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Airbnb—The Real East Sacramento Story

Unknownby Pat Lynch

There’s a lot of talk in East Sac about Airbnb (Air Bed and Breakfast), the website for renting temporary lodging. A friend got recently and weirdly involved in this. Joan’s a schoolteacher, divorced, the kids have fluttered from the nest, and she pays the mortgage on a three-bedroom, two bath house. So she went to Airbnb and listed a room and bath. “People stay a few days, get a reasonable rate, and I get the income bump,” she said. “This is win-win.” I should mention that Joan is an optimist, open to adventure, and very hospitable. She’d be a great landlady. And there’s always that mortgage.

Her first renter was a man. Her sister asked Joan if she’d feel comfortable with an unknown man in the house. Joan said, sure, added that he’d sounded nice on the phone. “You’re welcome to use the kitchen,” she had told him. She was too hurried in the mornings to make breakfast for this total stranger, but imagined him quietly brewing coffee and munching a muffin. The man picked up his key, then, strangely, disappeared. Two days later Joan came home from work to find boxes and bins piled all over her living room. He had returned with most of his possessions. He was moving to a not-yet-vacant new apartment, he said. She told him he could not leave his lifetime of stuff in her living room. She made him move it all to the garage.

That night she was awakened at 1:30 a.m. by noisy banging from his room. “What could he have been doing?” she said. “Building something? Hammering? At 1:30 a.m.?” But she let it go.

My own sister, Joan’s sister and I got together with Joan two mornings later. Relieved that she hadn’t been serial-killed in the night, we asked about her new tenant.

“He set off the smoke alarm,” she said. “When I went in there was this strange, sweet smell. I wonder if he’d been vaping.” So she told him—no smoking, no vaping, no setting off the alarm. She forced a grin as she talked. “People have their ways,” she said. Her refrigerator was now filled to bursting with his foodstuffs, most notably chicken nuggets, which he sizzled and consumed repeatedly, and with apparent relish. Joan, a vegetarian, did not complain to him about the chronic chicken nugget smell because, after all, she had granted kitchen privileges.

She returned to us the next day. She tried to smile but her eyes weren’t in it. “He’s okay, I guess,” she said. Then she broke. “He takes an hour at least in the shower. A really long time. And when he leaves, the bathroom smells like bleach. Afterward the whole hall reeks of it. It literally reeks. Bleach.”

I asked Joan if her tenant entered the bathroom with a large plastic jug of laundry bleach, or if he went in with purchased tubes. She didn’t know. She only knew that the potent chemical sting filled the hall. My assessment was: if he went in with a big jug he was a murderer bleaching the DNA blood evidence from his instruments, probably knives. If there was no jug, he was using a bleach cream as part of his hygiene routine. (Don’t ask).

Joan is capable of appreciating the odd encounters life serves up, even while she struggles with them. She laughed gamely when we pointed out that her tenant had brought her a unique new blend of olfactory experiences at once: vape, chicken nuggets and bleach. He was an innocent, a nomad, lumbering in with all his worldly encumbrances and habits, making camp in her spare room, carrying on as was his custom.

He finally left, not on time, of course, but never mind. Joan scoured her kitchen, aired out the rental room and bath.

This got us all thinking: to whom might we like to rent? My perfect tenant would be a high-minded, timid female who keeps to her room, constantly wears Ipod earphones that deliver thundering classical music so she won’t hear the shrieking and cackling that so often rattles these walls. She edits poems about existential anguish for an obscure literary publication and takes sedatives. Yes, she may have kitchen privileges to brew her little cups of tea. When she leaves I’ll say, How lovely to have met you, and she will murmur the same, and will make a future booking. The perfect tenant. Win-win.

“Good luck with that,” Joan said.

Airbnb started in San Francisco in the 2008 election year when roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbis couldn’t afford their flat rent. They got three air mattresses, placed them on the living-room floor, and advertised. They also served partisan, election year cereal breakfasts–Obama O’s or Captain Mc Cain’s, and thus launched their now world-wide business.

You don’t have to make special cereals if you do Airbnb these days. The coffee and muffin is enough, and you don’t even have to do that.

Meanwhile the City is studying Airbnb’s tax and regulatory potential. It needs the dough to help the struggling NBA build an arena.

Joan came over. “You won’t believe what he did.”

“I thought your new tenant was a woman.”

“No. The old one. Him.” He had arranged to have her mail held up. He was expecting a check and wanted it delivered to her address, even though he would no longer be there. So he put a hold on her mail until the check arrived. When the check came to the Post Office, it, and all of Joan’s detained mail, was delivered to Joan at once. He explained what he had done when she called to tell him his check had arrived at her house.

Who would do such a thing? And how?

Joan’s tenant is who. And how is a mystery. How does one stop someone else’s mail? Her innocent, nerd nomad was a tad craftier than we had thought.

Joan’s okay now. She’s rented again and gotten good tenants. But the experience with him got her off to a daunting start. Really, don’t you think she should get a plaque or something for getting back in the biz?

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