The International Writers Magazine: New Zealand
On the rainy North Island capital of New Zealand, an intrepid “stringer” lands in the hostel from hell. . . .
My Beef with Wellington
John M Edwards
At the world-famous “Beethoven’s Hostel” in Wellington, New Zealand, where everyone is awoken each and every single day by loudspeakers blasting a classicist reveille of The Ninth Symphony, with eventually world travelers assuming the glazed rapturous expression of anti-hero “little old Alex” from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, I was perfunctorily turned away at the front desk by the smiling Chinese owner because I “smelled like smoke.”
Mad as hell, I lit up a duty-free Silk Cut outside, shouldered my heavy backpack, and trudged down the road in search of alternative lodging.
I was trying to unearth something much more in line with the psychedelic hippy groovy “Backpackers Hostel” franchise, where everybody smokes and drinks like fiends, but prefers bacon and eggs to suspect miserable muesli.
At a regular-looking house with a cardboard sign with a Magic Marker imprint advertising “HOSTEL,” I said to myself, “Hell, why not?”
I rang the bell and a blithe nymphette as ethereal as Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings--which incidentally was filmed entirely by Kiwi director Peter Jackson (whom I met) in situ—welcomed me with a warm handshake and a merry twinkle in her eyes. The only problem: I suspected she might in fact be a heroine addict.
But the room was okayish, (albeit with walls suffering from off-putting peeling paint), featuring a flimsy cot with a concave depression resembling the lost contact lens of The Cyclops from Ulysses.
After catching a little “kip” (New Zealand slang for “sleep”) in my Medieval “beed,” I decided that sightseeing would be a nonsequitur since there is nothing much to really do or see in Wellington except quaff Steinlager with abandon in British- or Irish-style pubs called “public houses.”
Downstairs I suddenly felt a little peculiar among all the obvious drug addicts, sitting around watching TV like hypnosis victims confined to wheelchairs.
I went over to the musty couch, which smelled like spilled beer and semen, and picked up a copy from the coffee table of Robert McCrum's The Story of English--an amazing book not only for an English and History major like myself, but for anyone interested in the lingua with the world’s largest vocabulary.
I blatantly opened a wonderful bottle of New Zealand red wine from the Bay of Islands region, when The Brit sat himself down right next to me and said, “That’s mine, I own it,” and then snatched the book out of my hand.
I’d met dodgy characters like this before, post-punk dolebludgers who traveled the world on other people’s nickels and nick things from their fellow travelers. He turned too me and with great sincerity said, “They are talking about me on the TV, listen.”
He had such a big smile on his face I couldn’t tell if he was trying to take the mickey out of me.
“Uh, yeah,” I said, taking a sip of red wine.
From out of nowhere, he produced a regular drinking glass and swung it toward me: “C-c-could I have some.”
I didn’t want to be mean about it but found myself hoping he would soon go away. “I don’t have much left, but I suppose you can have some.”
He manhandles the bottle until most of the contents ended up in his glass, as if he were making an illegal wire transfer with my classified personal information.
The TV show “Alf” came on and the Brit looked genuinely entranced. He began to laugh uncontrollably. I couldn’t help but giggle a little myself.
But then the terrifying sound of shouts and screams—and something resembling heavy furniture being moved around—emanated from upstairs. I went quickly to my room and shut the door but the sounds grew steadily worse. I wondered if anyone was going to call the police. Rather than get involved, I quickly repacked my backpack, stepped carefully down the stairs, and made a beeline for the door.
Galadriel rushed toward me: “Please don’t leave. They’ll stop pretty soon. It’s just an argument. I really like meeting Americans.”
I felt sorry for Galadriel, noticing for the first time an aura of extreme loneliness about her.
I apologized but of course left anyway.
I idly wondered whom exactly again was Wellington?
Was he a duke or something (no: that was the Big Band leader!)?
Anyway, I planned to look it up in the Encyclopedia Brittanica when I returned to America, but I forgot about it entirely until exactly right now, poised over my computer keyboard and ready to do an extensive Google search.
© John M. Edwards May 2013
Sintra : Portugal
John M Edwards
Setting up my tent on a grassy knoll in sight of the splendid Moorish castle