The House Guest Hall of Fame
by Alice Henry Whitmore, a/k/a Lutheran Liar
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 my daughter about my plan to write about houseguests (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 are 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.”
Okay. Back to Jane Austen. I bet she’d make a swell houseguest. 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 houseguests. 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 houseguests.
To be perfectly honest, most of my guests are, in fact, model houseguests. 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 ever 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 bag 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.
Now, think about this. It’s kind of like taking your own food to Lutece (Nope, Lutece is gone) or, hmmm, Gramercy Tavern, or (wait!) it would be like going to Shake Shack and taking your own burger.
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 houseguest 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.”
Alice Henry Whitmore is a writer and a keen observer of human nature, skills she honed while working on Madison Avenue for many years. Now that she is retired from the advertising business, she focuses her attention on her weekly humor blog, lutheranliar.com. Her pieces comment on situations and experiences that Lustre readers share.