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 Set a Table

Set the table early. With precision. Unfurl the tablecloth. Release its starchy scent into the morning air. Run your hands over it. Take care that the cutlery is polished to a fine shine. Check the place mats for smudges. They are immaculate but wipe them over just in case before setting down the china plate. God forbid there be even a speck of dirt.  

Fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, blade pointing inwards because outwards would be rude. Place the soup spoon, because there is always soup, even in summer, to the right of the knife. The dessert spoon and fork face left and should be set above the plate, but not too close because people move their plates when eating. The wine glass, delicate and long-stemmed, goes to the right, and after that the tumbler for cold drinks. The napkin, matching the tablecloth, should be folded into a neat triangle and fixed under the fork.

photo by  Emily Chen-Morris

photo by Emily Chen-Morris

For special occasions, fold the napkin into a lily and sit it in the center of the plate. This will be a nice touch that your dinner guests will appreciate.

Step back and survey your dinner table waiting quietly, obediently, for the guests to arrive. Be ready at least fifteen minutes before the appointed time. Laugh when they arrive, fashionably late, and tell them it was no bother at all. This is how you were brought up and you do this all the time, you really do.   


- Joanna Chen lives on the edge of a forest, where she walks almost every day with whoever will come with her. Most days it's her dog, Pudding. Joanna writes exactly what she thinks at This is Not a Story  and also has a column at The Los Angeles Review of Books, The View From Here.  As for laying the table correctly, Joanna prefers eating with her fingers whenever possible. 

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

Making a Party Playlist

It can't be one of your favorites. You'll just get mad when they talk over the music. 

Put the records in order at the front of your rack. If someone wants to feel useful by queuing up the next one, let him. When he flips through the back sections, reach in and pull one out. Have you heard this? The trumpet player's the same as here. Waggle a finger at the turntable. Smile. Offer to accompany the helper to find a refreshment.  

The B sides will be slower. That's good. Let a particularly slow B side lead into another B side, not an A. Make sure nobody's yawning or sighing. 

Prop up the jacket; lean it against the turntable's lid, and watch for when people linger to read it. Sometimes, when someone needs a pal, the record player's their parking spot. 

"A good record collection was his pride and joy: insured, he confided, for more than his modest home."

"A good record collection was his pride and joy: insured, he confided, for more than his modest home."

A familiar song or three spread out over the evening is nice. It gets them talking: I didn't know they did this one, too! Is this the same group? But any more and it's a singalong. That kills the conversation. The music is not a guest. 

When it's time to put out the coffee, the music will tell you so. Send people off feeling warm, but don't let the record make invitations for you. 

- Stefanie Le Jeunesse