Three days, Benjamin Franklin once famously said, before fish and houseguests stink—I disagree (and while we’re at it, I also take issue with another of his little gems “hunger never saw bad bread;” obviously Poor Richard never tasted a gluten-free bagel).
First off, given today’s refrigeration technology fish stays fresh a whole lot longer than three days. In fact, earlier this week I pried a slab of halibut marked “2012” from the floor of the chest freezer and it held up remarkably well, although, anything tastes pretty good once you slather it in sour cream, mayo, parmesan cheese and panko breadcrumbs.
Houseguests, however, rot far more quickly. Now, I enjoy being around people as much as the next guy who cloisters himself in a home office all week long with no human contact aside from telemarketers and the occasional FedEx guy. But three days? Please. With certain houseguests, I reach my limit after 10 minutes, five if it’s my dad and he’s complaining, yet again, about the cleanliness of my car.
Every summer since I moved up here 10 years ago, it’s been a cavalcade of out-of-town visitors: not only random friends, relatives and in-laws but also random friends, relatives and in-laws of those first random friends, relatives and in-laws who happen to be cruising through town and can’t tell the difference if you serve them four-year-old halibut Olympia.
Of course, when you move 5,500 miles from the place you used to call home, houseguests become as inevitable as the empty coffee pot they leave without making more.
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 I’ve witnessed grandparents flock here en masse, especially during school breaks, you’d think they were part of some great Alaskan silver fox migration or something.
And yes, visitors can be fun. I’d never break out the kayak, the fishing rods, the mountain bikes or any of the other gear that’s been hanging up in the garage — rode soft and put away dry — since the last time a visitor asked me to take it down. I doubt I’d brave the crowds at the glacier visitor center; I know I wouldn’t take a whole afternoon off to eat crab legs down by the waterfront. Plus, houseguests are pretty much the only reason I ever clean our bathrooms.
But having a houseguest isn’t always like that movie “Houseguest,” starring Sinbad as the eponymous houseguest and the late, great Phil Hartman as the stiff suburban host. Very rarely do real-life houseguests restore your joie de vivre through a series of wacky shenanigans. Most likely, they’ll just create a bunch of dirty dishes and plug up your toilet.
And here’s a question: why is it no houseguest can work any of your small appliances? Surely they behave no differently up here than 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?
And why does every out-of-towner love Fred Meyer so much? My dad and father-in-law, in particular — they’d get Fred Meyer haircuts if they could.
But of course, houseguests aren’t all bad.
Usually, I feel incredible pressure to produce these mind-blowing Alaskan experiences, to the point at which I apologize for failing to find a bear fighting an orca over a king salmon in front of a calving glacier. Turns out, all it takes to impress most people is a quick jaunt to the landfill. It’s an eagle-viewing extravaganza over there. Somebody should call David Attenborough.
Houseguests can also provide free babysitting, granting my wife and I the perfect opportunity to get our swerve on, you know, by going to the dentist or renewing our driver’s licenses. Think that’s hot? Two days ago we met up for a little afternoon delight, by which, of course, I mean folding three baskets of laundry then taking a nap in separate rooms.
Last week, with my in-laws in town serving up ice cream and cartoons to all comers, my wife and I actually did drag ourselves out for a drink, which fit the dual purpose of making me feel young and vital, while simultaneously reminding me why I now prefer to chill out at home with cheaper beer, better music and more comfortable seating. Also, no one calls the cops if I start hanging out in my underwear.
And last but certainly not least, as long as we’ve got houseguests, we get to eat bacon every morning (often in addition to reindeer sausage).
So book your reservations in our guest room now. I’ll go heat the griddle.
• Geoff Kirsch is a Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday in Neighbors.