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Natalia Lusinski is a willowy freelance TV script coordinator and producer's/writer's assistant who has worked on a handful of TV series, including Desperate Housewives, Without a Trace and Hung. Since February, the Chicago native with the wild grin has been crashing on friends' couches, claiming no permanent address. She has become a perpetual couch surfer.
Her lifestyle was born of necessity in a bad economy. Work slowed down. She couldn't afford her apartment. So Lusinski posted a simple query in a Facebook status update: Does anyone have a place where I could crash?
The responses yielded more offers — many from mere acquaintances — than she knew what to do with. Lusinski chose her favorites, with plans to try to stay with each one for a week.
"Moving in with friends — sometimes it feels like a hostel environment and other times it's like a gorgeous bed-and-breakfast," she says.
Lusinski has found that, while many of the people she's stayed with have lots of money, they are lonely and isolated in houses full of empty rooms.
"Every single couch or floor or guest room, every host has said, 'Oh, why don't you stay a few more days?' When I was working on these TV shows, 90 to 120 hours a week, I was so busy, I would only talk to people through texting or Facebook. So it's ironic to me that now I get all my housing from Facebook, but I'm learning to interact with people face to face, and text less."
A self-proclaimed hoarder before adopting her nomadic lifestyle, Lusinski has become a neat freak who has learned to live with less. Her beloved Mini used to be piled with stuff up to the windows. It now has empty seats, except for her one suitcase.
She always tries to help out around the house, and she makes a point of leaving a meaningful, personalized gift for every host.
Yet she bristles at having the reciprocity pushed too aggressively. One host canceled his regular weekly housecleaner when she was there, expecting her to do the chores. "He had all these expectations, and that's not an unconditional friendship," Lusinski says.
However, many hosts insist that she not lift a finger while staying, she says.
Lusinski has learned that it's not easy to cook for and eat with all of L.A.'s varied, extreme diets. Some people have only Muscle Milk in their cabinets, and others cook and shop so infrequently that their spices are full of bugs.
Sometimes the quirks are more intimate in nature. One couple left a To Do list on the kitchen table: "One, buy milk. Two, get paper for printer. Three, have a threesome."
"From then on I wondered if they had an ulterior motive for inviting me to stay with them," Lusinski says.
Other pitfalls: "After you stay with enough single guy friends and all of them — all of them — suggest, 'Oh, just sleep in my bed instead,' you start to not accept those invites. It's about couch surfing, not bed surfing."
Now she mainly sticks to women, couples, gay couples or people with kids; she'll soon be doing a few nights in a Catholic seminary.
The biggest benefits have come in the realm of friendship. The wife of a male friend — a woman she hadn't thought that highly of before — has become a trusted confidante. In another home, in Long Beach, the woman's teenage boys persuaded Lusinski to stay up late, watching Spike TV and playing video games. Reluctant at first, she grew to really appreciate the kids. "One of them wants to be a writer. I went to his tennis lesson. He was like my surrogate child, even though I'm not one of those girls obsessed with babies and children."
Lusinski recently found herself a highly promising boyfriend, after Facebook recommended him as a "friend." "This has also been a great way to weed out guys," she says, "because the ones who aren't artsy or creative just walk away when you tell them you don't have a regular address."
And, of course, because this is Los Angeles, her surfing has become something of a bohemian-lifestyle-adventure-meets-reality-TV–experiment. "The whole underlying theme of this is finding the home I never had as a child," she says.
She is working on a book, which she's calling 52 Weeks, 52 Couches: How I Slept My Way Through Hollywood (Without Sleeping With Anybody).