30 October 2006
Very soon, though, he will discover not only that he already is, but also that he has been for a long time.
29 October 2006
27 October 2006
26 October 2006
Being a Customs Agent for American Border Security was an arduous task, as Leroy had become well aware. One had to be on the lookout for any number of contraband items hidden in ever-more-creative ways. Just last week he found a sheet of LSD tucked into the pages of a economics text book (he thanked his keen detective skills for that one. For one, the package was from Great Britain. He didn't know much about the British except that America fought a war against them, and if they were an enemy of democracy once, then, well--"a leopard can't change its spots," he once told his apprentice, Jolene). But the package he now had before him was puzzling. He decided to start with the package's place of origin.
The return address was from New Zealand. Leroy had never heard of New Zealand, but he didn't like the looks of it on paper. That is, he didn't trust the letter "Z." It looked suspicious.
"What you got there, Leroy?" Jolene called from the break room. She was half-way through her Big Mac. Leroy had already finished both of his and was now working through his super-sized fries.
"Somethin' from New Zealand, Jo" he replied. He overemphasized the "Z" so that Jolene might pick up its sinister undertones, but it did little more than tickle his nose hairs.
"You thinkin' it's drugs?" Jolene shouted, spitting flakes of sesame bun as she chewed.
"I don't know, but I don't like the looks of that 'Z'." He said, shaking his head. Jolene knew about Leroy's hunches when it came to the alphabet. His first rule of thumb was to think of the states. If there isn't a state that begins with that letter, then that's a mark against it. He continued, "You know any states that begin with 'Z', Jo?"
"No, but 'Texas' got an 'X' in it." Jolene felt proud of herself.
"Yeah," Leroy replied, "But if there's one thing I know it's that an 'X' ain't a 'Z.' Besides, 'Texas' begins with 'T,' and 'T' ain't 'Z' either, even though they sound alike a little."
"Guess you got a point." Jolene took a long swig from her Diet Coke.
"I'm gonna need to investigate deeper," Leroy said as he tore the package open. The yellow-topped container of Vegemite fell to the table. Jolene came over to look.
"What is it? Hairspray?" Jolene asked.
"Don't think so. I don't see a spray button." Leroy stuck his finger in his ear. He found this helped him when he was trying to think. "It says here 'Vegemite.' It could be some kind of vegetable." He felt he was making progress. The finger-in-the-ear was doing the trick.
"Well, if it's vegetables, then we can't let 'em in into America. That's 'gainst the law." Jolene remarked with conviction.
"I know, Jo, but this stuff is brown. And vegetables are either green or red."
"Or orange," Jo added.
"Or orange," Leroy agreed.
"I said red," Leroy was really going to have to concentrate. He pushed his finger deeper into his ear. "I think I've got it," he said with a smile. "What else do you know that's brown?"
"Hmmm," Jolene picked the food from her teeth while she thought about it. "boats . . . dogs . . . shoes, sometimes . . . a turd . . . lakes. That's it, a lake!"
"Now Jo, you ever heard of someone sending a lake in the mail?" Leroy asked. Jolene had to admit that she hadn't . . . yet. "No, Jo this is much worse. This brown jar is a terrorist!"
Jolene let out a gasp of horror and was so taken aback she slightly wet herself.
"It's quite obvious now that I put it together: the letter 'Z', the color brown like the color of Osama bin Laden." Leroy said.
"Osama bin Laden," Jolene repeated, softer and to herself.
"Yep. Someone has sent us a jar or terror, a threat to America and democracy . . . "
"And freedom," Jolene interrupted.
"I was getting to that, Jo. You always just butt in." Leroy snapped.
"It's okay. Anyway, who ever sent this jar of terror didn't count on us getting our hands on it, did they, Jo?" Leroy dropped the Vegemite into a plastic baggie.
"No they didn't, Leroy."
"I'm gonna send out a notice so this kind of thing never makes into our fair country. We'll show those terrorists a thing of two, won't we Jo?"
"God bless America."
25 October 2006
Jamie's favourite walk begins with a hike up the impossibly steep Bolton St. At the top are Wellington's Botanical Gardens, a terraced maze of lance wood and ferns. From there, he crosses three unique Wellington districts: the corporate offices of The Terrace, the mainstream shopping of Lambton Quay, and Cuba Street's trendy coffee shops. Finally, the harbour opens up before him. On clear days like these, he can see as far as the snow-capped Rimutakas. There he slows his pace, but never completely stops. Lunch-time joggers bounce past, and a group of school children experience roller blades for the first time. A slight breeze, mere remnant of the weeks' storms, nudges Jamie's back. It seems to urge him forward, but he is in no hurry. Taking his time, he finally returns to his office an hour and a half later.
The two other members of the Web team, Kate and Liam, are gone from their desks. Jamie figures they've gone for walks as well. However, when he logs back in to his computer, an Outlook reminder is there to greet him: Site Redesign Meeting: 30 minutes overdue. Within seconds, excuses are zipping through his head. None of them sound credible enough to use, though. He sits back in his chair and folds his arms behind his head. Sunlight is still singing through the window, and Jamie begins to relax.
"Why should I go?" He asks himself. "I'm already half an hour late. Besides, the last meeting was 2 hours long, and all I did was sneak glances at that girl's tits. . . on second thought, perhaps I should go." Jamie weighs up staying put with walking into a meeting 30 minutes late. As a contractor, he really didn't need to attend any meetings. And why should he make an excuse? "I'll just be straight up. I'll just tell Kate that I went for a walk and didn't get back in time. I am a free bird, and I will not be tied down! I don't need to be at this stupid meeting anyway." Jamie had firmly made his decision when his phone buzzed with a text message. It was from Kate, the Web team leader.
"Hey! Meeting N Rm 139. Wot, u n tha toilet or smthng?? :-)" Jamie takes a deep breath and replies.
23 October 2006
On Sunday, Jamie, Ami and their new flatmate Chrissy decided to go into the city for Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights. Up to that point, they had done little more than sit around the house, read, and play video games. The mere act of getting out and moving around was inviting.
When they walked in, the aroma of cooking nearly knocked Jamie back. The halls were crammed with stalls selling curries, bajis, and mango lassis of all kinds. Not a empty space was left.
"I'm going to get some baji. You girls want anything?" Jamie asked.
"Just a drink, thanks." Ami replied as she maneuvered though the crowd.
The line moved quickly. When he reached the stall, he pointed at one of the heated dishes.
"Baji please. One." He pulled out his money and handed it to the man.
"Oh, I do love baji." He heard a voice behind him say. Jamie turned around.
"Yeah, they're my favourite, too." Jamie smiled politely.
"You can't have Diwali without baji, I always say." The man was was dressed in a bright yellow robe embellished with sequins. He looked to Jamie like a stereotype of India. He must be a performer, Jamie thought. There had been a few earlier juggling and spinning bits of carpet on sticks.
"Oh." Jamie didn't know how to reply. He had never experienced Diwali before, but he was liking it so far.
"My soul has known Diwali many, many times." The man smiled. Jamie wondered if he was actually in line for food because he didn't seem anxious to get to the front. For that matter, Jamie wondered what was taking his food so long. There were only 5 dishes of food, but 8 men seemed to be operating the stall.
"Are you a Hindu?" Jamie asked.
"Oh yes, yes." The man smiled and looked slightly past Jamie.
"I've always been fascinated by the Hindu religion." Fascinated, Jamie knew, was an exaggeration. Mildly interested would have been a more appropriate description. "But I just don't understand the whole reincarnation thing."
"It's very simple," the man answered, "If you suffer in this life, your next life you will benefit."
"Sir, your baji." Jamie turned around to see a man holding a white, styrofoam container. Jamie took the baji, said goodbye to the man, and walked away.
Suffer and benefit. Pay and receive. It reminded Jamie of an article he'd read by Stephen Hawking. He was writing about quantum entanglement, the phenomenon whereby a particle traveling from point A to B doesn't just take one path, it takes all possible paths. When a photon travels from the lamp to your eye, he wrote, it moves in a straight line, but it also dances about in twists and swirls, travels to Jupiter and back, and ricochets off the Great Wall of China. And so, he postulates, why not us? Just as the photon travels in every direction at once, so too must the history of the universe. We've done everything before. We've made all these decisions, just as we've made all possible varieties of the same decision.
Jamie finishes his baji. A group of older woman are performing a traditional dance. According to Hawking, he's been here before--an infinite number of times. Surely, he thinks, that can't be.
Later that evening, Jamie checks his email. His father had written him concerning a blog entry Jamie had written where he troubles with his decision to start web development--wondering if it was all a bit too late. The email began, "Do you know how old I was when I first started coding?" Jamie had no idea. He read on.
I'll give you a few hints: we had been back from Australia for one year, I'd been the Coordinator for Columbia College's Evening Studies program in Wichita for a year, and Grandpa Smith convinced the manager of the Scientific Computing group at Beech that I would be a good employee, even though I would need training in computing. Libby wasn't yet one. It was early in 1976 and I was 29.
Are the choices we make in life really our own? Have we made them before? Are we somehow following a trail that's invisible except for in the right light, like the shimmering footprint of a snail? Jamie didn't know. But he felt reassured after reading his father's email--like (this time) he was doing something right.
21 October 2006
Jamie stands in his backyard. It is night, and he has just brought a load of wood up from the shed. Before he walks inside, he looks up and watches the clouds rush past a full moon. The speed at which they fly so amazes Jamie, the he nearly forgets about the wind. It is blowing a severe gale.
"Holy shit," Jamie says out loud as a gust literally pushes him a step forward. Wind, he thinks to himself, must be the most uncomfortable thing in the world--it is impossible to be suave in the wind.
He glances up at the moon again and is suddenly struck with a question: how did astronauts poop in space? While the scenario tickles him at first, he becomes slightly obsessed with the idea and goes back inside.
"Ami!" He shouts. "How did astronauts do a poo?"
Normally, this would be a strange question. Why would Jamie's girlfriend know about the bowel movements of astronauts? As it turns out, Ami has been reading Moon Dust, by Andrew Smith. The book is a series of interviews with the surviving Americans who walked on the moon. So asking her about space poos was not so dumb.
"What?!" Ami shouted from the bathroom. She was taking a shower and hated it when Jamie interrupted with inane questions. "I hope he didn't say what I think he said," Ami thought.
"Astronauts. How did they poop?" Jamie asked again, more quietly this time as he was closer to Ami. In fact, he was practically in the shower with her. The mist floated onto his jacket forming droplets that began to pool and pull the dirt to the floor.
"Jamie, you're tracking mud all over the bathroom. Get out." The shampoo was thick in Ami's hair and reminded Jamie of meringue on a lemon pie. He was momentarily distracted, but remembered his question.
"I'm not leaving until you tell me about astronaut poop." He said firmly. Ami recognised this tone of voice. He was being stubborn simply for the sake of being stubborn.
"Astronauts," she sighed while rinsing the shampoo from her hair, "first got completely naked. They took off their suits, their boots, their helmets--everything until they were floating around in their birthday suits. Then they held a bag to their bums, and pooped into it as best they could." She squirted a handful of conditioner into her hand and began rubbing it into her hair.
Jamie began to imagine the subtle difficulties of pooping in space. The whole no gravity thing would be a trick, he though. An image appeared vividly in his mind of Buzz Aldrin, buck naked, trying to catch a great big turd in a bag while bumping into Neil and the others. He's weightless, the bag's weightless--the poop, of course, would be weightless, too. The whole endeavor required being very comfortable with each other in and out of their underwear.
It’s impossible to be suave while pooping in space.
20 October 2006
Lachlan stood in the doorway amassing a mental arsenal of passages from the Watchtower. Confrontation made him nervous. He was much happier when people shouted, cursed him, called him a bloody lunatic, and slammed the door in his face. He could deal with rejection. Heck, he thought, it's what the Watchtower society is founded on. But the prospect of a debate made his hands turn clammy. He often thought how ironic it was he fell in with the Jehovahs when all he wanted was to be left with his thoughts, alone in his head where he was the narrator, and the story was always straight.
Jamie, however, was a little entertained. Jehovahs had never visited him before, and quite frankly he was beginning to feel a bit ignored. One's first visit by a Jehovah's witness was a milestone, Jamie reckoned; a point of reference for jokes, anecdotes, and cartoons. Since Jamie's visit already comprises of not one but two witnesses (and one who farted), he felt he was being well compensated for years of neglect. He also regretted his earlier reaction to slam the door. Why did he want to shut them out? He didn't even know them.
"The Watchtower Society accepts all kinds of people," Lachlan began, proud of his first move.
"Why?" Jamie shot back, resorting, he knew, to sandbox tactics. He could go on like this for hours, but he wouldn't.
"Because we want to help people who are suffering." Lachlan said.
"What makes you think I'm suffering?" Jamie replied.
"If you are ignoring God, it is because Satan is distracting you. Satan and his demons cause great misery." Lachlan looked as concerned as possible. The sun beat down on the two men. Chris shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His feet were getting hot, and he was looking forward to leaving.
"Satan? I've actually been reading a bit about Satan." Jamie leaned against the side of the house, getting comfortable. Where he stood on the porch was shaded, and he could see the men getting uncomfortable in the sun. He smiled.
"Oh . . . Oh, you have?" Lachlan was suddenly faced with the thought that this man was one of the aggressive atheists he'd heard about during meetings.
"Yeah. A great book. The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels. She chronicles how the idea of Satan, and with it the concept of an eternal struggle between good and evil, changes throughout the Bible." Jamie's heart raced a bit. He, too, felt that he was getting himself into a very long conversation. For a moment he thought about cutting it off and going back inside. He had things to do. There was a pile of dishes in the sink he had been avoiding. Hmmm, Jamie thought, dishes or Jehovah's Witnesses. He turned around and closed the front door, and resumed leaning. After all, it was a beautiful day.
"I see. She talks about Satan's rebellion against God, and how God cast him out of heaven." Lachlan replied, nodding.
"Not exactly. Well, she mentions it, but points out how that particular story comes much, much later. Originally, there were the 'satan,' small 's'. These guys were part of God's angelic entourage and still answered to God. They were adversaries who God sent down to challenge people, to purposefully obstruct their path."
Lachlan drew a breath to speak, but was cut off.
"In fact," Jamie continued, "The word 'satan', or at least its root, literally means 'one who opposes.' And the Greek equivalent, 'diabolos,' simply means 'one who throws something across one's path.'" Jamie was beaming. It helped that he had just read those pages the day before, and they were still fresh in his mind.
"I think you'll find," Chris interrupted, "that Satan and his demons try to confuse God's message." He handed Jamie a copy of Watchtower magazine. "We have weekly meetings, and we'd love you to come along. Have a great day." Chris turned around and walked away. When he reached the footpath, he removed his coat and breathed deeply.
"Yeah, but--Satan's just an idea," Jamie said, getting defensive. He was raising his voice. "People used the idea of Satan to demonize others, but not just any others, others closest to them. It, er he, uh, it--it was an intimate enemy, Satan. It was people closest to us, not some magical demon from another world." Jamie flung his hands wildly, trying to grasp the concepts flying through his mind.
Lachlan smiled politely. While it was not like Chris to walk away like that, he was glad it happened. He said, "We would love to talk to you in the group. Have a nice day," and left.
" . . . but the idea was complicated later on. Hebrews started using the term to describe members of their group they didn't agree with . . . " Jamie was talking to himself now. " . . . and early Christians did the same thing later on when Jesus was executed. Because they couldn't bear the idea of losing. I mean, there was a war going on and this guy was supposed to save them, but he didn't . . . so they rewrote the whole thing, made it this cosmic battle so that Jesus could still be the saviour. They made it up. They made the whole thing up. And now look at it. The most popular religion in the world. Pervasive. Ubiquitous. Completely taken out of context. How did it get so damn complicated?"
Jamie walked back inside. He had dishes to do. That, he thought, was simple enough.
19 October 2006
One quiet Saturday in Titahi Bay, the doorbell rang. When Jamie answered he saw two men in beige trench coats. The one closest to the door was older, Caucasian, and wore a calm expression on his face. The man behind him was Asian--perhaps Korean, Jamie thought, trying to be more specific--and held his hands behind his back. First, Jamie thought they were detectives (he had rung the police the day before about a break-in to his garage), for that reason he opened the door. Before the door was fully ajar he noticed the man in front held a brightly coloured pamphlet, the word "Watchtower" printed in bold, yellow letters across the top. At that moment, he wished he hadn't left the couch.
Dammit, Jamie thought, clenching his teeth. "Jehovah's witnesses." And like all conflict situations, a fight or flight response was triggered--it was flight. Jamie figured he had time to slam the door and hide before they got a word in. But it was too late--there had been eye contact. It would be rude to close the door now, he thought. And Jamie was nothing if not polite.
"Good morning," spoke the man in front, a broad grin stretching his face and pushing wrinkles that went all the way to his ears.
"Afternoon." Jamie corrected.
"We've come to tell you the Good News," said the Korean.
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"That Jesus is risen, and he died for your sins," replied the man in front.
"Oh. I thought you were going to say you really were detectives," Jamie mumbled.
The men began their speech. It was one Chris practiced regularly, and he thought about why he joined the Church each time he recited it.
Having Korean parents who immigrated to New Zealand when he was still in the womb, Chris found blending in difficult. Although he grew up going to Kiwi schools and spoke with a thick Northland accent, his appearance always marked him as a foreigner. No amount of rugby or yardies could change that. Further, his mother and father never tried to integrate into the New Zealand culture, rather they kept a distinctly "Korean" home. When he met Lachlan, Chris was struggling with his identity. After a few meetings, Chris found that, among the Jehovah's Witnesses, he didn't need to be Kiwi or Korean; he could just be Chris. The overwhelming sense of acceptance was something he felt he needed to share with the rest of the world. And every once in awhile, somebody listened.
"I don't want to hear this," Jamie interrupted. "I grew up Catholic." The men at the door smiled and nodded. The sky started clearing, and the sun shone on Titahi Bay. Chris and Lachlan, still in their trench coats, began to cook.
"Are you still a Catholic? Many Catholics have joined our Church," Lachlan said, small beads of sweat appeared on the surface of his nose, but he hesitated to wipe them away. Never look nervous, his mentor had always told him.
"No. No, I'm not still a Catholic." Jamie answered with a smirk. "I'm an atheist."
At this, Lachlan twitched suddenly and let out a raucous fart. Chris pretended not to notice, hoping their audience wouldn't pay any attention. Lachlan, on the other hand, was so distracted that he didn't even realise what he'd done. He was gearing up for what was likely to be a lengthy debate. Atheists, he'd come to learn, almost always debate. "Shameless, smarmy heathen," he thought, all the time managing to retain a smile. "This young man has set down a challenge," thought Lachlan. "It's up to me to make the first move."
A mangled pile of lines, on the other hand, is complicated.
17 October 2006
Jamie's desk sat next to a north-facing window, the afternoon heat accelerating his drowsiness as he intermittently lost focus. He looked out and up into the blue sky, then back down into the corner and at his heavy, hooded black coat that hung on the clothes tree. It made him hot just seeing it. Although he was still wearing a knitted sweater over his shirt and tie, he hesitated to remove it. He'd chosen to wear a particular shirt because it went with a particular tie, and with the v-neck jumper over it, the ensemble was just cracking good. However, another reason he'd chosen the shirt he did was because it could only be worn underneath a sweater. Months ago he'd ripped the pocket, and it folded over like a dog-eared page. "I can't walk around with a ripped up shirt--I'll look like a hobo," he mumbled to himself as the urge to remove the sweater nagged at him and at almost the same time he sat bolt upright and looked around.
"Who said that? Was that me?" The sound of the voice was close enough that it could have been him, but the words didn't seem to Jamie like anything that would come out of his mouth. It sounded more like something his dad would have said scolding him for dressing in ripped jeans and dirty flannels during the early 90s (his father would tell him he looked grungy; Jamie would reply, "Thank you--that's the point").
Jamie quickly wriggled out of the sweater and tossed it by his desk. He wasn't going to be scolded by his own self. But as soon as he'd taken it off, he heard the words he was so painfully trying to avoid.
"Hey, you know your shirt's ripped?"
"Yes. Yes I do. Thank you." He replied, tight-lipped. He loathed being told something he already knew, especially when it involved a flaw or a problem he was working on. Moments later he will think of a slew of witty responses. But for now, he was happy just to be comfortable.
The day passed at the pace of the passing clouds. The usually purpose-driven crowds that pushed like cells through the city's arteries slowed with the easing weather. A construction crew repairing a footpath took a longer smoke break. Cafe chairs tilted back with patrons easing into the better weather. Two university students sipped an early handle of pilsner and talked about the day.
"I love that smell--the fresh, after-storm scent and the sea and the . . . I don't know, it's all mixed in. I can't describe it without resorting to metaphor."
"I know what you mean," the other replied, "it's a high-pitched scent."
"A high-pitched scent. Yes. Exactly."
The harbor's surface, disturbed only by passing ferries, shimmered, reflecting the sky as well as the city's lightness.
16 October 2006
These things Jamie's mother told him many times, in various iterations, throughout his life. In short, do not confuse your living with your life. Jamie applied this principle when he chose poetry over business or computer science. He figured he could learn a skill whenever he wanted, but to learn to think and create was indeed urgent.
But that was years ago. Now I want to know languages, he thought, technical languages, and what if I really wanted to know them years ago, but assumed I wanted to learn poetry? He brooded about having lost so much time. Every day he spent coding he knew he was farther behind than he was the day before--the more he learned, the more he realised he didn't know.
He wanted to drink. All those years, all that advice--was it all a mistake?
15 October 2006
Years later, after leaving Ireland where he worked as a writer, he found himself interviewing for a job teaching Web Design in New Zealand. In this position, Jamie rediscovered an addiction he'd forgotten he had: the video game. As a boy he and his brother would spend days on end playing an 8-bit Nintendo. The would walk together to rent a game from the Title Wave Video on Edgemoor, a 15 minute stroll from their house. This was during the time when renting a game was only for 24 hours. The competition to get the most playing time was fierce, especially for one-player games. John's strategy was to wake up early and play before Jamie was out of bed. This was daring, considering the TV was in the bedroom they shared. Jamie remembers many mornings waking up to the TV's glow, John cross-legged in front of it, his brown eyes bulging into the screen. Getting older, he convinced himself he had simply grown out of it.
"I have better things to do than waste my time playing video games," he told a friend once. What he meant, though, was he would not touch one for fear he would love it.
During his last year teaching, his fear was justified. One of his students, after a discussion of a student's research project on the whether video games are addictive, offered him a 10-day free trial of World of Warcraft. It was the gaming equivalent of crack cocaine taster. "This one's a freebie--but you'll be back for more." And he was.
Jamie's phone buzzed with the arrival of a text message. It was from John, "What r u doin 2nite? Wanna play?" Although Jamie was going out with friends, a self affirmation that he still had some semblance of a social life, all he wanted to do was escape and be a hero.
13 October 2006
Lately, though, Jamie's writing habits have been diluted. Attempts to write a poem are little more than drunken exercises in stream of consciousness. So Jamie decided to start a blog and write in it each night. The simple act of typing, he hoped, would coax the words to become something more than text.
As Jamie sat down to write this evening, his phone buzzed with a message. It was from his brother, John, who lives in Invercargill. "Just got my own copy of World of Warcraft. Wanna play?"
Shit, Jamie thought. So much for tonight's blog.
11 October 2006
10 October 2006
“Holy shit, I’m bored.” He says aloud. A key part of his job is to handle issues pertaining to the Education Commission’s website. And when there are no issues, there is no work. Jamie has been as proactive as he could in the past weeks validating huge chunks of the site’s HTML, completely rebuilding and redesigning the directory, and generally making things work more smoothly. But today, as the Kiwi expression goes, he couldn’t be bothered. He was complacent, perfectly happy to stare out the window and wait for things to happen.
“Quiz time!” he heard a voice shot from the other side of the room. The office floor was completely open with small, pod-like workstations arranged in clusters of four. For whatever reason, the entire IT department gathered on Jamie’s end of the building for the daily, 5-minute quiz.
Jamie loved quiz time. While he was hopelessly ignorant to most of the questions, he did manage to nail the odd one that had some kind of American theme. Like who was the first African American actress to win an Oscar? Or in what state is Mount Rushmore? In any other quiz, he’d be beaten to the punch, but here, as soon as the word “American” is spoken, everyone goes silent. Often, the others look at Jamie as if he’s obliged to answer, like if he doesn’t know it he somehow fails as an expatriate. But mostly, they’re all happy to have this little distraction. If people don’t immediately have access to a distraction—be it sport, a career, or the 5-minute quiz—they become anxious.
Think of your most-prized distraction—your job, say. You may respond, “If I didn’t have [insert distraction here], I don’t know what I’d do.” Now imagine it’s gone. Completely gone. Forever.
How long can you keep doing this?
09 October 2006
08 October 2006
He rubs his eyes, which ache slightly after a night of heavy drinking. I’m surrounded, he thinks, by sounds I recognize, but of which I am natively unfamiliar. Memories filled with of the resonance of blue jays are almost inaccessible. The past, unless it is a vivid flashback, must be created. He tries to focus his attention on a memory wherein he lies on his back in early summer and watches the cottonwood cotton drift against a pure, blue sky. The event was real, but the thought of it feels contrived, somehow false. A doubt troubles his mind. When do we stop growing up? When is it we reach the age we are? He remembers a line from the Duino Elegies where the reader is told that there is noplace we can remain.
Without a signal of its intent, the tui shoots from its perch and disappears. The wind dies. Even the relentless surf seems to pause for breath.
06 October 2006
Setting: next to stones, before the internet
Twenty nine is so often an invisible age. For many, it is merely "the year before thirty." For others, it is the age to which they cling, playfully claiming to be twenty nine until they can no longer keep it up, and finally conceed upond turning thirty nine--at which time it all begins again.
Jamie, slightly troubled by this notion, sat down to write something. Yet, with a freshly opened chardonnay beside him, he attention drifted to the impossible depth of the internet. The internet can be viewed as a manifestation of human-culture-meets-biology: age is conjecture--a site, or personality, exists for a matter of hours and is poignant, beautiful, and pure. A few people stumble upon it, try to understand, and then it is gone. Other sites remain for years and produce the internet equivalent of rust. Think of twenty nine as a metaphor for what lies between.
At once unable to regain youth's rapture and unwilling to approach the mundane corrosion of age, we don't realise it's all relatively new. During his lunch break, Jamie walked through the graveyard beside the highway, picked up a stone and held it in his hand. "I'm twenty nine," he said to it. And waited for a response.
Jamie became somewhat distracted later in the evening, spending hours pouring over the recent posts to the Flying Spaghetti Monster site, even adding one of his own to the end of this string. He became enthralled, even a little lost.
05 October 2006
Setting: Now and then
It’s almost inevitable, Jamie thinks, that on a birthday your thoughts are taken to birthdays past: the unmatched excitement of new G.I. Joe action figures, or the gut-tugging anxiety of an unwanted gift, when the giver is so obviously unaware and gleefully waiting to see how much you’d like it. Growing up, life is little more than a relentless teeter between anticipation and guilt.
“So what do you want to do for your birthday?” Ami asks as the train emerges from the last tunnel before Wellington station.
“Oh, I don’t know. Take it easy. Maybe go out for a bit after work.” Jamie replies. He felt a little odd planning to celebrate his own birthday. In a small, self-centred burst, he almost added, “You should have it all worked out. It’s MY birthday, after all.” But he kept silent, and a pang of guilt nagged him for even thinking it.
The train slugged into the station with its signature hiss, and people poured gently out. 8:15 on a Wednesday morning, and Wellington commuters are easy and polite. Ami pauses near the exit.
“Just txt me when you’re done at work.” She kisses him on the lips. She says “have a good day,” he says, “you too.” They stand in the same place and say the same thing every weekday morning, but they both still look forward to it. Sometimes, they even get butterflies.
Nervous energy has always plagued Jamie, and today is no exception. His work as a Web Analyst for the New Zealand government could not have been farther from his mind all morning. His thoughts instead drifted toward the afternoon and his meeting up with Nick for lunch. The two had met on a previous contract and had bonded over their shared admiration for consuming meat-filled pastries and alcohol--preferably in quick succession. Nowadays, they actively look for excuses to indulge in pie and beer. Today was just such an excuse.
Just off of Courtenay Place, in the heart of Wellington, exists the best pie shop in the city, according to Nick. They certainly had the biggest pies, but their standard was hotly debated among pie enthusiasts. Some reckon the pastry isn’t flaky enough; others champion Trisha’s generous fillings. Good, bad, it was the place with the pies. And the fact it was next door to a pub was too enticing to ignore.
Walking back to the office took Jamie past one of two video game arcades on Courtenay Place. As he passed, a sudden flicker of recognition registered in his brain. He turned his head to look in and was momentarily flung back to Wichita, Kansas, 1989.
He was 12 and at Le Mans video arcade in the mall with his best friend, Ryan. A new game had just arrived: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jamie had never seen anything like it. Music blared from the machine, silencing those nearby. The graphics were like the cartoon, just like the cartoon, in fact. And it was massive, allowing four people to play at once. For the first time in his life, Jamie was truly awestruck. Of course, people were lining up to play. So he waited.
“They just got it yesterday,” he overheard one say. Quarters were lined up on the Perspex console, the surface covered in coins (Jamie would not see the like until he started playing pool in bars some years later). One after another, they plugged their silver into the machine. And with each “Cowabunga!”, Jamie was further from play. Ryan, in the meantime, was surprised to find he didn’t have to wait to play Street Fighter II, and so was happily stationed, ignoring the crowd that had gathered near the front of the room.
An hour passed. Jamie felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up. It was Ryan’s father here to pick them up. Jamie put his hand in his pocket and rubbed worn five-dollar bill, unbroken. He hadn’t played a single game.
At the end of the workday, Jamie sent a txt to Ami asking her to meet him in town. They grabbed a quick bite and laughed about things Jamie would too soon forget. There were a few silences, and Ami yawned.
“Shall we scoot home?” She asked.
“Can we do one thing first,” Jamie replied. He pulled out a five-dollar note and walked her across the street to the arcade. Together, and alone, they crushed evil Foot Ninjas, saved April, and were probably the first ones to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in weeks. One hour and many game-overs later, Ami put out her hand.
“Quick! I need another coin I’m about to die!”
“There’s nothing left. I’ve spent the whole thing.” They both laughed. Never before had losing felt so liberating.
04 October 2006
Setting: The train station
On a normal day, Jamie and Ami drive from their small state home in Titahi Bay to the local train station. On calm, clear days, the sunlight hitting the hills makes Jamie think of giant elephant knees, all contour and wrinkle. Although the speed limit is 70km along this stretch of bay road, he tends to ease back; tries to visually store a few more moments before rounding the corner and losing sight of it all. Yet, once at the station, he can stand on the platform, look north, and spot the same hills folded into themselves like unmade bedclothes.
The sight makes him feel content—more than content, it makes him happy. So happy that he’s stopped thinking of himself as a writer because, he tells himself, who writes about good moods? A writer needs dark horizons and despair. A writer needs a catalyst, needs winter, needs to know there is no way out but to scribble words onto a page. I’ll get there again one day, he consoles, but for now I’ll just enjoy myself. The north island sun peeks over the hill, causing Jamie to squint. As he fumbles for his sunglasses he notices the train approaching.
A crowd gathers at the edge of the platform. When a potential seat on an overcrowded train is in question, commuters resort to subtle tactics in order to position themselves closer to the train doors. Most simply pretend not to notice anyone else and shoulder their way forward, but there are a handful worth noting. There is the woman who, just as the train stops, pretends to trip forward, thus shoving closer to the door. Or the man who “knows someone” closer to the front of the crowd—once he pushes closer, he discovers, to his great surprise, that it was a stranger. He apologises.
And then there is The Nose.
Jamie first noticed her when the rail staff went on strike and Tranz Metro decided to run a reduced service to reduce stress on the rails (“to reduce stress on the rails”, Jamie thought at the time, would go inside double quotes if he ever wrote about it). She appeared to be in her early 40s and always wore the same white sneakers and generic backpack over a brown, camel hair trench coat. But it was her nose that commanded his attention (Jamie thought of the old cartoon caricatures of W.C. Fields, how the nose rather than the person was the character). Her means of getting a seat was more of a trick than a tactic, and one Jamie still couldn’t figure out: The Nose could teleport.
At least that was the only explanation Jamie was able to come up with. He watched her once. When the train pulls into the station, she squints. Her mouth opens slightly, and she tilts her head back. Shuffling her sneakered feet she pushes closer, but always seems to be at the back of the crowd. Once on the train, however, Jamie sees she’s sitting. She’s found a seat. She’s always found a seat, seemingly there before she ever boarded. Once Jamie made a mental note of the hipster in headphones in front of The Nose before she boarded. When he got on the train (standing, as usual), he saw the hipster still outside, yet the The Nose was on the train, sitting. The Nose always sits.
On a normal day these things happen. But today should not be a normal day, Jamie thinks. Today is my birthday, and a momentous occasion. I am 29 years old, he reminds himself. But getting older, he soon discovers, causes celebrations to spread apart, distancing themselves from one another like stars in an ever-expanding universe.
03 October 2006
Setting: Here and there.
Synopsis: In one year Jamie will turn thirty. He decides to write daily in a blog, hoping to capture (or create) a sense of the anticipation and loss inherent in transition. During this time, characters enter and exit the narrative, as characters are wont to do.
Today is the second day in a row Jamie has replaced coffee with tea. Sitting alone at the kitchen table, he repeatedly dunks a bag of Earl Grey in a mug of hot, milky water. Tea, he thinks, is coffee’s more-refined cousin. Coffee can be brutal, a ruthless taskmaster whose only pleasure comes from seeing us sweat. Tea is more subtle, suggesting in a wry way we move from our seat and dabble in a thing or two. Coffee dresses in fad-induced outfits, wears a hat of frothed milk, goes chilled, and disguises even its caffeinated purpose. Tea wears a suit, has always worn a suit, and doesn’t see any need to change just yet (although, feeling daring, sometimes dons cufflinks). Coffee is ostentatious. Tea is reserved. Coffee is Texas. Tea, Tibet.
Jamie tilts the mug back and swallows the last gulp. Tomorrow I turn 29, he thinks before setting the cup down. What does that mean?
“Hurry up. We’re going to miss the train.” Ami, dressed in a red cardigan and black trousers, winks at him as she winds a scarf she knitted around her neck. “It’s already 7:30,” she remarks, leaving the kitchen.
“I’m not ready yet,” Jamie replies, “I haven’t even brushed my teeth.” Already on the back foot, Jamie hopes quietly to manage to stay on top of things. Afterall, these are the last days of twenty.