6/11/14 Bad Houseguests

Fish and visitors begin to stink after three days
Benjamin Franklin

“How long will they be here?” Debbie asked me.

“Just a couple of days,” I lied, referring to some of my somewhat impecunious musician friends on their grand tour of honky-tonks all around the region.

“How many of them will there be?” she asked, giving me the long familiar look that included a raised eyebrow.

“Just Doo-Rag and a couple of his band mates,” I lied again, thinking of the nine-piece ensemble that included a full horn section in Doo-Rag’s band.

She has heard all this before and was more than a bit skeptical. “Will we be expected to feed them?” she asked.

“I thought I’d grill them some burgers one night while they were here, then we’d all settle in up at the Ridge House and play some music,” I lied, knowing full well that all this would take place in the living room and would likely go on all night.

“Three days!” she exclaimed. “Three days, tops, and then they’re out.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, knowing this might be next to impossible to deliver, that of course, once they got to my house on Sunday, it would be the gig the next Friday before they would leave. But swearing to do my best, I slip away and give Doo-Rag a call. Before you know it, it’s not just Doo-Rag and a couple of band-mates; it’s the entire nine piece ensemble, the four man road crew, several of their wives and significant others, four of their parents, and about a half-dozen of their children, not to mention three inside-dwelling bad-mannered dogs of varying sizes and temperament, many of them allowed by their owners to paw on the furniture, eat snacks handed to them from the dinner table, with some even being held while we are eating. And at least two cats. Cats! CATS!!! Bad houseguests always bring their dogs and cats. My dogs don’t understand why they have to stay outside and eat from their bowls when strange smelling dogs enjoy privileges they only dream of because their owners treat them as if they were infant children.

“Oh, look! Fifi made a doody,” the peculiar fishwife of a bad houseguest once said. “Does Fifi need to go outside?” The tiny and overly excitable Fifi, being thus rewarded with a trip outside for having done her business on my sofa began to lose control of her bladder in her exuberance, rendering a puddle that would have been admired by a large Dalmatian. She scooped up the leaky Fifi and went outside, leaving Debbie and me in a state of shock and wonder at why on earth she thought we would be pleased to clean up after her Fifi.

“She’s YOUR friend,” Debbie said in anger and disgust: disgust at Fifi, disgust at Fifi’s “mother”, but mostly, disgust at me.

“No,” I argued, “She is the girl-friend of the friend of one of Doo-Rag’s band-mates,” I replied but yearning to swiftly make a retreat from the house myself before I got a lethal dose of radiation from the thermonuclear device in front of me that was fixing to detonate.

“That means she’s some girl Doo-Rag’s bandmate’s friend picked up at their last gig and brought along with him on the tour, so no one really knows exactly who it is that’s in my house,” Debbie correctly observed.

I skedaddled before things went to worse for me, the radiation already beginning to sear the seat of my britches.

While the above may have never happened quite like that, it has happened to Debbie’s dissatisfaction several times in my earlier life. My friends can be an imposition on her time and plans; but she is the most gracious to people, and like many Southerners, just overflows with hospitality…or perhaps it should be noted that she overflows with hospitality for about three days. She has taught me something. I have acquired this from her. I was not born with this talent. It is a skill that has been drilled into me. It is a useful skill.

I looked down at my ringing cell phone. It was Harpo calling from Colorado. I like Harpo. He is a great and talented musician I enjoy playing music with. Debbie likes Harpo, too, even if he is a bit eccentric.

“Hey, man,” he said. I could hear his smile all the way from the wireless connection to Colorado. “I’m in Texas for a couple of gigs, then I’ve got one in Louisiana before I head out to South Florida. Mind puttin’ me up for a couple of days?”

“Sure,” I replied. “That would be great. We’ll sit on the porch and pick some tunes.”

“Great,” said Harpo. “It’ll just be me and a couple of guys in the band.”

“No! No! You come and stay. Your band can stay somewhere else,” I said, recalling the last time that Harpo’s band were not friends of Harpo, but musicians he had acquired along the road in various and sundry places, a couple of them I suspected might have been miscreants, even felons, or worse, miscreant felons fleeing jurisdictions that had more than a casual interest in their whereabouts. I previously had run off one of Harpo’s band-mates several years earlier, only to have Harpo tell later me what a scum-bag that guy was, how he had stolen money from the band, how things were always coming up missing when he was around. Harpo had only known him for two days. It seems he was a hitch-hiking percussionist, picked up along some roadside, who owned nothing but a pair of drum brushes, preferring the “uncluttered purity of a five-gallon bucket” to the artificiality of regular drums, the miscreant felon had said.

“But you said this guy was your friend?” I had asked.

“No. He’s no friend of mine,” declared Harpo then. “He just filled in on bass one night and we brought him with us because we needed a bass player.”

“I thought he was a percussionist,” I had said.

“He is, but we needed a bass player.”

“So you knew nothing about this hitch-hiker, learned that he was a thief and untrustworthy, and then brought him to my home?” I had asked in disbelief.

“Sorry!” said Harpo at the time with a shrug of his shoulders and a sheepish grin.

Sometimes, you gotta ask the right questions to get to the real answer. I like Harpo, but I was not interested in his friends, band-mates, felonious acquaintances, nor hosting unknown entities on my property. “Your band can camp out at a state park somewhere. Your band is not interesting to me, Harpo, and even less interesting to my wife. Your band can stay in town. I will come there and pick you up and bring you out here to my house.”

He protested a little bit, but I knew that the number of his band-mates had been significantly and expediently under-reported by Harpo, and the familiarity of the persons in his band likely extended as far as the previous night and the trip over. Unfortunately for my friendship with Harpo, I think my refusal to host his band-mates has damaged our friendship. I regret that. I like Harpo. I have no clue as to whether I may or may not like his new band-mates, but my living room during their likely extended visit is not the place I care to learn that.

Harpo missed seeing us on this tour. I am sorry, I would have enjoyed his visit.

Houseguests should always be gracious. I shudder to think what my mother might say if I were thought of as a bad houseguest. Good houseguests always contribute something during their stay, even if it is only enjoyable conversation. Good houseguests are never demanding. They never expect you to do for them but are appreciative when you do. They don’t complain to you about the food, and if they have special dietary needs, they make their own arrangements, never saying, “I can’t eat red meat, don’t like field peas, despise cornbread, and puke at the very thought of pork-seasoned turnip greens,” while they are looking at the dinner plate of fried minute-steak, field peas, cornbread, and pork-seasoned turnip greens you just set before them, that you had acquired and cooked, and were planning to enjoy eating yourself, only to have them spoil it all, preferring some peanut butter, an organic, preservative-free peanut butter, not JIF or Peter Pan, which is all you have, and then that on some organic pita bread, if you happen to have any, which you don’t, have never had, and will never have.

“I expect you’ll be powerfully hungry by in the morning,” I might reply.

The fish was getting a little tainted and it was only half-way into day one. It would really stink by day three.

Cats. Cats! CATS! I do not like cats as houseguests. Neither do my dogs. Particularly my dogs. And my daughter? More particularly my daughter, whose eyes swell shut and she presents with asthmatic reactions due to her serious feline allergy . . . To clean cats . . . short-haired cats . . . long-haired cats . . . even hairless cats . . . pleasant cats . . . cats as curmudgeonly and surly as a big toe stubbed on a tree root . . . beloved cats. It matters not how well a houseguest cares for and loves their cats, my daughter is allergic to cats.

“That’s a cat,” I once said. “Piper is terribly allergic to cats.”

“But my cat is well-groomed and cared for. It is not a typical cat. She is very clean and tidy,” the somewhat offended cat-owning houseguest said of her uninvited cat as she held it close to her bosom, stroking it as I watched cat hair shed off of it and fall to the floor.

“Your what-did-you-say is well-groomed and cared for?” I asked.

“My cat?” she asked.

“Yes, your CAT,” I replied. “It’s not only feral, unkempt, bellicose cats, or wantonly randy tom-cats, and/or unloved cats she is allergic to; she is allergic to cats. CATS!”

“But my cat is not just any cat,” She huffed.

“No, but it is a cat,” I said, never getting through to her that I surely did mean HER cat. Damn a cat. I’d turn it out and let it fend for itself among my dogs who would take great sport in the chase. The cat would not likely think it nearly as fun as the dogs. And me? I don’t wish a cat any bad luck, but I won’t hardly tolerate one either….unless I am your houseguest and it’s your cat in its own home. Then, this interloping sojourner would not dare to say a word. I would likely say, “That is quite a handsome cat you have there.”

I had a houseguest move in a bit over five years ago: turned out to be a bad one since I never could get rid of it. But with a lot of help from others I got it trained to behave in a more acceptable manner. It never left though. At first it was a lot of trouble, causing me serious inconveniences and no end of worry to my wife and family, but I could not get rid of it….it simply would not go. Then it learned, by some harsh treatment, to keep out of sight, mostly, only making the occasional demands, not really being too bothersome but not willing to entirely go away either. Why it decided it liked it here I’ll never know, but having thought about it, I concluded that everything has to be somewhere at all times. To some, being here is as good as being anywhere else, perhaps better…perhaps far better.

So, CLL moved in. It seemed to be timid at first but then began to display threatening behavior. At great expense and tribulation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy whipped it it into shape and made it a better houseguest, finally to the point of it being not directly noticeable, visible only through some of its effects.

I suppose after nearly five years of being kept in a back room, on a leash as it were, it got a bit restless, preferring the limelight of its former role, lonesome for all the attention formerly lavished on it; thus, it has returned. The word remission no longer applies to me. I am in relapse.

Now, before anyone gets around to deciding about how they should feel about my illness, I would encourage them to worry about it today just as much as I am going to, which is not very much. I will worry more, today, about what I am going to eat for lunch than I will worry about this Leukemia of mine, this bad houseguest, the one who won’t go away. I can’t get rid of it, so I have learned to live with it. I will live with its recently reacquired bad manners and will work hard to keep its belligerence in check. That may be easier said than done, but I will not worry about it today. Today will be what I make of it. Tomorrow…well, tomorrow the fish may begin to turn, not quite stinking, but famously displaying the sheen that will soon offend the olfactory.

The day-after-tomorrow? The third day? It may very well stink by then, just like a bad houseguest. I’d throw it out if I could, just like a rotten fish, but that is easier said than done. Would that it were as simple as my conversation with Harpo about hosting his entire extended band family for a week…that cost me something, too, and was perhaps a bit harsh, but I nipped that in the bud since I could control that.

I can’t quite control the leukemia. It has a mind and will of its own. It can be whipped into shape and has been before, but may not be as willing this time since it has just begun to manifest itself and flex its once-atrophied muscles. I doubt they will be atrophied too much longer.

At least it’s not a cat allergy, though it is a remarkably durable and bad houseguest.

More on this as I know it.

Thanks, Tennessee (a fellow CLL patient), for your encouragement.

“Disappointing,” said Hemosapien, “But your glass is still half-full.”

I’ll take that. I’ll even host a bad houseguest, but it had better behave, or one of us will have to go…and I am surely determined it will not be me…not at this time.

Now, where will I take my houseguest for lunch, today?


©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp


NOTE 10:30AM: I purposefully chose to make HOUSEGUEST one word. I use words as I please all the time. I know that HOUSE GUEST is the way it should be written, but I refuse to do so. Don’t be fishwives about it. Or, am I the fishwife? You must decide for yourselves. It is likely that your decision will be that I am the fishwife. I will not admit of fishwifery, but will confess to a pugnacious curmudgeonry.

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