Transylvanian check in
“The Hun is at the gate” Rudyard Kipling, “For All We Have and Are”
When you name your son Attila, you in some way determine the course of his life. Not only have you named him after a Hun, you have named him after the most renowned and evil Hun that the world has ever known. A name that is often mentioned in the same phrase as Adolf Hitler. A name that is used in everyday conversation to define the unruly and brutal. My friend Rick Reed once told his surgeon that he had the bedside manner of Attila the Hun. That was not meant to be confused with, say, Florence Nightingale. Thus I was surprised to see that the young man who checked me into my hotel in Scottsdale last Thursday had a name badge that said “Attila”. As if this was not strange enough, under his name, in the spot the hotel reserves for the place the employee is from, was boldly printed “Transylvania”. Attila from Transylvania. I can be excused for wondering if someone at the hotel was pulling my leg (or about to bite my neck).
Yet, sure enough, the young man was really from Transylvania and said that he was going to move back there (presumably in a secret coffin) sometime in June. I did not ask him if his real name was Attila, for all I know, Attila is the “Robert” of Transylvania. I can’t recall count Dracula’s first name and don’t recall if Stoker had any Attila’s in that novel. I also did not ask him how he could work in the daytime without burning up and dying.
The kidding this fellow must have put up with. How many people went into their long dormant Bella Lugosi imitation when asking for their room ? or when calling the front desk and hearing, “This is Attila” heard the response, “yes, this is Adolf” Or maybe not. Maybe I am the only one who noticed anything odd about it. . .. I have run into this kind of thing before.
In March of 1986, friend Broyles and I had taken off to watch some spring baseball in Florida. We did so without making any hotel reservations, which is roughly like stepping off of the plane in mid winter in Gander, Newfoundland without a jacket. Something I have also done. After watching a ball game we began a series of visits to motels looking for a room. Turns out that college kids go to south Florida every year for spring break. Who knew ? So every motel is booked sold and it appears that we are going to have to sleep in our rented Lincoln Towncar which Budget was running a $39.00 a day special on. It was a lot for a car in those days, but pretty cheap for lodging. We finally found a motel in Bradenton, Florida that would take us in. No questions asked, which after talking to a dozen similar places within a radius of twenty five miles seemed odd. The desk fellow was nice enough. Then I looked down and saw his name on his badge. “Jihad”, which even in 1986 I knew was Arabic for “Holy War”.
If you are going to tend the desk in a hotel in southern Florida, Jihad is probably not the best name to use. It tends to be off putting to the Jewish aunt who has just come in from Long Island. But there he was, Jihad, and he threw me a key. Gaston went off to his room and I went off to mine upstairs.
As I opened the door I noticed that someone had left the television on and then as I took a step inside, I immediately noticed who that someone was . “Hey, hey” was his greeting, uttered in the congenial manner of someone who is about to be mugged. I stared onto the bed, there, holding the remote, was a short stocky man, about 45, wearing an undershirt and boxers. He also had the longest sideburns it is possible for a human being to have without getting into a definitional dispute over where sideburns end and beards begin. As if to make sure that I was not hard of hearing, he repeated the only phrase I was to ever hear him utter, Hey, hey” perhaps this time a bit more emphatically.
Say what they will about me, I know when I am not wanted. I closed the door, walked down the stairs and into the lobby and said straight out, “Jihad, there is a man in his underwear lying on the bed you have rented me.” Jihad did not look up, kept facing the counter which separated guest from employee and finally shrugged. Now this is not an expression, Jihad shrugged (which by the way would make a hell of a title for a book). His shoulders went up, his right one a bit earlier than hid left one, and then came down. He turned back to the wall and grabbed another key and threw it on the counter. Never looking at me. Suddenly I understood why I had been able to book a room. It was a variation on the old joke, “I can’t be overdrawn, I still have some checks left”. As long as Jihad had keys, he felt that he had rooms. It was simply a matter matching a spare room to a patient guest.
I finally did get a room, and I never saw Jihad again. He was gone the next day, although he must have done me some kindness or service because in my journal of that trip I refer to him as a “Boswell”. Attila was no Boswell, with a name like that he could not be. But he was nice enough and I’m sorry that he is moving back to Transylvania. I doubt that our paths will ever cross again, at least this side of the grave. But I will carry around a pocket mirror just in case.