Couch Surfing vs. Feeding the Homeless
Couch Surfing vs. Feeding the Homeless
It’s Thursday night and I just walked through the front door to find a young girl holding a guitar in her lap sitting across from a tattoo faced man with half his ear missing, both on the kitchen floor.
“Oh good you came! I’m Erin,” I shook their hands.
They were finishing up the dinner my roommate cooked.
“Should I go out to pick up some beer?” I asked.
“We were just talking about that. I was saying I think I’m too full to drink anymore,” the young girl was sincere as she looked up in the direction of my face.
“Well, I’m going to run out to get some. I was gonna on the way home, but I got distracted. Do ya’ll need anything else?” Did I just say ya’ll? Fuck, I did.
“No, we’re okay!”
I walked across the front junkyard to my car and thought about how different it felt, actually EXPECTING guests for once. It was nice, almost. Hours earlier, my roommates told me they invited some random street people over for dinner on a whim. These people had a sign that read: “We’re hungry.”
There’s a difference in EXPECTING strangers to be in the middle of the house when you arrive home, and there’s a difference between offering dinner to the homeless and hosting couch surfers.
My brief education on couch surfing has taught me that those sort of guests, the “couch surfers” that is, are expected to bring a meal for their host. An unwritten rule I’ve noticed, is that they have no choice but to provide their “couch surfing company” to the host if it is demanded, regardless of their feelings. Imagine traveling for hours without sleep, then being bound to nightlong conversation with a complete stranger just because he or she is allowing you to occupy their couch.
Fuck no. That’s why the Super 8 exists.
I don’t think I could ever embody the mental strength required for couch surfing. If I were in the situation where I was going broke, and needed a place to sleep for free, I’d rather return to work at Chili’s for a couple months. Hell, I would work at Taco fucking Bell before I surfed any couches. I’m not strong enough.
Michael Tree, the other roommate, used to be the king host of the couch world. Then I moved in. He started to feel how uncomfortable I would get when I needed to use the bathroom in the morning and it was already occupied by someone who wasn’t paying rent. Back then, I wasn’t aware that he wasn’t paying either. Still, he started to feel my discomfort, he’s not a dumb person, and eventually the couch guests ceased. It’s funny because there aren’t even couches here at 11 Walton Street. There are a couple of wooden tables amongst the other scattered junk in the living room. So it was really floor surfing for these poor, unknowing souls.
I was curious to see what Michael’s reaction might be tonight with these two guests on the kitchen floor.
“What hypocrites,” was my guess of his thoughts.
Feeding hungry people then sending them on their way without expecting anything in return isn’t the same. It’s a random act of kindness. One of the reasons there’s some good left in this world.
Michael walked in and didn’t seem to think much of anything. He continued to do his laundry.
I thought about all of this on my way to the grocery store, and I kept thinking about it while I was standing there staring wide eyed in front of the beer cooler. Grocery stores make me nervous. Buying beer makes me nervous too. The combination of both was almost too much to handle. In New Jersey you can’t buy beer at Shoprite. That’s why we have Shoprite Bar.
No matter where I am, I always feel rushed standing there in front of a refrigerator trying to pick out beer. Everyone’s watching me. It’s a weekday and everyone thinks I’m a drunk. Imagine that sort of anxiety amplified by the annoyance of fluorescent grocery store lights. Fuck this, here’s Blue Moon. I’ll just get that.
“Hey guys, I got us some Blue Moon.” I re-entered the house.
“You didn’t get yourself some oranges to go with it?!” My roommate questioned.
“I thought about it…” I really did for a second.
“But I realized grocery stores terrify me. So what happened to your ear?”
“A dog bit it off.” The man with the face tattoos and dreadlocks told me.
I listened to him speak about pit bulls and ex-girlfriends and pain, but I couldn’t help but to focus part of my attention on the young girl sitting with the guitar in her lap. I watched her out of the corner of my eye.
She couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. Her head was half shaved, the rest highlighted blonde and combed over the black frame of her glasses. She sat there indian style wearing a tank top with shorts and I noticed random trails of dirt, or another black substance, smeared sporadically on certain parts of her body. The trails of black made me think of a child breaking into a mother’s makeup drawer. I pictured the mother purposefully walking through the bathroom door in frantic need of more eyeshadow only to find the child blinking rapidly with innocent eyes while smearing glittery blackness across her skin with tiny fingerprints.
I wondered if this girl had a mother.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“Wow, really? I didn’t expect that.”
“A lot of people tell me that.” She said.
Expect wasn’t the right word. Hope. I should have said, I didn’t hope that. She was traveling with a thirty-seven year old man who had several tattoo’s dripping down his eyes and only one and a half ears on his head. And they were both homeless.
My heart didn’t hope for it one bit and it had nothing to do with passing judgment. I didn’t know their story. It was the maternal part of me that made me feel this way. I believe all women are made with maternal instincts regardless of their child bearing experience.
And what sort of person with maternal parts could possibly hope for a child to be living under such circumstances?
I didn’t ask more questions. I thought of some, but I didn’t ask. My reluctance might have been because they weren’t my guests, and I could see my roommates were growing tired. I shouldn’t prolong the evening with complicated questions. I told myself that while I waved goodbye and watched the guests leave. Then I went into the bedroom and sat with a pen in my hand, wondering about the kind of questions that make you fear their answer more than you yearn to know anything at all.
I didn’t get very far with such thinking, of course. Because then Michael Tree knocked on the door.
“Hey. Uh, do you want to go Downtown to…” His curly head poked through the crack and began asking his question.
I shot an evil squinted stare over my shoulder.
“Oh, you’re writing.”
“I was just about to…but I’ll go outside and have a smoke. That only requires going to the back porch. I can do that. You want one?” I asked.
“Sure. Actually I’ll just smoke my pot, instead.” He said.
I have some of Michael Tree’s pot hidden in my windowsill. We found out he was scamming us out of rent and he keeps a huge jar of weed in the living room. This guy can’t afford to pay rent, but he can afford a huge jar like this, of marijuana? Fuck that. So I pinched a little and hid it in my window. I don’t smoke pot, so it’s still there.
“Whatever works for you!”
We spent the next three minutes searching for a lighter before retreating to the back porch. Michael lit his joint then he lit my American Spirit. How gentlemanly, I thought.
“I was working on one of the lawn mowers today. Trying to get it to start so I can cut the grass.” He told me.
“Listen, I think you need to worry about clearing all the shit out of this yard before you think about mowing it.” I said.
“You think so?”
“Dude. Look at this place. I can’t even see the grass with all this junk. And what do you mean ONE of the lawnmowers?”
“Well, there’s three down there. But I almost got one of them to work.” He said.
“You’re like a collector, I guess. Like a hoarder almost?” I asked.
“It’s funny you should say that,” He paused for a while and I wasn’t sure if it was the pot.
I kept listening anyway.
“When my Mom and Dad were getting divorced, my Mother had a lot of issues. Hoarding was one of them. It went from unopened moving boxes in our new house, to dirty dishes and such. Like, you couldn’t even see the floor. The place smelled awful.” He said while still smoking the joint.
The junkyard of a scene I’d been inhabiting for the past month was all starting to make sense. I knew there had to be a reason for it. There’s reason behind most things. Why wouldn’t there be meaning behind the details of a cluttered yard?
“Hey look, I know I’ve told you how I feel about certain things, but if you need help cleaning this place up let me know.” I said.
And part of me really meant it.
The other part of me suspects that Michael Tree is in his room right now monitoring what I write on this computer through the use of his I-pad. Part of me believes he’s been keeping track of my stories somehow and is now using my writing as a way to manipulate me into doing things like helping him clean the junkyard.
Those thoughts could just be the result of me being a nervous person.
Or maybe that’s just a cautious, sensible way to think about someone who has proven himself untrustworthy.
Either way, we went back into the house together and I tried to write again while Michael stayed in the kitchen and cooked. After a while, I no longer heard the sound of his bare feet slapping against the tile, so I poked my head out of the bedroom to investigate. There he was standing in the middle of the kitchen with a tray in his hand, half chewing while he slowly raised the plate as a sign of offering.
“Here, try some. I’ve never made deviled eggs before.”