A Little Bit of Me

Jottings and Writing, miscellanous misgivings

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Its all about Me

The brown envelope lay on the occasional table dripping amber fluid onto the living room carpet. Davinia looked at Eugene and for the first time in a number of months there was tenderness there.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” she asked tenderly.

“I would rather you did,” he replied; though he picked the letter up and tried to pry open the flap, without much success.

“Here, give it to me,” Davinia said in a gentle voice, as she took the envelope from Eugene and slid a long fingernail that sliced through the thin paper. She handed the decapitated envelope back to Eugene who handled it as if it was a venomous snake. He slowly withdrew the official letter from the envelope and carefully unfolded it and began reading. Davinia tried to decipher the meaning by looking at his moving lips and the expression on his face but Eugene was characteristically blank. She waited an excruciating few minutes then her impatience got the better of her.

“What does it say? Do they know anything? What’s going to happen?” she gushed in staccato fashion.

Eugene dropped the letter to his side and the expression on his face said it all. He was drained of any colour and Davinia saw that there was a faint tremble in his hand. He looked at Davinia.

“ They say that it’s an advanced carcinoma of the bowel and the test results indicate that it has secondaries in my liver and stomach. There are also indications that it has spread to my bones. They have scheduled me for chemotherapy next week and they want to admit me to hospital tomorrow for further tests.”

There was a stunned silence in the room as both of them struggled to assimilate this information.

“Well! That might mean good news. They are going to treat it so they must feel there is something in that.”

Eugene remained silent and looked at a spot on the wall above Davinia’s head. He had been expecting better news as he had felt his health was actually improving. This was a bitter blow to him.

“I don’t want to go through another six months like the last time. I don’t think I can stand it again.”

“ You must. The last treatment worked. Look love. I know that it was difficult for you but we went through this the last time. Just think…..” Davinia couldn’t finish the sentence. She had listened enough to the surgeon the last time this had happened and his dire predications resonated in her head.

We can give him an extra few months but the cancer has spread to other parts of his body. I have to be honest with you Mrs, ahhhh Mrs Smart. Your husband doesn’t have much time left. I think it would be best if you both started to .”

Davinia had stopped listening at that stage and had tried to imagine what her life would be without Eugene.

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Crazy Betty

She is like that fat cousin you once knew, who has now resurfaced and wants to sleep on the sofa. So much in debt, so much more unattractive than the last time. She smells of diesel/petrol/tobacco/fish. I am stopped on the pedestrian crossing and she asks me (out of the blue) “where can I buy cigars in this city?”. Me – in Denver.

Crazy Betty lives on the 3rd floor of Macy’s. When I say live she doesn’t actually technically have a postal code for that address but this is her life. The third floor is where all the misfit staff end up. Betty just refuses to go or “retire” as senior management cloyingly put it. By gosh her mama was still mopping floors and doing laundry at 90 years of age and Betty is going to be just like her mother. She can’t understand why people laugh at her. She keeps herself looking smart. Look at her today. Although slightly balding form the chemo a few years back, she wears her hair long and plaited. Her blouse has been with her for a good thirty years and the little kittens and puppies so lovingly embroided on it by Mama are a joy to all. The little children that venture to the 3rd floor, to ‘Travel Bags & Kitchen Utensils” just love her. She is much taken with the younger ones joy of color and has on a bright blue calf length dress with the four inch sparkly white belt that matches her hi-heel shoes and she wouldn’t be seen dead without white stockings. She just ignores that silly Jenseil in Cosmetics who is always giving advice about makeup. Plain red, lipstick and rouge always worked for Mama and Betty piles it on. But lately crazy Betty has been getting a few complaints. People keep bringing stuff back and saying they can get it $20 or even $50 less elsewhere. Well, she soon puts them right. After all, she is seventy two years old and she knows a lot more about the world than they do. Yes-siree – and these $20 or $50 “tips” paid for her overseas holidays last year and her outdoor treats.

A Mystery Girl

She walked slowly at the edge of the surf looking downward and occasionally out to the waves crashing on the beach. From where I was lying, recovering from an icy cold immersion, I could see she had what looked like to be a curled up dog leash in her hand. Her slow, studied steps and downward gaze lent her the air of someone who was profoundly sad and I wondered to myself what the story behind her was. She paused, looked my way, but unlike other beach traveller she did not acknowledge my presence. I felt a melancholy myself and I wanted to find out more about this women/child. From where I was lying she looked to be a late teenager or a young woman in her twenties. She was about 160 cm tall and was a roundish build. She was dressed in a grey casual sweater, white shirt or t-shirt underneath and a pair of ragged jeans. She was shoeless and of course carried that dog leash although, apart from her and I, the beach was deserted. The day was warm, even hot, and the surf was dotted with gulls and terns diving into baitfish feeding on the back of the surf. The occasional swallow darted down the beach, though I saw none alighting on kelp or sand to snatch up insects.

She walked down the entirety of the beach and then slowly made her way back again, lost in thought. I was determined to find out more.

The next day I was there again at approximately the same time. She never appeared, nor the next day, but on Friday she repeated her pattern of that Tuesday. Same clothes, same walk, same look, the curled leash.

I slowly walked down the beach, timing my steps so that I would intercept her as she strolled along the shoreline. As I closed in on her she paused and looked anxiously at me, started to turn, then turned back as I spoke.

“Lovely day for a walk.”

She stared at me as if I was some sort of moron.

“I said the weather is certainly much better suited for walking.”

She muttered something then turned and walked briskly off in the other direction.

I wondered where she was leading me. It seemed as if I had been here before, a place I dreamed about? Or had actually been to. The door was old and the paint peeling, as if it was a lizard or snake shedding its skin. She led me into a large room, dominated by an old Shacklock coal range. Green enamelled. I remembered this from my childhood. My grandfather had owned this house when I was very young. On the floor was a large mat his wife had woven – dead before I was born. The kitchen was crude, a handbasin suspended from the wall, exposed taps, electrical wires running naked down the wall. She gestured I should move into the main room. It was different from how I remembered it or what I thought was my memory. I was starting to doubt this was the actual house. Maybe one I had visited. I saw my reflection in the oval mirror mounted on the side wall. An elderly man, balding, unshaven, dressed rather shabbily as if he had just stumbled out of bed and put on the nearest clothing to where he landed. Not to far from the truth.

She told me she had dreams about here father and where he was now.

She dreamed of him as a Jesus-like figure standing in the gloom outside a large department store – eerily lit up in a fading autumn afternoon. His clothing matched the lighting-sombre browns, maybe a hint of green, maybe something orange. He was skin baked brown with a dark full beard and thinning hair. He stood mannequin still-his hands folded, prayer like. At his feet was an old trilby hat with a rough cardboard sign that read ‘Homeless. Money for Food’. Passer-by’s ignored him or shied away to the other side of the footpath. His eyes were downcast and sad.

She had not seen or heard from her father for eleven years.

She twisted the dog leash in her hands as she described the man whom I was sure did not exist.

He appeared again, this time with a bright red scarf or undershirt which showed over the collar of his rough brown jersey.

She asked me to explain what it meant as if she had penetrated my façade of being a psychologist.

“He’s bleeding isn’t he? It means he is dead?”

My Day in Court

“Madame Prosecutor – what are the charges that you bring before this court?”

“If it pleases your honor I have two charges for this weeks sitting of the court.”

“It’s not a matter of whether it pleases me or not Ms Brill. Could you expedite this matter and read what you have for us this week.”

“Pardon your honor. The Crown wishes to prosecute Hin Sing Chun for threatening to kill, threatening to injury, and injuring with intent of Honi Kupi Ramsey on the 12 of July 2002. The prosecution also wishes to prosecute James Solomon Purcell for threatening to kill Marie Jane Colson on February 23, 2002.”

“Very well. We will now pick a jury. Members of the balloted jury. You must understand that you may be challenged by any neither of the opposing lawyers nor, indeed, by the defendants themselves. This is no reflection on you as a person  – it is merely the process by which justice works. Madam, please call your jurors.”

The lady with the very strong glasses spun the ballot box and pulled the first name from within.

“Stuart Jon Paterson.”

The guy two down the row from me drew in an audible breath and stood and strolled toward the jury box. The accused stood sullenly in the box provided for him at the left of the court, flanked by a guard dressed in green.

“Filipino Sofa Tupela”

The accused, a tall, gangly fellow of obvious Asian descent looked at the young Islander with tattoo’s and hair tied in a ponytail, then indicated to his counsel that he should be challenged.

“Challenger.”

The pacific guy looked at the judge as if imploring him to somehow change the lawyer’s opinion, but turned and sullenly walked back to take his seat at the rear of the courtroom.

“Jason Wiki”

Again the defendant nodded to his counsel and the guy was challenged. I had the sudden thought that this might be about race. Did the court know about a person’s race or occupation before a trial? Where did they get that information? Did they know that I, despite looking like a Pakeha, and having a real Pakeha name, actually had over a quarter Maori blood in me?

“Grant James McDonald.”

Grant James McDonald. Shit! That’s me. I stand and wait for them to challenge me but the accused doesn’t even look up at me as I start my journey to the front of the court and the jury box. I sit there while the rest of the jury is called up. Two more challenges, one from the prosecution for a Chinese lady and one from the defense for a nice looking lady who looks utterly devastated as she is forced to return to her seat. The judge tells the jury they must now be sworn in and then must retire to the jury room and choose a foreman, though it can be a lady if they wish. We file out.

Its not much trouble selecting a foreman as no-one wants to do it and some guy in a suit just takes charge and says we should vote and someone else says well you seem to know what’s going on, why don’t you do it. And he accepts and two minutes later the attendant shows us back into the courtroom. I’m sitting next to the really nice lady who has smiled at me twice and I think I might be onto something here. I remember that movie where the jury all got hooked up with each other and had to spend a couple of nights in a motel and it got real steamy. It had Demi Moore in it and she really got the hots for someone, though when I think back it might have been the accused. The prosecuting lawyer stands up and gravelly addressed us.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury. Today you asked asked to hear evidence that this man, the accused, Hin Sing Chun, did threaten to kill, threaten to ion jury, and injure with intent, Honi Kupi Ramsey. The facts of the case are simple; it is only the extent of the harm that the accused intended that is in dispute. On June 20 Mr. Ramsey was innocently walking down Cargill Place and proceeding to cross the signed pedestrian crossing at the intersection with James Street. Mr. Hin, driving at high speed, braked suddenly to stop for Mr. Ramsey and knocked him off his feet, onto the road, where Mr. Ramsey sustained minor injures. Mr. Ramsey, got to his feet and Mr. Hin leapt from his car and started yelling in Chinese in an agitated fashion, then proceeded to assault Mr. Ramsey, first with his hands and feet, then, after returning to his car, with a baton. Mr. Ramsey sustained cuts to his arms, hands and face, and sustained an injury to his heads, which required twelve stitches. Mr. Hin then returned to his car and drove in at high speed, narrowly avoiding the prone body of Mr. Ramsey as he lay bleeding and in much distress on the roadway. Mr. Ramsey was attended to, at the site, by St Johns ambulance staff, and in hospital by emergency staff. I have sworn affidavits as to what happened and I intend to call two witnesses to this event. This was an unprovoked attack of a very serious nature and I would urge the jury to bring a verdict of guilty on all charges.”

The judge shifted in his chair and glared at the prosecutor.

“Madam, just stick to the facts of the case at this stage, You will have your chance to convince the good members in your summing up. Does the defense wish to make an opening statement?”

“We do my Lord.” A small, skinny man who looked as a though he had slept in his clothes stepped forward and shuffled some papers in his hand then started to walk up and down before us, waving his hands furiously. “There is more to this case than what my good colleague has outlined,” he said,” my client is the victim of racial abuse and a concentrated campaign on the part of Mr. Ramsey and his colleagues to discredit an honest, hard working member of our community. It is our contention that Mr. Hin was offering help to Mr. Ramsey, who had not been struck by the car but had been intoxicated at the time and fell down, and his intentions were misunderstood and he was threatened and retaliated. He protected himself and his fiancée who was in the car and did not inflict the so-called head, facial and limb injuries, which have been detailed. He admits to pushing Mr. Ramsey, and warding off several blows, and he admits to using strong language, some of which was in his own tongue. He contends that Mr. Ramsey and his friends misunderstood what he was saying and misunderstood what his intentions a]=wee. He also contests that he was racially insulted and his girlfriend was called a number of names, which he considers unnecessary given she had no involvement in the incident other than being a passenger. We intend to present three witnesses who will attest ton the accuracy of Mr. Hins recall of events.”

Now I could see why the accused didn’t want Pacific Islanders or Maori on the jury. He obviously thought they would be prejudiced against him.  Then I remembered the little booklet that we had to read before we started. It implored us not to gather evidence on our own and only listen to what was reported in the court. I had to ask myself – was I racially prejudiced Asians? Ha! Of course I wasn’t. It flashed through my mind about that politician who said that he was descended from some Chinese tribe. Was he a Maori? I couldn’t really remember as he had a white sounding name and he said a lot of anti-Maori things. I thought that Chinese were all right. They seemed to be good at fish and chips and they all seemed to work hard and keep their noses to the ground. But they did keep to themselves and a lot of the young ones flouted their wealth in front of ordinary New Zealanders. I wondered if the guy was actually born in this country or had just arrived. He seemed to understand what was going on and he was dressed Ok so maybe he had been here a long time. I looked at my fellow jurors and they all were white, and the lawyers were all white, the judge was white and I didn’t see any Asian faces in the audience. Didn’t he have family? I tried to put myself in his place and I kind of got what it must feel like for him. The prosecuting lawyer called her first witness.

“Call Janine Mihaka.”

This sullen looking chick with straggly black hair and shabby clothes shambled through the court

“Ms Mihaka. Could you tell the court,” and he gestures towards the jury box because, alas, save for a solitary reporter from the local paper sitting in the press gallery, the court is despairingly empty, “what you saw on the day of June 20, 2002.”

The girl looks stupidly at this man as if he is some kind of alien and he stares back at her for what seems an age.

“The morning of the accident that we are in this court today to hear about.”

“Oh! Yeah! Well! We was walking across the crossing at, you know, outside of, and down from Maccas, and this car comes screaming down the hill and clobbers Hina. Then this guy gets out and starts jabbering away and then he bashes Hina and starts to kick him and stuff.”

The judge removes his glasses and holds his hands up to indicate that everything should stop.

“Ms, Ms ,” he puts his glasses back on and reads from a piece of paper in front of him,”Ms Meehaki.”

The girl looks up at him and her eyes brighten and she says in a load voice

“Miss Mihaka, Miss Rayleene Mihaka.”

“Ah yes, indeed, Miss Mihaka, thank you, I see that your name is spelled incorrectly on my briefing document here. Could you be a little more precise as to the time and location of the incident”

The girl just stares at him and then looks downward as if she has failed an exam or something.

“What time was it?”

“Oh! About 7 or so. They had just started breakfasts at the shop next to Macca’s and we thought about going in there because they have these choice sausage rolls but Jason wanted a burger and fries so we had to go to Macca’s,” she said somewhat brightly.

“And the location?”

And so it went on. A tedious process of listening to each of these people trot out a story which suggested that these innocent, fun-loving, youngsters were joyfully going about their lawful business when this apparition from South East Asia swirled out of the mist and descended on poor old Honi and beat the living crap out of him. The defense lawyer didn’t seem to be able to get a word in as every time he tried to tease more information from the recalcitrant trio that constituted Honi’s friends, they just shrugged their shoulders and raised an eyebrow and intoned “Dunno”. I could sense the unease amongst the other members of the jury and the judge looked like he was about to pick up his sheaf of papers and leave the room to go fishing or anything that would remove him from this tedious boredom. All the time this was going on I couldn’t but help look at the defendant, Hin Sung Chun, who seemed to either be disinterested in what was going on or couldn’t understand a word of what was being said.

Heh! I just starting to think what sort of example do these people think they are setting. They start at 10.00 am and really its not 10.15 until the fat arsed judge sits down and jokes with the lawyers and tells them off like this is primary school of something. Why do they put up with it? I wouldn’t have my boss talk to me that way. Then they break for lunch at 12.00 or so and don’t get back till 2.15 pm, but its more like 2.30 and then they break for afternoon tea which goes for half an hour and the they finish at 5.00. Its like they are saying ‘work is flexible and we take as much time as we want to diddle around to show you how important we are and how stupid you are, but really the impression I am getting is for a group of people who don’t really give a rats arse about what they are doing, only about there own self importance.

I realise that now we have to decide has actually happened on that fateful day. We file out of the courtroom to the little jury room and immediately there is a fight to get to the toilets and the coffee and tea. Then the person who is the foreman asks us how we want to go about this. Someone suggests that we should perhaps have a vote first to see how the land lies or something like that so we all write down on a piece of scrap paper guilty or not guilty until someone else points out there are actually three charges and so we have to start over again and then someone wants it explained again what each charge means and an hour goes by and we still haven’t even had a first vote. Then an old crusty guy who looks like he sleeps on the streets and who sat behind me and I swear smelt so bad that I had trouble concentrating says that he thinks that anybody who doesn’t take the trouble to speak English deserves everything he gets. I can’t work out which person he is talking about – is it Honi or Hin? I notice that everybody sort of edges away from the old guy but he is on a roll and he starts raving about how he was once cheated out of a whole lot of money by some Chink, and then the Chinese Mafia, and then Japs. I can see it’s going to be a long day.

“It’s Murphy’s Law,” a female voice says, and I swivel around to catch who it is. It’s the nice looking Demi Moore lady but she has a scowl on her face that instantly banishes any thoughts of in court trysts with her from my mind. “It’s Murphy’s Law. The one day that I made arrangements to meet someone for lunch and I’m stuck her listening to all this garbage. It’s obvious he did it. Why don’t we just all agree he’s guilty and then we can get away from here? To top it off my bloody car is parked in a two-hour park and I am going to get a ticket. Guilty I say. What’s the argument?”

My former admiration for this woman has instantly disappeared. I mutter to her that we are talking about a man’s life here.

“What do you mean a man’s life,” she replies and glares at me as if I am the accused and I am the one person who has been singly responsible for her missing her lunchtime appointment and getting a parking fine.  “You can tell by looking at his eyes that he’s guilty. The evidence is pretty obvious. This – ,” she looks down at her list of notes, which I note are barely two or three lines and seem confined to the names and ages of the main actors in this drama, “Hin Shun fella is obviously anti new Zealander and he just lost his rag and lit into this guy. He is lucky that he stopped when he did. He could have killed this – ,“ again she consults her notes, “Mr Ramsey.”

The old guy with the bad smell nods in agreement and he writes something down on his pad.

I ask the group if they have considered that Hin’s girlfriend or fiancée’s account of the incident might mean anything in terms of what really happened at the pedestrian crossing. She had stated, in halting English, that the man who had been at the center of this dispute appeared to be intoxicated or something as he had been staggering across the road and “Harry’ had stopped before he even got the pedestrian crossing and the group had started yelling and insulting Harry, saying things about chinks and slants and other things she would not repeat in court. Harry had got out of the car to see what had happened to the man lying on the road and told her to stay put and lock the doors because he thought the situation looked dangerous. She had broken into a lot of foreign words here and the court had not elected to seek any clarification as to what they might mean.

“He put her up to it,” my former dream girl snaps. “She clearly is reciting a rehearsed story. She didn’t even have the good sense to stay talking in English. I didn’t believe a word of what she said.”

I start to tell her that we have to listen to the evidence that is before us and draw our own conclusions, but, and its a big but, the friends of Honi are far from in agreement as to what actually happened leading up to the incident. The affidavits from the ambulance and hospital admitting staff also query whether there was any injury consistent with being hit by a car.

“That’s the sort of crap they talk about on TV,” snarled the dirty old guy between his teeth. “They only do that sort of thing on those crime shows. No-one can actually tell how an injury happens.”

To my horror I see the rest of the jury nodding and writing on their pads and I start to get a sinking feeling that we are going to make a judgment here that is not based on facts or what we have, as a jury, been instructed to do. I take comfort that I can always be the dissenting voice and no matter if all eleven of them decide on this mans guilt I can still say no, and he will get off, or at least have another trial.

We have a break and I am comforted that maybe some of my fellow jurors will see some sense while they down a coffee and a quick sandwich. Some are keen to return to work and have had enough of the trial which they see as black and white yet two secret votes have left us with nine to three in favor of a guilty plea. I wonder who my two fellow conspirators might be. I pass a couple of skinheads in the court corridor who are high-fiving and giggling.
”Shit hot! Only got PD and two C-notes fine, and they can forget about that.  Silly bastard reduced it, after that gutless witness failed to show, to assault. Lets get out of this shithole and I’ll show you what I’ve been saving for after.”

I see a couple of desperate looking girl-women rise from the bench and trail their men out of the courtroom. As they leave the building their shoulders straighten and they strut down the street, eyeballing everyone and shoving into people who get in their way.

After lunch is no better. The foreman of the jury wants to have an open vote so that they can better direct their arguments and so we have vote on whether we will have an open or closed vote but we can’t even agree on that. I seem to be the only one defending the accused and, frankly, I am running out of arguments as to why we should set him free. I am almost ready to give up when this guy who has been sitting silently in the corner doodling on his pad looks up and says, “how is it that this one guy could do all this damage when there were three, strong males and a couple of capable females, much bigger, and I would say, much more used to this sort of confrontation – there in the wee small hours – full of alcohol and god knows what else?”

Everyone sort of looks startled and we all look from one to another.

“I reckon he didn’t do it. I reckon there is more to this than meets the eye and we have only got part of the story. I reckon that the judge said that we had to convict only if there is enough evidence to remove all reasonable doubt from our minds that this man is innocent. I don’t think we have that. I remember when I was a student that it was considered good sport, when you were tanked up, to go out and give some of the overseas student a hard time. Maybe, if they got stroppy, bash them around a bit and show them whose country this was. Maybe steal something of theirs. I know I did it once or twice, and I can tell you, I’m not proud of it, but no-one used to complain so we just kept at it. Usually the ‘victim’ had enough souse to keep their heads down and shut up. I reckon this crowd might just be capable of this. Irrespective of that, we haven’t got enough credible evidence to go one way or the other. We have to vote not guilty.”

I sensed relief from around the table. The old guy sniffed and started drawing thick dark lines through this pad and Demi Moore suddenly found she needed to adjust her bra strap and she filled in a couple of minutes writhing around with her clothing and then finished by glaring at me and my new friend.

I think its time for another vote,” he continued and started ripping up paper. The foreman looked a little disgruntled that his role had been usurped but then he also realised that we had been sitting here now for nearly two hours and hadn’t got anywhere. Reluctantly he nodded and distributed another lot of paper. This time it came back six-six.

“It’s interesting that the police haven’t called any of the medical witness’s into the courtroom to give evidence,” Juror No3 announces after the break. I have to squirm around sideways to see the nametag and it says Brian. “I mean,” he continues, “it seems to me that there is an issue with the injuries maybe not coming form being hit with a car and establishing whether they are consistent with an assault. This is a new twist and I take the opportunity to ask the foreman if we can have this clarified. There are question sheets for this but he seems reluctant to take the initiative. I grab one and start filling it out despite his protestations.   It’s hard to frame the question and I am aware that legalese can sometimes re-interpret what it is you are asking and you may not get another chance.

Honi and his mates had been on the piss and then the hootch since late the night before. All he could remember about it was that at about 6 the dope had run out and there was a big argument about where they would score some more from and who should go and get it, There had been some shoving and then he had been on the ground and someone had been kicking the shit out of his head. He remembered putting his hands up to stop it but it had just gone on relentlessly until whoever it was had either lost interest or simple run out of energy. He remembered them all sort of making up and stumbling off to Herbs, where they could be guaranteed a pick-me-up before going on to some serious drug searching. They had been wandering across the bottom of Cargill Place when this fucking red Datsun had come screaming down the hill and Honi had nearly pissed himself because he didn’t think the damn thing would be able to stop and he just fell to his knees and put his hands over his head and rolled into a ball. He had looked up and there was a number plate with HICHUN on it and he had then realised somewhere in the back of his dope and alcohol ravaged brain that maybe he could regain a bit of his lost pride and he staggered to his feet to be confronted by this gook who was jabbering away in some weird language and throwing his arms in the air and Honi took a swing at him. To his amazement the gook starting doing all this kung fu shit and Honi got real scared and when the guy pushed him he just collapsed on the ground and writhed about. The guy must have panicked because the next thing was that all Honi’s mates were gathered around him and someone screamed and then there were sirens and ambulances and he was in hospital and that was when he hatched his plan. Shit! Everyone knew they were taking over the country and who would they believe, a fucking chink or the tangata whenua.  So they made this story up and after a while they sort of believed it and everyone forgot about the dope and the fighting and they thought they had a real thing going – like they were doing something for the country.

the start of a new story (to be continued)

The grey Mercedes SKL360 ragtop cruised into the courtyard and came to a halt. A portly man, dressed semi-formally – gray slacks, blue scripted shirt, garish red tie, and white loafers, struggled out of the passengers door. The beautiful, chic woman driver, dark haired, bright red lipstick, Gucci sunglasses smiled and at him, shifted into low gear and executed a tight 180 degree turn, accelerated out of the courtyard, a tiny flutter of a wave as she entered the main thoroughfare. The man quickly walked to seat on the verge of the courtyard and pulled out his mobile. Not many people at the bar and grill on the verge of the courtyard made notice of him except for one solitary woman, seated  at a table, tall lager  and plate of pork belly and Asian greens in front of her. She had an exceptionally long proboscious that could have been altered by surgery but she had decided many hears before that her nose was a minor part of her character. She smiled to herself and reached for her own mobile.

Ten minutes elapsed and a local taxi pulled into the courtyard and deposited a dumpy, worried looking woman. She paid the driver and loped toward the man who was now smiling and holding his arms wide as she approached. She rebuffed this gesture and spoke angrily to him. The woman seated at the table smiled to herself again and once again opened her phone.

“You’ll never guess what I have just seen”, she whispered excitedly into the small device.

“Where the hell have you been”

“Work”

“Yeah! Well a little birdie just told me that she saw you get out of a sports car, gray I believe. Do you want to explain???”

“eeerhh . “

“Yeas , my dear. And on our wedding anniversary. You, siiir, are in d-e-e-p s-h-i-t”

Ugly Modelling days have ended

‘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 trip to New Orleans

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.

1

THE HOMECOMING

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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

2

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.

3

BASEBALL

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.