One of my personal nerd-thrills is reading literature set in the city in which I’m currently living. If anyone’s read Matt Ruff’s questionable book Fool on the Hill, for example, you should know that as far as I’m concerned, scenes featuring fairies traipsing around the Thurston Avenue bridge are totally worth the sacrifice of viable plot continuity. In the same vein, it gave my tiny weirdo heart a shiver when I heard the rumor that Lolita was based in Ithaca.
For what it’s worth, Brisbane has inspired its own bevy of awesome (and less than awesome) stories set right here by the river. David Malouf’s Johnno, for instance, describes the strange, gleeful grunge of the city in the 1940s by calling it a “permanent shantytown.” Meanwhile, the narrator in Nick Earls’ 48 Shades of Brown talks about walking the same route to the local Coles that I do every Monday afternoon. Even though Brisbane is a small-ish city, and maybe not as internationally renowned as Sydney or Melbourne, books set here serve to capture its unique, unapologetic spirit in a way I can certainly relate to.
One aspect that has emerged, without fail, in every single book I’ve read about Brisbane? The share-house. The iconic “Queenslander” is a mark of leisure and pride about twenty years too late: like pro footballers gone slightly to seed, scads of them sprawl sweating on stilts along the river. These houses tend to have too many rooms to be practical for modern families, so, naturally, they get converted to share-houses and get leased to everyone’s favorite vagrants: twentysomethings!
John Birmingham’s fantastic, darkly hysterical book He Died with a Felafel in his Hand perfectly portrays the easygoing nature of these share-houses. Roommates move in, roommates move out, leases involve a complicated transaction that may or may not require a blood signature, and the hot water always lasts for about five minutes. My house is (tragically) not on stilts, but with ten bedrooms, it definitely embodies that same spirit of vague insanity.
For the most part, I’ve had a great experience living here. It’s inexpensive, includes internet, and is a decent walking distance from uni, grocery stores, and the all-important late-night kebab shop. Although there are ten bedrooms, we have unofficially divided into Upstairs and Downstairs, so it never feels all that crowded. For a good example of the differences between Upstairs and Downstairs, one needs only to look at the kitchens:
(They have a fruit bowl, for godssakes! Show-offs.)
Luckily, since I feel most comfortable in semi-horrifying environments, squalor suits me just fine.
There are, of course, downsides to every living situation, and the good old basement is no exception. One of my roommates, for instance, is distractingly fond of smoking indoors almost every night. This wouldn’t be that much of a problem, as I think my olfactory organs stopped being receptive to the scent of marijuana after living in Dickson freshman year, but he then, without fail, gets the munchies and feels the need to cook at three in the morning. Again, not a problem on a Friday night, but on the Wednesday before an exam is due? I am less amenable to being awoken by the sound of crashing pans and mad giggling from three metres away.
There’s also the related problem of munchie-food-stealing. A few weeks ago, I made a huge lentil soup using basically my entire grocery budget for the week. “All right!” I thought to myself as I stuck the pot in the refrigerator. “Dinner for a whole week! Look at me, graduating from instant porridge for dinner.”
That night, I woke to the sound of crashing pots and pans. A sudden, terrible truth struck me. I flung open my door accusingly, giving Chris the stink-eye, but he scurried back to his room before I could catch him out. As soon as I shut the door again, I heard him return. This charade repeated itself about four times before I finally gave up in despair. Sure enough, in the morning the lentils were gone. Curse you, guileless pot munchies!
He does supply me with an unquestioning source of jasmine rice, though, so I’ve decided to pick my battles.
A more persistent problem lately has been the vermin. While cockroaches are always a little unpleasant and geckos are just sort of odd, they’re all pretty manageable. Even the huntsman spiders are more awesome (apart from one terrible incident in the shower involving a shampoo bottle, a clinging passenger, and MY FACE) than horrifying.
We have, however, recently developed a bit of a rodent issue. Now, keep in mind that this is me we’re talking about. I wanted to be a vet from the age of four to eighteen (stupid organic chemistry). I often talk to my dog on Skype. I haven’t eaten an animal since I was ten, and I gave up milk and eggs two years ago. I am the sort of irritating neo-hippie that takes cockroaches outside and sets them free. I am perfectly happy to let a few rat sightings slide.
But when I found a live mouse inside my box of Sultana Bran two mornings ago, I knew something had to be done. I stopped squalling and let Chris lay down some traps. That night, when I heard the telltale rustling, I listened, teeth gritted, for the inevitable snap.
Instead, though, there was silence. Suspicious, I poked my head out and let out a manly squeal. Sitting by the trap was the largest rat I have ever seen in person, and I have been on a New York City subway train. It was the size of my Jack Russell when she was a puppy. It probably could have successfully wrestled a small possum.
It squatted by one of the traps, nonchalantly reaching its paw into the peanut butter. As my shriek died away, it looked up, unconcernedly licking its paw, and gave me the Nod. “What are you going to do, Kathleen?” I saw in its gaze. “Whack me with the 2-by-4 sitting by the table for this very purpose? You don’t have the guts.”
I thought about it. I really did. It would be so easy–the board was right there. One quick smack and our grain would be safe for another day.
But as our beady eyes met, I knew I just couldn’t do it. I had a guinea pig once, but more than that, I felt a connection. We both had bellies to fill. We both had an affinity for Coles Super Chunky Peanut Butter ™. We were both strangers in an unforgiving foreign land. And I felt, somehow, that this would satisfy him: that after surviving this encounter, he would retreat back into his hole, content with no longer ruining my hard-won cereals.
I gave it the Nod back and went back into my room, genuinely hoping that the peanut butter snack would not be his last.
The next morning, there was a giant hole chewed in my bag of rice.
Morals of the story: vegans are useless, I’m setting the traps better tonight, and the rats will always win.
(Blog title from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ irresistibly cheery Home, to keep you warm on these increasingly cool nights! …if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, that is.)