My daughter Jessica gave me David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again for my birthday and I've been reading the essay that gives the title to the book this week. This bit has been rattling around in my head since I read it a few days ago:
... so I come out and spot my duffel among the luggage, and I start to grab and haul it out of the towering pile of leather and nylon, with the idea that I can just whisk the bag back to 1009 myself and root through it and find my good old ZnO and one of the porters sees me starting to grab the bag, and he dumps all four of the massive pieces of luggage he’s staggering with and leaps to intercept me. At first I’m afraid he thinks I’m some kind of baggage thief and wants to see my claim-check or something. But it turns out that what he wants is my duffel: he wants to carry it to 1009 for me. And I, who am about half again this poor herniated little guy’s size (as is the duffel bag itself), protest politely, trying to be considerate, saying Don’t Fret, Not a Big Deal, Just Need My Good Old ZnO. I indicate to the porter that I can see they have some sort of incredibly organized ordinal luggage-dispersal system under way here and that I don’t mean to disrupt it or make him carry a Lot #7 bag before a Lot #2 bag or anything, and no I’ll just get the big old heavy weather stained sucker out of here myself and give the little guy that much less work to do.
And then now a very strange argument indeed ensues, me v. the Lebanese porter, because it turns out I am putting this guy, who barely speaks English, in a terrible kind of sedulous-service double-bind, a paradox of pampering: viz. the The-Passenger’s-Always-Right-versus-Never-Let-A-Passenger-Carry-His-Own-Bag paradox. Clueless at the time about what this poor little Lebanese man is going through, I wave off both his high-pitched protests and his agonized expression as mere servile courtesy, and I extract the duffel and lug it up the hall to 1009 and slather the old beak with ZnO and go outside to watch the coast of Florida recede cinematically à la F. Conroy.
Only later did I understand what I’d done. Only later did I learn that that little Lebanese Deck 10 porter had his head just about chewed off by the (also Lebanese) Deck 10 Head Porter, who’d had his own head chewed off by the Austrian Chief Steward, who’d received confirmed reports that a Deck 10 passenger had been seen carrying his own luggage up the Port hallway of Deck 10 and now demanded rolling Lebanese heads for this clear indication of porterly dereliction, and had reported (the Austrian Chief Steward did) the incident (as is apparently SOP) to an officer in the Guest Relations Dept., a Greek officer with Revo shades and a walkie-talkie and officerial epaulets so complex I never did figure out what his rank was; and this high-ranking Greek guy actually came around to 1009 after Saturday’s supper to apologize on behalf of practically the entire Chandris shipping line and to assure me that ragged-necked Lebanese heads were even at that moment rolling down various corridors in piacular recompense for my having had to carry my own bag. And even though this Greek officer’s English was in lots of ways better than mine, it took me no less than ten minutes to express my own horror and to claim responsibility and to detail the double-bind I’d put the porter in—brandishing at relevant moments the actual tube of ZnO that had caused the whole snafu—ten or more minutes before I could get enough of a promise from the Greek officer that various chewed-off heads would be reattached and employee records unbesmirched to feel comfortable enough to allow the officer to leave and the whole incident was incredibly frazzling and angst-fraught and filled almost a whole Mead notebook and is here recounted in only its barest psychoskeletal outline.
I made you all wade through that classicly dense DFW prose not to convert you to Wallace (which you should consider doing on your own terms), but because it tees up the conversation I want to have here today so perfectly.
You see, I hate to be pampered. When I check into a hotel, I want to take my bags to my room. I want to carry my golf clubs out to the range. I want to open my own yogurt (which they would not let me do in the Mandarin Oriental in Chiang Mai, Thailand). I want to get my own beach towels at the pool, etc. etc.
So why is that? I asked Jessica this morning. What causes this discomfort with being pampered (which is all about creating comfort)? She replied "guilt?". To which I nodded, "I guess so". But it's more than that. I can do these things. I can take care of myself. I don't want or need someone doing them for me.
But as Wallace points out, the people whose job it is to pamper you want to do their job and want to do it well. Which creates a challenge for people like me who don't want to be pampered. The older I get and the more set in my ways and the more pampering I encounter, the worse it gets. I suppose I should just learn to love it. I will work on that.