A Final Sniff ‘o Quasi-Kiwi

It’s operative to say that I’m back home, and in doing so, noting that in this case, “home” means the Greater Los Angeles Area.  To be sure, the use of “Greater” here can be misleading, but then so can my bringing this to light: it is neither better, nor is it worse that I am home.  That certain and constant excitement or instability is gone, as is the uncontested sense of liberty and renewal, but to say that these things, these feelings, are unavailable to me at present would be ignorant or even insolent to the city itself.

So again, I am home, in the site of my birth, and probably of my conception (though we won’t delve into either of these, thank you).  I’m sneaking a spot of red Californian wine, fresh off of a delightful viewing of Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories, indulging in the Djangoic music of Dick Hyman (oh man, speaking of, listen to Django’s ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’ {Take 1, preferably}) as well as the spiraling banjoes of The Arizona Smoke Revue, nearly ready to nuzzle up into my good old friend, that pillow top queen-sized mattress of days of yore.  Queen.  I’ve spent my five LA days mostly cleaning and clearing and organizing my room, including the daunting task of sorting and alphabetizing my CD collection.  These are boring things, surely, but they, too, are different, and that’s fine by me.  Speaking of different, let’s talk about the last few weeks of my life abroad.

After my scrapple with Sir Doug in Brisbane, I hiccupped over to New Zealand for three weeks alone and unarmed.  What three weeks those three weeks were, let me tell you!

I flew into Christchurch, landing at midnight, taking a shuttle to a hostel long since closed, and slept in the storage closet with the staff and their spooning mates.  This was the first go around, after which I swooped around the south island without much fanfare or excitement.  On the way back to the city to pick up my rental car, which I would take with me to Auckland, I found a much different city.

Staying in a hostel closer to the city center, I received in turn both economy and questionable security.  Still, the other wretches staying there with me were civil enough, and we sat in the dorm with a few beers, chatting for an hour or so before fading off to bed.

Very quickly we found ourselves awoken to the sound of hail, which, where it lacked in girth, prospered in velocity, as we watched a number of passersby take refuge beneath our awning, cursing and fretting plumes of fog against our windows as we sat watching, agape.  One man, his skin thinned with age, received such a pelting that his own pelt was cleaved ever so slightly, sending drips of cloudy blood onto the property lawn.  All of us were aghast, but for the sole Kiwi in the house.  Hail impact, it seems, is, while not completely common, still known to be occasionally fatal on the south island.  Okay.

When the ice storm subsided, I ventured out.  Christchurch is known in some circles as a dangerously xenophobic city, most evidenced to us in the city’s name, alluding to the founders’ intentions of creating a singularly religious city.  What I experienced there, however, was not expected.  With a bit of a sore throat still, I went to the pharmacy for some lozenges, and when I flirted with the meek and unpolished blonde (whose smile killed me) the scruffy man in line behind me noted my accent.

“What are you, American?”  His question was more like a jab than an inquiry.

“Uh, yes.”  I smiled awkwardly at the pharmacy, as the man got uncomfortably close to me, shuffling on his feet as if it were a urine dance, though it may have been.

“A lot of Jews there, eh?”

“Oh, yeah, I guess so.  There aren’t here?”  I tried to lean toward the door, but he was mostly in my face.

“How do you deal with all them, all those Jews?”  He said that word as if it were a symptom he described to procure an antibiotic. What do you say, here?  He glared at me, scratching his beard, probably dropping all sorts of infection onto my feet in the process.

“Um.  Well, I’m actually a Jew, so it’s not such a bad thing, I guess…”  His gaze turned to the window, blankly, and he started to laugh in hysterics, but then he looked at me sharply, and pointed at my chest with a Keith Richards finger, all knobby and wooden.

“You’re a Jew?”  I nodded and gulped.  It was on.  “What the fuck are you doing here?”

I laughed nervously.  “Sore throat?”  I looked to the pharmacist, but she wasn’t laughing, or even smiling.

“Jokes.  You’re smiling?”  I wasn’t anymore.  He slapped me in the chest with the back of his hand, almost playfully.  “You like New Zealand, Jew?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s a beautiful country.”  It was.  This wasn’t a cop-out, because it was, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt me much, just the same.

“It doesn’t like you, he said, grabbing my collar, and I wondered if he had planned that line or if he was simply clever.

At this point I obviously didn’t know what to do.  I had my small backpack on with all of my valuables and the pharmacist wasn’t calling the police – she didn’t even seem to be on my side – and my adrenaline was pumping.  I had never been confronted like this before.  Maybe I was showing off for the girl, but I knew he wanted my aggression, and so I pushed him, and did so fairly hard.  He was lighter than I expected, and bumped into the dental care section.  He stumbled a bit, regained his bearings, and then looked up at me, shocked.  I saw that his mouth was trembling with adrenaline, himself, but then it crooked into a smile.

After a moment, he shot back at me, making a strange grunting sound.  He was old, and it was pathetic, but he was swinging his fists at me, and while I didn’t’ want to hit him, I surely didn’t want to be hit, not by a dirty old ignoramus, and where I dodged or glanced a punch, I grabbed him and swung him to the ground in a single move.  I was impressed with myself for a moment, but as I pinned him to the ground with both arms, I saw his mouth agape in shock: his face had clipped something, and blood was dripping from his receding hairline (a bloody day!).  It was almost black.  He gaped like a fish, searching for words, and I was ashamed.  I looked up to the pharmacist, unsure of what to say, but she was calling someone, probably the police.  In the moment I looked away, the old man took a cheap shot and punched me lightly on the right ear, which rung my bell a bit.  My heart was beating like it never has before, even for something so simple, even shameful, as a fight with a geriatric (well, he was in his late 60s or, to be fair, maybe even younger), and I got to my feet and ran out the door.

Here’s my favorite part of this day, however.  Later that night, my right ear sore and my mood rather sour as I replayed every moment of the confrontation, blaming myself for not doing or for doing, I went into a convenience store for some dinner.

“Howdy,” the cashier drawled as I entered.  Rather strange, hearing not only an American accent, but also a Texan one, in an Asian Market no less.

“Hi.”  I grabbed a sandwich, some water, and a few oranges and set them on the counter.

“Will that be all for you, buddy?”  He spoke out of the side of his mouth!

“Yeah, thanks.  Hey, can I ask where you’re…” he started to roll his eyes.  “…from?”

“China,” he said, probably for the nth time.

“You lived in America, though?”  After all, he had not the slightest hint of a Kiwi accent on him.”

“No.  I moved here from China like three years ago.  Eight-fifty, please.”

“Did you have an American English teacher, then?  I mean, do you know you sound like you’re from the southern part of the United States?”  He was getting tired of this, I could tell, but I couldn’t let it go.

“I didn’t go to school for English,” he said, taking my money as quickly as possible.  I almost expected him to hock into a spittoon.

“But…”

“I watch a lot of American TV.”

What shows could he have watched?  DallasRawhide?  Life is crazy.

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~ by nearhelsinki on December 13, 2009.

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