Early Friday evening, I arrive at the SoMo Toho to find an unexpected guest standing in the kitchen. While strangers scrounging for food in my kitchen are de rigueur at the townhouse on weekend mornings, it’s unusual to meet somebody new immediately after work.
“Yo. I’m your couch surfer.”
This rings a bell. Roomie had convinced me to co-host couch surfers as members of the social networking website, couchsurfing.org. I’d heard of the Internet phenomenon a few years ago, as classmates would bypass the European hostel scene to sleep on strangers’ couches in an attempt to save more euros and more efficiently transfer a surmountable number of STDs from Dublin to Gdansk, from Budapest and back to Barcie. The appeal is simple: Host interesting wandering souls and build an online following that will vouch for you to crash at randoms’ homes worldwide.
“You’re going to get murdered” was most peoples’ response to news of our guest. We just wanted some Internet street cred, so we knew that taking risks would be part of the equation. I had no idea I’d risk my pride as a culture maven.
Couch Surfer stands in the kitchen, decked out in the black-rimmed glasses, vintage-esque flannel-sheathed-in-AmerAppar-hoodie formula, retrieving the water pitcher from the fridge. His hair is coiffed in a position that can only be described as “complicated” and when he waves, his cuff reveals a wrist tattoo that he would later explain as “really hard to explain.”
“Is this Brita filter fresh? I’m brewing some green tea my college roommate just sent me from Myanmar. Some hella dank leaves here.”
I’d been told that CS works as a food writer in Austin and is in town to review the Houston foodie situation. I’d prepared myself to be thoroughly intimidated by a seasoned editor at the Austin Chronicle or American-Statesman. Upon further investigation, it becomes clear CS maintains his own WordPress food blog that may be best characterized as severely underground. He also attests to writing "works of theatre" and helping out “here and there for South By.” (Legitimate hipsters are very busy and don’t have time to fully pronounce the title of Austin’s South By Southwest music festival).
We pry into CS’ past: “I was born in the Bay Area, but everyone is way too into that, so I most identify with Portland.”
When asked where he went to school, he replies, “Oh, on the East Coast.” Further questions reveal, “Just this school in Providence.” I’m intrigued by a playwriting major from Brown, but before I can ask, “Is this The Great Gatsby: The New Class?,” CS absconds down the Boulevard to Feast — a meal that he would later articulately describe as “really real.” (He’s vegan unless it’s a dish that’s been featured in the "Sunday Styles" of the New York Times).
He disappeared for all of Saturday, tracking down obscure taco trucks and gobbling cauldrons of pho. We thought we might impress him with a walk to the nighttime art opening at the Joanna. Instead, we accidentally extinguished the backyard bonfire and hitched a ride home in a passing Escalade, leaving CS to walk home alone. We thought we’d cheer him up by taking him to devour haute cocktails at Anvil. He ordered five, took a sip of each to taste, and then launched into a diatribe on finding good barbacoa on a weekday afternoon in Austin and how much he hates sexually ambiguous hipsters (whether or not this was meant ironically is open to interpretation).
Needing an escape from CS’ aura, I moved to the cramped patio entry alley with a friend. I gracefully flung the door into a girl standing in the swinging path before noticing a familiar face: Houston Ballet principal Conner Walsh, along with many other members of the company.
“I think Conner Walsh is here… There’s no way he read that disparaging New Year’s column where I called him gay, right?” I mumble softly to my friend. The girl whom I’ve nudged with the entry door turns around lithely.
“Yes, that’s Conner. And I’m his girlfriend. And I read your article.”
I shudder and croak a rushed apology and explain that it was all a joke (it was). Instead of acting accosted, she amicably explains that she found the piece entertaining. The accusations of Conner being “too cool for school” were false, as she insists that her beau is just a regular guy with extreme talent. When I admit that I’m surprised that my humble blip on the Internet would reach the Houston Ballet, she explains that they were informed by a phone call to Conner’s apartment by his mother. The girlfriend answered the phone to, “Hello, may I please speak to my ‘sexually ambiguous’ son?”
Reason No. 2 for the couple to despise me: The girlfriend next reminds me of an incident a few weeks ago, in which the two were walking along Westheimer to Poison Girl, and were barely hit by a car exiting the Taxi Taxi parking lot next door. The automotive love pat came from none other than myself – I remember seeing their faces but sped off, assuming they wouldn’t recognize me. Or you know, maybe they thought it was Alex Kapranos. Yet once again, Conner’s girlfriend continues to charmingly giggle through the story, and then insists that we meet the equally agreeable danseur himself.
And so, in the chill of the Montrose night, I put out a fire whose embers had been rustling in the back of my consciousness ever since I almost ran over Conner and his girlfriend. At the end of the day, it really is tasteless to jokingly “out” someone, and saving face with the Houston Ballet is probably up there with drinking Burmese green tea.
I needed to dance off the awkward turn of events, so I gathered my crew and jaunted to the upstairs at Boondocks. CS wasn’t interested — he had to be up early to taste the deliciously soggy breakfast tortas at Guadalupana. Other than a little bit of dignity (and perhaps a missing half-empty bottle of anti’s), I lost little over the course of the weekend, and felt comfortable not receiving the highest level of validation from CS.
For the twentysomething, observing subcultures may be intriguing, but ultimately, we're past the point of blindly belonging to impenetrable cliques and companies. This period is too precious to waste on posing and posturing - especially when you qualify for delicious Under 25 discount tickets to La Bayadere.