Thursday, July 29, 2010

Summer Day Day

My friend Wendy, from way out west in California, read my blog posting "Summer Guests" and left a comment that she remembered me telling some of my hotel stories when we worked together at Mohonk.

Before I recall here the story she mentioned in her comment to that blog post, I want you to take the time to visit her website:

Directly from her website, "I am a Collage and Poetry Fusion Artist. Blending together mixed media abstract art with my original poetry and prose I create "Mixed Messages." Each piece inspires a collage of thoughts and ideas based on what the viewer sees and interprets. I always seem to find inspiration in the sensual and romantic; this is reflected in my poetry and also in the textural aspects of my work. Wanting to reach out and touch one of my pieces might be a natural reaction. I have a love of old postcards, postage, and tags; they often turn up in unexpected places."

What struck me about Wendy's work from the beginning is the play on words with art. When I see her work, it helps me to think differently and to look for another meaning in other things that I see. She inspires "thinking" while "looking."

I was sort of playing around with that idea many years ago, but it was words with people action.

Wendy mentioned that she remembered my "Doris Day Day." In my early hotel management years at Grossinger's, from time to time, I would find myself having to deal with employees who were frustrated and evidently needed venting time. I instructed staff members that they had to "behave" in public, that being anywhere there was a guest, and that the correct place to vent was in a private space, preferably by themselves. That didn't always work, either. You could see tension grow (that happens when dealing with many, many people in a service-oriented business all day long), and some staff members would get cranky. Meal and cigarette breaks didn't do much to take away the stress.

So, I came up with the idea that staff could meet with me individually, for ten or fifteen minutes, and vent about any situation that was bothering them. The ground rules were that they had to tell the truth, they could not use profanity, they could not raise their voice, they couldn't refer to anyone in a negative fashion, they couldn't hit me or throw things at me either, but could talk confidentially with me (as long as we weren't breaking any laws that deemed the information go elsewhere) and I would give them information so that they could handle the situation themselves.

I wanted to set a tone right off the bat and, as I was listing communication conditions, I thought that no one represented "being nice and working things out with everyone" better than Doris Day. So, periodically, I would note on the chalkboard in the front office, "Doris Day Day." The day that message appeared I was available for discussions.

Staff started looking forward to it. I heard some things I probably didn't want to (those personal issues can get pretty sticky) and, if I hadn't promised confidentiality, heard some stuff that would make some pretty good stories. There is something about changing the names to protect the guilty, right (or was that the innocent?)

Whatever, now to my mixed message for the day. Today was a Summer day. However, I did Spring things today, cleaning, washing things, airing stuff out, throwing away accumulations of no-longer-needed items. To have a real Summer day, one needs to do summer things to make the summer day a summer day day!!! Right?

Real soon, we have to have a summer day day...beach, swimming, grilling outdoors, laying out on the lawn at night counting meteors and, to make it official, margaritas!!!

Of course, too many margaritas and then it's "night night!"

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Guests (Some Are Not)

I've been getting questioned as to when I'm going to share some hotel stories. I've always thought that I could write a book about my adventures in the resort business, but just like that once-upon-a-time failed television show that tried to convey what goes on behind the scenes, some of it seems implausible.

What I've always said is that you really do get to see people as they are. Once they've settled in, you have them where they eat, where they sleep, where they play, and where they...well...who knows what! At times, you get to see people as they really are, not the way they present themselves in public for all to see.

My first job was as a desk clerk at Grossinger's Hotel in Liberty, New York. The now defunct resort was the preeminent hotel in the "Borscht Belt," as the New York Times noted when Jennie Grossinger died, one she and her family had transformed from "a modest Catskills family resort into a luxurious resort." It was a great place to vacation and to work.

In any resort, new hires go through training and, at times, are given the task of performing certain jobs that incumbent staff prefer not to do. Along with standing out front and checking in guests, and typing rack slips by the score, there was one job at the Grossinger's desk that most would pass on. In fact, if you had the power, you'd call in someone from another office to do it...Toby checks!

Each day, a list would come from housekeeping that would have all of the hotel's room numbers and how many guests the housekeepers would report as occupying rooms that they were cleaning. If we were lucky, we'd have two registered and the housekeeper would report two persons. At times, we'd have two, they'd say one. Other times, we'd have one or two persons registered and the housekeeper would write three or more! Those were called differences and they had to be checked.

We'd trying calling the rooms and talk to the guests to straighten out differences, but most times guests didn't stay in their rooms and the differences had to be resolved before the next audit.

The only way to be sure was to go to the room. The system was called a "Toby" check as we had small forms with instructions for the guests to call a number at the desk and ask for "Toby," as we had a message for the guest. We used the name "Toby" as it could be either a male or female name and when someone called asking for "Toby" we could say we were "Toby," or say "Toby wasn't in," but we knew what that call was about.

The clerk's instructions were clear. Go to the room. Knock on the door. If guest answered let them know that you were validating registration, talk to them about numbers of persons in their room, and report findings back to the desk.

If no one answered when you knocked, announce loudly that you were from the "Front Desk," knock again, then open the door, look around casually in the room, the bathroom, the closet if it was open (no opening doors, closets, drawers, etc.). Just seeing items in the room you might get a good idea if it was two persons not one, or more than two. Leave a "Toby" note if you still weren't sure, leave the room, be sure the door is locked, come back to desk with room numbers where you left a "Toby."

In many instances, it was just good guessing.

Some times, it didn't work at all.

One call: Phone rings, caller asks for "Toby." One response, "Toby isn't here right now, but he was checking your registration. You signed in for one person, but we believe there are two persons in your room." Guest, "No, it's just me." Toby, "Well, a check of the room showed that there are two toothbrushes in your room." Guest, "Yes, I have two, one for meat and one for dairy!" (It was a Jewish resort and the guest obviously very observant of dietary laws).

Another all: Phone rings, caller asks for "Toby." Another standard response applied, "This is Toby. We are just checking your registration. You signed in for one person, but we believe there are two persons in your room." Male guest, "No, it's just me." Toby, "Well, a check of the room showed that there are men's clothes and women's clothes in the room." Guest, "Yes." Toby, "Yes, there are two people?" Guest, "No, all of the clothes are mine, I take turns wearing them." Later that day, we were treated to a view of that male guest in female clothes...true story, single registration, very stylish dresser!

Not all of the room checks went smoothly either. On one occasion, the assigned clerk knocked on the door to hear a person in the room answer, "Yes!" The clerk started to talk to the guest through the door. The guest said, "Come in." The clerk waited for the guest open the door. Clerk knocked again, guest said, "Come in!" The clerk used the key to open the door. No guest in sight. "Hello," said the clerk. A voice from the bathroom, door ajar, said, "I'm in here." The guest, astride the toilet, was happy to answer any questions the clerk had.

That same clerk, after a number of similar 'bad' guest interactions, came storming back into the office one day, threw the clipboard down on the desk, and announced, "That's it, I'm not doing any more Toby's, ever." She related that she knocked on the door, announced "Front Desk!" and the door flew wide open. Standing in front of her was the nude occupant, full frontal, who threw his arms out and shouted "Surprise!!!" Then he covered himself quickly and blurted, "Sorry, I thought you were my girlfriend."

"So," we said to the clerk, "There were two people in the room!!!"

Maybe this should be chapter one! More to come....

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Sync In The Summer

Wikipedia defines synchronicity as "the experience of two or more events that are apparently casually unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner."

I've long believed in the power of synchronicity and try to pay attention to the full meaning whenever it happens. It has been said that nothing that happens is random; all events are for a reason. Many times, we have to find the deeper meaning or the answer that the clues are meant to provide.

I reported yesterday that we didn't do much...too hot. In fact, I did make a trip to town for Chinese food. We happen to like Pork or Chicken Fried Rice, Lemon Chicken and, especially, General Tso's Chicken.

45 years ago, if the family wanted Chinese Food, we went to the A&P store and bought La Choy Chop Suey, Chicken Teriyaki or Beef Chow Mein in a can, heated them up and put them over La Choy rice noodles (the hard crispy ones), and finished it off with a lot of soy sauce. The pineapple chunks in the Teriyaki were the best. There weren't any Chinese restaurants anywhere near our house. The closest, and this we discovered 10 years later, best one was in just outside of Albany, a good 45 minute ride by car.

These days there seem to be Chinese food establishments in towns small and large...there are three within 15 minutes of us where we live now.

So, too hot to cook, in need of salt replenishment, off I went to pick up the pre-described menu. When we called and placed the order, we got the same response we always do, "10 minutes."

It takes 15 minutes to get there, so I'm halfway out the door when the phone hits the docking station (note: not receiver hits the cradle, although we still have one of those phones, too).

I took the time to swing by Stewarts to pick up soda. Of course, the food was ready when I got to Yang's Kitchen, and I paid and left, dinner in hand.

Chinese food is packed in several fashions. If you order a lot of food, you get a cardboard box, with everything neatly arranged, cardboard panels in between large flat items, and soy sauce, duck sauce, and fortune cookies spread across the top.

Last night's order was a small one, just the two of us for dinner. It came packed in a paper bag, which was placed inside a plastic bag (always, in case of seepage or spill), menu and fortune cookies on top of it all.

I arrived home almost at the same time I left, and we dined outdoors on the deck. It had started cooling down by then and we enjoy eating out there.

Later on, I did up the few dishes (remember I work for my wife these days), packed the leftovers away in the fridge (they always provide a ton of rice so there's food for days) and took the paper bag out of the plastic bag, as nothing had spilled, and folded up the bags to put away in storage for future use.

As I was folding the paper bag, I found a piece of brown cardboard that fit the bottom of the bag occupying that space. I reached in the bag, pulled out the board and put in on the table so that I'd put it in with the paper recyclables next trip downstairs.

This morning, when I saw the cardboard on the table, I grabbed it to take to the basement. When I picked it up I turned it over and, lo and behold on the other side, well...see the picture above!!! That's all that was printed on the reverse!!!

Chinese Food? Made in China? Wow!!! How do they get it here in 10 minutes???

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Day Off

What I figured out today is that it's too hot to do anything, even blog.

I spent some time sorting, staying indoors to keep cool, and came across this photo. It was in a group of pictures that my grandmother most likely belonged to her mother-in-law or one of her husband's brothers, as it came from this area of New York State, close to where the great-grandmother and her sons lived for many years.

So many old photos have no names on them. We want to know who they are and what they did, and how they ended up, but without someone around to recognize them they are lost to time.

This picture has the name E. Marchio on the back. It was taken in Kingston, NY at Shorts Studio. They had shops at 9 East Strand and at 329 Wall Street. That's all I know. The name does not appear in any of my family searches.

I'm just taking the time to share a beautiful picture, very much of its time...I'm thinking very early 1900's. I have thought of advertising it locally to see if anyone recognizes her or the name as a possible ancestor.

What I can tell you is that nobody would be dressed like that today!!! With or without the heat!!!

Happy summer.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Vacation Daze

On a hot and humid day like today, if we were really on vacation (I know I have the summer off), we'd be next to a lake or pool, paddling our kayaks in Canadarago Lake, or perhaps near the ocean, and be better with the heat. When you travel for a summer get-away, you want perfect weather. 90+ degrees and humid might be a bit over the top, but more acceptable when you travel for fun.

I did make it outdoors today to run some quick errands, but once back home I stayed in and found enough things around the house to keep myself busy. It was too hot to be outside. These days.

Back in the mid to late 1950's, our vacations were pretty much centered around just going outside. We didn't take trips fact, until I was 18 I hadn't gone any further than about 40 miles from home, and those trips were pretty much to attend funerals in Schenectady.

Our mother worked full time, father was long gone (he left when I and my brother were 3 and 2), and our grandparents and assorted local relatives had charge of us during the midweek days. So, it was mostly "go outside and play."

We heard stories of people who "took trips," but couldn't imagine what that might feel or look like, and had one aunt who went to Cape Cod each year with her husband, for a week or two. They didn't have any kids, but chose one niece or nephew each year to go with them. My brother and I didn't get picked for any of those trips...the aunt and uncle probably didn't want to be seen with the products of divorce. My son Matt came home from school one day, about a dozen years ago and said, "I think I'm the only one in my class who lives with a mother and father who are still together." "Funny," I said, "I was the only kid in my class, at your age, who didn't live with their mother and father!" Maybe Matt could have gone to Cape Cod!

I remember two summer "vacations" as a child that were memorable. One day my mother announced that we were going to do something special and had us put on our swimsuits. She was wearing hers and walked us up the alley next to our apartment to our grandparent's house (they lived on the road behind us) and spread a blanket on the small piece of grass in front of their house that they called their front yard. We each put on our sunglasses and we sat in the yard, in the sun, for a very long time. All of us got to smear ourselves with lots of tanning lotion. Not the protective stuff we covet today, but the gooey, oil based stuff that ensured a tan after the burn.

The more memorable part of this day was that I had a loose tooth that wouldn't come out. My grandmother came out with a long piece of string, tied it on that tooth and told me to run around the side of the house. I wasn't ten feet away from her when she pulled back, throwing me on the ground and nearly dragged me back that short distance, as the tooth clung to my jaw. She laughed as she walked away, saying that the trick usually worked, leaving the string hanging from my mouth. That tooth didn't come out for days and I hurt all over.

Another great "summer trip" for us was a 15 minute car ride (we had a two tone yellow and white Ford) to Power Dam. A small man-made pond on the hill between Ilion and Utica, it had sand and lots of places for blankets so you could lay in the sun for a very long time. Repeat lots of tanning lotion here.

I didn't swim at that time, at about age 6 or 7. A cousin who went along decided it was time for me to learn to swim. I protested. She picked me up, walked out into the water, and tossed me into the drink. I sunk. My mother yelled at her, as she got off her blanket and walked into the water to pull me out. My mother yelled at me for coughing and choking and spitting up water. I told her I almost drowned. She told me to learn to swim.

I think she was upset because she got wet and had to dry off before she could re-apply tanning lotion, and we had cut into her attempt to sit on her blanket for a very long time.

I learned to swim, but can't say it's my favorite thing to do. I don't like sitting on blankets anywhere for very long times. However, when I'm near water or sitting on a beach I don't notice the heat and humidity...maybe it's because I stay really, really still wherever I am so that no one notices me...I'd like to keep my remaining teeth and stay above the water line!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer...Who's Your Granddaddy?

Last night we were watching PBS. Dr. Henry Louis Gates was hosting a genealogy show, the one where celebrities get to find out that they are descended from other celebrities.

I find these shows interesting from the standpoint that people who could well afford to hire genealogists, and pay to travel to far-away places to search out ancestors, are seemingly treated to all of that information.

The thing is, they don't do it themselves. It's not personal, they aren't doing the work and collecting the stories. They hire someone to do it for them. I think being a part of seeking out and finding the information makes it all the more exciting.

In this edition, along with making these connections they were talking to their subjects about gene mapping and how one could, by giving a DNA sample, find out where their lineage came from, as in Asia, Africa, Europe, etc.

One hails from Europe, another from Asia, some have lines that take them through those areas, but go back further to Africa, some Native Americans, some a's all very interesting and something that any one of us, I think, would like to know.

Until I hit the lottery and have the funds to hire someone to trace our family tree back to Charlemagne or someone else, or have DNA testing done, I have some knowledge through family stories and many years of sending off for this record and that record, that our lineage is Irish, English and German, and I do know for a fact that our family lines take us back to Ilion, Schenectady, Glenville, and Rosendale, New York and to Scranton and Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Okay, it's only the middle and late 1800's, but it's a start.

Meanwhile, I should point out that I am a professionally paid genealogist. My grandmother once gave me a dime to find my grandfather. At about age 9, I was sent to town to find him and, yes just like in the movies, ask him to come home. She had a pretty good idea what bar to find him in and I barely made it in the door when he spotted me. I didn't have to say a word. He spied me and said, "Get out of here. I'll be home when I'm good and ready to." Okay, he swore a bit, but he was my grandfather, and I knew when to beat it. I only reported to my grandmother that I found him and that he'd be home...didn't tell her when.

The genealogy I remember from my childhood had nothing to do with DNA, but more to do with stories like that and the antics of our very own dysfunctional groups. Laughter from the shore when older cousins sent us out in a leaky boat with an uncle of ours who was taking us fishing, being chased around the kitchen by a great-aunt with a butcher knife when we got too close to the watermelon (having heard that my mother jammed a pencil in her brother's leg one day when she didn't like something he said, and leaving the lead there for a lifetime, gave me cause to worry), being tipped over in an outhouse by an older cousin who thought the experience was something everyone should have, and hearing that a great-aunt was catapulted out of her casket by her overly grieving sisters in the middle of the funeral home were some of the 'normal' events.

I think I would like to know that we were descended from Celtic Kings, but they didn't teach me the fine art of steaming open letters like my grandmother did. Having a famous actor or politician in your past might be a great conversation starter, but so does telling people how your grandfather showed you how to roll cigarettes when you were eight (he needed help as he must have smoked about three or four packs a day).

Genealogy study is interesting, and I continue to search out the past. In fact, today I came across this picture of my grandfather at one of his favorite watering holes. Don't know the name of the place, or the bartender, but that's himself, "Sweeney," as everyone knew him, in top coat and fedora (we always dressed to go to town), almost as I remember him that day I did my first bit of genealogical research. I knew who my grandfather was, I knew where he was, and I have the personal story to go with the person and the event. Everything a genealogist could hope for. And my grandmother knew where he was and where to send me, too, 'cause she probably was listening on the party-line when someone said, "I'm meeting Sweeney in town for a drink."

DNA is great, and there are certainly records to prove to others that he lived, but there's nothing like personal research!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer luggins...

I am one of those people who happen to love stacking firewood. Along with pleasing my wife by making everything neat and orderly, there is something satisfying about taking hundreds of pieces of cut wood and placing them one atop the other, sometimes six feet high, and having them stay put. Much like shoveling snow, there's something to see when you're done...the accomplishment is there before you.

During days gone by, I'd stack the wood and cover it with tarps, brown tarps, green tarps...all very fashionable out here in the keep the wood dry after it was stacked and to prevent snow from accumulating on it.

Well, that was the idea. Of course, the tarps developed holes, the snow and ice got through, and soon there would be large numbers of pieces of wood stuck together. Then, once the snow got high enough, you'd have to rip the tarp off the pile to get to the darned things, big chunks of ice would fall of the piles taking out a toe or two, and half of the piles would fall over. Dragged into the house, the snow and ice would create large puddles all over the place, and the wood would just smolder in the wood stove.

The idea is that a wood stove is a different kind of heat (just like Arizona, it's dry and hot...until the snow gets to it).
By Spring time there would be lots of wet wood and shreds of plastic stringy things that would be unidentifiable as one-time covers.

My wife wanted a wood shed. She got Bobby to make one and she loves it. I still do the ordering, oversee the delivery (that's when the truck drives over the front yard and dumps four cord of wood on the side lawn that no grass grows on any more), and I stack. She loves the wood shed. I think because it causes order and she can keep order in the house when I'm not in it.

I always wondered why I liked stacking wood. It gets me outdoors (away from everyone else, as no one wants to help stack), it's mindless work (I get to think about everything else to excess), and when it's done it looks real nice. It makes me feel like a competent engineer...and there's something artistic about the result. A free standing sculpture!

Today, for the first time, as I was lugging wood from a stack on the outside to place it in the shed, I thought of my great-grandfather on my mother's side and my great-great grandfather on my father's side. Both were farmers and, by all accounts, very successful ones. To be a good farmer, I think, things have to be in order and I bet their wood piles were nice and neat...maybe that's where I get that from. It's as close to being a farmer as I'll ever be (a week of rain and mud talked Theresa out of wanting horses and if you see my flower beds you'll know why I'm not doing any vegetable gardening).

From the other sides of the families I get that other reward for doing all of this work...a nice glass of wine (or two) or a cold scotch and water (or two). Now that I think of that, maybe that's why Great-Uncle Henry lost the farm!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Storms and other interruptions...

Today we had storms...thunder and lightning, power went out several times. Lots of wind, too, which was nice as it blew some cool air through the house!

Sorted out some old paintings, re-framed and rehung a few and pondered doing something with the ole Pumpkin painting...prints, perhaps.

The painting also reminded me that I had planted pumpkins seeds around the herb garden. Four mounds of dirt, about six seeds in each, and to date only one has come up. I took a chance between lightning strikes to check on them...not seeing anything other than one plant coming up I dug through the remaining areas and all of the seeds are gone!!! The chipmunks, no doubt, cleaned them out.

We've been infested with the critters this year and I'd rather drive them out than cause them any harm. I took one person's advice and put mothballs down the holes. I then put some dirt in each and stuck a stone in the top to seal them in. About a week later, I noticed that the holes had reappeared and piled next to each hole were what I thought was large, it was the mothballs, rolled together next to each hole as if to say, "Nice try!"

I've also welcomed the neighbor's cat, figuring he'd help out...then there's the Fisher in the back yard...he must be hungry, too. But they, the chipmunk who inhabits the underneath of the deck chattered at me as though he were telling me to go away. Just what I needed, chipmunks with an attitude.

Oh well, I should be inside painting, but it was too dark with the power out and painting in the rain just doesn't work. So, I got busy putting words on paper, the old fashioned way, waiting for the return of electricity and the web and made notes to buy a new domain name for my artwork, planning on working with web hosting and soon I'll be posting old pictures and new.

And, as I think about the great number of chipmunks in the yard, I'm wondering, Monet had his haystacks????

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Bird Songs...and the Turkey

This vacation thing isn't as easy as I thought it would be...apparently there are quizzes!

I decided to take a few minutes today away from throwing things out and sorting out spaces to sit with my wife outdoors. Relaxing on our plastic Adirondack chairs (now I'm wondering if plastic grows in the Adirondacks), I was quietly enjoying the afternoon when all of a sudden my wife said, "What kind of bird is that?" She was referring to the noise coming from the nearby trees. What you need to know is that my wife is something of a bird fanatic...she gets wildly excited when a flock of turkeys makes itself at home in our front yard. If this were a once in a lifetime occurrence I might get it, but they appear daily, usually around 8 a.m.

Any who, I listened again to the chatter of the birds above us, a sort of nasally, cranky, "na-yeh, na-yeh, na-yeh," as she asked again, "What kind of bird is that?" I said, "An annoying one!" "NO," she retorted (had she been standing hands would have been on hips), "It's a Finch!"

Then, without hesitation, another, "What kind of bird is that? You should know that one!" The twittering was that now-famous-at-our-house, and oft repeated by naturalists and birders alike, the trill "een ur tee," which all report as hearing, "Drink your tea." I told her it wasn't a bird, but her grandmother calling her in for afternoon tea and cookies.

That was the last I saw of my wife for the afternoon. As she stormed off, she mumbled something about me being a turkey, which reminded me of this picture that I took last September of a real live turkey pecking at our downstairs door. My wife would say, takes one to know one..."Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck....."

It's going to be a long summer!!!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Summer long ago...

It's been a few years since I visited Monhegan Island, Maine. I painted this watercolor on the island in 1992.

I recently decided to change careers, but am first taking a very long summer vacation...I haven't had more than one week off at a time in years and am looking forward to the next six weeks.

One week ago I started my first week of not going to work at a hotel, after 32 years. During this first week, I've been busy clearing space and junk to make room for artwork to come and a new creative future...and I've been making banana bread, fixing meals, cleaning and sorting and spending time with my wife on her days off from work. That's special, too, as we haven't had a lot of the same days off the past two years.

I may not make it back to Monhegan this year, but have talked to some friends about a trip next summer.

In the meantime, I'm gearing up for art and relaxation....more to come!

Summer 2010

July 10, 2010 was my last day of work, after 13 years at Mohonk Mountain House, and 32 years in total in the resort and hospitality business. I am off to pursue a new career, in art, education and training, but first a summer vacation!