It’s midnight on a school night and we’re all gathered around a skip out the back of a Coles in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. I’m staring into this dumpster and April, one of the girls from the squat, is holding a dripping watermelon. Arms outstretched. “Take it. Guys! Hey! It’s still good.” Droplets weep from the fruit and run down her hand. Beads of condensation, maybe. It’s hard to tell. A minute earlier she was tearing open rubbish bags as scraps of food and non-descript liquids dribbled out, and onto her floor length velvet skirt. This girl seems to be at peace with bin juice. The gang of ten stoned squatters yell out as she presents each item for inspection.
I can’t tell if it’s working yet, but I’m attempting to get these squatters to fall in love with me. Not so much love-love, more like “You’re our hero, Merran. We love you”. You know, that kind of thing. Anyway, I’m trying to do all this by following the latest version of The Rules. If you’re not familiar with it, lemme give you a brief run down. It’s this bullshit book written by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider that teaches you that, “you can truly do the rules on any guy, in any situation, and get the fabulous payoff: a guy who is crazy about you!” Fein and Schneider hold the key to eternal happiness (humans becoming infatuated with you via crafting relationships using a set of rules, which I imagine is similar to the affect Scopolamine—that mind-control drug—has on people).
Chapter One opens with the authors recounting a story from 20 years ago. They were having din-dins with five friends in New York—“A scene sort of like one from Sex and the City”, they graciously explain. Every woman spoke about their dating problems and they noticed that the women that played hard to get, got the guys, while the women who asked guys out were rejected. They “put two and two together” and off the back of sharing dumplings with gal pals, they began giving dating advice to women all over the world. Science eh.
Right now, I’m using Rule #19: Don’t pay for dinner. Which I am totally nailing cos there is nothing freer than dinner from the dumpster.
April reaches down and hands the dripping watermelon to Xavier. Back at the squat he was wearing a ladies nightgown and white tube socks, but now he looks real serious. He holds the fruit and inspects it using the light from his iPhone. It’s all bruised, and dead and dribbling with decay. “That should be in a bin ‘ey.” They all erupt with laughter as he chucks it back with the rest of the rotting food. April gets back to ripping open bin bags, and seems pretty chill that it was bacterial soft rot and not condensation was running down her hand before.
I tell one of the dudes to look for a container of donuts, which I’m told is the best kind of food one can find during these missions. And really is the only thing I can imagine eating from a Cleanaway skip.
For reals, a squatter’s life appears to revolve around garbage. Like, in the backyard of the squat there was this shopping trolley overflowing with rubbish and cardboard. I guess they don’t wanna pay the council to get it collected. Perhaps having to deal with a fuckload of trash is just a small inconvenience for free accommodation and food. But oh man, bin juice smells really bad, yeah.
The house itself has about five rooms where the ten squatters sleep, plus a tent out the back. There’s graffiti everywhere: poems on bedroom doors, little notes written in magic marker and hip-hop lyrics scrawled in spray paint. Surprisingly the place has electricity, running water and gas. Which they don’t pay for obviously. And they haven’t for five months—the entirety of their time there.
In the end I don’t even have any dumpster dinner. Mainly because none of the soft-drink, vegies, or loaves of bread they got from the skips really appealed to me. I had my heart set on donuts, but sadly they couldn’t find any. So not one of the squatters bowed down to me, or pledged allegiance, or got my name tattooed on their person. It could be because I didn’t follow Rule #19: Don’t pay for dinner. The food was certainly free, I just didn’t have any.
Or maybe it’s because you can’t craft admiration or adoration by using a set of rules “on any guy, in any situation”. Gosh, I don’t know. Perhaps human beings aren’t computer programmes you can plug requests into and hey presto, they give what you want—be it donuts, or a relationship or hero-worship. But ha ha ha, I doubt it’s any of that. Squatters are probably just statistical outliers, and that’s okay. There’s a whole heap of other sub-cultures and people I can try out The Rules on.
Follow Merran on Twitter: @MerranReed
For more squatting: