Not On My Street, Mate

I’m on duty from 8:30 pm to 7:30 am on Saturday night, but I was talking to the cops till nine.

Friday is the warm up and Saturday is the real deal. You never know what to expect as night porter at a “party” hostel. Make your rounds, watch the cameras, keep your ears open. Be ready.

This is my home and these people are my family. I love it and I love them. Don’t fuck with us.

At 11:15, I received a call from the manager, who lives next door, telling me she saw a group of five drunken idiots vandalizing a tour bus parked on the road.

We checked the camera footage from the street and saw a raggedy group of hooligans strolling down the street with swag and beers in hand. Young Kiwis with an appetite for destruction. The camera was behind them so we didn’t see their faces, but there was one dead giveaway. The back of one of their shirts read, “yess” or “less” or “guess.” They think no one is watching them, but we know everything.

The drunkest of our “dirty old man” crew — every hostel has one — wanted to chase them down and deal out some vigilante justice, but Carl, with an age advantage, knew the best course of action is to make a police report for insurance purposes. It is his work vehicle. We just need a record.

The night goes on and I think nothing of it. The drunk get drunker. The Argentinians are still cooking dinner till midnight and Ivan brings out a bottle of Jaeger. We are going to drink this, and then go into town, he says. OK, just don’t be too loud, I tell them.

The Germans are drinking in the broken-down bus converted in a chilled-out, good-vibes TV lounge. They are smoking cigarettes. Guys, guys, guys, what the fuck are you doing. No cigarettes, just joints in here. C’mon. Have some respect. The people who pass through for a few days don’t respect this hostel like I do. And many of the long-termers think they are above the rules. I walk by again and the girl by the window says, put the cigarette out he’s coming. Do they think I can’t hear them? Do they think I can’t see them?

At last they go to the pubs or they go to sleep and the tranquility of the darkness settles in.

I want this peace to last forever, but I know soon the light will begin to creep over the mountains. A blue-to-white gradient will infect the cloudless sky. The birds will begin their chirp chirp chirp. The fish factory workers and the early morning tour-bus-takers will stumble into the kitchen looking for free breakfast.

I sit in the office, reading news articles about ISIS, Republicans and Bernie Sanders. There is so much hate, ignorance and fear in the world but I still have faith in my hero. From time to time, I walk around or glance at the cameras. Keeping my family safe and making sure no one is being a fuckwit.

And I’m writing in my journal:

Melissa walked by earlier while I was pushing in chairs by the pool. “Smile, John,” she says because none of the Argentinians can pronounce my name. It’s Sean, not John. And juice sounds like shoes. Change your face, cambiar tu cara, she tells me on a daily basis. How about you mind your own fucking business? Maybe my face isn’t an accurate representation, but I was actually in a perfectly good mood before you came along and spoiled it. Now I am self-conscious and you just walk by with hubris like you are the almighty purveyor of true happiness. You don’t know me. Puta madre.

Later, Naji from France sidles up to the “dirty old man” crew — if you can’t think of a good comeback to their constant banter, jokes and criticisms, then this group is not for you — he is there for a few seconds before arrogantly proclaiming, Sean you are always quiet. Always observing.

I tell him I was talking just before you came and I’m thinking, what is wrong with people? What gives you the right to make such a statement about another person?

My mood immediately plummets after his comment and now I have to retreat to the office and write these thoughts and calm down before I can rejoin society.

Suddenly the time is 5:30. Dawn has broken and with the morning light I can feel my power fade. It is time for me to put out the communal breakfast of muesli, corn flakes, rice puffs, weetbix, bread, jam and milk. I share a few words with the Japanese guy sitting in the kitchen. He is taking a bus to the Nelson Lakes for a day of tramping. Nice, have an excellent day.

The light is here and I think it is safe to sleep until my shift ends at 7:30. Surely no one would be so bold to be drunken assholes at this hour.

I hear voices. I know this hostel and I know who is staying here. These are stranger voices. I try to drift to sleep but the voices don’t stop. I hear them walking out of the front door, directly below my open window. They are laughing and they sound dangerous. I have to get up and investigate.

I walk down to the office and playback the front door camera. I see a familiar shirt. “Yess” or “less” or “guess.” He is carrying a box of beer. I shut the door, slip off my sandals and run.

I run to the end of the driveway. A tall man is looking around.

“Where did they go?” I ask.

That way.

“I’m calling the police,” I say.

Good.

I follow them and dial 111. The tall man and I are both barefoot, the Kiwi way, and he is carrying a smashed milk jug that I put out only ten minutes ago. I tell dispatch I need police and I explain who I am and that I am following a group of kids that we suspect vandalized a van earlier and they probably just committed other crimes at the hostel.

They are ignorant, proud of their destruction. They are blind but the tall man and I are awake.

They turn around and see me with a phone to my ear as they approach a quiet intersection in this normally quiet neighborhood. They bolt and we pursue. I follow them down a cul-de-sac and I hear rustling in the bushes. A skinny punk with a black t-shirt and a hearing aid walks out as if he lives there.

“Fuck you, man,” I yell at him.

I forget the police are in my ear and she tells me not to talk to him. He doesn’t try to run. He has given up. He is not blind, but he is half-deaf and it’s impossible to understand him after a night of drinking, vandalism and probably drugs. Meth is way too common in New Zealand. This country may look green, clean and beautiful, but there are very serious problems with crime, drugs and domestic violence.Young people are uneducated and have no motivation. Tourists don’t see it though.

The tall man is Nick, our neighbor. He is thin but strong with a clean look about him and slicked back curly brown hair. He speaks with the classic powerful, deep Kiwi voice. He says he saw the group when they walked by just after 11. They “biffed” a beer bottle down the road while he was just getting home and locking his gates.

“Oi, don’t be throwing beer bottles,” he called out to them. “Not on my street, mate.”

I’m glad we share the same passion for protecting our homes.

A police officer arrives in about ten minutes of waiting and then another joins. They look tired.

“It was like the full-moon was out last night,” he says.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these kids, who I later found out are in their early 20s, we’re involved in a litany of other crimes throughout the night. We give brief statements and they take a beer bottle littered on the ground for fingerprints and they arrest the deaf punk who couldn’t run fast enough.

I return to the hostel to check the cameras to try to get the full story. And what a story it is.

A group of six walked into the hostel four minutes after I retired to my bedroom. Great timing. They made themselves at home. They headed straight for the pool and relaxed into the hammocks, played table tennis and dipped their toes in the pool. They must have been tuckered out after a long night of fucking with innocent people.

Then, one-by-one, they all walked directly toward the camera by the spa. I finally read the rest of the shirt. “Rekless.” Yes, you are. And now we have all of your faces in stunning HD color video.

I recognized one of them. Naji. Except for your earlier comment, I always liked you, man. You stayed here for about a month and you worked here, cleaning rooms. We practiced the slack line together a few weeks ago and you picked it up almost instantly. You gave me advice: “There is only the line.” Everyone around here has a limited wardrobe, but you wear the same exact clothes everyday, a neon wind breaker jacket and black track pants, a black hat with a skull and cross bones and you carry around a small man bag. The girl from Carlisle, in the North of England, with caked on makeup, nice tits and an annoying “Geordie Shore” accent asked you what you keep in the bag on the first night she met you. (No one else has ever dared asking such a personal question.) You said, “This bag is my life.” We still don’t know what you carry around in there. And now you betrayed me. You let these savages into our home.

Then someone kicked the meter tall stone statue into the pool. We only caught you on the edge of the camera. All we can see is a black shoe with a white stripe on the bottom. Two of you are wearing shoes that match the description so that will be easy to narrow down once the cops find the rest of you.

At that point Naji waved good-bye and went to his bed. He realized these are bad guys and he didn’t want any part of it. But he left them to their own devices.

Then the punks walked into the kitchen, but first the “Rekless” guy grabs darts off the dartboard and throws them in the pool. No respect. It appears they have the thirst so they open up a jug of milk and two of them take a nice big swig. The blonde idiot looks straight into the camera and laughs. What the fuck are you thinking? Then they grab a box of beer from the fridge, which belongs to a German girl, and walk out the front door.

That’s when I heard them and got out of bed.

An hour later the cops rock up to the hostel and I show them the footage. The morning receptionist is hung over and he strolls in with bloodshot eyes to an office with two police officers.

It’s funny how cops are so reliant on their iPhones. Earlier on the street, he used his iPhone to take pictures of the beer bottle and the deaf guy. Now this cop uses his iPhone to snap screenshots of each of the assholes who invaded my hostel. Later we would send them the full tapes and stills.

The cop’s name is Johnny and he is just a regular guy. He says if he answered his phone earlier in the morning he would be in a helicopter over the beautiful, pristine Fox Glacier right now helping with the search and rescue of a helicopter tourism crash that left seven dead. One of his mates on the force sent him a picture of the view. “Bastard,” he says.

He tells us it’s a pretty interesting job and he gets to see a lot. I’ve never spoken with a cop with his guard down like this. He looks into the kitchen and see’s the collection of happy young travelers gathered around the communal dining table with the pool in the background. He says he’d like to come back here sometime. The receptionist says, yeah, come back on a Saturday night without your uniform.

I wake up Naji from his sleep and the cops talk to him. It appears the hooligans took advantage of him. He met them on the street on his way back from the pub. Naji says he is going back to the hostel and the group of cunts say, Oh yeah, that’s where we stay. I guess he was too drunk to realize that they were lying. I don’t forgive you.

Backpackers walk by the office and see me talking to cops and they all look curious and that’s fine.

Now it’s 9 am and I can finally go to sleep but I have work at the Fish and Chip shop down the road at 12. It is a restless sleep with all of the excitement and ideas floating in my head but I can’t write. Now I need sleep.

Libby says I look tired. I tell her the story during the quiet lunch shift. She tells me if they are minors they will just get a fine and maybe community service.

“Teenagers get away with everything,” she says.

I feel tired but I can still smile at customers because that’s the job and I like it because I’m in New Zealand.

All of the sudden lunch is over and I can go home and make my own lunch. Asian stir fry broccoli with cous cous and a side of baked asparagus because I do what I want. And then I immediately feast on a breakfast of muesli with dried fruit, banana, linseed, chia seed, psyllium husks and soy milk because I do what I want.

I sit with the Argentinians and tell them the story. Camila has to translate some parts for Mica. She gave up on our English lessons a few weeks ago because she is always around her own people. She speaks to me way too fast in Castellano, not the Spanish I learned in school, and she uses slang words I have never heard before but she still says I always understand her.

Then I try to sleep for an hour until I have to return to the Fish and Chip shop for dinner service. It’s Drew and Shell. Shell is a 30-something Fillipino, she likes anime and is looking forward to playing Fallout 4 on her day off tomorrow. Drew is a lanky 17-year-old with short blonde hair and a grimy rat-tail. He is usually still wearing his school uniform pants and black shoes with white socks. He constantly abuses me and takes the piss because I’m American and that’s what any respectable Kiwi would do. I love it. We’re listening to American Pie by Don McLean and I ask him if he knows who sings this and he says, No, it’s just some American bullshit. It’s a constant conversation in the kitchen and we are always saying what we are doing. Pizzas are in. Burger is flipped. Chips are on top of the oven. Pizza is on the rocks. Can you take that order? I love it.

One day I was talking about how difficult it is to understand Kiwis and then an hour later he starts talking to me and gesturing and it takes me a good twenty seconds of asking “what?” “huh?” before realizing he is actually speaking gibberish.

I try to fight back, but I’m not as practiced as this guy who is seven years younger than me. He comes in one day and I ask how he is going. Great, I just had my first swim of the year in the river. It was kinda scummy, though. Oh, just like you, I say.

Shell squirts tomato sauce into a ramekin and it sounds like a ripe fart and I say, Eww, Shel, C’mon not in front of the customers. And she says, I thought Americans we’re soft.

They always like when I have a good hostel story for them. Like when I walked in on an attempted threesome between a short Mexican guy, a French man and a French girl. The Mexican walks out of his room wearing only a towel and he yells, “Get the fuck out of here, I’m trying to have a threesome.” I love hostels.

Now it’s 1 am and I really need to get some sleep and I realize it was probably for the best that I was in my bed when the drunken vandals walked in to the hostel. If I was still in the office, I would have immediately heard them and told them to fuck off and they wouldn’t have committed any crimes and we would have no evidence and that’s boring. Or I would have confronted them and they would have smashed me and done whatever they can to escape. Maybe they had knives. It was more fun to let them fuck shit up and let the cameras see what kind of people they are. Let them leave the property with stolen beer and milk and then chase the fuckers. Yeah, that was fun.

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Remember the Infinity

The hostel is the state of nature. It is our reality but it is not real. We govern ourselves. We sleep together, we play together, we drink together, we smoke together and we laugh together.

What happens when you throw one hundred young travelers together? Inside these fences — which provide us with a pool, sauna, spa, volleyball court, table tennis, slackline, guitars scattered about, free breakfast, soup and bread — we have our paradise. But how long can this last? Is this sustainable? Mentally? Emotionally? Financially? I don’t know. That doesn’t matter. We are a family of friends and travelers, we care about each other and we learn everyday.

I teach impromptu yoga lessons in the park to whoever wants to join. An ever-changing assortment from France, Argentina, Greece, Uruguay, Germany, Holland, England and Canada. The sexy girls bow to me and say Namaste while the boys stay and smoke joints. I practice Spanish and correct improper English grammar. We are vigilant with language. We play soccer and I scored two goals and got a ball kicked in my face when I was goalie. We play music and sing.

The park.
In the park.

We all have a unique story. No one is here by accident. Some people are running away from their problems. Some people just need a break from their careers. Some people are trying to find their careers. Some people just graduated high school and they want to get drunk and party, yeah! Some people are lost souls trying to find a purpose.

Que rico.
Que rico.

No one is happy all the time, but some people are better at pretending.

What will you find within these walls? Sexual frustration and desperation.

Philina walked in to the kitchen and flashed me the innocent, pure smile that can only come from the gentle faces of the young, female warrior-angels traveling the world on their own.

I know this smile. I’m used to it. But it catches me by surprise and I think about what she is thinking about and what she thinks I’m thinking about and what if we are thinking about the same thing?

Sean, you live in your own little world. None of this is real. But what if it’s not? I can’t stop thinking about a line from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, “Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

We cooked on the same stove in the empty kitchen. I was making pasta with vegan eggplant Parmesan, substituting ground almonds for cheese topping. She was cooking pasta with beans and spinach. Clean.

She talks to Johannes in German. She has a slim face with shoulder length brown hair, strong eyebrows and dark eyes. Tiffany, the hostel manager, interrupts our silence and asks me why I am vegan and I tell her for the environment. It’s one change I can make as an individual to lower my carbon footprint.

When Philina hears this, she tilts her head down and whispers, “I’m vegan too,” with that smile.

She is the first vegan girl I’ve met. We share a moment and I continue my conversation with Tiffany. But all I can think about is, what is vegan sex like? My body feels better than it ever has. What is she like? I expect many vegan orgasms.

She sits down at a table by the window, alone. I join her.

We talk. She likes to eat, but she doesn’t like to cook. She makes the simplest vegan meals possible. Raw veggies, pasta, rice, beans. She looks at my salad of spinach, cucumber, tomato and sprouts with fresh squeezed lemon juice and my baked eggplants with tomato puree.

“I used to have a gourmet vegan cookbook,” she says. “But now I just do what is easy.”

The next day, we meet again in the kitchen. She is eating a plate of free bread after the communal vegetable soup has been devoured by the masses. I’m cooking a tasty concoction of crushed tomatoes, butter beans, Portobello, onion, garlic, spinach and oregano.

“Just bread tonight?” I ask across the table.

She says she is too lazy to cook. I ask her if she wants some food and before she can reply I fill her a bowl. I sit down next to her at the long wooden dining table.

“Oh my god, I am in heaven,” she says. I don’t think she is used to other people cooking for her.

I am awkward when I talk to girls that I have any interest in. Juan walks by and saves the day. He tells me how good he feels from yoga that morning. “Philina, you come tomorrow?”

Once darkness falls, I am the night porter. The watcher on the wall. The shield in the darkness. Protector of the realms of backpackers and hostel managers. I don’t tell the managers who has the weed connection. I don’t tell the backpackers what the managers do when no one is around. The bourgeoisie hides from the proletariat and the proletariat hides from the bourgeoisie. I am in the middle of these realms for three nights every week, in exchange for a private bedroom in this house and a bit of cash. Drink your beers and smoke your joints, no worries. But if you have the audacity to leave your pots, pans, plates and cutlery, I will playback the video footage and I will find you. And I will smite you.

I see everything and I keep the secrets.

Philina, you are sitting by the pool drinking a bottle of vodka with your roommate, Anthony, the French guy with a topknot and manicured goatee. You are laughing together while I pick up beer bottles.

You both disappear and I hear you giggling together in your bedroom, just down the hall. You both emerge with red faces and sex hair. The topknot is now a mop. You play card games together in the kitchen. The two of you ignore the crowds of international travelers.

You go to bed and Anthony comes out for a cigarette. He talks to friends while I clean the kitchen. They make fun of him, “Who was that? Your girlfriend?”

He is disappointed. “Psh, I spent all day and all night with that German girl and nothing happened.”

I laugh inside. C’mon man, think about this. She is your roommate for the next week, what did you expect? Girls in hostels have to be guarded. Don’t shit where you eat. Yeah, a bottle of vodka, that will definitely make her want to have sex with you. C’mon man.

I don’t proclaim to know how to win a woman’s heart, but I do my thing and sometimes it works and sometimes I am hurt. But what is hurt? It is a teacher. It makes you stronger and you learn and try to avoid the hurt next time. Maybe that means avoiding a woman, or maybe that means kissing her at the exact right moment.

Elevate yourself above the momentary and remember the infinity. There is an endless supply of females on this great Earth. Just stay at this hostel for a week, see how many warrior-angels flash you the smile that makes you melt. Put in some time and get to know her.

Anthony says she is 19 and she is cute. Nineteen. I’m twenty-four. As the week progressed, Philina and I shared more conversations over soup and bread. I see her young face and her young clothes. She is probably tired of every guy making a move on her. She’s too young. On her last day at the hostel, we say goodbye and I tell her to keep being a good person and now she is just a memory. I don’t know what she expected from me or what she wanted from me or if she wanted me. All I know is that I am different from the stocky South African lout who flirts with girls by splashing them from the pool. Different, not deficient.

I am back in college. But this is far from the homogeneity of Virginia yoga pants, north face and ugg boots. Here, everyone has a story. Everyone is from somewhere. But all people are pretty much the same. We all share the same desires and urges. We are all here for the same reason, to find paradise in ourselves and in others.