Broom Service 

Residence Inn-Westport receives a request from beyond the grave (sorta). Plus: We chat with baseball's "Designated Hebrew," stack the Lou against Camden, New Jersey, and learn how to live flea-free.

This just in: Concierge Preferred magazine has released its annual list of "the most bizarre requests ever received by hotel staff."

Five lucky St. Louisans were among the finalists, and our very own Karen Pitts of Residence Inn-Westport took home the honors. Unreal transcribed her winning narrative from a video clip posted at www.conciergepreferred.com:

[Cue space-age music] I have been in the hotel industry for over 22 years, and during that time I've had several interesting requests, but most recently, a few months ago, the most unusual request was made at our hotel, Residence Inn-Westport.

It was in the morning, about nine o'clock, and a gentleman walks in the front door, dressed normal. He had on just a polo shirt and khaki pants — and he did have something in his hands, but we didn't really notice what he was carrying — walks up to our front desk and starts talking to one of our guest service representatives, Rynette, and starts telling her how his grandmother loved to stay at Residence Inn: This was her favorite hotel.

His grandmother had recently died and she had one last request. He holds up a jar — it looks like a pickle jar, but there's this black stuff in it. He says, "Her last request [was] she wanted her ashes sprinkled at the hotel. So would it be OK if I put her ashes here on the front desk and maybe put some over there by the breakfast room area?"

And Rynette was like, "You wanna do what?"

And about that time the general manager walks out — and mind you, our general manager Rob had just started working at the hotel — introduces himself, says, "Good morning, sir, is there something I can help you with?" And he tells us how much his grandmother loved staying at Residence Inn, and he'd like to fulfill her last request, which is to sprinkle her ashes at the hotel. Could he go over and put it along by the breakfast area and sprinkle something on the front desk?

And we're like, "What?!"

But we weren't sure about this gentleman's reaction if we told him flat-out "no," so we said, "Well, you know, if we do that, you know, we're just gonna sweep up Grandma's ashes and throw them out. So why don't you just go outside and do that?"

And the guy starts getting teary-eyed and he says: "Grandma loved this and I just want to fulfill her wish. Can I go into a room and maybe sprinkle them across a bed?"

And Rob is like, "No, I just don't think that's a great idea. Let's just go outside."

[The man] bursts into tears, opens the jar, sprinkles ashes on the front desk and runs out the front door. And he's gone.

And of course we're all standing there like, "Oh my gosh! What just happened?"

There was all this black stuff on the counter. We brushed it off and we did throw it away, and he was gone.

[Sound of vacuuming]



Louse in the House

Didya know that nine- and ten-year-old girls, who love to group-hug, are the kids most likely to get head lice?

Or that educators nationwide now think twice before sending lice-infested kids home from school because missed attendance nets bad marks on No Child Left Behind reports?

How 'bout a nit: Know what that is?

No worries: www.licepreventionnews.com is a knight in shining cyberspace, a vast online compendium of all things lice and nits (their eggs), there to educate and inform poor louses like Unreal. We can use it to master lice trivia and to peruse 1,000-word USA Today articles on the critters. (Nits hatch into nymphs, which mature into lice.) The Wayne, New Jersey-based folks who administer the Web site even send out press releases.

(Now there's some food-for-cocktail-party-thought: "So John, what do you do?" Unreal asks, scratching our head.

"Funny you should ask: I'm press officer for Lice Prevention News.")

LPN's latest salvo reports that "9 out of 10 Moms Favor No Nits Policy Over No Lice Policy" and that "Survey Shows Head Lice Debate Rages On." At issue: whether schools should send home a kid with nits, as opposed to a full-blown lice-festation.

Tough one, huh? No wonder they didn't call in dads to settle the score.

The LPN broadside (which earned "Press Release of the Week" honors here at Unreal's headquarters) notes that the survey was conducted by Fairy Tales Hair Care, concocters of the Rosemary Repel® all-natural lice-prevention hair-care system, and the Lice Good-Bye® Nit Removal System, "a non-toxic alternative method to repel lice using [a] 4 tiered system of hair care."

Four-tiered is definitely better than five-tiered when it comes to hair care, according to Unreal's stylist.

In an amazing coinky-dink, the good news came only a few days before the Associated Press heralded the results of a University of Utah study that revealed that a super-duper blow-dryer-like contraption called the LouseBuster nipped 80 percent of lice and 98 percent of nits in the bud! Dude!

But back to LPN: "The survey revealed that most parents feel that one nit left in the hair can hatch and keep a classroom infestation growing," the press release imparts. "School nurses, teachers and foster parents all agreed that a no nits policy, while [it] sometimes can be 'overkill,' is usually for the best. One argument for the No Lice policy is that nitpicking takes forever...."

That we knew. And we've been telling our mother so for years.



The Slugging Semite

On opening day in 1973, New York Yankee Ron Blomberg stepped to the plate, coaxed a bases-loaded walk from Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant — and went into the record books as the first major leaguer to appear in a game as a designated hitter (or "designated pinch hitter," as it was originally called).

Blomberg, who came to the major leagues in 1969, was also one of the first Jewish players to wear the Yankee pinstripes. By the 1970s he was known in some circles as the team's "Great Jewish Hope."

Blomberg retired in 1978 and moved back to Atlanta, where he'd grown up. Until recently he occupied himself with public-speaking gigs and occasionally providing color commentary for baseball broadcasts. Then a friend, the late sportscaster Dick Schaap, mentioned to Blomberg that he'd go down in history as baseball's first official "DH." True, Blomberg replied — "if by 'DH' you mean I was the first Designated Hebrew."

Schaap cracked up. "You have to write a book," he said.

Since its publication this past March, Designated Hebrew has been a modest success. Naturally, when Blomberg passed through St. Louis for the Jewish Book Festival last week, Unreal wanted to talk to him.

Blomberg says he experienced a fair amount of anti-Semitism growing up in the South. But his family wasn't particularly religious; when he joined the Yankees and moved to New York, all he knew about eating kosher was kosher-style pickles. The first time he saw a Hasidic Jew, he thought the man was Amish. But New York's Jewish community embraced Blomberg. At a time when baseball players made modest salaries, Blomberg lived the high life. "I would sign baseballs in the garment district and walk away with free suits," he says.

Once he walked into a Mercedes dealership to sign an autograph and walked out with the keys to a (free) new car. He didn't have to pay rent on his penthouse apartment.

"It was a love relationship between me and the Jewish population in New York," Blomberg tells Unreal. "I felt like I was a chosen person."

He says there are still moments when he feels the same way. Like a few months ago, when it started to rain just as he was getting ready for a round of golf. He rode out onto the course anyway. Immediately the rain stopped and the sun came out.

"I felt like I parted the sea," he says.



Camden of the Midwest?

During the dark days of the 2004 World Series, imaginative East Coast types began referring to St. Louis as the Boston of the Midwest, citing historical and architectural similarities between the two burgs.

Unreal even jumped on the bandwagon. But, another World Series and a few more "America's Most Dangerous Cities" surveys later, we're not so sure. In a repeat of 2002, St. Louis again snagged the dubious top spot in Morgan Quitno Press' annual parade, displacing Camden, New Jersey, which "won" in '04 and '05.

Is St. Louis the Camden of the Midwest? You decide. Click here to see.

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