“A Classic Rip-Off”

a Memoir by Eileen Obser

   Six summers ago, two weeks before Hampton Classic week, a friend who owns a bed and breakfast in East Hampton referred a woman to me who was “desperate to find a place to stay during the horse show.” The previous summer, the same friend had referred me to Classic-goers from Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Two men from the university stayed in my modest-size guest room for one week for $1,500. As a female writer who lives by her wits, re: Virginia Woolf’s famous advice, I decided to take on the desperate woman.
    Her name was Katherine Lean, and I called her at her home in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She was out in the paddock with her daughter and their horse, Mitzi. I tried to picture how the women looked: big teeth, like Mitzi? Big hair, like the horse’s mane? “My daughter wants to be in the show,” she told me. “We’re only coming for a few days, but I’ll be happy to pay you for the whole week.” She spoke in a cultured, nasaly voice, which I interpreted as well-to-do, educated, and trustworthy.
    “That won’t be necessary,” Ms. live-by-her-wits told Ms. Lean. “Just send me a check for $800.” I didn’t like giving away the room for a pittance, but the witless side of my brain kicked in, and that was what I offered.
    One week went by, and no check. Three other horse people called me for the room. “It’s taken. Sorry,” I had to tell them. Finally, I called Katherine Lean.
    “Oh yes, I’ve already put that in the mail,” she assured me.
    I received the check four days later, on a Thursday around 4 p.m., after banking hours and a few days before the Classic would begin. The postmark indicated Ms. Lean mailed the check after our phone conversation, not before. I deposited the check on Friday morning. “It’s an out-of-town check,” the bank clerk told me. “It may be a week before it clears.” I was apprehensive. Idiot, I said to myself, why didn’t you take Katherine Lean’s credit card instead and run it through the bed and breakfast’s machine!
    Too late for self-recrimination. Ms. Lean and her teenage equestrian daughter would arrive on Tuesday, and stay until Friday. All I could do was try to keep calm and pray that nothing would go wrong.
    The weather report for the opening day of the Hampton Classic was pretty grim. Rain, and a lot of it.  Many days of rain were expected.
    On Monday there was a message from Pennsylvania on my answering machine. “We’ve decided to come Wednesday, instead. We’ll still be returning home on Friday.”
    Fine. At least they were coming. I made up the room for mother and daughter, putting crisp, clean sheets on the twin beds, and stacking thick, white towels in the closet. Right before they came, I’d add flowers in a vase and check over the bathroom.
    On Tuesday, as I looked out the window at the pouring rain, I called the bank and spoke to one of the officers. “That check has gone through,” she told me. “There are certain routings that don’t require a five-day clearance. Obviously, this is one of them.”
    Hallelujah, I said to myself. You’ve got the money, no matter what!
    So when I got the phone message later that same day that Katherine Lean had decided not to come, but that she would be “happy to reimburse (me) for part of the cost,” I thought, Who cares? Do what you want, Katherine, honey. I didn’t bother calling her back.
    I paid some bills, mailed a few checks, and treated myself to dinner with a few friends.
    On Thursday, another bank officer who knew me called. “I thought I should let you know that your account is overdrawn.”
    That’s how I found out that Ms. Lean had stopped payment on her check. On Friday, the day I deposited it. She knew then what I could not. My bank didn’t find out until Thursday. Amazing what a week can do to your finances.
    I tried to reach Katherine on the phone to give her a piece of my mind. Be calm, you idiot, is what I said to myself. Talk nice, and maybe she’ll send you at least part of the damned money. She didn’t answer.
    Given the situation, would I?
    I sent off a letter, with a copy to my lawyer, which included this sentence: “I hope you are a person of good character and that you will send me $400, which is about one-third of the money I usually earn during Hampton Classic week.”
    I never got a check. The police couldn’t help since it wasn’t a “bad” check; it was simply a stop-payment. And I couldn’t take the matter to our local Small Claims Court; it was an out-of-town matter. I would have to drive to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a six-hour drive each way, and file a claim there.
    I’ve stopped renting my rooms as a bed and breakfast since that time, but I still get calls and sometimes I weaken. Did I learn a lesson from this Classic rip-off? I’ll let you know in September, after the horse show.



    Eileen Obser, an East Hampton resident, is a writer, editor, and creative writing teacher who has contributed many times to The Star. She writes true stories about her experiences as a landlady, and is completing a novel titled “Two Rooms, Shared Bath.”