The phone rang the other day. I answered for once.

“Hey,” my friend said, “she finally left!”


“My wife’s house guest. She was visiting for an entire month. Can you believe that? And here’s the kicker — she never even thanked me. Not a word. Always staring at me from my sofa every time I came in, like I was a germ or something. Overfeeding my dog no matter what I told her. And not a word of thanks!”

“It’s frustrating when a man loses control of his own place,” I said, as if that could never happen to me. And then I started thinking and remembering.

Living in an area where many people want to vacation gets dangerous during the summer months unless you’re willing to run a hotel. But preparing three meals a day, finding things for guests to do and participating in endless conversations can be exhausting, not to mention the cleaning, laundry and expense.

I once ran around the house for five minutes yelling, “They’re gone! They’re actually gone!” after the termination of a particularly trying visit. Part of the problem was that I’d never actually spent time with the husband, though I’d known his new wife most of my life.

I had, however, spoken to him on the phone, a conversation during which he kept telling me how “meek and shy” he was, which sent up a flag of concern in my mind where it fluttered slightly.

The first five minutes of the visit seemed to progress fairly smoothly. I met the 2-year-old son, Billy; they presented their house gift, a half-eaten loaf of organic carrot bread; and I began to give a house tour to the husband since most first-time guests are interested in a fairly original Victorian from 1866.

He’d declined the offer of a beer with an abrupt shake of the head, and we had barely gotten from the dining room into the kitchen, with its vintage triple slate sinks, when he put his arm around me.

Now, I’m not the huggy type. At the funeral of a lifelong friend I might participate in a quick, manly hug, but that’s the extent of my willingness to touch guys.  But there was the arm around my shoulder and him kind of squeezing me. “Can we sit down?” he said. What happened to meek and shy?

Seated, he stared into my eyes and grabbed hold of my hand before I could hide it. I figured he was going to tap me for a loan. Instead he said, “Have you ever considered taking our Lord Jesus Christ into your soul?”

This stunned me for a number of reasons, the principal one being that I knew from his wife that he was Jewish. It was at this point that I stood to retrieve a beer from the fridge, whether he wanted one or not.

He besieged me for hours, attempting to convert me. I kept drinking beer and attempted to monitor little Billy’s hands, which were grabbing everything fragile they could find. The kid obviously got the wandering hands from his father, and “No” wasn’t a sound he recognized. The father seemed delighted by the mayhem and every destructive thing Billy did.

Miraculously, dinnertime arrived. The father decided to have a cocktail, though I’d been certain the guy shunned alcohol. He served himself, managing to discover a rare bottle of bourbon I’d been saving in the darkest corner of my bar. He had four drinks in half an hour, and he poured copiously. Again, I was stunned. Maybe he needed to assuage his failure at converting me.

Halfway through supper, he fell off his chair onto the floor. I guess he wasn’t a drinker after all. He lay there for a moment as his wife stared into her plate and the kid lobbed another bit of food at me. Finally, the dad staggered back onto his seat and slid his food around, muttering to himself.

Eventually, I had to haul him to bed like a sack of potatoes. Excluding the touching, I was delighted to moor the guy and his son somewhere quiet for the night.

At dawn, I heard sounds coming from the third floor. Squirrels? A squadron of bats? At the bottom of the stairs, I heard voices and knew who it was. It was too early for me to confront them, so I returned to bed until at least seven. I guessed I’d hoped his overindulgence might maroon him for a bit longer.

At first I thought father and son must have been looking for Jesus on the third floor, but I soon discovered the truth. They’d unearthed some of my precious childhood toys, which had been promptly relegated to the care of the kid.

Billy modified some into ingenious kits ready for impossible re-assembly; others he just wantonly tore to pieces like a rabid dog.

I actually said something about this.

The answer: “Well … Billy decided he wanted to play with them. What’s the big deal? They’re just old toys.”

Were, I wanted to say as I gathered the remains.

Would you have thought that pastel chalk could permanently discolor an heirloom Oriental rug? The chalk was located while the duo was searching my studio, along with exquisite sheets of deckle-edged Arches paper. Seems that house hunts are popular with these two.

While making lunch and entertaining my old friend — we finally had a moment to talk — I could only do so much surveillance. And of course I didn’t want to throttle Billy’s creativity.

Besides, as the father so kindly pointed out, Billy was already a Leonardo. The rug continues to prove it.

I have to admit that at this juncture, I simply lost it. I lied. I received a nonexistent phone call and made up an excuse explaining why they couldn’t possibly stay for another day, let alone a week. Then, after a bunch of grumbling, free ride over — enter the true miracle of silence. After checking the street thoroughly for a good 10 minutes, I ran around the house chanting jubilation.

The lesson here? People we like don’t always marry people we like.

Another summer delight is people who simply show up without even a phone call, people you haven’t heard from in ages.

I hadn’t seen my old pal in six or seven years. I’d never met his two boys, now on the cusp of their early teens. One morning a mysterious van parked out front after a slow pass by the house. Never a good sign.

The van’s sliding door sprung open and two kids hopped out with long plastic sticks like skinny light sabers. They whacked each other with the sticks for a few seconds, then scanned my yard like computerized weapons.

They seemed to lock on it simultaneously — my beautiful highbush cranberry that I’d been tenderly cultivating for years. It swayed gently in the sea breeze with its thick crown of red berries, a particularly wonderful sight all winter long that I looked forward to every year.

At this point, I walked outside and my friend simultaneously exited the driver’s seat with a huge grin. “We found it,” he said. “I knew we could find it. We’ve been driving since dawn!” Hands were shaken and I embraced his wife, my mind a complete disarray because I was still unshaven, uncombed and unwashed. At least I’d brushed my teeth.

It was only then that I glanced at the viburnum. There was only a handful of berries still on the bush and half the leaves were grounded. My friend noticed the direction of my eyes. “Boys,” he called, “come on over here and meet Eric.”

One of the kids turned in the direction of his father while the other continued to defoliate. “Dad,” he said. “What the hell is wrong with you? Can’t you see we’re busy over here?” He returned to the bush; my friend just smiled.

Imagine what happened when this crew entered the house. I lost it once again. I shudder at the memory. Sadly, or maybe not so sadly, I haven’t seen my friend since. Maybe once the “boys” are in college.

The lesson here? Telephone first.

I’m not usually the type who hides from confrontation. My wife knows me as one who is willing to face things. I tell obnoxious guys on trains to stop yapping on cell phones. I’ve told entire tables of drunk men in restaurants that they are being too noisy when the wait staff was reluctant to do so themselves. I’ve been in adult fights because I do not back down when attacked.

However, everyone has his limit.

Late one night when my wife and I were already in bed, we heard the distinct sound of Harley choppers. You can hear these things coming from miles away. I know a few guys who ride these. They are friends from my past, and though I still think of them fondly, my life has changed, and I’ve changed.

I don’t wanna party all night anymore, not that I ever really did. The dissonant roar entered the neighborhood, turned onto our street. I leapt out of bed and ran. I wasn’t taking the chance that the bell wasn’t tolling for me.

Ever have one of those dreams where you’re trying to close and lock all the doors before the gruesome murderers can reach you? I didn’t dare snap off the few lights while I slunk low as if dodging rifle fire in a Western. Somehow I managed to bolt the place down. I knew these guys. They drove the choppers right across the yard because that’s the way you do it in Lewiston.

As I was shooting back upstairs I heard a gruff voice yell out from below, “Green, you better freaking be home, man,” though “freaking” wasn’t exactly the word.

It took them forever to leave. They tried all the doors. They banged on all the windows. Luckily, they didn’t get on the porch roof where screens would have been the work of a second. I actually felt a bit guilty, but these guys don’t understand, “I just want to go to sleep with my wife. I’m tired.” They would’ve stared at me as if I’d told them I was getting a sex change operation.

In the morning, the yard was littered in Marlboro butts and Budweiser cans, the grass ripped open where the bikes had finally fishtailed back out into the night.

The lesson here?

Sometimes winter can look pretty darn good.