One of the Oxford English Dictionary's definitions for host is "victim for sacrifice." I have a friend who would concur. For six weeks, guests rolled through her house like ducks at a shooting gallery. Knock one off and another popped up to take its place. At one point, there were five, strangers to each other, though not to her.
"One of the men visiting was terrible. He was rude to all the other guests," she says. "He may be invited back just for that."
It's the recession, that friend thinks. No one can afford a hotel room. But the trickle-down effect of providing food and drink for the multitude has brought about her own recession. It has also taught her a great deal on how to entertain the out-of-town guest.
"They always buy booze but they never buy food," she laments. "I've taken to leaving a shopping list on the guest-room bed. Once they recognize that they're driving us into the poor house, they help out."
She has also found that guests invariably set off the burglar alarm. "You can't turn it on when you have house guests, but since there's always someone around you aren't likely to have burglars. Some friends of ours had a guest who stayed 20 days. The day he left, they went out to dinner to celebrate and, when they came home, they found that their house had been burglarized."
The best guests are those who help out and who don't rely on their host for constant entertainment. "One guest arrived and asked, 'What interesting people have you invited to dinner tonight to meet me?' recalls our hostess.
"We hadn't invited a soul, so I began a mad scramble to find people who were free for dinner."
The worst are those who smoke in bed, never clean the bathroom, and can't--like the woman who broke her key off in the front door lock--master the simplest chore.
As she entertains the multitude, our hostess has learned that whether it is house guests or people just passing through, you must tailor the outing to the person. But also, she says, go someplace you want to go. "That way, no matter how bad the company, you will have at least been some place you wanted to see."
Following are people the recession may land on your doorstep this summer, and suggestions on how to entertain them:
* Mothers-in-law and aunts who wear hats and white gloves--The Washington Cathedral, where tours are run between 10 a.m. and noon and 1 and 3:15 p.m. No cost, but a contribution is appreciated. After the tour, take a stroll through the Bishop's Garden or visit the Herb Cottage, packed with potential gifts for the folks back home.
By then it will be time for tea at The Four Seasons, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Between 3 and 4:30 p.m., they serve a pot of tea for $1.50; add two scones, Devon cream and preserves, and it's $4.25; with a French pastry, fruit tart and tea breads, it's $5.15; and for a full tea, two finger sandwiches, scone, Devon cream preserves, fruit tart and tea breads, it's $7.15.
* A cousin you haven't seen since your mother forced you to take him/her to the movies and he/she spilled a Coca-Cola on your lap--Best taken to the National Zoo (3000 Connecticut Ave., 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.). Most everyone is in the company of small people who spill and any clumsiness on your cousin's part won't be noticed. You can also amuse each other deciding which animals resemble mutual relatives.
Follow up with an early dinner at Yenching Palace, 3524 Connecticut Ave. NW, where they serve continuously from 11:30 a.m. to midnight (1 a.m. on weekends) and entrees range in price from $4 to the highest priced Peking Duck at $18.50. The Yenching Palace is near enough to the zoo so that you won't have to spend too much time in the car, and reading a Chinese menu is an excellent way to forestall conversation. If you must speak, mention that Henry Kissinger used to eat there. He/she may know who that was.
* An ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend--A decision on where to go never should be made until you've seen each other again. If the former lover has turned fat and dull, head for Sholl's Cafeteria (1990 K St. NW or 1433 K NW). If you'd like to rekindle romance, take a long, chatty drive out to Old Angler's Inn, 10801 MacArthur Blvd., Potomac, one of Washington's most romantic restaurants. The patio is open now, and if you ever get around to eating, entrees range from $11.50 to $18.
* Children--Possibly charming, affectionate, cuddly and cute, but they chase their frisbees through the garden, spill Kool-Aid on the couch and, unless you cave in and park them in front of a TV set, demand constant attention. It is best to tire them out.
Every morning except Monday, Washington Boat Lines runs a one-hour sightseeing cruise from the ?? Lincoln Memorial to Georgetown. The boat leaves the Memorial on the hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. At the Georgetown end, it leaves Wisconsin Avenue and K Street on the half-hour from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Adults pay $4, children $2.
Follow that up with a visit to the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum, take the tribe to lunch in the House or Senate Cafeteria, visit the National Rifle Association's Firearms Museum (16th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW--10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and then wind up the day with a trip across town to the Washington Doll's House & Toy Museum, 5236 44th St. NW. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 14. During the summer the museum serves cookies and lemonade for $1.25 in the party room. Unless, that is, it's been booked for a party which usually happens only on weekends.
After all these events, the children will be exhausted and so will you. If you wake up the next morning and find they're still there, park them in front of the TV.