How to Be a Good House Guest…or Bed Making is my Superpower

Although I’m an antisocial introvert, I like having people stay with us. I know, I’m an enigma. Blah blah blah. There are conditions, of course, why wouldn’t I have conditions? You’d expect no less. I find myself reflecting on decades of hosting guests, as well as what I have learned about being a guest in someone else’s home.

Some dear friends just left after being here only one night. I would have loved them to stay longer, but they have places to go, people to see – they are very busy retirees! Next up on the guest parade is another dear friend and former shipmate who is such a great guest that she’d be welcome to move in. For all the friends and family who bless me with their presence and who will always be invited to stay as long as they want, I can honestly say that there are some folk who need not stay longer than one night. I will try to explain what criteria are important if a guest wants a sincere “please come back and stay with us.”

Before marrying Hunky Hubby (HH), I completed a 20+ year Naval career, and lived blissfully without roommates for most of that time. I did have two roommates when the three of us we were all ensigns. We were stationed on San Nicolas Island and maintained a residence in Camarillo, CA. Remind me to regale you with tales of this time period. I may or may not heed any requests, but you can give it the old college try. For now, it will suffice to share with you that I had no roommates after the young age of (just barely) 24. Until I got married eighteen years later. Although I had no full-time roommates, I had plenty of visitors over the years. I have always tried to make people feel at home, as modest as my surrounding might have been.

Even before that, I was being groomed by Mom in the hospitality arts. She was the consummate hostess, in spite of the troll she married (aka Fulldemerde). Mom always made visitors feel welcome and cherished. Frequently during their long marriage, these were from Team Fulldemerde (FdM), and it was from many of them that I learned what constitutes a bad house guest. And, it was from my puckish mom and her evil consort that I learned how to torture guests. Okay, not actual torture; I did not give Torquemada a run for his money, but I may have participated in behavior that was not classic Welcome Wagon in nature. Fear not – guest torment is not on my list of approved activities as a host.

Some illustrative moments of bad bearing occurred when Mom and her leech of a husband hosted FdM’s former law school roommate for overnight and/or weekend visits. We’ll call him Don. Don lived far enough away that nobody wanted him getting boozed up and driving back home after a night of revelry. And this was in the seventies, when so many people were glaring ignoramuses (ignorami?) and didn’t think twice about drinking and driving. Yay for us – we were paragons of social virtue and always gave the boozehounds a place to stay. Don was single and had a constant parade of female companions. I can’t believe my parents subjected us to such debauchery! We’ll call one such companion Sherri. She actually later married him.

Sherri was a twit, but harmless. Not to hear FdM talk, however. He couldn’t stand her. I thought she was vapid and useless, but she was sweet in her way and she got extra points for putting up with Fulldemerde and Don. Sherri and I had nothing in common, and it wasn’t only because I was eleven when we met. She was a girly-girl, applied her make up with a trowel, was somewhat condescending, didn’t seem too intelligent, and simpered around without a clue about sports or anything I found useful. But, she wasn’t a bad person. FdM goaded my brother and me into playing horrid pranks on her. In retrospect, we should have made him to his own dirty work but we were young and impressionable and far too eager to please our new stepfather. Fulldemerde hated Sherri until, I presume, his dying day. I never understood his vehemence. He called her all sorts of names and said hateful things about her. I eventually felt sorry for Sherri and uncomfortable when she’d join Don in whatever party or short trips my parents arranged.

My brother and I were not generally banished when Mom and FdM hosted their frequent drunken parties, so we’d obey most direction so that we could stay up and watch the show. It was during one of these alcohol-fueled gatherings that my brother learned to swim, totally against his will. I thought he should have learned much earlier, especially since we had a pool at the time. I might have gone about the swim lesson a little differently, but I was a kid myself. What did I know?! (See the blog entry entitled “A Slight Intermission Before Returning to the Broken Ankle Saga” for some backstory).

The adults were frolicking in the pool, when Don spied my brother lurking in the background. Don promptly picked up my brother and tossed his protesting ass into the water. No adults seemed particularly concerned about this, so I jumped in, prepared to fish the kid out if he started to sink. My brother swam! Not well, but he didn’t drown. He got to the side of the pool, hauled himself out, threw a snit fit (to which he was entitled – that was horrendous behavior on Don’s part), and stomped inside. Note: had anyone done that to my kid, I’d have harmed them and never invited them back to my home. Don, however, never had his house guest privileges revoked.

I digress – get used to it.

Back to Sherri. She was splayed on a chaise lounge, since she’d apparently melt if put in contact with water. Just as well…I always imagined she’d leave quite the oil slick in her wake because of the inordinate amount of makeup on her mug. She inspected her manicure and didn’t react to her boyfriend acting stupidly. It was soon thereafter that we pulled little pranks on her. We left a lifelike rubber snake in her bed, we were directed to stash live insects in her luggage, we hid her pots of makeup and other goo, we short-sheeted her bed, all while being encouraged by FdM.

I want to assure you that no shenanigans of that nature will ever befall guests of my abode. I learned my lesson. Really, it was abysmal behavior, the kind of behavior that a good hostess would never encourage. I’m still amazed that Mom didn’t shoot Don when he tossed her son into the deep end.

Speaking of abysmal behavior at the behest of Fulldemerde, I shall digress a little further. Fast forward the late nineties – yes, 27 or so years later. I was stationed in Hawaii. My brother went on a trip to Europe with Mom and FdM. His partner Robert took that opportunity to stay with me for a week or so. He was a delightful house guest. The kind of guest that was frequently invited back, and not just because he was family.

Fulldemerde had some long-time friends who were doctors. From the time I met them when I was twelve years old I called them “Doctor-Mister” and “Doctor-Missus,” to differentiate the two. Mom and Fulldemerde brought a former sorority sister of mine into their odd fold after we’d all graduated from college. (There will be more stories about this later). The relationship with DonnaSue (not her real name) got weirder with time, to the point where I wanted nothing to do with her, the doctors, or FdM. Anyway, Robert had a host of health problems and carried a small pharmacy with him. DonnaSue and Doctor-Mister called me to demand that I search Robert’s room and bathroom. I declined. They wheedled and cajoled and told me that they thought he had AIDS. I did not think that – however, I did think that finally DonnaSue and Doctor-Mister had lost their minds. They pressed the point, until I yelled at them, called them some unsavory names, and hung up the phone, telling them not to contact me again. I suggested that they root through Robert’s belongings in their own homes or, better yet, just ask him if they were so concerned. Even if I thought Robert had HIV or AIDS, I was pretty confident that it wasn’t contagious. It was also none of my business. I tried to get the two wack-jobs to understand that I never violate the privacy of my guests. That was one of the last times I ever spoke with Doctor-Mister. I wish I hadn’t spoken with DonnaSue after that, but I hadn’t quite learned my lesson…

Odd, that I learned that trait from Mom. She was the consummate snoop. I loved her dearly, but that woman was nosy and invasive and I grew up knowing I had ZERO privacy in her home. She never searched a guest’s luggage. She believed that a house guest’s privacy was sacrosanct. I guess she wore herself out searching and re-searching my brother’s and my rooms, leaving her no energy to violate a visitor’s belongings! As a result, I do not snoop. EVER. If a guest brought a dead body into my home, I’d only know once it began to smell. I don’t even enter a guest’s room unless I’m invited to do so. I should probably re-think this strategy, so I’m not surprised by what ungodly mess might be waiting for me when they leave. PS – to any family members reading this, I do not and never have snooped in your rooms or belongings. I am not perfect, but I am perfectly respectful of your right to privacy.

Why wouldn’t I digress? Now, let’s see if I can get back on track. Where was I?

Oh, yes. What constitutes a good guest. Most of my friends and relatives fall into this category; others do not. I think I will start a House Guest Hall of Fame, and take non-attributional photos of the guest rooms AFTER people leave. You, the astute reader, can then offer your opinion on whether I’d characterize the guest as good (come on back any old time) or not good (please stay at the Marriott next time).

Why photos, you ask? Because on very rare occasions, I honestly can’t tell if we had burglars in only one room. I can’t even describe the scene, other than to say there are times that departing guests make it look as if the room was tossed. And not tossed by a spy who didn’t want to be discovered. Tossed by an angry criminal. Don’t leave the guest room looking and smelling like a teenager lives in it. We already lived through that. Thankfully, our former teenagers are now responsible adults who leave no trace when they finish their all-too-short visits back home. If you leave the guest room in such a state that it induces flashbacks and nervous twitching, you have not done your part to be a good guest!

I admit that I am not the best housekeeper in this zip code. I should dust more, and just generally be more mindful of the clutter. I’m getting better at clutter; not so much better at dusting. Guest rooms and bathrooms here, however, are in pretty good shape. They are regularly cleaned and vacuumed. I try to keep them dog fur-free. In short, we like our guests to be comfortable and relaxed. This isn’t a five-star hotel, but we’re not fancy folk! You will not get mints on your pillow, but you will get a clean room with clean linens.

This is where my super power comes into play. I can’t do much, but thanks to Mom who taught me how to fold hospital corners when I was six, I can make a bed! When guests depart having made their bed, I can tell that I didn’t do it. This is neither a criticism nor a challenge – it’s just a fact. Don’t think for a moment that the bed in the master bedroom is made as well as any of the guest beds. It isn’t. This is one of my many quirks. I’m just glad I have a super power.

Make yourself at home. Enjoy your stay. Do you like to hydrate? By all means, take a glass of water with you at bedtime. If you must take booze or milk or soda, please don’t leave the receptacles somewhere for me to find days later. I prefer if you don’t take food upstairs, but if you must, just let me know so I’m not surprised by any detritus you may leave behind after your visit. Better yet…don’t leave food and crumbs and dirty plates on the floor, in the nightstand drawer, in the bathroom, in the closet. Really, people, is that how you act in your own home? It’s fine if you do. All I ask is for a little courtesy here.

We do not generate our own electricity, therefore we kindly ask that you not turn on EVERY SINGLE light source and leave them burning brightly when you leave. Was there a reason why you left the light on in the closet? All the lights in the bathroom were left burning brightly – was that not sufficient light? Did you also have to leave the light on in the shower? We supply hangers and drawer space, so please try not to toss the hangers on the floor in your haste to depart. When we stay in hotels with a housekeeping staff, HH and I try to leave the room somewhat close to how we found it. And, even then, we frequently leave a small gratuity for the maids. We don’t act like aging rock stars and trash the place. If you must junk up my guest room, at least leave some money on the dresser! In return, I promise I will not enter your room. It is your sanctum while you are here.

We try to wash all linens soon after a guest departs, but since we both work some long hours, we may not get to that chore for a few days. For all that is holy, please stop leaving your wet and dirty towels on the floor or on the bed. Why would someone even do that? If you must use every towel in the bathroom, then go find more towels in the linen closet, please hang them until they dry. Or, better yet, let me know that you have exhausted the household’s towel supply and require that they all be washed. I’ll happily run a load of laundry for you. That is far better than dealing with a pile of mildew-scented towels. If you have doubts, you can ask if we prefer you to strip the bed or make it. I honestly don’t care, unless we have guests arriving soon after your departure, and need to flip the room quickly. In that case, strip away! If you make the bed, I’ll know that the sheets need to be changed. You see, my superpower not only lets me make the bed well, I can tell when someone other than me has made it. That’s actually quite handy, because I can tell at a glance that I need to wash sheets. You don’t have to make that observation easier for me by making the bed look as if a herd of kindergarteners jumped on it then tore through the sheets and blankets search of candy. Why also did you need to leave the top mattress out of kilter? Did you think we kept valuables under the mattress? Did you fear you would be robbed and feel it necessary to put your jewelry there?

See, now Mom is likely glaring at me from heaven. She’s probably appalled that I am sharing some of the crime scene-like appearances of the guest rooms. My first reaction is to whimper when I see the wake of destruction left by a select few. Then, much later, I can laugh about it, and share it with you in the hopes of eliciting a giggle or two. Even if that giggle is you laughing at me, rather than sharing my pain, I will have done my blogging job. Mom either took her tales of guest woe to the grave, or she never experienced departing-guest-pandemonium. I find the latter hard to believe, since she spent decades entertaining and catering to the creeps who were friends of Fulldemerde. And, there were some doozies. The fact that I’m not scarred for life is proof that I am a strong woman. Or full on delusional and in denial.

Mom also taught me not to arrive at someone’s home empty-handed. She didn’t think my assertion of “but I have a suitcase in my hand, so it’s not empty” was particularly witty. I try to follow her command; I don’t always succeed. I therefore also try not to make sweeping statements such as “I NEVER arrive empty-handed,” or “I ALWAYS bring something to the host/hostess.” There are too many of you who know that to be a lie, inadvertent or not! We have experienced both sides of that spectrum, too.

It is not necessary to bring Justin Vineyards Isosceles Reserve for a visit here, but it doesn’t hurt. Two sets of dear friends have arrived with these magnificent wines. We’d trash the guest room with them, the wine is so good. If you want to turn the guest rooms into a Superfund site, bring outrageous wine and we’ll assist. After drinking it, we still may conk you over the noggin(s) with that heavy bottle before you get too far into destructo mode. It all depends on how much you share and how good the wine is! Go ahead, bring us some Leonetti, some more Justin, some big boomer Bordeaux, a hard to get Brunello and see how chill I can be when you want to unleash your inner demon.

One of my dear friends will bring a six-pack of much better wine than I buy, flowers, a book, bath soaps, silk scarves, dog treats, and other goodies, even if she’s only staying one night. If we go out for a meal, she’ll basically challenge me to a duel, then argue with me, rather than let me pick up the check. Others sweep into the home on extended visits with nary an item but their belongings in their hand. Ironically, these are the same people who profess that they never arrive at a host’s home empty-handed. I don’t care if you bring something. A gift or trinket is neither expected nor required. If you don’t bring something, please don’t be sanctimonious about your not-on-display house guest etiquette.

Both extremes are welcome! Your company is gift enough. Your desire to spend your free time with us is priceless and appreciated. My superpower may be bed making, but your guest super power should be relaxing with us, throwing back your head in laughter, making memories of time spent with those we love, and maybe poking fun a little at people who trash my guest room. Even if you’re one of them.

18 May 2018

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