I stumbled down the hot street looking for rooms when suddenly a gate opened on to a large property and I peeped in. I pushed past the garden fixture, a young teenage fella hired for general property duties, towards a frazzled woman of about 60, wiping sweat off her forehead and giving the fixture a look for letting me in.
“What can I do for you?’ She was a Brit.
‘I’m looking for a room,’ I said, dropping my suitcase. She looked me up and down, asked me a few pointed questions, then walked me back to a room in a house two houses back from the first, each with a pool.
Thus was the beginning of the worst holiday I’ve ever had. My first Airbnb and my last. I surveyed the room: art deco, clean. We agreed on $45/night, but I was disappointed to learn that I would be sharing the house with her disgruntled husband, an inveterate television watcher, late night snacker, ball scratcher.
Any question I asked him he directed back to his wife. I asked for a key to my room, but there was none. She said, ‘Well, just hide the things that are important to you.’
Easier said than done when you have a suspect roommate, whom I was soon to meet. I dove into my bathing suit and went out to the pool, where I was introduced to a disheveled woman in her seventies from Chicago with a humped back, and a distended stomach the likes of which I had never seen. But for her long, tangled gray hair, you might have thought she was pregnant due to the protrusion of her stomach, accentuated by stick-like legs that reached, crablike, to suck and the ground towards her. She ground her teeth and smoked beside the pool.
I bumped into her in the hall the next morning and my good morning wasn’t exuberant enough because from that moment on she ignored me. I didn’t exist. It was weird. When I sat outside, she’d pull her chair around to make sure her back was to me. In the kitchen, she turned her back, when she walked out the door, she walked right by me. When her son visited with friends, she did the same. She was unbelievably childish and it became a real pain in the arse for everybody.
The house was super noisy; you heard everything and you had little privacy. Every time a door shut, it slammed and rattled through the house. Every door also squeaked. I asked my host why they didn’t oil the hinges and she said she wanted it that way so she knew what was going on. I wound up slamming my door harder, just to ease her mind.
‘Oh I feel like I’m in between the two of you, now I feel awful. I don’t want to be in this position,’ said the host one morning. ‘I just feel awful.’ She then patted my arm and said ‘be the bigger person.’
Later, she and I were sitting at the kitchen table having coffee (although it was a bed and breakfast I had yet to get any breakfast) discussing alternative medicines. She spoke of her chronically upset stomach (viciously throwing up for hours my first night there), her constipation, along with her dazzling display of varicose veins.
‘Urology,’ she said. A blank look formed in my eyes. ‘You know what that is don’t you?’
She explained urology. ‘It’s when you drink your own urine.’
‘Oh,’ I said. Okay, look normal now, I thought, thinking back to the orange juice in the fridge.
‘It’s very good for your health because you’re drinking your own bodily fluids.There’s nothing wrong with it.’
Did I say there was? Okay, time for a swim.
She couldn’t take the situation with the other guest anymore and feeling forced to choose, stopped talking to me; the guest was a snowbird, after all. There was silence from the host as she dusted while I made coffee. No “How’s your room? Do you need a towel? Are you having a good time?”
It was awkward and I rued having paid her for the week because there was no way I was getting a refund. Mostly, I resented them when they sat around smoking dope and didn’t even offer me a toke.
The host was obsessed with money, or lack thereof. Her husband opened up to me about how much money they owed. I was somewhat relieved when she stopped talking to me because she pissed and moaned about money constantly: the downturn in tourism, their loans, her daughter’s expensive school in France, the houses. She was so self-absorbed.
The people who stayed at the fourth house on the property were unhappy. They were up on a bluff and they had no air conditioning for the perpetual burning sun, and no screens for the wind that brought dust, delivering massive gobs of brown sand to every surface inside. The floors were sandy.
The guest had to go to the doctor because of a bronchial infection. She was coughing up great gobs of yellow… let’s not get too descriptive. She couldn’t get any rest, either, because there were chickens right under her window that woke her up every morning at five. Not to mention the dogs that barked next door. When she asked the host about getting the house cleaned, she said:
‘Yeah, if you want to share the expense of that.’
‘How much would that be?’
Yes, in spite of her avowed devotion to spirituality, she was cheap. I couldn’t wait to leave. It’s hard staying in a place as a guest where the hostess is pretending you’re just not there.