In the 1960 movie "The Bellboy," Jerry Lewis' character is ordered to unload the trunk of a hotel guest's car. Lewis proceeds to dismantle the engine of a Volkswagen Beetle.
As the 43rd member of team bellhop (today's gender-correct word) at Paris Las Vegas, I'm doing better -- but not by much. At least that's what Chuck Fitch and his friends from Lake Havasu, Ariz., would probably tell you. They pulled into the valet lane a half-hour ago, all excited about their weekend stay and unaware that the Arc de Triomphe and Eiffel Tower weren't the only inferior copies in their eyeline.
"We're gonna gamble like crazy, drink lots of alcohol and have a great time," Fitch reported, a theory supported by his luggage -- three shopping bags, seven colorful long-sleeve shirts on individual hangers, a box of supermarket-brand water and a case of Budweiser with a couple of cans missing.
At Paris Las Vegas, all items are stickered upon check-in. They're then taken by conveyor belt up to a storage room by the second-floor freight elevators. (Free-hanging shirts and beer cases go in airportlike trays.) Stored by number, the luggage waits until the guest phones down with a claim check and room number to deliver it to.
Here's the chink in that chain: I was so busy stickering, I never handed Fitch his claim ticket.
"No," says David Fusaro, my bell captain and trainer.
Fusaro, who began as a bellhop when Paris Las Vegas opened in 1999, is a husky 36-year-old who exudes the unflappability typical of former New Yorkers.
"You need to go find him," he says.
One morning with me and Fusaro is flapped.
"Rotunda men" were introduced in 1829 with the opening of the posh Tremont House Hotel in Boston. They got a new name from the bells that receptionists rang to make available rotunda men hop to. (This contribution took a historical back seat, however, to the Tremont's more sensational novelty: indoor plumbing.)
The job has evolved during the past couple of centuries -- along with hotel bathrooms. Modern bellhops not only handle more baggage than the Lohan family therapist, they serve as portable concierge agents, answering all curbside guest questions. (At Paris, they each carry a booklet listing every restaurant, show and event in town -- at least the ones associated with Paris Las Vegas parent corporation Harrah's Entertainment.)
Bellhops at Paris Las Vegas start at just less than $20,000 per year. Although Fusaro refuses to report an average tip amount, the crinkled $2 to $5 wads I get handed by every guest suggest that tips would just about double that salary.
After unsuccessfully scouring the lobby for a dude who wants to par-tay, I return outside to find a luggage check line that's now 80 un-thrilled guests long. Today, Paris Las Vegas' 2,900 rooms will receive 1,271 guests and see off 1,070. The check-ins include 800-plus attendees of a Wells Fargo convention.
Although Friday is normally bellhop hell day, I can't say for sure that the long wait is entirely unrelated to me. For instance, Jason Edwards of Bentonville, Ark., needed his three bags stored this morning -- alongside the golf bag he checked yesterday.
I jotted all of Edwards' info on a purple ticket and then ...
"Purple is for Diamond or Seven Star customers," Fusaro said.
So I jotted all of Edwards' info on a gray ticket and then...
"That's a check-in ticket," Fusaro interrupted. "This is a check-out."
Fusaro sold tennis equipment in New York before transferring to town 10 years ago, seeking "better opportunities, an easier life, and no more Long Island Expressway," he said earlier.
Instead, there were long desert drives to cover his new territory -- all of New Mexico, Arizona and Southern Nevada. He hated those just as much.
"I got married and I didn't want to spend so much time away from home," he said.
So the husband and father of two gave casino work a shot.
"I had a personality to work with people," he said.
With no experience, only two impressive interviews, Fusaro landed the job. Now he works the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, with Wednesdays and Thursdays off.
"I like the interaction with guests," he said. "I love meeting people from all different places."
The most famous bellhop was Johnny Roventini of the Hotel New Yorker. Dressed in his red uniform, Ronventini was featured on the hotel's postcards, then shilled for Phillip Morris tobacco in magazine and radio ads in the '30s and '40s -- so successfully that he became the world's first living trademark. (Local singer Brandon Flowers worked as a Gold Coast bellhop, but he didn't get famous until his band, the Killers, did.)
At 47 inches tall, Roventini was also the world's shortest bellhop. And the piles of Samsonite I can't see over serve as a constant reminder that only 18 inches separate me from that record.
"Sorry about that," I say as I nearly run bell captain Mike DeRiso over. (I doubt DeRiso believes this was an accident. Earlier, he pronounced that today's lunch breaks will be taken in order of height, then stared at me and pronounced, "Looks like somebody's not eating today!")
It is 2 p.m. and I have just entered the ground-floor bag-storage room. It is a long tunnel crawling with men in Sgt. Pepper blazers, trying to match tickets to numbers written on industrial-sized shelves.
One guy isn't wearing a uniform, and he looks familiar. It's Mr. Edwards of Bentonville, Ark. And staring at him makes me remember forgetting to bundle his three new bags with his golf bag from yesterday.
"It happens from time to time, where we misplace a bag," Fusaro told me earlier. "But we always find it. In the eight years I've been here, I don't think we've ever completely lost a bag."
"It's OK," Edwards replies to my apology. "They told me you don't do this for a living."
Just then, a new fire requires snuffing. It's related to the Wells Fargo luggage, which sits in an unused conference room, shuttled from the airport since the company prepaid for baggage handling. It's comparatively light -- mostly laptop and garment bags. (During what Fusaro calls "those lady conventions," guests can arrive with five valises each. He remembers once having to store the luggage from a makeup conference on the hotel's front driveway.)
Still, the bellhops are behind schedule getting it all up to the rooms by the time the convention ends.
"Do you have any bellman to send?" DeRiso's voice blares from Fusaro's walkie-talkie.
Fusaro radios back. There is one he can think of.
DeRiso cuts him off.
"Anyone but that Corey guy," he says.
Watch video of Levitan as a Paris Las Vegas bellboy at www.reviewjournal.com/video/fearandloafing.html. Fear and Loafing runs on Mondays in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures are posted at fearandloafing.com. If you've got an idea for Levitan, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 383-0456.