We were visiting friends a few months ago, drinking coffee in their kitchen, catching up on all the gossip when their college-age son walked in and started rooting around in the fridge for something to eat.
The kid knows his way around the kitchen. He's been working in restaurants for spending money since he was a teenager. He pulls out some eggs and a nice block of Gruyere and starts making himself an omelet.
His mother looks at him and says, "What do you think you're doing? That's the eating cheese."
We all knew what she meant, of course. That cheese was for company. It was for us, or people like us who parachute in every year or so, stay for a few days, and leave. He was just family — the pre-wrapped, processed cheese slices were plenty good enough for him.
I knew how he felt. Sue just got back from buying groceries for our dinner guests tonight. She bought all sorts of goodies — goodies that she would never buy just for me. Are you an absolute stranger? Here, try the pate. It's imported. Don't know us from Adam? Have another jumbo shrimp. Take this filet mignon home with you when you go, we're just going to throw it out if you don't take it. I hope you like creme brulee, Sue made a lot of it.
But when there's no company for dinner, I get end-of-fridge, freezer-burned, what-was-on-sale leftovers. Sue loves to pull stuff out of the freezer that has expiration dates that say "Best when used on or before June 25, 1954." We had a TV dinner the other day, and the picture on the box was of a black-and-white TV with a round screen.
"Are you sure we should be eating this? Haven't there been a few power blackouts since 1954?"
"Cooking kills the germs."
"And as everyone knows, germs taste better when they're cooked to juicy, tender perfection."
"I think I'll just have some fruit and a salad."
"You're in luck. There was a sale on rotten, mealy apples and those black bananas you like."
"I don't like the black bananas. I like yellow bananas. Where did you get the idea I like black bananas?"
"If you'd stop whining and eat, you'd learn to like them."
So, the Smiths are coming over for dinner tonight. I don't even know what their names are, really. We just met them once. For 10 minutes. Maybe they're the Joneses. But they'll be eating like the Rockefellers.
Tonight the Smith-Joneses will be eating shrimp. The Smith-Joneses will be eating an assortment of fine cheeses. The Smith-Joneses will be enjoying a fine wine in our most beautiful glasses. The Smith-Joneses will be forking down roast pork and fancy baby vegetables on our finest china. The Smith-Joneses will be wiping the corner of their mouths with our nicest cloth napkins. The Smith-Joneses will be eating homemade raspberry sorbet with homemade whipped cream. In short, the Smith-Joneses will be eating better than we ever do — except when company comes.
Tomorrow, I go back to using the cat's old bowl I inherited when Sue bought him a new one.
"What are you complaining about? They say a cat's tongue is cleaner than a human's," she said.
"No, they say a dog's tongue is cleaner than a human's. Cats lick their … well, that's not the point. We have plenty of nice china, why can't we use it everyday?"
"You're kidding, right? Eat off the good china every day. What next? You want us to sleep in the guest bedroom? You want to dry your hands on the guest towels? You want to eat the eating cheese? Who do you think you are?"
Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life" and "Baby's First Tattoo." You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org