The Joys of Hostels
01.09.2013 - 01.09.2013
“Can I bleach your hair?” she asks me.
“Ah, nah, I’m good,” I say with a forced, carefree attitude along the lines of I would, but not today.
“Please? I have some left over. What about some highlights?” she asks with wide eyes.
“Ah no thanks,” I say and continue brushing my teeth in the hostel bathroom.
It was my own fault. My own curiosity had gotten the better of me and I had to ask Blanche DuBois her story. I had to know why a middle-aged woman was whimpering herself to sleep at all hours of the day surrounded by bags of belongings.
A simple bag lady you may say. Keep your distance you may say.
It was the piles of new books scattered amongst her junk that piqued my curiosity, a drunk hobo doesn't typically read Macbeth, not in my experience anyway. Part of me was saying, do what you do best and remain anti-social but then a bigger part of me was saying, she appears homeless yet she is a fan of the bard with a beard, my god girl you need to know.
And that is how my friendship with Sunset Boulevard started. She was entirely neurotic, dramatic and as it turned out, she wasn't a drunk at all, she doesn't drink because she’s scared of irreparable liver damage and premature death, obviously. She had been in Chicago visiting someone and fell off a chair changing a light bulb and broken a finger and hurt her back, thus the groans and the whimpers.
So she wasn't a hobo, but I still wasn't sure what side of sanity she fell on, whether her apparent craziness was concussion, drama, or neurosis or perhaps a combination thereof. I think she was concussed and she was worried the same thing that happened to Miranda Richardson would happen to her. That she would have an aneurysm and die from a blow to the head. She meant Natasha by the way, I realised this when she started bumbling on about how lovely Liam Neeson is.
I have been wondering on this trip when I simply won’t be able to stay in a hostel any longer because I will be too old and bitter. I already rarely talk to people, I will move if you start playing beer pong near me and conversing loudly and I will aggressively unpack a full drying rack of dishes while muttering about the lousy youth of today, so it can’t be far off.
It is the cheap accommodation and the people watching that keeps me coming back. I'm not overly social and will go unnoticed by the frat party in the common area but I do tend to collect some hostel odd bods because I have one of those faces that’s comforting to crazy people; non-threatening and polite with a friendly ear for their life’s woes.
One of the main reasons I prefer conversing with these people is that the initial conversation doesn't involve obnoxious questions like, “so do you party?”
Instead I get someone say, “Do you have time? I don’t want to keep you. Please just let me tell you about the time I met Yoko Ono real quick”.
Well, yes I do, let me sit back down and get comfortable because I need to see how this one pans out.
Blanche DuBois was frail, manic depressive and a washed up actress (I'm not even kidding) it took a while to get her full story because there was some cray cray in there. She would tell me about raising her daughter in New York and using her ex-husband’s membership to get into the Guggenheim (because art galleries were their playground) but then in the next breath tell me she got hit by a car a few years ago and should be dead but she survived because she was wearing a knitted turtleneck and a puffy jacket.
She was misery personified. Her bleached hair stood straight out and she did her make-up with the heavy eye-liner and rouged cheeks of a washed up actress in a film.
We had chatted briefly then I ran into her in the bathroom. I caught her staring at me through the mirror as I cleaned my teeth. Her conclusion was that because I have blue eyes I must have been blonde as a child and she really wanted to bleach my hair in the hostel bathroom and I guess return me to my roots, literally.
I had to convince her that there is not an ounce of blondeness in my blood and that I would look terrible as a blonde.
I felt bad not letting her bleach my hair, I feel now, looking back it might have really made her day but at the time I really couldn't be certain that she wouldn't bleach my hair, then cut it all off and sew herself a wig so she could play the lead in Legally Blonde the musical.
But being the caring individual I am, I reached out a hand, and literally used it to help her fasten her brace on her broken finger.
Hostel friends really are one of a kind. It’s precisely this kind of experience that will keep me in hostels at least a little longer because only in a hostel will a stranger want to bleach your hair, or ask to borrow $30 after a long, day old friendship, or check in with nothing but a garbage bag of possessions, or give you their phone number scrawled on the back of their therapist's business card so you can discuss Australian travel tips.
Of course every now and then you meet wonderful people in a hostel and sandwiched between the middle-aged neurotic bunk buddies I did. But for the most part, for me a big part of the appeal of hostel living is the crazy people and the good stories that come from meeting them.
Why would I want to talk to my peers when I can talk Kadinsky, mental health and divorce with someone who was on stage and screen and was almost the face of Alaskan tourism? (It didn't pan out)