It’s almost Spring. The clocks have leapt forward, robbing us of a whole hour but giving us, somehow, longer days. Flowers push through hardened patches of soil. Trees begin to bud. Temps may still be cool, but standing in the sun gives one a sneak preview of what’s to come. People wear lighter coats; some people stop wearing coats altogether before it’s prudent, their hopes carrying them across the seasonal finish line.
For me, Spring also means the beginning of another sort of phase: that time when family and friends come to visit, when our modest 1-bedroom apartment might be home to 4+ adults with an assortment of bags and a boatload of expectations.
In other words, it’s Hosting Season.
Let me be clear: I love having guests. Making my friends and family feel comfortable, providing good food, sharing jokes and stories, and guiding them to all the places I love in New York is the next best thing to them actually living here. So I’ll take it.
But there’s also an anxiety in hosting – call it performance anxiety. There may be nothing worse than clapping your hands together and asking your guests, “What would you like to do?” and them staring back at you, frozen. They swallow, that glassy-eyed horror filling their eyes, as though you’ve just announced a pop quiz. “Well,” they say, “you’re the ones who live here.”
Indeed. Being responsible for others’ happiness is no laughing matter. Aside from arming ourselves with bulletproof plans that include provisions for rain, I’ve learned a few things about myself when it comes to hosting guests. The following list encapsulates my habits, behaviors, and feelings in the days leading up to and including when friends or family arrive.
- I make sure to have spare toilet paper, and I make sure the location of said spare toilet paper is clear. This is so, so key. I really can’t stress this enough. I don’t want to have to pass toilet paper through a crack in the bathroom door after my guest shouts that there is a, er, problem. The hot burning shame of failing my guests at the most basic level is one I cannot live through again. (That’s right – I said again.)
- I also make sure guests know that our toilet seems to operate in the Southern Hemisphere, that you have to pull up on the handle to flush, not down. It’s a glorious flush where you won’t have to worry about clogs or flushing twice. But please do note: our toilet is, in fact, Australian.
- Also, we have one bathroom. It’s a nice bathroom, but it’s singular. I’ll just leave that thought here.
- I have a lot of bathroom-related guest anxieties.
- Remember when I complained about not having art on the walls? So, there’s that. Also: no bookcases, coffee table, or foyer carpet. The incompleteness of the apartment presses down on me when guests arrive. After the initial hugs, the sorting of the bags, and the brief apartment tour, the need to explain the twenty boxes piled up along the wall comes bubbling up. I lean on the boxes casually, smile and say, “Oh, these? Just waiting for bookcases. Pay no mind!” By the way, saying Don’t look over here! is the same as saying Look over here!. It doesn’t work. But you know what? I think I may be the only person who really minds. But I’m too afraid to ask.
- Cleaning. Oh baby Jaysus, the cleaning. Guess which room is my specialty? How does the sink get so dirty? And, more importantly, how do we live like that? There’s nothing like having guests to prove to yourself the depths humanity will sink to in order to avoid using some Windex. It’s pathological. Also: you cannot believe the amount of hair I shed. I’m sorry, husband. I’m sorry, guests.
- I like to prepare iPod playlists for when guests arrive. It’s very calculated – because having casual music playing in the background should be anything but. I usually aim for a mix that satisfies every kind of musical taste. Just in case the mood swings from philosophical debates about Marxism to dance party in a sweaty warehouse to sitting on a cushion in Ravi Shankar’s backyard.
- When I say, You might hear a few noises from our neighbors every once in a while. Pay no mind, what I really mean is, Sometimes our next door neighbor has loud sex with her boyfriend while her dogs bark, and the baby upstairs pounds around as though he weighs the same as a sumo wrestler. Hey, it’s New York. I mean, it’s pretty quiet here until it’s not.
- We stockpile junk food like nobody’s business when guests come. Chips, pretzels, baked goods, soda, candy – as though in the coming apocalypse, the only means of avoiding the zombies (who will be made from vegetables, naturally) will be to consume vast amounts of corn syrup and partially hydrogenated soybean oil. Well, we’ll be ready! And so will our guests! I suppose all the food is our way of displaying our bounty – our cheap, factory-made, plastic-covered bounty.
- Inexplicably, and perhaps most odd, I paint my toenails a few days before guests arrive – even if they’ll never see my toes. I’ve yet to work this out psychologically. Perhaps I’m after the formality that painting my toenails provides, a demarcation from the ordinary. Either way, my feet look great for about a week – just about enough time for the junk food to be eaten and the dirt to reappear, and for us to settle back into normal, nostalgic for the great time we had with our visitors.
So what are some of your quirks when hosting guests?