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Horror in the Guest Room

06/14/2013 11:33 am ET | Updated Aug 12, 2013

When my hostess wanted to know if I would mind sharing a room, I just assumed she meant with another human.

"Be careful not to get too close to the bureau," Margaret said, as we entered what was to be my guest quarters for a weekend visit at her lovely house in the Chevy Chase neighborhood of D.C.

I glanced over to my left and saw, arranged symmetrically like giant honeycomb bee cells, sixty or seventy petri dishes lining the top of the bureau. They gave off a funky, murky odor.

"Annie's growing bacteria for her school science project," she explained, setting down my suitcase in a spot on the floor which, to my mind, was much too close to the aforementioned bureau.

"What kind of bacteria?" (I was trying with all my might to sound more interested than terrified, without much success).

"To tell you the truth I'm really not sure," Margaret answered with a half-embarrassed, half-nervous giggle. "I think it's something to do with parasites."

At the end of the first evening, having very purposefully consumed more wine than usual in the hopes that it would make me forget my replicating roommates, I got into bed with the kind of creepy-crawly feeling I had not felt since twenty years before when I lived in a roach-infested tenement apartment in Manhattan's Little Italy. I tried everything I could not to think of the teeming germs nearby. They can't jump out of the dishes, after all, I thought. Or could they? I told myself to get my mind on other things, but found myself counting bacteria instead of sheep: one cell enlarges, and then splits into two, then into four, then eight...

Margaret and her husband are dear friends, charming and generous hosts, fabulous cooks and delightful company. But this experience reminded me that no matter who you are visiting, you never know what awaits you once you decide to accept the role of house guest. You have to be ready for anything. And willing to go with the flow (or in this case, go with the grow).

The next morning over breakfast my hosts asked me cheerfully how I slept.

"Wonderfully!" was my enthusiastic answer, as of course it should always be, when one is fortunate enough to be invited to stay at someone else's house. However, as these were very old friends of mine, I could not help adding, "Although I think I dreamt that I was in The Andromeda Strain."

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