Ivan meant well. But he was having a shocker tonight. He'd come home pissed from Surfer Bar, the cheesy fuck factory on the North Shore of Oahu, and at 3am I'd woken to the sound of water hitting linoleum. "Ivan. Ivan!" I'd yelled flicking the light on and off. "Dude, you're pissin!" It was no use. He was out of it. A whiskey trance. I'd known the feeling. I'd pissed myself once before in South Africa during an acid psychosis. But at least I'd done it outside (more by chance than anything if I'm to be truly honest).

I hadn't known Ivan long. We'd met on first day at the House of Foo after I'd taken an interest in his Pipe quiver. They were good boards. The kind of boards that suggested he knew his shit - long, smooth out-lines, a good amount of rocker, mostly quads. But Ivan didn't know his shit. I'd gone surfing with him at Makaha shortly after where I was horrified to find he was a kook. A tiny forty something Brazilian kook, who looked uncannily like Mole from Wind in the Willows when dressed in his little Rip Curl wrestling suit with his hair all slicked back.

A few days after meeting Ivan I'd woken to him noisily masturbating in the bunk across the room. The squeaking bunk woke me up. The faster he wrenched at his cock the louder and quicker the squeaks.  "Sie puss. Sie puss. Ohhhhh, sie puss," he was saying, apparently into his phone. He'd hidden himself behind a yellow privacy blanket hanging from the bunk. You could hear the moist glugging of lubricant. He was one of those real indulgent wankers. You know, the kind that really treats themselves when they jerk. It was foul.

But I did nothing. I'd already made a promise to myself. I was not to get involved in the petty world of hostel politics and human frictions. I was here as a journalist,  an observer, and these people were nothing more than my subjects. They were beneath me, as were their petty grievances. And so I lay there and I smiled. I smiled as the squeaking of the bunk climaxed and I smiled as the acidic smell of Ivan's piss filled the room. Once he was done he inexplicably slipped his thongs on and went to the toilet to wash his hands. This was going to be a good story.

***

It's hard to imagine a place in the world with more faces than the North Shore. It's positively schizophrenic. Growing up in Australia you're taught to fear it.  It's a place where one mistake, one drop-in, one snake, one blown wave, or one wave on the head might land you in hospital or worse. And that's just in the water. On land you face a whole 'nother list of obstacles.  Make eyes at the wrong girl, stumble into the wrong party, go too fast on the bike path, say the wrong thing, publish the wrong word and you'll get the same result. So much history, so much controversy, so much celebrity, so much drugs and so much money. That is the North Shore from afar; a tough, intimidating, impregnable place. But up close it's different. You see all the cracks. You realise that Hawaii is one big crack when it comes to America; an outlier of the kingdom with all the creature comforts, crackheads and extreme characters of home, only now with the added bonus of anonymity. It is a place where people can disappear, start afresh, or plunge deeper into the patterns of addiction and dysfunction that made them a pariah at home. The cloak of anonymity is a powerful thing. You can get drunk on it pretty easily. But as liberating as it may seem, it does not make you invisible. Not on the North Shore anyway. Not in this year. And especially not when I'm around.

The crack within the crack is the House of Foo, also known as Plantation Village, located just around the bend from Waimea Bay.  In a moment of altruism that far outlasted his short but exceptional life, it was opened by the legendary Hawaiian big wave surfer, Mark Foo in the 1980s. It remains the only affordable lodging on the North Shore of Oahu today. Such is the great paradox of the Keep The Country Country movement on the North Shore. While incredibly effective in preserving the rustic charm of the seven mile miracle through its well organised opposition to development, it's also created a total vacuum of affordable lodging. A hundred bucks a night is the standard making the North Shore by far the most expensive surf town I've ever been to (and I've been to 'em all).  It's also completely changed the types of people you meet around here. Where once it was a no bullshit, roots-and-all proving ground for big wave hellmen, today it's full of gawking yuppies and Mustang Convertibles. The same fucking model. Everytime. Some locals have taken to calling the North Shore "Haole-wood."

I bunked down in the Plantation Village, a series of classic six-person surf shacks just down the road from the main building. Until 1946 the shacks were lived by pineapple plantation workers and they've changed little since. Most have a stove and a kitchen, all have bathrooms, and some, like mine, come complete with psychedelic acrylic paint swirls on the roof.  There's a classic verandah out front for smoking pot. It's a bike-able distance from every wave worth surfing on the North Shore (except Haleiwa. Too far). I'd never felt more at home. There was every kind here: an african-american prostitute from Idaho, a Latin-American-PGA-Tour golfer from Florida, at least two ex-cons, various perverts, alcoholics and drug addicts, and a guy who'd sucker punched a gay bodybuilder in New York and become a youtube sensation (court decision pending).

I felt like I'd stumbled into some kind of nirvana. A nirvana of kitsch nineties surf iconography and a lifestyle preference that will never get old.

***

While Ivan was cleaning himself up in the bathroom Strauss had begun to choke. Possibly on his own vomit. The Canadian girl sleeping above began shrieking at me to wake him up but I'd seen this pantomime before. Strauss was the most functioning alcoholic and prescription opiate addict I'd ever met. Before arriving at Hotel Foo he'd been back in his hometown Tahoe attending his best friend's funeral. His friend had died of a prescription drug overdose and Strauss, distraught, had sought consolation in the dead man's stripper girlfriend.They started hooking up but Strauss already had a girlfriend. A big fat girlfriend and they had a house together. This complicated things. Strauss's solution was to quit his pizza delivery job, sell the house, break up with the fat chick and fly the stripper out to Hawaii with him. But on day one the stripper had smacked her knee on a rock swimming and flown home for treatment. Strauss washed up at Hotel Foo later that day in a spin. He'd come up the stairs onto the wooden verandah with a 20 dollar bodyboard from Costco and a badly broken heart. Fresh out of jail on a marijuana cultivation charge, he was constantly slicked in sweat and wore the classically yellowed complexion of a prescription drug addict. He also had eight ounces of premium Californian skunk which he'd flown in from Oakland (Oakland having the curious law that allows its residents to fly anywhere in the world with eight ounces of marijuana safe in the knowledge no one will be tipped off at the other end). Strauss was desperate for his stripper back. I'd eaves drop on their phone calls deducing from them that she was probably juicing him for money, probably to fund her own drug addiction. We'd sit around on the verandah, Strauss pouring his heart out me smoking his schizophrenic weed.

Strauss hated Ivan. They shared a bunk. "You think I trust this guy? You think I trust him?" he'd yelled the morning of the pissing incident ripping away Ivan's yellow privacy sheet. Ivan was gone. He'd left a couple of hours after the incident to go diving.

Strauss was oblivious to the realities of hostel life. Most Americans are. They don't tend to travel that much. Less than most western nations anyway.  Upon arriving Strauss had freaked at the state of the cabin and gone on obsessive compulsive cleaning spree (meth or oxycontin fuelled, I'd assumed). But I respected Strauss. He was a degenerate, an aggressive degenerate, but he was honest. He had good hygiene and he dealt with conflict face to face, consequences be damned.  But his constant ranting against Ivan was turning me against him. And in doing so he had exposed the cracks in my plan. I was entering the mess.

By midday the word had come down from management that Ivan was out. Or at least out of our room (he moved into a girls cabin two doors down). Management consisted of Dale, also recently released from prison on a drug charge. He lived in a caravan across the way surrounded by uncollected bags of trash. I was there to watch Ivan clear out his stuff that afternoon. Once it was done he'd stood there wistfully staring at his mattress, now removed of its sheets. Then something strange happened. He started shoeing the remaining crumbs of sand from the mattress. Given what had transpired earlier that day it seemed a bizarre and belated exercise in neighbourly consideration. But there was symbolism in the gesture and I appreciated that. Ivan had seen the error in his ways (at least the pissing part. The jerking off was never raised).  And that is something I can always respect.

***

Young Harry wouldn't acknowledge his mistake so at ten am on an otherwise pleasant North Shore morning I threw a cup of Margarita in his face. Young Harry worked at Hotel Foo but he was a terrible worker. He smoked cones at 7 am, was on the piss by ten, and stomped around our room cleaning little, smiling at no one, and from what I could gather believed himself to be of superiors stock to the rest of us. Our trouble began when he threw out all my food. They worsened when he unsympathetically told me to go pick through the rubbish near Dale's caravan if I wanted it back (which I did). We crossed the river of no return when I broke the invisible forcefield separating the staff cabin from the rest of us and found him drinking my shit.  I took a good swig of it then said: Have the rest, and threw it in his face. I was looking for a fight but Young Harry simply looked at me like I'd blown in his face. Then stammered…. you're, you're outta here buddy…. and ran off to dob on me. That left me alone with Young Harry's best friend, Carl. Carl was alright. I'd swapped him a 6'8 Eric Arakawa for a classic nineties Hawaiian Sleds 7'2. But Carl was also young and seemed under the impression that their sloppy work ethic was protected by arbitrarily enforced hostel rules. Carl was wrong so I said to Carl: Fuck up cunt or I'll knock ya.

Carl swore back at me. Then he too began to tremble. It was the adrenaline. Fighting does that you. Once the trembling starts it usually means you're on. But just then Dale came weaving through the trash from his caravan. I had nothing against Dale and so turned to apologise to him. But right then Carl threw a coffee all over my back. It was cold coffee, fortunately, but there was symbolism in the gesture and I wasn't having it. Carl was a terrible fighter. I had him off balance with his cheek exposed instantly. My right hand was balled ready to deliver a big blow, likely one of them nasty double fractures to the jaw. You know the ones where you score a fracture at the point of impact plus a bonus one on the part of the jaw where the energy is released. But Dale was screaming for a halt and I had nothing against Dale, so I didn't let it sing.

Carl would not step out and fight me. There was nothing I could do to get him off that verandah. I tried everything, questioning his manhood, insulting his family, questioning his manhood.  Even Dale was demanding he step out and fight.  I believe in a fair fight. Two men in the light of day, with a crowd to keep it honest, and sand or grass under foot, seems like as good a way as any to settle a beef. Especially one of stolen margarita mix.

Word came down that I was required in the office. Sharlin Foo, Mark's sister, who runs the joint, wanted to see me.  I was shirtless and dressed in my favourite red tracksuit pants. Coffee dripped from everywhere. He'd even gotten it in my mullet.

I was about to learn a bit about how Americans deal with conflict.

Aggron, the other manager, wanted a different resolution. He was very clearly a wild man, drove a camouflaged rape-van, had longhair, a beard and spoke with a thick rural accent. He'd kept us all awake a few nights earlier howling whiskey fuelled obscenities at Strauss. I heard him threaten to destroy Strauss and Strauss was gone the next day. Now he was after me. Aggron loped up the driveway with a big black man who also worked at Hotel Foo.  They called my name into the night but I surprised them by answering from the verandah next door. They peered up into the light and saw a haze of ganja smoke beyond which stood a full deck of red-eyed shirtless Australians. At least three of them wanted a fight. Aggron back-pedalled. He became almost comically polite, asking me to step outside and over to the unlit carpark. I sternly refused. You come 'ere, mate.

He bravely stepped into the light and to his credit still pressed me for my side of the story. Then he boldly ordered me to clear out of Hotel Foo. No chance, I said. Where would I go? Plus, I'd already spoken to Sharlin who runs the joint. She cared not of my indiscretion. Told me that it was a very reasonable reaction. The spirit of Foo was alive! This was Hawaii after all. I stayed but somewhere between the schizophrenic hydro skunk I was smoking and the Martin Place Siege, I had a revelation. This was also America, the crack of America as it were.  Where any whiny little maggot in a cycle of self-pity can walk into a Walmart, buy an automatic weapon, and blow everyone away. Skinny, weak, Young Harry seemed like the kind to do it. Fuck. Hold strong Spirit of Foo.

The House of Foo originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Tracks Magazine.

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