Houseguests From Hell

By on April 2, 2014

from the forthcoming book by Linda West Eckhardt:  the Maplewood Dining Club

Houseguests from Hell

Houseguests from Hell:  A primer on being and hosting overnight visitors.

You might consider this as a primer to those who would be, or would consider hosting houseguests for the upcoming high season.

You know who you are.  Those who would like a long weekend in New York City.   Those of you would like a long weekend away from New York City.

No matter which end of the contract you happen to fall, you may need a brush-up on the high art of stopping over with friends or relatives for a stay that might – dare we say it – even extend beyond the known three days-before-the guests-begin-to-reek of old fish timeline.

Get out your scissors.  You will want to clip and save these instructions. And these instructions mostly have to do with other people’s machines.  How to use them, how not to use them.  You know who you are.  Those who would be helpful, not any trouble at all, and quiet as a mouse.

It is an immutable law of the universe that no two dishwashers work the same way.  I understand you were just trying to be helpful when you said you’d load the dw on your last glorious night in our home.

I understand you were just trying to do your part after the ignominious end to that dinner party that went terribly awry because your brother-in-law who lives in Long Island made such a scene about some event you two shared when you were kids.

I actually hadn’t seen this shirt tail relation since your wedding oh so many years ago.  I was quick to agree you could invite him to dinner here in New Jersey, since it was just a quick train ride for him, he assured you,  from Long Island, through Manhattan, and into the wilds of New Jersey.

He had said it was no trouble at all for him to get here on public transportation and he was looking forward to seeing us “all”.

I had only a vague recollection of him from your wedding: a tall, rakishly handsome young man who used that event as an excuse to get knee-walking drunk and fall into the garden table where the punch bowl held a carefully made, mildly alcoholic summer libation.

It was not so much that the punch was lost, but that Mother’s wedding present punch bowl, you remember it, the Fostoria American pattern that she hauled out for every special occasion in our long and misspent youth, was shattered into a million pieces.

Oh, if only my memory were better.  Now,  it seems,  he is no longer rakishly handsome, or young;  he is now, it seems, just an older drunk, whose idea of a fitting end to a dinner party is to hump the hostess,  even if she is fifteen years old than he, and actually related by blood to him in some dim and dreadful way.

I tried to explain to him that I only sleep with dogs, and that I did not include him in that privileged category.  He would have to return to Long Island before he could rest his head.

So the first rule for being a house guest?  Do not invite your alcoholic brother-in-law to dinner at the host’s home.  Meet him in a New York establishment where there are bouncers trained and ready to deal with those who might slip across that wavy line between amusing, maudlin, to maddening.

No one cares about the baggage between the two of you.  Better to work that out on a therapist’s couch than in the living room of some poor unsuspecting cousin.

But back to the dishwasher.  I know you meant well when you said I should just go to bed.  You would take responsibility for cleaning up and running the dishwasher.

I had already located the dustpan, broom and plastic bags for you to sweep up the detritus from the unhappy accident in the living room that left several Reidel glasses and a nice crystal ice bucket scattered about on the shiny ribbon parquet floor.  I know your brother-in-law has always been clumsy and couldn’t help himself when he fell backwards into the side board.

Some say he has always suffered from ADHD, OCD, and perhaps other ominous acronyms that have dogged his trail through his long walk of life.  Others, myself included, just see him as a refugee from AA.

When your husband offered to drive him to the train station, I should have gone myself.  How could I know your husband would get lost and end up in that unfortunate part of Newark known for drive-by shootings and unexplained disappearances?

My insurance is good.  Do not worry one moment about the dents in right rear quadrant of my car.  Small price to pay for the safety of your husband as he retreated back to the leafy surcease of my suburban town. Thank god for GPS.  He might be lost still.  Sure, my car insurance payments may go up for three years, but don’t you worry one minute.

Actually, I had put a cold cloth on my head, snuggled up between the two dogs who call my bed home, and couldn’t have cared less about what was happening in the living room.

In fact, only after I drove you guys to the airport crack of dawn this morning for your long awaited vacation to Morocco did I finally understand what you were trying to tell me as you leaned into the car at the Newark airport after we had said our goodbyes.

You had set the dishwasher for a delayed start so that we would not be disturbed in our shortened slumber by the noise.

Now there is no way you could have known this,  but my dishwasher cost fourteen hundred dollars and has noise cancelling features that means not even the dead could be awakened by any sound the thing emits as it goes about cleaning the dishes.

Of course, it’s just as well, because when I opened it and saw that you had stacked plates horizontally on the racks, nothing would have gotten clean anyway.  Small price to pay that I should have to reload it this morning, even though the food had dried thoroughly and the load had to be soaked first.

But that was OK.  I had seen you off on your grand vacation.  I could relax.  Have my house back, and get back to work.

Never mind that I have never once changed the setting on the dishwasher and have no clue how to get it turned away from the “delayed start” that you carefully chose.  Does this mean I have to live with dirty dishes over night for the rest of my life?  Probably.

And where did those teenagers put the remote from the television?  I watch Charlie Rose every day, and today, I couldn’t because I could not find that damned remote.  Ah kids.  You know how they are.

You had considerately stripped the beds and bath of sheets and towels and placed them in the hall outside your bedroom door.  I suppose no one mentioned this was not an AirBnB stop.  I had stated – as it turned out too weakly – that you could just pull the covers up and I would get to that later.

But now, I gathered the soiled linens up and went off to the basement to get the laundry going. Good to get a clean start to the week.

That’s when I discovered that, as you said, you had flown to Newark from Houston with a load of laundry that you just didn’t get to at home.  You had brought it to do here.

I confess this seems a bit odd to me, traveling with dirty clothes, but never mind.  The fact that you had taken my clean laundry out of the washer and stacked it on the dryer instead of drying it only means that now,  some five days later,  I will have to rewash that load since it has surely mildewed lying in the damp, dark basement.

But I was glad to have seen you, your husband, the two surly teenagers, and your drunken brother-in-law. Really I was.

And I appreciate your kind thank you note that you posted from the airport before you took off.  About that wish you expressed for seeing us next year as you await your destination trip to Dubai?

Sorry.  That’s the weekend I’ll be going to the Moon.  Alone.  Bon Voyage.

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”

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