Autumn Phillips: The life of a couch surfer
April 8, 2004
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Couch to couch. From couch have I come, and from couch do I return.
Life, for me, began on a couch two years ago in the West Acres trailer park. I arrived in January with $11 in my pocket and two weeks before my first paycheck. My boss at Base Area Services let me live on his couch until I found a place of my own.
The life of a couch surfer, a living-room dweller, is thus. Home is redefined.
Your belongings are tucked into corners — a pile of clothes between the couch and the wall, a bag of toiletries stashed under the sink in the bathroom.
Your life is as bagged and sorted as the woman you used to see pushing a shopping cart down the brick sidewalks of Boston. The park bench was her living room. The sink at the public library was her bathroom. The most important things in her life, she kept in the child’s seat of the cart. The less useful and more sentimental things sank to the bottom of the cart.
In some ways, her life is your life.
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You do not ask passers-by for money. Instead, as a couch monkey, you do your dishes right away. You try not to be home all the time. You try to be funny and interesting to your keepers.
Every morning, you fold your blankets, stuff your sleeping bag, stash your pillow. You make your bed every day even if you went for months living on wrinkled sheets and a wadded comforter in your own home.
And then your time is up.
Week two. Couch two.
“Couch surfing,” as it is commonly called, implies moving from couch to couch. A good surfer anticipates the next couch just as a surfer anticipates a rolling swell about to break into a ridable wave.
My own couch, on which a few people slept, disappeared March 31 when my lease ended. It was long after dark, and a friend and I were sitting on the stairs. There was a huge couch, upended, between us and we couldn’t get it to move.
You learn who your true friends are on the day you have to move heavy furniture. At that moment, I seemed to have only one friend and we had tried to move the thing down a spiral staircase by ourselves.
We would still be there today — trapped in the house by a huge couch like two women bricked into a wall. Instead, a few last-minute friends appeared and devised a plan to lower the couch over the banister onto the waiting arms of three women.
Observation: No one scatters faster or protests louder than three women watching a couch drop toward their faces.
After the initial panic, the couch made it to the truck, and I stood at the door for a moment — mentally recapping the past year — before turning out the lights and closing the door for the last time.
There is only a month left before my sabbatical, my unpaid leave of absence, my adventure at sea, and there is little point to finding a new home.
Ergo, I am couch surfing.
“You’re doing what?” my dad said.
“That’s an interesting concept,” he said.