Story type: Essay
Etiquette at hotels is a subject that has been but lightly treated upon by our modern philosophy, and yet it is a subject that lies very near to every American heart. Had I not already more reforms on hand than I can possibly successfully operate I would gladly use my strong social influence and trenchant pen in that direction. Etiquette at hotels, both on the part of the proprietor, and his hirelings, and the guest, is a matter that calls loudly for improvement.
The hotel waiter alone, would well repay a close study. From the tardy and polished loiterer of the effete East, to the off-hand and social equal of the budding West, all waiters are deserving of philosophical scrutiny. I was thrown in contact with a waiter in New York last summer, whose manners were far more polished than my own. Every time I saw him standing there with his immediate pantaloons and swallow-tail coat, and the far-away, chastened look of one who had been unfortunate, but not crushed, I felt that I was unworthy to be waited upon by such a blue-blooded thoroughbred, and I often wished that we had more such men in Congress. And when he would take my order and go away with it, and after the meridian of my life had softened into the mellow glory of the sere and yellow leaf, when he came back, still looking quite young, and never having forgotten me, recognizing me readily after the long, dull, desolate years, I was glad, and I felt that he deserved something more than mere empty thanks and I said to him: “Ah, sir, you still remember me after years of privation and suffering. When every one else in New York has forgotten me, with the exception of the confidence man, you came to me with the glad light of recognition in your clear eye. Would you be offended if I gave you this trifling testimonial of my regard?” at the same time giving him my note at thirty days.
I wanted him to have something by which to always remember me, and I guess he has.
Speaking of waiters, reminds me of one at Glendive, Montana. We had to telegraph ahead in order to get a place to sleep, and when we registered the landlord shoved out an old double-entry journal for us to record our names and postoffice address in. The office was the bar and before we could get our rooms assigned us, we had to wait forty-five minutes for the landlord to collect pay for thirteen drinks and lick a personal friend. Finally, when he got around to me, he told me that I could sleep in the night bar-tender’s bed, as he would be up all night, and might possibly get killed and never need it again, anyhow. It would cost me $4 cash in advance to sleep one night in the bartender’s bed, he said, and the house was so blamed full that he and his wife had got to wait till things kind of quieted down, and then they would have to put a mattress on the 15 ball pool table and sleep there.
I called attention to my valuable valise that had been purchased at great cost, and told him that he would be safe to keep that behind the bar till I paid; but he said he wasn’t in the second-hand valise business, and so I paid in advance. It was humiliating, but he had the edge on me.
At the tea table I noticed that the waiter was a young man who evidently had not been always thus. He had the air of one who yearns to have some one tread on the tail of his coat. Meekness, with me, is one of my characteristics. It is almost a passion. It is the result of personal injuries received in former years at the hands of parties who excelled me in brute force and who succeeded in drawing me out in conversation, as it were, till I made remarks that were injudicious.
So I did not disagree with this waiter, although I had grounds. When he came around and snorted in my ear, “Salt pork, antelope and cold beans,” at the same time leaning his full weight on my back, while he evaded the revenue laws by retailing his breath to the guests without a license, I thought I would call for what he had the most of, so I said if he didn’t mind and it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I would take cold beans.
I will leave it to the calm, impassionate and unpartisan reader to state whether that remark ought to create ill-feeling. I do not think it ought. However, he was irritable, and life to him seemed to be cold and dark. So he went to the general delivery window that led into the cold bean laboratory, and remarked in a hoarse, insolent, and ironical tone of voice:
“Nother damned suspicious looking character wants cold beans.”