Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Art of the Guest and Hilarious Pajamas

We grew up with a bustling house.  There were always dinner guests, long-term guests, foster children, adopted friends, relatives, entire sports teams, and people who happened to be within earshot when mother signaled for dinner.  The table would be expanded, chairs crowded in, and place settings reproportioned. Guests and children alike were forced to follow the strict ritual of the dinner with permissions to be excused, waiting one's turn, and not speaking loudly.  Mother was agile in her hospitality, and could clear for action at a moments notice, sending us all to our stations to make things happen.

The opposite of uptight, my siblings still think nothing of quadrupling dinner guest rosters within minutes of dinner, and guest rooms are always ready.  A couch or an air mattress is just as good as a guest room, and the best weekends are when the house fills unexpectedly and all spare rooms, beds, couches, and squares of floor are occupied the next morning... bonus points for stumbling upon improbable pairings of guests in the morning.

Let me shift the angle of this to focus on the guests themselves... or one in particular.

Either you love having guests or you don't... I rarely find middle ground, but one friend of mine has perfected the art of being a house guest.  A perfect host himself, I am always happy to hear that he is heading to Boston from New York City.  On weekends, breakfast is always in pajamas, and longtime friend and college roommate "Plum" tends to elevate pajamas and robe wearing to an art-form, explored with enthusiasm.  He enjoys mixing dressing-gown style (robe over shirt and tie, trousers, slippers) with pajama function (robe over pajamas, worn with cashmere sweater and scarf).  A normal morning usually has Plum arriving to the meal dressed in an amusing mix of styles directly indicating a level of indulgent luxuriating never imagined by others.


In winter, silk pajamas, sleeping cap, soft leather slippers, suede-soled mukluks, silk scarf, possibly even a fez or a bear-skin shawl, all are well within the realm of possibility when he is a guest.  He usually shifts into his academic tweed to give a lecture and then attend receptions and parties until the wee hours.  Though he may arrive back to our place at four or five o'clock in the morning, he always rouses early for breakfast with my family.
Plum has worn each of these hats during outdoor cigar evenings in autumn/winter.

If it's cold outside, he'll make a fire in the morning, and skillet the bacon and sausages from the hearth.  Potted shrimp on toast, brandied peaches, or potatoes get skewered onto long toasting forks and carefully turned over the flames while my young son looks on in salivating amazement.  It is important to note that he approaches all of this with a wise-ass angle and he is never smug or annoying about it.  It is almost a sport to him, and because he is never showy in his professional professorial clothing (he prefers dark tweeds and wools), he can be costumy and fun during the winter.  If he's a guest at a summer or coastal house, he will find an ancient bathing suit in a trunk somewhere, and at the urging of the nostalgic grande dame, trot it out, absorbing the laughter and ridicule with a wink.

Wool bathing suit at a junk shop in Eastern Europe?  Plum will buy it.  A canary-feathered opium robe from Hawaii? Absolutely.  If you fall asleep on his couch, you will wake up warm because he will have draped you in a heavy Klondike sled blanket or the fur-covered hide of some Asiatic goat.

We've played endless hours of cards together in foreign train stations, nearly drowned our college Dean while sailing, and smuggled black-market fireworks across the Canadian border.  While there are many who make hosting into an art, there are few who make being a guest an art.  Plum does both.


  1. YWP,

    Funny to hear you tell these old stories-- I have been excited about house wear again lately, partly from the recovery of a silk dressing gown that I'd left at a friend's, and partly from watching two of the Thin Man movies again. But I could scarcely put together proper morning attire while in housepest mode without your house's thorough supply of materials to supplement what little I carry on my visits.

    Also, one of your illustrations makes me realize that I must find a silvery-grey astrakhan hat for lounging purposes. Can't believe I don't already have one. S will be horrified, she thinks I take my hats too far. Of course this is part of the reason why I want one.


    ps, that canary-yellow number was my father's, from when my mother was stationed in Hawaii while the old man scoured the junk shops from Singapore to Tokyo, securing many of what are now his sons' most prized possessions. Oh, wait you said canary-feathered. Fascinating idea, if there are indeed canaries in Hawaii then this too must go on my list.

  2. He sounds like he's great fun! and i totally concur with his idea of pj bottoms and a cashmere sweater top. i learned that idea in the uk, where my first house wasn't centrally heated (nor did it have "central" hot water).

  3. *Plum: As long as you don't attempt to shoot the ornaments off the tree in your robe the way Nick Charles did in the film (and the way you used to do in our college apartment).

    *Meg: He lived in Berlin for several years, and when I visited him there one winter, it was heated like a European building... some rooms were hot, others were not.


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