Archive for Overheard

How to Tip the Chambermaid

Over the past five years, I’ve traveled a lot to visit schools in far-flung places: Oklahoma, California, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, South Carolina, Massachusetts, etc. Mostly I stay in the NY/NJ area. But regardless, the basic fact remains: I’m not at home. I’m often alone, away from my family, unwrapping a plastic cup from inside a plastic wrapper. Sigh.

51LvdCXV+dL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of life’s little puzzles is how to properly tip the chambermaid. For the longest time, I was never quite sure. So I faked it, without much rhyme or reason. Last year I met author Kate Klise in a hotel in Rye, NY. We share the same tour administrator, the awesome Kerri Kunkel McPhail, who organizes and coordinates our school visits in the greater Westchester area and beyond. It’s a rare treat to meet real, live authors, especially since we spend most of our working lives alone, tapping out words on a keyboard. I quickly learned Kate is a hugely talented author, dedicated and wise to the ways of the world, and a kind person, too. I liked her a lot.

Sitting in the lobby, we hit upon the topic of hotel living. I must have said something about tipping the chambermaid, because Kate gave me a suggestion that I’ve used in every hotel stay since.

I leave $5 each morning. In the past, I’d often waited for the end of my stay, but I realized that it might cause an unfair distribution. A different hotel maid might be working that day. Better to leave a smaller amount daily. Five seems like the right number to me, though I didn’t arrive at that figure scientifically. Here’s where Kate told me her approach. She said, “I always leave a little thank you note.”

2698349-1“You do?”

“Yes. It’s such a tough job — think about it. I feel like the least I can do is just write a short note of appreciation.”

Nice, right?

It immediately made sense to me. After all, that’s all anybody ever wants in this life. Some basic recognition, a note of appreciation. The tip is one thing, certainly, but taking one minute for a quick note brings it to a higher level.

Now every morning in a hotel before I’m rushing out for a day’s work, I quickly grab a piece of paper, write “THANK YOU!” or some variation, and leave a tip.

And every time, I feel good about leaving behind a little extra kindness.

And last week, for the first time, I got a response . . . with three exclamation marks.


Adventures in Audio: The Best “Audiobook in the Car” Story I’ve Ever Heard

I was at a dinner earlier this week at The Stockade Inn in Schenectady, NY, in celebration of the Children’s Literature Connection. It was an intimate, modest, friendly event with under 100 attendees, featuring keynote addresses by Karen Beil and Jennifer Armstrong.

I love this photo of Karen in the classroom.

I mean, there it is, there it is right there.

Anyway, I got to chatting with a librarian about this and that, and we hit upon the subject of books on tape. Or CDs, rather. She had a long commute to her job and passed that time by listening to books. We talked about that moment when you are in the car, listening to the book . . . while sitting in your driveway, unwilling to turn off the engine. You don’t want to get out.

Anyway, the story: At one point, she decided to try the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities.

Listening to it on her way to work, she found the story confusing, nonsensical, poorly structured, maddening. The book had strange flashbacks, then jumped forward in time, characters were angry, then they were happy, then they were mad again. It was crazy, a hot mess of a book. She told me, “I hated it, HATED IT. I was saying to myself, ‘This is a classic? I hate this stupid book. It makes no sense!'”

Later on, at home, she pulled out the book and began flipping through the pages, trying to find her spot. She went forward, then back, then flipped forward a few more pages. Something was wrong. There were gaps, things left out, while other scenes seemed out of order.

Then she realized the problem: “I had accidentally set the CD player on RANDOM!” she told me with a great laugh. “I listened to the entire first disk that way, bouncing from track to track, and I hated it!”

I’d like to report that she has since rectified the problem, and gone on to appreciate this work of classic literature. But, alas, she is too scarred. “I still hate it,” she confided. “I will always hate it.”

I think even Charles might understand.

OVERHEARD: “Burrrrrp. Oh, yeah.”

That would be my daughter, Maggie, as she leaves the room.

Like a jet plane with a trail of exhaust.

The burp was bad enough. Well, I don’t really think so. I sort of like that Maggie enjoys a good burp. She’s like a guy that way. It does, however, drive Lisa a little crazy. As far as I can tell, my wife does not release gas of any kind, ever. At least not publicly. No farts, no burps.

One day, I’m sure, she’s just going to float off into the sky like a helium balloon.

So, okay, Maggie burped. It happens. But it was what came next that’s so wonderfully my daughter. “Oh yeah,” she said, taking pleasure and satisfaction in the good belch.

Lisa looked me like it was my fault, shook her head. So I called after Maggie with something like, “Say ‘Excuse me,’ please.” Just to let Lisa know that I was on the ball and I was keeping standards sky high. But Maggie was gone, off the grab another late-night bowl of cereal (she eats constantly).

I have to admit it. I like that my sixth-grade daughter burps. But let’s keep it between us.

Oh, one more thing. Another little habit of Maggie’s, which I attribute to middle school awkwardness, is she now sabotages every photograph we try to take. She’s lovely and beautiful and we have tons of great pictures. But not from the past year.

First, here’s some sweet ones. I have to confess, I’m home working today while Lisa and the kids are off for a couple days, skiing and having fun. I miss them.

Nowadays, alas, this is what we get. A nice father-daughter shot, ruined by . . . the face.