Monday, 24 May 2010

Goodbye Steve and Matt.

In recognition of true mates, Steve and Matt.
I leave these memories of my friends out here in cyber-space. This is a work in progress and, as with all my scribbling, I will edit it for the rest of my life.
Matt, and now Steve, are gone. I guess, one day, I’ll find out where. I hope it is a better place.
I met Steve through his son, Matt, at 17, and most strangely, through membership with an insidious Cult. I knew Matt from high school, but by chance we’d lost touch due to the drudgery of earning money.
One fateful day another lost school friend rang. Another Matthew coincidentally. He convinced me to accept an irresistible, yet strangely veiled invitation, to become a Network Marketing millionaire. Of course it was an Amway trap! Upon arrival Amway goons squeezed me for names and phone numbers then forced me to ring everyone I knew, including Matt, with a similar invitation to be rich.
Thankfully Matt’s idea of making a million dollars didn’t involve selling low-flow shower roses and car wash. Matt questioned the joys of being brainwashed and instead suggested we ditch the Amway circle jerk so we went out on the town to try our luck with the ladies. Needless-to-say we found this more enjoyable than cold-selling products to people who didn't want them. I never thanked Matt for his part in helping me slip the grasp of greedy corporate freaks.
Undoubtedly Matt’s philosophy of life was ‘live fast - die young'. (Both of which he succeeded in fulfilling; the last part much to my continuing regret.) Matt introduced me to Steve with none of the usual generational formalities. Matt and Steve were mates, and Steve became my mate without reserve.
Life is all about chances and choices. I'm damn lucky Fate’s dice, and decisions I made allowed me to know someone like Steve. He took on a thankless job when he accepted me into his home. He steered me when I needed it most without reservation. He lent me support and hope when all I knew was black and bitter. He got me through a grinding adolescence when even my own family couldn’t tolerate me any longer. He was the most trustworthy, generous and likeable bloke I’ve ever known.
Steve was very different from other mate’s parents. He’d lecture us about smoking while rolling a cigarette. We’d acquire yet another V8 with cheap mags and bonnet scoops hastily self-tapped in place, and he’d yell at us to “buy a 4 cylinder Jap Crap and save your money”; even though a succession of V8’s and hot 6 muscle car’s always graced Steve’s driveway over the years.
Crashing at Steve’s place in the ‘feral area’ became a Friday night ritual. We were always welcome even if some swearing was directed at our motley crew of wasted, young petrol heads. Smoky, loud V8’s turning up at all hours must have tried Steve’s patience to the limit.
Years later, in a quiet moment, Steve said he’d rather have us wrecking his house than terrorising the ‘townies’ and getting thumped by cops. However we still had the rest of the week to fill, and Steve would shake his head at our stories of near misses and insane stunts only youthful luck and stupidity allowed us to get away with.
Steve was very big on conversation and he genuinely liked talking to us if we had something valid to say. Sure, he’d bag us and tell us to fuck off if we wallowed in self-pity. His own crippling pain and uncomplaining fortitude were harsh reminders of how ridiculous and petty most of our problems were.
Steve had strict policies on TV. It was banned. We’d listen to music instead; Blues, Rock and Roll, Metal and Psychedelic Rock. Steve would tolerate most of our ‘new’ music, but when we crossed the line it was “an hour of Rachmaninoff” (concert pianist) as punishment. We’d talk shit, argue and laugh all night before passing out at our alcoholic limit. In hindsight, 20 years on, those drunken, honest discussions are still positive and happy memories for me.
As I grew up, facing the world got even harder. Yet Steve could always be counted on to provide encouragement to take the leaps of faith I needed. “Just do it!” he’d say, and then refuse to listen to excuses. He knew a boring, routine existence loomed if we didn’t have a go. He’d insist our lives would be better, or at the very least more interesting, for taking the road less travelled. There’s no lasting regret in my heart from taking those words at face value.
I went to work in Bangkok, with no visa and no skills for the complex micro-tunnelling job I was offered, mostly drawing on Steve’s ‘Just do it!’. Even these days, with a little more experience and intelligence to guide me, I’ll still follow my heart and overrule the head at times. And I still hear Steve berating me if I hesitate too long.
Steve’s death deeply gutted me. It is no less painful now, although I tell myself to feel glad his pain has ended. I know, very well, every waking moment of Steve’s life was agony for too many years. I can only imagine his relief on his final breath. I am terribly sad Steve died alone, and yet I know he did so on purpose, and for his own unselfish reasons. It is my selfishness that wishes he’d hung on, and my guilt that I never found the time for one last visit that I now must deal with.
I sincerely respect and admire Steve’s ultimate decision. It took incredible strength of character and mental will; two things he’d always maintained beneath that failing flesh.
I’ve learned several important things from Steve. I do not live in fear of obscure, religious beliefs. Steve’s integrity never relied on a Super-being’s approval. If this wasn’t good enough for other people’s God’s, he wasn’t overly concerned. Steve believed in truth unless there was a very good reason to lie (to the government mainly). He believed in causing no harm and looking after his friends. Because of Steve, the friendships I’ve made through the years are with incredibly trustworthy people simply by applying these rules. And finally, I ‘Just do it’ more often than the average man; ignoring the safe option if the risky one is what I truly want.
I’m sorry your old body couldn’t keep a bunch of medical students busy like you wanted, Steve. I’m sure they would have wondered how the hell you hung on so long.
To Steve’s extended family of ‘Ferals’; you know who you are. All who welcomed me into your homes, despite my lack of social skills, know this: you were a positive influence on the hardest and best years of my life. Thank you for looking after my old mate when I left. Thank you for seeing him off when I couldn’t.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

NZ Holiday - Day 2 - The Case of the Missing Hire Car.

Early start: 5am.

We suck at holidays.

Took another shuttle bus to the train station. No, not the romanticised Steam Loco that would puff its way through the mountains. Just a couple of dirty old diesels hooked up to some really old carriages. The carriages weren’t ‘romantic’ old either, well used might be more accurate.

The trip had been advertised as a magical scenic experience so the lack panoramic windows seemed odd. Also our seats had been double-booked, but we got to them first. (I think I could have taken the big guy who was insisting we were in their seats.)

The trip across Arthur’s Pass was pretty good scenery-wise. Not magical, but interesting. Especially if you like breathing diesel exhaust in the world’s longest, steepest tunnel or some shit. Couldn’t see a damn thing so I failed to grasp the magicalness of this part of the experience.

Jules and Nita almost had their faces scraped off while taking photos in the open viewing-carriage (Generator car) when the train slammed into the tunnel at 80 kph without warning. This was probably my first good belly laugh when Jules told me.

Got to Greymouth which isn’t the diseased hole it sounds like.

Finally we were to achieve the freedom of a hire vehicle. Reliance on other people schedules would be a thing of bad memory. Boy, was I happy. They gave us a Holden Cruze. Boy, was I unhappy. It was only because our bags were so well tenderised by the baggage handlers that we managed to fit them all into the boot as an amorphous blob.

We dubiously got in and found the interior lacking in certain comforts – like breathing and moving more than a few centimetres. I drove down the street and gave it full throttle to gauge the all important - ‘discomfort of interior and ride versus exhilarating engine power’ ratio. It failed miserably.

I looked at Jules as the asthmatic groaning of the high-revving engine and lack of greenery whipping past in a blur did all the talking for me. Jules insisted she asked for, and paid for, a larger car, which was enough to get me into whoop-arse mode. I pulled a wallowing U-turn and went back to the agent. Eric and Nita unfolded themselves from the rear seat and went looking for a crowbar or a stick to prise the luggage back out of the boot.

My unhappiness became the agent’s unhappiness when, under my clever questioning of “how the hell are 4 adults s’posed to fit in that pile of crap”, they inadvertently let slip that they’d given our larger, pre-booked and pre-paid for, car away. I borrowed a Customs Clerk’s stony gaze and folded my arms most impressively. Talking is over-rated. The scurrying between the multitudes of (two) other rental company desks dredged up a just returned XR6. My ‘Gimme-a-Holden’ mantra stuttered and fell quite when I looked into their car-park.

Our Shitbox Cruze and a dirty red Ford just dropped off.

Damn that XR6 was fast. I was prepared to thrash it merely as punishment for being given a Ford, but it was surprisingly roomy, powerful and quite comfortable. And all our crap fit into the boot. Nita looked like she was about to enquire how fast this car would go, so I found 3rd gear’s rev limiter and let some bitumen disappear behind us to make up the lost time.

I have to add here that NZ roads are exceptionally good. Yes, good. Flat, wide and smooth as silk for the most part. In a country that gets about 5-6 metres of rain a year this is no small thing.

With the stressful stuff behind us I started enjoying myself. Finding the limits of the car’s suspension and tyre grip on tight winding mountain roads, and huge empty straights just made for law-breaking was a great deal of fun; for me anyway. In my defence I never went over 170kph. Not once. (Several hundred feet straight down and no barriers brings about a certain sense of responsibility.)

Go to Day 3.

Go back to Day 1
- The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.

Monday, 17 May 2010

NZ Holiday - Day 1 - The Airport/Customs/Flight/Airport/Customs Horror.

Our need to go on holiday coincided with the In-law’s similar need. We decided on NZ as it was being flogged mercilessly on the TV as a fantastic holiday destination, and the dollar conversion was favourable. Another plus - they almost speak the same language as us.

After a horrific, yet non-crashing flight from Mackay to Brisbane, a group of relatives on both sides of the family organised a combined catch-up, send-off, dinner for us. I got to play with my Nephew and found the getting up off the floor harder than getting down. (Getting old.)

The next day saw us at the airport were we managed to finesse our way through Customs in much the same way frightened sheep approach the slaughterhouse. (Except we were actually trying to get to the stony-eyed, humourless guards who weren’t going on holidays and didn’t see why we should be either.)

With my face now scanned and every nose hair counted, sanctimonious approval to leave the country is granted. We relaxed in the stinking cesspool also known as the International Departure Lounge where I bought a pair of magical ear-hole opening devices (ear-plugs with a hole in them) for $15. Yes, I am that desperate for relief.

Plane trip sucked but we didn't crash.

Got off the Flying Cylinder of Death in Christchurch. Grabbed duty-free bottles by feel and threw brightly coloured play money at the cashier before heading to...another line up. This line split many times, and we gravitated at the slowest possible pace in the slowest possible line each time we chose one. Hid my guilty conscience again and showed our passports to the same suspicious, dead-eyed clerks until we popped out in the baggage claim. Dead fricken last.

The baggage handlers looked tired but happy after beating the shit out of our bags. At least this time our baggage actually got on the same plane as us. Good baggage.

Then we lined up again.

Right now I’m wayyyy past my tolerance point (which is fairly non-existent anyway). Having to show and arrange all the little bits of meaningless paper over and over but in a different order each time and then getting it all stamped and bits torn-off coloured sheets with stickers and hole-punching; it was all grating my nerves like a crazy Italian chef with a huge piece of Parmesan. (Or something.)

Managed to punch and kick our way into second-last place and grabbed our bags from the baggage-irradiating machines. We were then greeted by our shuttle-bus driver who accosted me with a ‘Dunemann’ name-card. (Majority rules I guess. I’d walked past him looking for my limo.)

Despite being next-to-last out we waited a further half hour for the driver to herd together other, visually-challenged passengers, who were also looking for their limo’s.

Got to the Motel. Had venison at a nearby pub which was rather awesome. Tried every beer on the menu. Rushed back to the rooms to sample the duty-free Rum.

See Day 2- The Case of the Missing Hire Car.