Sport 29: Spring 2002
Julian Novitz — My Real Life
One Friday afternoon, I open my front door and see my bachelor's degree jammed halfway into the letterbox.
‘We should film this,’ says Ev, my flatmate, when I bring the envelope back into the house. He runs off to fetch his camera. Ever since Ev and I finished up at uni last year, we have been filming stuff: recording five minutes here and ten minutes there, capturing these bits and pieces on video. Ev is a graduate of the School of Theatre and Film Studies. He still owns a camera, a tripod and an authentic looking home-made clapperboard. Ev returns to the living room and aims his camera at me, fiddling with the grip and the focus. I twist the large thin envelope round in my hands, suddenly nervous. This is my first time in front of the camera. Up till now I have just been a disembodied voice, narrating or asking questions from somewhere behind the viewer's sight.
‘Stop,’ I say. ‘Turn that thing off, Ev.’
Ev lowers his camera, puzzled. ‘We should shoot this,’ says Ev. ‘This is prime material. You getting qualified by post, it's great stuff …’
‘It doesn't feel right …’
‘S'okay.’ Ev sits down on our couch. ‘Shane'll be back soon. We can get him to be you.’
‘He'll open the envelope?’
‘That's right. You can figure out what he's going to say.’
I nod, slowly. ‘You think it'll work that like?’
‘Sure,’ says Ev. ‘It's not like we're shooting a fucking documentary here …’
Shane is still at university, a final-year student of Chemical and Process Engineering. We film him, up against the wall of the living room, tearing the envelope and pulling out my laminated cardboard rectangle.page 29
‘What is your name?’ I ask.
‘Daniel Bank,’ replies Shane.
‘What do you have there, Dan?’
‘Why it's an LLB from the University of Canterbury, Mr Interviewer Man. That's a law degree, for all you kids at home. It means I can be a lawyer, if I want.’
‘And do you want to be a lawyer?’
‘Hell no!’ Shane gives the camera a big stupid grin. ‘I can't be bothered actually using this fucking four-year degree …’
Shane shrugs. ‘Because I'm Dan. I don't need a real job. I have a lip ring. I'm cool …’
‘All right, that's enough, Dan. Congratulations on graduating from the University of Canterbury.’
Later in the evening, I go to a party with Shane and some of his engineering friends. We sit round an outdoor furnace with sixteen other guys, drinking beer.
‘It's screwed up, the way you and Ev keep filming stuff,’ Shane tells me.
‘Would you be prepared to say that on camera?’ I ask.
‘Question is,’ he slurs, a little drunk, ‘question is: would you be prepared to say that on camera?’ Cause I'm you now, far as the camera's concerned …’
I don't say anything. Shane takes another swallow from his can and leans closer to the furnace, trying to warm himself.
‘Question of identity, man. That's tricky philosophical ground, that is …’
I see a movie at Hoyts with Ev. It's called Hollow Man, it's awful. We are intrigued, however, by a young girl who sells us our tickets with a surly snarl. After the movie, we hang round the back of the cinema complex, hoping to film her.
‘We've got something here,’ says Ev as we lean against the bonnet of my car, watching the exits. ‘Something real, y'know? We're going to edit all this together, aren't we?’page 30
‘We're going to make something out of this … Hey! There she is!’
The girl is slipping out a door, into the carpark, still wearing her multiplex uniform. We rush up to her.
‘Hi,’ I say.
‘What?’ she says, backing away, startled. ‘What do you want?’
‘We want to film you,’ I say. Ev hefts his camera and gives her a good-natured smile.
The girl glares at us both.
‘Why?’ she asks.
‘We're making a programme …’ I say.
‘For … um … Canterbury TV,’ says Ev.
‘About life …’
‘In Christchurch …’
‘Okay …’ says the girl, still suspicious, but not scared. Together, Ev and I are the least threatening guys in Canterbury.
‘It won't take a moment,’ says Ev. His camera is already trained on the girl. The lights of the multiplex cast lurid shadows over her pale, thin features.
‘What's your name?’ I ask.
‘Fay …’ she replies, hesitant and uncertain.
‘You sell tickets. At Hoyts.’
‘Yeah, at the moment …’
‘Why “at the moment”?’ I ask. ‘How do you know you won't still be here in three years? In six years?’
‘I don't know anything!’ Fay snaps. ‘How am I supposed to know anything? All I know is that you guys aren't making any film for CTV, I don't know what you're doing! So just fuck off, the pair of you!’ She turns and runs for her car.
Ev lowers his camera. ‘We're on to something here,’ he says.
‘Yeah,’ I say.
‘We're making something real.’
On Saturday night, Shane is out at another party and Ev is off patrolling the footpaths with his camera, looking for drunk teenagers. I stay page 31 home alone and watch some of our old video footage, with the sound turned down and L.A. Woman playing on the stereo. I see our neighbours burning a couch in their backyard, one of our old flatmates hanging her laundry out on the line, an interview with the owner of the fish and chip shop down the road, a twelve-year-old on rollerblades crashing into a tree and knocking out his front teeth … The phone rings. I turn down the stereo before answering.
‘Hello,’ I say.
‘Hi, is Dan there?’
‘Speaking.’ I recognise the voice. Kumiko Kurtz. She was my girlfriend in my last year at high school and first year at uni.
‘Hey, Dan!’ she says. ‘It's Kumiko. How are you doing?’
‘Fine,’ I say. ‘How are you? I thought you were up in Wellington.’
‘Yeah. I've come back here, looking for work. I'm a qualified interior designer now …’
We talk for a little while longer and Kumiko promises to drop round tomorrow, to catch up. When Shane gets back I tell him about Kumiko's phone call.
‘Be careful,’ Shane tells me. ‘Ev will want to film her.’
‘What's so bad about that?’
Shane rolls his eyes and shambles off to bed without answering me.
Kumiko is delighted by the idea of being on tape. She sits on a chair in the middle of our kitchen, smoking a cigarette and looking deliberately vampish.
‘And do you have any other goals?’ I ask her.
‘Well, at the moment I'm trying real hard to find God.’
‘So you're religious?’
Kumiko laughs. ‘We don't call it religion anymore, darling, we call it ‘spirituality’. That's religion with all the negative bits taken out. Sin, judgement, you know …’
‘Why do you want to find God?’
‘I need more faith and certainty in my life. Certainty of salvation, redemption.’
‘How can you ever be certain of such things?’page 32
‘All interior designers go to heaven, Dan. It's in the Talmud.’
Ev turns his camera off. ‘That was good,’ he says. ‘But you shouldn't use Dan's real name. It'll confuse our audience.’
‘What should I call him then?’ asks Kumiko.
‘Don't call me anything at all,’ I say.
‘Dan's camera shy,’ says Shane, leaning in the doorway. ‘I have to do all his bits.’
‘So you're Dan on tape?’
‘Seeing as you're both here, maybe we could do a duologue?’ Ev suggests. ‘A frank discussion between Dan and Kumiko, a taut and emotional review of their relationship and break-up.’
Kumiko looks at me and cocks her head, half smiling. I shrug.
‘Yeah, what the hell,’ she says. ‘Sounds like fun.’ She and Shane take their places in front of the camera.
Having nothing better to do in the afternoon, Kumiko decides to accompany Ev and me on one of our semi-regular footage scrounging missions. After walking round the city centre for a few hours, we have a stroke of luck in the Square: an office worker in the BNZ building has climbed out a window, onto the ledge below the sixth floor, and is threatening to jump. We join the small crowd gathered below. With instinctive respect, people step back to allow space for Ev and his camera.
‘So, what sort of name is Ev?’ Kumiko asks, while we wait, but Ev is too engrossed in his camera-work to reply.
‘It's short for Evelyn,’ I say.
‘Isn't that a girl's name?’
‘It can be a guy's name too,’ I tell her. ‘Little known fact.’
The man swings his legs over the railings and balances on the narrow ledge. People gasp and murmur.
‘Y'know,’ says Kumiko, ‘if I was going to kill myself I wouldn't jump off a bank, I'd jump off the cathedral.’
‘Why?’ I ask.
‘Symbolism,’ says Ev.
‘Yeah,’ Kumiko says. ‘Symbolism. I mean there'd be tons of page 33 symbolism in jumping off a cathedral. But off a bank? That's not symbolism!’
The man above us leans out into space, holding on to the railing behind him.
‘…you can't jump off the cathedral,’ Ev is saying. ‘They've got this cage round the balcony at the top of the bell tower.’
‘Really?’ Kumiko looks a little disappointed.
Around us, the crowd collectively catches its breath as a second office worker climbs out the window. He raises his hands in a pacifying, non-threatening manner, then walks towards his suicidal colleague. I crane my neck back, peering thoughtfully at the first man. I reach across and push Ev's camera down.
‘Whaddya doing?’ he shouts. ‘I've lost the shot!’
‘Just stay focused on that bit of pavement,’ I say. ‘He's going to land there if he jumps.’
The second office worker climbs over the railing, to stand on the ledge, next to the first. Words are exchanged, but we cannot hear them. The second man stretches out his hand. Ev is squirming, desperate to film all this, but I keep a firm, restraining grip on his camera. The first office worker looks across at the second. He slowly reaches over to clasp the offered hand. Around us, people cheer and there is a smattering of applause. Then the first man leaps from the ledge, pulling his would-be saviour along with him. For a moment they tumble gracelessly through the air, then their bodies explode across the pavement.
‘Oh God, Dan …’ Ev says, looking up from the camera.
‘Yeah, I know,’ I say. ‘Something real.’
Ev and I decide to go for a coffee, to soothe our nerves after a successful day's filming. Kumiko declines to join us.
‘I have to meet someone,’ she says. She is flushed and twitchy; her breathing has quickened. Ev eyes her suspiciously as she walks away.
We find a café near the Square and occupy a corner booth. Ev puts his camera down on the table and taps it affectionately.
‘Wasn't Christchurch once the suicide capital of New Zealand?’ he asks.page 34
‘Maybe in the mid 90s,’ I reply. ‘I think it's been overtaken by the Hutt now. Or New Plymouth.’
‘Surprised you don't see more of them really …’
I nod and look up to see a girl, maybe sixteen or seventeen, standing over our table.
‘Excuse me, but do we know you?’ I ask.
‘Yeah,’ the girl says. ‘You tried to interview me. In the parking lot outside Hoyts 8.’
‘Oh right, Fay …’
‘I saw you two out in square, shooting the jumper,’ she nods at Ed's camera. ‘Looks to me like you guys are just stuffing around …’
‘We are not,’ Ev says, stiffening self-righteously in his seat, ‘stuffing around.’
Fay sits down next to me. ‘Listen,’ she says. ‘All your artsy film crap is a waste of time; you'll never get anywhere with it. You should be thinking about television. You know, a series …’
‘Drama?’ I ask.
‘Right. I've got this idea for a comedy-drama series, cutting edge, youth-oriented stuff; it steers clear of all the usual clichés. No hospitals, small towns or law firms; it's going to be sharp and original …’
I give Ev a barely perceptible nod. He turns his camera on.
‘…it's set on High Street and that'll probably be the name of the show: “High Street”. It'll be all about these young people working in shops on the street, right? They'll be some sort of skatie store, clothing shops, a video parlour. The video parlour's important; the clerk there will offer wry social commentary, y'see …’
‘Yes, the video store clerk now serves as the conscience and critic of modern society …’
‘…and there'll be all sorts of comic high-jinks and romantic misunderstandings. And because it's set in a bunch of stores it'll suck in the advertising dollars. Product placement and all that. What d'ya think?’
‘It is good,’ says Fay. ‘I just need some help developing it.’
‘I don't know,’ I say. ‘I'd kinda prefer to just wander around filming stuff.’page 35
‘Yeah.’ Fay rolls her eyes. “Because you have a lip ring. And you're cool …’
Shane turns twenty-one and we have a party for him, round at our flat. Ev and I decide to invite Fay. At the party, Ev skips through the crowd with his camera, while Shane organises a shotgunning tournament in the kitchen. I watch Fay talk to some of Shane's friends in the living room. Kumiko touches my arm.
‘Looks good, does she?’ she asks, jerking her head in Fay's direction.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘I guess …’
Kumiko grins. ‘Well? How about it, Dan? When's the last time you had sex with a three-dimensional woman?’
Sex isn't what I want, but I don't tell Kumiko that. I want Fay to have sex with Shane while he's pretending to be me. Ev could film it and I'd ask questions from behind the camera.
‘You've got to enjoy yourself, Dan,’ says Kumiko. ‘Seize the moment, grab everything God gives you …’
I look round for Ev. He should be filming this.
‘… I realised that when I saw those two men plummet to their deaths, last week. You've gotta take what pleasure you can. So, after I left you guys, I came straight back here and got with Shane. I'd been getting some vibes from him while we were doing our bit in front of the camera, and I … are you okay, Dan?’
‘Fine,’ I say. ‘Will you excuse me?’ I walk away from her, past Fay and into the kitchen. Shane is standing by the fridge.
‘Dan,’ he says. ‘Wassup?’
‘Could I talk to you? Outside?’
Shane nods and we go out the back door and down the steps. ‘What's on your mind?’ he asks. I punch him in the face. He looks at me for a moment, puzzled, but then an oh-well-what-the-hell expression falls over his features and he tackles me, throwing me down into the mud. We roll around, punching and kicking. After a while, people come out onto the back step to watch.
‘Shouldn't you, like, break them up or something?’ I hear Fay ask.
‘No way,’ says Ev. ‘This is great material! Dan duking it out with his doppelgänger, this is symbolism …’page 36
Shane and I stagger to our feet, facing each other warily. ‘C'mon, Dan,’ Shane says. ‘Why are we fighting over that ugly bitch?’
‘She's not ugly,’ I say.
‘Plain bitch, homely bitch. Whatever.’
I can hear Kumiko talking to Fay, somewhere behind us. ‘One of your characters should be a young, “edgy” interior designer,’ she is telling her, ‘struggling to reconcile her financial, romantic and spiritual goals. Her character will give your series a bit of weight, something to balance out all the subliminal advertising …’
I take another swing at Shane. He skips back, out of reach. ‘What are you doing, man?’ he shouts, annoyed. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘I ask the questions!’
‘Didn't I warn you, Dan?’ Shane says, shaking his head sadly. ‘Didn't I warn you?’
When summer comes, Ev and I decide to leave Christchurch. We plan to drive slowly up north, stopping frequently, taking in the sights. Ev wants to get some footage of rural New Zealand.
‘There are real people out there,’ he tells me. ‘Real things still happen in the country, Dan.’
We pack our stuff into my car, early on a Tuesday. Shane, Kumiko and Fay are around to see us off. Kumiko is going to move in with Shane in the next couple of days. She's also helping Fay with her ‘High Street’ project; apparently they have a pilot script in the works. After our goodbyes, Ev and I drive in silence until we are six or seven miles out of Christchurch, then Ev says:
‘This is like the end of a movie. The heroes heading off into the distance, their work done, their tale finished.’
‘No,’ I say. ‘This feels like the start of a movie. A long empty road. A man from nowhere, travelling into uncertainty.’
‘Either way,’ says Ev, ‘we've gotta get this on tape.’
I nod and pull over. Ev gets out of the car with his camera and stands by the roadside, filming me as I drive away.
After a while, I put on some music.