Just as it is foolish to gauge the general fitness level of Americans by walking the aisles of Walmart, so it would be wise not to make assumptions about the intelligence of flatlanders based on their behavior when they come north. So whenever I want to shake my head at someone’s foolish behavior, I’m reminded that it is usually another, more intelligent guest at the inn who points it out to me.

Yet there is no denying the ability of one person to create unnecessary work for another. The best night of the year for this would appear to be Christmas Eve, or more accurately very, very early on Christmas morning. Two years ago, the phone rang at 4:30 in the morning, which is the worst time to get pulled out of the bed. If I have to get up or think at all, it will take at least an hour to get back to sleep. By then I’m thinking about breakfast and how I’ll only have a few more minutes of sleep before I have to get up and figure out how to feed thirty hungry guests.

So the phone rang. My wife listened, and told me, “It’s room fifteen,” then rolled over and went back to sleep. I took the phone with little enthusiasm.

“We have no heat down here,” the man’s voice said.

Instantly, I was awake. No heat? What happened? Was it just that unit or was everyone in that building going to be wake up cold and cranky? I told him I’d be right down and slipped into some clothes. Oh, and I’m very sorry. No problem, he assured me. No problem at all. Considering the circumstances, he was not at all put out. It didn’t yet occur to me to wonder why. I started thinking clearly by the time I made it down the stairs and grabbed a flashlight and some matches. The heater in that room (since replaced) was old and creaky; there was a good chance it was nothing more than the pilot light going out. Which was true, as it turned out. What was more interesting was why the pilot light was out.

When someone comes into a room and it is too cold for their taste, they don’t turn up the heat to seventy or seventy-two, or wherever they want it. No, they crank it as high as it goes. They think of a thermostat as they would a gas pedal. The harder you stomp, the faster you’ll get up to speed. Of course, thermostats don’t work that way.

This is what happens to the guests in room fifteen. His wife jacks up the heat full throttle when they arrive. They then go to sleep, but the dinosaur of a heater, all 40,000 BTUs of it, keeps working. Before long, the family is baking in their sheets like so many Christmas hams. The father gets up, cannot find the thermostat on the wall and goes directly to the heater itself. Does he turn the heater off directly? Of course not. What he does is lie on his back and grope around underneath until he finds the gas line itself and then turns it off. By early morning it is freezing and he calls me.

And I spend the next twenty minutes trying to get the stubborn pilot light lit again.

But at least there was no damage. Last year, someone called at three o’clock Christmas morning to tell me that water was leaking from the ceiling in their bathroom. After a frantic search I discovered the source. The guests above them had gone to sleep with the sink plug pulled and the water still running. It was the barest trickle, but after a few hours it did the trick, overflowed, soaked through the carpet and subfloor and found its way to the downstairs neighbors.

My wife has hit upon a novel solution to these problems: the bozo tax. This is a surcharge that we apply above and beyond the room rate to anyone who adds to our work load through a shortage of their own cognitive abilities. Make your reservation after midnight? Ten dollars. Drag the hot tub cover onto the deck instead of following the easy instructions? Fifteen dollars. Five dollars for parking in front of the dumpster and ten for getting lost on the way to your room and then crawling into bed in the first vacant room you find. (Yes, that really happened, and no, we don’t always lock the empty rooms. This is the country, after all.) Need an explanation of the remote control? First time is free, additional times three dollars each. Flood the downstairs unit? Don’t even go there. You can’t afford it. Fines automatically doubled on Christmas, New Years and other major holidays.

Okay, okay, there’s no bozo tax. But gosh, it's tempting sometimes.

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