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I am dancing to Alex Cameron in my once-pristine hotel room. It is still clean – I am not a gremlin – but the floor, once vacuumed to the point of appearing more leather than carpet, bears witness to my inability to put 50% of the salted peanuts I consume by the handful when I can think of little else to do (which is most of the time) into my mouth. There are traces of salt like dandruff, breadcrumbs from the bread rolls that are deemed a sophisticated accompaniment to every meal, vacuum-packed in plastic wrappers, part soggy, part stale, and the size of a fat toddler’s fist that are scattered, well…also like larger, crustier flakes of dandruff. The sight of them reminds me of a particularly aggressive argument a boyfriend and I once had over the function of bread as a palette cleanser. It was the first and only time I was vehemently, stubbornly but incontrovertibly wrong in that relationship: I have never forgotten it.
Other things on the carpet: the pointed corner of a lime green tampon wrapper – you know the bit you tear off with your teeth while trying to be quiet in the public bathroom so nobody knows you’re on your period and then seems to drift lightly away, this triangle of noisy phosphorescence, seemingly to Narnia only to turn up conspicuously in shower plugs or the hallway outside? – and the sad curl of an abandoned rocket leaf. Both resemble the mood fish, abstractly cut from cellophane and primarily found in Christmas crackers: you know those gimmicks that curl up in your hand in a manner precise and psychic and illuminating for whatever emotional crisis you happen to be having in that moment? Shrivelled and drowning in the air-conditioned sterility of my prison, the brown sea of four-star lodgings for second rate business people, that is how they appear, these sad remnants of PMS and my plastic-packed salads, often delivered at the primetime of 11am. They add further confusion to the disorientating geometric design of the carpet.
I have just discovered an app called ‘Jimmy Brings’ that exclusively delivers alcohol to wherever it is you happen to be. It is yet another reason I am thus far completely smitten with Australia, though I have yet to actually experience it beyond these four walls and the deserted arrivals gate of Adelaide airport. The customs officers seem delightful though.
As I fill in my order details – a 6 pack of something called XXXX Gold and another of Victoria Bitter because I am cultured and when stuck in a quarantine hotel in Adelaide with nothing to do…do as the people in quarantine Facebook groups do? – lackadaisical Jimmy tells me to relax: Jimmy’s comin’. I am obsessed and, a quick three minutes after Nikolas drops my purchases at hotel reception, I am refreshed.
I should mention that I am not allowed to receive both my 6 pack of XXXX Gold and my 6 pack of Victoria Bitter in the same day. As laid out in the six-page document I received on my arrival here in the Peppers Waymouth Hotel, the amount of alcohol I am allowed to receive each day – even if from an outside vendor – is one bottle of wine, half a bottle of vodka, or one 6 pack of beer. The concierge telephones to ask what beers I would like – he explains he will keep the other pack safe for me until my 24-hour ban elapses. I was already too embittered to order the bitter – I went for gold.
It is Day 7 of my government-mandated quarantine stay. And because there is little in the way of entertainment and because I have imagined, in the wee hours of jet-lagged delirium, that you care to know how it is I am whiling away my time in a room with little internet, little in the way of people-watching entertainment and nothing but a list of B movies on the TV to distract me, I have decided to share with you an insight into this truly memorable experience for me, an adventure like no other. What follows is an accurate and honest portrayal of an evening in a hotel room, alone, where the only people to come within a few metres of you are paid to RUN from your potentially contaminated presence at the first available moment.
I feel very welcomed here.
It is a home away from home as the General Manager, a man whose Facebook name is Victor but who assured us he prefers Vic, told us from his respectful 2m distance from the top of our airport shuttle bus. Exactly one week ago, in full PPE and a primrose hazmat suit, Vic explained that this was the last time we would converse face-to-face with a human for 14 days and, should we attempt to break this rule, our warm and welcoming hotel “family” would be forced to fine us.
Let’s begin here, from the now in which you currently find me – sitting in a velour armchair in room 604, with an XXXX Gold beer in hand which I wouldn’t rush to say was XXXXcellent, an XL pack of salted peanuts by my side and Alex Cameron’s Miami Memory blasting because, now I no longer live with my parents, I don’t need to be embarrassed about singing along to the line “licking your ass like an oyster, the way you came like a tsunami.”
The time is 5.45 pm, Saturday, January 16th. Dinner has just arrived. Dinner, like all meals, has a two-hour window of delivery – 5-7pm. I am always on the early end of the delivery spectrum: dinner arrives by 5 (shortly after I’ve had lunch) lunch is dropped by 12 (while I am still in the process of eating breakfast), breakfast arrives absolutely no later than 7.45am (the precise moment I have just fallen into a deep and restful sleep). What this means is that my food is perpetually cold. Today’s dinner, given that I was further behind in my eating schedule than usual and ended up skipping lunch altogether, is welcomingly hot. It is unfortunately, like every other meal I’ve had today, not vegetarian, and so I pick up the phone and call reception, as I should have done when discovering a bacon-streaked breakfast (I ate around the pig) but was too lazy to do. They apologise, I prolong the conversation with some vegetarian-themed jokes, they tell me they will be up right away with my alternative. The meat dish – a kofta – sits incriminating on the edge of the glass-tabled desk. I cannot bring myself to throw it out yet, mentally skim through a variety of ingenious but ultimately improbable ways to smuggle it out of my room and into the belly of someone who needs it.
You see, everything that enters my domain is considered poisoned, contaminated, corroded and so the only way it can acceptably leave my room is as trash – double bagged and retrieved at a specific, pre-ordained time. I presume the same rules apply for me. Here, I am contagious until proven clean.
At 5.56pm there is a rap, almost threatening – some of these porters have watched too much Law and Order – on my door: my substitute dinner has arrived. In another brown bag. This marks the last almost interaction I can hope to have with any human in this hotel until my breakfast delivery tomorrow morning. Let me be clear: by interaction I mean a one-sided game of knock-and-run which has the added (read: only) benefit of finding a paper bag filled with a plastic packaged meal (that cannot be recycled because I am potentially contagious and contaminated please see above – DO NOT GET ME STARTED ON THE CLIMATE GUILT) accompanied by some form of side dish of varying edibility, and a dessert. What happens is one of the delivery people will leave our individual meal deals outside our respective room doors and then, when they’ve completed their inverted treasure hunt, they hurriedly knock on each of our doors in quick succession before, I shit you not, legging it down the hall.
Meanwhile, we all spring to attention – I assume, I can’t hear any sign of life except for the one room of a million screaming children to my left who, somewhat worryingly, I only hear between the hours of 6 and 7.30 am – is their food drugged?? – diligently putting on our facemasks before cracking open the door in one of only four instances in which we are allowed to do so. (The other permitted door openings are for our two other meal deliveries and the putting out of rubbish which occurs between 3 and 4pm daily. Every fifth day we get new bed linen: I could work as a hotel maid, my turndown service has become so exceptional.) There are markings on both sides of the door, 10 cm of duct tape about two feet from the doorway indicating where I am supposed to stand to collect my food. This is mirrored by another piece on the other side. Though not known for my height, I am not outrageously diminutive.
Even so, there is no human way possible for me to stand on this allocated spot and reach my food parcel without breaking one of the important bones in my body, or worse, the rules. Standing on this marker would also prevent any spyhole usage and thereby rule out any potential analysing of these strange men and women running up and down the halls three times a day through my one access point to the outer world: my precious peephole. So, understandably, I completely ignore the tape.
Sometimes, if feeling particularly dangerous, I even nudge my toes a hair, a fraction, a barely perceptible inch outside of the dip of the doorway, onto the once-a-day chemically blitzed carpet. I’ve been less brave since the morning I was late picking up my breakfast and reception called me to let me know, though this isn’t exactly how they phrased it, that they were watching me.
It’s now 5.57pm and my Fitbit is throwing a strop because I still need to take 138 steps to reach my hourly goal – which by the way isn’t really my goal at all, just another thing I’ve inherited from some ambivalent but ambidextrous and omniscient wellness god – and so I combine collecting my dinner with walking towards app-roval. I close my eyes as I stride eleven steps one way, eleven steps the other, down the narrow corridor that stretches from door to wall, whereby I turn, in a neat sidestep I mastered on Day 3 and will probably use in nightclubs for attention hereafter, and repeat the process three million times.
Anyway, tonight, we get curry. Because I am a health goddess and I’m really trying to cut down on dairy because I have a phlegm thing, I have asked for no dessert and so I get three strawberries, four small slices of pineapple and two wedges of melon that I keep intending to eat but instead store up in my fridge. I get very excited about thinking about eating them and then never do. Every time I prepare myself to crack one of their plastic containers open as an interim snack between the precise scheduling of my meals, the door is pummelled and I am forced to turn, reluctant but obedient, to the three different types of carbohydrate and unevenly chopped zucchini in tomato sauces of varying levels of sweetness sweating themselves to expiration in their aluminium coffins. The fridge has become its own coffin of uneaten berries, watermelon cubes, and julienne slice after julienne slice of pineapple. Despite the piling up of wasted food, I don’t think I’m losing any weight.
So the world is ending for no good reason.
The tomato sauce has coconut in it tonight – this is quite the exotic variation. I toast myself – something I find I do, with the solemnity of a Catholic father saying grace over Sunday roast, when alone and exceptionally content. I take a swig of the beer and wonder, as I have every day since I first began my quarantine, if it is normal to feel this satisfied, this placidly happy and fulfilled, in a sterile hotel room eating a microwave dinner for one.
After dinner, I google the Adelaide tv guide – one of several new online habits I have developed since I arrived at the Peppers Waymouth. Other highlights of my virtual ponderings include a twice daily (fine, hourly) refresh of Armie Hammer’s name in my search bar to see the latest twisted development in his sexual fetish scandal and Googling the 90210 cast members of the 2008 remake, usually to see if they were ever officially diagnosed with eating disorders.
I peruse the TV listings with interest – apart from the hotel chef posting our menu each morning in the “Peppers Quarantine Family” Facebook group (riddled with middle-aged people behaving as if it’s fresher’s week and therefore embarrassingly anxious to please/connect/share digestion updates), this is about the most exciting thing that will happen all day. Aside from the whodunnit suspense of the plethora of crime shows perpetually on a loop on every other channel, finding out what offerings the analogue gods will bring me is as much suspense as I can expect to experience here.
Analogue TV has taken on a whole new meaning for me in this room. I love everything about it: the idea of a schedule (you mean I just have to wait until the next episode to find out what happens??); ad breaks (you mean I have to wait until the obscure reality TV show campaigns are over to find out what happens??) and their synchronicity with my bladder, stomach and conscience (Oh, you mean I can also pee, make a cup of tea, fix a snack (not of fruit), reply to my mother, get another 50 steps in while I’m waiting to find out what happens? WHAT A FANTASTIC IDEA); the commitment and attention it demands of you (wait, I can’t fast-forward/rewind to find out what happens? I have to watch and listen and be quiet and stay off my phone to keep up – WHAT?). All of it is so wonderfully nostalgic and yet so wholly new to me after spending too long circling the drain of the Netflix vortex. Every night, opening my little guide feels like an occasion – I feel the frisson of excitement I once felt attending music festivals, art shows, plays, and holding the bill of possibility in my hand, wondering what diversions it might bring me, what worlds would be opened up.
Unrelated sidenote: there might be little internet here and no possibility of streaming. Analogue is all I have.
I’ve been trying to use this time – and the gift of the analogue tv (I don’t actually know what analogue means, by the way, I just heard someone use it in a podcast and thought it sounded so intelligent that I now believe ‘TV’ is not even a real word without it as a qualifier) – to improve my cinematic knowledge.
Whenever I turn to TV, it is because I am turning away from a book, or an article, or anything that requires brain power. I don’t want to be educated, I want to be diverted. I don’t want to be provoked, I want to be entertained. What I’m saying is, I watch trash. And then proceed to watch it again and again for the next 5-6 years until some newer, slightly funnier trash comes along to replace it and I, because of the mind-numbingly, watery nature of the trash, barely even notice.
And so I have been trying to watch “good” movies. There is a channel that screens ‘world’ cinema and so I sit down most evenings, when something catches my eye, to cultivate an interest in something that doesn’t have Dakota Johnson in it. I watch Lost in Translation and Babel, The Soloist and My Brilliant Career. I keep meaning to watch a foreign film but, much like the fruit rotting in my mini-fridge, the intention does not transmogrify to action.
Here’s what I learn from these movies: the algorithms have made me weak and alarmingly intolerant. Babel I find almost impossible to watch, from the agony of watching Cate Blanchett being stitched up without anaesthetic to the horror of life on the Mexican border. I am woeful and aghast when Sybylla turns down Harry in My Brilliant Career, even though her refusal is the iconic feminist energy I proclaim to love: where is my neat, romantic, heteronormative happy ending??? I am disgusted. Both at her refusal to play wife and, on closer examination, myself, of course, I guess (though I’ve somewhat spoiled the plot of this movie, you need to watch it – it’s SO good). And it’s the algorithms fault.
The algorithms – the “suggested for you”s and “because you watched…”s and “playing next”s have kept me in the shallow waters of tepid entertainment, where I need never be disturbed or challenged. Thankfully, after sweating out my body weight watching the Babel shoot scene, I have realised there IS a solution: analogue TV.
Not tonight, however. Tonight, the anticipation of my index finger earnestly scrolling through this new planet of Aussie channels, is unfounded. NOTHING IS ON. Even Criminal Minds and The Big Bang Theory are taking a break – a feat I didn’t believe possible.
I am left with no choice: I spend the rest of the night drinking XXXX-orbitantly priced beer and telling myself I’m going to write my profound novel now, or read that profound biography now, or listen to that profound podcast now, while learning how to successfully execute crow pose right now. Instead, I hover indecisively between social media apps and the mini fridge. I open both far too often then sit wrestling with my conscience wondering how much carbon this wastefulness has emitted.
At 8pm I wonder if I can go to bed yet. I’m sure eyelids couldn’t feel heavier than this. I’m sure if I went to bed right now, I could sleep for 12 hours straight. Though it’s been a week, I am still jet-lagged and barely sleeping. I decide it’s still too early – I’ll just be too restless – and open the blank page of my laptop that is ready and waiting to receive the first great line of my first great novel. Blankety blankety blank blank. Fridge door opens. Fridge door closes. The smell of browning banana fills the room.
Suddenly, I remember I brought a harmonica I begged Santa (my parents) for one Christmas because I thought two weeks in solitary confinement would be a good time to learn a new skill. I contemplate, officially halfway through my quarantine, if now might be an opportune moment to remember where I packed it. I decide against it and refresh my Armie Hammer tab that is now kept permanently open.
At 9.20 pm I hear uproarious shouting outside and so go to my sixth floor, wall-to-carpet window to find its source, crane my neck to pinpoint any bit of excitement I can vicariously live through. I see nothing but a cluster of four middle-aged couples standing in the middle of the road. I hover a little longer, this time looking at myself reflected in the high rise opposite. I pretend for a moment I am interesting, that in the other squares of other hotel windows, there are other people looking at me looking out. That they are stirred, intrigued, aroused by me. The windows look back emptily, a proliferation of blank spaces or white cardboard squares where the curtains have already been drawn, like accordions laid to rest.
I receive a burst of energy, spring maniacally into action, pacing the room and answering friends’ messages I’ve spent the day avoiding. I send five-minute monologues and responses come thick and fast telling me how good I sound – how perky and upbeat and energetic.
I AM good, I enthuse. I LOVE quarantine. So much space and time and quiet to process, to be, to think, to read – really reeead, you know? To watch movies – like really good, critically acclaimed movies that are on a TV, on a schedule, with ad breaks just like the old days – have you seen Babel? Oh, it’s VERY good.
At 2am I am still awake and I no longer feel good. Or upbeat or perky or energetic. I feel drugged and nauseous and yet still filled with some form of latent adrenaline that won’t let my eyes, bloodshot and drooping as they are, close. I lie in the nightie that my sisters said was too sexy and pummel pillows for an eternity. Hear the ding of the elevator every hour as what I assume are security staff – I never see them – come up to the floor to make sure we, the virulent aliens, are compliant. I grow scared, as I do every night, that there is someone in the room with me. That there is someone, breathing on the other side of the door I have double-locked, hiding in the wardrobe I have cleaned and vetted, standing in the shower cubicle I can see from my bed, who is going to cause me harm. I berate myself, as I do every night, for the Criminal Minds double bill I inhaled at 4pm when it was bright outside and I was foolish enough to think I had evolved so far into adulthood I could watch it without having nightmares. I masturbate for something to do.
At the exact moment I give up ever finding a moment’s rest or peace in this long, unfriendly night, I fall asleep.