You become hyper-aware of people’s emotions when you’re a frequent houseguest via the use of Airbnb. And yet, you also tend to stop caring whether you’re impinging on someone’s comfort level or not. When you’ve been subjected to the bizarre inner workings of people’s apartments enough, you lose all sense of normalcy anyway. And, in many respects, this allows a certain amount of leeway for your bad behavior. You don’t know what “the rules” are, so why not leave a towel on the floor here or take some Xanax from the medicine cabinet there? It’s not your responsibility. It’s not your apartment. Until about after a week, that is, when you’ve fallen into the routine of taking on someone else’s living quarters–someone else’s life.
This is how Emmaline Ansara found herself in the position of being kicked out of a Rue Christiani apartment off the Château Rouge metro stop, which she had chosen specifically to be near the Sacré-Cœur, and because, you know, she still had it in her head that this was the Montmartre of Amélie. But alas, it wasn’t, and even Metallica frontman James Hetfield’s presence in the form of a pub (called James Hetfeeld’s Pub) couldn’t console her with its so-called kitsch. So when she wasn’t milling about the steps of the Sacré-Cœur and reading and smoking after finding a small patch of stair that wasn’t overrun by tourists, she was in the apartment, vexing its true renter, Alain Schneider, a French Jew if you couldn’t tell by the name, which makes for a particularly scrupulous sort of personality, with little room in the way of tolerance. Alain was somewhere in his late 30s and worked from home–doing what, Emmaline wasn’t sure, but she knew it involved Photoshop. His constant presence and hers served to clash after the third day, when Emmaline had accidentally dropped his French press on the floor and shattered it into at least sixteen pieces. She maintained that it was cheaply made, but still promised to buy him a new one. Alain waved his hand dismissively at her and said that wouldn’t be necessary and, with that, he retreated to his lair or office. Still, this didn’t instill Emmaline with any sense of shame as she proceeded to call her ex-boyfriend, Jimmy, who she was still obsessed with in the face of his total indifference. And yet, he secretly relished the attention she continued to lavish on him, as it confirmed his belief in his greatness. When she called him, he was sitting in the living room of his mother’s apartment in New York, where he had moved because it was easier than figuring out how to function in a more societally accepted manner.
“‘lo,” he said in his usual monosyllabic tone of disinterest.
“Jimmy, I think you should meet me here. Paris is the new New York.”
“Uh huh, well, if you wanna buy my ticket, sure.”
Emmaline sighed. “No Jimmy, I don’t want to buy your ticket. I’m barely making enough with under the table jobs as it is, while your mother would easily pay for your flight if you just asked her.”
“Maybe. Except she doesn’t like you and probably wouldn’t want us spending time together.”
Emmaline lit a cigarette and wondered why she tortured herself with these phone calls. Did she get off on his blasé attitude toward her, or was she herself so bored that she felt compelled to fill the void of time? In any case, she concluded their conversation with, “Okay, let me know if you change your mind then. Bye.”
She set her phone down and went to the bathroom to dig through her toiletry case for her toenail clippers. Engaging in that cliche practice of annoyance, cutting her nails in an obnoxiously loud manner, Emmaline summoned forth Alain from his lair/office. He stood at the center of the open loft-like space, peeking in from afar to let her know he was irritated, but Emmaline carried on, shaving off a little more from the top of every nail after each pass. Finally, Alain burst out, “Can you please do that more quietly?”
Emmaline blinked at him. “I’m done now.” She plopped her nail clippers back inside her bag and rose from the toilet seat to re-enter the living room area. She stared straight-on at Alain. It seemed as though he might come apart at the seams, and then, all of the sudden, he became eerily calm. “Thank you.”
Ordinarily, this might have disturbed someone who hadn’t spent the last year living with Jimmy, who she often pictured stabbing her for stepping out of line. But Emmaline was seasoned in the art of stoic pyschoticism. And Alain was nothing special in this category. Or so she thought.
Over the next week, things went on as usual. Emmaline did subtly insidious things like leave an inordinate amount of dishes in the sink after eating most of the food in Alain’s fridge or throw her dirty clothes on the floor next to her “bed,” which was actually just a somewhat dilapidated bright blue futon. Around the second week, Alain began to fight back. He no longer bothered replenishing the refrigerator, and then escalated his actions by claiming he had no idea where any of the garments she had strewn on the hardwood floor had gone. Even so, Emmaline ignored his passive aggressive actions and found even more passive aggressive ways around them. She would go out to buy food from restaurants and bring it back to the apartment, only to leave all the packaging swirling the surfaces of the kitchen like an incorrigible tornado of debris. She also persisted in wearing the same outfit every day, intensifying the “humanity” of her scent to the point of calling Alain’s bluff in that he was forced to hand over the clothes he had hidden from her.
But at the beginning of the third week, the tide turned in Alain’s favor. He had invoked the god-like wrath of Airbnb itself, which immediately contacted Emmaline via email to inform her of Alain’s complaint. Unfortunately for Alain, Emmaline knew better than to fear the feigned authority of Airbnb, which has oft proven ineffectual in its ability to get rid of certain “tenants” unwilling to let go of a good thing. And so, she simply deleted the email.
Two weeks later, she was being escorted off the premises by the police in her pajamas, a pair of striped drawstring pants and a tank top with Audrey Tautou’s gamine face on it. Soon, she’d be on to the next apartment, and with it, the next victim. All she had to do was start a new account. Ah, how glorious it was to be a mercurial drifter.