Sunday, September 18, 2005

Desk Jobs

There's nothing worse than answering a potential guest's inquiries with bumbling bits of incoherent noise. It happened to me while at the front desk the other day. I couldn't locate the rates for Christmas week, and I had a mental breakdown. Instead of calmly flipping through the reservation book, I panicked, and began throwing papers randomly into the air, hyperventilating, and gnashing my teeth. I was also trying to fend off two kids, a dog, and a seedy looking character who had drifted in off the street and was asking me if I'd charge him less for a room if he didn't use any toilet paper. The point I'm getting to is that a clean, well-lighted space defines success in both innkeeping and writing.
I understand that desk space is as much about personal expression as it is about practical accessibility, but I've found certain truths immutable. I'd like to share both of my desk spaces with you, the one a use for writing, and the one used for innkeeping.
A big, honking, plastic computer colossus dominates the writer's desk. This is a real tragedy. There's nothing electronic about writing, and for the way I use the computer, I'd be as well served by a typewriter. The good news: this computer's not hooked up to the Internet. I stripped everything, save MS Word, from it, so it's a turbo file manager that lets me write. Around the plastic temple lies a variety of items meant to enhance the writing experience: a clear, plastic ruler (for back scratching), maps (for dreaming: topo maps of the area, maps of Montreal and France, and Boston, all places I've lived), several layers of books (Shakespeare, Cooper, Melville, Joyce, Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy), a nice pen the approximate shape of a Mont Blanc fountain pen, a good six inches of legal pads (duh), some kind of sports stick, like a golf club, baseball bat, hockey stick, or hurley (I have a Ping 2 iron; it's useless to me on the golf course, but it works wonderfully at my desk), a harmonica (for the really painful times), a huge cross section of grammar, usage, and style manuals, as well as the American Heritage Dictionary, Third Edition, red pencils (nobody's that good), and something from my kids. I have a drawing of a Medieval castle under siege, complete with Old French expletives captured in dialogue balloons. That keeps it real, a reminder that it's not all about me.
The innkeeper's desk differs vastly. Telephone and reservation book occupy center stage. Next to them is the credit card machine, or, as we call it, Giver of Life. Scattered around the telephone and reservation book lies a vast array of loose papers: some are reservation slips, past and present; some are small notes, reminders to call someone back or leave extra towels in a room. There's also a doorbell mounted on a plaque of wood that says: "We're Here! Please Ring The Bell!" Next to that is a clear plastic squirt bottle with the word "Dog" written on it.
Our goal is to present our guests not with some contrived image when they enter the lobby; it's to give them the feeling that real people live here, real, eccentric people, just like them. Like the writer's desk, which reflects the idiosyncrasies of the writer, the innkeeper's desk reflects the kind of inn this is. You can check out the front desk when you come, but don't expect to see the writer's desk unless you bring some really good single malt with you.