Claude was a short man. Short in words, in temper, and in stature. He was probably about 5’5″. However, his smallish frame packed a mighty wallop. To borrow a phrase from Garth Marenghi, he was compact, yet muscular– like corned beef. His head was shaved completely bald, kept shiny and smooth by means of a daily meticulous grooming regimen. His eyes were locked in a permanent squint, as if forever skeptical of whatever life was trying to sell him. He couldn’t have been any older than 40, yet his droopy cheeks and ever-quizzical facial expression brought to mind a curmudgeonly grandfather. I thought he looked like Mr. Magoo.
He had a swastika tattooed at the base of his neck. He was an unapologetic neo-Nazi, and I think the only reason he was let into the hostel was that we happened to have zero Israeli guests that week.
I first met Claude at the hostel common area… or rather, a tiny off-shoot of the common area, where the shared computers were located. It’s an unspoken rule of hostel etiquette not to socialize or bother others while sitting at the computer. Introductions and other such pleasantries should be saved for the living room. So when Claude shoved his way into a computer seat next to mine, I merely gave him a nod. I should’ve known right off the bat that things were gonna be rocky when he responded with an annoyed grunt, then proceeded to curse loudly, in French, when the computer was acting a little sluggish. I turned to him at one point and said “excuse me?”. He responded “I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the computer!”. “Oh. Okay. That makes sense,” I said. “… you crazy fucking weirdo”, I added, in my head.
As I’ve said before, when you stay in a hostel for long enough, they move you around a lot. This particular week, I was the only person in a three-person room, which was a pretty good deal. However, that would soon be ruined, as I had the good fortune of having Claude move in with me for a few nights. At this point, I thought he was just a creepy guy with a shaved head. But when we had our formal introductions in the living room, he told me all about himself. He was born in France but lived most of his life in South Africa. He didn’t drunk, smoke or do drugs as he wanted to keep himself as pure as possible. He was into Mixed Martial Arts, and had come all the way to Buenos Aires to participate in a tournament. He knew a hundred ways to crack a human skull. He was a terrifying psychopath.
Claude was a pretty good roommate, once you got over the fact that he’d jump up and sit up straight any time you walked into the room, staring at you with a chilling grimace. He was generally quiet, kept to himself. But he still creeped out the entirety of the hostel constituency with his, shall we say, “quiet intensity”. He loved oranges. He’d forgo the breakfast table and choose instead to stand in the kitchen and eat dozens of oranges, in total silence, without addressing anyone or making any eye contact. It was a pretty unnerving sight.
He also kept the hostel population on their toes with these sudden gargantuan outbursts of unjustified anger. On one occasion, the staff had run out of towels– no one quite expected Claude to start banging on the wall and yelling French expletives, but it’s what we got. On another occasion, someone complained about one of their possessions gone missing (it was later found), and Clause lost it. Started yelling like crazy, ranting in broken English about how vile South Americans are, and how there’s absolutely no respect for other people’s property. It was really a sight to behold. You kind of wanted to step in and yell back at him, but I wouldn’t put it past this portrait of mental instability to knife me in the face right then and there. I kept my distance, lest I meet my untimely fate at the hands of White Supremacist Magoo.
After a few days of making everyone really fucking uncomfortable, hostel management finally confronted him, kicking him out of the house. He reacted by challenging the hostel owner to a fist fight. Of course, the hostel owner knew better, and threatened to call the cops. After a few minutes of angry back-and-forth, he finally relented, shoved his things into his bag and stormed off. But here’s the genius part: he actually hung around outside of the front door for several hours, holding a big knife in his hand, pacing back and forth like a caged lion. Police were called in to deal with it. I was paranoid for weeks.
Out of all the people I met during that epic year, all the weirdos and the freaks and the outcasts and the socially stifled and the drug-addled and the promiscuous and the psycopathic and the genuinely frightening… I can honestly say that Claude was the one person I was ever genuinely afraid of. He was also probably the best roommate I ever had, in terms of cleanliness and odor. I kind of miss him sometimes. Man… he really loved his oranges.