OX OX OX
House guest Rules 101.
Even in the best of circumstances, houseguests can be problematic. Saddled with a smorgasbord of idiosyncrasies ranging from geriatric Pigpens to pre- dawn risers, a man might not be able to preserve his kingdom even if he strictly adheres to the two- night rotten fish rule.
The same applies to “queens,” who can be equally riled by an overnight invasion. In my experience they come in two varieties. The first hostess is like a golden retriever: indiscriminate, uncontrollably effusive, and beckoning you to stay.
“We love having guests. Our house is always full. It’s no trouble at all,” she says, subtly suggesting that staying in a nearby hotel would be viewed as a personal affront.
It may be true that her house is always full, but don’t be surprised to discover that all nine cats prefer sleeping in your bed. And yes, her teenage son is learning to play the drums. And yes, she lives across from the fire station. “But we don’t even hear those sirens anymore,” she adds with a giggle.
The other hostess is more like a true queen with strict protocols that become apparent when you notice the sheets, the pillowcases, and the bath mat all have matching monograms. Even the dog has its own linen napkin—monogrammed!
“We dine at seven sharp.” she announces. “Don’t worry, it’s casual. We never dress for dinner on a weeknight.”
Last February I was bound for the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, (an hour north of Anchorage). Mark Austin, the farm’s executive director, insisted I stay at his home.
“We love having people stay with us,” he said, and immediately I sensed a large tail thumping on the floor.
I was hesitant to impose on a stranger, not least because my flight would land within minutes of midnight. It just so happened that Mark’s birthday was the very next day.
It’s bad enough to ask a friend, much less a stranger, to venture out on a cold dark winter’s night— but on their birthday as well?
When Mark and I finally met face- to- face, it was puppy love in the best way imaginable. I had no desire to scratch his belly, but we became instant pals. We are both over the moon about musk oxen, and we could have stayed up the entire night talking about them. But we didn’t.
The following morning I came padding downstairs ( turned up the heat), and in an effort to minimize my imposition— particularly on the celebrant— I offered to make Mark breakfast. ( Mark’s wife and daughter were away that week visiting family.)
Mark paused for a moment, and before he could object, I quickly added that I love making breakfast for people.
That, my friends, is not an entirely true statement, but it seemed wholly forgivable given the situation.
“Do you want eggs? I asked. “Fried? Scrambled? Poached? How about one of my signature omelets? ( I don’t have a signature omelet.)
Mark ordered an omelet, and for the next 20 minutes I did my best not to decimate his kitchen while he sat at the table and alternated between watching the musk ox, who were just waking up in a pasture not fifty feet from the window, and observing me as I fumbled through the drawers for the cheese grater.
I don’t dislike cooking; I just don’t have a lot of experience. Even an audience of one gives me performance anxiety.
I cracked the eggs. I whipped the eggs. I added a dribble of water, and I decided the only thing to possibly counteract my lack of culinary talent was the knowledge that at least Mark wasn’t dining on cold pizza in his wife’s absence.
Finally, breakfast was served and as I set the plate down in front of Mark I wished him a Happy Birthday ( again), and apologized for the presentation’s poor aesthetic. I assumed that a typical male wouldn’t really notice my ineptitude. After all, this was a warm meal and, I trusted, a mite tastier than a crusty cold pepperoni.
And then Mark uttered the fatal phrase: “You know, I used to own a restaurant.”
“What? A restaurant? You? As in you cook? And you just let me make an idiot of myself for the last 20 minutes?” I said. “Mark, how could you?”
He smiled, and he smiled big, and if he had a tail it would have been banging hard.
“I didn’t say anything because you’re the guest,” he answered sweetly. “Guests always get whatever they want.”
“Really? “I said, and paused for a moment. “Then how about you make me breakfast tomorrow morning?”
He agreed. And for the rest of my stay I felt like a queen in a wild and wonderful kingdom where the musk ox roam, and no one ever has to dress for dinner.