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 to The Star 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.”
Okay. Back to Jane Austen. I bet 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, 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, ever think of dyeing 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.
Now, think about this. It’s kind of like taking your own food to Lutece (nope, Lutece is gone) or, hmm, 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 aforementioned 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 goodbye 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 was an advertising copywriter in New York City for many years. She lives in Amagansett and writes a weekly humorous blog at lutheranliar.com.