Houseguests From Hell: When Our Friends and Family Come to Visit Hawai‘i
“Make yourself at home.” How many times have you said that very phrase to your houseguests? It’s a singulary gracious sentiment, with only one problem: Someone might take you up on it.
Ambrose Bierce thought of hospitality as: “The virtue which induces us to feed and lodge certain persons who are not in need of food and lodging.”
By his definition, residents of these Islands are a virtuous bunch indeed. When you live in a place as desirable as Hawai‘i, where there’s a cultural precedence for hospitality, you entertain a lot of houseguests. They are as prevalent in our homes as termites (and, some would say, harder to get rid of). So, before letting anyone know that you actually have an empty guestroom, you might want to consider the stories of these Island hosts.
The Heartstring Houseguest
A kind-hearted professional couple from Honolulu took pity on an elderly female friend from Kailua who had broken her ankle. She lived in a two-level townhouse and had to creep backwards on her okole to get up the embankment from the parking lot to her front door.
So the generous couple invited the 73-year-old to stay with them in their single-story home until she could get around comfortably on crutches or a walking cast. Indeed, she made herself very much at home, frequently inviting her boyfriend and others to make themselves at home, as well. (The wife returned one afternoon to find a stranger poking around her bedroom.)
Offers by the hobbling guest to help in the kitchen resulted in several mishaps and broken wine glasses; but greater damage incurred from her habit of talking—incessantly and critically. She offered this bit of unsolicited advice to her hostess, who was finally sitting down to a well-deserved scoop of ice cream one night: “You really shouldn’t be doing that, hon; looks like you’re putting on some weight.”
Lest they cave in again to the voice of their inner social workers, the couple has since posted this sign on their fridge: “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Trudy and Alvin Wong hosted a student who stayed in their Manoa home for six weeks instead of the intended two. When it finally came time for the young fellow to fly back to the Mainland, Alvin personally escorted him to the airport gate (you could do that then). That’s when an announcement was made asking passengers to relinquish their seats on the overbooked flight and receive $500.
The student jumped up to volunteer, and Alvin quickly squelched the thought. “I am going to watch you get on that plane; I am going to watch them close the door; and I am going to watch your plane take off,” he said.
To which, the clueless houseguest inquired, “Did I overstay my welcome?”
Soon after moving to Kaneohe with their then 3-year-old son, Eden-Lee Murray and Roger Jellineck were delighted to find that the home they had rented had a small apartment under the house. “You don’t necessarily want a guest room,” their realtor warned, but they had lots of Mainland friends and didn’t heed that advice.
Their first guest was a friend of Eden-Lee’s, who called to say that her planned bike trip had been canceled and that she’d like, instead, to visit Hawai‘i. No big deal, they thought—an old friend, a long weekend. But it didn’t work out that way. The friend who invited herself brought along her husband and 2-year-old daughter, and announced upon landing their plans to stay for 10 days.
Since both Eden-Lee and Roger were working, they left lists for their guests of fun things to do on Oahu, along with directions to each and recommendations for reasonable rental car companies. “No, that’s OK,” said Eden-Lee’s friend, “we’ll wait till you get home to do stuff.” The friend’s husband, though, had different plans. He woke up early most mornings and took Roger’s car to play golf.
Three days into their stay, the visiting couple wanted to check out Waikīkī and left their daughter with their hosts. The toddler, it turns out, had never before heard the word “no.” So, when Eden-Lee scolded her for pulling their son’s pants down, the spoiled princess wouldn’t stop shrieking until her parents returned.
From that point on, the guests turned icy cold toward their generous hosts … and then stayed a full week longer.
Another vacationing parasite was the female guest of a couple on the Big Island, who decided that instead of renting a car while her hosts were at work, she’d “just stay home and read a book.” By day two, she insisted on taking one of the hosts to work so that she could use the car, but not before sitting impatiently at the kitchen table expecting to be served breakfast.
She had brought dirty clothes in her suitcase to wash (or have washed) and didn’t once offer to help with the cleaning or cooking. The coup de grâce came on the last day when the guest offered to take her hosts out for lunch. Their options: Big Mac or Whopper.
The toxic houseguest
Most houseguest stories are amusing—at least in retrospect—but not this one. At her Makiki home, Gigi Davidson hosted some friends who did what lots of visitors do just before returning to the Mainland—they bought boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. One afternoon, after returning from an outing, they found Davidson’s beloved Airedale looking very sheepish. They had only to look at the packaging strewn around the guestroom to know that the dog had gone through their open luggage and eaten all six boxes of candy, each containing 12 pieces.
The guests’ first reaction, “Damn that dog,” was later followed by “We better get some help,” when the dog’s stomach started bloating. Things went from bad to worse, and when Davidson came home she called the vet. The dog couldn’t throw up because his stomach had flipped and surgery would be required. Davidson held her canine companion while the vet anesthetized him and inserted a plastic tube down his throat to siphon out the chocolate (which is lethal for dogs in large amounts) and the macadamia nuts (which can cause partial paralysis).
Three days later, after her guests had left, and after her dog’s kidneys gave out, Davidson made the excruciating decision to put him to sleep. She was left with an empty house, a broken heart, a strained relationship and a $4,000 vet bill.
Her houseguests ultimately paid half of the bill and Davidson is finally ready for a new dog. But the hardest part of moving on is the one that takes the longest: forgiveness.
The forgetful houseguest
There’s another story that involves house-guests and dogs, but this one’s not lethal.
With her husband and children away for six weeks one summer, a working mom offered to share her four-bedroom house in Kailua with her favorite college professor and his wife, whose housesitting arrangements in Hawai‘i had fallen through.
As she greeted her 80-year-old friends with lei in the baggage claim area, she was taken aback by how much the couple had aged in the four years since she had seen them. Her once keen-minded teacher and his once spry wife were neither.
In return for their housing, the professor and his wife agreed to feed and walk the family’s two dogs and their cat. The hostess went over the simple instructions for putting out the pet food and changing the water bowl before she left for work in the morning. It wasn’t until the end of the first day, and every subsequent day of what she now calls “The Endless Summer,” that she realized how feeble and feeble-minded her geriatric houseguests had become.
The couple asked to be reminded of the animals’ names throughout their stay. Their questions were always the same: “Where is the bowl again?” “When do they eat?” On bad days, none of the animals got fed. On good days, their bowls were filled repeatedly, sometimes making them sick. To top it off, the dogs were more restless than usual because neither husband nor wife could walk well enough themselves to exercise the pooches.
The professor and his wife didn’t realize that leaving out on the kitchen counter an open jar of peanut butter, a haupia pie and a canister of Ghirardelli cocoa might be a magnet for all kinds of pests and pets. That night, the hostess came home from work to find peanut-butter paw prints all over the kitchen and diarrhea droppings in every room.
This was clearly not the summer she (or they) had envisioned, but the hostess is hopeful that she’s the only one who remembers it.
The bad news houseguest
John Williamson’s “friend” from Harvard showed Ivy League level rudeness during his recent five-day stay in Waikīkī. A few days earlier, in a text message to Williamson, the fellow explained that he was passing through Honolulu en route to Boston from Asia and asked to be put up.
Williamson never even saw his visitor until he heard him: the guy came stumbling through the door at 2 or 3 a.m., “knocking over lamps and books, surfing along the hall on the scattered
Oriental carpets and pawing though the refrigerator for late-night snacks.”
One night, mistaking Williamson’s for the guest bedroom, the drunken guest, stinking of smoke, started to climb into his host’s bed. Another night, he hung halfway out of the window to smoke (at 32 floors up) and, after dropping his cigarette on the lanai below, decided that vomiting down the side of the building was better than doing it inside.
Each night unveiled a different nightmare, but the last night—emphasis on last—was when Williamson caught his guest urinating in the corner of the living room, drunk out of his mind. Even a heartfelt “I’m sorry” note and a large bouquet of flowers sent subsequently by Williamson’s houseguest could not remove the stain he left.
For hosts who think their guests could never be so rude, consider these words of advice from those whose guests were:
- Pay attention to early omens.
- Watch out for people who were never your friends until you moved to Hawai‘i.
- Set a limit on the number of nights someone can stay, and consider a curfew.
- Clarify, in advance, your expectations about smoking, cooking, groceries, renting a car and loaning your computer.
- Offer to help find visitors a reasonably priced hotel room.
- Don’t try to please your teenage guest; you won’t.
- Remember that you can be someone’s host without being their tour guide.
- Turn your guestroom into an office, leaving no space for a bed.
- When it’s your turn to be a houseguest, model good behavior by becoming the houseguest you wish you had in your home.
Consider these real-world suggestions for houseguests:
- Don’t leave food waste in the guest room trashcan.
- If something spills, let your host know what the material is so that the correct carpet cleaner can be used. (If you are scared of her, leave her a note.)
- Never sit in your host’s favorite leather chair while wearing a wet bathing suit, even if you are wrapped in a damp towel.
- If your quick search for a juice glass turns up only your host’s best Waterford crystal goblets, keep looking for the juice glass.
- Bonus points for getting yourself to the airport; stripping your bed; not leaving things behind; lifting your luggage without scraping the walls or floors.
Jana Wolff is a well-known writer, and an unknown ghostwriter, based in Honolulu. Her last piece for the magazine was “How We Met,” in May.