Sunday, 8 January 2012

California Characters

Here follows a (very long) study of a few characters observed at the Monterey, Santa Cruz and Pigeon Point HI hostels:

1. First up is the little imp of a man with a silky red Christmas scarf hanging round his neck, somewhat similar to Mr. Tumnus in the tales of Narnia. Brimming full of Christmas spirit he had a knack for getting in everyones way and business. He appears to spend most Christmases in residence at the Monterey hostel. He was all about sharing and was forever cooking up concoctions in the kitchen for everyone to eat. There was a vegetable soup, fish, cookies with 'real butter' and a cake with 'real butter'. Sadly there didn't seem to be many takers.

I got the feeling he thought he was the only person left in the world who cooks dinner from scratch. We seemed to disappoint him because we had bought all our Christmas food and were proceeding to cook proper meals and some bread. On Christmas when we were cooking our $11.25 brussel sprouts he swanned into the dining area and announced that our sprouts and food were free for all 'There's still more food to come from the oven and there are more sprouts in the kitchen'.

I found it more difficult than normal to communicate with Mr. Tumnus. Conversation examples:
'Is that egg bread?'..'No it's a Swiss Sunday bread'..'No, but does it have eggs in it'.
On Christmas day we're shouting down the computer on skype to the deaf 99 year old grandma. Across the room he asks 'Are you aupair?'. 'A what?'-'An aupair, it's just that you seem to be talking to a small child and you were making Swiss bread'. Aaah, Bless as they would say...

2. Character number two was the lady staying in our dorm room for a few nights. The clam chowder was a really good deal down at the wharf (people round California have got a big obsession with clam chowder) and she did have a couple of margaritas. Anyway, in the morning I thought I smelt really bad and Jenny thought she smelt really bad. Turned out the margarita lady had been sick and had left it festering by the bedside. The Canadian lady in our room managed to make an escape to a different room, but we were left going to sleep with noses cloaked with paper towels smeared in organic hand soap.

3. The third, although we met him second was the man who ran the Santa Cruz hostel. He was though almost not characterful enough to deserve a place in the California characters shortlist. He was very much involved in the local hosteling movement, having set this hostel and the Monterey hostel up. In his youth Peter had traveled all over England and Scotland, proceeding to tell us all the hostels he had ever stayed at over there. We had never heard of most of the places (I probably have a better knowledge of North America than England). He was also keen to tell us about the great railways he had seen and of his admiration for Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was greatly disappointed that we didn't want to come and watch the X-factor with him in the TV room, featuring a singer from Santa Cruz. The following night it seemed he repeated his tales of the railways and the hostels of the United Kingdom to a less than impressed Matt, an Englishman living in Canada holidaying in California and frequenting the same last three hostels as us.

4. Yo, an elderly lady who was freezing cold stayed in our dorm room. She was so cold despite the heating being put on full pelt. Shivering in her bed Sarah from Hawaii crept over to cover her in additional blanket. She was in Santa Cruz revisiting places she'd been with her mother and catching up with friends. Someone 'incredibly sweet' had given her some cookies wrapped with a bow and cellophane, which she eagerly showed us. When we left it was all about 'happy holidays' and 'Lord be with you'. She looked almost tearful, gave me a hug and told me purple was her favourite colour.

5. At the Pigeon Point Lighthouse we came across a hilarious man who was holidaying with his family and friends. He thought he could definitely see the Ano nuevo elephant seals without paying. In the evening he came into our building baring a plate of food for Matt and later a chocolate Brownie for us, which his daughters and friends had just baked, and 'definitely didn't contain anything dodgy'. After I played the piano he couldn't wait to tell me that his twelve year old daughter plays 'Ode to Joy' and not very well. His biggest problem of the evening was regarding his visitation to the hot tub. Should he get changed into his trunks, wear his towel there and freeze on the way, or should he go in his clothes and change there. Dilemmas. When he came back he was full of tales of how he had stayed in for just a little bit longer and was getting changed when the next group made an appearance. Anyway, his enactment was pretty funny.

6. Carl the near to retiring coastguard from Florida was searching for somewhere to settle down. It was a toss up between somewhere in Florida and Monterey, which is why he was visiting Monterey (although in the morning he had forgotten he was in Monterey). It definitely had to be somewhere near the coast, because having spent his entire working life as a coastguard, he gets sick when he leaves it. As a child he had lived in Norfolk and attended day school in Sheringham. One day he got two questions wrong in a test and laughed when he got the results back, which in turn resulted in a beating from his teacher. Steaming he went home and plotted. The next day he got questions wrong again, laughed and got beaten. In response he took the whip and beat his teacher. And told her never to beat any of his classmates. Carl then had to go to the headmaster who gave him a beating, and in response Carl beat him back. Strangely no letter arrived for his mum and no-one heard about it at home. His classmates never got another beating. Apparently it was all because his mum paid the school in cash, and she was too good a customer to lose.

7. But the creme of the crop, the greatest fodder for any conniseur of human folly was who I now call the peacock lady. For the second time in the Monterey hostel it turned out that I was not just cooking our own meal but someone else's at the same time. Turning the heat down on the French girl's pasta was small fry in comparison.

The curly haired lady with slight limp in her step had no reservations in asking for help, or in holding back her complaints. She had some frozen prawns, but they were too frozen she ascertained by squidging them around, so she'd have to cook them. She kept telling me to tell her to 'slow down and take it easy' as she was very tired and apparently might cut herself while playing around with her prawns. No stovetop, no electric pots, is there no frying pan?, no that one's too big, no that one's too big, can't I use that one hun? (no I'm using it, how about this one..[and the one you just didn't want to use is exactly the same size]. Once she'd decided on a pan, I had to move it for her, plug it in for her, turn it on for her, almost wash her feet for her. Then it wasn't heating up quick enough, was it on? yes it was on. Tom....(the poor man working at the front desk) is it on? can you check it's on? Why isn't it heating up quickly? Poor Tom, I'd got him into the kitchen to open the beans with the broken tin openers and now there was no escaping for him either. Tom why don't you have hobs? Tom can't we put it in the oven (yes we can broil it)? Tom will you put it in the oven for me- I don't know how. Everytime Tom would inch out the door, there would come the inevitable... Tom, and he'd have to spring back into the kitchen. I was at least very grateful that Tom could provide a diversion, albeit briefly and stop the demands flowing in my direction.

Finally when the tins had been opened (Tom had searched the entire kitchen, managed with difficulty to open one of the tins and then a lady travelling with her sister and three dogs in the car, as well as a tin opener, opened the other for me) we sat down to eat our top cuisine of pasta and beans. The peacock lady came and sat herself next to us. She was keen for us to go in the morning to a danish pastry shop with her, but we wouldn't have had time. One little habit she had that was immediately observable to the discerning vegetarian was that she would squeeze her prawns, pop them into her mouth and then with her juicy fingers grab at my sleeve to get my attention (as if she didn't have it already!). Never has there been such competition as to who is going to wash the dishes. I left Jenny at the phrase 'so tell me about your dog'.

In the evening as we were packing our bags in the living room conversation turned to the lady who had been sick and in whose bed the peacock lady had now taken up residence. Naturally she was worried to possibly be sleeping in that bed, but Jenny assured her it was nothing she could catch, just a case of one too many tipples. Sleeping soundly in my bed I was awoken at 4a.m. by a persistent tapping sound, which I then noted was coming from the door. I couldn't understand why the peacock lady wasn't getting up to open it, before it dawned on me how stupid I was being and that it would actually be her at the door.

In the morning as I was getting up the peacock lady snuck up on me and thanked me for my help and understanding, before requesting that we take her to the bus station when we left. Seeing no way out we got ourselves ready while she practiced yoga on the sick patch. While Jenny skyped home the lady told me about her mission. Apparently we were on a mission to get away from it all, whereas she was on a mission to find herself a husband. Clipping her curls up high on her head she declared that she had to make herself look like a peacock to attract a husband. Her plan was to buy herself some golf balls, go to a Pebble Beach golf course (where the rich people hang out), and (without knowing how to play golf) pitch a few balls and stumble across a nice gentleman of similar age. Although she had already got her Amtrak ticket home, she was hoping that she'd have to postpone it.

She then went on to tell me about her 'child'/kitten, who was emptying its cat litter right now and how it should really have a friend when she goes away, but she can't really afford one. I was torn away from this most interesting conversation and sleeve tugging (at least the fingers were no longer coated in prawn) by mum who it seemed 'desperately' had to talk to me on skype.