In Spring 2007 I published an essay called “The Low Season” in The Cimarron Review. It’s the story of how my wife and I paid for a month in Puerto Vallarta with money we made by attending timeshare presentations. Because I now live in Myrtle Beach, a place that exists largely thanks to the vacation industry, the time seems right to revisit the piece. So I’m going to serialize it here. One part every week for ten weeks. To start reading from the beginning, scroll down.
The Low Season
Part Eight: The Interrogation
There’s a reason attorneys coach witnesses to answer with the fewest number of words possible: the more complex an explanation, the more holes you leave open. We should answer Steve with a firm no, thanks. No gives him nothing to work with. It’s a knuckleball, a pain in the ass.
But instead of saying no, I twist my face and look up at the ceiling. “Well, you know…we’re just…um…the thing is…we’re just not sure.” Then I look toward Kate, finally landing on something that feels like a solid protest. “What I’m saying is, we can’t afford it right now.”
We can’t afford it is a bush league fastball right down the pipe, a pitch Steve can mash. He springs forward in his chair and flips open a legal pad. “Don’t be sure about that, Joe,” he says. He’s drawing something that looks like the USDA food pyramid. “How many weeks do you vacation per year?”
I remember the fine print on Eyder’s form. I don’t want to slip and say something that will disqualify us from the cash, but at the same time I want to tell him, Look, buddy. We don’t vacation, okay. We travel. For months at a time. So this whole stinking bourgeois-yuppie resort deal isn’t exactly our bag of beans.
Instead I say, “About two weeks.”
Steve writes two weeks on the pad. “And how much do you spend on vacations every year?”
This is another opportunity to stand up and say, Steve, buddy, seriously. We’re not interested. We’re trying to see the real Mexico. What’s the point of coming here if you never leave the compound? So take the Cartier boutique and the reflecting pool back to Vegas. We’ll take the pesos and be on our way.
But for some reason I can’t be this blunt, not even to a stranger. I’m not sure why, but I’d feel guilty taking the money without letting Steve go through his spiel. I turn toward Kate. “What do you think? A couple thousand dollars, maybe?”
Steve laughs. “And you’re telling me you can’t afford this place?”
We’re interrupted by Steve’s leggy assistant, who offers us more good coffee. I take a sip. “I don’t think it’s really about the money,” I say.
Steve pops a Diet Coke. “You know, Joe and Kate, you guys have the right attitude. It’s not about the money, is it? It’s about lifestyle. It’s about improving your quality of life.” He crosses a black loafer over his knee. “That’s where the Mayan Palace fits in. And ownership here is more affordable than you’d think.”
I don’t see how that’s possible, but just to be sure I look down to Steve’s legal pad, trying to see if he’s scribbled a price anywhere. Just pie charts and pyramids. And something that looks like the Mayan calendar.
“Let me show you what I mean,” he says. “How much do you spend per night on hotels?”
Here we’ve got him. “About thirty,” I say.
“Wow,” he says. “Thirty bucks?” He’s a little stunned. I’ve shaken him, brushed him back. “Honestly, I don’t know if I can make the numbers work after all.” He goes nose-deep into the legal pad, trying to get back his rhythm. “Jeez, man. Thirty? What kind of places do you stay in? Hostels?”
“More like cheap hotels, I guess.”
“Exactly like cheap hotels,” Kate says. “Because when we go to a foreign country, we want to get a feel for the place. And if we stayed in a huge complex like this, I’m not sure we’d get that—”
“Local color,” Steve says, pointing a manicured finger at Kate. “That’s cool, guys. I get it.” He’s back. Back on terra firma. “I used to do that whole backpack thing. You know, hop on a train? Eurail Pass and a baguette?” He’s smiling, nodding his head. Sitting up straight. “And that’s fine when you’re a kid, right? But you’ve gotta think about the Kate and Joe of fifteen, twenty years down the road.” He’s rolling now, picking up speed, working toward his money line. “Trust me. There’s gonna be a time in your life when you want a little more stability. You’ll have had all the local color you can stand.” And then he stops. Leans back in the chair. Looks me right in the eye. “You’re gonna want to stay someplace nice.”