When you walk down Willis Street in Wellington, from the former BNZ building to Unity Books, you come to Chews Lane. There has been a lot of development in this area over the last few years, and a run-down street front on Willis Street has turned into a series of stores selling designer clothes for the over-paid woman. There is a lot of plate glass with finely stitched cloth hanging from manequins. When I was in my twenties Chews Lane was how you got into a bar called The Carpark, a bar where someone infamously got knifed, a bar off a lane that may as well have had “mug me” graffitied on the walls. Now it is full of cafes selling variations on the theme of coffee, and overcharging customers for a glass of wine. I was walking down Chews Lane at lunchtime last month and found that it was filled with two kinds of men.
The first kind of man had come out of the office blocks in a navy suit with a colleague and a cell-phone, and was confidently walking somewhere with starched white table cloths for lunch. His shoes were very shiny and his shirts were very white. One of these men was wearing a black, felt trilby hat. He probably was considered the office eccentric. I think we can also allow ourselves to imagine BWMs, SUVs, two kids in a “good” school, golf clubs, etc, gold cards, etc.
The second kind of man, a temporary interloper, came out of the construction site in one of buildings next to Chews Lane. He wore work boots, and dirty jeans, a hard hat and a loose singlet. His hands seemed large and hard, and his face sun beaten and grimy. He walked in a different way. Less upright, a laidback, wider sort of stance. He was slouched across a bench smoking a cigarette and grinning wolfishly at the passing ponces in their navy suits. His mates were taking their packed lunches down to the park. I think we can allow ourselves to imagine Holdens, SUVs, kids in school, watching the game on Sky, etc, mortgages, etc.
Aside from the man slouched on the bench, neither type of man seemed to notice the other. Probably this is for the best. People are different from each other and it’s just better if everyone goes about their business with a minimum of interaction when they are forced together in a lane, or a shop, or a job.
Of course, on camp it’s different. On camp you are all forced together into activities and dining halls and dorms. The result can be messy.
Without rules you have anarchy and with too many you have a dictatorship. The middle ground is called democracy in which nothing is ever finished. Democracy is the best way but it is not easy because part of us wants to tear down the walls and be totally free, and the other half wants all the things (and people) that annoy us to be dealt with, regulated and punished. Democracy attempts to do both things, and because doing these two things is impossible it always seems like it is failing. This appearance of failure is precisely the thing that means democracy is succeeding.
As with society, so with man. I always want to be finished with myself because it would be a release from the pressure of always finding myself in flux. But what would I be if I finished? Either a deluded idealist on the dole thinking I was going to be a rock star or a writer without my wife or my daughter; or man who had put away all my childish things and lived without singing songs, or feeling hurt, or being petty, but had mastered the machinery of being a well oiled cog in the large machine of a business?
I was able to save some boys on camp from the herd. I was able to take them out of cabins where they felt bullied and alone and put them in a safe place with sympathetic souls. Others could not be saved. They were also hurt but their response was not only tears, it was anger and violence. I don’t know how to save them.
One of these boys sat with us and was told where he had failed, and he had failed, and through his tears he swore at us, and held his head in his hands, and ran and hid. He was driven home to the people who had made the problem, and hurt their kids, and had passed the circle of anger and hurt on to their children.
The other of those who could not be saved abused me (“faggot, pussy”), and told me he was going to “knock me out”, he stood up and marched at me puffing himself up and shaping to throw a punch. I have enough anger and foolish pride in me to stand up to the beast and he didn’t throw his punch. He wanted to. I could feel the blow flow through the air between us and land, but it was just the dream, the imaginary hope of a blow and not the real thing. He had another go at me later, and then punched out a window instead.
I feel like I have been disrupted. I am tired of being responsible and mature with the irresponsible and the immature. At school I had believed that it was useful for someone like me to be a dean. I’m not the construction site worker, or the man in the suit, I am somewhere in between. But somewhere in between means I’m never finished. Tired. I’m tired. To be myself I will have to always appear to be failing. The problem is that the appearance of failure and actual failure seem the same to me.