For the uninitiated, staying at a luxury hotel can be a little intimidating. On top of the exotic amenities and premium services, you encounter shiny people at every turn, like extra utensils at a fancy place setting, ready to do things for you that — no, really — you’d much rather do yourself. Do you tip the doorman? Can you keep the Swiss lotion? What, exactly, is “turndown service,” and why on Earth would anyone ever need it?
Front desk raconteur Jacob Tomsky is here to help. His sharp-witted, candid new book, “Heads in Beds,” demystifies the world of high-end hospitality so effectively that you’ll start looking up rates at the Ritz. (Of course, at those prices, the fantasy might die there.)
Armed with a philosophy degree, which he calls “garbage stuffed inside a trash can of student loans,” Tomsky found work out of college as a valet for a new luxury hotel in New Orleans. He was quickly promoted to the front desk and then became the housekeeping manager before burning out. After a year abroad, he moved to New York for a fresh start. But when he couldn’t get a job outside the industry, he was forced back in, landing a spot on the front desk of a hotel — code-named the Bellevue here — near Times Square.
“Heads in Beds,” which appropriately has no 13th chapter, is tightly written and laced with delicious insider tips. You’ll learn how to park your car in the hotel’s driveway without getting towed (slip the doorman $20), how to pig out on the mini-bar for free (“Never, ever will the hotel accuse you of lying”) and, most important, how to get that killer upgrade to the corner suite with Central Park views (wrap a $50 bill around your credit card when you check in).
The book is also a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of an early mid-life crisis. For instance, the morning after his attempt to drink away his 30th birthday, Tomsky breaks down when a disgusting guest bullies him. “You’re turning thirty, and your body is dying,” he thinks. “You’re a key monkey, and you have no other options.”
Coarse, smart and wickedly funny, the author delivers hilarious caricatures of the hotel guests and colleagues he has encountered over the years. One New York bellman tells Tomsky: “I see you handing guests their own keys, I’ll stab you. I hear you asking them if they need help with their own luggage, I’ll stab you.”
Tomsky is still in the game today, but when he first moved to New York, he tried to find work in publishing. “I couldn’t even get responses that said they didn’t want to interview me,” he says. “I couldn’t even get inside the buildings.”
Clearly, he’s found his way in elsewhere, and “Heads in Beds” will make you glad he did.
Wilwol is a writer in Washington.
HEADS IN BEDS
A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality
By Jacob Tomsky
Doubleday. 247pp. $25.95