Living in a hostel invites a very different style of social life. It’s speed dating, but with less dating, and more of the mundane conversations about nothing.
Eventually you talk so much about nothing, nothing becomes important. You learn a language of one-liners that do little to reflect your character, because everyone’s judging the shit out of you. You’re judging the shit out of everyone. It grows into a competitive arms race to see who can pick out the most details about another person with hand-gestures and one-liners.
It’s an environment where you are going to forget everyone you meet. Choose carefully, how friendly you wish to become.
It’s been a week. The place is small, so I’m familiar with almost everyone here. There’s some strange man-competition going on most of the time, since there’s a large male majority; a few get drunk, depressed and lonely, and have their shot at flirting with the Australian barmaid. I insist there should be a hidden jar behind the bar, with a sign reading ‘pay a pound if you ask out the barmaid’. Isn’t this sexist? But no worries, guys. I’ve philosophically justified it in my last post. Inequality, solved. Everyone can calm down now, or start worrying about the energy crisis.
Now, even the blue-eyed babies know, the barmaid’s job is to reject you. Everyone growing a bit dull from all of the rejections, one evening, instead decided to try conversations with other people, who weren’t good-looking Australians. A group of us ended up in the kitchen, sharing stories from our travels.
Among us was a 23 year old London squatter. His accommodation, and lifestyle, was to find a group or community, and move in with them to an abandoned building. My understanding of it is that their stay remains legal, so long as there is always someone present in the building. Therefore a community was needed.
I’d heard a good deal about squatters before; a popular article a few years ago told the story of a few dozen squatters having taken over an unused central-London mansion, owned by, the paper called him, a ‘Russian Oligarch’. It all sounded very activist, political, kind-of-happy-go-lucky ‘yeah, if we band together we can beat the system!’.
Of course, as all of the green-eyed babies know,
squats are mostly full of drugs.
I’m sure the anarchist idealist versions exist; the mansion story wouldn’t have taken off if its front-page picture was full of stoners. I was raised in a dead-end town. I learned early in my life, never trust a druggie. I’ll put my squatting plans on hold until I find some hippy group trying it, who stay away from the drugs. I’m a big nerd. I don’t even drink.
Things turned flirtatious when two French women joined us for the talk; they were backpackers, and were some of the only young women in the place. I tell you, this was a hostel in Sodom. Maybe it was because – you know – the French – but even the bespectacled 30-something Canadian who I played chess with had been asking me about ‘the chicks’.
The flirtatious environments of bars (and even colleges) had been another one of those things that I’d left behind by travelling. Even then, I’ve avoided bars in my social life, and I dropped out of college when I realised I was slowly dying. But while I like to complain cynically about random bar-flirting, I have to admit I enjoyed just how much everyone was talking about themselves.
In the kitchen everyone was quick to admit who they were, or rather who we should see them as. The Englishman was the aforementioned squatter. He left school as soon as he could, at 16. Worked some random job while living with his parents, until at 18 he decided one day to move to Barcelona in the morning. He spoke barely any Spanish, but got by speaking English while dumpster-diving and squatting around Spain.
‘You didn’t strike me as a squatter’, I told him.
‘It’s because I have a middle-class accent, right?’ he answered.
Indeed, this was some skinny Brit, with clean brown hair and a pair of sleek glasses. He was raised in a town, hours outside of London, and his family lived comfortably. Him, he was an expert hobo.
He’d given up on the drink and drugs from his squatting days, and so for once he was staying in a hostel where the environment was, obviously, cleaner. Now his plans were to hitch-hike around Germany, because until now he’d always just stayed for months at a time squatting in cities.
One Italian declared himself as a tattoo artist. He’d worked in that position in Rome, but most shops in London dismissed him without even looking at his profile. It’s frankly my opinion that Londoners don’t want to recruit foreigners to actual good positions, and I believe this was the source o the difficulty he encountered.
He knew, knew very well, how to live with nothing. Survive in a miserable job, even endure bad people. From his stories, I don’t think I’ve encountered a man before so persistent. Or, simply, enduring.
He knew he would settle down. He knew he wanted children. And he knew they would live off his income. However he would do it, he was certain he wanted some way to raise children well. My father was a rich man, and did what he needed, but spent his savings renting a Ford Mustang on his honeymoon after he re-married. The Italian artist, he’d lived his life, and he knew what he wanted to do. He knew what he would do. A purposed man.
Friends. Kill. For purpose.
The two French girls were spoiled for choice. Each of the men were presenting their life-stories with a different tone. Sensitive guy, cosmopolitan, winner, et cetera. They took the obvious choice.
No one. We had stumbled on some accident. The flirtation slowed down, people stopped trying to side-track the talk into sex stories some time around the Italian spoke about children. We were doing something else.
It was warm, we were missing a party downstairs, but by some accident we’d created a game of sharing with others the stories of our lives, and naming our most direct goal. One of the girls lived in Croatia. A guitarist, she insisted the country needed someone to save its music (since most of what it churned out was techno-dance trying to be American). She believed there was an objective, border less music. She wouldn’t make Croatian music, or French, or American. Just good music. I’m not sure I believe her that neutral exists, but she has her mind set.
The conversation ended early, so the good mood we’d built towards one another remained through the night. I slept with goals on my mind, what everyone was doing, and how bizarre their paths towards their goals were. I consider it fundamentally strange for others to be, here. What brings one to the crossroad inn?
The next morning, I got up feeling just a little excited. I hopped through the shower and entered the bar area wet-haired. I’d found an opportunity; I knew the broad stories of nearly a dozen people. Now I could speak with them individually, one by one. I’d be the knower of the hostel, I’d be able to sit in the corner and name the purpose of life for each person I knew. While I’d been a part of last night’s conversation, I carefully chose my position as an observer. I’d even noticed, and I swear to you this is true: every single person in the kitchen that night had brown eyes. I was the exception, but then, I was the observer.
I found the Italian.
‘Where are the others?’
‘The group from last night.’
The Italian’d been there a long time. He gave a shrug.
‘Gone’, he said.
I want to know, I told the crossroads. You can, it answered. The world will be in your hands.
But even the last of the brown eyed babies know.
Tomorrow the world will be gone.