Recently my most-of-the-time favourite (*) website The Spinoff (who I have written things for) announced a residency contest for a writer. I was of course super interested in it but realised I had no leave owing and I wasn’t sure what I’d work on during it. So I had another think, came up with an idea, and wrote it up, along with this letter.
I’m writing to apply for the Spinoff Surrey Residency… sort of. Actually, what I’m proposing is that alongside whoever wins the actual residency, the Spinoff might like to publish my semi-fictional account of what I’d do if I was on the residency. It might make a striking contrast between high art and low art?
I’ve started the piece already, though it’s not finished yet, and I’ve put the first draft below. I look forward to hearing from you!
When the finalists were announced, Braunias said “There were one or two time-wasters who will receive terse replies from the selection panel.” This is the reply I received, for the record.
Thank you for your sort of application, but the selection panel regrets to inform you that it hasn’t been successful.
So perhaps they didn’t realise I was serious. Alas. Anyway, I like what I’ve written, even though I haven’t finished it, and Jo likes it too, so I thought maybe you might find it amusing or interesting? Here you go.
The first thing about getting to the Surrey Hotel is that it’s in Auckland and I live in Wellington. But the idea of a whole week to myself in which I can write, in which I can knuckle down and focus, in which there won’t be a thousand household chores waiting for me to complete and the stress of my day job numbing my brain leaving me only capable at the end of the day to lie on the sofa and yell at the dreadful cooks on My Kitchen Rules is infinitely appealing. Not the mention the lure of a free Domino’s pizza every night. I mean, that’s worth traveling the country for. So there’s shuttles to the airport and expensive decaf coffee because I’m too early and the terribly difficult choice of a cookie or the vege chips, and the embarrassed look on the flight attendant’s face when I ask for an extension belt. And then there’s the Auckland airport bus to the city and then an Uber to Grey Lynn, and then I’m there.
I had stayed here before back in 2005, when my ties to Auckland were stronger, before my university friends had fully scattered themselves to the wind. I was so proud to have been able to pack all the clothes I needed for a weekend into a carry-on bag. That’s an accomplishment for a fat person. Your clothes are bigger so they take up more space (You take up more space so the world believes you to be public property). If you wear skirts, you need to factor in something to prevent chub rub as your thighs get intimate with each other when you walk around. I’d even managed to pack my rarely worn togs, determined that since there was a pool, I would swim in it. This time, I have a suitcase on wheels, because my laptop is heavy and I have brought more than one pair of pyjamas with me. Why wear anything else to write?
It seems like the place has had a spruce up since then, though it’s still odd having the swimming pool out in the open in the middle of the building. I find my way to the room, bounce on the bed, read through the manual of how to call reception and turn on the TV. Now what? The writing desk looks at me expectantly, like the Nick Cave line about the piano crouching in the corner with all its teeth bared. I’m here to write. I am going to write something. I’m going to write something momentous and have it published on the Spinoff. Maybe I’ll write something as great as the poem about Monica from FRIENDS which wasn’t really about Monica at all. But first…. I might as well take advantage of the hotel room and the relative anonymity of Auckland.
It only takes a minute to rewrite my Tinder profile. Tall fat girl looking for fun in her hotel room. I to be dommed and I’d like it even better if you have a friend too. In town for a couple of days only. I swipe right on solid-looking men with cheeky grins, especially those with Irish or Scottish accents. In a couple of minutes I have a match. “I haven’t dommed someone before, but I’m willing to learn” says Eugene. I ask him how rough he likes his sex and give him a detailed list of what I’m looking for – light on pain but heavy on saying the kinds of things that get me off. Subbing could be a very confusing time for a feminist if I wasn’t a firm believer that whatever two consenting adults get up to in the bedroom is only between them and their readers. What I want is for someone else to be in charge, for someone to make the decisions and take the lead and let my brain be quiet just for a little bit. Eugene seems to understand and when he gives me his cellphone number I text him detailed instructions on how to circumvent Reception and get to my room. Then I send his contact details, picture and timeframe to my best friend along with a promise I’ll be in touch as soon as it’s done. I have a couple of hours to spare and I’ve been promised a roast. Maybe I can find a spitroast later on.
There are a lot of cafes in Grey Lynn but free is free, so I begrudgingly change out of my PJs, find some shoes and make my way to the dining room. I keep my head buried in the papers so no one tries to talk to me too much but I still check out the rest of the crowd anyway. A few middle age businessmen in polo shirts, one family. I guess the free parking is a drawcard. I guzzle house wine with my free roast and wish there was more crackling. In defense of the Surrey, I will always wish there was more crackling. Afterwards I stroll over to Countdown around the corner and remember how it used to be Foodtown and how when I first moved to Auckland my media studies friends and I always used to try to spot ‘celebrities’ (read: Shortland Street actors) there. I buy more cheap red wine with what’s leftover of my Spinoff stipend after my flights up from Wellington and return to my room to await my fucking.
Eugene is late so I spend extra time fussing over my lip gloss and trying and failing to take a cute picture of my flat ass in my ruffled panties for my secret Twitter account. Eventually he calls me, and he’s lost. He hasn’t paid any attention to any of the detailed instructions I gave him about how to get to my room, so I talk him through it, step by step, just as I had texted him earlier. Finally he knocks on the door, and I invite him in, pour him a glass of wine. Then I wait for him to take charge as he promised to do.
Instead, we make awkward small talk. What I’m doing in Auckland (I say “work”) and how the weather is warmer than Wellington, and how yes, this hotel is quite nice but I do miss my cats back home. Stop talking about your cats, Joanna. This is boring as shit. Can we get started please? But I’m waiting for him to take charge, as I said in my detailed instructions on what I was looking for. Oh, like the detailed instructions I gave him on how to get to my room? Shit. But finally he is pulling me forward and kissing me, his tongue crawling into my mouth and setting up camp there, lying down to sleep. Why are all British people such terrible kissers? A moment later he is unzipping his jeans and telling me to suck his dick, hesitantly, as if he doesn’t expect me to comply. His lack of authority is really displeasing but at least he’s trying? He leads me to the bed where I sink to my knees in front of him and get to work, hoping he is leading up to something. Some hair pulling, some face slapping, some language. But it’s just him groaning, hardly even grabbing at me, not making eye contact. A minute goes by as I try to be as eager as possible, despite how ripped off I feel. THOSE DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS. Finally he speaks. “I’m going to fuck you now”. My nipples each receive a cursory tweak as he rolls on a condom and slides in. My eyes drift to the ceiling and walls as he thrusts into me
“As an intriguing point of difference, hung on the wall of each executive hotel room is a photograph of a classic Rolls Royce car from The Surrey Hotel Auckland owner’s personal collection.” declares the Surrey’s website but I barely have time to figure out the picture is a car before his grunts become a collapse. “I’m sorry,” he says, “it’s been a long time”. It’s fine, I’m flattered, I say automatically, ever polite like the good diplomat’s daughter I am. I don’t mind so much about the length of the actual fuck, but now I hear him moving around putting on his clothes and I’m furious. I reach down between my legs and imagine everyone I’ve ever slept with standing in a circle around me, looking down on me, judging me. It’s a basic boring orgasm, but it gets the job done. “Did you come?” Eugene asks me, shoes in hand. “Do you mean did I just make myself come? Yes I did,” I laugh at him. “Well… good. I’ll see you later then,” he says. “No you definitely won’t,” I reply, as I bolt the door after him. I text my friend to tell her we’re done and I’m safe and well, even if he’d just had sex at me rather than with me. Well that was a waste of…. 15 minutes if I don’t count the time spent talking to him earlier on Tinder or the sunk cost of not banging someone else. And I still don’t know what I’m going to write about.
The hotel bathroom is infinitely cleaner than my one at home and the water pressure is fabulous, so I stay in the shower longer than the sex that dirtied me up, drafting my tweets in my head. The one that screams loudest to me is “I should have known better than to sleep with a EUGENE” so that’s what I type as I towel off. I get a “well actually, isn’t it an Eugene” and a “#notalleugenes” back from men I don’t follow, because of course I do, which I dutifully retweet followed by a gif of a woman being hit in the face by a thousand frankfurters. Food. That’s what’ll satisfy me. There’s no room service but there is a supermarket just around the corner. Grey Lynn Countdown in my PJs? Why the fuck not. It’s what Ernest Hemingway would have done, surely. Or at least Bukowski. Or maybe that other dude on the Road. (Insert another sausage party gif here)
The next morning I wake up slightly hungover, eagerly anticipating bacon and hashbrowns, but still no more clued in to what I should be writing about. I browse the Spinoff seeking inspiration, looking at what gets the most comments. I am NOT going to write about the Auckland housing market, despite the fact that my room is so big you could probably sell it for at least half a million if it was an apartment. Such a prime location too. I wonder if it would be cheaper to move into the Surrey than buy a place. It might make sense, especially if you chose to get all your nutritional needs from the hashbrowns at the breakfast buffet. Scanning the Herald with my breakfast, I could write about how awful white dudes are, pretty easily. Ugh, white dudes. But then I’d have to deal with the douchebags in the comments section, and I don’t really have a new perspective to offer, except for the whole 23 years being a girl and then a woman on the internet. Maybe I could do some investigative journalism instead. I open NZdating.com on my phone.