Flatmates can have very disturbing habits. When I lived with two in Sydney, their exploits made up most of my letters and emails to my friends and family.
I’m still alive today mostly because my flatties were never as sinister as the flattie in this real-life scare-o-drama, or as the freaky flatmate in Single White Female. The two of them were more like the characters you’d find in He Died With A Felafel In His Hand.
They were unlikely flatties, my flatties, because I had always been picky about who I’d be able to live with. Good friends are usually out of the question. My friend H wanted to flat with me when he was supposed to come to Sydney to study, but we agreed he’d never get round to studying, ‘cos we’d spend all our time going to Ikea and decorating the flat. My kayaking buddy was also out as a candidate, cos he’d probably convince me to build a boat in the courtyard, and we’d be in the harbour every other day, dodging ferries and fighting seagulls. Even my brother, who was in Sydney round the same time I was, moved out because he couldn’t live with me, and the feeling was mutual.
So, after me and the girlfriend broke up, I lived alone for a bit, before I decided it was getting expensive paying rent for a two bedder. It was easy getting a flattie, since there were always tons of uni students looking for accommodation. Of course, I hoped for a chickie flattie. Of course, chickie uni flattie no like living with smoking, drinking, cussing and occasional drug taking flattie.
What I got was a shy first year student from Malacca whose English wouldn’t pass muster even if he tried ordering a plate of chips. Quiet type, I thought. Good, I thought. Won’t disturb me, I thought.
Wrong of course. He had footsteps louder than a hoard of dinosaurs, and I had wooden floorboards. He liked playing computer games at full volume, roaring every time he lost. And I mean roar. My friends called him Jurassic Park vs Jumanji, or JPJ for short. Being his first year in Sydney, he’d receive many phone calls from home and from friends, and his conversations usually went like this:
“Hallo? Who ijit? Ah Keow ah? Ah Neow ah? Ah Keow or Ah Neow? Bungalee See Futt (a Bengali’s posterior?) lah!”
And he’d trail off, loudly, in Malaccan Hokkien or Mandarin.
My friends, who were sometimes unfortunate to have JPJ pick up the phone when they called me, used to report that it was impossible to leave a message for me:
“Hi, can I speak to….”
“He not in”.
And when my friends tried to reach me again,
“Do you know where he is?”
JPJ was more hospitable with strangers, as I found out one day while coming home from work. I saw him seated awkwardly on the sofa with two young men whom I assumed to be his classmates. So I said hi and went about doing my things. It took me half an hour before I realised it was strange none of them were talking very much. I snuck a peek at the living room and saw bibles and churchie brochures on the coffee table. JPJ had opened the door for the two door-to-door evangelists, thinking they were my friends, and had sat there silently with them for a good hour before I came home.
Personal hygiene wasn’t high on JPJ’s priority either. Not that he stunk up the whole place badly, but there was once while I was brushing my teeth I found pubic hair in the bathroom sink.
I always lived on the quieter streets in the quieter suburbs, and it is especially quiet at night. Your ears start ringing if you don’t have the radio or telly on. But thanks to JPJ, the peace was often broken by his bizzare appearances in the hallway. Some nights, he’d burst out of his room roaring and running into the kitchen, with a tin of biscuits in his hand. First time it happened, he explained he had fallen asleep while eating bikkies, and that a trail of ants had started crawling all over him. Yes. I am paraphrasing.
Another time, during the annual bogong moth migration, he had roared out of his room because the clothes he had put out to dry for a week had started to host a colony of cocoons. “Bungalee See Futt Butterfry!”, I remember him exclaiming.
The following year, we had to move flats because the old building we lived in was to be torn down. The only other flat I liked was a three bedroom converted house on a very quiet street near the beach. This meant getting another flattie.
Enter Augustus Tay, the flaming queen first year architecture student from sunny Singapore, complete with Caesar haircut!
It took a whole month before JPJ asked me, “Eh, that Ah Goostus is he a gay?”
It’s funny how things turned out, as I had expected JPJ to be homophobic, especially when ‘Ah Goostus’ was one of the most flamboyant gay men you’d meet. He had a job as an aerobics instructor as well, and would be prancing around the kitchen choreographing new class routines while wearing his fluffy slippers and red g-string. I wish I had a camera during one very kodak moment: JPJ and Ah Goostus, dressed as he usually was, sitting on the sofa, watching telly together, and Ah Goostus asking JPJ why the picture was ‘wah lao wei she me kan bu dao dong xi de?’, and JPJ grunting his reply, ‘how I know?’, like a grumpy old husband.
As for letting strangers into the house, Ah Goostus topped JPJ because he’d have at least one man a week staying the night. Some mornings I’d wake up to make brekkie and bump into a half-naked stranger and not know whether to say g’day or clobber him with my mug. To say Ah Goostus was highly sexed was an understatement. He’d buy sex toys and gay porn and leave them all over the house. And I mean things like a double headed dildo lying on the coffee table. Once I had a friend over for tea and we stumbled upon him jerking off watching a porn video in the living room. He was startled enough to vault over behind the sofa but not in time to turn the VCR off. With the awful sounds of the gay porn video as backdrop, he protested, ‘wah lao, next time you are coming home early must tell me ok? Can you pass me a towel?’
As you can imagine, Ah Goostus’ social circle stretched far and wide in Sydney, and I was stumped to one day come home and recognize one of the city’s most prominent barristers dining with him on a meal, the recipe of which I had supplied earlier that afternoon. It was one of the few times I had ever been starstruck and shocked simultaneously.
This week, after reading about the goodie bag goodies the new PM has given the populace, I was toying with the idea of moving out, and getting a flat. And it made me think fondly of JPJ and Ah Goostus.
Birthday Celebrations, Meymotte Flats, 1998