Auckland on $5 a day

2001

Auckland, A?
I'm not quite sure why everyone was so down on the slogan. But I guess it's that big city-little city thing. This city has an inferiority complex. I think it's perfect. Even if you leave off the question mark, which wasn't there to begin with, it's still a question. There's still room for uncertainty. And a need for confirmation from someone or somewhere else that, yes, it is choice. A.

I rolled out of bed and walked down to Winz. I talked to this homeless guy for a while and though he seemed kind of agitated (which was understandable having no home and all), he was fully harmless. And some kind of chess genius. He muttered something about Paul Holmes being the Antichrist. I agreed, but the man can sing. "You call that singing?" said he. I left him walking down Dominion Rd, singing in full operatic style at the top of his lungs. That's him singing, not me singing.

I had to wait 40 minutes in the Winz office only to be told: "Sorry, I don't know why your benefit was cut off. Just a minute, I'll check who authorised it ... ah ... it doesn't say. The computers do that sometimes."
I know what you're thinking. I should get a job. Writing advertisements is probably the only thing I could do with any degree of sincerity. But what the world needs least is to be told to buy more toothpaste, even if it is in a pleasant and entertaining manner. One of my flatmates has the annoying habit of eating all the toothpaste. He's studying to be a lawyer.

I caught up with Sarah in the park. She was sketching the faces of the people who walked past. Combining elements of each into one face. She'd brought some red wine she'd swiped from the supermarket. With her card, of course. She'd received a gold card in the mail. She hadn't asked for it, and she sure as hell wasn't eligible for a 10-grand limit. Finders keepers, losers weepers. Anyway, now we had wine, and tickets to a drum 'n' bass international that night. Sweet. Sorted.

We walked along the tracks and up Mt Eden. One morning a couple of weeks ago I rode my bike up here and there was one of those rare mists covering the city like a duvet. Only the tops of the hills were visible. It looked wicked. I was in Wellington a little while ago and walking along the street everyone looks you in the eye. I know, it's freaky.
Two degrees of separation is sometimes not enough. And sometimes it's good to know you're alone.

I've lived here my whole life but there are still suburbs I've heard of and have no idea where they are. You could wake up in Wainoni or Konini and still not know where you are. That's why we've got the most liquor stores per capita in the world. I just made that up, but it hardly matters when you're wasted. And when you're a teenager stuck in the suburbs, there's nothing else to do.

We sat near the trig surrounded by tourists. We didn't have a corkscrew. I managed to open the bottle anyway, which made me forget about The Computers and whatever they were doing to my life.
I saw a Japanese couple getting their photo taken with their bus. I can see them back in Fukuoka or wherever showing the photo to their friends: "This is the bus we were on."
It is so easy to become blind to the familiar. I would like to see my city through other eyes. Maybe it's more colourful than I thought. There are trees everywhere. Imagine if everyone grew a kauri in their backyard. In 50 years you wouldn't be able to see the houses.
"That's where I was born," she said, pointing at National Women's.
"Same."
From up here she could chart her whole life. Like the city isn't composed of buildings and motorways and caryards. It's a map of human life.
I pulled a draft of a story I was writing for the Herald out of my bag to see what she thought.
"They'll never publish this.
"Why not?"
"Cause it's a load of f*****g sh*te."
Which, from her, is a compliment.
"And stop writing down everything I say; it's irritating."

"Everyone's been talking about how wicked the sunsets have been."
"Yeah, check that out."
The edge of the sun curved into nothing as it fell over the Waitakeres, the sky bleeding gold and amber. I let it burn into my retina. Something to think about on those days without clouds. When it's overcast and even the sea is grey.

"Why do you love Auckland?"
"Look."
All the streetlights came on. Not all at once. But if you watch carefully you can see the electricity sweeping through the grid. Kind of like sparklers being lit one after the other. On Guy Fawkes you can stand up here and watch 100,000 Mega Shot Boxes from the Warewhare all being set off at once.
Somewhere below a siren scratched into our consciousness.
"Is that an ambulance?"
"Maybe it's just a car alarm."
"I hope so."

A jet took off from the airport, and curved westward chasing the sun.
"You're one in a million."
"Yeah, I know ... So are you."

This story won an Auckland Short Story competition and was published in the New Zealand Herald...