, from an offer of two weeks at $5,000 to two weeks at $4,000 to one week at $3,000 to one week at $2,000 (which you can readily arrange on Travelocity).

For their time, they were given two free tickets to Xcaret Park at half price. You read that correctly.

The Russian Maybe

Body Types \ A Receipt / I meet a Lawn Mower

Dear Blanca,

A few moments with the body types you attract to your resort.

  • The Sad Male Breasts. With varying degrees of submission to gravity, from downright perky to bona fide C-cup, they are, in need of comfort, sad.
  • The Fat Man’s Waddle. The girth of these men is that of a cannonball, barely contained within the walls where the stomach once was, about to impact with heartburn. Due to the girth, the arms cannot swing freely, down at the sides, and so they appear shortened. Yet swing they must, and the arms of the waddling fat man swing more rapidly, excitedly, like Tattoo on “Fantasy Island” exclaiming to Mr. Roarke, “Boss! Ze buffet! Ze buffet!”
  • The Quebecker Sisters. There are but two of them here. Extraordinarily large women, they carry themselves with a certain grace and gentleness. So, too, are they soft spoken, and enthusiastically yet softly they speak of how marvelous the buffet is, they’ve never had better food in their lives, they’ve been here two weeks. And so it is that the Quebecker Sisters are a category unto themselves.
  • The Russian Maybe. This is a man speaking Russian, 40-60 years old, skin a lobster red, hair freshly cut Putin-short before it could spontaneously Brezhnev. His arms and chest are in fightingly good form, as are his thighs, calves, and neck. It is his belly, which begins at the top of the ribcage, rounds outward, horizontally zeniths where the belly button should be, begins but a slow curve past its horizon, and, under cover of a swimsuit—curiously, usually yellow—disappears into what one imagines to be a complete and total roll, enveloping testicles and johnson in what may be the world’s first human sushi.
  • The Lawn Mowers. With short buzz-cut hair, possibly reflecting former or current military branch affiliation, these all-white, mostly American men seemingly cannot decompress. Their chins are close to their chests, like cards in a poker game amongst strangers and one guy you know but don’t like. They seem to be grinding—or sharpening—teeth under clenched jaws. To the point: these men are having no fun whatsoever. They don’t seem to have a need or even a longing for the privacy of pushing a lawnmower in the back yard between beer chugs, listening to AM talk radio or the game on 1980s radio headphone technology. Mowing the lawn provides no solace, no therapy. They fume that the kid’s at the mall or watching “SpongeBob Squarepants” inside, while they’re here, here, stomping out horizontal lines behind a rusty Lawn-Boy, cyclically irate that the Kentucky bluegrass grows back every fucking week. There’s a touch of danger, of the suppressed rage variety, lurking around the eyes. Most of them, oddly enough, are wearing really nice, expensive, rectangular eyeglasses. There are many of these men roaming the grounds; it’s like a private security firm retreat, only everybody’s on call. I notice that even your time-share people avoid these men. It’s that bad.


Dear Blanca,

We had a marvelous day at Xcaret Park, not least because for the first time I felt like I got a good deal by actually paying retail prices for our tickets, with no further obligation. Except maybe this: did they really need to issue us a receipt (handwritten; took some time) for the popcorn I purchased? Could you check into that?


Dear Blanca,

Last night at dinner (Le Buffet, main building) we set our stroller next to a table and dove into the buffet offerings.

When I returned, there stood a family of three, their plates on the table. The wife was a stocky woman with tanning-salon orange skin and an impenetrable—or maybe a completely penetrable and absolutely blank—face. The kid was a kid, six or seven, who broke a longing stare at his plate of spaghetti to watch his father address me.

“Looks like you parked your stroller at our table,” he said, with a smug smile that continues to reek of disingenuousness. As in: I think he was lying. Because our contested table was very close to the buffet line, and the room was maybe half full. The pasta kid’s father stood six-foot-two, 220 pounds, tattoos circling his biceps, and he wore a great pair of grey-rimmed rectangular glasses a few inches above his square, clenched jaws. Before me stood the quintessential Lawn Mower.

I smiled to acknowledge the bullshit of the man; he smiled with gratitude for my acknowledgment of his bullshit. Some people hold a very narrow view of conflict, and so they approach conflict as though it were inevitable. This was not us, I thought; we would work this out like civilized men on vacation.

And then I changed my mind because in my mind the Lawn Mower had just sprouted the horns of a new beast: the aggressive sheep, the man—herded by a hostess to a table—who wasn’t clever enough to improvise and so defended unimportant territory.

So I tossed a handful of my chicken fajitas at his face. He looked stunned at the guest-on-guest fajita assault, but only for a moment. His smile quickly returned. He removed a sautéed green pepper that had lodged on the bridge of his glasses, regarded it, and regarded me, until both of us, still smiling, lunged at one another and started a fierce brawl over the very old and, on reflection, exhausting category of war: territory, with proximity to the food.

Blanca, I’m just kidding. I’m not one to shy away from confrontation, but I’ll do it during billable hours, not on vacation. And I wasn’t about to let this aggressive sheep Lawn Mower fajita face spoil my vacation. Not with such competition from your time-share vultures. This is what really happened:

“Looks like you parked your stroller at our table,” he said.

“Looks like that now,” I said. I didn’t wait for an answer, just turned and found a table some 15 feet away, where I parked the stroller, again, and sat, just as the Lawn Mower led his family in sitting down at their eminent domain. Throughout much of the mergers and acquisitions world, this is also known as saying grace.

Blanca, would you please have these particular guests removed from the premises?

Max Laszlo / Javier \ Willie

Dear Blanca,

A word about my son, Max Laszlo. At 22 months, and before his vocabulary blesses us with a common language, I have seen much pure joy and awe in his face and body these past few days.

His wonderment peaks with the magnificent macaws perched throughout your property. I can’t readily bring words to what transpires on his face; I can only venture a guess: it has much to do with confirming life and possibility and discovery and bliss, and if but a quarter of that guess is right, then the rewards of sharing this with wife and son are beyond measure.

So much joy emanating from, and reflected in, Max Laszlo. The gentle surf of your beach. The joining us—with room to stretch—in your king-sized bed. Spraying himself with a hand-held shower head. Sipping from his own bottle of water by the pool. Being there.

And with all that joy have come tears. A lot of crying. He’s slipped on your marble floor, all sweaty-slick from the humidity. He slipped from the couch cushions. The other night he was on all fours on the floor of our room, playing with his toy car; he lost his balance and fell on his face. Got a bloody lip. Not his finest moment. He cried hard over that one. We called him Fat Lip Laszlo for a day. No lasting harm.

This morning in Le Buffet, Max fell through the open seatback of his chair. I saw it all happen. Gravity and involuntary momentum worked in tandem as he went through the opening. He fell 15 inches to the floor, his butt and back taking the brunt of the impact.

Max cried, of course. Falling is scary. And no doubt it hurt. That said, my son did not start crying until—remember the man I described in my last missive to you, the one who possession-9/10ths-the-law bogarted our table and then waited around to let me know all about it? That man. Back again with his family. He was carrying a heaping plate of this, that, and the other breakfast things to his table—which was ten feet away from ours; they’re hovering close, these people—when Max fell. And not until after this rejected superhero character-shash-territorial fella released a loud, declarative exhale of surprise—like a housewife wearing her hair in curlers and nothing else who’s surprised at the door by the meter reader or the UPS deliveryman or a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses; I mean, it was loud and very effeminate and very unbecoming of a bulldog who pees on fire hydrants to stake claim of a table closest to the buffet in a resort with 75% occupancy rate—not until he screamed out did my son cry. And while we’re at it, the macaws had also disappeared as we walked from the buffet. And no birds chirped. And the clouds had gathered and darkened the sky.

For the love of God and macaws and clear skies and for the peace of my son, please have this man removed from the premises.

Max Laszlo
Xcaret Park Aquarium

Dear Blanca,

This morning on the way to the breakfast during which Max fell and cried, one of your minions, Javier, wished us a good morning. Carole asked what he thought about the weather. Javier said that with these clouds it usually rained and then cleared up, but these clouds were just hanging there, with no rain, so he didn’t know, and “Have you been on a presentation and tour of the resort?”

“Yes,” I said. “We bought.”

“Oh,” said Javier. “You bought?”

“Yes,” I repeated. “We bought.”

“Well, have a nice day.”

And Javier walked away.

Is there nothing more after you buy? No need for continued dialogue?

Because now I’m interested.


Dear Blanca,

Last night on the way to dinner, a drunk Canadian couple approached us. She looked like a very retired Dorothy Hamill. He looked like a very tall version of Willie Shoemaker. He wanted their picture taken because it was his birthday. Carole obliged.

We ate at your steakhouse. Vincente your waiter spent much time in conversation with Carole, and he also gave to her much visual admiration. But he got my drink and food order right, so no major complaints.

After dinner in the courtyard, between the concert movie of J.Lo performing in Puerto Rico and the tchatchka salesmen, our drunk Canadian too-tall jockey suddenly appeared, disrupting my enjoyment of Jennifer Lopez and her limited singing talents. The man weaved heavily. Had he a loom, I’m sure a scarf could’ve been ours for purchase within minutes.

He told us about dinner at the steakhouse. I said we’d eaten at the same place, but my words fell on weaving ears.

And then he told us of his time-share presentation experience. Incredibly, he claimed to embrace and love the opportunity because, he said, “I only gave them 10 minutes and we got the Xcaret Park tickets and a 30-minute massage and two CDs. Not one CD. Two CDs.”

“Certificates of Deposit?” I asked.

“No,” he clarified. “CDs. Music, aye?”

“You got all that in 10 minutes?”

“That’s right,” he said. “After the 90-minute thing, I told our salesman, “You’ve got exactly 10 minutes, so you’d better bring your boss over here right away because I’m not buying anything today. And so we got the park and the massage the the CDs.”

So, I must express to you now a begrudging admiration for whatever system you employ—be it delivered through psychology or free-flowing alcohol—to convince an overgrown Canadian jockey that 100 minutes was 10 minutes.

Cuban Sand \ Voice Recognition / Mayan Revenge

Dear Blanca,

On the beach I see a very large woman with some sort of sun poisoning covering her ample calf—I swear it’s a sort of leprosy. She’s speaking with a couple four lounge chairs distant, and she’s picking at her leg as she says, “Did you like Cuba? I hear the sand on the beach is just great, really great.” and each time she pronounces the word “great” she plucks her calf like an angry mariachi guitar player. Please: you don’t have to remove her. Just cover her up. That would be great, just plucking great.


Dear Blanca,

I realize this may not be within your purview, but will you do your best to ensure the city of Playa del Carmen does not grow into an unwieldy, overdeveloped Cancun-like place? Muchas gracias in advance.

En route to town, I ask our taxi driver about the weather. My Spanish is just good enough to ask the question and understand the response in his language. He tells me, “The weatherman says it will be sunny, but he lies, just like el Presidente.” He says that the President, Señor Calderón, is only the second president actually born in Mexico, the first being his immediate predecessor, Vincente Fox.

Well, I find this hard to believe. “Y los otros presidentes, where were they born?” I ask.

Other places, he says. Blanca, I’ll research this.* In the meantime, please arrange it so that taxi drivers who fetch your guests don’t make shit up.

Mexican Presidential

Birth Research

Mexican Presidential Birth Research

  • Felipe Calderón, president 2006-present, born in Michoacán.
  • Vincente Fox, president 2000-2006, born in Guanajuato.
  • Ernesto Zedillo, president 1994-2000, born in Mexico City.

End of research.

Anyway, I tell him that Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. President born in a hospital. Everybody is impressed with my trivia. Our driver asks, “Where was the president before him born?”

And I say, “Other places.”

At night, a woman behind her stand on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, selling her CDs. Carole spies some of the Buddha Bar mixes and shops the music. Max and I approach the man standing peacefully a few feet away, and I engage him in conversation because he looks so peaceful and a bit sad, and maybe today peace requires a certain sadness, and sadness peace.

I ask how he is tonight in the city. He is in his late 50s or so, with a beautiful, wise, weathered face, shimmering dark eyes, a bandana, an open shirt with salt-and-pepper chest hair, some beaded chains around his neck and wrists.

He nods at me, pulls a device on a wire from his hip, holds it to his throat, and responds with a voice as stoic as it is lovely, haunting, the sound of bronze.

The city has changed, he says. And the city is changing. His hope is that Playa del Carmen does not grow into another Cancun because the quality of the local life here is still good, still fairly peaceful, still vital, still with the feeling of almost a pueblo and not a city.

He tells me that he was a waiter, loved being a waiter, but now—and here he tilts his arm and voice box just so—he cannot be a waiter, and so he and his wife sell music on 5th Avenue.

This man is, far and away, my hero on this adventure. Maybe he is not an angel, or maybe he is. No matter; Henry Miller wrote, “Never trust the writer, trust the tale.” This man is the heart and soul of my brief, limited time in the town of Playa del Carmen . . . may you stay pueblo-like, may the citied demons remain, up the coast, at bay.


Dear Blanca,

I have a bit more information for you about the time-share initiative. I learned from a Concierge on your property about the “recognition” that a previous Concierge alluded to.

“Recognition” means $125, U.S. currency, for any referral who agrees to a meeting and tour with your sharks. Well, that’s a generous commission. And I confirmed it doesn’t necessitate a sale; simply: the lead qualifies for commission.

Your unsuspecting Concierge also confirmed my suspicion of a 75-80% occupancy rate for the resort, or some 1,400 people.

If the average stay is seven days, this branch of the Occidental resort group is grossing some $140,000 a week, and that’s low-balling it at Travelocity rates, not including paid upgrades (I wouldn’t know anything about that). So, conservatively, you are grossing $7 million a year, not including incidentals like a percentage from the external salesmen you let on the property, or sales in, say, the tobacco shop on property where this morning I bought a hat and a bottle of mouthwash for $18. (At $5 for a 500 ml bottle of Listerine, I could set up shop in the Mall of America, where all the action’s at and, even with booth rental, be well on my way to paying off my credit cards in a year’s time—and just by selling Listerine at your prices.)

What I didn’t expect to hear was that your Concierges make no salary but instead depend on their “recognitions” and tips. No salary? No salary against commissions? Well, as our new Concierge friend said, if you can secure two or three commissions out of 25 tries a day, that’s not a bad day’s pay. And so they aggress.

I now view your resort’s aggressive time-share strategies as a Mayan revenge on Christendom. What the Spaniards did to you with war and forced religion, you do to the tourist with captive seduction and sloppy persistence.

And if this theory is not accurate, at least it enters you into a defensible justification of historical revenge patterns with which you should feel comfortable.

Only: your hotel is part of a conglomerate that is Spanish-owned. So, really, if you want to play by the rules, revenge would first require a mutiny.

Liners at Work

Searching for the Closer / Turizmoloji 

Dear Blanca,

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.


Dear Blanca,

Great news. I discovered this web site——that explains a lot. Our man of insight, the very Turkish Cenk Demiroglu, compartmentalizes the time-share hook from the inside.

Along with a fine list of time-share divisions that I won’t go into, he’s provided categorization of us, the coalition of the duped. We include:

  • The UPs (unhappy person).
  • The Qs (qualified).
  • The NQ (unqualified).
  • The DF (deadfucker, who has refused the resort tour).

Heh. Though I was a deadfucker all along, I’m afraid your system kept me as a “Q UP” throughout our stay.

Old joke: Guy gets offered a free cruise. He can’t believe it. He boards the ship and is immediately chained to a wooden bench with 50 other men. A burly guard shoves an oar into his hands and tells him he has to row. The guard whips them all the way across the ocean. And when they’re unchained and allowed to leave, the guy turns to another guy and says, “Say, I’ve never been on one of these cruises before. Are we supposed to tip the whipper?”

Our Concierge team remained persistent, right up to our final shlep of luggage down the stairs of our building. At which point I did not tip the whipper.

Norman, Closer Extraordinaire

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