The Airbnb Test

We roll into Stansted Airport and as soon as I step off the plane money begins flying out of pockets. I wink one eye closed while buying us tickets to the express into town. It’s a move I will mimic multiple times in the next two days. Once off the train, we begin eating up London. The culture. Every vertical surface is plastered with an advertisement for another cultural output, book, play, musical, movie. The language. Different and the same. One can hear the superfluous U and the ISE’s instead of IZE’s. We marvel at the ad-libbed speeches of the homeless and how their word choice makes them sound like prep school teachers.  

By the time we have reached our little corner of the massive sprawl of a city, I have something to worry about. The Airbnb guy, Burke informs me, hasn’t given us the address or written back to her last message (the day before) for the buzzer number. It’s common for Airbnb owners to give the full address after confirmation of payment, which occurred two months ago. While we arranged a time to meet (7:30) the only address we could get was from google maps. We go to it.

7:30 comes and goes and I am walking up and down the little road. Now and then I scream “Jim!” and then “Jim!” up in the general direction of an open window. No Jim appears. The street is desolate and any man who does pass gives me a crooked look when I murmur “Jim” at him.  

We go to a local restaurant to get online. We are served by a lovely Romanian girl (the first of three we will meet). She gives us the Wi-Fi code and brings us two bottles of some IPA whose name I can’t remember (something like Scrambly Doug’s or looney Luther’s). Burke gets on Airbnb and has a message.

“Oh, he says he was there and waiting for us.”


Despite our requests for the information, good old Jim has not given us the address, the buzzer, or the means of meeting (outside, at a specific spot, etc.). We only have the road and a hopeful address from father Google. So how he expected us to miraculously show up is setting off a red flag in my brain’s bullshit detector.

“Oh,” Burke continues, “he sent the address and I’m telling him you’ll come now and get the keys.”

I knew this was going to happen. It takes Burke several minutes to shed the outdoor gear she wraps up in. there’s a beer in front of her. It’s a long walk back to Jim’s. I knew I was to be enlisted, but it’s fine as I have aggravated energy to burn off. On the way I decide to be nice. The most important thing is that we get the keys, no use worrying over a little miscue. I practice my dismissive-of-an-apology act. “Oh it’s fine. These things happen.”

When I get to the address I am greeted by the third most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life.


“No. Jenny.”


She’s dark and sexy. She knows it. We shake hands.

“Your lovely lady must have misunderstood, we said if she gave us an hour and then sent a message we’d be able to get you in, we’re just a bit backed up now because of this, but that’s OK, all good now, right?”

This is exactly not the case. I have seen the messages because I have written the messages. We had a time to meet and though we requested more information it was not provided. Also, I am pretty sure that Jenny is trying to blame this on us. She is quick with her silvered tongue, smooth, fast. So just as I attempt to correct the statement, she interrupts.

“Here we are. Now you’re gonna unlock by going one to the left and then pull down the handle and you’re gonna lock by going one to the right and pull down the handle.”

In case you don’t understand the movement, it’s called opening a door. You have probably, as have I, done it several hundred thousand times and its instruction here has one purpose: distract.

After the tutorial of how to “open a door” the third most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life shows me a room. A basic room. Good. This is exactly what we wanted. Toilet and shower. A bed. A window. A two-top burner which we won’t use. There’s a charger on the table.

“Oh a charger, that’s great. We forgot one.”

“Of course. Of course there’s a charger. Why would we ever leave you without a charger? How could we do that? They’re expensive.”

“Uh yeah. It’s…thank you.” I look in the bathroom. Lots of gray and noticeably lacking in materials which either dry a body or clean a part of the body.

“Oh can we get some toilet paper and towels, please?”

“Of course. Of course. Now what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna bring you a pan so you can have a good old fry-up in the morning. And I’m gonna bring you a toaster, a toaster, right. I’m gonna bring you a toaster. And butter. Don’t get you no butter. I’ll get you a toaster, a pan, butter, and sugar and tea, so all’s you got to do is get yourself some milk and bread and bacon and you got a proper English fry-up.”

“Thank you…and toilet paper and towels.”

“Obviously. Right. Look you’ll get a – in like two hours – a frying pan, so you can have that fry-up, and that toaster and you can have toast, and I bring you all the fixins’ for tea, so you do it right in the morning. You’ll need a spatula too.”

“Sounds nice. Uh…and…can you please make sure about the towels and toilet paper.”

“Oh certainly. Look Imma write it here on my iPad. Frying pan. Toaster. Sugar. Butter. Teabags.”

“And towels and toilet paper.”

“Right,” she says, but, perhaps pointedly to us both, she does not write it on her e-list.

We leave the room. At her behest I practice locking the door, which I have been doing since I was five. Fortunately, muscle memory serves me well and I’m allowed to stay. A man walks out through a door and nods. He’s bald and frumpy, wearing a T shirt that he pulled from next to a stack of magazines under a thirteen-year-old’s bed. He looks like the real life version of a sitcom character who’s meant to be the slightly off upstairs neighbor.

“That’s Jim,” she says when he’s scurried into another room. “He’s my partner.”

Nah he’s not, I think and do not say.

I tell Burke about the third most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life and a guy she is somehow involved with. We make odds on the likelihood of receiving kitchenware and toilet paper.

We have a few pints in Sawyer’s Arms pub. I ignore the prices. Football is on. As always, there’s one bar asshole. The bar staff is (as are many we will find) charming, as well as vastly female and non-British, which leads me to picture a post-Brexit bar staff made up of confused white guys shouting at some other confused white guys who are wondering where all the attractive Portuguese, Spanish, Romanian, and Polish women have gone off to. I veer my eyes away from the bill when paying it. The wince would probably lead to a neck strain.

All the while my brain returns intermittently to the Airbnb and the third most beautiful girl I have ever seen and her Cosmo Kramer on speed “partner.” What’s with the toaster? The frying pan? Was this all a diversion tactic? She clearly blamed the mishap on us, when it was definitely their issue, so is this all a “let’s cheer you up before you leave that review” ploy? Which, by the way, would be achieved much quicker by giving us some toilet paper and a couple of towels than a frying pan that I won’t be using.

We return to a red bag in front of the door.

“Ah, here’s our stuff,” I foolishly state.

Frying pan. Sugar. Teabags. Toaster. spatula.

That’s all.

Now, I am not lying when I say that I knew this was going to happen. When someone oversells something you don’t want over the thing you actually want it’s very clear they’re trying to tell you that they thing you want ain’t actually the thing you want. It’s this toaster. Or this frying pan. I have no problems with toasters, I use them often. But usually to make toast and not dry myself off after a shower or clean my butt after going boom boom. But I knew this was going to happen; what I don’t understand is why it has happened.  

Burke has come to the conclusion that this is a brothel. Now hear me out. We couldn’t get in there when we wanted to and upon (way too late) reading the reviews, find that this is not the first time the third most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life and her friend have had trouble meeting clients on time.

“They need the bed,” Burke says. “It’s a pay by hour thing. That’s why they didn’t want to give us the address. If we show up, they have to let us in the room, but they can give us information later and then just blame it on us. Looks like they’ve done it to a lot of people.”

Her theory is corroborated by the enormous attractiveness gap between Jim and Jenny. Could he be a pimp? Maybe. Could she be a  £2000 an hour call girl. Maybe. We eat Cadbury eggs and get quiet. We try to charge our phone with the obvious charger, but it inevitably doesn’t work on any outlet. I try it in the hallway. No go.

We get in bed. A few drunks wander down the road outside. A guy moves around in the hallway. I read a little Hemingway. We shut down the lights. And I lie there and think about what the third most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life and the guy who knows her are trying to pull.

In the morning, there’s another bag outside the door. In the bag are two towels and what looks to be toilet paper. I breathe a sigh and kick myself. Perhaps I have misjudged. I bring the bag in and reach inside. The towels are damp, super damp, as in, left-in-the-washer-overnight damp. The bag of toilet butter ends up being a bag of butter packets. I try the adapter again and see imprinted along the top curve: Fused: only for shavers and toothbrushes

Anyone who has the internet has seen videos in which people are purposefully toyed with under the guise of sociological experimentation. Let’s see what happens if this homeless guy asks these prudish hipsters if they’ll give him a prostate exam. Not one of these sniveling little privileged weenies would do it! Pbbt.

Is this what’s happening? Jim’s the head sociologist. The third most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life is an actress paid to play her part. Let’s see what happens when two unsuspecting tourists are put into a situation without Wi-Fi access and then slowly gaslighted in an attempt to convince them that they would prefer to make a large English breakfast than have showers or use the bathroom? Take away access to phone chargers and slowly bring them things they don’t want and then a thing they do want, but unusable.

What would happen?

Well as it turns out, the only thing that happens is that one of the tourists goes up to a local shop and buys toilet paper and an adapter (that he specifically asks will work on phones and not just toothbrushes). They eat more Cadbury’s and wonder why they haven’t seen anyone who works there since Friday night. They wonder where the cameras are and they make faces into those portraits above the bed.

Then they give weird looks to the actors playing the homeless men and wonder at the deeper point to their soliloquies. But I draw the line at prostate exam.

Comments are closed.