Call me a pushover, but when a friend asks if they can crash on my couch for a few days, I’m totally into it. So when my friend Jenny’s boyfriend started working in the city, I told him to come on over. Besides, who knows more about couch surfing than a New Yorker?
In my five years in New York, I’ve lived in six different places and spent quite a few nights between leases, so I consider myself pretty experienced in the field of apartment living. Jenny and her boyfriend Steve had been trying to move to New York from the suburbs in order to jump-start Jenny’s acting career, but neither of them had any savings or cash plans for the big move.
I tried to explain to them that trying to get an apartment without a job is like trying to make your car payment with buttons.
Since I completely sympathized with the couple’s housing troubles, I folded a bunch of blankets for Steve, set up two pillows and even swept the living room for his arrival. I wanted him to feel at home in the city.
Steve arrived in my lobby, backpack in hand, at midnight. He had just started working the night shift at the Apple Store in Soho and would be coming home very late every night, he explained. This situation just keeps getting better and better, I thought. Maybe with our busy schedules we would never even cross paths. As we spent the rest of the night on the couch together laughing and watching Conan, I knew everything was going to be great.
The next morning, I changed my mind. It’s not too hard to be a good houseguest, but there are definitely a few rules to follow when you’re couch surfing. Rule Number One is simple: Never leave your blankets in a pile on the couch and/or floor. Do not throw them in a heap on the chair. By no means scrunch them up into a ball in the corner of the couch. Even though I should have seen the broken rule as a warning, I was still willing to give Steve the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was running late this particular morning. I bit my tongue.
That night, my roommate and I were watching TV when Steve came home. Without so much as a “Hi” to me or my roommate, Steve headed for the fridge and started rummaging. At first, I thought he might be finding an empty spot for the jar of peanut butter he had brought in his backpack. “Don’t you guys have any milk?” he asked. My roommate (who is apparently a better judge of character than I am), quickly snapped back, “You’re welcome to purchase some milk down
Steve spent a good five or six minutes in the kitchen alone before I caught him cramming my can of Pringles down his throat without asking. I was fuming. Didn’t he know Rule Number Two? “No eating without asking.”
Rule Number Three was the clincher. “Do we have to watch this?” Steve whined. “Can’t we watch American Gladiators?” I don’t have to explain that, living in New York, my cable and electric bills are well over $300 a month. I don’t care how important it is, if you aren’t paying, you aren’t watching.
The last straw was when he snuck into my room. He grabbed my PowerBook and started “fixing” it without asking. “All your stuff on here is backed up, isn’t it?” He was mashing his salty, crumb-covered fingers across my keyboard so hard, I don’t think he heard me grinding my teeth.
I awoke the next morning to an incessant banging on my door. It was 6:40. “Get up, Lindsay,” the knocker said. I swore I was dreaming. Who would be pounding on my door at 6:40? Oh, wait, I know who. Apparently, he figured he was doing me a favor by getting me out of bed. Even though I still had a good hour of sleep left.
When I got to work, I had a barrage of voicemail messages from my roommate, spewing a laundry list of complaints about Steve. Apparently he had also given her a “wake-up call,” cut his greasy hair in her shower and left dirty clothes in a heap on the living room floor.
When I kicked Steve out, he gave me a guilt trip and furiously denied everything that makes him a lousy houseguest. “But the Pringles looked stale! I was going to clean up the blankets! Is all this about the milk thing?” But my mind was made up. Steve was out on his own—until he knew how to be a houseguest like a New Yorker.
Lindsay Champion is fresh out of college (NYU) where she studied writing. She lives in Queens with an albino goldfish named Betty White.