How to Host a Guest

You apologize to your guest for the weather, the ice storm that has coated the sidewalks in your crowded Stockholm neighborhood. You apologize that it gets dark so early, but add tomorrow will be sunny and warm.

You apologize for the size of your apartment, though in truth it is like something out of a movie. The kind of place a young, successful woman would live, decorated with the same sense of style that marks your wardrobe. You favor the classics, but some audacious pieces from Vivienne Westwood hang in the closet. You have visited Westwood’s studio, and count celebrities among your friends, a diverse collection of individuals in cities and towns around the world. They marvel at how your life seems so constantly in motion, a shutter-fast series of work projects and ideas, destinations and time zones, captured colorfully on Instagram.

 The author's favorite photo of his friend Carolina.

The author's favorite photo of his friend Carolina.

But then there is you at home, apologizing for the lack of space, insisting on sleeping on a roll-up mattress in the living room, giving your guest the bedroom. You make your bed up simply, your laptop perched on the coffee table because you will start working after just a few hours sleep.

After the accident takes you away, this is what your guest remembers. After the clothes are packed away. After he hears the apartment has been sold. He remembers talking well into the night, and he remembers you apologizing, in advance, if you accidentally wake him in the morning. 

 

- T. (Tom) Cashman Avila-Beck is a frustrated creative who lives in Bangor, Maine, where he sometimes gives tourists incorrect directions to Stephen King’s house. Not on purpose, he just has a horrible sense of direction. 

How to Make an Introduction

Pull your fat address book out of your overstuffed tote bag and browse the names, all of them, the old friends and the grandchildren and the people you’ve met at City Council and in elder hostels and in line at Publix. Consult your notes to find two people with something in common: a glass-paperweight collection, a love of Star Trek, children the same age. Get on the phone and invite them to your condo for lunch.

Put on your best summer pantsuit. Check your teeth for errant lipstick. Pop a Tic-Tac. Pull your shoulders back: posture is important. Roll out plastic runners to protect the carpet. Gather the piles of papers and photos and books that have accumulated on tables and in corners and put them in the bedroom, where no one is allowed to peek. Put fresh guest soaps on the bathroom sink.

Answer the door with a rush of joy and a 1930s-sorority-girl lilt in your voice. Invite your guests in. Find one unusual thing about each of them to compliment. Offer them iced tea. Tell them what they have in common. Regale each with stories about the other until their formality melts into laughter. 

Recall with a start that you have not made lunch. Open the oven. Realize that it’s full of stored photos, and that your toaster does not work. Offer to microwave some bread for everyone. 

While your guests nibble politely at their hot, soggy slices, call the Yacht Club for a lunch table. As you usher your guests out the door, stop them in a sunny spot in front of some palmettos for photos. Count down to the shutter: One, two, oops, just a second, one, two, three. 

A few months later, mail these to each guest, names and dates carefully noted on the back of each photo, with an apologetic note scrawled on the envelope: you’d addressed and stamped but then shifted them to the back bedroom and forgot to mail them. Your guests will understand.

 

- Sarah Grey is a writer and editor based in Fishtown. She writes about food, politics, society, and language. Her work has appeared in Best Food Writing 2015SaveurLucky PeachSerious Eats, BitchJacobin, and Edible Philly, and in several anthologies. She received the 2016 Robinson Prize for Excellence in Copy Editing from the American Copy Editors Society. Find her on Twitter at @greyediting and on Instagram at @FridayNightMeatballs.

How to Make the Coffee

This essay was written collaboratively by the editors of Dead Housekeeping. We honor how caretakers come together across race, religion, and nationality to mourn, to commiserate, and to plan after cataclysmic events. We owe the idea to our founding editor Lisa Schamess, for calling us in as a group to write this about the letter-writing, stamp-licking coffee klatsches of the 1960s and 1970s. It was healing for us to write after the U.S. election results last week. We hope it’s healing to read as well.

 

How to Make the Coffee

 

First, go to the store. In addition to things for the coffee, make sure and buy tissues. Some people will need a place to cry tonight.

The house may sparkle or it may be filthy. Maybe you clean when you are upset, maybe your nervous energy propels you to scrub the baseboards, or maybe the house has gone all to hell. If a mountain of junk has grown on the table, clear it off. You can put everything neatly in its place, or throw it in a hamper for later. You'll need a clear workspace, a place for everyone's cups.

Bring up the folding chairs. Alter the furniture for company and tasks. Vignettes for conversation, for work, for sitting next to.

Look for the folding table you last used at Thanksgiving. It isn't in the basement. Did you lend it to Sybil and forget to get it back? Or did the leg break? No matter. Someone has one you can borrow. Start with Sybil.

Consider making coffee cake: That recipe that everyone raves over. A little sweetness at a time like this is always welcome.

At least one person you invited doesn't drink coffee. Check your tea supply.

Not everyone will want what's in that cup. Offer anything. Everything. Until you get it right.

The coffee is bitter and the product of so many hands.

The milk is farmed from beings who made it for their children, not ours.

The sugar is bitterest of all, bitterest of all.

How do we raise our bitter cups together?

Let the children play under the table. What do they know yet. What will they know.

Drink the bitterness, leave lipstick on the cup.

You have a close friend who comes early to help set up. She's telling you what she cannot say later. She thoughtfully sets a napkin under the percolator spout.

This is just your "little coffee klatsch" you tell the men. You'll be home by 11 or so.

Light a candle in the bathroom. Not everyone wants to cry in public, but those who need privacy deserve warmth, too.

There's the smell of coffee, perfumes, and store-bought pastries. Cocktail napkins, condiments, cups stacked on a tray.

It will feel good to see everyone together. Your heavy hearts will fill the whole room. Everyone brings what they can. For example: There's nothing wrong with a friend liberating a pack of legal pads and two boxes of envelopes from the office where she works. We all find our way to stock the communal tote bag of supplies.

An envelope on an end table is displayed quietly for group costs. One friend leaves a generous ten every meeting. It's what she has to offer.

The dryer will buzz. Leave it.

Draw water. Fill the urn to the line. Put the basket into the urn and turn the stem. You will know it is set right when you feel the click in the notch.

Measure out the grounds, spoon by spoon. Add one for the pot.

Put the lid on and turn it to lock. Plug in the cord. The brew will begin to bubble.

Let your children watch all this.

Someday they too will mix and brew and stir the pot.

Call them from under the table to put the pastry on the plate, the good one with gold leaf that your grandmother gave your mother. Let them lick their fingers and put them back into the pastry box. Pretend not to see. A little spit never killed a soul.

One day when you re old, write the instructions for the percolator on an index card, and tape it to the inside of the box the percolator came in. Your children will need this when you're gone, when percolators have fallen out of common use and yet await their time for gatherings.

- The Housekeepers

How to Clean Your Plate

It’s not how you make an omelette that’s important. It’s how you eat it.

You have to eat it all. Stay focused: there is one piece of toast, cut on the diagonal, because your son is too poor to buy extra bread. He is too poor to buy extra bread because you threw him out of your house when he was 18. Don’t focus on that. Focus on the toast.

Eat one forkful of omelette at a time. Make sure each forkful has the same amount of eggs, cheese and chives on it. Don’t say grace. Wonder if your son ever says grace. Wonder if he goes to Mass. Don’t ask. Eat your eggs.

His wife made the omelette. His wife made the new baby, and the girl sitting beside you. You have never met his wife before. Your son is thirty-two.

When the eggs are half-gone, mop your plate with one half of the toast. Eat it one bite at a time. Wonder if the little girl knows that “chleb” means “bread” in your language.

For the second half of the omelette, cut the eggs with your fork and place them on the toast. Eat the toast with the eggs. Do not help the little girl when the eggs fall off her toast; everyone has to learn sometime.

Turn your plate over. Turn her plate over and hold it above her head. Tell her “This is good. This is clean. This is how you know you are a good girl.”

 illustration by the author

illustration by the author

- Rowan Beckett Grigsby is the less-censored less-palatable alter ego of an attorney who might want to work in this town again someday. Professional editor and graphic designer by day and professional knitter by night, she has been an Unchaste Reader and is a regular contributor to Ask a Raging Feminist.

 

How to Show the Fight at Your House

Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear while my cousin Tony, the host of that night’s pay-per-view event in his apartment overflowing with friends and family, placed coasters beneath stray tumblers and handed napkins to those eating pizza on his carpet. I don’t know if he witnessed the bite firsthand, he was so busy keeping his place perfectly in place with 20 people taking advantage of his free premium cable. He wiped his kitchen table. Guests would drop, he would pick up. He checked and rechecked his spotless bathroom. I’d been in there moments before just looking around as I tinkled, in complete awe of how it could be so...so clean. Were those baby wipes in place of toilet paper? Is that a cherrywood wipes holder? The wipes were to me the single reminder of Tony’s severe diabetic condition that would eventually kill him at 29: tall, thin, graceful, his mother’s best friend. To anyone else that night, they were simply a sign of a man who took great care in his toilet time.

I missed the ear bite myself. It took about 20 seconds and it stopped the fight. I was in Tony’s bedroom checking on my baby sleeping in his bed, and I lingered at his bookshelf filled with framed photos of family, my daughter included. You notice dust when things are dusty, but with Tony, you noticed how nothing was ever dusty, nothing was ever without care. By the time I could pull myself in complete admiration from this curiosity, the fight was over.

 illustration by  Maia Butler

illustration by Maia Butler

- Erica Hoskins Mullenix is a freelance writer and editor, and a contributing editor here at Dead Housekeeping. Besides personal essays detailing her life as an introverted middle kid, bewildered but kickass mother and special needs parent, she also writes short fiction. Proudly an alum of Howard University in Washington, D.C., Erica created the online writer’s community known as yeah write in April 2011. She has had essays published in Salon, The Houston Chronicle, PANK, and other print and online publications. Her fiction and other writing can be found on her personal blog at freefringes.yeahwrite.me. Follow Erica on Twitter @freefringes

Nine Kinds of Ice Cream

In the basement, you keep a spare freezer for extra necessities – a turkey on sale in October that will do for Thanksgiving; the fruits of a 10-for-$10 sale. When your son calls to say he will be bringing your granddaughters to visit, you want to have something to offer them. Children love ice cream, you know, but you have not met these children. What flavors would they like? Your son says anything will do. But you want to be sure. You buy ice cream and keep it in the basement freezer. You present a different flavor on every visit.

Neapolitan

You chose this one because it is bound to have something everyone will like. The granddaughters are shy, but smiling. They eat all the strawberry and vanilla, but leave the chocolate.

Orange sherbet

When your children were young, they loved orange sherbet. Your granddaughters are clearly children of a different time.

Rainbow sherbet

Apparently sherbets of all flavors have fallen out of favor with modern children.

 

Maple walnut

Your son’s wife mentions that this is her favorite flavor. The granddaughters seem to like it too, though they pick out the nuts.

Coffee

The ice cream is the same shade as your granddaughters’ skin, and just as smooth. You realize their visits bring you joy. You did not expect joy.

Vanilla

Your son proudly tells you that when he buys this flavor, he still pours on chocolate syrup from a can. Your oldest granddaughter loves it too, he says. You smile.

Mint chocolate chip

You buy this flavor in the summer, to ease the ever-present heat. Your granddaughters finish quickly so they can play with the Tinkertoy set you brought down from the attic. You offer your daughter-in-law a cup of coffee. Her people come from the south, after all.

Cherry vanilla

Your granddaughters poke at the cherries. The older one eats some, slowly, saying they are too cold and hurt her teeth; the younger one leaves them all in the bowl. You move that box to the back of the basement freezer and tell your son that maybe they’ll like that flavor when they’re older. You wonder if it will be true.

Chocolate marshmallow swirl

Your oldest granddaughter tells you this is her favorite flavor. You glance at your son’s pale skin, his blond hair under the kitchen light, and then at the dark skin of your daughter-in-law, her jet-black curls. You clear the empty bowls without comment.

 

- Laura Lucas is an alumna of the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop and an Artist Trust EDGE graduate.  Her writing has appeared in Beat the Dust, Falling Star Magazine, Line Zero, Imaginaire, The Poetic Pinup Revue, Vapid Kitten, and It Starts With Hope, the blog for The Center for Victims of Torture. 

Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection. Forrest's expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. (@artgrafiken on Twitter, website here)

Everything Can Be Used Again

There is a place for everything. Being caught in need of an item that you once had in your possession, but let slip away, is shameful.

Gumbands, cracked, mismatched Tupperware lids, and pantyhose with runs. There is a place for all of it. Store it neatly in dusty shoe boxes along the back basement wall, or under the bed. Shove it in corners, under the bureau, in the backs of closets, where the records used to go in the stereo cabinet and under the couch.

When the grandkids and grandnieces are little, they will love to play with the unmatched Tupperware in opaque blues, greens and pinks. They will sit happily on the floor and smack them together or stack them in untidy towers and laugh when they topple over. You laugh, too. When the kids get older, they use them as frisbees. Send them outside. Outside! Get out of my kitchen!

Plastic shopping bags crackle out of every nook and cranny, making a soft static sound in the breeze. Hide the bags when your daughter comes to visit. She will only throw them away. When she is gone, you forget where you hid them and start again. You never know when you will need a plastic shopping bag. With them, you can send the nieces home with squishy, over-ripe fruit (There was a sale!), or pop one over your perm in the rain, if you don’t have your plastic babushka with you. But you always have the plastic babushka with you.

 photo by the author

photo by the author

- Beth Dugan is one of our favorite multiple-contributors to Dead Housekeeping and can be found at bethdugan.com

Abuelo: How to Houseguest

To his credit, he didn’t do it often, but when he did houseguest Abuelo did it his way. As he did all things.

You knew he was there by the pile of newspapers tossed on the couch. Or by the TV blaring Univision or wrestling. How he ever found these stations with my dad’s inability to rig our cable without the use of less than three remotes was a minor miracle and a testament a general competence that sprung into action only when he was alone and unable to demand service.

 Photo by  Sade Murphy

Photo by Sade Murphy

He would sometimes spend a good hour in the bathroom. And while the fan inside blared and the rustle of even more newspapers came from under the door, he would always know if you’d change the channel or turn off the TV. God forbid. The yelling.

Abuelo came from a place of IDGAF and it’s only a place I can now find charming. When you are 14 and there is an old man spread on your couch, wearing black knee socks and sandals, a crisp white tank top and shorts (even in winter) it only gives you further cause to hide in your bedroom you’ve designed to look like the studio apartment you wish you lived in.

The world was his. And so was everyone’s house.

- Diana Saez