In the latter half of 1995, I moved into a place called the Hollywood Hotel -- it was a boarding house for the poorest people. I stayed there for about two and a half months. I spent my time doing nothing much -- I generally spent most of it up in the bedroom, and never came down without good reason. I liked to remain secluded and cut off from the world. Up there, in my tiny first-floor room, I could waste as much time as I liked, without regret. Often I spent the whole morning in bed, and spent the whole afternoon reading, or writing my diary. Occasionally I got around to letter-writing. The decision to live in the Hollywood Hotel was not my own -- I felt that I had been dumped there by the psychiatric hospital where I had been staying previously. What with my refusal to go home to my parents, this was the only place they could find in which to place me. It was the first time I had ever lived alone.
It wasn't boring, at first -- time seemed to pass quickly. But one thing I hated about it was the food. The hotel only provided two meals per day. Residents had no choice in what they ate -- we just had to eat what we were given. Even at breakfast -- it was always porridge (or sometimes weeties) and toast. I asked the staff if there was anything to spread on the toast -- they looked around and found me something. It resembled strawberry jam, but it was so hard, one couldn't spread it evenly. The dinners were not too bad, usually, but I always like to have a lot of tomato sauce with everything, and the tomato sauce they provided me with was fermented. Eventually I eased the food situation by bringing my own jam to the breakfast table, and my own tomato-sauce to the dinner table. I never used to buy lunch for myself -- I had to be very careful with spending any money because my income was almost equal to my rent. If I had adopted a routine of buying lunch every day, then my savings account would have steadily declined. And there was no breakfast on weekends.
I was in a constant state of hunger. I don't feel hunger as acutely as most people, and I can always resist it. But in the Hollywood Hotel, when I saw delicious food on T.V., I felt an intense desire to eat. I remember one time I was watching the David Letterman show and Dave was handling this big lump of pizza-dough while he spoke to the audience -- and I was thinking, "Why doesn't he eat it? Go on, just take one bite out of it!", but he didn't. I felt that if I had seen him eating the pizza-dough, I could have vicariously satisfied my own longings. And there were many times I had dreams where I was walking amongst giant piles of delicious food and gorging myself. But I was following my own rules, and one of them was to spend as little extra money on food as possible, because the price of food was included in the rent.
I was in such a state of malnutrition, I became sick during August and threw up several times in the little sink in my room. The vomiting happened at night -- when I awoke in the morning I found that the sink was still clogged with vomit. Later I embarked on the unpleasant task of unclogging it, by scooping the filthy water out with a cup and tossing it out the window. I also had to remove some of the chunks individually, using a paper-clip shaped into tweezers. Then I went to the supermarket and bought a scouring-cloth to clean the sides of the sink -- it ended up a great deal cleaner than it was when I moved in.
My sister Melanie came to visit me sometimes in the hotel -- she took me out to dinner once on July 4th and showed me some leaflets about activities and little courses I could do. But I didn't pay much attention to that. She also took my clothes to her house at one point and washed them all, because they were getting dirty and I didn't care. I didn't want her to interfere, but Melanie represented the future for me. I knew that she would later help me to find a decent source of income and eventually get out of this place, and that I would be willing to co-operate with her after a certain date. Whenever she visited me and took me out, it was like stepping into a world which I would soon be a part of, a world of warm rooms and good food and money. She made an attempt to help me to be more social -- she said I ought to ask questions so as to get to know people and then they would like me and I would have more friends and be happy. But I knew it wouldn't work because I couldn't think of questions to ask people and I wasn't really interested.
I didn't spend much time reading -- not as much as I should have spent, anyway. But on some days I walked to the local branch library and read something from the computer section or the mental illness section. I remember one time I read this book called "Maximizing Your Mac" or something and that was crammed with information about Apple Macintoshes. I tried to absorb it all. It was quite an entertaining book -- the best bit was the chapter called "Customizing Your Mac", all about background patterns and sound effects and screen-savers. It was all very cute and it made me smile and look forward to the day when I would one day have my own computer. This was part of my dream, of how my life would be. I used to walk past the big tall apartment buildings on the Esplanade and think, "One day, soon, I will have a job and I will be able to afford to live in a place like that." I would not have been able to stand living in the Hollywood Hotel if I didn't think of it as temporary.
But the weeks dragged on and I had passed the point where I wanted to co-operate with Melanie's plans for me. I had stayed in the hotel longer than expected. At that point Melanie had not visited in a long time and I wanted her to come. I wanted her to rescue me from that pit of desolation and decay.
On the second of August, my T.V. broke down. It was only a tiny little black and white T.V., but it was very important to me as I often tended to watch more than five hours of television each day and it was an important weapon against boredom. There was a colour T.V. downstairs in the dining room, but that was shared with the other residents and they very rarely wanted to watch the same things as me. I took my T.V. to a tiny electronics repair shop down the street. The days went by and the repair was delayed again and again -- I went down to the shop every few days to ask if my T.V. was ready yet, and the answer was invariably no. So there I was, with no T.V., and no letters left to write, struggling to somehow keep myself occupied.
On the tenth of August, there was a blown fuse in Hollywood which meant that none of the power-points worked, although the lights were still on. It was a horrid state of affairs -- it meant I couldn't play my synthesizer anymore and there was nothing to fend off the insufferable cold which came creeping in like Darkseid and his hordes of Apocalips. I felt so helpless without electricity. The worst thing about it was, I didn't know how long it was going to be off. That same evening, about 7:50pm there was a knock at the door; feeling sure it was Melanie, I hurried to open it. But it was only a fat ugly hairy old man named Mario. His speech was wonky -- I don't know if it was accent or speech impediment. He made some small talk, I just stood there like a zombie without making eye-contact, except on the rare occasions when he asked me a question which I could understand. He asked if he could come in -- I said no, but he came in anyway. He tried to persuade me to come back to his room, but I said no. He closed the door and got down to the point -- I couldn't understand what he was requesting at first, though it was clear he was trying to sell me something. I shook my head a few times. Slowly it became clear that he was offering me money for sex. I kept murmuring "no" as he raised the price and emphasized that a condom would be used. This went on for several minutes -- I thought he might give up and leave when he saw how inflexible I was, but obviously I wasn't being discouraging enough. Eventually I opened the door and said "Please leave." I had to say it twice before he started hobbling out the door. My writing hand was shaking as I got back into bed. When he came back, a few minutes later, I opened the door, saw it was him, and slammed the door in his face.
It was then I decided that I'd call Melanie in three days time, and ask her what I should be doing in regard to money earning. I had refrained from calling her in the past, because I never ask for help if I can possibly avoid it, and I knew she was bound to come visit me eventually. But I had to feel like I was doing something to improve my situation. Otherwise the days of poverty and boredom would stretch out before me into bleak infinity. The power-points came back on at 2pm the following afternoon.
The next day after that it was an unseasonably fine day, not a cloud in the sky. I figured I ought to use the opportunity to go for a walk along the foreshore. There were cool people out on the beach with their families and rollerblades and bikes, so the paths were crowded with normal happy people and that was an unfamiliar and uplifting atmosphere to be in. So far removed from the depressing aura of poverty in Hollywood. It was good to see all those friendly people out in the sunshine, and I promised myself that I would come back here in the summer.
The person in charge of Hollywood Hotel, it seemed to me, was a woman named Val. At first she seemed a bit dumb -- she had a non-brainy-sounding voice, but I later found out that she was quite the consummate professional with life experience and she had three university degrees. Anyway, Val had been speaking to Melanie and found out that I'm good at painting and drawing, so she encouraged me to attend this free weekly art-class which several of the Hollywoodlings went to -- it was a thing where a bus came to pick people up from the hotel and drive them to the art studio where they had access to drawing-materials and freedom to create what they wanted. I was reluctant at first, just because it was an unfamiliar scene and I didn't care about it. But Val was insistent about me going to it because she was that kind of person who really cares about her residents. So eventually I went to it and it turned out really well -- I created a picture and it gave me ideas about what I'd like to draw in the future.
On August 14th I called Melanie, at the public pay-phone. She said "What's up?" I said, "I was wondering should(n't) I be (carefully timed pause) doing something?" She said "You mean you should be doing something because it's after August the 8th?" "Yes." "Well that's up to you." And I said (this is the bit I'm proud of), "It's just that I'm not sure where to start."
The phone call served its purpose -- Melanie said that she would come and visit me. On August the 18th I finally got my T.V. back, and on August 19th Melanie finally came. She told me about her plan, that I would move out of the Hollywood Hotel and move in with her because she was looking for a new place to live. Her old house was going to be demolished. She had a whole arsenal of reasons to back up her assertion that this was a good plan, but I needed no persuading. I desperately wanted to move out of the hotel, and living with Melanie would be cheaper than living alone, so I agreed.
During the following three weeks I investigated my possibilities of employment and training. I attended a seminar at the Computer Power Training Institute. I registered with the CES, which used to be the government agency responsible for finding people jobs -- there I had an interview with a man who gave me a job-search allowance form. I had a bit of trouble specifying what sort of work I'm looking for. Seeing how quiet and underconfident I was, he suggested I fill out a "Clarification of Medical Condition" form 'cause that way I'd be more likely to get a job because the CES would agree to pay part of my wages if I got one. And even though my quietness isn't a medical condition, the man said it would be O.K. as long as I get my psychologist to sign the form. The situation was grim and I was upset. It's like he was saying, that people like me have no chance of getting a job unless the employer gets money from the government to compensate for the inconvenience of having me on the payroll. I applied for a few jobs in the weeks before leaving the Hollywood Hotel, but it came to nothing.
It wasn't until September 16th that I moved out of Hollywood and moved in with Melanie. She never did find a job for me, and I never found one for myself, though I tried very hard. The story of my journey towards happiness goes on a long way beyond September 16th, but the story of the Hollywood Hotel ends here. I was pleased to escape from it and cut all links with the depressing underworld which it represented to me.