(P.S. anyone else noticing how much I'm
In December 2005, Pam* came to visit and we spent a weekend together in Melbourne, Australia's second largest city located in the state of Victoria. Because she spent over twelve hundred dollars on plane fare and took more than a week off of work, Pam automatically received ten hole punches in her Best Friend Card, redeemable for twenty airport pick-ups or an ovary.
We were booked at a hostel cutely named the Elizabeth Hostel. The fact that this was the cheapest hostel I found online did not deter me from picturing a floral Bed-and-Breakfast with framed paintings of British ships hung on the wall. There'd be an old lady with white hair and a kind face handing us our room key, along with a plate of fresh baked crumpets and scones.
Upon our arrival in "Melb'n", as it's correctly pronounced, we could not detect the warm aroma of baked goods emanating from the lobby. In fact, the lobby of the Elizabeth Hostel was actually an Asian convenience store and a bottle 'o' (liquor store) and the only thing I smelled was liquid soap cleaner and marijuana. Not the best sign when your accommodation has to triple its services to get by. This is precisely the reason I do not eat at American fast food chain Jack in the Box. Anywhere that serves not only burgers, but also fajitas and eggrolls obviously cannot concentrate on one type of cuisine and obviously cannot sort out its priorities. I don't trust places that can't even commit to one identity.
The Asian man behind reception could barely speak English and it took fifteen minutes of arguing about the price of our room to realize we were agreeing with each other in different languages. Additionally, the building was three stories high but did not have an elevator, and our double room was not only lacking in framed British vessels, but windows and a closet. The beds creaked if you breathed on them. This room was your ugly cousin you can't even say has a good personality.
Within five minutes of sitting on our respective twin beds and discussing what we should do with the rest of the day, there came a knockity-knock on our door.
An Australian woman, mid-forties and missing two teeth I would assume are very important to adequately chew, talk or whistle, stood in the crack of our door, grimacing. She was complaining, threatening us about the noise volume.
"Me and everyone else on the floor can hear everything you say! EVERYTHING! I live here and I'm a night worker and there's others here, too, and this old man down the hall is sick and needs to sleep and I got the last people in here kicked out because they wouldn't turn off their music and be quiet! I got them right out of here! If you travellers want to party then that just won't work on this floor! You better move to one of the lower floors, that's where the loud people go!"
First of all, Pam and I were over-achievers in school. We never felt it necessary to hide or alter a report card. We are quiet, studying-on-a-Friday night kind of people. Both of us were in serious relationships at the time; any thoughts of loud sex with European backpackers were immediately ushered into nonexistence. Out of all the travelers on Earth, you could do a lot worse than share a floor with me and Pam. This crazy woman and her asymmetrical mouth were already complaining about us having a conversation in our own room. At four p.m. in the afternoon. On a Saturday. We were on vacation and entitled to talk at whatever volume we desired, but as it stood, the zipper on my suitcase was louder than the two of us.
I desperately wanted to stand up and defiantly proclaim, "Excuse me, missy. We paid for the room, and it's not our bloody [I would use an Australian colloquialism to attack her with her own national vocabulary] problem to adapt to your insane sleeping schedule. And if you're going to live in a hostel, you should learn how to deal. [Then I would pump my fist in the air.] U.S.A.! ALL THE WAY!"
Instead, all I did was give her a very strange look during her ranting monologue, and nod respectfully as I closed the door behind her. I am a polite person – on the outside. This is because I am afraid of any sort of confrontation and it's easier to agree with angry people than fight back with an attitude. But believe me, inside I am forever screaming, "Fuck you, Toothy McGee!"
* * *
As we walked through the city, free to speak above a loud whisper, we quickly discovered that Melbourne is underwhelming when coming from the tropical oasis that is Sydney. The buildings are grey, the weather is colder, and the river that splits through downtown is a muddy brown. There may be tons of interesting neighborhoods and exciting, unique Melbourne-only attractions, but if you don't wow me in the first ten minutes, whether you are a movie or the second largest city in Australia, I am immediately moving on to daydreaming about sex or winning American Idol. My brain ping-pongs between those two fantasies. Sometimes I'm having sex on the American Idol stage, and Simon tells me I'm "absolutely brilliant", Paula cries, and Randy escorts me into the dawg-house. For the last few months my dreams have featured Australian Idol (I fake a perfect Aussie accent and fool the country into voting for a yank), but you get the idea. Melbourne simply couldn't compete.
I had done close to no research on Melbourne, figuring that's what will make it a true adventure. It's more interesting to visit a place with zero expectations, because then even the smallest thing will become interesting.
"Look! Shrubbery! They don't have shrubbery like this back in Los Angeles!" And then I took roughly five hundred photos of a bush. A Melbourne bush. Without consulting a Fodor's or Lonely Planet, this shrubbery could be famous shrubbery for all we knew. Our imaginations were the only travel guide we needed.
Of course, over the years Pam and I have become true Los Angelinos, and there's only so much distance our feet can drag us through until we need to have a destination and call a cab to take us there. So, we picked up a few brochures and maps and flipped through them, seeing whatever stuck first.
We immediately spotted what was sure to be our reason for becoming friends and eventually, but inevitably, as it was fate, visiting Melbourne, combined into one tourist trap:
DRACULA'S ADULT CABARET DINNER THEATRE.
Pam and I are friends because we share many common interests. Writing, boys who wear glasses, Tim Burton directed Batman movies. I was Goth in high school and Pam reads online erotic literature, so we both are all about vampires.
"We have to go to this. We have to go to this!"
When I called, their machine picked up. "G'day and thanks for contacting [Vampire accent] Dracula's Adult Cabaret Dinner Theatre. [End vampire accent.] We are perfect for your next office function, hen's party, or romantic evening out with your partner. Unfortunately our offices are closed right now..." Blast! How can I concentrate on anything else this weekend when there's a chance this trip could go by without seeing Dracula's Cabaret?
We took the tram to St. Kilda, a backpacker's neighborhood, to do some shopping, although I was too shopped out to seriously consider buying anything. My tiny studio had capsized with clothes and souvenirs I had acquired after three months and I was officially out of room. It's small enough as it is without the blow-up mattress, a six-foot-three man, a woman with birthing hips, and both of our various haircare products filling up any available space. But with arcades and department stores on every block, there's little else to do in Melbourne besides shop. Except eat, and there were no less than ten thousand restaurants on Fitzroy Street, all lined up against one another like encyclopedias. There are only three million people spread throughout Melbourne, and each one of them must own a restaurant, because there was no other possible excuse for this many places to eat. How did each one stay in business? Do people eat twenty-four hours a day here? Is there something I'm just not getting about Vegemite?
I couldn't concentrate on shopping anyway when we still didn't have tickets secured. I called again and finally got them on the phone. I felt like the 100th caller.
"KVAMP IS THE ONLY STATION I LISTEN TO NOW GIMME MY CONCERT TICKETS!"
Instead I said, composing myself, "Do you have any spots left for tonight's show?" I was prepared to ditch Pam if there was only one space left.
"Of course!" replied a friendly, Dracula-free Australian accent. AUS$63 each. (In my head, I did the math - about US$50. I've become a human conversion calculator. Everything is automatically on sale for me because I am American and my money gets wired to me from another land. This makes me feel privileged among the unfortunate Aussies who have to pay for everything at market value.) The friendly voice further explained that our tickets included a three-course meal, pre-show entertainment, a two-hour live comedy show, and a RIDE ON A GHOST TRAIN.
I'm sorry - THE Ghost Train.
They just upgraded my 100th caller concert tickets to include a VIP groupie gangbang with the band after the show.
I ran back to Pam perusing a table of Aboriginal thunder sticks. WE GOT THEM. We planned the rest of our day around getting ready for our big night out. No time to lie out on the beach, we have to primp for Dracula!
Our Melbourne purpose was chosen for us. And that was to attend Dracula's Cabaret Dinner Theatre. I was not this excited for my own Sweet 16.
* * *
Pam and I got there early and took pictures of our well-coiffed hair and out-on-the-town outfits. We waited for our turn on the infamous Ghost Train while sipping drinks with names like Raven's Blood and Goblin Goo, fake plastic spiders floating in each glass. Now I am not even a fan of the spider's existence in the world, let alone in my drink, near my mouth, but fortunately enough the drink also had alcohol in it, so I was able to compromise. The lounge reminded me of Disney's the Haunted Mansion but without children, unless you counted me and Pam, already buzzed off of our campy cocktails, clapping our hands in anticipation.
When we finally boarded the ghost train (the most frightening, extreme ride of your life! our imagination travel guide prepared us for), the tiny two-person train car shuffled us from one room into the next. The pathway was unlit, but the lights from one room overlapped into the lights of the next room. It wouldn't scare an autistic child.
Our host greeted us with an Australian-Vampirian accent, the one I briefly heard on their outgoing voicemail. Her outfit looked as though she planned to attend a midnight Rocky Horror Picture Show and improvised a costume at a vintage thrift store.
"Welcome to Dracula's Cabaret, where you'll have a SCREAM of a good time. Where in the world are you GOULS from?"
Before I can say Sydney, Pam replies, "We're from Los Angeles." Oh, yeah. I'm from Los Angeles, too. I had completely forgotten there was a time before Sydney, before my boyfriend. It had all vanished, along with memories of my sixth birthday or anything I ever learned in my eleventh grade Physics class. Completely gone. Never happened. Selective amnesia.
The hostess drops her vampire accent. "Are you both agents?"
Pam and I make eye contact. How badly should we mess with her?
"We're in the film industry, yes."
A vague answer like that has different meanings depending on where its said. In Los Angeles, "I'm in the film industry" means exactly what we are: we went to film school. It could also mean we work at a video rental store or see movies. In the rest of the trustworthy US, it would be taken at face value: our careers fall somewhere within the film industry. At Dracula's Cabaret in Melbourne, however, it meant we, Pam and I, are the saving graces of these struggling Australian actors. As much as we desperately wanted to experience their campy dinner theatre, they desperately wanted to steal our passports and Nicole Kidman's movie roles. We are their golden ticket out of here.
We let our hostess marinate in her pipe dreams and we took our seats. The theatre was filled with about fifty tables facing a stage, each table seating various couples and groups. While I assumed all the other tourists here tonight were celebrating engagements, anniversaries, and other such events, Pam and I were commemorating our love of horribly, embarrassingly bad theatre. Sometimes our jokes come to us; sometimes we have to actively seek them out.
The show consisted of a dozen random sketches, all surprisingly focused on poking fun at the nationalities in the audience rather than vampires and vampire-related subject matter. French people are snooty, oh-ho-ho! Canadians are super friendly, ay! Americans constantly wave tiny American flags and like to have loud sex! It's like they're reading my diary!
Each sketch was separated by a musical interlude of the same actors performing songs that were currently popular on the radio. I was confused with the ultimate lack of vampires in Dracula's Adult Cabaret. It was more like Hot Topic Sings the Hits.
We kept drinking and the show got proportionally more and more enjoyable. Another Long Eyeball Iced Tea, another Zombie, another non-vampire-related pop song.
At the next table, a middle-aged Indian couple was clearly enjoying their Coffinapolitans. Every lame joke onstage resulted in a shrill, obnoxious laugh, their upper torsos doubling over with convulsions.
"Look at them," I said to Pam. "They're going nuts. I'm getting a Coffinapolitan next."
A performer came onstage dressed in a turban and spoke with a heavy Indian accent. Immediately the inebriated wife screamed, "I am Indian, too! I am Indian! Like me, like me!" We Americans, particularly New Yorkers, are known for being incredibly proud to the point of arrogance of our home turf, but this woman's drunken screaming "I am Indian!" to a room full of couples and pseudo-vampires could teach us a thing or two about pride.
However, the woman's equally drunk husband wasn't hearing any of it. He waved his hands in front of her, trying to quiet her down, as if to say Sorry, folks, I don't know why I bring her places.
But as soon as the wife hushed up (it's hard to scream while sipping through a straw), Mr. I Am Indian immediately started screaming at the stage himself, pumping his fists in the air.
"Yaawoo, Indian! Karma sutra! Karma sutra!"
I'm drunk at this point and in a happy place – Dracula's Cabaret. I have a huge desire to stand up and proclaim, "I am Indian! I am Indian!" myself, get a whole pep rally started. It would be a very Malcolm X-type moment. Pam would get my joke, because she's a cinephile like me, but even if she didn't she'd still laugh. Having my best friend around, even just for the week, is a huge comfort. She's my partner in crime. And with her she brought a piece of Los Angeles, of the United States, that I've been distanced from for the last three months. Her reappearance in my life jogs my memory back; I'm not Australian, I'm not a part of the community and lifestyle I've come to nestle myself into. I'm a born and raised, proud New Yorker. I'm a Hollywood wannabe. I'm a runaway from all of these experiences and characteristics that have attached themselves to me my whole life without my permission, but with Pam beside me, I'm momentarily homesick for the mini American flag I've never owned, I've never waved.
* * *
It was after midnight when we returned to our hostel room, falling like dead wood on top of our creaky twin beds. I yearn to shout "I AM INDIAN! KARMA SUTRA!" as loud as possible so Toothy MgGee would hear, the sound echoing throughout the cavernous space where her two front teeth used to be. Except I realize she's probably at work, her undisclosed job keeping her up late nights, ruining the vacation of every backpacker to cross the Elizabeth Hostel's florescent-lit threshold. For a moment I feel pity for her that she'll never have a night off to enjoy Dracula's Cabaret. Then I think, That's what you get for being a bitch. No Werewolftini for you.
I fall asleep smiling, dreaming sweet dreams of starving artist vampires participating in Karma Sutra on American Idol.
*names have been changed to protect Jan's identity**.