Saturday, August 22, 2009

Sleeping in other people's beds

Living in California, I have known many people who are surfers. In Southern California, they pull on their swimsuits, jump in the van and launch down to a swath of ocean known for its rideable waves. In Northern California, they ease their bodies into their chilled, damp wetsuits and head to Pacifica or Ocean Beach to lollygag in the fog until they sense a big wave’s coming to carry them to shore.

Many people who are not water surfers are web surfers, taking an occasional peek at You Tube or eBay, or reading those witty random blogs full of other people’s bitter complaints.

My calling appears to have been for neither the wet nor the electronic: instead I am a couch surfer. Since November 2008, I have not lived in my own home. I have lived in friends’ apartments, houses, studios and guest bedrooms. Most of that time was spent in my friend Mike’s place, and Brad and I paid rent to make it happen, sharing a studio – charming, but nevertheless, a studio – to live under three young strapping 20-somethings who entertained themselves with karaoke and barbecues.

When you stay in someone else’s house for so long, you learn some things about them, perhaps things that you already know, but things that nevertheless make an impression on you because it is an indication that their life is different from yours.

Mike’s place is beautiful, with elegant finishes and top designer furnishings. But Mike obviously likes to sleep on a very firm mattress, doesn’t mind having small spaces for storage, and has no issues with reaching under his sink to plug in the garbage disposal when he wants to use it. We loved Mike’s beautiful oven; lush, fruit-filled garden; built in flat screen television, attractive paints and tiles and rugs. But it was not home: we like much softer mattresses, so I ran off to Ross to buy a clearance memory foam pad to soften the surface for us.

Our next couch surfing experience was furnished by Jeanna and Ale. They have a newly remodeled, rebuilt house with a funny dog to take care of.

Being with a dog was a completely foreign thing to me, but my week-and-a-half with Lola was a success. She has many really good qualities. She’s stubborn, sentimental, obedient on a walk, pays no attention to you in the house, can be tricked by the doorbell, sleeps a lot, She also sighs a lot, snores, throws up when she’s upset and will wait for hours to eat her food if no one is there to watch her eat. She seems miserable inside the house and like a lioness when she’s outside. She could care less about most other dogs that run up to sniff her butt, but she’ll stay by your side when she’s off her leash. What I like about her is that she seems a little depressed. Hers is a down in the dumps depression: she goes around with the weight of the world on her shoulders and not getting what she wants out of it. She’s a dog who behaves like a person.

I suppose I’ve gotten sidetracked with Lola, but the house itself is mostly black and steel and plywood inside, with an assortment of rustic Heath tiles in kitchen and bath and an amazing glowy red bathroom coated in water-resistant epoxy. It’s an interesting and beautiful house filled with unusual art and a stellar collection of taxidermy, which intrigues me. But they shower, use the toilet and the bidet everyday in a big glass bathroom showing off their naked bodies and all of their bodily functions to the neighbors. No trip to Ross would allow me to adapt their way of living to our bathroom shyness, so we showered downstairs in the guest bathroom surrounded by snappy white and red Heath tiles.

The next house was Mark’s Bernal Heights Edwardian, a terrific pad with a beautiful garden that he remodeled and re-landscaped himself several years ago. It was also a dog sitting stint.
This dog, Cooper was more dog-like than Lola, but like Lola, I also perceive him to have some issues. Cooper is staunchly loyal to his master, Mark, and will fret if Mark is out of site, craning his neck to catch a glimpse of Mark wherever he may be. He adapted easy to us, but is clearly a one-owner dog: if Cooper is faced with a choice of two directions to travel, he will go wherever Mark goes, even if it’s the less exciting of the two directions. With two of us going in two directions… poor Cooper.

Whereas Lola will avoid making eye contact, Cooper will study your face and offer a host of weird expressions, like he’s trying to become like you. If you’re smiling, Cooper will smile and jump up to hug you. If you look angry or sad, Cooper will tilt his head to the side as if trying to figure out what he can do to improve your mood, waiting for a smile to crack so he can dash over and share the joke with you. He’s fiercely obedient and will gleefully show his skills at high jump, high five, rolling over, and spinning in the air, climbing a tree, and other feats best undertaken by a dog.

Again, walking a dog was a new routine for me, but the house also had a few things to adapt to, mostly related to Cooper. Mark’s home has gorgeous Douglas fir floors and a terrific kitchen with an old oven and a very modern centerpiece sink that’s set forward between his butcher block countertops. His second story is a bewildering array of storage rooms and guest rooms and an office. And everywhere you go, Cooper is there. Again, no Ross purchase could have helped me adapt to Mark’s living experience, with the furry and loving paws of Cooper tugging my blankets every morning at 6:15, indicating he’s ready for food. Or Cooper’s reaction to some of the most basic actions I did, like closing the back door (he would run to the front, excited to go for a walk) or putting on my jacket (he would run to the back deck waiting for a treat and to be locked outside). I confess I am in love with Cooper in a way Lola would not allow me to love her, but having a spunky dog around means your life is not quite your own.

The next couch surf took us to New Hampshire, because there were no local couches with availability. A rustic stay in a 100+ year-old cottage on an island in a lake, all of my routines and comforts were lost. We wrapped the bunk bed mattresses in vinyl protectors to trap the mold inside and added foam covers and mattress pads on top to improve the sleeping experience. The solution to adapt the sleeping solution to my needs was lots of Claritin, Flonase and Benadryl. No Ross for miles.

And now I am on my final couch surf. We temporarily reside at Lou and Neil’s modern, hip SOMA/Mission digs, enjoying views in all directions, Cubba original paintings, great cross breezes, a very comfortable choice of three showers, and a kitchen decked out for gourmet culinary accomplishments, not to mention a Brian Barneclo mural that never quits intriguing me. It is the perfect final couch surf of our journey. We find ourselves lounging on their ultra-lounge comfortable sofa and pondering the purpose of the fireplace tools in front of the gas fireplace. Remarkably they have already made some of the adaptations that we would have made: a hepa air purifier whirs and refreshes while we sleep, bed sheets are light and airy, and the fresh mint in the garden helped us create memorable mojitos. The only thing I would need to do if I lived here would be to lug out the Ross memory foam to better approach my sleep number, but otherwise all is good.

I am a nomad. I don’t know where my bed is. I don’t know what my own house is like. I know what I would need to do to adapt other people’s houses to suit me if I lived there for a long time. And others will need to adapt to mine to satisfy their own living habits. But I offer many thanks and not a speck of criticism to friends who have offered us the couch surfing experience. You have let us live your experience and make only minor shifts to allow us to find a comfortable zone inside.

And now that I’ve nearly finished my couch surfing. I am ready to move on to web surfing or water surfing.

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