Janet Sheridan: From a rental’s journal
When the first sentence of a student essay announced, “I pondered this assignment for many long hours,” I knew Stella had written it. Despite my increasing insistence that she try a new approach, the dear girl always began by telling me how long she pondered before producing a paper that didn’t seem pondered at all.
Many of my adolescent students had writing habits that amused me even as I tried to change them. I assigned a wide variety of topics, but Carla managed to include a dog in every essay she wrote, or, better yet, a pack of the critters. Les frequently tried to get away with inappropriate language, and Beth dotted every i with a tiny heart. Todd filled the margins of his papers with intricate drawings of airplanes bombing ships at sea. And, despite my repeated conversations with Evie about the usefulness and necessity of periods, she punctuated every sentence with at least two exclamation marks or a question mark followed by exclamation marks.
Currently, I get the same chuckles I used to get from my student writers when I read the journals placed in rental units for guests to comment on their stay.
Most comments are positive and range from understated simplicity — Nice Place — to flowery excess: “This cute property was absolutely spotless and comfortably cozy with a wonderful kitchen, a beautiful view of the ocean, and an abundance of Florida charm. We loved it.”
Other vacationers leave helpful advice for future guests: “Don’t use the garbage disposal. One stale hot dog bun stymied it.” “If you watch carefully, you’ll see a large iguana sunning itself every day on the roof of the garage next door. We called him Homer.” “The supermarket five blocks over has lots of good produce but no Twinkies.”
A few complain: “I can’t imagine why a kitchen would have three corkscrews and no can opener.” “The musty smell in the laundry room made my stomach roil. I couldn’t eat dinner.” “GET RID OF THE #$!**&% DRIP IN THE #$!**&% SHOWER!!! I COULDN’T #$!**&% SLEEP!!!”
I sometimes try to visualize the writers. The bit-of-heaven comment came from a chirpy woman fond of the words love, cute, and absolutely, as in, I absolutely love your cute hair-do, dog, or designer jeans. She fusses over every baby she sees and most dogs, reminds her friends to make lemonade from the lemons life hands them; and, drooling from a numb mouth, thanks her dentist for doing absolutely wonderful work on her root canal.
I’m quite sure the renter disappointed by the absence of Twinkies in the local supermarket was a henpecked man struggling with his weight and trying to eat more fruits and vegetables to please his wife. But he suffers from a Twinkie addiction. So when his wife sends him to the store for bananas, blueberries, eggplant, and broccoli, he routinely buys three packages of Twinkies, gulps them on the way home, then checks his mustache and belly for crumbs before he proudly carries the produce into the house.
The renter driven dotty by a dripping shower was a control freak who boarded his return flight to Omaha with his hair standing on end, his red eyes rolling, his shirt mis-buttoned, his body twitching, and his wife considering divorce.
Sometimes the instructions rental owners leave for their guests are as interesting as the comments the guests write. From my collection: “There is no reason to move the furniture. So don’t do so.” “A man on a bicycle selling churros will come by. He’s a good guy. Buy some.” “The door to the patio sometimes sticks. Hit the frame near the handle three times. “Do not fry fish in the house. If you must eat fish, grill it outside.” “Dishes and utensils must be washed before they are returned to the cupboard.” “The dryer clangs the entire time it runs. As to why, your guess is as good as mine.” “Don’t track sand into the house. What would your mother say?”
And, from a condo in a popular spring-break destination: “Do not, under any circumstances, take the bedding to the beach.”
Janet Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at auntbeulah.com the first and 15th of every month.
Stories enrich our lives. We tell them, listen to them, read them, repeat them, write them, watch them on TV, enjoy them in theaters. Stories teach us, entertain us, make us laugh, ease our social situations, and cement our friendships.