Hostel snobbery

I’m staying at a chain hostel (my mistake) infested by the worst possible population of tourists. A cross-section:

1. Middle aged American woman with a voice like raked gravel from centuries of smoking spends five minutes trying in vain to plug in the microwave to make tea (that’s not how you make tea!) but can’t figure out the alien plug. I finally cave in and help her after watching her struggle for a while because I’m a terrible human. This is the last straw for her. “Why would they unplug the microwave? I’m honestly really disappointed in this city, I can’t wait to go home [Reno?]. I have a disability and none of the subways have elevators. This place isn’t what I thought it would be.” In her defense, I have often wondered how those with disabilities and strollers manage to navigate this alleged socialist paradise.

2. Australian girl commiserates with the aforementioned woman’s Paris Syndrome. She has practically been in tears to her brother over Skype for the past 45 minutes because her iPhone got stolen by a pickpocket on the Metro. I feel bad for her, she seems really sweet, but you know – rule number one of traveling is don’t get pickpocketed.

3. There was just a parade of three dozen 17-year-old American girls struggling to wrestle their enormous suitcases down the stairs and into lockers. I would bet money that every one of them brought along a blow dryer and six pairs of shoes (all of which have been savaged by puddles and cobblestones and subsequently whined about to their team mom chaperone).

4. Northface-clad boatshoe bros walk into what is called the “chill out room.” “Let’s check out the chill out room. Seems pretty chill man.” Yes, but is it as chill as the chill room at Kappa Sig, man? Is it as chill as your parents’ lake house, brah? Is it as chill as Panama City Spring Break ’08, dude? No, because you got a DUI on a bicycle. Your Dad made you mow the lawn all summer as punishment. Not chill, dude. That was not chill. EUROTRIP BRAH!

5. Some West African guy just walked into this room and assaulted all everyone with cologne. Drakkar Noir Bucket Challenge? The room is no longer chill. Man.

6. Hungover Australian girl has “heaps” of money but can’t access any of it and is going to London today. Good luck with that…

Yes, I am being hypercritical. I haven’t slept in 24 hours, fourteen of which have been spent on a bus, and I just want to take a shower and go to bed but I can’t check in for another two hours. The weather is crappy (i.e. not Barcelona) and this hostel, located in a sterile suburb of Paris, is a purgatorial joke between a Days Inn and a Youth Center. I will definitely not be tempted to join the festivities in the basement “nightclub” tonight. I’m going to go smash my head through the speaker that is vomiting out James Blunt right now.

UPDATE:

The Australian girl has holed herself up in her bunk with the curtain closed all day because she is scared to go out after getting her phone stolen. She’s young and it’s her first time traveling alone and now she has Paris Syndrome, a super chill Australian version, mind you, but it has rendered her incapacitated. I tried to be encouraging and invited her to go for a walk around the city but exactly 8 seconds later she shut the curtain. I think that constitutes a “no.”

I wasn’t able to nap today so I came downstairs to scout things out. Did you ever go to one of those multi-million dollar megachurches with entire wings devoted to making Christianity hip for Generation Y? With basketball courts and sparkly couches and huge auditoriums where budding bassists (who would be smoking pot in the gazebo within the year) would play edgy renditions of bible camp songs? Me too, once.

That’s what it’s like, except there’s no Pastor [insert monosyllabic first name here] to calm everybody down when they reach a certain prepubescent decibel level. I wandered around with my iPad and found a group of nerds working on a project in the corner. You can always count on a small group of studious French kids to completely ignore you. I feel good about my lunch table this year.

Under normal circumstances I would have a drink right now, because at hostels made for people who are off the daddy dole, shitty beer is almost always available for a euro or two behind the desk. But here they’ve professionally printed real menus (in impact font, lending to air of manufactured PG edginess) and I am not going to sacrifice 8 euros for a weak mojito made by a guy from Missouri. No, there is no refrigerator so I can’t go and get my own booze and bring it back here, and if I did I would probably have a camp counselor type tell me I’m not allowed to skirt around the price gouging. Furthermore, my blood filtration system suffered considerably in Barcelona and I feel good about having dried out the past couple of days, as does my wallet.

I’m going to go to bed in an hour or two and wake up bright and early tomorrow and go to Bruges with Marie as fast as humanly possible. If I have to wake up and yell at some Uggbooted exchange students about keeping the noise level down, I will go get a counselor and they’ll go to the isolation bunk for the rest of Session 7.

Paris

Tilene, the cat, wears a sooty coat and perches daintily on the chair pushed under the table. She occupies two square feet of this apartment, if you include her litter box, and shares it with one other non-human – a dismembered mannequin – and three humans. Six if you count the Chinese family living in the other half of the apartment. We never see them but smell the unmistakable odor of dirty dogs (live, not cooked) and of cigarette smoke that’s already stale by the time it reaches us.

I finally arrived at Arnaud’s after a long and brutal (though cheap) journey from London – a cab ride to the station, a fast train to Victoria, a walk to the bus station, an eight hour Megabus ride during which I was positively gassed by the stench of a hippie with infuriatingly kind eyes, and a sweltering Metro ride across Paris during rush hour.

Once I got settled at Arnaud’s, I joined the roommates for dinner at a little place near Montmartre. After a steady march of subpar sandwiches, I absolutely swooned over my meal. I’ve never been one to describe food because those people are generally insufferable, but those succulent morsels of duck served upon a bed of roquette tossed in a spicy peanut vinaigrette! That red vegetable curry and wild rice! And the wine! I was seeing God.

And then I was seeing a young, able-bodied Middle-Eastern man who was perfectly capable of working an honest job slip through the open doorway and snatch a man’s briefcase from right behind him. A move so brazen as to be reckless – three different people, myself included, yelled some form of “catch that thief” and he was swiftly apprehended by a gang that included representatives of each table. Fraternité! When the man was chased down, he threw down the briefcase and said “oh look I don’t have it anymore, it wasn’t me,” an excuse that was just so pathetically childlike as to eek out a tiny sliver of pity for the degenerate scum, even though he makes a job of ruining entire weeks of other peoples’ lives with desperate acts of selfishness.

After recovering from a very mild hangover the next day, I went to a museum of medical oddities that Arnaud had told me about that was located on the campus of a medical school. The museum housed two dozen glass cases brimming with pickled people parts from the 18th and 19th century. It was completely grotesque; not exactly informative and thus pornographic in that it elicited a purely visceral response and not much else.

Like any good American, I found a Starbucks and took advantage of the free WiFi. I listened to a couple of completely obnoxious South Africans bark their order in English at the barista before critiquing the Pumpkin Spice Latté rather unpoetically, and remembering loudly their exploits in Mykonos, and finally wondering how on earth the girl would spend the remaining 800 euros that her mummy had given her. I felt the kind of vicarious shame that you feel for people who steamroll their way through life without a single fleeting moment of self-awareness.

I’d heard enough, so I walked around the Jardin du Luxembourg, then walked 3 miles back to Arnaud’s apartment. I didn’t really want to contend with the Métro at 5:30 and I was in no rush at all, so I walked and walked that day. As Arnaud had to begin a 24 hour shift at the hospital the next day, his roommate Matteo showed me some nice bars in Belleville when I got back.

Fortunately it’s too expensive to spend a lot of time at Paris bars so I didn’t suffer too terribly, financially or otherwise. I’ve been nickel-and-diming since I’ve gotten here – with the exception of the first meal (which was worth spending an entire shift’s tips on), I’ve been living scrupulously. London has been bleeding me every step of the way though.

I spent the next afternoon at a gorgeous park on the edge of Paris, Bois de Vincennes. It was perfectly idyllic – wooden rowboats gliding on a placid lake, peacocks sashaying through fallen leaves, and the frustrated bellsongs of cyclists trying to part the seas of joggers and strollers. I felt like I was in that painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. It was just like that, minus the hoop skirts.

That night I went to a party hosted by one of Matteo’s friends from architecture school. The place was in Chateau Rouge, a neighborhood inhabited mainly by African immigrants and prostitutes. The party was decidedly more diverse and I felt the full crisis of my linguistic shortcomings – conversation was conducted in French, Italian, Spanish, and English, and it wasn’t until the alcohol began flowing that English was settled upon as the language in which we would conduct all official business. This was after a hilarious Polish guy showed up with a bottle of vodka. We sang Happy Birthday and played Circle of Death, during which I contributed significantly to the general intoxication level by making it a drinkable offense to speak Italian.

Yesterday was painful, but I managed to scrape together enough brain cells to put together a trip to Barcelona. I’m flying out of Beauvais-Tillé tomorrow morning at 8:55, which presents a logistical nightmare as it’s an hour north of Paris and the bus leaves from the other side of the city and the Métro doesn’t open until 6am. Cécile, Arnaud’s other roommate, put me in touch with her friend who lives near the bus station in Porte Maillot, so I will stay there tonight and leave at the crack of dawn tomorrow. This is a completely brutal itinerary, but I’ll be in Barcelona by noon tomorrow.

Permutations of my high school reunion

1.

I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like an Artisan Series KitchenAid Stand Mixer in Pistachio. My pedicure will peep out of kitten heels and I will be lightly strangled by a small scarf tied at my throat. My bangs will hover over my forehead light like a cirrus cloud and they wouldn’t hide the beginnings of a permanent furrow even if there was one. I will be so slender as to render my curves pert. I will be punctuated on either side by a pair of pearls that would be called understated if they weren’t a foil to the cluster of diamonds scattering light from my finger around the stem of my wine glass.

I will talk at length about my children named Cooper and Ella and Braden and Avery and we will compare notes about spacing and cosleeping and breastfeeding. We will talk about our breeding habits like gardeners discussing fertilizer. I will mention offhandedly that my husband is an actuary since I know you were wondering but too polite to ask, and I will bookend this piece of information with lamentations about the long hours he works, how he doesn’t get home until after the kids are in bed most nights, and you will notice my wedding band tap-tap-tapping the stem of my empty wine glass.

2.

I’m going to show up to my high school reunion dressed like a big fake nail. I will have shimmering cheeks like the iridescent sheen on a piece of deli meat and my eyeballs will have false lashes like roman helmets. I will be perched on stilettos and I will be the color of terracotta. I will have a boyfriend, a babydaddy, and a 4 year old, and you will know them intimately by the time I’ve finished my fourth sour apple martini. I will bum a cigarette from a girl I hated in high school even though I quit when I got pregnant but this is a special occasion.

We’ll smoke by the dumpster and I’ll forgive her for that time she blew my boyfriend on Spring Break in Panama City when I was passed out on the balcony. I think I still have the airbrushed trucker hat from that trip. All seven of us are depicted as rudimentary stick figures in bikinis. I think I have a precancerous mole on my back from that trip as well but I haven’t seen the doctor because the tanning salon doesn’t offer medical insurance. God, we were so drunk.

3.

I’m going to show up to my high school reunion dressed like a gluten-free carrot cake. I’m going to wear this great little wrap dress I found on Etsy, and the cool thing is it’s made by former child prostitutes in Bangladesh but you’d never know looking at it, such intricate beadwork! It’s amazing what children are capable of when they have the opportunity to self-actualize.

No thank you, I’m not drinking right now – I’m doing a cleanse to lose some of this baby wei- oh, you’re too sweet, chasing around two toddlers while swaddling a newborn is a hell of a good- yeah number three, he’ll be seven weeks tomorrow! We were trying for a girl but I just knew right away it would be another little man, you just feel these things, don’t you? There’s still plenty of time – God gives you hundreds of thousands of eggs for a reason, right?!

4.

I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like a stock portfolio. I will wear a look of exhaustion and a Birkin bag. My ring finger will be conspicuously naked and some girl I never liked will ask anyway. I thought of asking my assistant as my plus-one to avoid this but that was before we went to Oslo on business, and he and I agreed the next morning that what happened certainly constituted “hierarchical misconduct,” a term so vague and politically correct that it could only have been dreamed up by a silver-haired Republican who only shows up at stockholder meetings.

I will make a snide remark about the organic cotton cloth diapers you won’t shut up about, and I will immediately regret it. You will fake laugh but regret approaching me at all. The first time you got alcohol poisoning was in my parents’ house and you left a trail of vomit from the suede couch to the potted plant to the hot tub. I was a complete bitch about it, which I still feel bad about because two weeks later I threw up all over our mutual friend’s guest room only moments after losing my virginity.

5.

I will show up to my high school reunion dressed like a bathroom stall covered in inspirational graffiti. I will wear winged eyeliner and a severe haircut and I will reconnect with girls I was friends with in middle school and stopped talking to when I stopped talking to God. I will gulp down three PBRs while the class president starts talking about success from behind a podium and this will cure the hangover from last night’s bender.

I will meet the wife of the guy I waited on last month at the restaurant that he’s only patronized with his mistress and I will singlehandedly unravel his marriage. I will coach her through a breakdown by holding her hair back and repeating a useless mantra about positivity. At some point I will find a way to compare their marriage, about which I know nothing, to a can of sardines in my grandmother’s pantry that expired in 2002, and she will look at me, with red-rimmed eyes, in total disbelief.

End Times

I love a good doomsday scenario,
But I prefer mine served
On a bed of cooled lava
And drizzled in sulphuric rain.

I want to see a meteor crash
Violently into the horizon.
I want weeds to take over.

Highways of kudzu,
Parking lots of new forest,
Radioactive cesspools of oceans.

Boiling rivers,
Buckling pavement,
Brimstone faucets.

I have considered Christians
Shooting through ceiling tiles
And doe-eyed virgins ascending to
Islamic bedrooms.

I’ve envisioned angels directing traffic,
Lines of grown men waiting in line
To sit on God’s lap on a cumulus cloud.
It doesn’t appeal to me.

I’d much prefer to drop dead in good company.
Bash my head on the bathroom wall
When the shockwave hits.
Go when everybody else does.