I consider myself a thoughtful houseguest, with consideration for the cleanliness and safe-keeping of my host's belongings ranging from thoughtful to manic paranoia: Was that pillow pattern horizontal or vertical when I sat down? Did this mug go over or under that mug when I took it out? Is 9pm too early to start tip-toeing? Too late?!
I apply the same forward-thinking to my host gifts: in exchange for a place to stay, I try to contribute something to every household I visit. Some are big hits ("A begonia, how lovely!") and some are complete misses ("Gourmet coffee! Thank you! I wish we drank it.").
While these acts are done as a show of my gratitude, they are also performed to ward off the horror of being designated an ingrate, an oaf, a -- dare I even say it -- bad guest.
Ever since I was a small child, adults praised my manners. This was all a show, of course, as I had a foul mouth and explosive temper, to boot. Or perhaps it wasn't a show, but a tacit understanding that bad behavior was reserved for the comfort of one's home. I believe this phenomenon was addressed in Anna Karenina. Please finish the book for me and let me know if I've gotten it right.
But, oh, how I loved to dazzle the near and far fringes of my youthful social circles with unexpected "Thank you's" and "Mrs. So-and-so's." It brought my friends' parents such joy to hear "May I please" at the dinner table. And indeed, I did.
As I have ostensibly matured, I've learned to take true enjoyment in expressing gratitude to people who host me in any way. Whether it's sending a thank you note, doing more than my share of the dishes, or bringing a gift, I try not to let a kindness go unacknowledged.
Hence my showing up at my family's house in Scotch Plains, NJ, with bags full of tomatoes and fresh corn from a farmstand in Lambert, NJ.
A farmstand in Lambert, NJ. It wasn't that funny, so neither is this caption.
After we took turns praising each other's generosity (heaven, I tell you!), my cousin, her husband, and I settled in for dinner and wine.
They met and married around the time I was born, and we've all been fans of each other since. Though we see each other all too sporadically, when we do, we sit around eating and making each other laugh. This is essentially my life's end game, so it was a lively and lovely visit of one night.
If green tomatoes are just underripe tomatoes, why do they cost more?
During dinner, I may have remarked that, upon learning my cousin's husband was a popular and oft-elected school body representative in high school, he may have gone to a school of no more than, say, six students, and that this may have been a school for the deaf.
I held my breath until he laughed harder than I could have hoped for, and then pointedly said, "Hey missy, you're a guest here. Don't fuck this up!"
Then it was my turn to laugh and laugh more. Readers from gentler familial climes, fear not: this is completely normal in my family, as it is in most families where we're from, i.e. trashy New Jersey.
And I don't care how far you get from Newark: anywhere in our Garden State, a radioactively tan mother in neon jogging togs and aggressively streaked hair is ready to go power-walking by and remind you where you are, which is The Land Taste Forgot.
I was only in my home state for 24 hours or so before taking off for Cape Cod by way of Brooklyn.
It was 22 more hours than I needed in New Jersey, but not nearly enough time to spend with the warm, quick-witted people I'm happy to call my extended family.
We resolved to be more in touch from here on out. And I resolve to not fuck that up.