|Go and never darken my towels again . . . Groucho Marx
Why can't we live by the teachings of the old tried and true adages? After all, Aesop, Ben Franklin and all the other wise men who weren't busy on December 24th went to quite a bit of trouble to painfully test their words. Why don't we ever listen to them? One maxim that comes to mind and festers there speaks of fish and houseguests smelling after three days. I always look before I leap, never put all my eggs in one basket and I often hesitate and am more often lost, but I can never remember that one! This was especially true a few years ago when I invited an old childhood friend to camp out on my doorstep for an unspecified while. (Maybe things would have turned out better if I hadn't let her inside. They certainly couldn't have turned out much worse!)
Has Guestzilla (the king/queen of terrible company) ever paid you a visit? If so, how long did he or she stay and have you ever been the same since? Having houseguests can be like having children. They may be lovable, but they create messes, upset routines and provide the ultimate test of our patience and good graces. All of my hospitality went out the window when Maxine (I won't use her real name because I still like her mother), paid me a visit. It all comes back to me as if it happened yesterday; I remember every smell, every slight, every imposition, every criticism and every attempt to compromise and control my anger. But wait. I don't want to get ahead of my story. You be the judge after you hear the facts.
Maxine and I started out on the wrong foot as I made the champion faux pas of not finding out beforehand the duration of her particular brand of torture. How long can you stay? always sounds sweeter than When will you be leaving? Here's your hat. What's your hurry? Part of the problem is that friends from childhood grow up and change, developing obnoxious habits that may have heretofore gone unnoticed, especially since we don't spend a lot of time with these people. Sometimes we don't really know our guests and then again, sometimes we can't run away from what we know fast enough. I seek the wisdom to know the difference, but I'm not certain I will ever find it.
I picked Maxine up at Newark Airport. It took me three hours round trip. I hadn't seen her for fifteen years and had I not done so, she would have been forced to take a two-hour bus ride from the airport to my home. (I never got a thank you or even a dime for gas or tolls. This was my first omen, but I ignored it.) She was quite obese, and feared the bed in the guest room would collapse under her weight. I would have doubted her had I not noticed the back end of my small car sort of tilt upon our return from the airport. She chose my large, living room sofa as her bed, private sauna and personal three, four and five way conference room. My telephone became her passport to everywhere in the world. This included a few calls to Switzerland and Paris (without telling me of course)! She was on the telephone so much that I could barely squeeze a call of my own in edgewise. She left me with an unpaid bill the size of Cleveland (almost five hundred dollars), lots of used dental floss lying across my coffee table and a general statement about rotting fish and company that I will not soon forget.
Maxine epitomizes some of the worst problems house guests present for their unsuspecting hosts. Staying too long runs the closest to the fishy proverb. A weekend is usually just enough to keep things sane, non-confrontational and refreshing. Maxine stayed almost a month. (My sofa and phone have never been the same. Their joie de vivre has been flattened and exhausted.) Eating a host out of house and home without compensation is a big no-no Nanette, or whatever their name is. Maxine would buy things for herself whenever we went to the supermarket, but she never once picked up my food bill. (She certainly ate enough of my meat and potatoes to do so, more than I did in fact, but she never felt obliged to contribute.
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