Columns 2000

Payback is a bitch

You acquire a lot of debt when you live in the bush.  Not necessarily financial debt, but karmic debt.  After 25 years of having your city friends pick you up at airports, open up their homes to you and your fifty-five boxes from Costco and Sam’s, drive you to doctor’s appointments and generally help you work out the craziness that comes with prolonged exposure to bush living, you are obligated to return some of that to friends left behind after you find your way to the city.

And so it is that I find my home a central focus for more activity in one month than my Barrow home saw in one year.  People drift in and out, some with more needs than others, some wanting nothing more than a place to find extra boxes for packing, some longing for just one night in front of a fireplace with a glass of wine and no children tugging on their attention.

I think the general attitude of friends left behind can be summed up in an e-mail I received right after I made the announcement of my pending relocation to a place with movie theaters and bulk shopping stores.  It came from an old friend who clearly had his priorities straight on what this move might mean to him and his family. He wrote as follows:

“OK, so now you are going to be living in Anchorage…what is in it for us? Please answer a few questions.

1) Do you baby-sit?

2) How many bedrooms do you have? Spare?

3) How far do you live from the airport? Downtown? Sam’s Club?

4) How many cars do you have?

5) Does your car insurance cover guest drivers?

I realize that answering these questions takes time, but I figure that is what you have lots of now. In fact, since you are newly retired, and new to the big city, you must be desperate for guests. And being an ex nurse and social worker would probably love to have the voices of little kids around, even if the parents are out enjoying a meal and movie.

One final thing. List below any dates in 2000-2001 that you would not be able to put up guests.

Well, guess that is about it. We look forward to seeing you

PS: How big is your car?”

I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the refreshing directness of this e-mail.  It listed the major concerns (minus the kid stuff) I always had when deciding which city friend to honor with my presence.  Needless to say, I never did send this friend my address or phone number.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t appreciate his directness.

As I write this, I am about to leave for the airport to pick up yet another guest.  This one will be here a week.  While she’s here, two more will arrive.  By the time they leave, I will probably have just enough time to air out the beds before the December guests hit town. 

I’d complain about this a lot more if it wasn’t that I was having such a good time. And I’m getting to pay back all that karmic debt I owe.  Sometimes life just works out right.