Houseguests From Hell And How To Send Them Back
by Marjorie Dorfman

Do you find yourself with houseguests you can't seem to get rid of? Maybe you are treating them a bit too kindly. Read on for some tips and a chuckle or two.

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.

It may appear to be self evident, almost like another Gettysburg Address, but many people simply don't know how to be a guest in someone else's house. Maxine once screamed to me from the upstairs bathroom and I came running. Was it her heart or had her weight merely found the rest of itself? Alas and alack. It was none of those things. The poor girl didn't have a face towel and could never consider using a fresh sponge. After all, it simply wasn't her way. I didn't have any clean face towels but proceeded to show her my line of big, medium and small towels as if I were a peddler, in the hopes she would choose one so that I could get back to my life downstairs. Make do if you are not in your own home or ask your host at an opportune moment for what you need or prefer. Don't scream as if a knife-wielding psychopath has just invaded your shower or the water is devouring you. (In her case, it should only.)

And so, my friends, we have arrived at the ultimate question. How does one get rid of a pesky houseguest without hurting too many feelings. (After a while it won't matter whose feelings are hurt just as long as the guest or worse, guests, are gone. Trust me on this.) We are, however, trying to avoid that and salvage whatever may remain of a more distant relationship in the future with our invitees. I have compiled a few ideas, none of which worked for me as Maxine and I have not spoken since her lovely sojourn with me a few summers ago.

Tell your guest that someone else will soon be visiting and that they will need the bed. If that doesn't work, break the bed. It's desperate, but maybe they will get the hint. I lied to Maxine who hated cigarette smoke (even though she once smoked two packs a day), telling her with a straight face that one of my friends who smoked was coming to stay for a few days and would be staying in the extra bedroom upstairs. She thought about that and actually had the nerve to ask me to buy an air purifier for her space, but she still didn't leave. I thought about disconnecting the phone, especially while Maxine was still using it, but I wasn't convinced that she would have known the difference. I should have gone further and cut the wires.

Another alternative is to get the entire household involved in your seek and eliminate mission. In my case, I live with seven cats. Maxine claimed to be an animal lover, but my cats told me she was a hypocrite. She resented their late night partying and swinging from the chandelier. I was tempted to buy some party hats and join them in their late night reveling, but dismissed this option as immature.

Consider the possibility of a bribe. Offer your guest one hundred bucks to leave immediately. Throw in another fifty dollars if they promise never to come back. If your guest arrives in the summer, cut off the air conditioning; in the winter pretend there's no heat. The only problem is you will suffer too. Maybe consider the option of giving your guest the house and move in to the motel up the road for the duration of their stay. (Only try this after you have attempted option number six, which is to send them there first.)

Pretend you are a homicidal maniac. (Keep watching Psycho for realistic instructions.) Start sharpening knives and discussing all the guns you plan to buy in the next few months. Leave sadomasochistic magazines lying all over the house and become enraged over the slightest question or comment. In general, remain inappropriate for as long as you can stand it. (After a while, you may be for all time.) The last alternative, door number nine, should only be considered if all of the above fails. Set fire to the house. You'll lose everything, but at least your guest or guests will be forced to find another place to stay!

If all of this fails, you are on your own. It might be the time to consider selling your house with built-in ready-made houseguests. (I understand the Duke and Duchess of Windsor did this for a living for many profitable years.) Cheer up. You might even find another place to stay deep in the mountains or along the rivers where no one can ever find you. A place without a post office is best and a phone and television should be optional. Learn to fish and build fires. One thing is certain. The ones you catch in the stream will be better than any two you will find in the bush and they won't live long enough to smell after three days!

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Copyright 2002