Summer’s in the air; time to write up the “house rules.” How else to share a summer place with 8 or 12 or 16 friends — let alone strangers — and survive? (Rule #1: “We don’t care that you only ate one yogurt all weekend; we split the food bill equally.”) Or if you don’t share, read on: rules are still needed. You have — or are — guests.

It doesn’t even matter so much what the rules are, so long as you have them. That way, there’s a common understanding and the lawyers in the house — there are lawyers in every summer house, even if they’re bond traders during the week — will have some basis on which to negotiate.

Also crucial: have the phone company install two lines (or no phone lines, but not, under any circumstances, just one line), and pay extra for the type of account that blocks outgoing long-distance calls not made with a credit card.

I no longer take a share. After years of doing so and watching the rent rise each year, I said to my friends, “Why don’t we just buy the house?” My friends agreed whole-heartedly, with one small twist. “You buy the house,” they said. “We’ll visit.” And they have been true to their word.

Which is fine, because, number one, they’re great friends; and number two, I get the good bedroom. Fair’s fair. But over the years I have learned a few lessons. Most important, I have learned that a good host lets his guests know what’s expected of them (and then, for the most part, stays out of their way). A really good host, I suppose, might expect nothing of his guests — might wait on them hand and foot all weekend and then clean their sheets. But my guests are friends, not visiting dignitaries.

The obvious thing to do would be to have a maid come each Monday. But that would mean watching the dishes and towels pile ever higher throughout the weekend, sleeping with it all Sunday night, and then sharing the house one day a week with the maid. Not for me.

So a system has evolved. For one thing, there is a “conversation piece” subtly attached to the living room wall to get guests thinking about their responsibilities. It’s one of those black felt-boards with white stick-in letters, neon having been hard to come by on short notice, and it says, at the top: “No Maid.” It also says “No Smoking” and it used to say “No Abrasive Cleansers” (someone found my box of stick-in letters and changed that to “No Abrasive Guests”), and it always says “Welcome” with the first names of all the guests, as if it were the Holiday Inn welcoming an out-of-state bowling team. But the main thing it says is: “Best Guest ’96: C.E.K.”

“Who’s C.E.K.?” people invariably ask, a little defensive, their competitive juices beginning to flow. “What’d he do?” “Mopped the kitchen floor,” I lie, inviting them with my eyes to take the bait. Amazingly, some do.

In fact, I had to stop telling the truth about what C.E.K. did, and resume rotating the initials every couple of weeks, because I found that when I was truthful (what C.E.K. actually did was arrive one weekend with copper tubing, fixtures, and a soldering iron and install a dual-nozzle outdoor shower), everyone realized they could never top that, and so lost all interest in trying.

Each summer, I toy with distributing to each guest something a tad more explicit. Welcome! [it would say]. The following are a few things you should know to make your weekend thoroughly enjoyable [for me]:

  1. There’s no maid. Your room was made up for you by ______________, the previous guest.
  1. Several guests have not been able to find the washer-drier. It is located in the laundry room. Note also that, though many try, it is actually not possible to wash and dry sheets and then remake a bed all within ten minutes of the last ferry.
  1. It’s OK to take out the garbage — and to do so before it gets too full to tie. Taking out the garbage requires actually lifting the plastic garbage bag … [detailed instructions follow].
  1. The red recycling container is for . . . recycling.
  1. The dishwasher is located beneath the counter, to the right of the sink. Contrary to what most people have apparently been taught, it is not a good idea to fill the bottom rack with a single giant pot. Furthermore, when the dishwasher is full of clean dishes, that does not mean it can’t be used, just that you have to empty it first.
  1. The little gates to the roof deck blow off their hinges if not latched. Yes, it’s not windy now, but it may get windy later, so please latch them. Or just leave the $200 it costs to get them fixed each time.
  1. We are temporarily without a deck attendant. Therefore, it is OK to put the furniture back yourself after turning everything on end for a water volleyball game.
  1. You are on the Fire Island side of Great South Bay. Thus, in reading the ferry schedule to determine your departure — all good things must come to an end — it is necessary to look at the right-hand column.
  1. “Weekend” is a measure of time (from the English: weekend) generally thought not to include “weekdays,” another common measure of time.

I would never actually have printed up such a handout — better just to shell out the $200 each time the little gate blows off than risk losing a friend. But I can’t say it hasn’t occurred to me from time to time as I’ve been making up the beds.

(OK, OK, all right. Accuracy compels me to acknowledge that things have changed a little since I first wrote, but never had the nerve to publish, that. My better half has run roughshod over my need for privacy and engaged the world’s most expensive maid. But I still expect you to latch the gate and empty the dishwasher when you come.)

 

 

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