My wife, Kate, and I toyed with buying a bed and breakfast lodge in Ontario.
Our realtor recommended a property owned by a Mrs. X in one of the most lovely spots of the world, Niagara-on-the-Lake.
During the Shaw Festival accommodations are at a premium and B&B owners can make out like bandits.
“Instead of going there as buyers, lets pose as B&B guests. Get the inside story on how to run a B&B,” I said.
I phoned and Mrs. X said we were in luck. “I have one divine room left — it’s just like the Internet photos of the other three but this one has a large private Jacuzzi tub. It’s so special. Complete with breakfast for a king or queen.”
From outside, the B&B looked sensational. Victorian and inviting.
Then the first hint of things gone awry.
Our room was in the basement and smelled of mold. The room was in transition but Mrs. X promised it would soon look like the others, but not for another month.
The Jacuzzi tub was adequate…if you were an acrobat since the only way into the Jacuzzi was over the taps and spout.
Mrs. X cautioned us not to use bubbles since the steam would take off the wall paper and we would be billed for any problems we caused.
“Actually,” she said, “best to use the shower on the top floor, only two stories above.”
Mrs. X explained that no receipt would be given — it seemed none of the B&B owners issued receipts. That way the Ontario sales tax could be, uh, avoided.
My wife thought this a bit odd and possibly illegal but I said we would watch and learn. Besides, several of the guests seemed interesting and I was looking forward to having breakfast with them.
New matters and rules were discussed.
Under no conditions were we to wear shoes in the house. As a matter of fact, our host took to meeting us at the front door and removing our shoes herself. If we delayed, Mrs. X threatened to headbutt us.
She allowed two keys among seven guests and insisted we could easily coordinate our coming and goings.
That night in our transition bedroom we were kept awake by the constant banging of the furnace. Sounded like it was going to blow up and if it did I wondered how we would escape cremation.
Kate said we could climb out through the windows. I pulled back the Victorian lace curtains. No windows. The wall beneath our dungeon drapes was solid concrete and brick.
Mrs. X had two double beds in our room. One was turned down. Since my wife and I were accustomed to a king sized bed, Kate said she would sleep in the other bed. But it had no linen.
Kate found huge stacks of bed sheets. (Mrs. X had earlier instructed us to keep the linen room door open to prevent musty odors.) Kate made up the other bed.
Mrs. X relegated my wife and me to eat in the kitchen as the dining room table had already been “set a certain way” and could not be changed.
Each of us was given half a piece of toast. When we asked for more, Mrs. X rolled her eyes and finally dug some frozen bread out of her freezer and tossed that at us.
Although I must report that her homemade jelly was excellent. Just nothing to spread it on. Guests were admonished to stick to coffee or tea but not both. No eating jam off spoons.
Mrs. X announced that on Sunday, our final day, that we would be expected “to clear out” by ten since she had a party to go to and would not be around to check us out. We would not be trusted to leave the two keys behind.
By then Mrs. X had taken to following us around, inserting herself in conversations and boring us with her complaints about us.
Our host was highly critical of Shaw although she admitted she had seen none of his plays for years.
Then we were off to the festival.
When we returned that evening in the midst of a rain storm Mrs. X had left a bill for us. It was almost twice what she had quoted.
Mrs. X (sequestered in her private quarters in the warm part of the house) had also charged us an extra $30 a night for using sheets without permission.
Mrs. X had replaced these sheets with cheap flannel cotton while we were seeing Shaw’s Getting Married.
Since we had experienced a dismal breakfast, were not allowed to dine with the others and were being penalized for unauthorized sheet use, there seemed to be little point in staying. I put this to Mrs. X.
Mrs. X grinned and agreed, throwing open the door to the driving rain. “Yes, get out. I don’t want you thieves in my home.”
Apparently she felt our making the second bed without permission constituted sheet theft.
I went upstairs to say goodbye to one of the other guests and when I walked down Mrs. X accused me of tattling.
I confess, it was true — I had said our room was a damp dungeon with a tub that resembled a moat.
We carried our things to our car through swirling rain.
X bolted the door. She screamed — “I hope you have a nice life and I know that God will deal with you for spreading horrible tales about me.”
“Don’t you want your money?” I asked.
“If I took it, then you’d come back and rob me,” she said. “Get off my property.”
We drove away in the rain and thunder.
“Should we buy that B&B?” I asked Kate.
“How could we earn anything if people like us get to stay for free?” asked Kate.