Not a hippie house. Interesting, though.

Most people who move out of home for the first time make the sensible decision to do so with friends. However, if somewhere along the way these run out, or their hygiene habits, incessant quoting of Spinal Tap and tendency to rediscover the back catalogue of Captain Beefheart at 3am begin to outweigh their winning personalities, the innocent renter may be forced into the true test of house sharing – living with strangers.

This can be a character building experience; in rare cases, people who at first you shared nothing in common with other than a toilet seat can even go on to become lifelong buddies. But despite the gain in ‘negotiating skills’, the arrangement usually ends in tears with an argument over the gas bill, or, more ominously, the lease. (Happily, up until the age of 25 any loss of possession/defrauding/criminal record incurred as a result of house sharing is redeemable as ‘life experience’, after which it simply becomes part of the fast moving torrent of shitty things that can happen in life).

So for those young accommodation seekers who believe strangers are just friends waiting to happen, here I present a guide to some of the people commonly encountered in the terraces of inner Sydney. Consider it a cautionary tale.

Hippies

Identifying a hippie house used to be relatively straightforward; if it was ringed with faded prayer flags and emitted the heady fumes of Nag Champa incense, unwashed bodies and patchouli oil you could be fairly certain you knew what you were getting yourself into. But these are uncertain times; nowadays even suits want to know if your ascendant’s in Virgo, and that amazing piece of street art on the corner was just as likely to have been commissioned by the professionals moving in than a 3am job by a local with a conviction. Clearly, proven methods are called for if you want to avoid ever hearing the phrase ‘connecting with the Earth’ over your cornflakes. The following are dead giveaways you’re about to relocate to that modern day den of iniquity, the urban hippie haven:

-Your ‘casual chat’ with the current inhabitants appears to be a relaxed affair where it seems the only criterion for moving in is the sort of ‘energy’ you bring to the house, as though your energy was something you could pack into a box alongside a favourite saucepan.*

-Vague plans are afoot to set up an organic vegetable garden.

-A book of Rumi’s poetry features prominently on the bookshelf. (Elsewhere in the house, perhaps not as immediately obvious, there will be Khalil Gibran).

-The surplus of foreign curios (I Ching, Nepalese trinkets, Amazonian pan pipes) makes the lounge room look like an exotic playpen for hyperactive children.

My first sharehouse was in the backblocks of Marrickville. I lived there with Tim, a nice North Shore boy turned radical with a passion for African tribal drumming, and a hippie chick called Annemarie. Annemarie was all about open and honest communication, until I tried to broach the subject of her outstanding rent, at which point she declared herself to be ‘in a really selfish space at the moment’, before fleeing to India to find herself and leaving Tim and I to find an extra month’s rent.

To sum up-

Pros: Superior composting system. There may be a treehouse.

Cons: Tapioca surprise, anyone?

*This is an illusion. The purpose of the interview is to ascertain if you’re one of them, and prospective hippie housemates are as skilled as the Gestapo at extracting this information.

Hipsters

‘People are always trying to box me in’

An inner city cliché, hipsters are the low-stakes iconoclasts who will say the word ‘retarded’ in PC company, ‘rimjob’ in polite company, and ‘rumfustian!’ for no reason at all. (Actually they’ll use the excuse that they were suddenly overcome by cacoethes, but you probably wouldn’t know what that means). Like hippies, they too will get stoned and eat all your food; however these folk will also sidle up to you after they’ve polished off your stirfry and say ‘it was nice, but uhhh, like, some texture would have totally lifted it to a whole new level’. But right now hanging shit on hipsters is pretty mainstream, so I’m not going to spend too much time doing it. What I will say is this-

At the age of nineteen I lived with a hipster named John.* I wouldn’t have labelled him as such, since back then the only hipsters on my radar were the denim kind, but the signs were all there: he wore black rimmed glasses, read Vice, was involved in mysterious creative projects that involved espresso fuelled meetings with intense bearded characters who wielded monochrome business cards, and was also, inevitably, a DJ. Aged thirty, he studied design at art college, or art at design college…..or sound design and collage, I can’t recall. Thing is, his nightly endeavours in the makeshift ‘studio’ actually paid off, and one day soon after I moved out I opened the Sydney Morning Herald to discover he was the proud owner of ‘Kings Cross’s hottest new club’. That’s the upside about hipsters – sometimes they actually make stuff happen.

The biggest downside is that there will come a point where you don’t know what’s real anymore. Is your housemate sporting a zebra appliqué windcheater, rainbow slapband and Rainer Werner Fassbinder moustache as a comment on fashion, or are they just a dork? Things can also get awkward, as often hipsters become so preoccupied with their own obscure references that they make no sense at all and then sulk about being misunderstood. To break the silence, it’s best just to say, “I still get really sad when I think about how Masako Natsume – you know, the woman who played Tripitaka in the cult 1970s TV series ‘Monkey’ – died of leukemia in 1985. Don’t you?”

To sum up-

Pros: Central location, namely Darlinghurst. Whatever kudos visitors attach to the record player and vintage David Hassellhoff poster in the lounge room may also rub off on you.

Cons: Rumfustian!

*Another hipster I lived with was also named John, but as far as I can tell this is in no way ironic.

Seedy Hospitality Workers

Found everywhere, this particular breed is native to the Inner West. They can be identified by their irregular hours, heroic consumption of illicit substances and the dried up husks of dead cockroaches that occasionally tumble from their clothes. Rowdy, dishevelled, they are nevertheless the kind of all-inclusive alcoholics who won’t hesitate to invite you to join in their all night card games.

I once lived in a Newtown warehouse. Evocatively located beside a scrap metal yard, its graffitied exterior apparently so epitomised gritty urban cool that up-and-coming hip hop crews would use it as a backdrop for photoshoots. Inside, the vibe was part hostel, part student doss house and part Balinese prison. I’d been expecting an artists’ colony, a bohemian wonderland – but the only creative activity going on inside its dilapidated walls was the imaginative substitution of various foodstuffs for drugs.

Just an average night in a typical sharehouse

The dozen or so residents were a motley collection. There was Mo, the Moroccan chef whose first inkling he’d lost his trousers on the previous night’s bender was when he found them in the gutter on King St the next morning. And Philippe, the middle aged French alcoholic waiter whose presence in the warehouse, and indeed the country, remains a mystery. Ama was a Japanese noise musician who strictly enforced nudie runs around the pool table when  players failed to sink a ball. And Zane, dear sweet Zane. No one had the heart to tell him that the 90s were over, grunge was gone and Kurt was dead, not when he’d moved to the big smoke from Nowra with his band and a dream.

To sum up-

Pros: This is the ‘life experience’ bit. But your garden variety, seedy Inner West housemate is useful for another reason. The busker with a pet parrot, the Kiwi bloke who worked in circus administration but may have, in my retelling, been promoted to trapeze artist, and whose carnie friends used the living room as HQ – they’re the kind of picaresque characters that can be relied on to distract attention from awkward questions. ‘Georgia’, people will say, ‘Why were you listening to Captain Beefheart at 3am?’ ‘Hey’ I’ll reply, ‘Did I ever tell you the story about the stoned parrot that had to be coaxed from the rafters by a naked unicyclist wielding a pool cue?’

Cons: Liver function.

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