We saw it that very first morning, or at least a suggestion of it, Karen Anne’s abusive rap, an impatience that has no fuse at all and an attitude that, somewhere in that cobwebbed place she occupies, she is lord and master of all she surveys and all the rest of us are piles of fly-infested shit. The irony of it all, given her opinion of us and herself, is that she did reign over an endless kingdom of shit. That part she had right.
Her anger was aimed at Antoine that morning, her not-so-cleverly suppressed rage born of her impatience with the way he was doing things. He seemed to slough it off easily enough, but that was a little misdirection as well. She had pounded the little man into an insecure and nervous little lisping German pulp. What little he may have had going for him at one time was not evident now. He was a submissive little mongrel of a dog that couldn’t get enough of her foot up his backside. And she was a monster. What Frankenstein stitched together and lit up with a lightning enema was a teddy bear compared to Karen Anne Vapid, and her berating insults were better than no words at all to Antoine. At least she was acknowledging his existence.
During those first two weeks, her impatience and rage and twisted sense of control began to rear its ugly head more and more, first at Antoine and then at Mickie, the housekeeper. Mickie was a sorry son of a bitch as it was, an uneducated girl from some holler who still marveled at the neon of Asheville, and most of that was burned out. She lived in a rusty old trailer in a field with her boyfriend, whom she insisted was not responsible for a single one of the several black eyes she wore like a pirate’s eye-patch. Karen Anne, in that alluringly ironic and contradictory way she had, would be beside herself with sisterhood and rescuing Mickie from this savage male who left her so blatantly battered and scarred, and not five minutes later would be unleashing a torrent of abuse on her, leaving Mickie internally battered and scarred.
And it wasn’t just her partner and her housekeeper who suffered those “slings and arrows,” but nearly everyone else within a two-block radius of Karen Anne. Workers laying carpet and soldering plumbing and laying a flagstone walk next door, another property she owned, were told in no uncertain terms their work sucked, they were shit, and it would be a cold day in Hell before they got another dime out of her.
And then there was Gloria Feldspar, a homeless woman Karen Anne took under her leathery wing, giving her a small apartment to live in and a small wage in exchange for helping out around the Hellhole and at the property next door. Gloria soon discovered she was another pile of shit in Karen Anne’s kingdom.
Gloria herself was no prize, and during our last few days at the Hellhole she was a little rat, running back and forth between us and Karen Anne, telling us of Karen Anne’s latest atrocities, and hoping to glean a little juicy backstabbing out of us to take back to the Queen of Shit.
So, there we were, two weeks into our tour of duty on what was clearly a sinking ship, baling water and keeping afloat. Karen Anne was an iceberg, bobbing in the water just ahead. It all came to a head over a guest, some medical attention, and the telephone.
The guest in question, a middle-aged woman who seemed a couple of digits short of a zip code in the first place, decided she was having some kind of an allergic reaction to the pillows, or the color scheme of her room, or Tuesday, something utterly inane, and after riffling her ample purse, the contents of which went flying all over the Great Room, she discovered she had forgotten her medication, which I suspected was just a placebo anyway. Antoine was there and generously offered to take her to a nearby doctor, or at least put her in touch with him, which is what was done; she left an urgent message with the doctor’s service. Being an accomplished hypochondriac, or prone to melodrama, the guest called the doctor every five minutes, “Hello? Hello? Cough, cough…” She didn’t cough, but actually said “cough, cough.” And she’d leave her name and the number of the inn.
She ended up tying up the phone line for a considerable amount of time, during which Karen Anne had tried to call several times. Well, this threw her into a bloodlust, frothy-mouthed frenzy any Viking would have been proud to call his own. She burst into the inn where she found this guest with our handheld phone, dialing up the doctor again. She yanked it out of her hand, her eyes absolutely aglow with rage. “Thisistheinn’sphoneandwedepednuponthisforallour-businessusethepayphonedownonthecorner.”
She then turned her rage on Antoine, who tried to explain that it was a medical emergency, only to be gutted by Karen Anne’s rage. When Sheri jumped in, trying to defend Antoine and reiterate that it was a medical emergency, leaving out the bit about us thinking this guest was a hypochondriac, Karen Anne turned on her. Sheri was dumbfounded. Witnessing this woman’s rage, which might’ve been looked upon as little more than the temper tantrum of a spoiled child, were it not always so hurtful, was one thing, but to be on the receiving end of it was another matter. Sheri wasn’t hurt or intimidated or feeling backed into a corner even; she was speechless, flabbergasted.
I wasn’t speechless. Cornering Karen Anne in the laundry room, I told her, “You will not talk to my wife that way again.”
She wasn’t speechless either, but it did slow her down so that her sentences weren’t one long word. “You don’t get it. We lost business because that woman had the phone.”
“You don’t get it. You do not talk to people that way.”
“You don’t get it,” she spat back venomously, storming out of the room.
And that was pretty much it. There was no way in Hell(hole) we were going to continue working there. Sheri did nurture the sickly hope that we could iron it out somehow, though she knew better. Karen Anne was certainly not going to have any of it, not if she got confronted every time she launched into one of her abusive tirades.
It took a few days of surveying the carnage and doing a body count, but we all came to the same conclusion, though from different angles: we would be moving on. Sheri, who is too nice for her own good, generously offered to stay through November so that each of them could take the vacations they had planned. Antoine seemed to genuinely appreciate the gesture; Karen Anne grudgingly agreed, though she already had other plans – sickly weeds sprouting in her many piles of shit.
Just like that, we were faced with being homeless and unemployed again. We had about six weeks to figure out what we would do next. Innkeeping certainly wasn’t working.
In the meantime, Antoine went on his vacation, Karen Anne avoided us as much as possible, Mickie turned up for work with a new black eye, Gloria skittered about, her little rat’s ass spying on us for Karen Anne, and we tried to go about the business of innkeeping. The guests knew something was up, and they all knew it centered around Karen Anne Vapid, or bottomed out around her. Any of them whom had had any interaction with her were always quick with a kind word to us, and their sincerest condolences. It didn’t heal our wounds, but their kindness was always a nice sugary treat. And then it got worse.
With Antoine out of town, and thus much less the hindrance, Karen Anne lowered the boom on us. One morning after breakfast – or what would normally be after breakfast, we were sitting at the dining room table with our guests, swapping stories and having a few laughs – she stormed into the inn, coming to an abrupt halt at the dining room door. Seeing us and our guests enjoying each other’s company, something that never happened when she was the innkeeper, she kind of peeped, “Oh,” turned, and walked out. The four of us had a big laugh over that.
She returned a little while later and, finding us alone, succinctly told us, “I’vegoneoverthebooksandwe’re$6,000behindlast-Septemberandit’syourfaultI’mterminatingyouasoftheendofthemonth.” And she stormed back out.
Stunned, Sheri bawled like a baby. I wanted to chase Karen Anne down and strangle her.
So that was it; we were finished. With a week left in the month we found ourselves doggie paddling in a privy and someone with diarrhea had just dropped their fat ass onto the seat above us. We had to find a job; we had to find a place to live; we had to do something with all our stuff.
Finding a job on such short notice, while still trying to run an inn, was simply out of the question. We could’ve just up and quit, but we wanted that last paycheck. So, I tracked down the least expensive storage space I could find and made several daily trips to it with our stuff; Sheri made lots of phone calls and found us a place where we could live during the first week of October.
That was pretty much it; that old familiar depression was back and showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. Our whole adventure had just gotten chewed up and spat back out at us by some bitter and used up middle-aged woman with an addiction to pills and verbally abusing others. And she had one more trick shoved up her ass. (She certainly had a lot of room up that ass of hers, didn’t she?)
Just two days before we were to end our job at the Hellhole B and B, a guest called to tell us the front doorknob wasn’t working. It was about a quarter till nine, so Sheri went along to hang up the phone and turn on the answering machine while I played Mr. Fix-it with the doorknob. I was on my knees, wrestling with this stubborn old piece of hardware; Sheri was outside, trying it out every time I said, “Does it work now?” which it never did. Giving up, I let her in, and as we closed the door, locking it for the night, we heard a rush of wind followed by the backdoor slamming shut. Hmmm.
I had a suspicion it was Karen Anne, and my suspicions were confirmed by the sound of her banging on our back door across the parking lot, yelling at the top of her lungs, “SHERI! YOUGETYOURASSOUTHERE!! YOUHEARME???”
We snuck up behind her. “Problem?” Sheri said. Karen Anne jumped with a start, but quickly recovered, yelling, “YOUCAN’T-HANGUPTHEPHONEBEFORENINEYOUFUCKER!!!”
“It was five to nine. We were IN the inn.”
“I think the whole neighborhood hears you.”
“FUCK YOU!!!!” And she stormed off. As she did so, I was certain I heard the theme music for the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz. Sheri has since and often lamented not punching Karen Anne on the end of her nose.
The next day I got the rest of our stuff moved out of there, and we drove away from the Hellhole Bed and Breakfast, to a house way off the beaten path, near Black Mountain, North Carolina. We wouldn’t work as innkeepers again for nearly ten months.
Incredibly, we never considered going back to Ohio.