north canterbury

I remember going to this party with this guy Nick when I worked in the printing factory after breaking up with my girlfriend at the time. I didn't mind the job, it was okay up to a point and, aside from breaking about three pairs of headphones when they got caught on machinery or something like that, which probably would have been some sort of occupational safety hazard sort of thing but on account of me being the "bosses" son, or really the operations manager - the boss was this ex rugby player guy with a perpetual squint and an unforgivable sadness in his life on account of his sleeping with one of the sales team whom he had hired ostensibly because of her sales record but probably for her prettiness, and I mean she was pretty but it was on a relative scale she was a sort of generic prettiness, a local paper society page prettiness not a heart wrenching, soul consuming beauty that leads you to abandon your wife and children and move into a motel with the sales account lady who gave up on him after approximately two months later. I used to either get a ride home with my father, which would generally consist of business phone calls about pressing printing issues which were sort of the soundtrack to my childhood aside from all the Phil Collins records, or bike back to this girls place and lie on the bed in a singlet feeling really working class or something. Which I wasn't. I eventually got to the point where I felt a degree of understanding of this folding machine, as if I was increasingly coming to terms with my position as a "machine operator". I could adjust these knobs and put extra pieces of paper underneath the knobs to make the paper go through easier. This was the extent of my technical knowledge about the machine and mostly I was sort of lost at sea, or more appropriately lost in a pile of ripped up copies of the Shipping News, which I read religiously every Thursday night. On account of my being the bosses son, it wasn't really an issue really. I could basically make whatever mistakes I wanted. Anyway so Nick lived, like most of the people in the company, in North Canterbury which they were all pretty parochial about. One conversation I had with them, outside with a kind of collegial atmosphere around the air like a glade fragrance spraying out lavender every three minutes maintaining an overall ersatz interior lavender glade feel, four of them were proudly talking about North Canterbury, its many benefits and why it was better than South Canterbury. They are, for all intents and purposes the same place. The company had moved from a North Canterbury town to this sort of consolidated position between North and South Canterbury, in this industrial suburb constructed so rapidly that some roads did not have footpaths. It was also constructed so rapidly that it looked like some sort of Stalinist Five Year Plan push to modernity, all the buildings followed the same tilt slab, industrial chicken farm kind of approach. Not that this seemed to bother anyone really, nearby was one of the many "food bars" which provide diminishing returns of deep fried everything which managed to alleviate the misery. This was a five minute walk away but everyone just drove around to it, bought deep fried something and a sugar drink and came back to work and talked about how great North Canterbury was.

Nick didn't have so many friends it seemed, because he invited me to his birthday party. Sure we worked together, and of the team he was the closest to my age but that was about it. He would come to work with the red eyes of a "big night" in North Canterbury and proceed to go into the toilet, which was stained with printers ink- all along the walls a kind of black filth that made every trip to the toilet something special, and pop some pills for the working shift; for which he would walk around looking sort of wired and on edge, teetering on the brink of something. Once he was standing there while I was loading this machine up with some sort of advertising material for the Nelson Tasman Region, and he was standing pretty normal except his teeth were chattering as if he was really cold. Another important aspect of the factory was that it had no air conditioning in summer, or heating in winter so working there could be sort of gruelling under this tin roof in the summer where temperatures got up to the late 30s, according to my father who walked around with a thermometer and icecreams on really hot days. I mean the icecreams were a nice touch, but Nick's solution to it was just to pop some more pills. Admittedly the pills Nick was jacked up on were this legal form of pill that appeared on the market through an advantageous gap in the drug laws and were sort of like a muted down version of what was running the Nazi government during the last dying days of the Third Reich.1 But it was at least troubling, and he was a troubled guy I guess. Because a lot of the team came from the same town in North Canterbury, which looks like any other town in Canterbury, they all knew about Nick's mother. Not that Nick could blame his problems in life on his mother or anything, but when she ran off from Nicks father one day without a note or some sort of video message so that when Robert got home he could have put this VHS into his VCR player and watched a home video of the wife justifying her decisions and explaining the multitude of reasons she had up sticks and got with some Maori guy who lived in the same small town, it definitely created some mother issues for Nick. The team when talking about this, which they did in a fairly regular basis, allowed a small part of their deep well of prejudices to spurt out, the mother, also Maori, was too wild, or too lazy. It was pretty confused like most racist positions are. Everyone felt some degree of sympathy for Robert the father, this wiry little guy who was in charge of cricket in the town and whose house was described as the "boulevard of broken dreams." In fairness, the team also nicknamed me "Pixie", on account of me either looking like a woodland nymph or, more likely, being a homosexual. It wasn't just people with skeletons in their closet who got the affectionate attention of the team.

Maybe it was because I felt some sort of sympathy for Nick, maybe it was naivety. I brought along my friend Chris, who at the time - maybe he still does, I can't find the right time to ask, carried a fifty dollar note at all time to attract women when, this story was pretty confusing to me at the time as I have never carried around fifty dollar notes with express purpose of scoring with babes but he did, they hopped into a taxi with him to go home to his parents house in the hills and when the taxi pulled over he could pay with a fifty dollar bill, this would signal to the potential attractive woman that Chris was both debonair and rich. As at the time Chris was a definite virgin, this approach was not working so well. I thought that going on this Bus Trip birthday party would at least allow Chris some opportunity with a North Canterbury girl, under this misguided conception that their standards wouldn't be as discerning as the Christchurch girls Chris was plying his fifty dollar taxi chit trade with. We got out to the township on this real North Canterbury day. It was a long hot summer. I sort of feel all the best times in my cool life were in the summer time; lying in the sun, or walking around Riccarton Mall paralysed with suburban malaise. When we got to this rural arcadia, this promised Eden that had been sort of reverently spoken about - or at least contra punctum with South Canterbury, and I guess it was okay. It had this combination bar, bottle store and restaurant which is more than some towns. This was all it had though. It didn't have the benefit of a charming river, or any discernible charm. We went to the "boulevard of broken dreams" which looked basically the same as any bungalow in the town, but it definitely had this aura of bleakness, as if Robert had sort of given up. Inside the house it had the same sort of disheveled appearance as the outside, without the overgrown weeds and dead plants. Robert sat inside the house with a Victoria Bitter and embittered look. At this point, there were four of us at the party. Nick had invited his friend Levi, who was in love with Nick. This isn't just a hunch or anything, it wasn't in the way in which Levi looked adoringly at Nick, or punctuated every story with a reference to his best mate Nick. The guys were doing this thing I had done when I was twelve where you sort of asphyxiate yourself by getting someone to press against you and you get head spins. The sort of thing you grow out of at twelve. And watching Levi pushing against his friend, it looked a lot like love.

So Nick lived in this bedsit that sat in the backyard, amidst the unfinished go cart project and rusting unfinished engine part project and forlorn daisy bush; no plant more forlorn than the dying daisy, as the flowers go this brown death colour, also basically the entire plant, stalks and all, go brown. This is made worse by the way in which daisies are pretty hardy plants as far as flowers go, they don't compare with geraniums or anything, but they should basically just grow. This daisy bush didn't even get the dignity of being uprooted and disposed off, the cadaver maintaining the illusion of one day sparking into technicolour like early Soviet scientists trying their very best to reanimate Lenin or something. It was a pretty sad place. I really hate those bedsit places, they are no better than a shed. They also feature sliding doors which are the worst type of door, but made for a really poignant film featuring Gwyneth Paltrow which I guess you could sit in your bedsit and think about that, held under those smothering waves. This bedsit at least afforded Nick some degree of privacy, some escape. He had an anger problem, and this aspect to his character made him kind of sympathetic, like a hallmark movie flaw or something. But it would have required some character shift, some important event like saving a kid caught in an ice hole and coming to terms with his anger with the help of this kid. This never happened. The bedsit walls had holes in them, and they weren't from inadvertently putting skiis through the wall. Nick had this girlfriend who had a rabbity face and was conventional, in the way in which she was exactly as I had expected. One afternoon, Nick relayed this story as I ran the Müller machine and he fed the machine advertising material for Pegasus Township which never really realised its promise of the grand North Canterbury dream city of the future, he told me that he was "fucking his girlfriend while we were pretty drunk" and then Levi who was sitting in the room at the time watching them, which happened "all the time" and was really the key aspect of the story as far as I was concerned, was asked to "tag in" and "keep the job going." This final bit of the story was told with a cheeky wink, I felt such a sadness you know. God it was awful. Them in this little bedsit, listening to nu metal, grinding away with the broken walls and the sliding door and the broken daisy plant outside and all of this unbearable hopelessness. And meeting Levi, with his enthusiastic tagging after Nick, I saw him as such a confused guy, it was a sort of sweet naivety. It was also a really strange time.

Chris had realised we had made a huge mistake. When we got to the "local" there was some sort of party with all of his friends, but Chris and I both felt really out of place. Nick had managed to get about twenty people for the bus trip, which went around what seemed like five of the worst bars in the entire province. Chris didn't get any attention from any of the girls on the bus trip, I didn't get any attention from any of the girls on the bus trip. Some of the guys did, there was definitely this point in which some guy was standing and pashing one of the babes as the night turned in on itself and I sat in a window seat looking at the reflection of them pashing, his violent tongue doing terrible, terrible things. Not that we really wanted any bus trip romance, the girls weren't that personable. But they drank like they had some sort of sickness, this was all soundtracked by Disturbed and Korn on repeat. Noone really seemed that personable. Each of the bars seemed worst than the last, but they were probably all on the same level of shittiness. When we finally ended up in Christchurch, one of the guys got out of the bus with a bottle and bottled some guy within two minutes. This seemed sort of par for course. It feels like a long time ago now I guess. Nick was nonchalant about the party on Monday, he was a pretty nonchalant guy when he wasn't "buzzy" from all the pills. He was okay I guess, just a lil confused sometimes but then so was I.


1 This is not to say that Nazi Germany didn't have a dedicated team of administrators, just to recontextualise a period in which both sides were doing "Crazy hours" and heaps of methamphetamine. Panzerschokolade or "tanker's chocolate", chocolate doused in methamphetamine, was given to tank crews to keep fighting the good fight or something. It apparently didn't work, because even despite large swathes of the army/bureaucracy getting a steady supply of Pervitin, the Germans still lost the war proving that drugs do not win major land wars.