When you live in a vacation destination, you expect houseguests. And usually that’s fine, because I invite them. I love it when my friends come for visits. Zoe and Staci share a room so we can have not one, but two guest rooms in our house – that’s how much I love it. Having visitors means I can be a tourist in my own city, go to the beach mid-week, have Mexican food every day, maybe go to Vegas, and have the adult equivalent of sleep-overs where we drink wine in our PJs, watch those random TiVo suggestions in the queue & catch up until all hours. But not all guests at Hotel Happy Valley are created equal. There are those miserable experiences where I have to call the maid to give my home the equivalent of a rape shower as soon as the last suitcase rolls out the foyer. This time is one of those times.
My mom lives about an hour & half north of us in Orange County. She’s is set up with a mid-century ranch house that features citrus & palm trees by the pool and is not only a half-hour’s drive to the beach, but theme-park adjacent. This usually works in my favor because she takes in all of our East Coast family who are in need of So Cal lodging. However, this time even her hospitality wasn’t enough. Mona, her guest from Hell was fobbed off on me.
Mona had been a friend of my mom’s from her modeling days & as the story goes she came out to visit my parents in L.A. for a week and ended up staying 2 months. Then after spotty contact through the 80’s everyone had lost touch. Flashfoward to Facebook and a record cold winter: Mona reconnected with her one Californian friend, then in record time booked a flight or a 2 week vacay in the land of sun & sand. Anything over a long weekend is, in all fairness, pushing the friend envelope, but the idea that she’d book such a sojourn after not having spoken to my mom since 1983 was what weirded me out. My mom, though, is tragically polite about it & didn’t immediately email a link to hotel.com to Mona the Moocher. The first couple of days were, apparently, great.
“Mona likes to clean and she cooked for us last night. You’ll have to come by to meet her.”
Then a week later, “Mona wants to go to the beach. I was thinking she could come to your house.”
My mom was so totally over it and she needed breathing room. What was I going to do? Aside from saying, “Told you so,” and pouting to my husband? My mom paid for my college. She babysits my kids for free. She knows we have ample room. And how horrible could she be? Mona said she just wanted to sit out in the sun and read. She didn’t need be shown around town. She was just happy to be out of New York. And my mom would take off a couple days from work & come too…and watch the kids so The Husband & I could go out.
Red Rover, Red Rover, send Mona right over.
Time and the elements had not been kind to Mona. She looked about 15 years older than my mom and sounded like a grizzly Bronx trucker. Upon walking into my house, she mused, “Where can I smoke?” Momma added, “She brought her own ashtray,” and like Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag, Mona dug her hand into her purse and produced an ashtray. I put her outside in the back and then quickly ran upstairs to close the doors off our bedroom balcony in which she chose to sit under while she puffed away. But this was merely a scratch of the surface. Mona came back in and loudly told The Husband that he “complained just to complain” and told us all (including my kids) the story of how she had to handcuff her son to a table leg because he was hyper active. Momma, a former teacher, was not amused, but did not dare look in my direction because she knew I had the “WTF, bitch” snarly, open-mouthed glare going on. In my family of origin, you can pretend an emotion isn’t happening if you choose not to see it.
The days dragged on, slowly. I paid for many a lunch. Mona asked me to order in dinner Friday night because she wanted Chicken Parmesan & I didn't know how to really make it. Plus, she "hated" all the supermarkets here because Vons didn’t sell the right kind of canned tomatoes for her sauce. She alternately raved about how beautiful it is here and mused about this being a place void of any character. If a positive word was uttered, Mona quickly had to come up with a pair of negatives. She asked about our property taxes and the price of our house. Our yard isn’t big enough and we’re not close enough to the beach for what we paid, by the way. Sunshine tax, pfffffffft.
Something good did come of all of this though, I found myself fiercely defending my neighborhood. I hadn’t even realized how much I like it here until Mona started dissing it. I love the way the sidewalks are all even. I love that the wait staff at the overpriced cafes have dickish attitude problems. I love that I have to valet. I love that everyone is too blonde and too skinny. I love that no one talks loud. I love that no one starts conversations with people they don’t know. I love that the kids are all scheduled within an inch of their lives so they don’t have so much energy that they need to be handcuffed to a table. I love it that we don’t have a local Walmart.. I love all expensive foreign cars clogging up the freeways. I love that Mona can’t understand why everyone doesn’t live here, yet won’t ever live here herself.
My motivation to be a positive person now comes from wanting to spite Mona’s bitterness. And I will continue to find the good in all things Happy Valley for as long as the faint cigarette scent lingers in the bushes of our backyard.