Sousa: Ski Butlers at your service
March 9, 2014
The office phone chimes.
"Thanks for calling Ski Butlers. This is Brian. How can I help you?"
"What channel is MTV?"
"Um, this is Ski Butlers."
"I know who I called. What channel is MTV? I'm in my hotel. I can't find the guide."
"So you don't want skis?"
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"No. I have skis!"
"Let me check the … " I fumble with the remote, questioning my life decisions.
"Ugh, this is taking way too long! I'll just call you back." Click.
Yep, I've left the indentured servitude of adjunct teaching at Boston College to serve up skis on a platter. One of my many part-time jobs out here is to work for what is, in all sincerity, a smart, awesome company over at the Aspen Business Center called Ski Butlers. Since my friend in San Francisco said the other day, "I still have no idea whatsoever what you do," let me boil it down: We deliver boots, poles and skis right to your domicile, then remain on call if you want to do so much as swap out a pair of goggles.
Unfortunately for my understanding boss, I'm not exactly cut out for customer service. (After many college summers spent as a busboy, bartender and waiter, I was actually getting worse at it; I quit to conquer the complexity of being a beach parking-lot attendant — which was glorious.) Coupled with that, we've had a few interesting customers over the past months. Therefore, enjoy this rich albeit brief tapestry that is life as a Ski Butler.
I'm fitting a woman with boots, and we're on pair three, or 13. "Those are a bit big, but how do they feel?" I ask.
"Big? These aren't big. They're too tight!" she exclaims.
I show the woman where her toe is, and explain that boots should be snug; but shockingly, she rejects all conventional tenets of Butler wisdom.
"Well, I'm simply going to need that next size," she sighs.
"I don't have any other sizes with me or in the van." But I already know I'm coming back. Three deliveries later, I present the desired boots, and barely does her foot brush a buckle when she shouts, "I'm swimming in these! I want the smaller ones!"
"Great. Is there anything else I can help you with?" I manage to say, focusing only on the Aspen IPA waiting in my fridge.
She picks up a trash bag from the floor. "Can you bring this to my husband? It's for my dirty laundry."
Wait, what was the number for Boston College again?
The other day, I delivered skis to a few women who'd arrived at 10 p.m., and then made the classy decision to swill vodka until the next morning. Trying to get a boot on the customer's foot was akin to capturing an aggressive snake with a tiny bucket. As I swooped in to capture her damp sock, I wondered, like George Costanza, if it was too late to become an architect.
But forget the customers; the real culprit here is me, Art Vandelay. My mind has always been disorganized — my dad used to call me a scatterbrain when I was a kid — but if I'm writing, teaching, playing soccer or even painting the side of a house, I can focus and slip into an efficient Zen-like state (if Zen involved occasional daydreams of surfing in Portugal). However, when it comes to customer service, I'm a train wreck. The other night I fit an entire family with boots and skis that were reserved for the family one floor above, only realizing my mistake when handing a tiny pair of skis to a man who weighed 300 pounds. Later that night, I drove the van about a mile down a pitch-black Snowmass road with my binder and paperwork still on the hood. I've forgotten poles, mispronounced names, grazed snow banks and stolen the key to the Butler Van. The other day a woman called, hysterical over losing her skis. "What do I do?" she wailed. I panicked, attempted to put her on hold and hung up on her.
We all work jobs that we're not right for at some point. I've had more than a handful of them, and what I've learned is this: You just push through. You learn what you can, you do your best and you don't get too down on yourself when you lock the keys in the van. When I swapped teaching for urban farming this past summer, the sweaty afternoons spent covered in topsoil surprised me by actually changing my outlook on life and my writing. History echoes this idea: Esteemed writer Tennessee Williams wrote entire plays while working in a shoe factory. We tend to wedge ourselves into the same routines, staying comfortable so we can feel good about ourselves. But if we do that for too long, we miss out on the trials — even if the tribulations are heavy bags of skis and endless flights of stairs.
Maybe next winter, I can follow in Costanza's footsteps and pretend to be an architect. But for now, I'll be slinging skis and poles on the corner of your street, trying to dream up the plot of my next book. Which will, undoubtedly, feature a man being sentenced to be another man's Butler.