iPAD Mad, Cell-Phone Maid
By Louis Martin

I was staying at Caulaincourt Square Hostel in Montmartre but it was Spring Break and the city was crawling with students on vacation. Since Caulaincourt was fully booked on the weekend, I had to move to another hostel until Monday. I moved to a place a few blocks away on rue Ramey called Le Montclair Montmartre. There rooms had only three beds, rather than the usual four or six, but I think that was because of room size rather than any desire on the part of management to make guests more comfortable. Profit is the main motive in the rental business, as anyone knows who has ever rented anything; and lodging is no exception.

When I moved in the room was empty. I had it to myself; it was quiet and orderly. Orderliness is not the usual state of a room in a hostel. Many young people are out travelling these days and it has only been a few years since "mom" cleaned up after them. Moreover, most seem to find disorder an expression of individuality. Rock musicians and movie actors are a disorderly bunch of louts, so the post-teenage travellers try to be the same.

But I got a surprise from my first roommate at Montclair. He was a young Japanese guy who had just graduated from Tokyo University with a degree in "system engineering." That seemed like a pretty broad area of endeavor to me; I might have been interested in something a little more specific, like small robot joint design. But I asked no questions.

"Have job when come back," he said haltingly. "This last chance travel."

I hoped the part about "last chance travel" wasn't totally true but he did not seem unhappy about it. I gathered that his parents, who were well off, had sent him on a little vacation to round out his education and make a worldly man of him. I had heard this referred to as a "rite of passage" by a young female traveller from Australia, who was on one pub crawl after another in San Francisco. I think my new roommate was on the Japanese equivalent. I had some reservations about the concept, however. A bar in Barcelona looks the same as a bar in Barstow, and flat on your back an iPAD in Istanbul looks the same as an iPAD in Trinidad.

But Kyoshi was a nice, polite young guy. And I gathered he was not planning to throw things all over the room as an expression of individuality. I did notice two things, however: He did not know how to make his bed—he simply spread out the sheets in the middle of the upper bunk as though he were making a nest in a tree—and he had his iPAD out before he bothered to unpack.

After about an hour or so of playing games in his bunk-nest, I asked him what his itinerary was in Paris.

"Itin'rary?" he asked. I don't think he knew the word.

"What are you planning to see, where are you going?"

"Ah," he said. "No plan right now."

I was kind of hoping he might go some place so I could get some writing done in a quiet space. I'm selfish that way. But I had a bar or two I could work at—this was my old neighborhood in better times—so it wouldn't be a big problem. I was just making my own plans.

After several hours of games played flat on his back in the "nest," he asked me about the "Luber."

"Luvre," I said. "Very nice. Every young man of the world who visits Paris should see Le Luvre." I gave it a very French pronunciation with a raspy r in the rear of my throat. He looked dubious.

Nevertheless, the next day, after only an hour or so of playing games on his iPAD he bundled up and headed off to that magnificent museum of art on the right bank of the Seine river at Place Royal. Ah, at last I had the room free; I could write without having to buy a drink and without the distraction of a soccer game on a TV at the end of a bar. I got about half way into a story—maybe three hours had gone by—when Kyoshi reappeared looking very exhausted.

"Vous avez l'air très fatigué," I said.

"Huh?" he said.

"You look winded," I said.

"Win? Dead?"

"Tired," I said. "You look tired."

"Ah, yes, walk. Luber far."

I gather he had trouble buying a ticket for the metro. This I could understand. Often there are no ticket booths open in the metro stations and none of the machines work. At best you are forced into buying a ticket from someone who looks like a pickpocket and may well be when not selling tickets.

I asked him how he liked Le Luvre.

"Didn't go in," he said. "Don't like art."

Ah, yes. Well, I guess the idea was that back home he could say he had been there. If anyone asked what he saw, he could lie.

"So many beautiful pictures. Like very much."

The next day he visited the Eifel Tower in a similar fashion. He walked down, waited for the lights to come on—"Wait nine minutes!"—then walked back. I didn't have to ask him if he went up.

That was his Paris experience. He left the next day after about 48-hours playing games on his iPAD. I wonder what he would have done without the iPAD. Would he have been able to cope with the city? Would he have been overwhelmed by boredom and emptiness, l'ennui et le vide? I have heard of young people—certain bold individuals—leaving their "devices" at home these days and having breakdowns on vacation. Would he have "lost it"? Would he have flipped out and murdered someone? Me, perhaps, or a whole family? A school? Would his parents have had to come and collect the mental remains of their dear son? Oh, shameful day! Rite of passage gone astray!

In Tokyo, wheeled from his hospital room, to visitors with flowers and get-well cards: "Luber, very nice, blub, blub, blub, blub, blub ..."

While the iPAD seemed to save him from insanity, the maid with the cell phone about drove me to it. The hostel has a cleaning staff of large, aggressive African women, all with cell phones they talk on while cleaning your room. Moreover, they do not wait for checkout time to start cleaning, or at least to try to clean.

My first day there, with Kyoshi on the iPAD, a large African woman entered the room about 10 AM—checkout's at 12 PM at Montclair—and began cleaning while chatting noisily on her cell phone equipped with a headset. I was still in bed and put up with it. I have seen this abuse of the cell phone elsewhere. These days many workers go to their jobs and spend half of the day on the cells; they are physically at work but not really there mentally. Some employers have banned them, requiring all phones to be switched off and placed in lockers during working hours. On few issues am I on the employers' side, but I have seen so much cell-phone abuse, I understand their concern. Have you ever tried getting help form a young female clerk in a department store who is "on the cell" with a friend? Forget it. She doesn't even see you standing there.

On the second day at Montclair, a third roommate entered the room late at night. He was a thin African guy in dreadlocks, perhaps a musician with a local gig. Cigale is nearby on Boulevard Rochechouart, and I believe he had a musical instrument of some kind. Although he came in late, he was considerate and tried to keep his noise down while making his bed and getting into it. That, however, is practically a mission impossible. But he did his best and I respected him for that.

In the morning about 10 AM the cell-phone maid came into the room. She told him he would have to leave. He was switching rooms later and she wanted to make up the bed he was in. The idea, I guess, was that she could then go home early.

"Mais la fille de la réception m'a dit ..." "But the girl on the desk said I could sleep till noon," he protested, still half asleep.

An argument ensued. She yelled; he kept his cool. In the end, however, he gave up and left.

On the morning of the third day the maid entered again, blabbing away on the cell phone. I told her to get out. She refused to leave. I told her I would call the police. I don't think she liked the word "police." She hung up on the friend she was talking to and called the boss lady.  Finally I hear, "d'accord, midi" (okay, noon). She left. But then she was back at 11 AM trying the same thing. I had gotten up to take a pee when she entered and I shoved her out the door, slamming it shut and bolting it from the inside. Later I went down to the desk and complained about her and the cell phone.

"Désolé, monsieur" (sorry, sir), said the guy on the desk, who was thin and effeminate looking.  I wasn't sure whether he was sorry or not. I had the feeling that he had heard the same complaint before. But perhaps he was at the mercy of his cleaning staff too. These ladies with the cell phones can be tough. They do not seem able to live without them; they are addicts. Deprived of their cells, they are extremely unhappy people, maybe even dangerous.