When feature comics pass through the Vermont Comedy club they need a place to stay, often times that place is my futon. When comics come up from Boston to perform at my Meadery show they also stay on my futon. When long lost distant cousins are interviewing for medical residencies they can save money by staying on my futon. When my friends come to Burlington for weddings or to go on epic beer quests they often pass out on the floor, but the futon is available. Buying that futon off a friend who was moving for $20 was a good investment.
Growing up we didn’t have a ton of money and were constantly traveling. While we occasionally stayed in hotels, both nice ones and roadside dumps, we mostly found ways to stay with people that we knew. Road trips to visit family, co-opted vacations with people to visit their families, visiting my parent’s friends from college, and fun adventures to unglamorous places defined most of my childhood. Part of relying on the generosity of others was the need for reciprocation, and my parents always had an open door and a makeshift guest room available for any friends and family who may be passing through. Having this open door policy and knowing that we would always make room for people left a huge mark on me, and is a tradition that I try to carry on today.
If you have ever lived in a frat house you understand that it is loosely controlled chaos. While this wasn’t Animal House it was fluid enough that it always seemed like there was someone on our couch. The freshman who had too much to drink, the friend who was having a rough time with her boyfriend, the alum visiting from out of town, the grand president who was doing a chapter visit, the friend from home who was working a summer job, or the guy who lived with his parents but didn’t want to go home where always present themes the places that I lived during college. It wasn’t an imposition, we had 3 houses on the same block and it wasn’t uncommon for me to show up at the other houses and crash on their couch if it was too loud or busy at my house. Having this commune feel lead me to an understanding of the transient lifestyle and embrace the good feeling that comes with providing shelter. For the 5 years that I lived in those type of houses I always enjoyed having people stay, and often looked forward to having others visit.
When I was in my final year of college I did internships all over the country and I relied heavily on the kindness of others. Part of the time was spent staying for a few weeks at a time with my parent’s friends, the ones who used to stay in our guest room. I also spent some time living in a government trailer on the Navajo reservation where one day I went from being by myself to coming home to find a med student had moved in unannounced and took it all in stride. Driving home from Arizona I was able to spend time visiting friends and family in far off places like Utah, California, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia. Taking advantage of offers to visit friends and have them point me in the direction of the important places that only locals know was one of the highlights of my trip. After returning to Albany I resumed living a low impact life of sleeping on a futon mattress on the floor of my friends’ pantry before spending a few months of the summer at my family’s camp. That year was one of the most trying, eventful, and memorable times of my life, and I couldn’t have made it through if people weren’t generous enough to open their homes to me.
After graduation I strove to pay forward some of that hospitality. I was always looking for 2 bedroom apartments in order to provide a place for others to stay. For the first few years there wasn’t much opportunity. My friends were scattered into the wind and were busy setting up their own lives so with the exception of a friend who stayed with me during an internship it was mostly me alone in my bigger than necessary and excessively empty apartment. Then something changed and all of a sudden visiting Vermont became a priority for my friend group, a change that closely corresponds with the boom in the beer scene. All of a sudden there were a ton of people clamoring to stay at my place, and my willingness to let anybody stay, even if they were only friends of friends who I have never met made my place a destination. It was good to connect with people, both new acquaintances and old friends, and it made my apartment a much more welcoming place to be.
One night I got drunk and signed up for this newfangled website called AirBnB. The minimum that you could list for was $60 and I though that there is no way someone would spend $60 bucks to stay on my futon in Middlebury. I was wrong, and over the next 4 months I earned more than 2 grand by utilizing my empty guestroom. This experience taught me the how to be a better host, and motivated me to keep my apartment clean, which was something that I have struggled with in the past. I was also able to meet some interesting people, and some fucking assholes, and get a better understanding of how to be a good guest when I visit people. It was a very eye opening experience and was worth way more than it’s monetary value. Once I moved back to Burlington my new apartment complex forbids AirBnB, so I lost the income stream but still found ways to play host.
When comics come to town they are always impressed that I let them stay for free and are always grateful. I suppose I see where they are coming from, friends and family are one thing, but people who I haven’t yet met is completely different. But these aren’t strangers, they are people who I share mutual friends with, who are up here on a business trip. For the most part it has been great, and with one exception I would let them all stay again. I have had the chance to meet new and interesting people, network a good amount, and help my friends who own the club get talented performers on the stage. It isn’t anything fancy, just a futon in a room that I rarely use, but for some visiting comics it makes a world of difference.
When people say anything about how generous it is to open up my guest room, I just brush it off with “I have the space” but in reality it is more of a benefit to me than it is a drawback. I like having people stay because it keeps me from getting too comfortable in my own space. It keeps me on my toes and allows me to reconnect with a long forgotten past when my life was much more random. I have been able to meet dozens of new and interesting people, have great conversations, explore new opportunities, and make a few new friends. All it takes is having an open door policy and a $20 futon.