It was your standard housemate interview question: what do you do with your spare time? The answer is usually pretty rote – they’re either fitness freaks who unwind with a soft sand jog, or brunching besties who know where the superior hollandaise is kept. Occasionally they own up to watching a lot of TV, and sometimes they admit they go home to their parents every weekend.
The two strangers across from me exchanged the briefest of glances, before one replied with only a hint of trepidation:
And that’s when I knew, I wasn’t in Sydney anymore.
It’s a point that was driven home even further when I began unpacking the boxes and bags dropped off by the removalist. Me, being the anal-retentive control freak my friends have learned to side-step and tolerate, I instantly spotted a suitcase that wasn’t mine.
Either the removalists who’d arrived eight hours late, then tried to bail on me completely, had stuffed up or they’d decided this was a timely opportunity to dispose of a body. Me, being the absurdly paranoid zombie apocalypse doomsday prepper my relatives have decided to ignore and/or humour, I could only assume it was the latter.
Not wanting the remains of whatever crime Dumb and Dumber were covering up to spend too long festering, I unzipped the aforementioned suitcase. The Bearded Nephew and I looked down to see…
Bearded Nephew: Is that…?
Me: Wow, they were not joking.
Welcome to Melbourne, enjoy your stay.
Doing interviews for housemates is speed dating, but with vastly more commitment. It’s filled with all the hurried introductions, oddly intimate revelations and frequent snap judgements you’d expect… but then at the end, instead of vague promises to catch up for a drink, you move in together.
When you make the leap, and choose to share a fridge, and a soundscape… and a wine rack (and, please god, a dishwasher) with someone you’ve just met, it’s important to choose for the right reasons. Well, no, first it’s important that they choose you (if they have the house, and you simply have the need). Then, when they choose you, you need to choose them back. It’s The Bachelor, just with less people invested, and far fewer awkward group dates.
If housemate hunting is Tinder, swiping right means sharing a bathroom for the next 12 months. It’s signing a contract before finding out what they really look like. So when they say they’re recreational jugglers, you need to believe them, because it’s random enough that it’s unlikely they’re making that shit up.
That’s how I ended up living with Juggle Boss and Magneto. Yes, my nicknames make them sound like supervillains with varying degrees of potential menace.
Juggle Boss actually works with circus acts. Basically that means all her work crises are just better. For example: “One of my performers took his sword in his hand luggage on to the plane”, and “the candy cane stilt walkers have been over-booked again”.
Magneto works with… engines/magnets/something. It sounds cool when he describes it. He’s the type of person who makes dessert by accident, and is known for waking up with a random pineapple after a big night out. Magneto also admits he hasn’t “come out to his work” about his juggling yet.
I currently have the house to myself because they’re away for a juggling convention. Because that’s a thing. It’s not the first one this year, after all the EJC (European Juggling Convention) was only a few months ago. But this weekend’s one is more specialized – it’s a passing juggling convention. Because that is also a thing. A niche, within a niche.
They’re practicing patterns with names such as ‘Funky bookends’, ‘Champy’, ‘Panda panda who’s got panda’ and of course that inimitable crowd favourite ‘8441841481441’. You know you’re impressed.
Other people who are impressed?
Mother Painefull. Actually, initially it was just relief - she misheard me the first time and thought I said they were ‘recreational drug users’. Now she insists they perform every time she sees them.
Also my boss, Stanislavski, who somehow developed an unrelenting ambition for me to learn how to juggle. Like ‘stage-an-office-wide-talent-show-in-which-I-am-required-to-juggle,-then-cancel-the-show-due-to-lack-of-other-talent-but-still-require-me-to-juggle-five-days-from-now’ unrelenting. So, I’ll let you know how that goes*.
You know who’s unimpressed? My housemates every time they get home from running their weekly juggle club, and I ask “How was le juggle (French for juggle**)?” Apparently it’s a bit repetitive for their liking. Unlike juggling.
It’s through conversations like that, that I’ve spent the past year and a half testing the patience of Juggle Boss and Magneto (even before the trip down Break-a-Leg Mountain turned them into my personal grocery shoppers and tea-makers). I’m here to tell you that patience is as flexible and durable as those circus jocks who engage in the dangling arts. As one surrogate teenage daughter accurately described them, they’re responsible… but fun.
Whether we like it or not, sometimes life throws us into the path of total strangers. With any luck, they know how to catch.
Even better, they might know how to juggle.
* = I jest. I won’t let you know. Assume it goes badly.