Archive for December, 2009
‘Well my days as an ugly model are coming to an end. I had been working as a security guard when I was asked to deliver a parcel to the offices of The Ugly Model Agency. Usually I don’t do that sort of work but it was some high finance stuff and they wanted the extra security. The guy at the front desk didn’t show much interest at first then he kind of squinted at me and asked me to take off my motorcycle helmet. I didn’t want to because to be perfectly honest with you I am not the greatest looker in the world but he was persistent so I undid the chinstrap and slipped it off. I will try to describe how I look. I have a long, angular face and a receding hairline. My dumb parents never caught on to the idea of orthodontics and my teeth are a mess. I have two very prominent front teeth which kind of stick out of my mouth, even when it is closed. My eyes bulge and when I get angry they really stick out. My best feature is my neck, which is long, and graceful with a prominent adams apple, which I have been told, is very sexy on a man. My body is kind of emaciated on account of I don’t eat all that well. I once worked out but it didn’t do much for me except get some queer looks at the gym. And I have big feet and hands. You know what that means. Anyway, this guy takes a look at me and asks me if I want to be a model. I asked him what he meant and if he was taking the mickey out of me but he insisted there was a market for someone with my looks. I grinned and said I was game as long as I didn’t have to take off my clothes. He assured me that I wouldn’t which turned out to be so not true. Before I knew it, I was out of security and into quirky ads that called for what the trade called ‘geek boys’. Basically the agency was for ugly people who were used to make an ad stand out. The nude shot was through a window and my biggest feature was obscured by the hand of the presenter but I suppose that was when all this started.
I had never been one for the girls but there was this one person who worked at the agency who I immediately felt drawn to. Nina was also an ugly model though I thought she was beautiful. Perhaps a little on the heavy side but she had a beautiful face and her voice just turned me to melted chocolate. She had this way of lifting the end of a sentence so it came out like a beautiful little request. She was also super confident and she didn’t pay attention to the sniggering comments that some of the agency folk made about us. She said that we all had an inner beauty and that was what counted.
I don’t remember much of how this latest thing started. I just kind of came too and I had this gun in one hand and this video camera in the other and there was Nina lying on the bed covered in blood, her dress scrunched up around her waist. She wasn’t so beautiful anymore. Dead people look like they have just had this big shock and Nina didn’t look any different. She was just staring at the roof with this genuine look of surprise on her face. Yet, she must have known that something like this was bound to happen. She had such insight, and she said she could see into my soul. That was before she gave me the cold shoulder and talked about having time out and shit like that. I guess that it must have been me that shot her, but like I say, I haven’t any clear memory of doing it. Unlike Lou, where I have a very precise and clear recollection of everything that went on. I remember turning from the bed where Nina lay and there, framed in the doorway, was Lou. Now Lou had been sniffing around Nina for months and I knew she was interested in him. Lou owned the Ugly Agency and Lou liked to be flashy. He threw his money around and dressed extravagantly. Lou drove a little Italian sports car and Lou also drove Nina crazy with the way he gave her little compliments and gifts. Lou just stood there and his mouth formed this little O and he looked at the bed and then me and his hand slipped form the door jamb and he started to turn but not before I shot him in his cute little arse. He pitched forward and I started the camera rolling as he lay there twitching and squealing on the ground. I kicked him hard in the ribs and he rolled over. He was more surprised than mortally hurt and I wanted to have some fun with Lou. To make him suffer for what I had to go through lying in my narrow little bed those nights thinking of Nina and what she was up to while she was cooling it. I propped Lou up against the wall, shoved the camera at him, and ordered him to film me. He didn’t get it at first, the stupid fool. I wanted to see him taping me as I killed him. He did as he was told though. I’ll give him that. Lou had a great sense of self preservation. I told him what a rotten little bastard he was and he nodded and agreed with me even though I could see that he was only humouring me. Then it must have dawned on him because he got real serious and started pleading. He offered me all sorts of things. How we could say that we had come in on Nina and found her being raped by someone who shot her before we could stop him. How he had all this money he would give me. How he would give me back my job again and the good assignments that the new boy-ugly was getting. When I started my little death speech his eyes got really wide and he started squealing again. I told him how I giveth and then I taketh away and that is how it is in this bastardizing life. Then I pulled the trigger and shot Lou in the head. The camera was a little messy what with brains and blood all over but the picture turned out good and I’ll give it to Lou he managed to hold the damn thing steady even though he was terrified. And my little speech was great. It will look good on the news when they play this out for how many nights it will stay as the lead item. There will probably be a big demand for all my old ads to so the agency will do real well out of it. Pity that I won’t be around to see it all and bask in the glory. I guess all the activity I can hear in the background means that someone has heard the shots and have reported it. The cops will be storming up those stairs any minute now with their bulletproof vests and their guns. They will want to talk me down and then they will want me to talk to someone before they decide whether I am sane enough to try for a double homicide. Well I won’t give them the satisfaction. I’ll save them the time and money. I’ll leave them my film and let the media vultures dissect and disseminate.
I can hear their jackboots coming up the stairs. I have made my last statement. I will put the gun into my mouth in a few seconds and I will end this life.
A WALK IN THE FRENCH QUARTER, NEW ORLEANS
Our travel agent had told us that we had to contact Inez and go on one of her walking tours. His stay in New Orleans had been boring until, on the second to last day, he went on a walking tour of the French quarter and it made the stay . We had to locate Inez through the Hogs Breath Cafe and as it was the first place we found in the French Quarter ( a shop opposite was tempting with alligator sausages for $4.50 but the garlic lovers dream at the Hogs Breath won out) but the tour and the restaurant had a falling out and we were directed elsewhere for the right contacts. As the French quarter is so intimate it wasn’t too much of a hassle and we were booked into Inez’s tour on our second day in New Orleans. The walking tours are a popular way of seeing the French quarter as the streets are so narrow that tour buses cannot get into the quarter at times. Some streets such as Bourbon are closed off at times and the numerous sights would give the most lazy tourist a rubber neck after a block. Thelma arrived puffing and sweating as we waited in the courtyard of one of the quarters more elegant hotels, the Hotel St. Helene on Chartres St. I somehow imagined that Thelma drove an enormous late 1950’s American car with gigantic fins and I could picture her tiny five foot frame atop a pillow behind the enormous wheel as she negotiated the streets of the quarter, running over the curb on the corner and getting more and more flustered as she realized she was a good half an hour late. We didn’t mind. The cool courtyard and the fountain and the elegant surrounding were very relaxing. All walking tour operators have to be licensed in New Orleans and they go to tour school where they learn the history of the place and the correct interpretation of it. Thelma was obviously well versed in the history of New Orleans and she was a mine of information that quickly turned the most ordinary of streets into an alladins cave of hidden wonders. The French/Spanish housing was first built from wood but as most of New Orleans is built on a swamp the wood quickly deteriorated until the spanish settlers discovered cypress. Cypress grows in the swamp and is therefore very resistant so it made the ideal building material until another problem reared its head that necessitated a move to bricks. The typical housing basically has two lower level rooms intercut with a carriageway that traditionally the household drove into the center of the house, disembarked and then entered their living quarters. There was often a kitchen at the back of the courtyard and stables etc. Out back was often the ‘garconette’ where young male of the family lived in separate quarters, often with a mistress of his fathers choice from age fifteen. An upper story contained sleeping arrangements for the rest of the family. The windows of most of the residences had louvres and shutters for the heat of the city and often a small open, turret room would be atop the building for additional ventilation. The upper storeys were surrounded by elegant wrought iron or cast iron work and you could often age a residence by the in intricacy of the balconies. The quarter had a fair number of fires in its early life and so the buildings were mostly brick with massive firewalls between residences. Each building had a seal prominently displayed on its frontal aspect that historically signified that it subscribed to a particular fire service and when fire occurred the they were eligible for assistance. The city of New Orleans has wisely preserved this unique part of America and no residence can be altered in any major way. The law is such that anyone even contemplating repainting a residence must obtain paint that is in keeping with the turn of the century. There are obvious exceptions but the french quarter is unique in that it has maintained its turn of the century look and feel. You venture from the street into a building with ancient wallpaper, ancient pictures on the wall and elegant furniture which has seen better days.
We wandered into Pat O’Briens bar from the hot , intense heat of a New Orleans morning to a cool , dingy bar where two pianists sat at instruments covered in beaten copper and belted out a reasonable version of lounge music. The bar is famed for the Hurricane cocktail served in a special glass that tourists lap up, then buy the glass, and cherish as their memento of New Orleans. In the evenings there are queues waiting to get their Hurricane glasses wrapped . That evening, Harry Connick Jnr was to play. The alleyway into the bar is lined with a variety of muskets and guns and it is indeed a place to remember.
Our tour was somewhat shortened as a film company was in town making the ‘The Pelican Brief’ so several streets were blocked off. It was interesting that the local newspaper ( The Times Picayune) went to great lengths to explain that John Grisham had the heroine lawyer going down to the Cafe du Monde for coffee and bagels. Of course, the Cafe du Monde would not be seen dead serving bagels when the local beignets can be regularly seen gracing its tables. New Orleans has had several films set in and around the French Quarter and I was interested to see that ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter’ was set in the Garden District in place of Argentina.
Thelma kept up a brisk pace as we entered restaurants and bars and various architectural delights were pointed out. The slave holes were particularly fascinating and bought back a slice of American history of the not too distant past. Here slaves would be kept in dark, frightening imprisonment while the Southern plantation owners bartered over them. In fact the French quarter has some larger elegant buildings where the gentlemen owners had their holiday/city homes, from where they socialized and did business.
We spent a large amount of time in Jackson Square and were entertained by Thelma of the story of the southern belle who was divorced and decided to build a square to brighten up the French quarter. Women were allowed to own property in Louisiana but had no voting rights and were expected to keep a low profile. This lady certainly didn’t fit the mould and firstly called for tenders then dismissed them all and had her builder build the apartments and square based on the best of the tendered plans. She was often seen climbing up the ladders to the buildings to make sure that no nails were wasted or wood shaved off. Because of this outrageous behaviour she was scorned by the menfolk of New Orleans and even General Jackson was known to cross the street if he spotted her coming down . In her contempt for this man she put his statue in the middle of her new park and , instead of having him facing the horrendous invaders for the North, in the Battle of New Orleans, he was squarely facing her apartment and doffing his hat to her. Eternal revenge from someone who obviously was a cut above a lot of her fellow womenfolk.
A RIDE THROUGH THE GARDEN DISTRICT
The Garden District lies on the American side of what Thelma jokingly called the neutral zone. In fact, the same euphemism was used by John , our driver for the swamp tour for the next day so I gather that it is a familiar term. Thelma said that there were certain things that had to be done in New Orleans. A ride on the riverboat ( we decided not to as thousands upon thousands of tourists clambered to get on the sailings), a walk through the French quarter with a stop for coffee and beignets, a muffletta sandwich, and a ride on the Charles St tramcar through the Garden District.
The Charles St tram probably is most famous for being the title of Tennessee Williams ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ which was made into a successful film by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando. Tourist brochures actually have the famous streetcar with Desire in the little name window. The streetcars run from Canal St through part of the French quarter, the American quarter, and then out through the Garden District for some ten odd miles, a journey that takes about three quarters of an hour. You pays your dollar and you can go just about anywhere.
The contrasts are marked. Palatial southern mansions with impressive columns marking the doorways are side by side with vacant , boarded up buildings that look as though they breed poverty. A young girl alights from the tram and at one of the numerous stops and one can imagine her either going to work as a servant at one of the rich houses or surreptitiously sneaking into one of the hovels for a meal of cat food and rain water.
Picked up at our hotel by John Welch who is our guide for the swamp tour. John proports to be a genuine Cajun but I am somewhat bemused how someone called John Welch could claim roots like these. Surely he could call himself Jacque and control the uncomfortable habit of propelling his teeth out to the tip of his tongue whenever he starts to get excited. John talks passionately of things Cajun. His driving position is adorned with the usual American placard of ‘Gratuities not part of the fee’. The fee is $70 for the two of us and in order for John to earn his 20% tip he is going to have to work some pretty good hustle. Judging by the fact that we have been kept waiting for nearly 1/2 hour while John sorts out the logistics of arranging 36 people into two 18 seat minibuses he is going to be up against it today. Indeed, his efforts are rather perfunctory as he drops us at our first destination just out of Westwego. Westwego is across the Mississippi from New Orleans and is in the center of the Cajun district. This is supposedly one of the homeports where the Cajun fishermen work the bayou and the gulf to catch catfish, crawfish, shrimp and other goodies to feed the thousands of New Orleaneans and tourists each day. In actuality I have read that almost the whole catch is eaten locally. At one time blackened redfish became so popular as being representative of Cajun cooking that it was threatened with extinction. Two largish boats which look capable of venturing out into the Gulf stand resplendent around the shoreline but the most conspicuous sight is FOR SALE signs everywhere.
Our skipper is Captain Alex who seems to have more Cajun credentials although his Mexican origins may cloud the issue somewhat.
The tour turns out to be quite the highlight of our stay in New Orleans. The swamps and the people who frequent them are indeed a romantic lot and Captain Alex fills the boat with enthusiasm for a subject that he has great passion. We see numerous alligators, and some birdlife while getting a splendid commentary on the state of the environment.
The presence of man is very obvious in the swamp from the rotting hulks of shrimpers to discarded plastic and the Xmas tree oil wells. We return much informed about Cajuns and their difficult life but one which is largely self chosen and a fierce pride surrounding it.
John now really goes into his hustle as he smells the tourist dollar and we are provided with a song and dance routine and some unusual dashboard magic . This is all centred around the dead in New Orleans and why they are buried above ground. He is largely unsuccessful in eliciting any money as the only American tourist who feels in anyway obliged only has a $100 note and John doesn’t look the sort who gives out change. Our last sight of John is an outstretched hand with some day old $1 notes crumpled up in it in a vain attempt to make us feel guilty enough to part with some of our precious money.
THE CAFE DU MONDE off the French Market
The Cafe Du Monde. I have ben reading James Lee Burke since I left New Zealand. He writes extensively about Louisiana and New Orleans and numerous scenes in the books are set in Cafe Du Monde. This is apparently world famous like Pauls Louisiana Kitchen where people queue for blocks waiting to get in. Paul is the rotund giant of a man who appears on Cajun herbs that are sold worldwide. The Cafe Du Monde was one of three places where we had the famous beignets and its all very simple. $3.95 gets you a coffee and three beignets and that , a round table, and thirty or forty napkins are all you need to pass away a pleasant hour resting from shopping or simply eavesdropping on conversations.
Cafe Beignet. Just off the famous Jax Brewery and the New Orleans version of the Hard Rock Cafe. The waiters and waitresses ( like the Cafe du Monde) are dressed in black trousers and aprons and the icing sugar from the beignets(bey ‑nays) quickly turns their uniforms into a smudgy grey. The tables and floors are likewise splattered with this mixture so it quickly becomes apparent who has had their daily fix of cafe au lait and beignet as they have deposited about them somewhere a characteristic smudge.
Cafe du Monde , 110 Lower Alhabama Suite 11 Atlanta. Probably a subsidiary of the famous New Orleans version. Here I got a free copy of Mid Gulf sailing and we experienced our first beignet. Served by an afro‑american with the peculiar bright yellow hair over the top of a darker base. She was not amused at our inability to pronounce beignet but we ended up with the wonderful end product and despite the heavy fried taste they were delicious. The Underground in Atlanta is an underground market place with blocks of shops and stalls selling everything. Magicians and street performers entertain thousands of shoppers as they spend a leisurely Saturday afternoon browsing and buying.
” Twenty minutes till landing at Auckland International Airport Folks. Please fasten your seatbelts , stow all handluggage under the seat in front of you , put all seatbacks upright and extinguish all cigarettes. Its a fine day in Auckland ; 15 o C, with a light wind coming out of the southerly quarter. You will be required to wait in the aeroplane while personnel from New Zealand Agriculture and Fisheries spray the aircraft. You can then disembark through Customs. We at United Airlines thank you for flying with us and if you are returning to your own country we welcome you back. If you are a visitor then we welcome you to this beautiful, unique and unusual country”
My throat, already lumpy from a sighting of the moon over Northland, could not hold out any longer and the tears flooded to my eyes. The hand towel, thoughtfully supplied by the cabin crew, quickly saved me from embarrassment but the relief and emotion of arriving home was overwhelming and would come again and again over the next few hours.
The flight from New Orleans to Fort Worth, Dallas was uneventful and it was difficult to get any view of the country below. America seems to be shrouded in a permanent veil of haze, fog or smog . The portholes of the aircraft were also dazed from something and this added to the murk below.
I arrive in Los Angeles and, true to form, instantly got lost. The handcarts which had been free when we arrived now cost a dollar and were obtained by inserting a dollar note in a machine and then retrieving the trolley from a long line as the locking mechanism was tripped. I was unsure whether there was a time delay on the trip mechanism so I studiously retrieved a cart up to the point where the tripping mechanism locked so that I would have the minimum distance to move the cart. Just as I returned to work the mechanism another customer appeared on the scene with a Delta lines ‘helper’ and inserted her dollar and there went my cart which I had hauled a good 20 metres. Back to the start and to my horror it happened again. I thought I was trapped in some horrible Loony Tunes cartoon . Destined to be Wiley E Fox for a lifetime!
By the time I had retrieved my cart I was already frustrated and I was then given the wrong directions to United Airlines International departure terminal. I trudged, with my 200lbs of luggage, halfway around the airport before catching a shuttle bus back to where I had originally started and found the right terminal almost beside the Delta airlines lounge. Visitors beware!- the seemingly helpful American is a mixed blessing . They don’t listen. You end up having to repeat everything ten times and they seem to have a real problem understanding the New Zealand accent.
Walking into the International departure lounge of Los Angeles airport was like walking into an oasis is a huge, ugly, demented desert. On one side of the glass walls aeroplanes bank up waiting to land and queue up waiting to depart. Hundreds of buses , shuttles, cabs, cars, pickups and trucks form a constant hive of activity at the gates. Indeed the scene is reminiscent of the insides of a wasp nest with humans falling over each other in a mad scramble to make the exits. On the other side of the glass walls , relative sanity prevails and the lounge is full of the slang of Australia and New Zealand. The pace seems to have slowed down and departing visitors lounge on airport seats in stocking feet and braces, seemingly having their first breather since landing in this strange land. To assess the difference between America and the rest of the world you don’t even need to leave the airport. Its all right here! Busy Americans with dinner and coffee in hand scream about doing millions of things at the same time and the rest of the world looks on in bemused indulgence.
Walking into the International departure lounge of Los Angeles airport was like walking into an oasis in a huge, ugly, demented desert.
| Walking into the International departure lounge of Los Angeles airport was like walking into an oasis in a huge, ugly, demented, desert.
Leaving Auckland at 0830 and we ascend into thick cloud but at 24000ft we fly above a thick blanket of cotton wool that covers the North Island apart from Mt Egmont which pokes through. Its beautiful and sunny up here and the sky is so blue. Suddenly just south of Mt Egmont the cloud thins over the lower half of the North Island and we have a beautiful view of the Marlborough Sounds and Wellington. Looking backwards I can see Nelson, the Sounds, Cook Strait and the lower part of the North Island and again I have to fight away the tears. , After the last two weeks this seems like paradise. Clear air! When I walked from Auckland International airport to the Ansett domestic terminal the air smelt different. Blackbirds fought over grubs in the early dawn light. Even in the most back to nature place we went to in the USA I could not recall more than half a dozen birds in one area.
Some things still jar. The New Zealand accent is quite a shock when you hear it. Even after a short absence it is strikingly different from English and Australian. The ambivalence of some service people is hard to take. The girl behind the counter in the airport shop shrugs her shoulders in obvious annoyance and assures me that they definitely do not sell chewing gum in the airport because people have a habit of grinding it into the carpets. I found that I had quickly forgotten how currency worked and it took a few transactions to get back into the swing of things.
The lost look of tourists wherever you are in the world remains the same. A group of elderly Americans have just passed by and I wonder what our part of the world looks like to them as they are gaily entertained by a bus operator . I wonder if they tip him?
The delight of the long separated family members meeting each other and the tenderness that often accompanies that. The inflight movie was ‘The Scent of Women’ which had a particularly nasty family reunion and this has probably alerted me to any touch of niceness.
And on the other side of the coin, the lonely traveller be they male or female, staring vacantly at promises of holidays in distant, exotic lands for $999 and displacing themselves mentally to sunnier climes. Women looking at young children and imagining their own being looked after by a granny or aunt or an au pair and they temporarily bemoan their life choice until the next deal closure.
The lonely bespectacled , overweight male looking forlornly at tourists gaily queuing for the next exciting component of their holiday. He wonders when he will be able to afford the money, or the time, to do the same.
Rather than the eagle, the crawfish should be the symbol of the United States. If you put an eagle on a rail road track and a train comes along, what the eagle going to do? Has going to fly away, him. But if you put a crawfish on that railroad track and what’s he going to do? He’s going to put up his claws to stop that train, him.
James Lee Burke ‑ The Neon Rain
Admirable , though the thoughts may be that are expressed in the test box it should also be pointed out that the crawfish would be squashed and the eagle would be able to fly away and then shit on the train from a great height which is probably more the American way than anything else.
I have heard that I had a jaundiced version of the American dream. The south and in particular Atlanta and Louisiana are backwaters and violent backwaters of the USA. Washington, Chicago, Denver and Texas where Alison has been visiting seem to be much nicer places. However, what I saw is what you, dear reader, get.
The vastness of the country means that it can support a large number of service industries.
America has been described as a military,‑industrial complex. It was the hot tub in New Orleans where I met Arch. Arch was from Cincinnati and at seventeen stone and five foot ten he looked as though he had had a few Budweizers in his life. In fact, Arch and his wife had spent a fair amount of most vacations touring the local beer plants and sampling the wares. He reckoned that he had singlehandedly provided at least a few brewery executives with their personal fortunes. Arch worked at an engine assembly plant and was on his first organized vacation since he started work. He normally holidayed in his RV bus which he and his wife drove to a likely spot, visited the local brewery and wound down from the rigours of assembling engines ten hours a day, six days a week, 47 weeks a year. He was one six month stint off retirement and he had been looking forward to this holiday for a long time. Despite the fact that he was being pulled around from one t shirt shop to another and was wasting valuable beer drinking time he was having a pretty relaxed time. They had met some good people on the same tour and made plans to meet up again maybe next year in Florida or Mexico. Arch said that America was going to hell in a dog basket. Unemployment was rife ( a publically acknowledged seven percent unemployment rate but that did not include the many thousands who did not even bother to register for the unemployment) and that industries were closing down all over the place. The South was already suffering the recession but it was slowly being felt in the North of America. His place of work handled several big military contracts . They rebuilt aeroplane and tank engines and with there being not so many wars that America was involved in they had to lay off staff as a result of less contract work. Around Atlanta two military bases were to be closed down and this was typical of the rot seeping into the country. I couldn’t work out whether Arch was a raving military nut or just the plain working stiff he described himself as who saw his livelihood being eroded away and sought simple solutions , without thinking of the long reaching consequences. He rather cynically told me that all the wars that America had been involved in had less to do with preserving democracy as spreading markets for Coca Cola, Texaco and Kentucky Fried Chicken and MacDonalds. If profits were down or a market was threatened by nationalisation of a foreign industry, the CIA or the military organized a little hanky panky and the status quo was restored. It is the American way. As American as mum, apple pie and the atomic bomb, I thought cynically. Arch thought it a crime that newly graduated college students worked at MacDonalds for $4.00 an hour. I thought like I should introduce Arch to some of the realities of living in a country where unemployment was probably around 20 percent and that for a large part of the population work was something that their grandparents had done. It did serve to show the difference between the rich and the poor in America. Those who have, worry about what model car to buy next year, what color to paint the mansion this season, where to holiday and how to avoid paying those extra taxes. Those who don’t have, worry if their supermarket trolley which contains all their worldly possessions will be overturned by the local street gang and then they themselves randomly slaughtered for someones ten seconds of fun.
It is the American way. As American as mum, apple pie and the atomic bomb, I thought cynically.
Sport reflects the national character of any country. In New Zealand the All Blacks show our national heritage of farming with the modification of the black singlet. The silver fern merely represents some tool of instrument that once attached the ubiquitous key and eventually assumed the mana of another national anthem.
In America it is the baseball stadium that represents the National image. Green walls , brown or beige ground with the most prominent American on an grossly elevated mound. Nowhere , in any other other sport have I witnessed such arrogance. We drove past a game just outside New Orleans, on the way further south, and this guy was about four feet above all the other players. Screaming , he dictated the whole game despite his inability to perceive what was happening outside his small universe contained within a fefty metre pace. Typical! Focussed! Effective!
As we flew over America I had not connected the green and beige with the national game. Some stadiums have different ways of setting out the field / This adds to the game. For a novice sitting in his bedroom in maintown New Orleans it is not always apparent.,, I watch the game and miss these intricacies. Some stadiums have low walls so that any reasonable hit becomes a home run. Others have walls which tower over the outfielder and he may stretch but the ball is far beyond his reach. Home runs scored depend on grounds played at. Some , cleverly, have walls paced so that balls bound for home runs deflect off at odd angles and allow the outfielder the remote chance of catch. Others have walls which are obviously impenetrable and players just throw their hands in the air as the ball sails over their heads.,
I have no idea what the striped uniforms or the spitting and posturing in the dugouts is all about. Maybe in another trip and I will discover. It probably related back to the origins of the American dream. Spitting tobacco, chewing gum, talking in that peculiar southern accent which is a mix of many settlers such as Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans. Girls , boys, men , women, the world over , collect these strange icons of a culture.
I sit on my hotel bed and watch the flickering images as hey hit and run. hit and walk ,. hit and miss.
I listen the next day to an American businessman sum up the worlds problems. First you have ‘ Rave , rave rave ‘. second you rave ‘rave , rave ‘ third you have ‘ rave, rave rave’. and then you strike ! . I wonder how much we have grown as human beings from our primitive beginnings as creatures from caves.
Stepping off the plane and before what seemed like a second I was hit by the heat of the place. While waiting for a 3/4 hour “getting through customs” it was obvious that the Dunedin gear of leather jacket, jersey, and cords only bought an instant sweat at the hint of any movement. It was 0515 and we had arrived at Faa Airport in Tahiti. Customs was a cursory check of our passports but it was the first time I had been faced by a figure in authority wearing a Smith & Wesson strapped to his hip.
A frantic search for a taxi and a chance to work out that fpc 20,000 is about NZ $35 and this is the price to get a taxi from Faa International Airport
|The “zombies of the night” and the mysterious “sweepies” were the two biggest psychological dilemmas posed in the first few hours.
to Papeete, a distance of about 7km. Shit! they drive on the wrong or should that be the right side of the road here and as we speed toward downtown Papeete , with all the windows down and a cool, breeze calming everything down, in this modern Peugeot petite we pass lots of people wandering round the roads in a scene like “zombies from the dark”. What are they doing and in pidgin French / English the driver replies that they are going to work. This seems rather unlikely and we ponder on one of the mysteries of Tahiti that will return to haunt us.
We arrive at the hotel and Zoot Alors! although we have been booked in we cannot possess our room until 1100hrs, the surly Tahitian desk clerk informs us. He finally relented at 0600-0700hrs when we make ready to bunk down in the lobby as jet lag and the oppressive heat are having their toll. We first, however, have to wait around until 0600 and a walk along the waterfront shows a few drunks sleeping off last nights festivities and groups of people with doggy shovels sweeping up the debris of the night. This, in fact, seems to employ a veritable army of people who sweep up the discarded junk of yesterdays life. In fact, as we are to see later on, these sweepies are kept busy in an unobtrusive way all day working away relentlessly at their task and in later days we are led to speculate that the discarded rubbish, soft drink cans, playing cards, paper and plastic bags, cigarette butts, half eaten fruit are all alive and well in the Tahitian countryside and could probably keep half the population of Tahiti busy as sweepies.
We arrive back from our walk and our surly Tahitian clerk has had his pound of flesh and reluctantly allows us to enter our room where we instantly grapple with the air conditioning and a strange siren like sound that pierces the now morning air and rattles window panes throughout our dream filled night.
1000hrs. The heat and restless energy have combined to bring us awake and we need to explore!. Its about 26 C outside and I am immediately struck that there are no TV’s, no radio’s,, no telephone books in the room; no information of where to go and what to see. We wander aimlessly in the general direction of the inner city to get something to drink and we are aware that our Dunedin mid-winter bodies are unaccustomed to the change of climate and the moisture that we have lost while in flight. There is also the enormous amount of water that is extracted from the air by the airconditioners and I notice pools of water lying beneath veritable waterfalls, cascading down from rooftop conditioners. All this must be combining to lower our moisture content to dangerously low levels.
So ! Our first contact with Tahiti. It is so difficult to work out how things are. Everything is in French and my schooldays French can partially work out the major things like banks, toilets, customs, chemists, hotels, restaurants, but there appears to be a singular lack of people manning literally dozens of nameless shops strewn along the street with COCA-COLA and PIZZA signs adorning their exteriors. Restaurants and bars actually serve from coffee and snacks to fully fledged meals but the prices are a little daunting with Salad Nicoise going at fcp 1000 which is about NZ$25. We eventually find one of a number of in/out shops similar in layout to NZ lottery/bookshops which serve takeaways from a bit fronting on to the street and then various grocery items inside. The meals are displayed in glass cases and feature french rolls stuffed with all sorts of things and various pastries and bags of what look like dried fruit. We choose to go inside and mumble ” deux cafe” which is fraught with danger as Alison has hers with milk and I don’t and I can’t for the life of me remember how to order the two different varieties.
However the lovely lady understand and brings us two wonderful coffees with a bowl of sugar cubes and a tin of Carnation
milk which appears to be the milk of choice and is served everywhere in various guises .
We eventually buy some FANTA and things are looking up as we negotiate handing over money and starting to work out how it all goes.
We later negotiate buying our first food and then finding its the standard snack food for the area. They are beautiful French rolls stuffed with all sorts of goodies and the one that eventually becomes a firm favourite of mine is cold spaghetti with a sauce with pork or bacon or something spread over it.
By midday we have cruised the shops of Papeete and a ready for more food and a swim. The other choices in the bread rolls are crabmeat, omelette, ham, fish, chicken and you can by chicken legs in batter or without out, which we are initially suspicious of but later turn out to be delicious and much better than our battery fed equivalent. All this is for about fcp100-250 (NZ$1.80-$2.50). We then wander down to the waterfront to find a place for the elusive swim we have been promising ourselves since about mid June when we finally decided we were going to do this. There are some pretty fancy yachts tethered, fore and aft Mediterranean style, with the anchor out to sea and two stern lines to davits on the rock wall and gang planks to the boats. Some skippers have ingeniously rigged these so that they go through a masthead halyard and they can be raised and lowered to prevent unwelcome visitors. They seem to be mostly American yachts although there are some from Australia, Scandinavia and Great Britain. I plan to try and track down any existence of FAITH11’s visit her in the early sixties , if I can. There does not seem much evidence of folk actually being on board the yachts and the only activity I witness is a young maiden slurping some water over herself after rising wearily from sleep ( its midday) and two small Tahitian children hauling gangplanks up and down for visiting friends. There is water and power for each berth and the amenities seem great with only a stones throw to the shops.
The swim proves to be unobtainable as all this area has large signs warning or swimming being prohibited and I can only guess that the pollution is such that it would impose a health risk. After walking for miles we flop on the beach and bask in the sun. We have to find some place where we can buy inexpensive food and some snacks for our hotel room.
We have found a supermarket! Great! Familiar territory and its great to feel the old steel basket beneath your fingertips and knowing that no-one is going to start babbling in your face when you pick something up. God! Scotch, Gin , Vodka, Rum for sale in the supermarket though about NZ$50 a bottle. Fruit is expensive with oranges and some out of season apples going for $NZ 6 a kilo. Meat is horrendous! A leg of NZ lamb is about NZ$25 and most beef is about fpc1000 a kilo (NZ$15-20), although we are confused as to wether this may be a pound rather than a kilo.
We buy cheese(fcp100); wine (fcp600); crackers (fcp200); a corkscrew( fcp130; some mineral water (fcp90) and some more FANTA (fcp300) and bannanas (fcp125) which should provide plenty o snacks for about NZ$35.
After crashing out for three hours upon returning to the hotel (jetlag- numero duty free whiskies) we venture out for a meal.
Cafe RETRO has attracted our eye earlier on. It is resplendent with marble floors, interesting decor and a menu we can understand. Fish ( poisson) and steak tartare are the specials of the day. We later learn from the local newspaper that this restaurant is to be the location for a French movie currently being made and it does have a certain ambience of French people popping in for a vino and Gauloise after a hard days. There are luscious Tahitian maidens serving and drumming up the clientele. We have some minor problems with ordering as they are all a bit concerned that I am unaware that steak tartare is raw meat ( of which I am fully aware) but they fail to pick up that Alison has unknowingly ordered raw fish. The food arrives and it initially appears rather paltry but this soon passes as it is delicious with a beautiful simple salad. A demi-litre of rose ( no vin rouge) and coffee and strawberry tart comes to NZ$90 or fcp4500 which is pretty expensive but we think that the experience has been well worth it. We are gaining in confidence and we have managed to suss most things out.
On the way back we find a large fenced off arena we had been curious about on our first morning. There is an Arts Festival due to happen in a few weeks and it turns out this is the venue for practices. It is also the main venue for traditional Tahitian performances for tourists. We stroll in , sit down, and we are entertained for nearly an hour by dancing, magnificent ukulele playing and singing.
Further along the waterfront, just past the Tahitian fishing fleet, who ion the company of the French authorities, were so unkind to Margaret Hicks, we bump into our Air NZ flight crew who have been sampling the night life during their stop over. Its wonderful to hear a familiar language after a day of people jabbering away in French. The waterfront is populated at night by dozens of mobile food places which offer a wide variety of foods such as Pekinese, Canton, Chinese, French , Italian food for about fcp600-fcp1000 each. It seems to be the centre of night life as it is being continually cruised by cars, scooter, motorbikes, prostitutes, tourists and locals alike and their are delicious smells everywhere.
|If only this array of food and atmosphere could be part of Dunedin nightlife . The mixture of noise, food and people provides endless entertainment.
The enigmatic and omnipresent “Trucks” have no timetable, negotiable fare and constitute the most friendly face of the Island.
The next day sees us more determined to explore this Island. We first decide that we must have food for a picnic. This necessitates going to the local market and buying mangoes, melon, tomatoes, lettuce etc for the day. The local market is a delightful place filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, fish , crafts being sold from stalls and wonderful bargains.
Its then off to find a beach. The locals travel by “Le Truck” which are a fleet of flatdeck trucks with bench seats fore and aft and a covering over the back and painted in gay colours. They run from the center of Papeete to various spots around the island. There are no timetables, the buses just run when there are enough customers. We have decided that we want to go to Point Venus which is a beach (with black sands-the local tourist guide has explained to us in broken English). It is also the sight of Captain James Cooks observation of the planet Venus which historically was going to be able to allow mad englishmen to work out their longitude. There is much confusion but Alison and I manage to over come it by taking out the map and pointing to the beach we want to go to. We are finally hustled into the appropriate truck and are on our way. You don’t pay until you get top where you are going to and then you have to clamber over the seat of the truck to hand over the 100 francs.
We arrive at Point Venus which indeed has the historic references to Captain Cook and a splendid lighthouse to boot, but the beach is beckoning. The beach is covered in wonderful people and its a shock to the system to see so much naked flesh on display. Indeed my first day on the beach at Tahiti is filled with wondrous and beautiful sights as women after women arrives, strips off, languishes in the sun, splashes in the water then reclothes and is off home.
Another curious feature is that at 1200 a bus arrives and disgorges numerous schoolchildren who seem to come to the beach for lunch , then the afternoon. Alison is game for a few swims but I am afraid that the sights on the beach are keeping me out of the water. Mid afternoon we wind our way back home and have a delightful cafe at a small wayside diner at the end of the beach which serves snacks, ice creams to full meals. We are walking along the road where mangoes are literally lying on the roadside and a “le truck” comes down the road so I flag it down. To my horror when we reach the main road it turns the wrong way and proceeds down the east coast of the island. However, the driver seems to know where we want to go as after 5 km or so, he draws to a stop, turns round and gesticulates for us to get out, cross the road , and catch the bus back to Papeete , waiting on the other side of the road. No charge !
That evening we decide to try the waterfront and sample the wonderful crepes that had been described to us by our Air NZ crew. We choose a French type place is run by an attractive French women who serves the most amazing steak and salad and coffee to follow. I don’t know whether it is my having not smoked for a couple of days but the food has the most incredible taste. We wander down the alley of trucks and vans, being careful to avoid being run over and on our way back have a crepe a la mariner each which is like heaven. There is also a fare running in the town centre and Alison is keen for a ride on the Ferris wheel. However, the prize attraction is this imported merryground with he most ornate horses and lighting. It is breathless to see it and I would love to hear the story behind it.
|The worst thing that can happen to you in any foreign country is to get lost, or at least to think that you may be lost. Alison does not seem to grasp this. We could be robbed and our bodies discarded and no-one would be any the wiser. I was amazed that, just this morning, we blithely climbed into a jeep containing three tattooed, tough looking guys who were boozing up. We drove with them , in total trust that they would take us to where they were going and that we would survive the journey. Sooner or later our luck just might run out.
Stranded in the middle of Tahiti, somewhere near Parea. We have walked from the beach we spent the day at which was magnificent for warm water, typical naked dusky Tahitian maiden, more naked French mademoiselles, oh! and the beautiful sun. God this place is amazing. I was so embarrassed taking pictures of topless ladies that they are all probably out of focus or over or underexposed or of the wrong parts of their anatomy. Anyway! Lost! We’re led to believe that the last bus back to Papeete is at 1630 from the museum guide we have talked to as we wandered back from the beach. We arrive at what we though was about 1525 and there is no-one else there. Volvo’s, Peugeot’s, BMW’s, Suziki’s , Renault’s , Ford’s, Mini’s roar by and buses roar by , but in the wrong direction and we are looked upon disdainfully as stupid tourists perched on a stone by the inward bus sign, now suddenly being doused by some rich French garden water as one of the residents decided to water their precious lawn.
A hope! a gentleman joins us and to my horror tells me that the updated time is 1655 and now all hope of a bus to take us back is lost. Yet he is sitting, jiggling his 100 franc coins and occasionally seeming to flicker at a passing BMW. Suddenly a bus appears as he is joined by a Chinese and non Tahitian lady who laugh at our fate and introduce themselves. They are from Vanautu and have ben in Tahiti for 5 years training in hotel management. He actually speaks english and has probably picked up my angst. We’re OK and sailing down the road and having a decent conversation despite a group of drunken Tahitian army recruits who have appeared on board and in deference to the plainly written rule forbidding them to drink and smoke they are slurping down beer and passing round a bottle of “Cutty Sark” which is nearly empty. We survive! and home to the supermarket , French bread, pate, onion, tomato , mango, French wine and to pretend we are slumming.
Out to Cruise
Off to sample the nightlife of Tahiti , but first a stop off for some coffee. The coffee here is magnificent and we haven’t had any all day. Some we have seen come out of a percolator and we have just had some cappuccino , but also small dark , rich coffee in small cups you can barely get your fingers through the handle for fcp200; and they are heaven! The smell of Gauloise and Gitanes pervades the night air as French people stop off for a smoke, wine and cafe. Over on the adjacent wharf is the cruise vessel the WINDSONG.
What a monster! In the brochures it looks big but here, tied next to the wharf it is amazing. It hugely towers over the local fishing fleet with its three masts. The mizzen sail is self furling and all the staysails also have huge hydraulic self furling attachments on them.
From the commotion on the boulevard with gendarmes ( with guns) and blockades it is obvious that this is a huge money spinner and all the cultural/ traditional dancing and swaying is being bought out to entertain the clients. After visiting the Polynesian museum today and seeing this spectacle I am forced to the point of view that these people have not achieved much in the way of cultural awareness re there place in French Polynesia. The French
have traditionally been very arrogant and authoritarian in colonial rule and the farcical nature of the Island awareness is a tawdry sign between Papeete and Faa reading ” Welcome to Nuclear Free Tahiti”
We have just been struck by the anomalies. A proud native race where in the north of the island most native Tahitians don’t even bother to speak the native language and talk in French. The further you travel form Papeete the more the native Tahitian langauge is spoken. The people obviously have proud cultural heritage yet the countryside is evidence of a total neglect of environmental awareness. Rubbish is everywhere and after a school picnic the ground looks like a mini Maouroua Atoll. Young people seem to be either fashionably in or swigging on a bottle of Johnny Walker or Cutty Sark, smoking and gambling their young lives away.
This is born out later in the evening as we see evidence of some of the seamier aspects of Tahiti. We have wandered down a dark looking street and found the clubs which cater to the more basic impulses of the tourists. Here transvestites , prostitutes ply for trade either in the clubs or the streets and bars surrounding them. A young American tourist is trying desperately to lure and even younger Tahitian girl back to his hotel room on the pretext of not being able to find his way home. When I offer to help him find said home, he rather rudely declines my offer. People asleep in doorways or amidst piles of rubbish created by the festival over the road stand in stark contrast to the magnificently garlanded dancers who display for the tourists.
Moorea Island is the closest Island to Tahiti and probably the second biggest tourist trap with Club Med and a few others scattered around the Island. You reach it via a ferry which runs from the island of Tahiti 3X daily or if you are rich you can fly. We are anticipating that we will catch the 0945 sailing but I wake at 0600 and try to rouse Alison for the 0700 sailing; but, she isn’t interested. Back to sleep and awake again at what I think is 0830 . I leap out of bed and into the shower and as I fall asleep mid dressing I discover, to my chagrin, that it is 0730.
We queue to get tickets which are fcp1400 each return ( NZ$25). While waiting I hear a familiar language and its Bob , from Sydney. Although he is an Australian he looks oriental and he is wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt so he could be virtually from anywhere. But it is obvious that Bob knows even less French than us as he’s reading Sundays timetable; whereas I have at least sussed out the French for Saturday.
Bob is in the hotel trade and he is in Tahiti on a working holiday with wife Judy who is constantly smiling and then
retiring to write in what looks like a giant exercise book. Does she tear out the pages and send them home to Sydney in air mail envelopes that conceal their cheap and tawdry stationary? Bob is frustrated because he’s the front man for a proposed Japanese/ Australian/Tahitian consortium who are going to shoehorn their way into a hotel. As he says with the Japanese being involved they demand that it has to be something rather special and Bob is looking a little frayed around the edges as he sucks on his 10 Malboro of the morning and anxiously glances at his watch. He has been here two days and he has just received his itinerary and so this morning he has already booked in and out of two hotels. One transaction took less than 15 minutes and Bob is reeling. He reckons that so far he has done fuck all work but has had ,lots of meetings,. Basically the local tourist industry is just not happening! It’s just not set up right. There is no information available for people to work our whats on outside of your own hotel. The local people are not interested in promotion. Bob says that some in the industry blame the Tahitians in that they are frequently described as lazy. Bob says you haven’t seen lazy until you go to Fiji. ” Heres the towel you ordered sir” says the Fijian waiter “and you may well reel in surprise as it was three bloody days ago that you ordered said towel”. Bob doesn’t see his proposed venture going very far and as he glances at his watch and sees that we are already 20 minutes past sailing time , he is not a happy man. Meanwhile Judy sits on their suitcases and scribbles a few more lines on her worn A4.
We’re on our way home from Moorea. A pleasant enough day on what was probably a private beach but there was no-one to warn us off so we grabbed a few fallen coconuts for sustenance and helped ourselves. Apart form giant crabs roaming the beach and their
numerous holes which the cover the roadside to the waters edge and into which a small child may disappear the environment is kind to us. Apart of course, from the inevitable tide mark of FANTA, ROYAL MINERAL WATER, HEINEKEN & HINAMO BEER, assorted wrappers and various other items of rubbish.
Haamerati cruises onto the return ferry and he is floating about a foot off the multi-coloured, rubbish, strewn deck from the accumulated litter of the days cruises. Roo, his friend? has been standing beside us for at least a quarter of an hour and he’s into his second Heineken which he quickly drains and throws over the side to join the rest of the garbage that is being disgorged from the bowels of the ship. By mid crossing Roo and Haamerati, along with two other friends have polished off close to two dozen cans and are now blocking the aisles, insulting the local French people, singing romantic, bawdy songs , when they are not lapsing into native Tahitian and presumably further haranguing any pseudo French Polynesian who happen to be near. They are treated by the other passengers with a curious mixture of contempt and fascination and bon-homme. Although I cannot make out what they are saying it is obviously rather risque and is causing offence to some of the other passengers who quickly move to another part of the boat. Inevitably by journeys end ( and an exciting journey it is , with my first sighting of a flying fish and a horrendous swell which the crew pound the antiquated steel hull through at tremendous speed, causing it to shudder ominously with each new wave) Haamerati has to talk to someone and that basically leaves me because he’s insulted nearly everybody else. Despite his obvious drunken state and my complete lack of Tahitian or French and his unwillingness to talk in French and utter lack of any English we manage to communicate , much to his delight. He thinks that French Polynesia is great but only on the outlying Islands. Tahiti is basically had it. “Non plage” he keeps repeating , every time we look over at the rapidly approaching island which is being bathed by the late afternoon sun and looks simply amazing. “Le Yacht, byu non plage, Tahiti” then Haamerati lapses into French body language with drunken gesticulations showing obvious disgust for Tahiti. His sweeping gestures encompass the modern motorways with Peugots, BMW’s and Mercedes speeding to and fro and I can only conclude that he has a view of Polynesia that has occurred to me as well. The clash of the French and Polynesian ways of life and the differences in wealth and colonial pride lead me to speculate that Tahiti and French Polynesia are a time bomb , waiting to explode and as Haami(as he now wants to be called)and Roo throw yet another three cans over the side to add to todays garbage I can only feel for them and what they will probably go through before they can resuscitate their pride and feeling for this beautiful country.
|Paradoxes are everywhere. Cleanliness, filth. French, Polynesian. The country almost seems to be schizophrenic………………………………………….
It is only later that I learn that “la plage” probably means swimming and my estimate of Haameratis political sensitivity is shattered.
Our last night in Tahiti is greeted with a tinge of sadness as we realize that the trip is finally coming to an end. We plan to eat expensively tonight as the NZ$100 a day we have budgeted each for has gone a long way since we managed to sort out the markets and the waterfront food stalls. We find a Vietnamese restaurant in a back street of Papeete , and amazingly it is virtually empty. In fact we are the only occupants until a Frenchman arrives with two beautiful women and we are left to speculate what their various relationships may be . Again, the waitress cannot speak English or understand us but we manage to order a variety of entrées and mains which to our horror all arrive at the same time. We are faced with plates of steaming frogs legs, rice, sates, chicken and fish dishes. The food is , of course, outstanding and in our intoxicated state I leave the restaurant and leave my French yachting magazine behind. This causes me some sleepless moments over the next day as I reckon this would have been the perfect way to, learn to speak French.
Our last day is to be spent in Papeete in a leisurely fashion, wandering the beachfront and lying in the sun. We have both managed to gain a bit of a tan , although Alison has overdone it slightly and is a little redder.
The yachts on the beachfront have finally got some bodies on board and lying on the beach we can see that most of them appear to spend the whole day sitting in one spot, doing very little. Despite the fact that there is a decent wind there is not one yacht out enjoying it and they spend the day swinging around their anchors as the breeze builds up. Our moment of excitement arrives when the sole New Zealand boat manages to drag its anchor and we are treated to an hysterical half an hour as they motor around fiddling with various bits of rope.
The streets are filled with people in the morning attending church and then in the afternoon the boulevard is busy with people screaming up and down all day.
In fact we are treated later in the day to the local Kamikaze pilots doing banshee runs up and down the boulevard , aboard their Kawasaki 900 Ninja turtles . They blithely ride without helmets, footwear and shorts at speeds which should shred the skin off their little knees. I know understand the building spotted earlier in the week denoting the Institute de Rehabilee de Amputee , complete with a few limbless souls propped up outside.
Leaving the hotel at 0200 hrs is not easy. We have had, or tried to have , a snooze before catching a taxi to the airport but the oppressive heat, the thought that we will not wake up and the tremendous downpour outside have all conspired to rob me of rest. Although we have a wakeup call in I have seen the Tahitian clerk of our first night is on the desk and I cannot trust the little bastard enough to put my future in his fat little hands. When we get outside there indeed has been a storm and it is obvious now to see why the gutters are so high. When it rains here it must really pour down. The night is wonderfully clear , with a full moon and millions of stars and the drive to the airport is surreal, tempered by our separate states of tiredness.
Leaving Tahiti is like a dream. We are cast in the transit lounge with various other dissociated bodies travelling from the USA to Auckland. They have been in the air for what seems like days and its an eerie feeling to be in a country , but not to be in a country as we all sit in the area that separates us from the formality of International customs or the relative tranquillity of being not subject to any taxes, to be in the buffer zone.
Our last sight of Tahiti is of the glittering lights of the boulevard as the 747 wheels away from the island and starts its long climb to 34000 feet and the journey back to New Zealand.
|My overriding impression is that this trip has kindled in me a wish to explore other parts of the world. There is an amazing feeling of discovery and confirmation of your own roots when you enter into a country and come to terms with how things work.
Its also my belief that travelling relatively independently from tourist routes is the way to see the country. Had we travelled to a hotel in Tahiti, on one of the outlying islands, we would have sun, surf and traditional Tahiti , but we would have missed the children arriving on the beach at mid day, the bus drivers, the friendly people in the market, walks in the countryside, the garbage strewn beaches, the meeting with Haamerati and Roo on the ferry. We probably wouldn’t have seen the merryground and we probably would,nt have had to learn to speak a mixture of French and pidgin English. In short we would not have enjoyed ourselves !
The Millionth Mile
I looked across at the man lying on the road, blood streaming down his face and pooling around his blackened helmet. Ted had just rounded the corner on the penultimate day of our five-week odyssey, and ran smack bang into the front of a new Peugeot. You could see the dent of his motorcycle helmet on the red bonnet of the car. Ted was still moving; and groaning. I had noticed the peculiar way he groaned the night before as we rested after the 200-mile journey from Reefton to Haast. He had complained all evening of a sore stomach and burning oesophagus. I had initially ignored his groaning, as Ted was occasionally given to exaggerated body complaints but then he had disappeared into the bathroom and I heard the horrible retching, and then the unmistakable smell of fresh vomit as he exited the toilet.
“It’s bothered me the last ten years. Just comes on after I eat certain foods. I guess the red wine didn’t help either. It should be gone…..” , Ted didn’t finish the sentence as he rushed back into the bathroom and the stomach evacuation continued. The next morning he took me aside and his eyes sparkled as he told me that it usually disappeared by 11.00.
“Like I have given birth,” he smiled out at me, as if his internal pain was akin to a woman carrying a child. I would have been surprised if Ted knew much about women, in general, and greatly surprised if he knew anything of the intricacies of childbirth.
I hurriedly turned off the ignition of my own motorcycle and, pulling my gloves off, rushed over to where Ted lay. He slowly raised his head and started to experiment with moving various body parts.
“Feels like the ankles gone and the elbow is giving me gyp. I only pulled off my glove to tighten that damn bolt and the car just appeared out of the blue.”
I looked over at the Peugeot and met the angry eyes of the fat, ugly driver as he fumbled with his seatbelt and tried to extricate himself from behind the inflated airbag. I could see that this was going to involve considerable negotiation skills on my part. The driver of the car would be relatively easy, but Ted, I knew, would be a problem. He was a single-minded old bugger and stubborn with it. He had argued with me into the early hours a few nights back, just after we arrived in Nelson about the role of children in caring for parents. His own elderly mother had lived the last ten years in a nursing home in Northland and Ted alternated between feeling good about her and also feeling like some sort of social outcast for putting the old dear into care.
“She had always looked after us’” Ted said, then remembered that he had already shared another memory with me as we crossed the Cooks Strait in the ferry. Ted’s father had either died or run away after Ted was born and Ted’s mum hadn’t been able to bear the responsibility of raising two children. Ted had ended up in an orphanage for seven years, while his younger sister had stayed with the mother. It was hard to know how Ted had laid this particular egg in his psychology but he had gone all emotional when we visited an orphanage as part of the toy run for our motorcycle club. One minute he was rubbing the heads of little kids and cracking jokes and then he just disappeared. I found him at the back of the shed, his eyes all watered up and he suddenly just started talking about how wrong it all was.’ Look at the little bastards,” he said. “What hope have they got in life? At least Mum was always there, in the background, but these little buggers haven’t got anyone. They don’t know who their mothers and fathers are. What hope have they got?”
It was meant as a rhetorical question but it had formed part of the argument we later had in Nelson. He told me that he had visited his mother before he departed on our tour.
“She asked where I was going and seemed to know all the places. It gets to me though, the way she goes on about life. Give you an example. I asked her about her birthday and she just went all quiet I thought it might have something to do with me not being there but I think its something deeper than that. You might be able to tell me. When I asked if she was looking forward to next years birthday (she’ll be ninety seven you know) she just closed her eyes. I pressed her and then she just says ‘I won’t be here next year’. She says that every bloody year. ‘I won’t be here Ted. I don’t want to go on living like this. Would you like to be dragged through each day like I am?’ Well I wouldn’t, you know. I’d rather die on my bike. A nice quick death. No lingering around for twenty years, dribbling and pissing myself.” Ted had slammed his fist into his hand and the veins on his forehead stood out. I had tried to talk about views of life changing as you got older and lost your ability to do certain things. You just developed new interests. Ted would have none of that and the night deteriorated into a list of all his old mates who had died of cancer, or weak hearts, or strokes. It was an unwinnable argument and about things much bigger than both of us.
Ted moved his hand and I could see that the back was covered in blood. I could also see that it bore the unmistakable scars of many other falls from motorbikes.
“Gravel rash- I call it,” grimaced Ted as he rubbed some off on the grassy verge. “Legs feel alright. Ankles OK. Helmet saved the old head. Bloods always like a river when you get a facial. Look at my, err your, poor bike though.”
The Triumph lay on its side to the left of the car. The handlebars were bent at a funny angle but the footrests had protected the tank and side panels from any real damage although the blue and white tank had a red smear where it had made contact with the Peugeot. I could see that his facial wound was only superficial and the bleeding had all but stopped.
“It doesn’t look to bad Ted,” I muttered. “Its more important how you are. Can you stand?”
I had to be careful with these oldies. Ted was in his seventies and they just didn’t bounce back the way they did when they were younger. Ted stood and, although he wasn’t too steady on his feet at the best of times, he seemed to be all right. He looked his usual combination of stylish and foolish with the weird juxtaposition of clothing and body form. For an old guy he dressed pretty well. His riding boots were of the best Moroccan leather. He always wore the latest style of Levi’s. His black leather jacket had an intricate Sagittarius design stitched onto the back that his mother had done when he hit his fiftieth. But Ted’s body was all wrong. He was partially kyphotic and bandy legged so that when he walked he sort of rolled along the ground not unlike a big ape. His vision must have been marginal for holding a driving licence as his coke bottle glasses made his small eyes appear gigantic. His weathered face had been handsome at some stage in his life but was now covered in wrinkles and, since the last few weeks, grey stubble. What hair he had was now visible beneath his helmet but when that was removed he had little on the tops. Ted also had an unusual habit of frequently moving his dentures around his mouth and, on some occasions, in and out of his mouth. He could be both charming and irritating and in our few weeks together I had experienced both in equal doses. At the moment I was irritated with him but my irritation was mixed with genuine concern. Ted was a man who seldom let himself out of his tightly woven bag and it was difficult to see beneath the skin of this man. In some ways he bought out in me some of the complicated feelings I had for my own departed father.
“Now Ted,” I said “you just get into the support truck and spend the rest of the day there.”
Ted looked at me as if I were completely mad.
“Like bloody hell. Nothing wrong with me. Just a bit of gravel rash. Help me get the bike back up.”
“No Ted. The truck.”
“It will be a dark day in hell when something like a little spill makes me give up. Help me with the bike,” Ted said as he strode over to where the Triumph lay. The driver of the Peugeot had managed to get the door open and extricate himself from the interior and he now approached me, waving a cellphone in one hand and shaking the other. I was torn between Ted and the man but my responsibility was to get my client to the end of this journey as safely as possible so I ignored the man.
“Ted, get into the truck” although I could see that maybe my judgement was a little misplaced and I should perhaps preserve whatever dignity Ted had left. I turned to the man.
”No need to involved anyone else in this sir. Just give me your insurance company and we will sort it all out.”
I could see that Mr Peugeot was going to have none of this. He wanted his pound of flesh. Eventually I had to sign a piece of paper for my company to admit liability and Ted had to sign that he had been inattentive and on the wrong side of the road. The outcome would be the same but at least Ted wouldn’t have to risk losing his licence. The hardest part was dealing with the inflated airbag. I just hoped that he didn’t have any more use for it before he could safely get the car to a garage. Meantime I had also lost the battle of confining Ted to the support truck. We straightened out the bars and kicked the footrests back into shape and Ted was in the saddle before I could stop him.
“I’ll just keep at my leisurely pace and if I start to feel sore I’ll call for the truck,” he said as he kicked the bike into life.
I could see that he wasn’t as badly affected as I thought he initially was. Ted had ridden most of his life. Had owned 140 bikes. Raced motorcycles from his late teens into his forties. Had ridden nearly one million miles and in fact he had figured that he would cross the one million somewhere between Haast and Wanaka. Maybe better to let him have his way. Maybe after another jarring day in the saddle some of those cuts and bruised would change his mind.
That night Ted, stiff and tired, sat in the hotel’s dining room and after quaffing a few beers loosened up and told me a little about getting out of the orphanage.
‘I had one of those whatshomycallits when I got back out of the orphanage. Lady tested me for all the things I could do. Turned out that I was ideally suited to be a mechanic. Mum went spare. She wanted me to work in a store. Wear a suit, tie, the works. It took a lot of talking for her to come around but when the pay started coming in she forgot all about shiny shoes and top hats. Still complained about me being dirty all the time but being a mechanic is a good life. You meet all sorts of people and each new job is different. Except when you start off and you only get the crap jobs. You know lubeing and greasing. Changing oil. Getting a jar of vacuum.”
“I didn’t get the last one Ted. A jar of vacuum.”
Teds eyes lit up again.
“When you are an apprentice its sort of like an initiation ceremony you have to go through. You know, like when sailors cross the equator for the first time and they make them dress up as girls or cover them in jam or something. Well all apprentices are given a silly task to do. Like a jar of vacuum or getting you to hold onto a high tension lead while someone cranks over the engine.“
We crossed the summit of the pass at midday. The mist or low cloud swirled around the tops of the greenery and the rain was, for once, gentle. Ted was looking very pleased with himself. By his meticulous record keeping he would bring up his millionth mile within the hour. I had been riding closely behind him, still worried about the previous days fall. His riding, normally fluid and graceful had become stiff and wooden. He admitted on the way up to the summit that his ankle had stiffened up overnight but he had put on a spare pair of socks and it wasn’t affecting his riding unduly. From where I rode I could see that his body was tense. When you are riding a motorcycle that can translate into a jerky, clumsy, style that makes you brake just a little early, not be in harmony with your ride. Suddenly Ted’s head turned back to me and he raised his hand, indicting that something was wrong. I pulled up next to him and he raised his visor.
“Clutch has gone,” he yelled over the drone of the two big engines.
A broken clutch is no big deal on a motorbike, or car, for that matter, unless you are driving around town and have to stop and start all the time. But it does throw you off a bit. You hesitate to change gear and strain the engine that little bit more. Ted’s millionth mile was going to be made in the worst possible circumstances. I could see that it had got to him as he started to put his foot onto the road when he went around tight corners. That’s something I had never seen before in Ted who was usually scathing about riders who did that. Then he started to stretch his legs out and the bike was wobbling all over the road. Next minute he’s in a tankslapper and slowly he leaves the road and slides down onto the grass verge. I thought this would be the end of him but Ted just looked indignantly at me as he scrambled out from beneath the now-stalled monster.
“Bloody clutch. Couldn’t get the thing out of gear.”
Ted managed to get himself to his feet and then he suddenly lost his composure and kicked out at the fallen bike.
“Bloody stupid damn machine. Can’t even stay together for a week.”
His rage was over as suddenly as it had erupted and he calmed enough for me to help him lift the bike up and wait for the support truck. This time there was no talk of riding on. Ted meekly went to the passenger’s door and pulled himself up into the shotgun seat. When we got to the motel that night the boys were working on putting a new clutch cable in but Ted wasn’t to be seen.
“He’s resting. Just got out of the truck and found a room and the door and curtains have been shut since about four,” said Jim, my chief mechanic.
Ted switched on the fluorescent light above the handbasin in the bathroom of the motel unit. He looked at himself in the harsh glare of the artificial light. Normally, Ted liked what he saw on the occasional time he looked into a mirror. This afternoon he did not like the reflection. His face looked ghostly white. The weathered tanned look was bleached out. His ears stuck out at a funny angle and he noticed how ugly and misshapen they had become. Tiny, spidery, veins had broken out on his white cheeks and the lines around his eyes no longer looked sexy. They just looked old. Old and wrinkled. His ankle was giving him hell and he gripped the edges of the hand basin as a new pain swept through his body. Must have been from this morning he thought and then he recognised his old nemesis. The stomach and throat, and something deeper. Something deep inside him ached.
Ted stopped the Triumph at the top of the pass. He hit the kill switch and popped out the kickstand and wearily dismounted. I could see that the arthritis was particularly bad this morning. The accident can’t have helped but the years of fractures and jarring of riding a big vertical twin were finally catching up on him. This might be the last big ride that Ted did. Licensing rules were toughening up and I could see that the accident a few days before must have signalled to Ted in some way that he wasn’t as indestructible as he made himself out to be. Those visits to the bathroom were also having an effect on the way he saw himself. He strolled to the stonewall that surrounded the pass’s lookout. The towering Mt Cook stood in the background, its higher reaches still covered in winters snow. Ted gazed up at the summit and a tear formed in his eye.
“Nothing to beat it,” he murmured under his breath. He cleared his throat and brushed away the errant tear as if it had no right to appear at this particular moment. “When I was in the orphanage we only had one day free a week. Every Saturday we were put in the big yard out the front. There was a big Taranaki frame out there, painted yellow if I remember rightly. We used to have a game where we had a competition to be first to climb up to the top. Once you were up there you could fight off all pretenders to your throne. You could see for miles. Some kids said they got up there to see prospective parents coming up the road to look them over with a view to taking them home. Me-I knew that mum wouldn’t come up that path but I used to climb just as high as anyone else. Funny-but any time I am in the mountains I just love the feeling of looking up and seeing the real big ones hovering over me. Just makes me – I don’t know – maybe as happy as I can ever get.”
The day started like any other day. The sun rose, the winds shifted, the tides went about their rhythm. This was not like any other day though. This day held something special. The astute observer would have noticed a slight shift in the dimensions of life, with life and death itself.
Ted had woke this morning and looked around the shabby bedroom of the house where he and Jean had lived for thirty-two years. Cobwebs framed the window, clothes were strewn over the floor, an ugly stain had formed in one corner of the roof. There were still pieces of Jean’s clothing around the room, an old hat, one glove of a pair, her old gardening slacks and a miniature picture of her stood on the night-table. He had rolled over and immersed himself in what was her side of the bed. He thought he could still smell her perfume on the bed linen even though he had washed it many times. He hasn’t touched a thing since her death twelve months ago. He leaned over and switched on the bedside radio, still tuned to the station they both listened to as they contemplated what they would do for the day.
The sun tried to penetrate the thick curtains but Ted had kept this part of the house dark as a sign of respect and a sign that he is still in mourning.
He forced himself out of bed, bumping his way to the kitchen, He picked up the kettle that had the broken handle and put it on the gas hob. He was painfully aware that the oven was still broken and that reminded him that he must ring the serviceman to fix it. This used to be Jeans job but she can no longer keep the household running. She is gone. He thinks that he should make more of an effort but then why bother? Since a few weeks after the funeral no-one visits anymore. It as if he no longer exists without Jean. He slumps at the kitchen table and his shoulders shake as he once again enters that space where he cannot control the tears.
He brews his morning cup of tea. Outside, the morning chorus has reduced in volume, it sounds curiously incongruous with Ted’s mood. He doesn’t feel happy to be alive. He wishes that death would take him. He remembers what Jean said before she finally passed. “I’ll see you in a bit dear” At the time he thought that the comment was morbid. Now he sees it as a gift from her. She was telling him that there was something more at the end of life. He carries his cup of tea to the sunroom, sits, and drinks it while he watches the world slowly coming to life outside. The room is looking more and more chaotic. He sees yesterdays cup and the discarded piece of toast that he couldn’t eat still sitting on the floor. The window sills are cluttered with dead flies. He shudders to think what Jean would make of this. The volume of traffic increases as first 7am then 8am rolls around and he drifts off to sleep as he sits there because all of a sudden, the sun had left the room and he feels cold. He dresses, and then wanders out into his garden. Although the inside of the house resembles a bombsite, the garden is immaculate. Ted has tended this garden for years and it has evolved into an extension of him. The flowers and vegetables are luxurious. He looks at the end of garden and can just see the garage with the bonnet of the car poking out. If it wasn’t for the garden and car Ted does not know what he would do for himself. They have jointly been the only thing that have kept him from …. He stops himself from finishing that thought. Too much.
Across town, in another darkened bedroom Juanita wakes much later. She looks around her room. It looks like the room of someone who cares. Stuffed toys, dolls, CD cases. This is the room of someone who has a life. This is the room of someone who has taken what life has dished out to them and squeezed every drop from it. What is today? Halloween day. She has waited for this for a while. A chance to knock on a few doors and case a few houses out. The house is silent. The bitch must have already left for work. She reached over for her mobile and dialed her friend’s number.
“Cathy? It’s me. You ready?”
Mid morning and Ted is starting to feel tired from his labours in the garden. He is finding it hard to know what to plant now that he was only feeding himself. He thinks to himself that he wished that Jean and him had children of their own. He turns another sod over and he has another thought.
‘They would visit, They would see me as their father, not someone that Mum married after she had her proper family.’
The children sometimes came to visit and took away produce, but they had been principally attached to Jean. When Jean died, their interest in Ted and his welfare was perfunctory.
He has his first hallucination of the day about Jean. He calls them his “little live dreams” but he knows that they are not normal, there is something wrong with him. He sees her, as she was when they first met. She was radiant in a bright blue summer dress as she came down his garden path. She had been selling kitchen products to make ends meet after her first husband died. They had a flirtatious half-hour where she sold Ted fifty dollars worth of mostly worthless junk and they agreed to meet later. That started a romance, which blossomed over that summer and autumn, and eventually they married in the spring. He remembered how her children were so disapproving. He had marveled how a chance meeting could have turned into so many years of happiness. His thought drift into the holidays, the travel, and his eyes close at the memories. When he opens them, she is gone. The garden is empty.
Juanita rolled out of bed. They had agreed over the phone that neither of them were going to school today and they were to meet outside Victors after twelve. The beauty of having a mother who didn’t care is that you were pretty much your own boss. Occasionally the police would pick you up if they recognised you were a truant, but lately they had given up on Juanita and Cathy. When you’re twelve years old, it is easy to fall between the cracks.
Time for my afternoon nap thinks Ted. Maybe a little medicinal whisky. The gardening had made his joints ache and the memories have finally run from good to bad. He sips a large glass of whisky and settles into his favorite chair that overlooks his view of the harbour and the road. Before long, he is asleep. A thin trickle of drool appears on his chin. Ted dreams of the war. He had fought in the big one. WW2. He had seen front line action. He dreams of the young German soldier he had shot and who had refused to die. He lay there, bleeding, his upturned eyes not pleading, just reconciled to his fate. He dreams of fixing the bayonet before the push forward and he dreams of raising the bayoneted rifle over his head as the young German lay moaning on the ground. Ted jerks awake as cold steel penetrated flesh. He is sweating and he feels sick and cold. He pours himself a large whisky and notices how he is trembling. Time to think about eating. He drifts back into another troubled sleep and dreams of Jean. He sees her a month before she dies. She is frail, her delicate body racked with pain. She moans as she rolls over in the bed that has been her home for the last year. Her once beautiful face is scarred from the surgery, the veins of her arms and legs are darkened from the medication. He then sees her just as she dies. The light leaving her eyes, she stares at the ceiling and her breathing suddenly changes, her mouth gapes open. Ted sees the image of her as the color drains from her face and she is finally gone.
“So! What are we going to do tonight?” asks Cathy.
“I figure we put on makeup and costumes so that we won’t be recognised and play the Halloween game. We can case out some of these houses without raising too much suspicion and if anything looks good we’ll go back later in the week and do a proper job.”
“ Halloween! It’s so babyish. So 20th C.” Cathy had lately been calling everything either 20th or 21st C. It was one of the things that Juanita liked about Cathy. She was always up with the play.
“All those silly little kids wanting candies and gifts. I like the other part though. Sounds like a good idea. I’ve got to do the tea thing with Mother but I’ll be out of there by seven.”
Cathy and Juanita looked out of place as they sat in the coffee shop, making their cokes last an hour, so they couldn’t be thrown out. They met here most days, whether they were at school or not. In the last term, they had only managed a cumulative total of two weeks in class. At twelve, their futures were already being decided.
Ted has finished his evening meal. The steak tasted like rubber and the mashed potatoes have left a cheesy taste in his mouth. The salad from his garden is largely untouched but the whisky bottle has lowered by a good six inches. Ted wonders if he is becoming mentally unhinged. Is this normal? This rumination, this constant living in the past. He wonders about old people and how they never share their grief. His generation just bottled everything up. After the war he was expected to just get back to living life normally again. No one offered any counseling or asked him what it was like to kill someone. Life was just so fragile.
Ted pours himself another large glass and splashes a thimbleful of water into the top of the amber pool. He drained it in a solitary gulp and poured another. It was starting to get dark outside and he noticed children in costumes skipping down the street as he drew the heavy curtains against the harsh streetlights.
Cathy and Juanita were almost ready. Juanita had raided her mother’s room and she had caked mascara and then liberally applied eyeshadow and lipstick to her not-so-angelic twelve-year-old face. Her finger and toenails were now a brilliant blood red. She had also purloined dangly earrings and one of her mother old slips that she wore over an old velvet curtain she had fashioned into a dress. Her outfit was completed by a pointed witch’s hat she had found in the old playroom. As she placed it on her head, she suddenly flashed back to previous Halloweens when her intentions had been less ominous. She shrugged and adjusted her hat. Cathy had not really got into the spirit of the occasion. She had been liberal with the makeup but had stayed in jeans and T-shirt. Her only concession was a gaily embroided pillowcase in which she intended to collect her booty. She wonders to herself what this all means anyway. Why do people dress up this way and why did adults give out sweets and presents to complete strangers? Something to do with harvest and giving thanks for crop protection. Or was that Thanksgiving? She had vague memories of when she first did it and an image of a hollowed out pumpkin with a candle inside flickered through her mind but left, just as quickly. She was keen to see inside some of the properties in Kings Heights. There were bound to be open windows and forgotten locks. Normally they would never have a chance to get near places like that but tonight the world opened itself to all children. They set off.
At first, they didn’t find much of any interest. Too many other younger kids had been before them and they found some of the people to be surly and not into the spirit of the occasion. Juanita made a mental note of two likely properties of working couples who would leave them unattended for a day and she particularly noted the collections of video and computer gear that flickered through half opened doors. They moved on to Kings Heights.
Ted tried to concentrate on the television but the noise from outside distracted him. Why were all these children out after dark? A banging on his front door interrupted his ruminations. He staggers down the hall and pulls the door open to the length of the safety chain. Four small children dressed in rags and pointed hats laughed back at him.
“Trick or treat,” they screech in unison and hold out paper bags.
Halloween. Of course. The day the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for the next year. Their only hope for the afterlife. The Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time, allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living. He had not made the connection with Jean’s death. Ted remembers that the festival of Halloween celebrates the end of the “lighter half” of the year and beginning of the “darker half”. He wonders where he remembered that from. He stares vacantly at these children.
“Sorry kids but I don’t have any children of my own and I don’t have any sweets in the house.”
Ted thought how nicely the children had taken his rebuff and he reminded himself to have stocks of sweets for next year. He walked back down the hall with a slightly bigger bounce in his step and a lot more on his mind.
Juanita and Cathy were making more of a task of it. Maybe it was because they were a little too old but they kept getting very nasty people answering their doors and not getting much in the way of gifts. They were also seeing that many houses in Kings Heights had extensive security. Juanita’s plans were not working out the way she had thought. They came to No49 Kelvin Heights. A long path led down, through a beautiful garden, which still showed much colour in the fading light, to a green door with a large brass knocker. The house didn’t have any security at all and Juanita could see the flicker of a television set and an unlocked shed out the back of the property with garden utensils and a chainsaw clearly visible. There was also an unlocked garage with an early model car, which piqued her interest. They knocked on the door. An old fogey, who reeked of drink, and swayed back and forth as he peered through the barely opened door, grumpily told them that he had already told them that he had no candy. The door was slammed. Cathy instantly lunged out and kicked the green panels. The door swung open to its full extent and the man waved a walking stick at them.
“Clear off-or I’ll call the police you little monkeys,” he screamed as spittle flew from his mouth. Cathy reeled back but Juanita held her ground.
“Hey! Old man. Easy does it. We are only trick or treating. What’s with you grandpa? And keep that spit to yourself. You could have all sorts of diseases. And don’t call us monkeys, you old fart.”
“Off with you. Get off my property.”
The door slams. Cathy, now ashen faced, looks at Juanita.
“The old twerp isn’t going to get away with that,” she spat and she walks down the drive and starts pulling out handfuls of flowers. Juanita, initially stunned at the old man’s response, suddenly had a rush of bravado, and joins her friend. He had looked so fragile. Like he couldn’t do anyone any harm and he seemed to be out of it. Juanita knew all about that. She picked up a handful of freshly turned clay and hurled it at the front window of No49 Kings Height. The window shattered and the sound of the glass breaking served to inflame the pair to greater destruction. Cathy savagely attacked the front gate and within a few minutes, the gate lay shattered across the footpath.
Inside Ted hears the sound of breaking glass, rushes to the back door and locks it, fearing for his safety as the level of noise from the front of his property increases. He hears sounds as the two mannequins come down the side of the property and he can hear them hurling abuse at him. Then they are in the garage and he can hear sounds of more windows breaking. He goes to the study and peers out from behind the curtains and one of the little monsters is jumping up and down on the bonnet of his beloved Wolseley. He hurriedly draws the curtain shut as they see him peering out and they rush toward the window.
Fingers, painted bright red, claw against the windowpane. Cat like noises screech through the night as they repeatedly draw, up and down, on the window. A hideous cackle accompanies the screeching and Ted’s ears are assailed by the cacophony of noise. He puts his hands over his ears, tries turning up the volume on the small television, tries anything to blot out the noise. He reaches for the whisky but the bottle is well and truly empty and he knows that he is more than a little tipsy. He thinks of his old service revolver hidden in a box under his bed. He staggers to the room and fumbles with the box. He snatches at the bullets and hurriedly inserts them in the well-oiled chambers. He snaps the chamber back into the body of the gun. It feels good in his hand. He likes the weight and the feeling of security and serenity that descends upon him..He rushes to the window.
He sees the two girls as they stand in his front flower garden. The garden he has kept the way Jean had it. The beautiful flowers, now crushed and torn from the ground and scattered over the path. They are laughing and jumping up and down. The taller of the two is swinging the wing-mirror of the Wolseley around her head in preparation to throwing it at his front window. Ted sees the young German soldier, then the girls, the torn flowers, and there is Jean, beckoning to him from the postbox. He lifts the heavy service revolver and sights down the twin crosshairs. Juanita forms a perfect transit from eye to sight. Ted squeezes the trigger and the upward jerk of the revolver is mirrored by the backward jerk of Juanita. He sights again and Cathy now dominates his attention. She is suddenly not jumping about. She looks back toward the house and a look of pure horror is on her face. Ted hesitates. His finger starts to relax. He sees the girl look at him and all he can see and feel is the pain and the memories. Suddenly he makes up his mind. Ted feels an utter peace as he squeezes the trigger for a second time.