Return to the Reality Hotel

Village in Sierra MountainsWe had to vacate our rooms at the Reality Hotel. There was a big car show up here called “Run to the Pines” and our rooms had been reserved by car show enthusiasts weeks before we arrived. What to do?

“No problem,” said the manager of the three room Reality Hotel. “I’m going away, you can stay in my house.”

She was glowing with pride and generosity. It would be her pleasure to share her home with us. Moreover, we already knew her housekeeper and house-mate, the red-haired Jody, who cleaned our rooms. Now it is true that we are getting cut-rates for our beautiful rooms – mine is about $33 a night, which of course I can ill afford – but Jody is clearly part of the Gudenuff cleaning company. I don’t expect to get my bed changed any more often than I would change my own, but she has changed it three times since July 7th. The comforter, I avoid like the plague, although it’s pretty enough during the day.

So we moved.

Picture us: 163 years old (aggregated) with suitcases, at least 20 shopping bags, pillows, a box of food, a refrigerator bag, a walking stick, a litter box and a cat that has to be medicated to travel. Clara is between houses and much of her stuff is what remained in her ex-house after the movers left. As we carry stuff down the steep stairs from our second floor room, we joke that we will start a moving company called “Slowbutsure: the careful movers”.

At a certain point, Jody has to clean our not yet cleared rooms, so I start throwing money at her and she helps out. She probably would have anyway, but a bill or two makes her happier.

The house is beautiful as advertised, perched on a side hill with a fabulous view of mountains. And a steep set of stairs up to our rooms. Once again the friendly redhead helps out and we schlep our goods in.

However — there are either 3 or 4 additional cats. One is a recluse who lives in the en suite off Clara’s room. Two roam the house and I believe there is another that never leaves Jody’s room downstairs. The smell of cat pee welcomes us in. I can’t even find most of the litter boxes, but I clean the one I find. It is several days before I find the main one, which is clearly in Jody’s domain, but, being Canadian or just too darn cowardly, I do not clean it.

Clara’s girl cat lives in her bedroom, but the boy cats know that and begin spraying EVERYWHERE.

My room has an A.C. unit in the window. I can’t open the window and the A.C. works at gale force.

Clara asks me to open her bathroom window for the cat recluse next morning and I find myself in a cloud of dander and fine cat hair – cat down?. My skin begins to feel hot and prickly. My eyes burn. Tiny cat hairs constantly end up in my mouth. I shower often, only to discover that something -the softened water perhaps – gives me a red rash on my upper arms. In desperation, I ask Jody how to turn the shower head from stabbing to gentle. This she can do.

I was looking forward to watching television. The first time I try, I push what would be the up-channel button on my remote control and lose all reception. Jody doesn’t know how to fix it. Nor does she know the password for the internet, having forgotten it years ago.

No problem. Everyday we have to drive to Bakersfield. Down through the beautiful pine- covered mountains into the scrub-covered mountains, down through Tejon Pass to the desert mountains and then through the flat land of the Central Valley. Foodland. Finally we reach Bakersfield where 90 degrees is a cold snap. It takes an hour and more. As soon as I step into the Prius, my lower back cries, “Not again”, but you know what, out of the house, I no longer sneeze and clear my throat.

One night I stupidly leave my chicken salad on the counter and the long black cat with a white mustache eats it. Clara is having a shower and doesn’t hear the resulting furor, but she confides to a family member that Joyce doesn’t like the cats. That night, I find the same cat with his nose in my water glass. I keep my door shut, but he lurks around the corner and dashes in between my feet. I have to wave a sweat shirt under the bed to drive him back out.

Still he bears me no ill will, asks me to open the door, thanks me and comes when I call. I wouldn’t want the mountain lions to get him. Would I?

For the interim, however, I have a phone with a Canadian long distance plan and I do a mental health call when I wake up to brace myself for another day. It’s not just the cats, it’s living out of a suitcase. Drawers are great. You pull one open and there you see clearly visible clothes in neat piles. A suitcase you have place on a flat surface, a low one in my case since I can’t actually lift 23 kilos. Find the right zipper. Open it. Ah!!!! There they are -neatly rolled clothes in 6 layers. I was sure I put the underwear in this corner. It isn’t there. Carefully I begin removing each layer. Always I have two thirds of the clothes out by the time I find what I need.

“I’m sick of camping,” Clara confides.

On Sunday while I am deeply embroiled in family matters at the house in the pines, Clara arrives to announce that she has moved out of the house because our host returned unexpectedly. Host said she would sleep on the couch, but Clara can’t let her do that.

“Why not?” I think to myself.

So between 5 p.m. and dinner, I hie myself back in the Prius out past the s-curves, up the hill and on weary legs, up the outside stairs and pack. I notice that Clara has not packed our food. I pause, covered in sweat and consider crying. Then our host shows up and helps me carry six grocery bags, two suitcases, the food box, the refrigerator bag….. meanwhile talking gaily about her vacation. I can make no sense of anything she says I am so utterly bushed. I do manage to convince her that her house is lovely and that I am full of gratitude. She replies that we have left a wonderful feeling behind. Okay!

Dinner at the house in the pines somewhat restores me.

Afterwards a beloved family member carries everything in the Prius and in Clara’s car back up to the second floor of the Reality Hotel.

The cool evening air coming down from the mountains blows in one door and out the other, sweet and pure. I put my new tiny plastic hot pot ($13) on and a minute later, I have a cup of tea.

O Reality Hotel, why did I ever knock you?

The Weight: Take a Load off Annie
he Weight by the Band from The Last Waltz

I’ve just shed weight in preparation for winter. No not that kind. I would like to lose pounds of actual me, but it goes very slowly about 2 lbs a month if I don’t even look at sugar and wine. The weight I have lost has come out of closets and storage spaces.

This is what I have thrown out/left on the curb/shredded/taken to the thrift shop in the last week:

a full length mirror with gilt frame;

a favourite Indian rug too big for my room;
all floppy discs, a floppy disc reader, the ZIP drive and its discs;
4 years of tax returns,
12 steno pads detailing flight options,
packing lists and hand-drawn maps, dating back to ’97;
10 tiny notebooks with grocery and to do lists;
pay stubs dating back to ’80;
2 boxes of research for a book that has been finished for years;
a large collection of postcards bought while travelling;
a large, puffy, pink elephant with a top handle;
a red velour hat that looks as if it were lost by the Mad Hatter;
some very bad poetry (I kept the somewhat bad poetry);
the white suit my 4 year-old wore as ring bearer;
a vase made by one of my children at summer camp;
their first books with their childish signatures.

The christening dress is due to go, we all agree. Not only has church-going fallen off en famille, people persist in marrying Jews. Anyway, it isn’t silk. It isn’t hand embroidered and although it was as much beauty as we could afford back then, it has to be admitted, it is ugly. Clearly, my courage has faltered or it would not still be in the keepsake box.

Late Breaking News: it isn’t.

Here’s what I haven’t given up: the 100 year-old portraits of my grandparents -I bought them a plastic storage box; my first novel – I might be able to use some of that detail about Greece -I certainly couldn’t actually read it; the pictures minus the negatives (but they could do with weeding); the canner – whaaaat?; the roast pan and lid; the portable sewing machine.

Here’s what I need to do: sort through the clothes hanging at the far end of my long, narrow closet – the houndstooth suit -what was I thinking?-, the gauzy red flowing  Indian thing, the jaloba from Morocco, not to mention the multiple  jeans in size 10 and the same number in size 12; my mother’s costume jewellery, and my mother-in-law’s and that third box that belonged to the stranger I used to be; my degree handwritten in Latin with a plaid ribbon! – these decisions require courage.

I feel much lighter in spite of what the scale reports. The air seems fresher. It is easier to breathe. All that past I was dragging behind felt like the slime of a dragon’s tail. Why did I think I needed it? I never looked at it. It seems to have functioned as insulation or protection, not effectively of course. Come to think of it, whenever I have been able to fit into those size 10 jeans, I have always felt on the verge of vanishing.

Is there a lesson here?