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  • In December 2005, Jan came to visit me in Australia and we spent a weekend together in Melbourne, the country'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 work just for me, Jan 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, being that 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 Jack in the Box. Any fast food chain that serves not only burgers, but also fajitas and eggrolls obviously cannot concentrate on one type of cuisine and should be avoided.)

    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. 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 knock on our door.

    A short 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. Which was about one decimal above mute.

    "Me and everyone else on the floor can hear everything you say! EVERYTHING!” she began, spit flying through the gaps in her teeth. “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! You guys are travelers and you wanna party and that just won't work on this floor! You better move to one of the lower floors, that's where the loud people go!"

    This woman didn’t know it, but Jan and I were over-achievers in school. We never felt it necessary to hide or alter a report card from our parents. 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 or Around the World parties 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 Jan. This crazy woman with an asymmetrical mouth was 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 was, the zipper on my suitcase was louder than the two of us, so her case didn’t hold up much.

    I desperately wanted to stand up and defiantly say, "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. U.S.A.! ALL THE WAY!”

    Instead, all I did was give her a very strange look during her ranting monologue, then nod respectfully and close 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!"

    * * *

    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!"

    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.

    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 it’s been 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 in my eyes.

    Of course, over the years Jan 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:


    Jan 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 Jan reads online erotic literature, so we both are all about campy 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 back in Sydney had capsized with clothes and souvenirs I acquired after three months and I was out of room. It was small enough as it was without the blow-up mattress, a six-foot-three man (my boyfriend Christopher), a woman with birthing hips (me), and our various haircare products filling up any available space. But with arcades and department stores on every block, there was little else to do in Melbourne but shop. Except to 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 all 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 when we still didn't have tickets secured. I called again and finally got them on the phone. I felt like the 100th caller of a radio station contest giving away prizes.


    Instead I said, composing myself, "Do you have any spots left for tonight's show?" I was prepared to ditch Jan 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. That’s what it felt like when they mentioned The Ghost Train.

    I ran back to Jan 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.

    * * *

    Jan 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 Jan, 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 couldn't scare an autistic child.

    Of course, when I later told this story to Christopher, he told me he went to the Dracula's in Queensland when he was seventeen and screamed on the ghost train. Screamed. More than anything about him, I loved his unexpected innocence combined with his been-around-the-block tattoos. His equal adoration for Fall Out Boy and Backstreet Boys. His penchant for facial piercings and his conservative views on family. He makes no sense, and it worked perfectly with my need for constant mental stimulation. I was constantly trying to figure him out. I still haven’t.

    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, Jan replies, "We're from Los Angeles." Oh, yeah. I am from Los Angeles. I had completely forgotten there was a time before Sydney, before Christopher. 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. But now my past came rushing back, snuck on the plane in Jan’s suitcase like a stowaway insect, and found its way back to me in a country it should never belong in.

    The hostess drops her vampire accent. "Are you both agents?"

    Jan 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” could mean anything from “I’m a studio executive” to “I went to film school and work at Blockbuster” to even “I see movies at the swanky movie theatre that’s three more dollars than other movie theatres, which means it’s ‘better’.” But at Dracula's Cabaret in Melbourne, however, it meant we 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, Jan 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 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 Jan, slurping the last of my Zombie loudly through the straw. “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. 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. Jan would get my joke, because she’s a cinephile like me, but even if she didn’t she’d still laugh. I realize 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. I suddenly realize I’m incredibly 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 woman's a total bitch. No Werewolftini for you. And then I fall asleep smiling, dreaming sweet dreams of starving artist vampires participating in epic hours-long sessions of Karma Sutra on American Idol.
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