Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Never Get Off The Merry-Go-Round! (Pt 4)

What our friends didn’t understand was that Suzie and I felt we had nothing to lose. 
After all, everything we owned fitted into just three suitcases! 
Suzie’s eyes sparkled with excitement at the idea of America. She liked to travel and see new things. That’s why she became a travel agent. That, and to earn enough money to eat as I’ve explained. She had tremendous curiosity about the world and was remarkably free of emotional tethers to places and things. 
Suzie was a wanderer. A true free spirit. A rock-and-roll angel.
“We’re not waiting for our ship to come in, Nicky,” she’d said a few weeks before, when we told Nick and his wife of our decision to leave New Zealand. “We’re going to swim out to it!” 
We talked it over with them. That’s when I first saw the look from our friends. The look that said you’re crazy to go and try animation in America! Making cartoons? You’re barely eking out a living now, how will you survive the mean streets of New York City? 
In his youth Nick had done some O.E. (Overseas Experience) in the States, so he understood its allure. He and Suzie had worked together for years in the travel business too, so he understood her pretty well. He even understood me to some extent. 
Nick was good with people. 
It was animation that he couldn’t understand. He’d watched me work at it obsessively over the years and never seem to get ahead. Which was true, we weren’t very far ahead, as far as money and things of that nature. But we’d seen the world a bit and done a few things, Suzie and I, so I wasn't concerned about how far ahead or behind we were.
It helps tremendously in life to be young and stupid, sometimes. 
Nick turned from me and embraced Suzie. They were special friends, he and her, she having worked for him from the beginning and helped to grow his travel agency in downtown Onehunga.* 
“Keep the home fires burning, sweetie!” laughed Suzie in he musical voice. “Shame. We’ll be back before you know it.” 
She kissed Nick’s cheek, leaving a smear of lipstick, before adding, “I just want to look at America and take in the sights. It ought to be fun!” 
“Keep in touch, Suzie,” said Nick. “The place won’t be the same without you.”
I could easily believe that. 
Suzie laughed again and Nick couldn’t help but join her. 
Suzie’s laughter was like champagne, bubbly and bright and hard to resist.
I tugged her arm.
“C’mon!” I said and we began to run for gate seven.

*Pronounced "Oh-knee-hun-gah." 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Never Get Off The Merry-Go-Round! (Pt 3)

They announced our flight for the third time.
“Time to go, Suzie,” I suggested.  
“Just now,” she answered. Which if you know a South African means in a second or a minute or an hour or a day. If ever. Suzie cared little for punctuality, that must be said, but somehow it only added to her charm. 
“Keep your flaps down, dahling,” she added with a laugh. “Or you’ll take off without the plane!”
“I’m just excited, I guess,” I said.
Excited and a bit afraid. America was a hugely daunting idea. Would we succeed? Could we find work as artists? 
Would we crack the big time?
(Whatever that was.) 
Yes! We had talent and an innate belief in ourselves… and we knew how to work hard. 
What else does one need?
Except of course the most important element of all;
Dumb Luck. 
Suzie was a haute couture clothing designer and, because designing clothing is sketchy income at best, she was also a travel agent. 
I was a film animator. My income as an animator could also be described as sketchy, but that would be exaggerating my income considerably. 
We’d been together a dozen years, through thick and thin as they say yet everything Suzie and I owned was packed into just three suitcases, and was stowed in the belly of a Boeing waiting at gate seven. 
Proving, I suppose, that it really is Art for Art’s sake in this material world. 

“Good luck, mate,” Nick said somberly as he gripped my hand. 
Nick was one of our oldest friends. He was the last to see us off, the others having drifted off or left by way of setting an example when they heard the public address blare out;
“Would Mr and Mrs Rusty Pliers PLEASE REPORT to gate seven IMMEDIATELY!”  
As he shook my hand Nick wore a serious expression, which gave his face an odd look. He wasn’t usually so grave. Looking at him, I was more than ever convinced he believed Suzie and I had made a horrible mistake and were doomed to failure in America. 
America, the hard place where we’d end up like every artist that ever was or ever will be ends up… to lie upon a filthy mattress in some slummy hovel, too weak from hunger to rise, and stare with bitter irony at the unrecognized masterpieces painted in my own blood hanging on the damp walls all around— and with my last painful breath receive the cruel enlightenment to reflect back upon my life and wonder; 
“Where did I go wrong?”

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Never Get Off The Merry-Go-Round! (Pt 2)

   Our flight was announced over the public address system. 
Don’t worry, it being an international flight, we had plenty of time.
“I love you, dad,” I said as I hugged him goodbye. 
Funny how hard it is to say sometimes.
“God bless you son,” said my dad.
“Thanks, dad,” I said, feeling uncomfortable as I always did whenever my dad granted god’s blessings upon me.
As if my dad could tell god whom to bless. 
“I’ll pray for you every night,” he added.
“Okay Dad,” I said. “If you want to.”
My father and I had never agreed about religion.
He had a very strong dose of it. 
I did not.
“Prayer works even when the person you pray for doesn’t believe,” he said good-naturedly for the ten-thousandth time. “God has a plan for you Rusty, even if you don’t realize it.”
“Okay, Dad,” I said, feeling uncomfortable as I always did whenever he started telling me that god had a plan for me. 
I like to make my own plans.
“Take care of yourself, son,” said my dad, changing the subject. “I know you’ll be fine.” He knew enough to stop pushing the god thing after a few minutes. We must have argued about god since I was eight-years-old. He never stopped trying, but search my heart as I may I just couldn’t feel it like he did. He smiled and looked me in the eye as he’d done since I could remember, so I knew something was coming. 
“Here,” he said softly. “I want you to have this. You never know what might happen…” 
He placed a golden ring in my hand. 
“This was your mother’s wedding ring,” he said. “I gave it to her over 35 years ago. I’m sure she’d be happy to think you have it now. It’s pure gold, if you ever need to er, hock it or something…”
I didn’t remember seeing the ring before. I was young when my mother died. I didn’t remember much about her at all.
“Thanks dad,” I said. “I’ll keep it safe and carry it for luck.”
“There’s an inscription inside,” said my dad quietly.
I lifted the ring to the light and read it.
“Rosella and Johnnie,” I read aloud. “Three, fifteen, fifty-two.”
“The day we were married,” said my dad.
“I know,” I replied. By a remarkable coincidence, I was born a year later, on the exact same date.
At least, that’s what they tell me. 
I was very young at the time, so I’ll have to take their word for it.
I hugged my father again and it felt good.
Sure, we disagreed about things sometimes, things big and little, but there was plenty of love and respect to make up for it.
Goodbye we said, good luck, and we hugged again.
Then he excused himself and left with my stepmother.
After waving them goodbye, the rest of us retired to the bar.
We enjoyed a drink and a laugh as our friends wished us bon voyage and happy landings. 
One by one we bid our friends adieu.
They’d still be here tomorrow.
Not us.
We’d be on the other side of the world.

To be continued...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Never Get Off The Merry-Go-Round!

Auckland, NZ, 1987 

“Goodbye,” I said softly, hugging my stepmother.
“Take care Rusty,” she said. “Good luck.” 
I’d never lived under the same roof as my stepmother, my dad married her when I’d already left home, but we were friendly enough.
“Thanks, Jenny,” I answered. “See you in a few years.” 
That’s what I believed, that I’d return to New Zealand after a few years away. We’d done it before a couple of times, my wife Suzie and I. We’d gone off for awhile to Africa in the seventies and Australia in the eighties, but always we’d come back.
If you’ve lived there you’ll know… New Zealand is a difficult place to stay away from. 
Nevertheless most Kiwis in those days went out to see the world. They probably still do. New Zealand being a small country made of islands in the South Pacific ocean, you have to go overseas to go anywhere. 
New Zealanders even had a phrase for it; 
“Getting your O.E.” 
Overseas Experience. 
Now we stood in the Departures Lounge of Auckland International Airport, embracing family and friends before we boarded our plane to go and do it again. 
America this time. 
New York City, where we had chums upon whose couch we could crash. 
I watched Suzie hug my father goodbye. She’d lost her father tragically when she was very young, and I think she loved my dad all the more for it. 
But it wasn’t all lovey-dovey between them, not in the beginning. When I first started going out with Suzie my father was disappointed I’d taken up with a girl so much younger, and while I was still legally married, too. 
He’s quite religious and he hoped that I would return to my first wife and the baby and do the right thing (as he saw it). But I was past all that before I’d even met Suzie. He blamed her anyway, as if she were some Bathsheba who with her sensuous charms was luring me away from the straight and narrow.
“My dad’s religious and sometimes he’s got some crazy ideas,” I said to Suzie when he refused to have anything to do with her. 
“The stupid old fart,” I added with a laugh. 
“Shame,“ she said. Which if you know a South African means almost anything. It could be shame you got fired from your job, shame you won a million in the lottery, shame the baby looks so cute. 
“Oh well, that’s his problem,” she added, and immediately forgot about my dad and his problem. She laughed and said nothing more. She was wise that way and besides, Suzie was never very good at being angry or holding a grudge. 
Turns out my father wasn’t very good at it either, because within a few months his heart softened. All it took was a chance meeting in Albert Park. He and Suzie met by accident in the botanical garden and I suppose, surrounded by all that beauty and believe me the gardens of New Zealand are extremely beautiful, they inadvertently shared a smile or a gesture that said life was too short to stay angry with each other.
I imagine that’s what happened. I know them both pretty well and I can visualize it that way. Suzie has very expressive eyes that have a way of inviting you in… 
I wasn’t there. I was in Milford Sound on a video shoot. 
My father, caught by his good manners, invited Suzie to tea in the cafe a few steps away by the fern garden. 
“We talked and talked,” said Suzie to me on the telephone that night. “Why didn’t you tell me your dad was such a sweetie?”
“Sweetie?” I asked. “My dad?”
She must have got the wrong dad, I figured. 
But no, it was really him. He called me that night also. 
“Why didn’t you tell me about her, son?” he asked me. “She’s terrific!

To be continued...