Guest accommodations

I love people. Wonderful people do wonderful things all the time in this wonderful world of ours. Take Louis Pasteur. The work of that brilliant man means I can consume foods without dying from dysentery. In a world without people, I would stare into the refrigerator at night, wondering what liquid to risk putting on my raisin bran, and also wondering how I got a fridge in a world without people.

Which is to say, I am thankful for people. Each one has a part to play in this grand experiment we call Civilization. And they should stay there instead of coming to visit me in my own home.

Now, I’ve had numerous people sleep on my couch, and I don’t wish to single any one of them out. That’s why I’ll call them all “Tom,” the name of the friend who crashed at my place this past weekend and got me counting the ways that houseguests dismantle my life.

For starters: I am obligated, as the host, to have food on hand. But I never know what Tom will want to eat. So I buy out the store’s supply of bananas, so that I have some green, some yellow-green, some just past ripe, and some brown and slimy. A banana for every taste.

Also, having an impending houseguest requires me to do all my cleaning — of the entire house, mind you — in the same day. Even if it is not dirty by my standards, as the one who lives here and has to evade the mold in the dark. And even when Tom is a dude.

Why? Why do we force ourselves to tidy house for transient visitors more thoroughly than we ever will for ourselves? I suspect it has to do with our deep-seated need for acceptance. Either that, or we enjoy the righteous indignation when Tom drops his travel-worn possessions on our hastily wiped dining-room table. It is a far superior feeling to the unjustified indignation we’d have were Tom’s bags to improve the cleanliness of the table in its normal state.

So I’ve done all this cleaning in the hour after Tom texts to say he’s gassing up in Aztec. And he doesn’t acknowledge any of my efforts. Heck, he doesn’t even seem to notice. I’ve even dusted the entire kitchen area in hopes that the dog hair will stay on the floor, and the first thing Tom wants to do is go out to eat.

“Where’s a good place to eat?” the Toms of the world like to ask, as if I know anyplace at all that isn’t the rotisserie chicken by the grocery store checkout.

I take my sweet time rattling off the names of two restaurants I can remember, which are also the two restaurants in town where one can eat for under $20 a head. Eating out is a real treat for me, so I try my darndest to enjoy every bite and absorb the atmosphere.

But that’s really difficult when, the whole time, my mind is riddling out a puzzle unsolved since Egyptian times: Who is going to pick up the tab?

Normally when two guys dine out together, the bill is split. Separate checks. But the rules change when one is an out-of-town visitor. I feel I ought to pick up the tab. After all, Tom drove all that way, and he is on vacation. Then again, Tom ought to pick up the tab, since I bought all those bananas.

What results is like an old dusty-street shootout. Two scruffy guys, staring each other down. Hands quivering over pockets. Waiting to see who draws first. Only here, he who draws first, loses. And then the shootout turns into a wimpy slap fight of “Oh, you sure?” “Yeah, I got it.” “I should treat you.” “Nah, I got this one.” “Really?” “Really.”

Day Two: rinse and repeat.

And the last thing about houseguests — and this might be the worst of all — is that, in the end, they always leave, and no fanfare feels appropriate to send them off. I offer Tom the bananas I bought as snacks for the road, and then he drives off, and then I realize how quiet the place is. How much I will miss my friend. And just when I feel my heart about to grow three sizes, I look around at the disheveled evidence of the whirlwind visit.

I could clean it up. Or, it’ll keep until he visits again.

Zach Hively writes from Durango, Colo. He can be read and reached through and on Twitter @zachhively.

From Zach Hively.