So I think I learned a lesson tonight in regards to ‘couch-surfing.’
This is not to mention my growing divergent view of subjectivity between human individual perception.
For all of you who don’t know what couch-surfing is, a full understanding can be found at http://www.couchsurfing.com.
But, as per a brief explanation, couch-surfing as it has come to be called, is I’d say a form of travel by which individual people can ‘crash’ at a total strangers’ house, that is, use their couch for a night or two or whatever by being hooked up to a profile, peer-to-peer on a couch-surfing site, namely, couchsurfing.com…
Pretty cool right? And people are apparently doing it, and have been doing it successfully throughout the world. A revolution I thought, and potentially still is I’d say.
Well, tonight I learned a valuable lesson at least, about assumption and risk, and of course, subjectivity in human perception.
I met ‘Amy’ (let’s call her since I’m not going to reveal her true identity) at around 7 o’clock tonight.
It is now 3am.
I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered individuals that were or talked slowly, I’ve had my share of people who just don’t talk as fast as I do, but this, wow, she really took the prize for it.
I was to stay, or rather, ‘couch-surf’ at her place tonight.
It was rather important that I have a place to stay, since I was in the process of trying to establish employment there in Philly, and it would take about 2 nights and 3 days worth of job hunting to accomplish. She had established in a phone conversation the night before that 2 nights was all I got. She was very specific about it.
Amy had a meandering, plodding voice I found out, when I met her at a vegetarian restaurant on South St. in Philadelphia, a rendez-vous to which she was unappolagetically nearly an hour late. But I guess that’s okay for wanna-be new-age hippies like she seemed to sort of be akin to.
It was as if at least every other sentence she uttered had to be assembled from scratch, like every word she spoke were for the first time. Now, I’m exageratting of course, but in essence, this really isn’t too far from the truth.
We had a conversation at the place, I had a bowl of split pea soup and realized veggie meals could be quite filling in fact. The conversation, like her speech, meandered in and out of passivity to a seldom more awake and alert proactivity, and at times, was in fact, pretty normal, but usually defaulted to its original state. Her attention seemed to wander, but it really only appeared to, she was fully rational, just not all ‘there’ it seemed…
We talked about her school, that she taught…
Amy herself was a somewhat average sized girl, of some semitic descent I’d say,a somewhat jewish hook to her nose, 5’4″ I’d say. She was fairly attractive, certainly very thin and had nice legs, which sported densely sparkling stockings and glittery slipper shoes or something….she wore a grey trench coat tied with a belt at the waist with long wavy, almost curly brown hair. Almost like an ‘Alice in Philadelphia Land’ I got the impression.
Eye contact was hit or miss, though once in a while could be quite in sinc.
So, one fact after the other spilled themselves in a format not too unlike twenty questions…. over the course of around 40 min…I was doing 80% of the questioning…Was she a teacher? Yes. What did she teach? Art. To whom? Kids. What age?
Every answer was elaborated as if upon on a somewhat need-to-know basis, terse, but not quite impolite, certainly awkward, and strange, but not bad enough to be socially inept.
She asked some questions of me, even was able to pick the dialogue up to a political level, although I noticed she was able to keep up so long as I agreed with everything she said and that any disagreement I had to an opinion of hers was met with…nothing, literally, nothing, no response, as if I hadn’t said a thing, every time. I tested that several times, in fact.
At one point, she got up, during a long pause, with her purse (I guess I hadn’t earned even a shred of her trust yet) and just left without saying where she was going. I knew better than to ask. It was apparently to receive her sandwich when I caught a glimpse of her in line up front.
She finally came back after what seemed like an eternity with her sandwich after I’d thought for sure she’d left. I made a joke about it, saying “wow I thought you’d left!” (smiling at her) to which she did and said: nothing.
She wasn’t all that gone though, I mean, I managed to find out she’d grown up her whole life in Philly, that she had been a painter and gave up, she’d travelled (to Isreal apparently.) But ask for any explanations about her endeavors and she’d say something like “Why Israel? Eh, I liked it there…”
It’s also important to mention that social normalcy would creep in suddenly from her, then dissapear as if never to come back, then when you least expect it, back again.
Like her over the phone when she called me to tell me she’d be late and that I should go inside and get a bite to eat. That was curteous.
She even sounded up to pace with her speech patterns. this recurred in the hours to come. I might mention it was also strange that she called me on my cell upon meeting me in the place, while standing a foot from me, hovering over me, knowing it was me, but wanting to know for sure, and instead of saying “oh hey, I’m Amy,” she decided to call me–on the phone, to which I picked it up, knowing it was her in my peripheral.
All this to which I expected an moment of shared humor, a smile at its obsurdity, but there was no such acknowledgement whatsoever, she did it as if completely serious. If I thought she had smiled at me, it would have been my imagination.
Oh, and she also had asked what I was reading, to which I had to explain to her that a cover with the rather large printed title “Scientific American” was in fact a science magazine.
So, anyway, at a certain point, and still not knowing whether she’d accepted to have me over for sure, since she’d made clear the importance of meeting me first in person, she abruptly said “okay, ya ready?”
I got up instantly, mid-meal (she had finished her sandwich) and threw the rest of my rather pricey veggie meal away in haste.
On the way back, normalcy crept in again. She was talking a normal pace about her life in Philly. I recall nearly nothing of this, since I wasn’t listening to a word of it.
I did however, catch her tone, which was proactive enough, but apathetic, so much so that it didn’t come off as apathy, it was just so natural to her–but it was definitely passive cynicism.
Other normal ways of interacting crept in such as pointing out the street she lived on.
We made our way to her apartment where there was a statue of a manequin outside, reminding me of nothing less than a ‘Heart’s Filthy Lesson’ video by Mr. Bowie.
She explained its presence and that it had been sitting in the art department for so long that she finally grabbed it and brought it home. I find this to be quite normal too.
(Maybe I should also add, that I myself, am FAR from normal. I am an artist and quite out there with my philosophy according to mainstream standards. So, it’s not as if I’m some yuppie guy coming to meet the ‘outsider’ artists.)
On our way in, a tall man with a bike, helmut and full bike gear greeted us following in behind us.
He began talking to Amy avidly to which she responded similarly. What I hadn’t really taken too much note of was that we were, all three of us, now stuck between two closed doors and that they hadn’t really stopped talking.
Several moments passed. And then several more…
It occurred to me that I was waiting in the hallway with them for quite a while. It then occurred to me that this was all very strange and the guy himself was talking with extreme rapidity about….well, small talk.
“Don’t people know when they’re rude? What kind of people don’t? Or were they simply stalling? For…what??? Why has she been ‘off’ this whole time I’ve known her?
My mind began wandering and this went on for literally 6 whole minutes (I checked my watch) before I got an awful vision in my head.
“Oh my GOD, what if this is what these people do???! They lure people like me into their apartment through this site!” There isn’t really any trace of me, and who’s going to report them? Who’s to know?? Do they have their address logged into the site! Ah, that’s the one thing I failed to check on!!
Then I saw in my head, a very Tarintino-ish image of him putting a gun to my head saying calmly but bluntly, “Alright man, this is how it’s going down.” and her spreading the duck tape open, both of them sort of smiling at me as if this were a casual affair…
It didn’t help the fact that after 10 minutes total of standing silently between them in the entranceway, without any acknowledgment of me being silent or of having to wait 10 minutes! This I found rude and very bizarre.
It didn’t help the fact either that when she finally stopped talking to him that she looked at the door as if she weren’t going to open it, and then, did of course, revealing a blood red (I’m not kidding) colored hallway and staircase.
“Okay Neal, YOU go in first.” She said it with a hint of tinged animosity.
Jesus. This is not what people say when they invite you into their home, but what someone says to you when they want to club you over the back of your head!
At that moment every part of me was in a paranoid state, and it took every fiber of my being to go ahead in–against all good sense–anyway.
And I did.
“Go on,” She kept insisting in the explicit tone of a command, without a shred of polite facade by this point, that I go ahead of her. This did not help.
To my numb comfort, I found myself after not having been clubbed over the head or shot in the back–in a very very artsy living room with two cats, a macbook by the window, a guitar, van gogh on the walls, all sorts of things, a manequin’s arm and hand barely clinging to the wall, ya know…
I just kept reminding myself of that macbook by the window.
Although Amy’s strange demeanor never ceased. I was suddenly not very present.
Though I discovered a small college looking kid with a beard sitting by the window. Doing absolutely nothing but sitting there, his limbs stretched out on each arm of the chair, as if sitting on a throne, as if waiting for me. It looked very much like they both were waiting for someone…
Apparently this was her roommate, not the other man as I had thought.
As per normalcy, he got up and introduced himself–though I had to ask his name. But when I did his name, and he told me, I repeated back: “Todd??” To which he took some bizarre offense, as if I should have known, and said very specifically with a grave tone “NO–Tal.”
“Okay, sorry about that, Tal,” I said. very apolagetically, to which he merely acted as if fairness had been re-railed.
Small talk ensued, but their behavior got stranger. She paid little or no attention to me, and had introduced me as the ‘couch-surfer:’
“This is Neal–our couch surfer tonight.:”
“Tonight?” I thought…
I then noticed something very important:
there was no couch, only a few soft one seaters. That old hallway feeling started to come back…
Tal began to make his dinner, as if at a precise moment in time, his internal clock program jolted his skinny appendages into uprightness. The manner in which he got up, prepared it, on cue, and sat down I swear to God was identical to the methodical nature akin to a religious monk. Tal gave no indication that I was there anymore.
I then asked if I could go and get some alchohol and made a joke saying I was sort of a mild functioning alcholhic and needed it. They didn’t think it was funny, but made mention of the fact that they didn’t drink. “At all?” I asked. “At all.”
I then remembered one of the first scenes in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula:
In a very thick Romanian accent: “…And I never drink…wine.”
Now wait a minute, these are new-agey hippy like kids, dressed in artsy garments, 21 years olds, not monks, this was not a monastary, but I swear their behavior inside the apartment was very precise and had solemn quality to it like we were in a library or a church.
My exit to the street was given directions to, which I forgot, it was also a breather, and of course, ended up getting a tad bit lost.
So. I called her. I called Amy.
After two calls and 9 rings each, she picked up, to my surprise:
“Yes.” she said devoid of tonality.
“Hey I’m sorry to bother you, but, I must gotten a bit off track here, I prolly shouldn’t be out here like this, where’s your apartment again? Is this neighborhood safe to walk in?”
Meanwhile about two people are asking me without relent for spare change, and thuggish people are lurking in the background.
With no attention paid to any concern over me, she stated the address, maintaining an absent tone. And simply the address. Not: “Oh how are you, are you okay?” Not: “I should have come with you.” or “Sorry you’re lost.” but simply, the address, and she hung up before I got to say anything else.
I finally find the liquor store and buy beer, then find my way back to the lair, making double note of the address, though I couldn’t find their apartment number…
When I arrive back at the place, Tal greets me at the door as he said he would, I enter, go upstairs…
When I found that Amy was hardly busy at all, and in fact was merely sitting on the love seat with oil pastels on a sheet of paper, scribbling tests of colors I guessed–or was it just scribbling-one couldn’t know for sure.
I couldn’t help but wondering what important affairs had demanded such attention as to necessitate an abrupt shortened phone call to a guest of the house.
I had called my girlfriend Kristin, when on the street, and told her of my ‘worries’ to which she had ended up giving me the suggestion of repeating the address to her in front of them, so if in fact, on the off chance, they were serial killers or psycho-paths waiting to duck-tape my face and eject my bowels, they would at least react to this normal way of simply letting the person you live with and who takes care of you, know where you are.
That’s normal isn’t it?
So, when I got on the phone with Kristin, I asked for their address. This, actually to my surprise, did not go over well AT ALL.
“Why does she need to know our address? Is she mailing something??” She said VERY concerned as if I intended harm.
I was, up to this point, the picture of normalcy–there’s no way they could have been that threatened by a gay-ish acting fawn like myself.
Amy knew quite well I would never be able to receive anything through the mail, but said it with grave seriousness and gave me the most uncompromising look I’d ever received. In fact, she was angry, straight up angry.
I was shocked, they actually were UNWILLING to have my whereabouts—be known.
At that moment, my fight or flight response kicked into fight and then flight, one after the other. I got off the phone with Kristin quickly and said:
“Well guys, thanks a lot, I am now throughly –freaked out– thankyou for your hospitality, but I will now take the door–and go.”
“But, well, okay…” she said snapping back into normalcy again.
To my astonishment, she asked: “Do you have any place you can go,” after an obvious minute of hard reluctance..
“Yeah I have a friend” I lied, as I made sure I was better safe than sorry.
I’m sure these people probably didn’t have any intentions beyond being wierd artist people.
But, one never knows, and there was just something so ‘off’ about their behavior, as if they were part of the same act, very strange.
Both speech patterns were very altered from mine or normal people’s. They both had a delayed reaction time to answering questions and both seemed distant, and all the regular ettiquette was somehow not present:
No apologies for being late.
Strange meandering speech patterns.
Dim lit vision and lack of eye contact.
All this along with waiting 10 minutes to get in the door.
Blood red stained hallway and staircase.
“You go in first Neal.”
Commands that came out of nowhere.
No concern, nor even acknowledgement of my well being.
No social graces, social ineptitude.
Wierd co-conspiritor-like behavior.
Outside world (i.e. phone call) unwelcome.
No knowledge of my whereabouts can be known…
And I did.
Concluding my first and perhaps final chapter in couch surfing.
The first explanation I heard was they were stoned.
And, I had to remind myself that I am quite unaccustomed to people on any sort of drug other than alcohol, so that could have partly explained my shock in not being familiar, or too familiar with how people are when they’re stoned, on E, or whatever…Though I live with a person who gets stoned 5 times a week for several hours at a time…hmmm…I don’t know…
This does makes sense of course with all the delayed reactions and slow speech. But she was very similar in tone over the phone. And to think about it again, I don’t think it was pot, maybe E or even acid…but drugs would delay and stunt speech patterns.
It also seems to make sense because they kind of could have been struggling to appear normal despite the fact that they were high as a kite!
What was even more surprising to me was the reactions I got to people I told: like the cabbie who assurred me I’d done the right thing and graphically illustrated my demise in tiny bits, of Neal in a bucket, had I not.
He even said with extreme emphasis:
“Ya don’t know man, its the fuckin intanet, dem niggas might be crazy! Dey look like kids, yeah, but next thing you know, you being split upon some lab table or some shit…”
Or my girlfriend’s, who didn’t seem to think I was paranoid, so much as justified.
It goes to show one, however, the great disparity had they not been high, which is quite possible, of perception between people, what we can actually come to expect from people who have social grace, is probably just an act, and others, don’t bother to care.