Title: 21 Today (for Dog)

Author: David Geary

In: Sport 21: Spring 1998

Publication details: Fergus Barrowman, October 1998, Wellington

Part of: Sport

Keywords: Prose Literature

Conditions of use



    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 21: Spring 1998

David Geary — 21 Today (for Dog)

page 45 page 46

David Geary

21 Today (for Dog)

Black and white photograph of a man in a car

I gutted out. Mum asked if I wanted a 21st party in Feilding. I said, ‘No. Just give me some money and I'll take my friends out in Wellington.’ A bit harsh? No, I had very good reasons. It was exam time. No one would come … I was scared. I just couldn't imagine the boys I'd grown up with getting on with my new found varsity chums.

I mean for the boys the yardglass was the measure of a man. At their 21sts, parents didn't hand round a key to sign. They handed round a door, figuring the boy had pretty much done everything by then anyway. And a key would only remind him it was another six months before he got his license back.

It would've been a hell night. Me running round trying to bridge the gaps in conversation.

Kev, this is Jeremy's studying conditioning in psych … that's psychology. He works with animals quite a bit. Kev is a keen dog trialler, Jeremy. He has to train dogs to … traial.
I'm sure you guys have a lot in common.
Buad! Sounds like a chunder to me. Buuuuadd!
Ha ha ha. What a card you are Grunter. No, Vaughn is studying business administration. Do you know where the word ‘chunder’ comes from? The immigrant ships. You see, there were two decks and a lot of seasick people. To warn people on decks below, they'd yell out, ‘Watch Under’. It got shortened I imagine 'cause yelling and … at the same time … it's like yelling fore in golf. Jeremy plays golf? No, Crash, I don't think Charles would be interested in playing Pelicans or Helicopters.
page 47

And then there'd be the speech. I joke that I became a playwright because there wasn't much dialogue in my family. But that's not true, because Mum can have fantastic conversations … with herself, answering for you. (Love you, Mum.) If you point out that you wouldn't actually reply how she anticipated, she'll retort, ‘You're just saying that now ‘cause you've had time to think about it.’

Any dramatic talent I have is inherited from my mother, herself a genius at absurdist theatre. She burst into my darkened room one night. Disturbing … I can't remember … to declare: The fridge light's gone out. What do you know about it? Um … I didn't know there was a light in the fridge. Well, you wouldn't now because it's gone out. Am I the only one who's noticed? I'm sure I'm the only— Maybe we don't need a light in the fridge? Maybe we can see in there anyway? (PAUSE) Now you're talking nonsense. (EXIT) TEN MINUTES LATER. MY DOOR BURSTS OPEN AGAIN. Of course we need a light in the fridge. How else is your father going to find the pickled onions at the back. Maybe he—(SHE EXITS)

Although she missed out on delivering a 21st speech for me, she made up for it with her 25th birthday phonecall. Like Beckett, as she got older she got more succinct.

Some of us get up at a decent hour, David. Anyway, Happy Birthday. How does it feel to have a third of your functioning life over?
Which reminds me of Organ Harvests. But first, lights in fridges. When the whole of NZ was plunged into a power crisis … (not just the arsehole of the fish as one of the tangata whenua once put it to page 48 me. Which makes Aucklanders … don't go there) … anyway there was a national power crisis. They had a talkback show in Palmie, pinpointing where precious kilojoules could be saved. Someone rang in to say they were worried that their fridge light was still on when the fridge door was closed. How could they tell? A riddle for our time. Answer later. Clues now? It's not:
  • 1. Drill a hole in the back and look in.
  • 2. Put the cat in and see if its pupils dilate.
  • 3. Put the baby in and …

You see, that's why you don't want a Manawatu 21st. These callers will be your neighbours. In their addled states, they'll mistake your really cool remastered Miles Davis album for their fave Guns ‘n’ Roses track. Come over to borrow sugar and end up putting it in your petrol tank. Be sent packing by the boys, who are all too keen to defend the fort.

We don't like gatecrashers.
Who do you know at this party?
Um … John.
Which John?
Oh … there's two …

The Organ Harvest. It's the phrase used when you're an organ donor and they reap your bits. (Donor Kebab?) I signed up, inspired by Jesus of Montreal. One minute I was ticking whether I had a license for car_motorbike_light_truck_van_heavy truck_passenger bus_. Next I was saying goodbye to my heart_lungs_liver_kidneys_cornea_and the scraps to medical science.

You do hear about some dreadful med school pranks though. Those wacky 21sts where they play ‘hide the—’ It's not an image you need. Actually they send the bodies to Australia. That way there's less chance of you experimenting on a loved one. And we get them over here.

Although with more of them they must have cadaver exchange treaties with …there must be an acronym that … enough. My final page 49 Dissector is a lithe, blonde, ex-olympic Australian swim champ. In the movie she'll be played by Sophie Lee, from The Sex Show, Muriel's Wedding and The Castle. I like her. Sophie's slender, bronzed fingers firm on the scalpel as she peels…you think of these things as you're driving along. Counting the crosses on the sides of the road. I took a photo of myself while driving. Accidentally framed a white cross out a side window.

I'm not sure if there's one where Dog died. It was on a big corner. A cross might be too distracting. Two crosses. They'd only met that night. Dog was the quintessential 21st boy. I don't know how he got his name. Too afraid to ask.

I didn't want to be implanted with that image. The sort that flake off the bottom of the neglected swimming pool of your brain. Float through the paraffin to the top of the dark room tray. And can still induce nausea years later. Like when Anna told me how two freezing workers resolved their feud by…I can't do it to you.

Dog was a legend. At his funeral, his cousin played Beethoven's 5th on a stereo. He did it the same way Dog had done at their flat on Sunday mornings to piss everyone off. With his hand on the volume knob. (LOUD) DA DA DA NA (SOFT) da da da na.

Dog had two missing front teeth. I'd heard stories of other boys having mishaps opening bottles. But again, I was too afraid to ask. He had a plate, which he took out for rugby. His mouth a medieval castle with the drawbridge down. It scared off tacklers.

He also had a missing finger, which he'd managed to get between a fence post and a post-driving machine. At the wake, they covered a wall of the clubrooms with photos. There was one of him grinning, giving the camera the finger with a large red cucumber. You looked closer and realised it was his finger. Last time I saw Dog was at the showgrounds. He got seven people into the grandstand using three tickets. Made up all these great excuses for going in and out.

It wasn't a 21st he went to. Just a cabaret to raise money for the Playcentre. Something like that. It was at the clubrooms and he tied one on, as they say. Asked every girl there to run away with him. She wasn't a local, didn't know too many people.

page 50
Where are you going?
Don't know. You want to come?

They went out past Cheltenham, where I'd played pool once. The only decent light was over the table. Months flocked to the green felt, like some WWI airfield. Someone got a bit scratchy with them and went on a rampage. Grinding them into the felt with a cue butt. The owner vaulted the bar and decked him. Mothcrusher lay under the jukebox for quite some time, while Billy Idol sung about it being a nice day for a white wedding.

They made it past the really tricky part, Vinegar Hill. A cart had rolled here in the old days. Spilt kegs of vinegar. Farmers reckon you can still taste it in the crops sometimes.

They never made it to Mangaweka. I have a pool story about here too. I'd sneaked in with a mate, dubbed over on the back of his TS125. Underage, of course. They were just happy for the business. Short changed you' cause they knew you couldn't complain. Played against the King of the Table. His initials had been on the blackboard for some time. H.C. I was up five balls, a down trou looming, when a local got in my ear: ‘The bloke you're beating put a screwdriver through his wife's face in here last week.’

Don't know how, but I lost. In off.

‘Bad luck, mate.’

Maybe it was a wind up. It bugs me that I'll never know. Unless I see a woman with a scar that's…the Country Council had been working on the corner. Rumour was that they didn't put the guide rail and reflectors back when they knocked off. No skidmarks. Went straight over. I think it was just a rumour.

I never went to the burial. Drove past later and went for a wander up to the grave. Saw where the hearse had spun its wheels on the wet grass. Dog's last wheelie. Saw the boot marks, where the boys had dug in and heaved it up to the top of the hill. Dog's last scrum. These were the kind of guys who'd have come to my 21st…if I'd had one.

Clue no 4: You can tell if the fridge light is on when the fridge page 51 door is closed by using TIME and LIGHT.

I mean I didn't really like birthdays anyway. My grandfather died on my ninth one. Me, my brother and sister had the party at Dorrie's after school. She just put some candles in an old chocolate cake.

My parents were away for two days and we never got to go to the funeral. They came back as the school was walking down to the hall to check out The Flower Show. They came up the straight, slowed beside us. I'd never seen my Mother wear sunglasses. Death seemed cool. Dad staring straight ahead. Mum in sunglasses. The back door of the Vauxhall Velox swung open and we slipped inside. Disappeared. Leaving everyone else to wonder at the merits of gladioli. We were the coolest. Our grandfather had died.

It was a light blue Vauxhall Velox. The model with the mini fins, like a try-hard Chevrolet. And the grill with a smiley face. Dad sold it to buy a white Holden station wagon. Some kid bought the Vauxhall. Wrote it off in his first week.

My great grandmother died on my brother's ninth birthday. Heaven help us when our kids turn nine. Not that we're a superstitious family, but you do wonder. I was the DJ at my brother's 21st. Played Prince. Didn't go down too well. Had to go back to my Solid Gold Hits collection. There's only so many times you want to hear ‘You Took The Words Right Out of Mouth’…or see ‘The Chicken Dance’.

I was into Prince before he was big. I have a calendar from the original 1999 album. I thought at the time I bought it:

When I put this up I'll be really old…and have everything sussed.

I performed a few times in the local hall. My first incarnation was the best. I was John Hore at the primers' fancy-dress night. (This was before he added Grennell to his name, to avoid being mistaken for an extra in a Warhol movie.) My ukelele was strung with fishing tackle. We had one of John's records with ‘Click Go the Shears’. A few years later I saw him at the Country and Western Spectacular. Eddie Lowe was there too, (was he really blind?) Haybales on stage. I remember thinking I'd better make the most of this. Next thing, I'm being thrown page 52 in the backseat with Dorrie. Being told I'll never be taken out anywhere ever again. Supposedly, I danced in the aisles. Or should that be ‘danced in the isles’. I honestly can't remember.

I apologised to Dorrie, at her funeral. Told the coffin I was sorry for telling her to shut up when I was trying to listen to a Ranfurly Shield game. The reception was really bad.

No. No, I had my 21st at Il Casino, a posh restaurant in Wellington. My flatmate had a friend who played the piano there. He was a christian with a pony tail. Played instrumental versions of pop songs. Very sophisticated. The Olds bought me a typewriter. And gave me enough money to pay for seventeen mains. Where are those lucky enough to share that table now?

  • 1. C.D.—I tormented him at high school. Spent hours thinking of synonyms for ordinary: middle of the road, average, bland, the mean, the median, run of the mill…I think he now works in health administration. (Wherever you are C.D. I'm sorry.)
  • 2. D, ‘The Cockroach’—ex-Collegiate. Grew a moustache. Came out. Went out with a guy with a moustache. Lived in Berlin, then came back to live up Kapiti. Last I heard he was selling computer packages to farmers.
  • 3. Bruce—Went to a Drama School in Australia. Got a scholarship to stilt walk in Japan. Returned to Melbourne to have two children with Cath, who works for Amnesty International…or one of those big aid type organisations. I took one of my fave ever photos of Bruce and his son on Turangi bridge. The curve was perfect.
  • 4. Hells—became a photographer. Took a great shot of me with my Double Elvis Warhol skivvy. I'm still angry I didn't recreate the Velvets' Warhol Factory scene when I first thought of it…and now everyone has done it. Retro sells…but it's dead, you know. Isn't it?
  • 5. J—works at a golf driving range. Could have been a professional, but couldn't handle the pressure putts. Married and had two kids page 53 with an ex-girlfriend of mine. Oldest child won't be told not to poke my laptop screen when I show him the face making games.
  • 6. B—the Ex. I borrowed J's Fiat to take B out to see a Mike Nock concert. She dumped me afterwards and later married J. (Auto-eroticism?) Still find Mike Nock hard to listen to.
  • 7. C—snogged her on the hostel floor while a group of us listened to Joy Division in the dark. ‘This is the way—step inside.’ I was going out with someone else at the time. Confessed. She couldn't come to varsity for two weeks. C ended up having kids with a guy who had jerseys that were too big.
  • 8. S—changed her name, just to confuse us.
  • 9. G—gave up working for DOC to become a doctor.
  • 10. B—married a woman who worked in an all-night chemist. Parents lived in a street called…something Mews.
  • 11,12,13… I forget the rest. I didn't keep diaries then so I can't even look it up. Still, I guess that's 21sts. You tie one on and forget things.

But, more importantly, how do you tell if the fridge light is on when the fridge door is closed?

ANSWER: Set a camera with a timer delay inside. Develop the film. If it's taken a photo the light is on when the door is closed. Of course you have to make sure the flash is turned off. Although you can never really be sure that the flash didn't go off, so…did I tell you about the 21st where this guy kept trying to take photos of these girls? They thought he was a bit of a creep and kept moving to avoid him. He snapped one on his instamatic real quick. Problem was he had the camera around backwards and it flashed directly into his eyes. Screamed blue murder. Went blind for…his corneas had to be…