Smooth Operator

In the Shady Business Division of the Action Department, my role often sees me stepping into the shoes of a spin doctor. I’m the middleman, leaning where necessary, whispering the right information into the right ears, ensuring the most favorable version of the truth finds its way to the top.

We, the urban adventurers who claim the streets as our playground, understand that there are always multiple truths: the objective truth, the whole, the naked truth, the subjective truth, the complex truth. There’s no hierarchy in these truths, no order. To suggest otherwise would be to admit that each contains a smidgen of falsehood. But that’s not the case, of course. It’s merely a matter of perspective, viewpoint, gaze.

The past few days have been particularly taxing. A serious incident occurred. Some good folks took a nasty sucker punch from fate. The kind of major mishap that plunges you headfirst into a vat of septic juice without so much as a warning. Our task was to delicately extract the spiked bat that a particularly misanthropic deity had jammed into the cavity.

We had to work behind the scenes, negotiate incognito, stroke the fur in the right direction. We had to evoke fond memories for certain individuals, carefully avoiding mention of that buried file, but subtly hinting that we always have a shovel in the trunk for emergencies. Essentially, we needed to be effective but with finesse. The field was riddled with dangers and subtlety was key. And as you and I both know, being subtle is particularly exhausting.

The operation was a success. A complete victory was out of the question, but we achieved the best possible outcome. I emerged from this ordeal as victorious as one could be, but worn out. On the verge of slipping and whining about mental (or worse, emotional) load like a neurotic old lady addicted to psychology magazines. Let’s save ourselves that circus and any false claims about my overwhelming empathy.

I was mostly overwhelmed by a pressing need for rest. Conveniently, a trip was scheduled. Operation Azure. No, not the coup d’état project of the conspiracy nutjobs, but one that involved lounging under palm trees on the sidelines of a prosthetist convention, jotting down a few notes for future twisted plots. Nothing that should prevent me from enjoying the sun and the all-you-can-eat buffets with lounge music playing in the background.

I say “lounge music,” but in reality, the Tunisian resort’s soundtrack consisted almost entirely of easy listening covers of top hits from all eras, and (in their original version this time) the now ubiquitous tunes of The Weeknd and the very best of Sade.

In 1984, Sade Adu gifted the world with her Smooth Operator. A legendary track that allowed generations of guys like me to glamorize their borderline lives while soothing their conscience with glamorous sax. The extended version of the Smooth Operator video portrays a heartless, weapon-trafficking gigolo supposed to be sexy and irresistible. Even though his romance with Sade turns sour and the villain meets a tragic end falling off a roof during an epic showdown with the police, the sax solo is syrupy enough to convince us that crime and butt grabs are pretty cool.

In a pool heated by pee, I was swimming with two women in burqinis who, to my great surprise, behaved exactly like everyone else: pretending to ignore my banana hammock with a certain disdain. Ah, Islamic modesty! Modern times clearly no longer seemed to validate the sex appeal of smooth operators. What a pity.

I continued my mission, confirming some of the rumors from the Bathroom Whispers section of the Action Department. I even found time to wrap up a few freelance gigs between cocktails at the rooftop bar. I badly needed rest, but I couldn’t unplug and step out of an entirely pointless state of hyper-vigilance. Instead of enjoying my off-hours, I couldn’t help but observe and assess.

The level of service in this hotel was subpar. The obvious reason was that the employees were, at best, poorly managed, and at worst, not managed at all. I noticed each one’s routine and classified them into three groups. Some worked with enthusiasm and a cheerful demeanor. Others did everything to dodge work and avoid the gaze of guests who might need their service. The last category made no effort to hide their disgust for both their job and these swine of tourists.

Half knocked out by a poorly mixed cocktail, I fantasized about a Resort Nightmares episode where a crack-fueled Gordon Ramsey wreaked havoc to get rid of group 3, which magically awakened group 2’s motivation. Group 1, of course, got a promotion to supervise the rejuvenated staff and rewrite the buffet menu with fresh market produce.

And what about the smooth operator in all this? What kind of adventure would he have embarked on in such a context? He would likely have doled out some under-the-table baksheesh to win over the negative leaders. He would have seduced a little, threatened a bit, blackmailed here and there, to eventually take advantage of the surrounding chaos and set up his business within the business. Perhaps by pimping out the spa masseuses in the rooms of naughty, lonely congress attendees between two PowerPoint presentations… One could even have made the revolutionary ceramics start-up trying to bribe them cough up. They would have easily recouped the funds later with the health insurance money.

Here, I had the chance to take a breather. I needed to disconnect! I wasn’t there to conduct a damn audit on this den of charlatans who likely had the world’s best excuses, probably victims of poor treatment in the back alleys of the tourist industry. I wasn’t there either to boost my already inflated street-cred for a white male from the middle class approaching his late forties. And yet… I had almost forgotten that adventure was always there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to snatch us around a corner, behind a palm tree.

During a discreet surveillance near the bar in the wellness area, I caught a pool guy red-handed selling dirty bath towels to a mom who had come to splash around with her naughty offspring in the indoor pool. The pool guy had blatantly snagged them from the putrid pile in the gym. The towel fabric must have been soaked with athlete’s sweat, that particularly foul-smelling juice secreted by protein shake addicts. How disgusting! With a satisfied smile twisting his sly face, he had roughly folded the bath towels into thirds before handing them to Caroline Ingalls, who was none the wiser.

This sneaky weasel was about to return to his technical room when I caught him in the act. “Hey Kamel, that was not very nice what you just did.” He denied it a bit for form’s sake before explaining that the reserve of clean towels was depleted and he had to go get some from the other side of the complex, in “the other resort.” It was far, it was tedious. He had taken the quickest route. Moreover, these kids had been annoying him for three days. They were noisy and ill-mannered. “OK OK. But what do you mean? Which other resort?” In an attempt to save his skin, Kamel had spilled the beans. A mysterious parallel world existed beyond the western wall. One could access it by going through the beach.

As night fell, I slipped into the shadows to cross over to the other side of the mirror. “The other resort” was a dark and hostile cesspool haunted by a haggard clientele. These damned tourists, likely blacklisted by all travel agents globally, had found refuge in this pitiful all-inclusive that resembled a Moldovan copy of a Chernobyl-infected Victoria Beach. I walked among these shadows, hoping to be invisible, like Rick Grimes in the streets of TWD S01E01. I noticed that all the zombies were moving along poorly marked paths between buildings, all in the same direction. Amidst the clapping of flip-flops and the rubbing of sandals, everyone was heading to the only properly lit place in the village: the evening entertainment stage.

A few minutes later, I was seated on a rickety plastic chair, witnessing the most pitiful spectacle ever. Three young locals were rolling in crushed glass and on nail boards, getting trampled by overweight vacationers. Each stunt was met with hesitant, forced, and melancholy applause. It was long and painful, with the only glimmer of potential excitement coming from the prospect of a serious injury.

After an hour of boredom and discomfort, without an eye gouged out or a spectacular beheading, I decided to slip away and return to my Elysium, stealthily progressing from palm tree to palm tree. The undercover agent hadn’t been caught like a common Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom. He returned home physically unscathed, but psychologically affected. Watching the performance of a lascivious donkey in a zoophilic dive in the depths of Tijuana would probably not have been more traumatic.

Two days later, on the plane taking me back to the European heatwave (a day late due to a general strike called by the main Tunisian workers’ union), I reflected on the price of an exciting life as an international adventurer ready to face all challenges. After lengthy consideration of the pros and cons, my verdict was unequivocal. No question of giving up these adrenaline spikes in realities corrupted by our “wallah” truths or our genuine truths. Why? To accept that we’re just gorging ourselves at the all-inclusive buffet while the kitchens are on fire? A little seriousness, please! Diamond life, lover boy. We move in space with minimum waste and maximum joy.

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