The great Alaskan houseguest migration

Ben Franklin once famously set the expiration date for houseguests, like fish, at three days. Our most recent batch stayed more than three weeks.


Even adjusting for advances in refrigeration technology, after that long, any houseguest is bound to stink. Although, I just calved a berg of last year’s halibut off the back of the freezer and it, by contrast, barely held a funk. This proves two things: a) you can mask anything given enough deep-fried beer batter; b) that which does not kill you…

Now, I enjoy company as much as the next guy… especially if that next guy happens to be Jean Paul Sartre, who once famously defined hell as “other people.” By the way, the original quote comes from his play “No Exit,” about three deceased characters locked in a room together for eternity; coincidentally, this is also the plot of a play I’m currently working on, titled “How I Spent My Summer.”

Anyway, weeks, days… with some houseguests, I reach my limit in as few as 15 minutes, 10 if we share DNA (note: this doesn’t count my kids, whom I think of more like roommates than houseguests — loud, messy, inconsiderate roommates who always barge in on me and never pay rent, but roommates nonetheless).

Since well before Memorial Day, our guestroom — which also happens to be my office — has been continuously occupied by parents, in-laws, my wife’s old camp friends and the odd underemployed local squatting between house sitting gigs. And we’re pretty much booked solid through August. There’s a six-week wait for reservations in our dining room, too (and even then you’re likely to be served freezer-burned fish ‘n chips).

Don’t get me wrong. Certain facets of houseguests can be positive. For one, my wife and I tend to yell a whole lot less at eat other, and our kids, in the presence of third-party observers. For another, had I not been playing host, I never would’ve gone hiking four weekdays in a row or driven all the way out to Eagle Beach just to watch the sun set. But then, I never would’ve stumbled upon my mom’s leopard-print granny panties drying in hall bathroom, either.

Here’s a question: do they not have coffee makers in the Lower 48? How about toasters? Surely an adult with a college (and in some cases advanced) degree can make him or herself breakfast without starting a fire and/or flooding the kitchen. Also, is it not customary to turn around and look behind oneself when one backs a vehicle down the driveway — especially if one is driving someone else’s vehicle — rather than slamming into the guardrail… again?

And while we’re asking, what’s with out-of-towners’ infatuation with bald eagles? I’ve never seen people shoot so many photos at a garbage dump before. In fact, one of my father-in-law’s favorite things to do in Juneau is take in the recycling. My biological father favors napping and picking the middle of a toddler meltdown to try and have a “wisdom of the elders” conversation with me.

All these visitors stem from what I like to call the Great Alaskan Houseguest Migration, a seasonal phenomenon on par with the salmon run, only it doesn’t take nearly as many rod-hours to land one. And salmon don’t clog your toilet.

During the summer months, these migrants are the lifeblood of my family’s ecosystem, pumping precious calories into our diet, mostly in the form of ice cream, which we never get to have unless someone’s visiting (ditto, nightly cocktail hour). Additionally, they tend to fertilize the rest of the town, too, especially Fred Meyer — I swear, my dad would get prostate surgery at Fred Meyer if he could — and the strip of “tchotchke” shops down by the cruise ship piers. (Brief etymology lesson: “tchotchke,” pronounced “CHOCH-key,” is a Yiddish word meaning small bauble or miscellaneous item. Iditarod snow globe? Bear claw salad tongs? Bag of chocolate meant to resemble some kind of wild Alaskan animal turd? Tchotckes, all).

Of course, houseguests are also the prime motivating force behind cleaning my house, mowing what passes for my lawn and buying a flat of Costco muffins. In fact, I’m about to wash the windows — first time in six years — and take a pole saw to a stand of obstructive tree branches simply because we’re entertaining friends from Anchorage during the Fourth of July and for some reason my own estimation of myself as a man hinges upon their having a clear view of the fireworks display.

Really, though, houseguests serve to remind us how good life can be here. They’re so enthusiastic about every place we go — as I said, even the dump — and, of course, their minds are absolutely blown by legitimately mind-blowing things, like ice caves or humpback whales bubble-net feeding.

In this way, hosting houseguests make you feel like you’re producing your own Alaska-based reality show…. just without the ability to edit out the boring parts.

• “Slack Tide” appears every other Sunday in Neighbors. Read more of Geoff Kirsch’s work at Or contract with him — he writes for hire.


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