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tim cockey

Hey, collegians, here’s how to mooch a vacation

DECADES AGO, as I was preparing to pack off for college for my freshman year, my father offered me broad advice on how I might best benefit from the upcoming experience.

“In life,” said he, “you will want to have friends in high places. Start making them now.”

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Soon after that, my mother pulled me aside to amend this Big Picture advice with something more practical.

“Forget high places. Make friends with good places.”

What did she mean by this? I think it’s clear.

Make sure they have great vacation homes.

Now, there’s advice to live by. At least, it has been for me. I don’t happen to have a vacation home. For that matter I don’t really “have” a home at all. The walls and floors where I live? I rent those.

Make friends; it’s always good to have your peeps. But don’t forget my mom’s addendum: Investigate their summer digs.

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But some of my friends . . . wow. Not only do they own their lovely regular homes, but just like the mother ordered, they’ve got cool digs in nice places. And when summer comes along, they keep me hopping. All this visiting. All these endless grilled dinners under the stars. The water sports. The hammocks. Mornings on the deck, taking in the view. The hammocks. Again. This being on the summer guest circuit, it isn’t for the faint of heart. You have to learn to pace yourself.

Let it be said, I do have a guest policy: When I come a-mooching, I insist on doing something constructive around the place. Something moderate, mind you, as I’m a little slack in my “This Old House” skills. My contributions fall into a category I call “Timprovising.” It is not about getting the job done with efficiency or elegance.

I rig. I fudge. But I’ve found that not many people want you to go rigging and fudging around their second home. Still, since I do want to sing for my hammock, I pester them for a task of some sort until a project is finally thought up that will not put the place at risk.

So, summer 2013 is nearly in the bag. How’d I do?

ª In the bucolic Catskills I cleared away small trees and brush that were obscuring the view of ye olde pond from ye olde screened-in porch. No tools. Just arms and teeth. I did a superb job.

ª In central New Hampshire I helped build foundations for two ill-advised bluebird houses on posts. Both were leaning at 30-degree angles by the time I was ready to shove off for my next vacation home. Not such a superb job.

ª July found me tottering for nearly an hour atop a tall ladder in a Westhampton beach house, cleaning up a good decade’s worth of accumulated dust-muck from the blades of the main room’s overhead fan. The task should have taken minutes, but, well, the view of the ocean from up there was just so outstanding. . .

ª And in a rustic Maine house with a jigsaw puzzle perfect view of a rocky cove (moored lobster boats, Winslow Homery sailboats tacking just so), I tackled the delicate job of extracting a broken-off lightbulb casing from the rear of an oven using as my extraction tool. . . a sweet potato! You read that right. A tuber.

I did good.

So for those of you who are scurrying off to college over the next few weeks, the crux of my father’s advice remains sound. Essentially: Make friends; it’s always good to have your peeps. But don’t forget my mom’s addendum: Investigate their summer digs. If you can do so discreetly, check out some photos. See if you can spot a hammock anywhere in the picture. It’s a grand tradition, this living off the landowners. Someone has to carry it on.

And if you own one of these lovely summer homes, my advice is that you look around for any (little) projects that might want tackling next summer. The newly hatched Class of 2014 will need something to do when they come a-mooching.

As for me? I’ve still got some slots open on my calendar. But they’ll fill quickly. I’m a highly sought after guest. I bring my own sweet potato.

Seriously. What kind of moocher do you take me for?

Tim Cockey is a writer living in New York City.
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