This is how the story goes. A couple of editors and writers along with the photographer in question, who I will call Steve, are assigned to cover a major story in the USSR. They spend some weeks there and during their stay, Steve buys himself an expensive mink coat. No one is betting on Steve having paid for it out of his own pocket. So the editors rat on him and alert the editor-in-charge I will call Don, about the purchase. Steve walks into Don’s office as flamboyantly as ever – though a bit unsure this time around. He sits across the desk from Don and nervously watches  him scan and scrutinize his expenses. Though some of the charges seem a bit inflated, boy, those communist countries are expensive! Don justifies. But there is nothing in it that seems  out of ordinary. Certainly nothing in particular to make an issue of. So at long last he puts his John Hancock down on the dotted line. Relieved, Steve thanks him and begins to leave his office, but stops short of exiting.

‘Don!’

‘What?’

‘Just so that you know,’ and he stalls a bit, ‘that mink coat is in there!!’

None of us in the production department would get away with anything that came remotely as close. But it wouldn’t be unusual to put down and get away with charging for cabs instead of miles we drove on our cars, or when someone gave us a ride. Chicago cabbies were generous in peeling off their tablets and giving out blank receipts to their customers, especially the ones who tipped well.  And you didn’t have to be a rocket scientist either to ask for an inflated food and beverage receipt from your friendly waiter. Or we wouldn’t hesitate too much charging for the meals which the printers bought or that fancy dinner you took your girlfriend out to, especially on the evening that you had ended up working late. Little chicken shit like that.

Pretty much the same when I joined Playboy. Even though they had certain do’s and don’ts, their rules were quite flexible. More so for those of us who lived and worked abroad. We would book our own flights and book our own hotel rooms and keep track of our own expenses. I joined the division several  months after it came into being. I just followed the path already paved by the ones who had been around, such as staying always at the exclusive George V in Paris, Principe e Savoia in Milan, Excelsior in Rome, Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg.  This obviously wasn’t necessary, but that’s how it was. Though pretty soon I got tired of those pricey and pretentious places and whenever I could find a small boutique hotel, like L’Europe in Paris, El Cortez in Mexico City, U raka in Prague, I would stay there

They were small and cozy and personal and cost half as much. And I got to know the city from a perspective of a different neighborhood. I couldn’t see spending +/- $200.- a night, that is in the Seventies and the Eighties. Also because I wasn’t comfortable with the doorman, concierge, bellboy and sundry always picking up my stuff, calling cabs for me, opening doors, escorting me to my room and going through the motions of turning on lights and television, showing me how things worked with call buttons and at times even how the toilet paper rolled. Hanging around, fidgeting until you fumbled into your pockets and handed him whatever you fished out. With the currencies changing in every country, sometimes you gave too much, others not enough. I just felt so embarrassed at one human being playing the role of a subservient – waiting on you hands and feet.

I found this ritual to be quite humiliating. I didn’t see any grandeur in staying at those and boast about. Though I too have often done precisely that, it is mostly in jest, and also to communicate that I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And just because the company is paying for it, I had no reason to surrender my natural self – which is not being a subject of being fussed about.  I like just to step out and walk out on the street, walk down to a café and have some real good coffee with freshly baked Croissant or Brötchen or Simit or Media Lunas, whatever the specialty of the land was. Rub shoulders with the locals. I even went as far as convincing my boss in letting me rent apartments in Essen and Mexico City, where I needed to spend several days every month. A month’s rent would be covered by the equivalent of four or five nights of stay at one of our usual hotels.

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