Foreknowledge of things trivial – or, the lamentable desk clerk.

I KNEW THAT MORAL PIPSQUEAK of a desk clerk would forget my wake-up call. Knew it, knew it, knew it. When I told him our room number and said we’d need a wake-up call at 7:00 AM, and he said, “No problem, sir,” but didn’t look me in the eye and didn’t repeat my room number or the requested time, I knew what I had told him would not lodge in his small, distracted brain. Knew he would forget. Knew, knew, knew. And sure enough, there was no wake-up call. If my internal clock hadn’t alerted my unconscious, causing me to have nightmares about adultery, I would not have awoken and we would have missed everything.

Because that bloody teenage desk clerk didn’t give a shit and is going on to bigger and better things someday and this is a nice hotel that subsists on a prep school parent business and wasps don’t complain when fucking desk clerks fuck up their wake-up calls. (Wasps never complain; they just quietly buy your company to destroy it, or, with a mere gesture, make sure your kid never gets into the university she’s qualified to attend. But I digress.)

Might have missed our morning appointment. Might have missed our train. But desk tosser cares fuck-all and will never be called on it. Certainly not by me. I’m not going to be the one guest here in 100 years who complained. (“Did you hear? The man in Room 211 actually lodged a complaint.” “No, really? I thought there was something, well [John Cleese eyebrow gesture] about him.”)

And I knew when he didn’t meet my eye that he was not going to write down anything, not going to take care of it. Knew when he said, “No problem, sir,” like the thing he wasn’t even going to bother to do was a favor to me instead of his job. Knew from his fucking haircut.

But I didn’t want to be the jerk who says, “Would you mind repeating my room number and the time I’ve requested?”

If I’d done it, the fucking prick would have done his job and my phone would have tinkled at 7:00 AM on the fucking dot.

But to do it, I’d have to be a testosterone-fueled middle-aged self-entitled business prick, and I’m not that. Not externally, anyway. I pride myself on being nice. Or stoic. Or self-effacing. Or something. They gave me lollipops for it at the pediatrician’s. What a good little patient, didn’t even cry when the nurse jabbed him over and over again. You could see his little eyes watering but he didn’t say a word and didn’t even complain to his mother. Have a lollipop, you’ve earned it, son.

That’s the deal I’ve made with life. I’m nice. I don’t confront. I don’t demand. I don’t judge, at least not publicly, except right here where I’m publicly judging jurying and executing this poor pimply fuck of a desk clerk. Who, had he raised his eyes, would have seen a harried traveler and his adorable, exhausted daughter. And if he possessed an ounce of desk clerk skill or even a jot of humanity, le clerk manqué would have smiled and exchanged a pleasantry with the little girl—bringing a moment of real human connection to the simple business transaction of setting a wake-up call, which he would have been sure not to fuck up, because you don’t want to disappoint or inconvenience a nice little family like that.

Now I understand how Laurence Sterne wrote Tristram Shandy.

Anyone still here? So the moral, I guess, is two-fold: 1.) Trust your judgement, and if you know the desk clerk isn’t paying attention, exert the necessary moral pressure. 2.) Create a web app that tracks hotel wake-up call failures (or help someone add this feature to a check-in app) because it’s a real problem for business travelers. Who are probably smart enough, unlike me, to travel with clocks.

P.S. The iPad alarm clock app failed also. La de da.

By L. Jeffrey Zeldman

“King of Web Standards”—Bloomberg Businessweek. Author, Designer, Founder. Employer Brand at Automattic. Publisher, & Ava’s dad. Pete’s brother (RIP). He/him.