‘Entertaining is easy — with the right guests’
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of an extra room, must be in want of a guest. (Sorry, Jane Austen.)
When I told The Child about my plan to write about house guests (both the really great ones and the really, um, not-so-great ones), she was concerned. “Mom! What if one of the Not-So-Great Guests reads your piece and sees that you’re writing about him (or her)!” And I’m like, “So? Maybe he or she would benefit from being thusly outed.” So. Be warned. Especially if you ever stayed with me and upon leaving I said to you, “I hope you had a really nice time.”
I first wrote about the House Guest Thing a few years ago. But somehow gremlins (or maybe scorned house guests?) ate the post. Anyway. The story somehow disappeared from my archives.
I didn’t think much about it. I had other, more pressing, things to write about. How I almost went to work in Arkansas for Wall-Mart (“My Almost Arkansas Commute”), My recipe for corn salad (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend Me Your Ears”) and so on and so forth.
But today I waved good-bye to my Brother-In-Law Bill. Who is The Dude’s brother. Aside from a propensity for buying multiple loaves of crumb-producing bread, he’s a pretty good house guest. He doesn’t expect to be entertained. He doesn’t leave wet towels around. He doesn’t try to cook; in fact, he likes my cooking.
Okay. Back to Jane Austen. I bet, like Bro-in-law Bill, she’d make a swell house guest. But since she’s not a possibility, I have to make do with live people. Speaking of which, my daughter and her female friends make excellent house guests. They happily (and quietly) pursue shared activities not requiring any hostess participation or even supervision. They share a bathroom, a bedroom, or even a bed, if so required. Without complaining. And without eating or drinking in said bed. Model house guests.
To be perfectly honest, most of my guests are, in fact, close-to-model house guests. If they weren’t, well, I wouldn’t keep inviting people to stay, now would I? It’s kind of like that thing they say about babies: if it were all that awful having them, everyone would be an only child.
Of course, even model house guests sometimes sit on the couch in wet bathing suits, or walk around with sandy and/or muddy feet, or even set wet glasses down on prized hardcover books. But that’s (sort of) okay and eminently forgivable. And kind of within the bounds of “make yourself at home.” That is, if you live in the kind of home where books serve double-duty as coasters.
Speaking of which, when your hostess says, “Make yourself at home’” (which I never do, by the way) imagine that you are at, say, your mother-in-law’s home. Would you pare your toenails in Mother Smith’s living room? Or give your spouse a scented-oil massage in her bed? Would you ever even think of dying your hair (yes, this really happened, and no, red hair dye does not come out of a chenille bath rug) in her bathroom?
Oh, and then there are the guests who bring food. Now, I don’t mean a nice jar of jam or a home-baked pie (usually from a hideously-expensive farm stand, but delicious, so who’s complaining?) I mean I’ve had guests who’ve brought huge coolers and shopping bags full of provisions, as if they were going into a Cold-War bunker or on an Antarctic expedition instead of to my well-stocked Hamptons home. And these provisions are not for communal consumption. They are for themselves. It’s like they can’t trust me to provide food they can actually eat.
Speaking of bringing things. It’s not necessary, but it is polite and awfully nice when guests do. If you’re stumped for an idea, think “consumable.” You know, something that everyone can enjoy together, and that soon will be gone. Many hostesses have not only their own ideas about décor, but also short memories. They might forget to drag out and display the purple majolica soap dish or the heart-shaped rag rug (both actual gifts given to me by actual guests) the next time you spend a weekend. So think fancy olive oils in pretty bottles. The afore-mentioned jams. Chocolates. Wine. Did I say wine? When in doubt, bring wine. Just don’t keep it in your room and drink it all yourself. Which one house guest of mine did. Really.
There’s an old saying (I think Steve Allen said it first) that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Which must be why Bad Guests are much funnier (after the fact) than Good Guests. All I know is they’re much more fun to write about than actually live through.
Like the guest who couldn’t sleep in the guest room because she found an ant in her bed. Or the couple who left one Sunday morning for a nice brunch, “forgetting” to take their toddler along. Or the guy who sneaked downstairs in the middle of the night to turn the pool heat to 90. Or even the pair who declared that “you don’t need to cook for us tonight because we are going to The American Hotel for dinner“ but failed to include their hosts (um, us).
Well. When these various guests waved good-bye after their respective (interminable) visits were over, I politely waved back. But did I say, “Come back again soon”? Or “It was great having you”? Or even “Thank you for coming”? Nope. I smiled sweetly and said, “I hope you had a really nice time.”
The unsaid part being, of course, “Because you are never ever coming back.”
Amagansett, New York. September 2021