The good, bad and ugly of hosting houseguests

Posted: Thursday, April 29, 2010

It takes three days, Benjamin Franklin said, before fish and houseguests smell. Not to denigrate one of my favorite founding fathers (like Sarah Palin, I find it hard to choose an absolute definitive among, you know, all of them), but this quote seems a tad off.

For one, with today's refrigeration technology, fish stays fresh a whole lot longer than three days. We just pried a slab of last year's halibut from the freezer and it held up remarkably well. Although, anything is pretty good encrusted with Ritz crackers and slathered in tartar sauce.

Secondly, houseguests rot more quickly than Franklin's estimate. Now, I enjoy being around people as much as the next guy who cloisters himself in a basement all day "writing." But with certain houseguests, I reach my limit after about 15 minutes (and 10 minutes if we're trying to build or fix something together.)

I say this having only just this morning dropped off at the airport the last in a month-and-a-half-long cavalcade of out-of-town visitors. That's another thing: they're always leaving at the butt-crack of dawn, no matter where they're going or how they're getting there. Invariably, they blanch at your suggestion of calling a taxi.

Since March, our guest room has been booked solid with parents, friends, a cousin and (live via satellite) my sister. And though it's been fun at times - I never would've broken out the kayak or dragged a car full of wood out to North Douglas for a bonfire if I wasn't playing host - it hasn't exactly been like that movie "Houseguest," either.

Sure you remember "Houseguest," starring Sinbad as the eponymous houseguest and the late, great Phil Hartman as the stiff suburban dad who regains his joie de vivre thanks to a series of wacky shenanigans. Now, I may be a stiff suburban dad, but my father-in-law isn't exactly Sinbad (and his shenanigans are decidedly un-wacky.)

Here's a question: Why is it that houseguests can't seem to work a coffee machine or a toaster oven? Surely they have these appliances in the Lower 48. Also, how difficult is it to shut the kitchen faucet all the way? What about returning cookware to the cabinet along with its matching lid?

Oh, and why does every out-of-towner love Fred Meyer so much? I swear they'd get Fred Meyer haircuts if they could.

Of course, when you move 5,500 miles from friends and family, houseguests are as inevitable as that uncomfortable soft-core erotica that mysteriously finds its way onto the DVR queue whenever someone is staying with you.

This is especially true if you've relocated to one of the most beautiful places on earth that doesn't require currency exchange - and then decide to get married and reproduce. Seriously, the way my daughter's grandparents flock to Juneau, you'd think she was part of some second-wave gold rush. Which reminds me, they've really got to stop running her through that sluice box.

Speaking of which, the presence of anyone in our home - whether a dinner guest or the UPS guy - is enough to make my daughter forget all her toilet training. I thought I was done hanging out with people who routinely soiled themselves once I graduated from college. Toddler or not, that's still a major party foul.

But of course, having houseguests isn't entirely bad.

Usually, I feel incredible pressure to produce these mind-blowing Alaskan experiences for visitors, to the point at which I apologize for not finding a grizzly bear fighting an orca over a king salmon in front of a calving glacier beneath a double rainbow that you can drive right up to. Turns out, all it takes to impress most people is a quick jaunt to the recycling center. It's a wildlife-viewing extravaganza over there.

Houseguests can also provide free babysitting, granting my wife and I the perfect opportunity to go out and get our swerve on by visiting the dentist. Think that's hot? Two days ago we met up for a little afternoon delight, by which I mean a parent-teacher conference at the nursery school.

One night recently, I actually did drag myself to the bars, which served the dual purpose of making me feel young and vital, while simultaneously reminding me why I've come to prefer hanging out at home with cheaper beer, better music and more comfortable seating. Also, should I decide to take off my pants, no one calls the cops.

And finally, as long as we've got houseguests we get to eat ice cream, and bacon. Mmmmm .... bacon. Make your reservations now. I'll go heat the griddle.

• Geoff Kirsch is a writer in Juneau. Visit his Web site at

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