Wish for the New Year

I want to live in a world where every baby is wanted.

I want to live in a world where every child is nurtured with love, self-control, and self-respect.

I want to live in a world where a parent who wishes, can stay home to rise their young child.

I want to live in a world where every child receives whatever they need to thrive.

I want to live in a world where children can just go outside and play.

I want to live in a world where the sound of ‘pop’ elicits wonder rather than fear.

I want to live in a world where every child attends a good, public school.

I want to live in a world where teenage imbroglios are addressed conscientiously in the moment and forgiven in the future.

I want to live in a world where gender expression and sexual expression are celebrated.

I want to live in a world where scholars are feted as athletes.

I want to live in a world that provides food and shelter, education and exercise, light and air to all.

I want to live in a world where opinions are voiced yet facts prevail.

I want to live in a world where every citizen votes.

I want to live in a world where human rights are universal, and individual rights require responsibility.

I want to live in a world where every young adult serves their nation in service.

I want to live in a world with universal basic income.

I want to live in a world in balance with nature, where we replenish whatever we extract.

I want to live in a world with more buses than cars; more trains than planes.

I want to live in a world with more bike lanes than motor lanes.

I want to live in a world in which building a family, a career, and a nest egg is spread out over longer, less frantic decades.

I want to live in a world where freedom of speech is coupled with responsibility for truth.

I want to live in a world where it’s easier to get nourishing food than debilitating drugs.

I want to live in a world where everyone can pursue the religion of their choice, or none at all.

I want to live in a world with an impenetrable wall between church and state.

I want to live in a world that promotes wellness rather than monetizes disease.

I want to live in a world that passes the mantle of power through generations, in peace.

I want to live in a world that engages its elders.

I want to live in a world that cherishes the memory of seven generations gone, and prepares for seven generations to come.

I will not live in that world in 2023, or 2323, or 23,023. Humans are the only species capable of shaping their own world, yet humans are also too selfish, short-sighted, and violent to ever create a truly just, equity and sustainable world.

Still, we must strive toward that vision. For though we may never achieve the world we want, we have the capability—and the responsibility—to improve the one we have.

Happy New Year to All!

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Over the past two years I have enjoyed a unique relationship with a trans person. Let’s call them Burt. Burt is half my age; years marked by violence and isolation. What commonalities we share—each of us are fathers—are shattered by how those commonalities play out. I have an ongoing relationship with my two children; Burt has two children they’ve never seen. I am often at a loss in how to react to the conditions of Burt’s life, but since the winds of fate brought us together, I figure it’s my opportunity to try to understand someone so very different from me.

It is easy, natural, for humans to relate to their own kind. To find accord with those with whom we are already in accord. It’s more challenging to accept our opposites. And even more threatening, as in the case of transgender people, to acknowledge those who occupy some ambiguous, nebulous. nether world. Thus my overt wish to understand and connect with Burt is blocked by my evolutionary fear of that which we cannot fathom.

Then I recalled a story I wrote twenty years ago. Before trans-anything was a thing. The story is about a boy forty years even further back. A thinly veiled tale about: me. A pudgy boy, age eight, alone, locked in the bathroom, occupying himself in the mirror, with a towel.

The towel came undone. A roll of terry cloth fell down my back. It cascaded behind me like a cape. Or a veil. Or a train. I looked straight at the mirror. The swath of beige highlighted my glorious form. I bent my arms in without lowering my elbows. A sweeping arc in a horizontal plane. I tucked the towel across the top of my pale chest. The mirror offered an image I had seen before. A straight line rising slightly, across a field of snowy skin, tucked demurely under a pair of arms. I puffed my chest. I enhanced the reflection. The edge of the towel fell in a vertical line, just left of center. Falling over my nipple. Running through my heart. A detail of simple elegance flowing from my bosom, past the reality of the mirror, beyond the vanity. I stood before the glass, my skin bristling, stupefied by the beauty before me.

Hardly the words of a man fixed in his masculinity. I’m gay, but not fem. I’ve never wanted to be a woman. And yet…as a boy, standing before the mirror…I held a fascination.

That long-ago story I wrote about a longer-ago time offers me an arc of connection with Burt. Even more, it reveals how none of us are as simple as we suppose. No one is entirely straight, or gay, or cis, or trans, or libertarian, or socialist, or right, or wrong. Burt’s life is a history of chaos, and yet their hope for the future is unbounded. They refuse to be bound by simple definitions.

When our days are short and dark, humans need to be closer to each other. Thus, every tradition celebrates holidays this time of year. I hope we all celebrate by finding someone seemingly unlike us beyond the basic fact of human existence; our own personal Burt. I hope that each of us finds more commonality in our neighbors than we expect. Even more, I hope we celebrate each other despite our commonalities. Simply because we are all here, and all of us matter.

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Progressive Exaggerations to a Fault

“Learning a new language is hard, connecting with other people is hard, leaving your homeland is hard, no matter where you are. Here, in the U.S., if you are not an English speaker, you are almost immediately stripped of your humanity, your ability to connect with others, your ability to be your full self.”

I read these program notes by Director Melory Mirashrafi while waiting for Speakeasy Stage’s production of English to begin. I already knew the premise of Sanaz Toossi’s play: four Iranian students and their teacher in a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) class in Iran, circa 2008. Still, these notes clawed at my throat. Yes, learning a new language is hard. It is also revelatory. Connecting with other people is hard. Duh! Leaving your homeland is hard. True, yet a bit off, since the play is about Iranians in Iran; they may have left and returned or they may wish to leave, but in the play, they are in their homeland.

Then comes the clincher clause, “…in the U.S, if you are not an English speaker, you are almost immediately stripped of your humanity, your ability to connect with others, your ability to be your full self.” Hyperbole at best, provocation at worst. And…simply not true.

I have never been an immigrant, though I have lived in countries where I did not speak the language. I also tutor ESOL (English as a Second Language) to actual immigrants. When I was in Haiti, I had to communicate rudimentally, but the experience did not strip me of my humanity. On the contrary, it made me more appreciative of how challenging communication can be, and broadened my view of human possibility. Similarly, when I tutor Haitian immigrants in the States, the our language gaps force us to connect in a more conscious, direct way. As to how an immigrant compromises their ability to be their full self when they arrive in a foreign land with a foreign tongue, I might remind Ms. Mirashrafi that they were likely not able to be their full selves in their homelands. Thus, the decision to emigrate.

Perhaps it is not fair to pick apart Ms. Mirashrafi’s notes. After all, they are just one of so many examples of progressive ideals stated to a point so extreme that they negate the underlying good intention.

A digital notice at my gym the other day, sponsored by Bridge Over Troubled Water, stated that 1 in 13 children are homeless. A statistic so shocking, it is unbelievable. Bridge Over Troubled Water is a well-established and respected intervention program for runaway teens; and without doubt the homeless situation in our country is terrible, and getting worse. But I simply cannot believe that 1 in 13 children are homeless. That equates to two children in every classroom in America. When a statistic is so discordant from any perception, whether direct experience or indirect reading, the result is not to heighten awareness and concern for a problem. It results in us discounting the entire message.

Later the same day, I read an internet notice that 40% of all children in Massachusetts suffer food insecurity. To be sure, I do not suffer food insecurity. However, I work in a Food Bank, pack and deliver boxes to all sorts of folks in need. So I know that, despite living in one of the most affluent cities in America, hunger exists too often in too many places. But 40%—ten or twelve children in every classroom in America—is so incredible as to cast doubt. An internet search reveals that childhood hunger in America varies from 6% to 9% to 13% to 20%. Any of those percentages are too high for a nation that calls itself civilized, but none approach the 40% figure that was obviously heralded to capture attention.

I decided to explore the definition of ‘food insecurity” and discovered that, in many surveys, it is a self-described condition. A person with an empty pantry should surely describe themselves as food insecure. Then again, I met a person all agitated because Whole Foods did not have the array of lettuces she desired. Would they self-describe as food insecure?

Others may chide me that conservatives also exaggerate, often with even more outlandish statements and statistics. I totally agree. However, to quote my wondrous mother, “Two wrongs do not make a right.” Since I argue progressive points more often than conservative ones, I seek reasoning that’s valid rather than pumped up.

Each of these examples illustrate how progressives damage their own agenda through exaggeration, whether through inflated statistics of woe or by normalizing exceptions as the rule. When Bob Dylan sang, “I pity the poor immigrant who wished he’d stayed at home,” he connected with that particular immigrant for whom a new land, a new language, resulted in diminished humanity. He did not smatter that pathos over all immigrants. I wonder why Ms. Mirashrafi feels the need to do so when, to me, it dilutes her entire argument.

When the lights went down, I watched English. It’s a good play, though not as gripping as I hoped. Oddly, the play proved Ms. Mirashrafi’s notes even more inappropriate than my initial perception. On the surface, English may be a play about learning a foreign tongue. But it’s universal appeal is in five specific characters, striving to be their fullest selves, by making connection in their fullest humanity.

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Let’s Make Guns the New Tobacco

I came of age in the era of glamorous smoking. Forty-six percent of Americans—including nearly everyone that mattered—smoked cigarettes. I gave my parents curlicued ashtrays as birthday gifts. Their friends offered each other glittery lighters. And of course, everyone in the movies was cloaked in an alluring, smoky haze. When Lana Turner, or Bette Davis, or James Dean, or Dean Martin lit up, Joe Smoe in the mezzanine wanted to be just like them.

When the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report stated that smoking causes cancer, few even knew what a Surgeon General was. Suddenly, the title was on everyone’s lips. A few people stopped smoking immediately. Most tried and failed. Smoking cessation became a cottage industry. Habits die hard.

I can recall walking MIT’s infinite corridor in 1973 and seeing the American Cancer Society’s poster, “Smoking is Very Glamourous.” The impact of the slogan and its discordant image was immediate. Yet smoking remained socially acceptable and ubiquitous. As late as 1986, the guy at the desk across from me in a major architectural firm lit up all day long. But research on second-hand smoke rallied non-smokers to action. Within three years, the firm created to a ‘smoking lounge’ alternative that soon buckled into a full-on ‘no smoking’ policy. Smokers became pariahs, marooned on the bleak sidewalks of Boston winters.

More than fifty years since the Surgeon General’s report, our societal views on smoking have come full circle. Today, only 18% of Americans smoke, less than half as many as when I was a child.

What created this tidal change? Science. And publicity. In a consumer society, saturated with advertising messages, the fact that smoking causes cancer is not enough to change behavior. It took warnings on cigarette packages and decades of public service campaigns to change our understanding that “smoking is very glamourous” is an oxymoron, if not an outright lie.

Today, gun violence is killing too many of our fellow citizens, while stirring fear in the rest of us. No amount of dead Sandy Hook first graders, Columbine high schoolers, Orlando night club revelers, or Las Vegas concert goers can move the needle of gun control. Stats alone will not create the change demanded of this crisis. We need a public health campaign to change our collective perception of guns.

A recent article it the Boston Globe opened my eyes to how we are losing this PR campaign. Smith & Wesson used to target their ads to hunters and sportsmen. Now they focus on fear, and gun sales soar.

In 1964 people were shocked, shocked, to learn that a central element of our society was killing us. It took decades to turn the glamour of smoking on its head. In 2022 we know full well that a cornerstone of our democracy—the right to bear arms—has been contorted beyond reason. We witness the deaths caused by this violence, and are only beginning to understand the psychic toll all these guns are taking on our children and our communities.

Once upon a time we thought smoking was glamourous. Now we know it only causes cancer. Today we consume a steady diet of ads that proclaim guns make us safe, even as statistics show that owning a gun only makes you more likely to die by a gun. But humans are stubborn, irrational creatures, and facts alone won’t change our behavior. We need to counter the myths with a public health campaign and change our nation’s attitudes about guns. We know how to do it; we have done it before. We can do it again.

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World AIDS Day: Words and Images of Provincetown AIDS Memorial


holding Jerry, though he’s already gone,

Marie holding John, gone, Maggie holding

her John, gone, Carlos and Darren

holding another Michael, gone

and I’m holding Wally, who’s going.

Atlantis” Mark Doty

Transcendence might be the term Emerson would lend it.

What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t lonely.

R.I.P. My Love” Tory Dent

Look: I am building absence

out of this room’s air

Drawing from Life” Reginald Shepherd

We are all made of

our own people laying names on the ground

Naming the Elements” Michael Klein

Most of it happened without music, the click of the spoon from the kitchen,

someone talking, somebody sleeping

Someone watching somebody sleep.

Without Music” by Marie Howe

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Let Us Give Thanks

Kudos to my friend, Docey Lewis, for sending me this poem. I plan to read it at our Thanksgiving table. It is doubly appropriate since I will be celebrating with a gentleman farmer.


Let us give thanks for a bounty of people

For children who are our second planting

and though they grow like weeds

and the wind too soon blows them away,

May they forgive us our cultivation

and remember fondly where their roots are.

Let us give thanks:

For generous friends, with hearts as big as hubbards

and smiles as bright as their blossoms;

For feisty friends as tart as apples;

For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers,

keep reminding us we’ve had them;

For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb

and as indestructible;

For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants

and as elegant as a row of corn,

and the others, as plain as potatoes and so good for you;

For funny friends, who are as silly as Brussels sprouts

and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes,

and serious friends, as complex as cauliflowers

and as intricate as onions;

For friends as unpretentious as cabbages,

as subtle as summer squash,

as persistent as parsley,

as delightful as dill,

as endless as zucchini,

and who, like parsnips,

can be counted on to see you throughout the winter;

For old friends,

nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time

and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;

For loving friends, who wind around us like tendrils

and hold us, despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;

And finally, for those friends now gone,

like gardens past that have been harvested,

but who fed us in their times

that we might have life thereafter;

For all these we give thanks.

            — Max Coots

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Theater Dread: The Talk Back

The other night, I got stuck. Fourth row center at a performance of Ian Ruskin’s one-person show, To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine.

I was excited to see this show, presented by the Associates of the Boston Public Library. I have been a huge Thomas Paine fan ever since the fourth grade, when I read a juvenile biography of the man who used the pen, rather than the sword, to achieve independence. For over fifty years, whenever asked who my hero was, the answer has always been: Thomas Paine. I’ve written about him in this blog (Common Sense and On January 6: The Wisdom of Thomas Paine). A few years ago I felt an even closer connection to my hero when I discovered Edward G. Gray’s book, Tom Paine’s Iron Bridge: Building a United States. The guy was not only a persuasive writer, he was also an enlightened architect/engineer!

The play was excellent history, if not exactly compelling theater. Mr. Ruskin moved between three set pieces, representing England, the United States, and France: the three place Thomas Paine lived through his long and chaotic life. As an Enlightenment idealist with little formal education and no interest or ability to make a buck, Thomas Paine enjoyed universal fame, huge sales (for which he abandoned copyright according to his principles), scandal, and imprisonment. He was feted for bringing the intellectual underpinnings of the America Revolution to the average man in the colonies, and later doing the same for the peasant in the French Revolution. Yet, in each case, he was later denounced by the government that took hold, as well as the one that was overthrown. He died penniless and unknown. To this day, the location of his remains is a mystery.

After a satisfying 75 minutes of history brought to life, Mr. Ruskin stood aside while the lights dimmed. Then stood forward as they came back up, and asked for questions.

I looked about, trapped. As much as I love theater, I detest Q&A’s, and talkbacks are even worse. The way I see it, Mr. Ruskin researched his subject, wrote the play, and performed it admirably. He had 75 minutes to tell us what he wanted to say, in the manner he chose. What can possibly be improved upon by following his stirring close with the mutterings of audience members who either missed points because they weren’t paying attention; or worse, introduce queries spouted wide of the mark.

In previous experience, performances that will include a talkback note that on the program. When that’s the case, I sit on the aisle to facilitate a speedy exit. Even then, custom dictates a five-minute break between the play and the Q&A, to allow those of us who wish to exit. BPL did neither of these. Thus, I was stuck, fourth row center, to listen to forty-five minutes of audience members pontificating what they knew about Thomas Paine, before offering poor Mr. Ruskin some stale question.

I don’t know who invented the talkback. I imagine it was someone’s engaging notion of participatory theater. I don’t mind if they occur, so long as I am forewarned and can escape. Hopefully, with the power of the playwright’s words and the actor’s revelations still resonating in my head.

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The Step Ladder of a Free and Open Society

Why do people care so much—to the point of hatred, even violence—what other people do? Even when it has little direct bearing on their lives? Why do people hate gay people, transgender people, people of color, and people who get abortions? It makes no logical sense: exerting so much energy hating someone whose actions barely impinge on yours.

That fact that I am gay is completely independent of whatever moral or religious perspective you choose. Although I have no personal experience or insight into what motivates a person to be transgender, I can understand that it’s a momentous decision; and so I must respect any fellow human being who makes that change with care and deliberation. There is no more objective reason to disdain a person with dark skin than there is to favor a person with fair hair, beyond millennia of human history that bolster both of those prejudices. And whether I decide to bring a child into this world (if, alas, I could) has nothing whatsoever to do with your moral perspective. By all means, live by the moral code of your choice. But why put it on me?

I am, of course, being flip here. We all know why people care so much about what other people do. Fear. We are all so fricking insecure that we need others to be like us, to think like us, to act like us.

I can imagine how this fear might be internally generated, perhaps as consequence of bad experiences. But for most of us, most of the time, this fear is externally applied by a culture awash in advertising; alternative facts; dubious economics; and tried-and-true political ploys. For over two thousand years, Julius Caesar’s dictum—divide and conquer—has proven to be infallible advice.

Sometimes, we can trace our hate of the ‘other’ as an actual hindrance in our lives. I don’t like vaccine-deniers, smokers, and morbidly obese adults who pump up my health insurance premiums by their slack behavior. Yet I hold my tongue because I realize their impact on me is at best, a second order effect (just like the pablum that immigrants will steal your job or gays will convert your children). More importantly, I have to acknowledge that my monkish behavior is not a viable universal model. We need to grant each other some grace, even celebrate the fact that we are quirky in our own ways.

When we stop considering others as evils to be controlled, or even annihilated, we can begin to ascend what I call the step ladder to a free and open society. The dominant feature of any autocratic society is that it establishes hierarchies that pit people against each other. That is how the rulers stay on top. Meanwhile, the dominant feature of any open society is that it acknowledges all as equal participants. To be sure, there has never been a society on earth that truly meets this definition of a free and open society. Some, like the United States, aspire to that ideal in theory while falling far short in fact. Others, like Iran, make no such pretense.

So where are we, the United States of America, on this step ladder of openness today? I give us a middle rung spot. We tolerate differences: just barely. And we’re quick to use them as political and economic lightning rods. And there’s ample evidence (see Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) that our position on the tolerance rung is shaky.

Yesterday, the US endured the mid-term election. It appears, the houses of Congress will be split. To me, this signifies two more years of rancorous non-doing. Perhaps we will hold on to some modicum of tolerance. Yet we are far from moving up to a rung of accepting others however they wish to live. Because let’s face it, the ladder of treating all humans with mutual respect is a precarious one. The higher up one climbs towards embracing all, the more difficult it is to keep it steady.

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HGTV Eco-Extreme: Precious Edition

Gracious Producers,

HGTV has thrived for over twenty-five years with programs based upon the simplistic premise that every house in the US of A demands to be gutted, open-flowed, and subsequently trimmed out with rustic mantels, pickled floors, and media centers. Not to mention granite. Madagascar-size islands of granite. Your formula is genius: product placement that scratches the itch that every one of us still slumming in the doldrums of 2019’s Color of the Year. What was Metropolitan, really? At best: timid taupe. In reality: drab grey. Three years on, it’s so boring everyone in America pines to repaint. But I digress.

What HGTV needs is a fresh formula. A rebuttal to those astronomically profitable shows rutted in the identical plotline: churn our yearn for excitement into a crave for interior glitz that leads (inevitably) to demolition to create space, space, space for a bunch of new stuff, stuff, stuff so when the reveal unfolds, the wife cry tears of joy. Everything—except her blotchy face—looks fabulous as the camera pans.

HGTV should consider diversifying into that miniscule market niche of non-consumers. The contra-demographic. The sustainability audience aching for a net-zero dream.

Everything about Eco-Extreme flips the successful HGTV formula on its head. Start with the hosts. Forget another burly builder-type with a massive beard with his petite, bubbly designer wife. The hosts of Eco-Extreme will be Luis and Maria, the Fix-it gurus from Sesame Street. They may not be as young and photogenic as during their forty-four years on public television. And Luis is, in fact, dead. But resilience is all about bringing new purpose to life. The pair will recycle beautifully.

Every property Maria and the ghost of Luis renovate will reuse 100% of the materials already in place. What few fresh materials are required will be so locally sourced, a child can deliver them with a little red wagon, carefully protected by a biodegradable container. Nothing plastic will ever taint Eco-Extreme.

Eco-Extreme will also break new ground for HGTV by abandoning the climatic demolition scene currently embedded in each half hour. We will rekindle that ancient and treasured totem: the room. No more bowling alley wannabe’s where last night’s dirty dishes are in full view of the sofa and the Barcalounger and the dining table. Gone is the acoustical tug-of-war between the kitchen appliances and the television—every function will have its place, it won’t ooze into other spaces.

I realize that the demolition scene is an essential and dramatic moment in every HGTV renovation show. Eco-Extreme tackles demolition at a completely different scale. One that demands more subtle, nuanced camera work. No more action shots of hirsute guys yielding crowbars and axes. Instead, steady hands burnish 200 count sand paper over yellowed lacquer on natural ash woodwork. Imagine the television audiences’ gasp as the natural luster returns. Even more thrilling will be deleading an ornamental mantle with a dental pic. Bringing ancestral hardwood that has been encased in lead for over a hundred years back to life will make the audience swoon, despite the high-ventilation fans whirling to make this dangerous work safe to the white-suit encased artisans.

Eco-Extreme: Precious Edition embraces the notion that when a family purchases a heritage colonial, or a turreted Victorian, or an Arts & Crafts bungalow, that’s actually the style they want. They seek a delight that unfolds, room by room instead of blowing everything on a grand first impression that takes in front door to back yard in one grand sweep, leaving the occupants to wonder, the moment the cameras leave, whether Peggy Lee was right after all. Is That All There Is?

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Bringing the World to Me

Next week, we’re having dinner with an organic farmer from Australia. Last week, a nurse from the Philippines shared the antics of that country’s infamous ruling family Marcos. Last month, a Russian geology student, nearing the end of the H-1 visa he received just before the Ukraine War erupted, was anxious to avoid what he referred to as, “the situation,” upon returning home. Over the summer, a lovely couple from the Czech Republic offered us a glimpse young people untarnished from ever living under Soviet influence. Another weekend, a Brazilian museum curator marveled us with the beauty of Belo Horizonte, a city of 3 million people which, probably like many Americans, I’d never heard of.

Vinicius implored us to come visit Belo Horizonte, just as Furkun invited us to Istanbul, and Sara wants to tour us around Prague. (Interestingly, Artem did not suggest we visit Ufa, Russia.)

Invitations notwithstanding, I doubt I’ll be visiting any of those places anytime soon, as I have no desire to travel anywhere. One of the last lingering habits of my pandemic existence seems to be an extreme contentment in being at home. Yet I’m curious as ever about the world around me. So, instead of traveling, my housemate and I have opened our doors to couchsurfers, who brings the world to us.

“Couchsurfing” is a term that means offering a traveler a place to crash for a few nights. It’s also a web site (www.couchsurfing.com). It’s also a mindset, a way of being, a demonstration of living outside the norms of individual privacy that infect these United States.

I first learned about couchsurfing back in 2015, when a former hippie I met in Oregon told me I could find places to stay while bicycling throughout the country. She jumpstarted my immersion by providing my first reference. Over the next year I stayed with dozens of couchsurfing hosts all over the country. I did not have any dangerous experiences, though I will admit to several weird ones. Some people offer you a guest suite with a basket of warm muffins in the morning; others eat their dinner right out of the pan and don’t offer you a bite. Gun owners like to show off their racks; Mormons like to show off their children. The key to enjoying couchsurfing is: have no expectations and welcome every host as an adventure.

When I returned home it took a while to convince my housemate that he would enjoy hosting couchsurfers. If you haven’t done it, it can sound a bit odd. Over the next few years, several people I had stayed with across America came to Cambridge; and stayed with us. Finally, my housemate admitted that he liked them all, and agreed to list us as “Accepting Guests” on the couchsurfing website. When the pandemic hit, there were no guests to accept. Gradually, that has changed. We got a trickle of requests, hosted a few nice folks; the trickle became a river; and these days the requests are nearing flood proportion.

Our objective is to host one or two people a month. We always do that, and sometimes more. We could easily host two or three guests a week. So far, our hosting experience mirrors my experience as a guest: no dangerous people, a few oddballs, mostly awesome folks.

Choosing who to accept is a bit of a challenge; a bit of a game. First criteria: instinct. If something seems off, it probably is, and you don’t want to invite your worries into your own home. Second: profile. What has this person said about themselves and their travels to the world? If someone’s profile is mostly blank, I’m not likely to invite them. Third: references. We will not invite anyone to stay with us who does not have references from other hosts. I realize that this is a Catch-22 for people new to couchsurfing, but positive references are the currency of this community. You must be clever to get your first ones, but then they multiply. I have 55 positive references in my profile; some people have hundreds. We don’t require anywhere near that number, but a person needs to have at least a few.

If someone interesting meets those criteria, we are likely to invite them. If it’s a time when we receive many requests, we up the ante and read their ‘ask’ with more interest. Did they customize their request to reflect what’s in my profile? Does their request align with what we offer? Our profile is clear: we accept guest for one or two nights only. We’re not likely to accept anyone seeking a full week unless they make a truly compelling ask.

Aside from only wanting short-term couchsurfers, we offer a great stay. A private guest room. Good access to public transportation. And, we always have our guest join us for dinner at least one night. The point of couchsurfing is not simply to provide lodging for someone travelling on the cheap. It’s to share stories, opinions, learn how other people live.

For two years of my life, I was the traveler who arrived on his bicycle with stories of adventure in the wide world. These days, I’m disinclined to be that person. Instead, I prefer being the host, and hearing about lives all over the world from the comfort of my kitchen.

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