The Plunger Attack

In all the years that I worked in the hotel business, I’d thought my worst danger was an armed robber, with a violent drunk being second. During that time, I’ve dealt with a lot of crazy situations so very little surprises me when it comes to human behavior, and fortunately, I never faced a gun. I did, however, have a life-changing event with a violent drunk.

In late 1997, I was working at the Bell Tower Holiday Inn Select in Ft. Myers, Florida. It was a five-story place with a sports bar and situated only a fifteen minute drive from an international airport, so we had shuttles running back and forth from there constantly. A lot of important people would stay with us, such as David Copperfield, George Carlin, and various other celebrities. I once got into an argument with a drunken wrestler Razor Ramone because he didn’t sign for his expensive tab in the bar/restaurant, which put the obligation on the waiter who was trying to put himself through college.

Anyway, it was an extremely stressful job. I was the night manager from 11pm to 7am. When I walked in, there would be a front desk supervisor on duty, someone on phones to handle calls and reservations, plus two people at the desk bouncing around between all the numerous tasks needing done at once. Once I was clocked in, they all left and it was up to me to handle everything, plus keep communication going with the shuttles and security, and somewhere during all that I had to get the night audit done, making sure the figures for the day balanced out – if they didn’t, I had to find out why and fix it.

To add to this, it was policy for the reservation department to book at least 9-13 rooms over what we had available, figuring we would be that much more full given the probability of people canceling or not showing up for their rooms. The problem with that was when the entire area was full (no hotels around had a room available) and people were coming in on my shift for their rooms but we were overbooked… guess who got yelled at? I generally had deals worked out with other night managers so that if rooms opened up, we would all get people in, but this didn’t always work out. I still got screamed at, nonetheless.

Also, the flight crews… oh the flight crews. The airport sent many of them to us  to sleep, and our shuttles would pick them up along with guests coming off the planes. If a plane showed up late and missed a shuttle, they would have to wait about a half hour for the next one, at the most (fifteen minutes to and from the hotel) but with multiple shuttles, the wait was usually sooner. However, we would get jerk pilots who take over the first shuttle they see, generally for a plane that’s on time, and then the on-time crew would have to wait. Or sometimes, a crew was early and they hijacked a shuttle waiting on a different one, throwing everything out of whack. Not all flight crews were bad (I always dug the Delta crews) but boy, some were worse than any nightmare guest.

Anyhow, now that you have an idea of how stressful the job was (at barely above minimum wage… that I drove 60 miles one way to reach because jobs were that bad in Florida), let me tell you about the time I was attacked with a plunger by a drunk flight attendant.

I was training someone to handle my job on the days I was off, something I did often because “handling” it was the key word and new hires generally didn’t last long. I don’t know, the more that was thrown on me, the better I focused. I was like a machine during all of that so it didn’t bother me so much. We got a call from a male flight attendant asking if he could be moved to a room closer to the rest of the crew. There was nothing wrong with his room. It was a matter of convenience.

The morning shift usually assigns the rooms once people have checked out and they know who is for sure staying over another night. They try to get everyone together but it doesn’t always work out that way.

I would have been happy to move him, but this was one of those nights when we were overbooked. I had received just enough cancellations to even things out so there was a room for everyone with nothing to spare. If I moved him, then his previous room would be dirty. It would need to be cleaned before I could put someone in it, and the hotel did not have 24-hour housekeeping. Since no one could clean it and there was nothing wrong with the room, he had to stay put. I politely told him we had no other rooms available to move him to.

We, of course, still had plenty of people checking in. The desk was plenty busy with folks coming in from the airport and elsewhere to claim their reserved rooms. I checked them in and dealt with their needs as they asked, like pillows, extra blankets, etc. Security and bellman helped me with that when they could, but the bellman also drove the shuttles. We were all busting our tails hard every night!

After about an hour, the flight attendant called again, wanting to move. I told him again that I was unable. He apparently went down to the bar, drank with some of the crew, and thought up all these conspiracies that I must have for not giving him a different room. Finally, in the very late hours of the night, he called to say his toilet was plugged and needed to move. By then, everyone was in a room, no last minute cancellations so there was no way it could happen. The shuttle was due to take his crew back to Contintental Airlines for the next flight at 5am, so he needed to sleep it off.

I told him, again, that all rooms were full and that I would send a plunger up to him. As promised, I had security take one up to him.

A few minutes later, he called down and yelled, “Move me to another room!”

Fed up, I said, “No sir! I can’t!”

“Fuck you!” he said and hung up. Then he came down with the plunger, said, “This thing didn’t work, anyway.” He threw it at me and I caught it by the handle. Then he jumped up on the front desk counter and dove at me. I managed to smack him on the head with the plunger before dropping it to catch him.

As his body hit me, we flew back against a large painting on the wall, shattering the glass in the frame. I shoved him hard against a computer, then grabbed him and threw him across the front desk area and into a printer. Next I pulled my fist back, ready to pound him if he came at me again.

During this, the security guard was still on the other side of the desk. See, the only way to get to the other side was walking down a hall and through a secured door. And of course, jumping on the counter and over but he was too old for that. It was all happening so fast that all he did was yell, “Stop it!” from the other side.

The person I was training had backed away to my right (I had thrown the flight attendant off to my left) and he was just trying to stay out of the way, mumbling, “You all are crazy!” He never returned for work after that night.

So I was waiting for the attendant to come at me again, but he didn’t. In fact, he was looking rather pale. That was when I turned to look at my fist, which was squirting blood everywhere. The broken glass in the picture frame had sliced into my hand in a few places, and pretty deep.

Well, that was over. I escorted the attendant back to the lobby – the correct way – while security called 911. Meanwhile, I went to the bathroom to wash my hand. At one point, the skin on my middle finger flopped over and I saw the white of my tendon. Ugh.

I got the top of my right middle finger stitched back on and since the tendon was cut, I required physical therapy for a few months. I also received stitches between my right thumb and forefinger where some glass had stabbed.

Later that morning, the front desk supervisor, Leslie, called to check on me. They had the flight attendant in the office and he agreed to pay for the broken picture, etc. When all was said and done, I was willing to chalk it up to an attack by a drunk. I should consider myself lucky, right? All the nights I dealt with them and that’s the worst I’d gotten thus far. Well, what she said next made my blood boil.

She told me, “He said the reason he attacked you was because you’d told him we were full, but when he came down, he saw you checking people in. He thought you were lying to him, but I’ve explained to him how those people had reservations. I even showed him last night’s audit showing our reservations were overbooked at one point, and our occupancy ended at 100% with zero walk-in check-ins by you.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, he thought the reason you wouldn’t move his room was because he was black, but that’s all been straightened out. I know you’ve been through a lot, but is there any chance you could come to the office while we have him here? He would like to apologize.”

A flood of shock and emotions went through me. Never had it occurred to me during any of the ordeal that it may have been race-related. My father was hardcore racist against everyone (a literal Archie Bunker) and I made it a point not to be like that. I worked with and around so many different races of people, from various cultures and backgrounds, and that was one of the things I loved about the hotel industry: the exposure to so many different people and the ability to make their lives a little more comfortable while they were there.

So to realize that someone had been hating on me like that all evening while I worked so hard to accomodate everyone, and then to ultimately attack me, damaging the hand I write with for several months to come… all over his own racist bullshit, was both confusing and infuriating. I didn’t even know what he looked like until he came down with the plunger! When they check in, there is a sign-in clipboard from the airline with the key cards attached. The pilot fills out what’s needed and passes out the keys, then hands the clipboard back to me. I’m usually very busy with everything else while this is going on.

And because he had turned it into a racial thing, the hotel had to scramble for him to prove that I wasn’t a racist.

My stress levels were beyond topped out. I was exhausted and in a ton of pain. I couldn’t use my right hand at all, and I’m right-handed. Now, they wanted me to drive sixty miles back to the hotel so this racist could apologize, then get a slap on the wrist (which he did – all that happened was he had to pay for the picture), and have me drive sixty miles back home.

I answered, “Not while I have another hand.” They didn’t push it any further. Continental Airlines, the company that signed the contracts for the rooms and paid the bills, refused any legal responsibility for their flight crews’ behavior. As for anything else, the flight attendant got a few of the crew members, who weren’t present when he showed up to attack, to claim they witnessed it all and say that I struck him with the plunger to instigate the fight.

Yeah, I hit him but it was when he was already on the counter and coming at me. The security guard’s report backed me up as well as the word of the person I was training but it was our word against theirs.

Anyway, I look at the scars every day as a reminder that racism goes in all different directions. It’s not a white thing, or a black thing, or a Mexican thing, or whatever… It’s an ugly human thing that just needs to stop. Hating people for being different from you is ridiculous, whether it’s skin color, religion, sexual orientation, it doesn’t matter. And hating someone because you assume they hate you because they’re different is every bit as bad.

Just. Stop it.

Okay, I’ll step off of my soapbox now and mention that a very cool Delta pilot made something for me right after the incident and left it for me at the front desk. It was a plunger that he’d spray-painted gold and put a string of gold stars around the wooden handle. I still have it, and I took a picture. The gold stars are long gone and the paint has come off a bit, but you get the idea. If I ever find an old picture of it, I’ll share.

He also printed off an award for me, which I scanned. Below are all the pics:

Golden Plunger The Plunger Attack The Plunger Attack Golden Plunger

Golden Plunger Award The Plunger Attack The Plunger Attack Golden Plunger Award

Here is a picture taken of my hand right after the incident. It’s a bit blurry but it was a cheap camera:

My beautiful picture The Plunger Attack The Plunger Attack Right Hand 1997

And here is a current picture of the scars, taken February of 2013:

Right hand 2013-2 The Plunger Attack The Plunger Attack Right hand 2013 2

The middle finger has a “G” shaped scar on it, which I like to say is a tribute to my favorite band, Genitorturers. If you follow to the right, just to the right of the middle knuckle, you’ll see scrape scars from the glass.

And below is the scar between the thumb and forefinger:

Right hand 2013 The Plunger Attack The Plunger Attack Right hand 2013

  • This is a fantastic story, Jerrod, and I thank you for telling it. And I agree with your point: assuming that other people hate you is, itself, a form of bigotry. Mostly, though, I’m impressed at your ability to handle so many stressful things going on at once.

    • JerrodBalzer

      Thanks, Ken! One thing I insisted on back then was flexibility on my days off. I often had Fridays and Saturdays off, and odd nights when a band I liked was playing. My big stress release was out dancing in Goth/industrial clubs or jumping into heavy metal mosh pits. When I was alone, I was either working out or writing. If not for all that, I probably would have exploded.