I Couchsurfed With a Nudist in Dublin
This one time, in Dublin, I found myself sleeping on a couch that belonged to a middle-aged white man who never wore any clothes. A nudist, living in the capital city of the Irish Republic.
For the few months prior, I had been working at a hostel in Belfast. I had been running pub-crawls for a 35-year-old South African man who ate a microwavable steak for dinner every night and washed it down with a bottle of whisky. Despite this, the gout that was developing in his right leg continually dumbfounded him. At the time, I was growing increasingly concerned of my complacency. “Backpackers aren’t mean to stay in one place for more than two months,” I said to myself, naively dreaming up the next wild adventure I would embark on. This youthful stupidity, combined with a virtually non-existent bank balance and a liver that may have imploded in on itself if met with another drop of Frosty Jack’s, led me to what seemed the most sensible option: a week away in Dublin – couchsurfing.
For those of you unfamiliar with couchsurfing, it’s a website that links wayward travellers up with people who have couches designated to the spontaneous crashing of randoms. In many cases, these hosts are wayward travellers themselves who have just grown up. I’d met upwards of 100 people during my stint as ‘pub crawl guy’ in Belfast, and many of them had positive things to say about couchsurfing. “We stayed with a philosophy professor who grew his own beetroots,” claimed two American arts students. “I saved 35 pounds a day when I couchsurfed my way through London,” boasted some Spanish guy. Encouraged by these testimonials, I logged on and began scrolling through the haphazard blotches of humanity that present on such a site.
I tried to be meticulous throughout my selection process. Sadly, being a homo on the road does equip you with an unwanted sense of vulnerability. Not the same sort many females will attest to having felt on ventures through India, but something closer to what one might feel in the passenger seat when the driver has a rat’s tail. You’re about 95 percent sure everything will be okay, but there’s still that chip on your shoulder that says, “This guy could scream out profanities at innocent pedestrians with prams at any second,” or in my case, “I wonder if they’ll hate me when they find out I’m gay,” because you know – society, etc.
With this in mind, I narrowed down my potential hosts to two options: a girl called Lorna, who had a Kiss logo permanently inked on her face; and Dave, a gay, middle-aged office worker who enjoyed literature, a quiet wine, beaches on cold days and being in the nude. After a quick brief with my hostel roomies Meg and Charlotte, I decided that the lady with “FUCK YEAH GENE SIMMONS” in her About Me section would probably be the safer option. I emailed her; she was cool and I was set. Something something mice and men…
Five days later and I’m on a bus headed to Dublin. If you’ve never taken public transport in The Irish Republic, you really should. It’s an eclectic mix of third-generation gypsies, matching tracksuits and old couples who get nostalgic at the Gaelic that subtitles every road sign.
I’m about 10 kilometres out of town when Lorna texts me: “Hi Henry. I forgot to ask my housemates if it was cool that you came and stayed. Turns out they’re not so down with it. So our couch won’t be available for you. Soz. Lol.”
The word “fuck” bounced silently between my teeth and bottom lip. Going into emergency response, I jumped on the email and sent a call for help to my only lifeline – Dave, the nudist. He was at work and responded straight away.
“Sure Henry, that’s fine. Here’s my address, I’ll be home at around six.” I breathed a sigh of relief and began Google Mapping my route to his house.
He lived in a soulless, “newly-developed” apartment complex about five kilometres from the CBD. From memory, it even had one of those trash-bag names like “Dolphin Springs” or whatever. It looked like it had been Command+C Command+V right from the outer-suburbs of Hong Kong. The manufactured humanity that confronted me on arrival was a world from the diddly-dee cliché I had been hoping for. I found Block 6, Apartment 2, Floor 10 and knocked on his door, strangely calm, all things considered.
He opened the door and there it was. Cock. 40 years in age and with enough droopy foreskin to bunch together twenty sprigs of asparagus. Now, I’m not against penis by any means. In fact, I’m one of the biggest advocates of it, but unless we’re mid-way through an orgy or you’re James Franco, there really is no need to introduce yourself to me with your dick out. Nevertheless, there it was: Dave’s bedraggled vanilla willy, rusty scrotum in toe.
“Hi, I’m Dave,” he said, holding out his hand. I shook it. The hand. Nervously. Before long, he was in, making me a cup of tea and telling me about his favorite gay clubs in Dublin, all the while with his schlong just slappin’ around in the open. I tried to pretend he had clothes on. I couldn’t, because he didn’t. Moments when we were both sitting down and he stood up to get something, leaving me in a prime turkey-slapping position, were particularly daunting.
Soon enough, we embarked on a casual trip to Tesco’s to pick up some things for dinner. He was going to cook spaghetti bolognese. I know what you’re thinking, and yes – he did put on clothes to leave the house because, you know, the law and junk. The trip to Tesco’s was, due to events bygone, one of the more harrowing. I struggled to avert my eyes from the cucumber section. Cans of deodorant suddenly had all-new meaning. Packets of processed sausages – need I say more? Phalluses became an all-immersive, inescapable oxygen that I was forced to breathe in. Dicks, everywhere.
After this, we came home and he prepared, cooked, ate and cleaned away dinner, entirely devoid of any clothing. I wore an extra jacket. As the night wore on and we’d had a few vodkas, I began to relax. I started asking him about his life as a nudist: the beaches he’d sat on, the resorts he’d seen and the problems he’d encountered. His life was by all means, completely normal. He had stories of heartbreak aplenty, a relatively dysfunctional family and a job he had once enjoyed and was now indifferent towards. I began to wonder if Dave was, despite the nudity, just like the rest of us. Was I beginning to warm to Dave, the man with no clothes and a foreskin the size of a Country Road scarf?
I became increasingly curious. Surely there must have been something I was missing. What was lacking in this man’s life that he had to search for liberation in this way? I thought back through what I already knew: Dave hadn’t come out until he was 24, but it was a different time then. The AIDS epidemic was in full swing and the hippies of the sixties had grown up. There was a conservative shift on the horizon when he acknowledged his sexuality and this stopped me from boxing him as the sort to refute his sexual suppression of the past by not wearing any clothes in the present.
What else did I know? His first same-sex experience was with a bikie in a Berlin park at three in the morning. He’d taken ecstasy and danced on Coogee beach. He’d had relationships with a number of painters. There was little to explain Dave’s keenness to treat his wang as though it was precious sunflower that required ample access to fresh air for survival. I had more questions than I did answers in my attempt to understand Dave’s attatchment to the nudist lifestyle.
The next day, I found a scrapbook underneath the couch I had been sleeping on. While I know that my curiosity is certainly strong enough to kill a cat, when presented with a middle-aged nudist living in Dublin, it’s probably more mass feline genocide that you’ve got on the cards. I couldn’t help myself. I flicked through the pages with haste, desperately hoping to find a diary entry about rape or confessions about his disgust at the Irish middle-class – something, anything to help me explain Dave’s determination to keep his dick out.
The snooping, as usual, proved futile. Nothing. I felt the slow onset of realisation coming on – maybe Dave was a regular guy, but one who just liked being in the nude. Maybe I’d just been presented with something new, rather than something weird. It’s easy to confuse the foreign and the abnormal.
I wish this story ended with me having an epiphany about social constructs and how they alter our perceptions of the world, but sadly, things with Dave took a turn for the worst. Later that night, he confronted me about whether or not I had read through his scrapbook. He had noticed that a photograph had fallen off one of the pages. He knew it hadn’t just fallen off, it was an occurrence caused by the presence of unwanted eyes. Dave spat his words at me in frustration – “Do you take me for an idiot?”
Unsure of what to do, I left the house for a few hours and wandered aimlessly alongside the man-made lake that moated the boarders of Dolphin Springs, which kept the spirit of Dublin outside and the coldness of the apartments in. I felt guilty, as though I were rotting away. Still without a plan, I trudged back to Dave’s house, abrasive, unsure and dreadfully sorry, mainly for myself.
The tension between us for the rest of the night was almost unbearable. He made silverside with undercooked boiled vegetables. I sat in silence. I packed away the dishes. He sat in silence. The fact he was naked became secondary to the guilt complex that engulfed me. The white noise was unbearable, but from it, came passages of thought about what a strange, tumultuous relationship I was having with this man. The fact that I’d only known him for less than two days cast a frightening shadow over the future.
I’m not sure about what happened next, or why, if my confusion is to be more closely understood. As we sat down to watch a movie, the title of which I can no longer recall, Dave started asking me if I’d like to take my clothes off. He wasn’t looking at me, just lying on the adjacent couch, slowly playing with himself. As though he was talking to the TV about his most mundane plans, he asked out loud, “Henry, are you sure you don’t want to take your clothes off?”
He would check every five minutes to make sure I hadn’t changed my mind. I sat with my hands wrapped around my torso, my hands tucked firmly beneath my arms, while my face grew red and the hairs on the back of my neck began to stand. I was hot but I couldn’t have felt more unsexy. Was this strange form of violation a punishment for what I had done? Was this pressure a consequence for the way I had snooped through his memories, after he’d been so kind as to take me into his home?
It went on and on for about 90 minutes. He kept rubbing himself, asking me over and over “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I would say the same thing every time
“No thanks, I’m all good”, trying to smile on the upward infliction at the end of “good”. Eventually, almost two hours later, Dave retreated and went to bed. I surfed the couch, praying he wouldn’t come back in.
Staring at the roof that night, the air felt heavy. Dave, the nudist, who had seemed like a normal guy, began embellishing himself in a much darker corner of my mind.
I remember catching the bus home to Belfast and feeling so bewildered by everything that had happened. I had packed up the next morning and found myself an alternative couch to crash on with some cool indie rockers who were all studying to be doctors, friends-of-friends of my American chums, Meg and Charlotte, who were back at the hostel in Northern Ireland. Those boys looked after me and I will be forever grateful. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll ever be certain about my feelings toward Dave. I had done the wrong thing and been punished by the universe in a way I had never imagined.
So I guess the lesson learned here is to avoid couch surfing with nudists, especially in places where the summer is short. But then again, maybe you should – it certainly challenges whatever you think.