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8.1.08

Welcome

Consider these tips before staying overnight: 1. Yes, you can take the kids to the beach. 2. Sure, feel free to do your laundry. 3. Thanks, we’d love you to take us to dinner.

Friends of mine have so many house guests in summer that they keep a color-coded bar chart on their kitchen wall, indicating which guests sleep where on which dates. My husband and I used to have a lot of guests, especially the first couple of summers after we moved to the Vineyard year-round. Our friends back in New York missed us more then and often invited themselves up to visit. We were, I must say, excellent hosts, giving everyone the Island tour, taking them to the beach, and feeding them sumptuously.

By the end of the second summer, much as I loved my visitors, I never wanted to see another lobster. I’d made so many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that the pattern on my china was fading. After repeating the same tour-guide spiel umpteen times (“This is the oldest oak on Martha’s Vineyard; it used to be twice this size, but it was struck by lightning and…”), I was beginning to nod off during my own recitations.

Not to mention that I was too busy entertaining to get anything else done. I neglected to pay a credit card bill and suffered whopping finance and late charges. I was up until all hours meeting writing deadlines after consuming half a bottle of wine with the seared tuna on Asian greens with citrus dressing I’d made for dinner.

The problem boiled down to this: My guests were on vacation, and I wasn’t. So I found a solution: guests on weekends only. “It’s a long trip,” guests argued. “Could we come Thursday and leave Monday, if we promise not to disturb you when you’re working?” Okay, I demurred; but even my most conscientious visitors couldn’t seem to internalize “Do Not Disturb.” My mother-in-law, for example, would tiptoe up to my office as I was typing and say, in the most tentative and apologetic of voices, “I’ve looked all over, but I just can’t find the Sweet’N Low,” and the next thing I knew, I was down in the kitchen, making her tea. Bye-bye, train of thought.

Then a couple of summers ago, some friends rented out their Chilmark house for two weeks in July and asked whether their nineteen-year-old son could stay with us. For two weeks! Another kid (I already have two) in my house for two weeks?! But these were very good friends. “Of course he can stay with us,” I said, hoping that the sound of gritting teeth couldn’t be heard over the telephone. And so, one Saturday morning, Jacob arrived in the family’s beat-up Island Jeep, toting a duffel bag and a guitar he hoped to learn to play. What he didn’t have, as it turned out, was the job he’d expected. But hey, he’d be fine; not to worry, he’d try to stay out of my way. He’d play his guitar as quietly as possible.

This, I thought, would not do. I needed this kid out of the house during the day. If the guitar plucking weren’t enough, the mere fact of his extraordinary good looks – and I mean, GQ-level distracting – was disconcerting. So Monday morning, when I took my kids to camp, I took Jacob too. “Need another counselor?” I asked the director. She did. Which worked out splendidly for me, since Jacob was able to shuttle my kids to and from camp, relieving me of a lot of road time.

In no time flat, Jacob became a member of my family. He took my kids to the beach and taught them to surf. They worshipped him. I soon conquered my Mrs. Robinson fantasies and learned to love Jacob’s quirky sense of humor and astonishing recall of weird “factoids,” as he called them. (“Did you know that an oyster, if it’s stuck on a rock with too many other oysters of its same sex, can change gender?”) He helped with the dishes, complimented my cooking, and did his own laundry. He charmed all of our friends, especially the women, one of whom would roll her eyes upward and start fanning herself every time he turned his back. The two weeks sped by; when it came time for Jacob to return home, we gave him the House Guest of the Year Award.

This summer, I’ve got the guest thing under control. Absolutely no visitors during the week. No guests on consecutive weekends. Bring your own car and be independent. I cook dinner only, and how nice of you to invite us out to a restaurant!

But then I ran into Jacob’s parents in Cronig’s. My resolve melted. I envisioned him staying for weekends, weeks, the whole summer, playing guitar, taking my kids surfing…and I almost started to fan myself.

“Hi!” I enthused. “How’s Jacob? Any chance you might be renting out your house again this summer?”

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