It's amazing how easily one can get used to a situation, how habits are formed, how even the most bizarre can become normal without you realising it.
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Here I am, essentially in my living room, sitting next to 'the American guy', who is currently coming up on an acid trip and totally tripping balls. With the pretence of watching a Family Guy rerun we are both, in reality, wholly absorbed in what I can only call the self-performance of another of our 'roommates'. He sits with headphones on, utterly oblivious to the outside world, moving his left leg up, to the right and down, in perfect right angles, and then repeats with the right leg, and then back to the left in one smooth continuous motion, whilst tapping un-rhythmically on anything within reach. Poor American guy; this is weird enough for me, I cannot imagine how this is for him.
This is my Thursday night.
This scene is infrequently punctuated by the odd drunk bumbling through to use the toilets. Let me give a brief description of our setting here; the hostel is located above and next to a pub that is only ever inhabited by a maximum of 4 people at any time. It is, in a word, depressing; the atmosphere further exacerbated by the constant thump of horrendous music (with a repertoire of no more than seven songs) to which we are all nightly subjected to, as the walls shake throughout the building. We share our toilets with this pub, which means we are not only acquainted with the regular drunk intruders, but also the fragrance of urine that wafts in and out (without a direct correlation to the time and use of bathrooms), and the regular sound of urinals cleaning themselves (I didn't know what this noise was until I asked - I actually initially thought it was someone filling a laughing gas balloon, but no such luck ...)
Occasionally an outsider will stumble across Nico's looking for a casual drink, and will wish to use the toilet in the course of their visit. They enter our living room and walk though, watching us in understandable disbelief; in shock at finding this bunch of reprobates (us) sitting in what they expect to be the bathrooms. It is actually quite humorous; I cannot imagine how I would respond being on the other end of the scene, well-dressed and ready for an evening in the city, suddenly finding oneself in an actual hovel. However, on this side it leaves one feeling that we are part of some bizarre social experiment, the outside world looking in to see if people can cope in an environment such as this.
As I am writing this I realise that it all sounds horrible, and in hindsight I guess it was, but you really began not to notice it, and after several weeks this was normality, this, incredibly, was home. It became usual to have a bedroom that smelled like feet (not nice feet either, sweaty man feet), to sleep in a bed that had about three unbroken slats, to shower in a cubicle you were concerned you might catch an STD from, and to have to lock away your food as well as your valuables; to avoid theft and nibbling (from people and rodents alike).
I was there for 5 weeks in total, and despite my complaining it was not all that bad; it started to grate on me a bit being there for so long, but (amazingly) for the most part I actually didn't mind it. Mostly because we had free wifi and it was in a great location, but also because I met an interesting array of characters, and some lovely people too!
There were a handful of familiar faces who had been there from the start, but we saw an awful lot of people come and go. I don't know people by name, just their descriptions. Here are some of my most memorable 'house mates', as I knew them and would genuinely call them (not to their face though);
The american guy
That other american guy
Those two french dudes
THAT GUY - who was always wearing headphones and tapping on things (although I am pretty sure he was not listening to any music)
The troll - he really does look like a troll, particularly his small square feet
The guy who checked in with a hamster (he seriously checked in with a hamster, who I now imagine to be the king of the hostel's rodent underworld - the hamster that is, not the man)
The not-shifty-guy; so called because we all thought he looked suspicious and guilty, but it turned out that he is just super stoned and paranoid all the time, and is actually a really nice guy
The old lady; who sits and watches daytime tv about things like dog tailors (tailors for dogs, not dogs making clothing) and people buying or selling things for more or less than what they are actually worth
Free hugs guy; a French man who would stand in the city centre with a cardboard sign proclaiming the offer of 'Free Hugs', and constantly wore feathers in this hair (I really liked this guy, and was genuinely sad when he left)
The meth head; a pretty self-explanatory nickname
There was an element of camaraderie to be had staying somewhere so grimy; everyone trying to move out, and yet seemingly stuck there, unable to find somewhere else to go. At times it was almost like being part of a very weird family; who you really cant wait to get away from, and yet, somehow, you know you'll miss when you leave, if you leave.....
I must add here that if you have never stayed in a hostel before please do not be put off, this place is an exception, it is renown amongst the experienced Melbourne hostellers as the worst in the city. I would go as far as to say it is the worst in Australia, and I would not be surprised if it were the worst in the Western world. And yet I look back on my time with an element of nostalgia, and though I would NEVER EVER want to return, I am glad I was there and it was experience that I do not regret ... (except perhaps for the appearance of a rather ominous looking rash....)