Lombardi Column: This sticker comes with multiple uses

Anything goes on the North Fork. You just have to get the right permit. Building permits, parking permits, get-rid-of-your-garbage permits — we’ve got ’em all. And, so help me, you can get a Seasonal Guest Disposal Permit at Southold Town Hall. Even a Guest Disposal sticker. All you need is $25.

Now I know and you know said permit will allow a vacationer in Southold to use the Town of Southold Transfer Station. Fine. Let’s keep the North Fork garbage-free. But, ladies and gentlemen, just think of an alternative use for a Guest Disposal permit and sticker.

The North Fork is indeed a magnet for summer visitors. Rightly so. We’ve marvelous beaches, super farms and vineyards, great biking and hiking, fine restaurants. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, all these visitors have to shower and sleep somewhere. We certainly don’t want harried, haggard tourists wandering about from Riverhead to Orient. So it’s only logical that many of these visitors will park their cars in the driveways of North Fork relatives and friends — and stay for a week or more.

No denying North Forkers are hospitable. And yet there comes a time when even North Forkers are “guested out.” That’s when the Guest Disposal permit and sticker acquires a secondary use of primary importance. I’m suggesting a North Fork host/hostess discreetly place a Guest Disposal sticker on a guest room mirror. It seems an admirable non-confrontational way of saying “time to go home.”

Just what might drive an even-tempered North Forker to purchase a Guest Disposal permit and sticker? I’ll respond with one word. Actually it’s the word that comes immediately to mind when I look at the clothesline in my neighbor’s back yard.

That word is towels. North Fork guests mean lots of towels. Beach towels, bath towels, damp towels left on bathroom floors and on top of the washing machine. Towels abandoned at the beach or hung on the clothesline overnight only to be drenched in a hard rain. Towels used to soak up a grape juice spill or an oil spill out on a boat. And no more towels in the hall closet. That’s when exhausted North Forkers might just as well throw in the towel and display the sticker.

As for me? It’s the noise that does it. Not just noise the visitors might make, but even the noise I try not to make. If guests sleep till 10 a.m. and I’m up about 5:30, how in the world can I be quiet for more than four daylight hours? I can’t turn on the washing machine, talk on the phone, play a tape, vacuum the floors. Even cleaning a pot at the kitchen sink makes noise. Just listen sometime. All this because the visiting folks were out late the night before and they need their rest. Well, so do I. Where’s that sticker?

And you know the strange thing? Guests make plenty of noise. They run water in the tub and shower just any old time. They’re on their cell phones in the living room, the kitchen, all over the place. Grandchildren, especially, leave the television on when they leave the TV room. After all, they’ll be back in a couple of hours. Again, where’s the sticker?

It’s not towels or noise stressing Cliff and Jane Utz. This North Fork couple (both were physical education teachers at Southold and Greenport high schools) is active, hospitable, curious. Matter of fact, they spend part of every winter roaming around out West. They welcome guests, believe me. And yet, they’re occasionally ready to display Southold’s Guest Disposal sticker. All because of food.

Cliff and Jane eat well and often. But when they want steak at home, guests seem to want pizza at a spot 20 miles away. And while Cliff and Jane generally eat dinner early, guests think 8:30 p.m. is perfect. True, there’s much to keep visitors busy outdoors on North Fork summer days and Cliff and Jane are understanding people. Still, says Jane, “It’s good to get our house back again.”

I suppose we owe a thank-you to the town for putting these permits and stickers into North Fork hands. And yet … after guests have gone and left us lonely, those visitors, in our memories, evoke other responses. We forget the towels, the noise, the late meals. We recall the fun, the friends, the family. I’ll check again at Town Hall. Maybe they have a sticker reading Come Back Soon.

Ms. Lombardi is a resident of Cutchogue.