Jacob Tomsky’s Heads in Beds:A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality is the author’s account of his (mis)adventures in the hotel industry. Part memoir and part industry expose, it begins with Tomsky’s first job as valet at a luxury hotel in New Orleans. It then purportedly follows his rise through the ranks there (he becomes housekeeping supervisor before ditching his chance for further promotion in order to travel), and at a mid-level hotel in Manhattan -where he is forced to find employment after traveling the world and finding that no one will hire him for much else.
Heads in Beds started slowly for my tastes, and I was tempted to put it aside several times but became more interested by the time he became housekeeping supervisor, and outlines the realities of working in housekeeping- the backbreaking work housekeepers perform for little pay, supervisors who think their work is easy, and hotel guests who offer little in the way of consideration or cleanliness. Most of my problems with the book can probably be chalked up to expectations that didn’t align with Tomsky’s intent, or even his background. Though he held a variety of positions – housekeeping, valet, and front desk – I was under the impression that the breadth of his knowledge and experience (of an entire industry no less) would have included more than just two properties, and more than basic supervisory level experience. Tomsky isn’t able to provide much depth of perspective, and so mostly comes across as an angry employee, abusive of the power he has over hotel customers – though it seems that many rude and entitled customers may well be deserving of this treatment.
Tomsky’s writing is colorful – full of foul language, juvenile humor, and peppered with examples of how he became a “down” member of hotel staffs that are primarily Black or Latino. Many pages are devoted to skirmishes among staff and employers, and the unpleasant customers who don’t realize how their experience is detrimentally affected by their behavior – not least of all, failure to grease a palm. The narrative peaks again when new private equity managers try to force out the old employees for cost-cutting measures, thereby engaging in a fierce battle with the union, and ultimately Tomsky. Dangers are involved for all parties when the bottom line is the only guiding principal, and that is startling clear in Tomsky’s account, but other than a few brief highlights I would skip to the appendix where Tomsky dictates his tips and tricks for hotel survival boot camp.