We’re heading toward the Season of Guests, or SOG: The early days of this season are marked by faint howls uttered by the unwilling as their mates drag them into brief periods of enforced socialization.
Not everybody likes to be a guest. Not everybody likes to have people visit.
Oddly enough, the ones who do like it and the ones who don’t like it are often married to each other.
(It occurs to me that for the indefinite article “it” in the previous sentence, one need not be limited to travel, visiting friends, seeing relatives or anything else even remotely associated with these practices; you can pretty much do a Mad Libs and fill in that blank with a wide range of activities, including but not limited to the following: skiing, cooking, attending church services, dancing, going to Hooters, playing Parcheesi and having sex.)
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Back to the rituals of visiting: In many partnerships, one person looks forward to, for example, spending the weekend at the house of an old friend, while the other dreads it. One person might be slightly unnerved by spending the night elsewhere (“I’d prefer sleeping in my own bed”) while the other is distressed by going to one particular location (“I’d rather sleep in a bouncy house at the Bates Motel than sleep on the nylon sheets they keep on the air bed in their un-air-conditioned attic again”).
And the same dynamics can apply in terms of receiving visitors. One partner might fling wide the front door (“We couldn’t wait until you arrived! Come have a big hug, a piece of homemade blueberry pie and some iced tea!”) while the other is less forthcoming (“Avoid the ferret. He can release a strong smelling secretion from his anal sacs. Keep the younger children close to you.”)
How can we tell we’re at the height of Season of Guests? The price of tiny, scented and essentially unusable soaps has increased more than precious metals. Priced at upward of $4,569 per scent molecule, these are being purchased by guests and hosts in anticipation of SOG’s peak season.
The prices are doubled if they come packed in an attractive box, are individually wrapped or are handmade. (I bet the folks who hand make the soap can’t afford to wash with it, however, and use a communal bar of Irish Spring before they leave work.)
Crystallized like diamonds and indissoluble in any liquid, rock-hard guest soaps will be found — long after other traces of our civilizations have perished — by aliens who will attempt to decipher their possible value. They will fail to establish any and, unwittingly yet uncannily, will mimic the bafflement and suspicion held by our own contemporary unwilling guests and hosts.
To the happily hospitable and delightfully welcome, cute soaps are fabulous. We love to buy them for others and ourselves. What we don’t like is having the lovely ones we chose especially for you when we came to stay last summer re-gifted to us this summer.
It is incumbent upon guests and hosts, willing and unwilling, to be charming and enthusiastic as well as relaxed and flexible. The fact that it’s nearly impossible to be all those simultaneously should not stop anyone from making an effort.
Even when making an effort, too rarely can we manage to assume the role of the innately poised, feverishly fascinating and undeniably adorable. The most some of us can hope for is not to wreck somebody’s good linen tablecloth with red wine, ruin somebody’s reputation with malevolent gossip or destroy somebody’s entire summer by swearing those leaves look nothing like poison ivy.
It’s not only us, either. All too often we must choose between conversationalists who will gore you like a bull and those who will bore you like a gull, not to mention those who will tease you with terrible wordplay and then elbow you in the ribs asking “if you got it” when you don’t burst into outright prolonged laughter.
That’s when the best of hosts (even if it’s your smirking partner, gratified to discover you in such a fix) whisks you away in order to check on whether the ferret’s eating the guest soap.
Have a good SOG.
Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut, a feminist scholar who has written eight books, and a columnist for the Hartford Courant. She can be reached through her www.ginabarreca.com.
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