13 July 2009

Covert Hostel-ity

During my battle with the H word, I have spent numerous nights at various hostels. One of my favorites had always been the Ashland Hostel, a rambling Victorian on the main drag in downtown Ashland.

As a female requesting a private room, I was generally assigned to the attic floor. Here I’d huddle into one of the small rooms under the eaves, where, stooping and crouching, I’d somehow manage to make my bed and run my book business off my laptop.

The hostel, especially in high season, served up a plate of characters straight out of casting central. I could have brought them all with me to Oakwood. Though it would have bummed their bliss. In the warmer weather, Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers lined the basement with their gritty beards, dirty laundry, and food pick-up packages. Sundry other longhairs, thespians couch surfers, progressive families, and organic farm workers headed to New Zealand for the avocado crop hung out to get stoned, do their laundry, burn bacon in the kitchen late at night, take whizzes off the deck, and generally make themselves quite at home.

On this particular evening, I had slept very little the night before, as a couple had entered the room adjacent to mine at midnight and stridently proceeded to bring 4 new lives into the world before daybreak. So I was looking forward to nothing more than curling up in bed for 8 full hours of sucking face with my pillow. As I made for the memory foam, I realized that my room was completely dark—undoubtedly the fuse had blown for the 17th time this stay. The night before, the same thing had happened, and I’d recruited the assistance of Buck, a rough’n’tumble sort who looked like the proverbial graying ranchhand in any John Wayne film, with a moustache and gums for teeth and a method of mastication that spilled food out both sides of his lips like toothpaste from a tube. Though I could tell that he didn’t much cotton to my kind, Buck had gone and flipped the switch for me, filling my attic room with a dim bulb’s full of light that just seemed to make all the difference. So, instead of trying to play “let’s pretend we’re camping,” I figured I’d just go downstairs and ask ol’ Buck if he wouldn’t mind flipping my switch again.

I checked for him in all the usual spots, but everyone with any authority over fuse boxes had apparently hit the down-low. Finally, I tried the basement catacombs, where the TV blasted and Buck sat gluey-eyed before it, watching a loud crime show with a serial-murder theme. “Hi, Buck,” I said. Nothing. “Hey, Buck!” I tried again. Still nada. “EXCUSE ME!” I yelled. He grunted. I told him about lights out. Baretta pointed a gun at me through the screen.

Suddenly, Buck swirled around and glared, “I couldn’t help you with that last night, and I can’t help you with that tonight! There is a general manager here. His name is Manny. You need to go knock on his door and leave me out of it!”

I walked upstairs to Manny the manager’s room, where I knew he was stoned-sleeping, so hadn’t wanted to disturb him. I knocked, knocked, and knocked again, with little effect. Finally, I gave up, considered if I wanted the Robinson Crusoe experience, considered how fierce an advocate I was trying to be for my own needs, and said, “By God, I need to make those lights go on!” I marched straight on down to the basement, screwed up my chutzpah, and asserted toward the kaleidoscope-eyed ranchhand, “I really need your help. Manny is asleep.” Buck turned to me with sheer venom in his eyes. I could tell I had interrupted the crime drama at a very key point, or perhaps he couldn’t tell where the TV fantasy left off and reality with the woman before him began….

“I TOLD you, I can’t help you!!!”

Just then, out of one of the other catacombs stumbled another rancherly type, whose hostility and meth levels were just a notch lower. He glared at me and said, “You need to go find Greg, the night manager here. He’ll know something.” When I asked him where Greg might be found, he told me to look on the top floor. “But watch it…,” he cautioned, with a dire warning in his eyes, “he’s entertaining his guests.”

“Well, I don’t want to bother him, then,” I said. The man took a few steps and careened toward the fuse box, which turned out to be on the wall immediately in front of both of them. As I began to walk away, I heard him tinkering with it. When I reached my room, the light had come on, and I attempted to plug in the space heater to take the chill out of this backwater room the heat never seemed to reach.

A few minutes later, I laid down to sleep. From the adjacent chambers—the scene of last night’s sex marathon—I heard the sounds of three people talking. One voice I recognized as Greg’s. The previous summer we had had several long conversations. Greg was a newly divorced man in his late 50s who resembled a New England college professor. All that was missing was the natty green sweater with the patches on the pockets and the pipe. Smart and likable, nevertheless he seemed at heart craggy and conservative, and I’d wondered what he was doing in hippiesville in the first place. The other two voices sounded husky and female, like those of the 2 bulldykes I’d seen earlier in the day tramping the halls and giving me the eye. (In lesbian lingo, this is a cross between, “I could take you,” “keep your hands off my girlfriend,” and “I think you’re kinda cute, maybe we can sleep together later.”) So I’m thinking, Maybe he just likes lesbians. Maybe the guy is just a major lesbo-hag. I tune in again, to confirm my theory. There’s low, sexy, loverly laughing, chatting, long silences, and a particular little smacking sound that faintly resembles…? Nahhhhh!!!! Couldn’t be.

Grabbing a book, I try to read, thinking that since it’s already well after midnight, their whatever will surely be ending soon. The clock ticks away…my exhaustion grows…but when I lay down to sleep, all I can hear is the sound of three people talking. And talking. And talking. Finally, I give a few raps to the wall. “Would you guys mind taking your conversation somewhere else? I’m trying to sleep.”

I hear giggling and hushed conversation. Finally, Greg says, “I’m sorry. But we’re visiting and will most likely be up all night. How ‘bout if I come over and find you another room?” Next I hear the sound I didn’t want to hear, the sound no one wants to hear when it’s an AARP-aged man and two young females: Greg pulling up his pants and buckling his belt. Alrighty then. A few minutes later, in walks Greg, grey hair piled in messy clumps, sweater on backwards, smiling, tired, confused, yet ardent. “I’m sorry for the inconvenience, Heidi. But you have to understand.”

I gave him the look of the exhausted and unamused. I would understand just about nothing at 1 a.m.

“You have to understand that I’m visiting with my significant others. And I don’t think we’ll be going to sleep any time soon.” He looked at me with grave sincerity, as if surely I was Earth's most heartless bitch if I didn’t grasp this simple premise.

My general philosophy in such situations is, “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” I find it works well with at-risk children, teens catapulting toward me on skateboards, NJ Turnpike drivers, and 59-year-olds thinking they’re Jack Kerouac in a Paris bordello. And of course, who was I to interfere with the vagaries of love, whatever its permutations? “That’s fine, Greg,” I said, sighing a bit.

Just then, the lights on the whole floor went dark again. Greg suddenly sprung into action. “I will run down and fix those for you. Thank you! I'll get those lights working!”

He had already illuminated so much.

I will say that things were quieter in my new digs: the top bunk, nestled between 2 gentlemen who dared not wake as I had psychically glued them to their beds. We passed an agreeable night, as I tried to neither shake nor stir the cocktail of mental images of what was undoubtedly occurring a few doors down.

I didn’t see Greg for awhile after that. But I did hear that he was “entertaining guests” for several days hence. If nothing else, I admired his stamina. I guess I should be looking forward to my late 50s—and grasping just how significant others can be.