About the Book
You’ll have your deposit within seven business days, just like it says on Getaway.com. I’ve put through a refund to your credit card for the full amount, minus $200 to replace the stained sheets…
When 30-year-old Dawn reads Miranda’s email, she sees red. People have always told Dawn she’s beautiful, and she just hopes they don’t see beneath—to how she grew up, to what she’s always tried to outrun. She revels in her getaways with her perfect (maybe too perfect) husband, the occasional long weekend in luxurious homes, temporarily inhabiting other people’s privileged lives. Miranda’s email strikes a nerve, with its lying intimation that Dawn is so dirty you need to throw out her sheets.
Beware of your “host”
I wouldn’t have left a review at all, if I didn’t feel it was my civic duty to warn others…
57-year-old Miranda thought she’d seen it all, but she can’t believe her eyes when she reads Dawn’s review. She’s a doctor’s wife but she needs that rental money, desperately. People might think her life is privileged, but they don’t know what’s really going on. They don’t know about her son. She won’t take this threat to her livelihood—to her very life—lying down.
Two very different women with this in common: Each harbors her own secret, her own reason why she can’t just let this go. Neither can yield, not before they’ve dredged up all that’s hidden, even if it has the power to shatter all they’ve built.
This is not over.
This is so not over.
Please note: It is April 23, 2014. You’ll have your deposit within seven business days, just like it says on Getaway.com. I’ve put through a refund to your credit card for the full amount, minus $200 to replace the sheets. I couldn’t get the stain out despite professional laundering and bleaching, and it was rather large (gray, about the size and shape of a typical housecat, though the house rental didn’t allow pets.) That’s neither here nor there. At any rate, I already told you about this.
That’s it, the entire e-mail. No Dear Dawn or I’m sorry you had to stalk me to get your deposit or Sincerely or All the best. Just Miranda. And does she really think I don’t know today’s date?
I haven’t felt anger like this in I don’t know how long. No, I know how long. Since before Rob. He’s the antidote for all my inadequacies. I’m good enough because I have him in my life. Because I’m the woman he loves. I’m that woman now.
Stop reading. Stop rereading.
But I can’t.
I’m sitting at my battle-scarred kitchen table, staring at the screen of my five-year-old laptop in my one-bedroom apartment in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in Oakland (soon we’ll be priced out), and I’ve been struck dumb. A stain the size and shape of a housecat? Like my husband and I are, collectively, Pigpen from Peanuts, and we leave a cloud of ash in our wake?
I’m an honorable (enough) person, and for sure, Rob is. If we’d ruined Miranda’s sheets, we would’ve owned up to it. I would’ve contacted her myself, apologized profusely and said, “Take my deposit, please.” No, I would have bleached the sheets, and if that hadn’t worked, I would have run out to the nearest Target in a state of abject mortification and bought a new set (because those were not $200 sheets, I promise you that.) Then one or the other of us, Rob or myself—whoever had left the ejaculate or the powder or whatever state (solid, liquid or gas)—would have sought medical attention immediately, because WTF?
But that sequence of events never took place, because there’s no way the stain is real. This woman, this Miranda, is trying to scam us out of our $200, half the amount of the security deposit. She’s stealing from me, from us.
That’s neither here nor there.
She’s a thief and a liar, and she’s trying to make me feel like I’m filthy, literally. Like I’m beneath her. Sure, she owns an ocean-view house in Santa Monica, and I own nothing, but that doesn’t give her the right to…
Breathe, Dawn. WWRD—What would Rob do?
He’d let it go, because life is too short for grudges. But then, he’s never been wronged, not in any way that matters.
I already told you about this.
What gets me is that she’s so undeserving of that gorgeous house she doesn’t even need to live in. It’s an extra, a spare. I wonder about the opulence of her first home, if that’s her second. How does a person like her get a set-up like that? Where’s the justice in this world? I bet she doesn’t even appreciate her good fortune. I would, if it were mine.
I should be studying. This semester’s been brutal, and I’m closing in on graduation. My good fortune is in being with Rob, someone who supports me in finally finishing my college degree. It’s not every man who insists that his wife devote herself exclusively to her studies. I am incredibly, insanely, painfully lucky.
But I’m so pissed—both about Miranda’s actions and the snotty, deceitful tone she used to justify them—that I can’t concentrate. Miranda stole my husband’s hard-earned money, and how can I just let that go? Not to mention, she’s stealing my time and my energy. She’s hijacking my emotions. I’m a slave to my outrage.
It’s not only about the $200 (which I could most definitely use); it’s the principle. She’s trying to shame me, to make me think I did something wrong, something dirty, in order to buy herself what? A dinner? A pair of cashmere socks? That’s after we paid her usurious price for a rental that was, admittedly, beautiful but with no add-ons. No sweet surprises. Not like in Monterey, where we discovered a bidet and two free member passes to the aquarium. We went every day just to stare at the jellyfish, getting lost in their hypnotic undulations, imagining what it would be like to go through life with your own attached parachute, knowing you can never crash.
Monterey was my favorite getaway with Rob, because there was something about that house rental that allowed us to inhabit another life completely for those five days. I could envision a future where Rob and I are members of the aquarium ourselves, regular visitors with our kids, a boy and a girl (twins?) who stand agog as thousands of sardines swim in their circles like a silvery carousel.
It might sound shallow, but I’m pretty confident that Rob and I will have attractive children. Rob’s handsome, and I’ve often heard that I’m beautiful, in an old-school, Christie Brinkley way (blue eyes, big toothy smile, no one suspects that I’ve been dyeing my long blond hair since I was a teenager).
The truth is, I don’t feel beautiful, or even pretty, because I’m barely five-foot-one and at thirty years old, I still have the temperamental skin of a teenager: always at least one pimple, usually more, plus the brown dots that are the slowly healing legacy of pimples past. I’m constantly trying out new skincare products, no, not just products, entire systems. I start with great optimism (“I think I see something! I’m smoother and more supple!”), only to have my skin reassert itself with a vengeance. When people look at me admiringly, I feel like I’m putting one over on them.
Hopefully, our kids will inherit Rob’s complexion, among other things.
But back to Miranda, the matter at hand. It’s probably unfair to compare her Santa Monica rental to the Monterey house. I’ll compare it instead to the one in Mendocino, a pleasant median: with a hot tub perched on a sea bluff; the kitchen sans the Vitamix that was shown in one of the pictures (but not promised in the text so I couldn’t officially complain); the mattress that sagged slightly in the center; and the dun-colored days despite being outside the parameters of fog season.
Miranda’s house still loses. $600 a night and we had to go searching through cabinets to find replacement light bulbs. Not to mention how loud the dishwasher was, and the hairline crack in the living room ceiling, and the absence of mini-shampoos or body washes. I felt her stinginess at every turn. A quarter-inch of olive oil left in the bottle, grocery store brand. No spice rack, only salt, pepper, and thyme. How did thyme make the cut? How about some basil, or oregano? Red pepper flakes, for shit’s sake?
When Rob and I get away, I’m after five star accommodations, but in a house rather than a hotel so I can marinate in that lifestyle for a little while. It’s the adult version of playing dress-up. I dislike when hosts meet us at the house because then I’m reminded it’s theirs, and I have a visual to go with that knowledge. But that’s only happened once. Normally, rich people do it like Miranda does, with minimal contact: key in a lock box, call in an emergency.
Burned out light bulbs, lack of basic cooking supplies, and cracks in plaster remind me of my real every day, where things need replacing, and fixing, and sometimes you run out. Vacations are for abundance. While Rob and I are away, money is never an object, and that’s the biggest break from real life. I even have a different wardrobe for vacation (slinky cocktail dresses for which I scour consignment shops, and stiletto heels instead of wedges), and I start using Crest White Strips a month out so I can wear the red lipstick that’s too much for every day.
I’m reborn in those houses. They scrub me clean of all the debris from my past. I’m Dawn 2.0. Because the true American dream is that you don’t have to be who you were, you’re not where you grew up, you’re not defined by the family you left behind, or the family that left you behind way before that.
Getaway.com has never let me down before. I read through all the reviews thoroughly before I book. I pay special attention to the three star ones, which seems to be as low as anyone will ever go, and that’s probably because a one or two star makes you look like a disgruntled ex-lover, bent on vengeance, not to be widely trusted. As I parse each review, I can tell who has a sensibility similar to mine; I can tell who to believe.
Miranda’s house had twenty-seven reviews, and nearly all of them were five stars. There was nothing below a four. People loved the ocean views, the proximity to the pier, and the hospitality, oh, the hospitality! You could call Miranda any time, no need too small. She recommended the most fabulous Thai food; she knew the best car service. When a toilet broke down on Christmas Day, she had a plumber out there within the hour, and she sent flowers afterward, with her apologies.
Who was that Miranda? I would have liked to meet her.
Beware of your “host”
I wouldn’t have left a review at all, if I didn’t feel it was my civic duty to warn others. Sure, there were small issues with the house itself (burned out bulbs, a light switch that didn’t work at all, no toiletries provided, a poorly stocked kitchen in terms of cooking oil, condiments, etc., and also from the kitchen, a more obscured ocean view than it appeared in the pictures—things that shouldn’t have been going on given the equivalently priced rentals.) But I wouldn’t be mentioning any of that, if it wasn’t for what happened after we left.
I was checking the “pending transactions” on my credit card to see when my security deposit would be returned. I e-mailed the host, Miranda, to inquire about the delay. Miranda didn’t respond to my first e-mail, and her reply to my second was a curt “Just keep checking, it’ll show up.”
I wrote again a few days later to politely nudge her. I got an extremely unfriendly e-mail that accused me of leaving a stain that was “rather large (gray, about the size and shape of a typical housecat, though the house rental didn’t allow pets.)” Because of that, she said she was deducting half our security deposit (Getaway.com won’t let me say the amount, but you can do the math.)
WHAT????!!!! She’s accusing me of smuggling in a bedraggled cat? My husband and I are clean people, and we’re not blind. We would have seen a stain on the sheet. We’ve never left such a stain on sheets in our entire lives. Gray? Really? And impervious to bleaching? It all seemed pretty crazy to me—like she’s just finding a way to keep our deposit, maybe as retaliation for me asking about it? I don’t know. All I know is that the sheets we slept on were not worth the money she kept. Maybe she’s confusing the dollar amount with the thread count.
But the kicker was when she said at the end of her e-mail, “I told you about this already”, which she absolutely did not.
This struck me as extremely shady. I know that other people have had different experiences (there are lots of four and five star reviews for this property, which is why we booked it to start with.) But I thought we should share our experience and you can factor it into your decision of where to book.
I cannot believe what I’m seeing. I am a certified hospitable person. I open my home to people, and I let them call me with any problems or questions, at any time. And they do. The kind of people who pay $600 a night for a two-bedroom beach house often have “problems.” I answer their calls while I’m in the middle of dinner. I answer their calls when I’m in the dressing room at Barney’s. I answer as I’m in my bed, about to drift off to sleep. I tell them, “Second drawer on the left,” or “No, that’s vegetarian. For pure vegan, try Golden Mean, or Viva La Vegan.”
I do my best to be a thoughtful, good person. I volunteer. I let cars merge in front of me on the L.A. freeways during rush hour with a friendly hand wave. I treat people decently—family and friends and guests and strangers—unlike some people who shall go nameless in their reviews.
I know who D.T. is, of course. She’s darkened my inbox enough over the past week. Dawn Thiebold actually wrote me FIVE times to ask about her security deposit, sometimes leading with, “Don’t know if you got my last e-mail…” and signing off with a perky “Thanks!” and in between comes the badgering. If she can afford to stay at my rental, then she can afford to wait until the transaction posts to her credit card, within seven business days as promised.
I don’t have much tolerance for people who live beyond their means and then act entitled. She had to change a light bulb? She was denied her constitutional right to condiments? There was a partially obscured view from the kitchen? She fails to mention that it’s “obscured” by a gorgeous purple jacaranda tree in full spring bloom. The living room view is completely unobstructed, as noted in every other review, but not in hers. She doesn’t highlight a single thing she likes.
I am a little touchy about the rental, I know that. It was my parents’ home in their later years, and I can still see the contentment they felt as they surveyed that ocean panorama. Now my father’s gone, and my mother’s in her assisted living community, requiring more assistance every day as the dementia worsens, and I never feel like I’m doing enough for her, no matter how many flowers I bring or how much tidying up I do or how often I tell her she’s a fantastic mom and I love her. More and more often, she barely registers my presence. It’s a terrible thing, being invisible to your own mother.
I try not to take it personally. It’s the inexorable aging progress; it’s a disease, getting old. No love is strong enough to overcome biology. But I can’t help but feel that it should be, that it is for some other family, some other mother, with some other daughter.
My brother George says it’s the same during his infrequent visits. He lives in Idaho with his family, so he doesn’t have to concern himself with her decline. He doesn’t have to watch it, day by excruciating day. He doesn’t have to see her falter, and disappear.
He also doesn’t have to handle any of the arrangements. I’m the power of attorney, it all falls to me. “It’s not like you work,” he once told me. As if it’s not work to deal with all the guests, being hospitable and available, ensuring that no one’s broken anything or stolen anything or left, say, cat-sized stains on sheets. My father had left the Santa Monica house to both George and me, but I bought him out, just so I wouldn’t have to feel the resentment of doing everything and then giving him his cut. So that it would be all my work, and all my profit. I convinced Larry that it was a good investment, and one that I would manage exclusively. He didn’t know there was a hidden catch. He doesn’t need to. Marriages work best with a don’t ask/don’t tell policy, on a bedrock of what you don’t know won’t hurt you.
Eva’s coming tomorrow, but I always pre-clean the Beverly Hills house. Today, it’s with some extra fervor, courtesy of Dawn and her review. I scrub the granite countertops and every stainless steel appliance until I can practically see my reflection. Or perhaps that’s my angry aura.
I’ve never been very comfortable with anger. It’s important to keep it at bay. Cleaning helps. In this case, it’s going to take more than just one room. Fortunately, I’ve got 4,000 square feet.
I love this house. Well, I used to, when I could still see it. Now, it’s just backdrop, the set against which my life with Larry plays out. We’ve been here for almost twenty-five years, since Thad was three. I remember when the realtor first showed it to us: a four bedroom Spanish villa, just blocks from Rodeo Drive. The feeling was so warm—taupe and burnt orange, the variegated walnut wood floors with matching beamed ceilings, the rounded doorways and fireplaces. Thad was tearing through there, letting out excited yelps. He thought he was home. I wanted it, badly, but Larry was barely past residency back then. Maybe I was still reeling a little from what had happened during the residency and thought more penance was due; we didn’t yet deserve such a bounty. But Larry disagreed, and his parents were willing to give us the down payment. He was sure that despite everything, the world should (and would) be good to us.
If you saw only this house—high ceilings, ornate mosaic tiling, terra cotta interior courtyard, Olympic-sized pool–you would think that it had been.
I move into the living room, though dusting isn’t nearly as satisfying as a vociferous spray and wipe. I should probably do one of the bathrooms. The master bathroom, maybe. I could clean the expanse of the shower, with its four shower heads.
I’d dressed to visit my mother, in the silk blouse she used to like when she still cared about what I wore, and I strip it off. I pull my shoulder-length ash blond hair into a ponytail, trying not to see myself as I am: middle-aged verging on old, gaining flab in the midsection despite swimming and strengthening my core four times a week, in the plunge bra that Larry likes, when he remembers to look. Fifty-seven isn’t so old.
How old is Dawn? Young, I imagine, from the cadence in her e-mails and her review.
That review. I spritz the marble wall and wipe with such ferocity that I begin to fear carpal tunnel.
What if she costs me future bookings? I’ve got guests for the rest of April and May, but summer is prime time, and now is when people book for summer. If I lose that income…
Dawn has no idea what she’s doing to me. Or maybe she does. Maybe she’s just that rotten.
No, I simply need to make it clear to her that she’s wrong, that this was all a misunderstanding, and she’ll be reasonable. She’ll take the review down. Most people aren’t rotten, they’re confused. Like Thad.
What galls me about the review is that it makes me look dishonest, when that’s the last thing I am. Not that I reveal everything, to everyone. I’m circumspect, even with Larry. But I would never play fast and loose with someone’s security deposit.
I might not have been bubbling over in my e-mail responses, I don’t use exclamation points or (God forbid) emojis, but I told her what she needed to know: The security deposit would be returned within the specified time frame. They always are.
I left a voicemail to tell her about the sheets. I know that I did. Could I have left it on the wrong phone number? Hard to imagine making a mistake like that, but then, it was a hectic time. I was concerned by what I’d seen on Thad’s Twitter feed, not to mention his Instagram, and he didn’t return my calls, not for days.
Maybe I wasn’t so pleasant in that phone message, because I was peeved to discover the sheets. On the very rare occasions when guests have left damage in the past, they’ve informed me. They’ve apologized. We’ve worked it out together. When people are honest, I generally don’t even opt to charge them. But Dawn slips out the back door and then harasses me about her deposit, as if those sheets could escape my notice. It was like someone had come into my late father’s home and taken a dump in his bed (though the stain wasn’t feces, because human waste can be bleached out. I raised a child, I know this from experience.) I still don’t know what caused that gray stain. I don’t want to know. But Dawn must.
Even if I give her the benefit of the doubt and say she really wasn’t aware, she should have been chastened once I called her attention to it. Instead, she came out swinging. She’s the “shady” one, not me.
Or she could just be young, and in need of some correction. I’ll write to her, we’ll clear all this up, she’ll delete her review, and that will be that. No harm done. I can forgive most anything, I know that from experience, too.