fatman Find the clues!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My First Night Shift

When you sign up to work at a Backpackers there are several tasks you should expect to perform. You will deal with a horde of malnourished tourists who will ask you where to find the towels, blankets, the timetables for ferries to Helsinki, who one needs to bribe for Russian visas, where the nearest/cheapest pub is, the legal age of consent in Estonia, etc. Every morning there is vacuuming to be done, toothpaste-splatters to be wiped from bathroom mirrors, pubic hairs to be swept away (interestingly enough there is an unusual amount of hair left behind in the upstairs showers. Which leaves me to believe that someone is malting or is secretly a werewolf). And then there is the night shift.

The Backpackers is run by mostly volunteers so there are no strict rules that are enforced. Things need to be done, someone will do it. Karma. Night shifts are determined by rock-scissor-papers or assigned to people who have lost bets. If you are hungover enough you might raise your hand to do a night shift so you can stay indoors and give your liver a rest. John tends to do the shifts when he can sense trouble since he is used to dealing with obnoxious, incoherent, drunk people. Part of being Irish I suppose.

'Who wants to do the night shift today?' he asks a bunch of us sitting around the reception area. The other staff members scurry away like roaches scuttling away from a flashlight beam. 'Guess I'll have to do it.' I mutter as I curse my slow reflexes.

The truth is night shifts aren't usually a bad thing. It just detracts from your drinking time. A bunch of guys will inevitably come back with injuries and say, 'We were running down Pikk street naked and then Bob fell down and split his head open. It was so fun!' and you can't help but feel a touch of envy towards Bob. About the only thing you need to do is check-in late arrivals and let in guests who have forgotten their keys. The rest of the time is spent on the computer looking up Youtube to find the latest Christina Aguilera film clips and blooper reels for amature snuff films.

The first three hours was relatively uneventful. For some reason the reception area was filled with guests wanting to hear me tell jokes. These people need to get out more. Usually if I want to tell a joke to someone I have to tie the them up to a chair, cut one of their feet off with an axe and cauterise their injuries with a blowtorch. If they don't laugh convincingly enough I start amputating fingers. But for some reason the guests kept popping up in front of me, like Nigerian email scams that clog up your inbox.

One German guy kept coming in for a while then leaving to get more beer. He was a little bit annoying to tell you the truth. He seemed like a nice enough guy and maybe it was the language barrier, coupled with my desire to see Christina Aguilera's bosoms, that made me want him to leave the room. He eventually went to the lounge room to check his emails.

About an hour later he came in to the reception area. I was alone, going through the bookshelf where backpackers swap their paperbacks for others. The quality of these books were frankly quite crappy (Do I attempt to read John Grisham's The Broker or a Jeffery Archer novel? Which would suck less?) and I was not concentrating on the German guest's deathly pallor. 'I....I sink I need a cigarette.' he mumbled, as if to himself. He wore this expression like an albatross around his neck.
'Uh-huh,' I mutter.
'My...friend is a wrestler. Greek style wrestling.' he continued.
Now I'm looking at him. What the hell do I care?
'He....was in an accident.'
'Was he hurt badly?'
He nods, an automation. His eyes were coridoors. 'He..damaged his spine. The doctors say that he is para..para...what is this word?'
'Paralysed? Paraplegic?'
He nods again. 'Something like that. He will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. His life...ruined now. Why? He was...he is so young. My other friends did not tell me this,' he turns to me, eyes misty with tears, 'Why would they not tell me this? It happened a week ago and I'm finding out today on email.'

I don't know how to reply. My tongue feels like it is cement. I can usually just find something to say in most situations. There is a cupboard where I keep standard responses in cans and I will generally find something appropriate to say. Deep inside the cupboard, past the 'Condolences for your dead cat' and 'Don't worry. She never understood you anyway', I find a few hollow words. 'I'm so sorry.' And I throw in some utterly useless sentiments to the pot. 'Are you going to be OK?'

He shrugged and went outside to smoke his cigarette.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Before You Can Say 'Larry Puglisi'...

Their chants can be heard streets away as the tune that is familiar, yet out-of-place, dash across the cobblestones like puppies released from an animal testing lab. It feels like listening to a commercial jingle in a foreign language. Or an Ice House song being sung in Sanskrit in a Third World karaoke bar. The mind does a quick double take of the mantra and goes into a quick football huddle with itself before it spits out the inevitable conclusion: Hare Krishnas are singing in the streets of Tallinn.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

The Krishnas are here? Already? Though I find it a lot easier to accept the cancerous spread of the MacDonald's fast food empire as it ravenously devours the scenery of Tiananmen Square or Moscow's Krasnaya Ploshchad I guess I just wasn't expecting to encounter the fifth largest army in the world. Here of all places.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare

Not that I knew much about Estonia before I got here. It was just a grey spot in the 'Geography' section in the glob of mucus that serves as my brain. Although I would later find out that I was not the only person who was ignorant of the place. The immediate neighbours (Latvia, Lithuania, Finland) had, of course, heard of the place. Other people who had planned to travel through Eastern Europe with aid of atlas and sextet had a vague idea of where Estonia was, generally as the last stop off point before crossing the Russian border.

Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare

Jules thought that Estonia was a type of sandwich before arriving here. He confessed that the only reason he knew there was an 'Estonia' was because he happened to meet some Estonians in Melbourne. Rob who also worked at the Backpackers had very little knowledge of the place. His journey basically consisted of grabbing a bicycle and cycling all the way from Austria to India and back. He dropped into Tallinn to grab a bottle of water and had never left.

The Hare Krishnas round the corner. There are four of them, looking snazzy in their saffron dhotis. Evidently there weren't too many takers for the words of A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in Tallinn. Still, early days I say. I gaze as the four Krishnas chant and dance, the music of their beliefs bouncing off the walls of old buildings in the Town Square, awakening their souls with the cadence of their steps.

Dum maro dum,

Monday, October 02, 2006

Welcomed Back With Open Arms

Tallinn, Estonia

It is early in the morning. Jewish people around the world are observing Yom Kippur by not eating, washing or having sex- and getting a glimpse into the lives of oil rig workers, creepy guys who rent nothing but porn and Star Trek: Voyager, people on solo polar expeditions, castaways who talk to inanimate objects and unpopular teenagers in the process. People are being searched at airports in various parts of the world and are having things like toothpaste and gel-filled bras confiscated due to inane laws passed by overly paranoid (American) politicians who have released a
No Fly List
that prohibits dead Nazi sympathisers and the head of Lebanese parliament from boarding planes. Later on today actress Tamara Dobson, known primarily for her role in the blaxpoitation classic Cleopatra Jones, will die from complications from pneumonia and multiple sclerosis.

For now though it feels cold. Tallinn is much how I remembered it except at this time of the morning (around 5 or 6) it is devoid of people and everything looks like it has been shot with a blue filter. It feels like I've arrived in town after the Rapture has taken place and its too late to repent. I stagger towards the general direction of the Backpackers.

Having arrived at my destination I ring the buzzer in order to be let in. The Backpackers wakes from its sleep, stretches its legs and makes a slight 'click' indicating that the door is now open. I try to open the door. Stuck. I buzz again. Again I hear the 'click'. The door still won't open. Buzz. Click. Stuck Buzz. Click. Stuck This happens once more until I read the sign that informs me I have to pull the handle towards me before it will open. Oops. I am such an idiot.

I climb up the stairs and enter the reception area where the staff member in charge looks at me with bleary eyes. 'Who are choo?' He has a Spanish accent. An accent deprived of much needed sleep.
'I'm Fatman. I'm here to work later on today.'
He looks at me dubiously.
'Honestly. I spoke with John when I was in Vilnius. You know John? Irish. Ill-tempered, foul mouthed...'
'I know who Chon is. He didn't mention nothing about choo. And choo are not on the computer. Nowhere.' He's pissed off with me for waking him up but I can't help but want to order caprihinias with that accent.
'I see.' Brief images of me sleeping at the bus station flash before my eyes.
'Go find a bed anyway. Choo can discuss this with him when he awakens.'
And that's how I met Hector.

Six in the morning is not a normal time to be awake, unless you work in a bakery or plan to break family members out of jail. The upstairs 10-bed dorm resembles an army hospital. The darkened room is filled with unconscious bodies, some emitting noise, some emit foul smells. I pick an empty bed and crash into it, knowing that on the other side of sleep will be a new beginning, a new life where I shall be appreciated for my hard work.

'You're an hour and a half late,' says John, 'Not the best start for your first shift.' Having been the subject of several sackings in the past I'm unfazed by these words but judging by the smile on his face I can tell he's taking the piss. Which saves me from retorting in the usual way ( 'Bite me ya spud-eating, horse marrying thug!'). Instead I say, 'Where do you want me to start chief?'
'Have you ever seen one of these before?'
'It's...a vacuum hose. But where is the rest of the vacuum cleaner?'
John walks to a section of the lounge room wall, opens a latch and plugs the hose into a hole. He pushes the latch forwards and the vacuum hose kicks into life.
'This is a built-in vacuum cleaner. The suction motor is in a central location in the hostel. All you need to do is carry the pickup head around.'
'Yeah.....it's....great fun.'

And it is great fun. For about two minutes. Then I'm just a guy vacuuming. It would've been a great adventure if I was, say, a gynoid from Stepford. But as it was my natural instincts are to be a slob. Encoded in my DNA is the urge to litter the world with pizza boxes and empty beer bottles. Not clean stuff up.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Long Way Home

Money's just something you throw
Off the back of a train
Got a handful of lightening
A hat full of rain
And I know that I said
I'd never do it again
And I love you pretty baby but I always take the long way home

Tom Waits, The Long Way Home

There's something about travelling that is simply addictive. For some this may have something to do with spending months in a seedy opium den while being fellated by underaged amputees. For others its trying the foreign cuisine. Oh the joy of finding blood in their excrement after a crippling bout of diarrhoea they got after eating a soup consisting of decayed mahi-mahi and ground up light bulbs! But I think the fact that no one knows your name, age or what you actually do for a living ('Seriously baby, I'm a private detective who owns a sky diving business.') gives you the freedom to lie through your teeth.

I have decided to return to Tallinn after all. It seems like a great way to break the monotony of my day-to-day existence back in Melbourne (wake up, masturbate to mug shots of incarcerated females in Des Moines' Polk County Jail, watch lawn mower commercials, masturbate again, go to work, work, masturbate, go home, sleep) which was getting too comfortable anyway. And meaningless. My former life, trying to remember it, was becoming increasingly harder every day I've been on my journey. When I try to recall my friends they appear slightly different in my head- hair parted the wrong way, wearing shirts I know they don't own, talking in a Texan accent- they are still familiar, yes. But its a cover version of the original song. The tune sounds a bit wrong to my ears. At the same time I think I'm also becoming less integral to the central plot of their lives as well. I'm a jigsaw piece that no longer seems to fit the overall picture. A remainder in a maths problem. An out-of-focus image.

The two days I spend in Lithuania are spent wrestling with my decision to go to Tallinn. The pros and cons of staying in Estonia for an additional month tumble around my mind, like watching clothes spinning around in a front-loading washing machine. Having this happen behind my eyes obscures my vision of Lithuania. I see the Gates of Dawn and the Church of St.Peter and Paul. I venture into Uzupis, the Republic of Angels, where bohemians have declared the 148 acre district with only one main street an autonomous region. You can even get a stamp on your passport for one day of the year- April Fool's Day. After being swallowed by the city for the two days we reach its heart- Frank Zappa's head- and I touch it. My work here is done. Now...to return to Tallinn, my temporary home.