Sport 1: Spring 1988
Academy — (from work in progress)
Does everyone seem to laugh
whenever you speak, or are they
just waiting to laugh later? Do
their jokes mystify you? Do you
laugh properly? Real New Zealanders
are happy people and you can be
one too; contact
THE HOW TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR ACADEMY
Phone (059) 738-4438 and ask for
After he's placed the advertisement Martin attends a rendezvous on the corner of two Masterton streets and test drives a 1965 Humber Super Snipe. 'That's just the power steering, growls a bit when it's cold,' the farmer says, 'wife reckons it's daft owning a hobby car when we can't afford calf feed, thought we'd score best with it in the smoke — class vehicle?'
'Been using it for a tractor? There's straw in the boot,' says Martin tactically.
'Well yeah, you know, so roomy and more grunt than the Fordson, car like this's done all kinds, reckon there's come on the upholstery if you've got the nose for it.'
The size of the car seems to call for a large personality so Martin who has never taken the wheel of an automatic is having the farmer drive him. But it's hard to be in control from the passenger seat. He murmurs, 'Brakes?' and one and a half tons slam to a halt. 'Hang on, I'll get in the back.' This is better. In the back it's roomy, each page 104passenger has a cigarette lighter, a tray table to fold down, a personal reading light.
The farmer is watching him in the mirror.
Fortunately Martin is carefully dressed, black beard, dark glasses, dark hat. Formidable. He's never worn a hat seriously before, usually just straw jobs to look authentic when fishing or to fight headaches. Should he keep the hat on while he's inside? And for driving a hard bargain?
The Masterton streets are squeezed by the wide car which now that he owns it turns out to have a diff whine, but he is delighted by the way he surges through a pincer movement arranged by a braking rubbish truck and an unexpected moa. That lamppost came up quickly though.
The power steering drives him recklessly.
He believes he will just measure the length of Gordon Street, noble in the straightness with which it advances on the distant hills.
Waiting for the advertisement to make the telephone ring he decides he will live in the car. He removes the heavy coat, the hat, the dark glasses, for clearer thinking. Up in his room the window casts a watery oblong he puts his head into while he frets about Daze: where would ,he stay if she visited?
The cup where her shoulder curves into her neck is moist under his kissing lips. But her questions are sceptical, her eyes transmit doubt that he has to explain away. So the decision is confirmed: she's not to visit, remember, she's to receive letters and toll calls and flying visits, ,he'll be told lies, she'll be distant, but intimate, everyone will be distant until it's over. . .
Hang on — someone'll have to fix the car.
It's the car that's so frustrating, of course. Martin wants to see her in it beside him, have her there talking while he drives. He suspects this is just more of the mammary universe but he still wants it; who wants to be utterly contemporary?
Downstairs he negotiates successfully with Mrs Key for use of her vacuum and, ignoring a background of drizzle, makes a clean cave of the boot. A bosomy person who possibly uses a mirror to see her feet, she comes out to circle the Snipe with an intense forthrightness that turns the vehicle into a carrier of rust, dents, and other page 105communicable downsides. But 'My father had one of these,' and she allows herself to be shoehorned inside.
Anticipating the diff whine, Martin tunes the radio. Three mornings a week Mrs Key can be heard giving hints on how to scam in real estate. Unfortunately it's Modern Gland, he changes stations at once then drives off rather nervously. He is missing his academy clothes, it seems he can't control this vehicle as himself, Drizzle beads the windscreen. After trying several wrong knobs the wipers finally reveal that he is about to nudge a pedestrian.
'But I'm not sure this really is a Masterton car, is it Martin? Of course your image will change, perhaps this explains the beard? Left here, you'll never manage the downtown traffic.'
Martin manoeuvres round a red Ferrari which has embraced a lamppost; its residents are cooking a late lunch. Skyscrapers flash down their disapproval. Rolling up to a red light he finds he's about to witness two artniks souveniring a sesquicentenary billboard. The smaller one sees and signs she'll be across any minute to jerk his tongue out. Then at Mrs Key's window the sign on a kerbside Investamatic comes to life: KAI MOANA UP 8, NATIONAL PARTY UP 8, DEATH SCIENCES UP 13, THE LIGHT YOU'RE WAITING FOR WILL NOT TURN GREEN FOR 27 SECONDS, WHAT ARE YOU, FAITHLESS, INVEST NOW. 'Those Death Sciences look good, Martin, mind if I use this?' She scoops a fifty cent piece from the car's carpet, punches her number, is back on the seat beside him before the green light comes on, 'I'll deduct it from your rent, what's that, a tappet?'
Martin, who has usually played victim in mechanical intimidation, turns up the radio, The voice says, 'this smaller miracle allows perceptual intransigence thereby forcing official concepts of deviance to maintain organisational flexibility, okay, let's spin another one, here's Indigenous Thesaurii with Eastbourne.'
Attempting to drive to the beat, Martin bowls a jaywalking kakapo. In the mirror he sees that two deros are already fighting over it; grilled parrot? 'That's the spirit, Martin, this is a real sledge, I remember my father ploughing a gate once, didn't even dent the chrome. Don't you hate those blasted birds, this country's nothing but the world's biggest aviary: little heads with little brains squeezed inside, I wouldn't serve kiwi to a Christian.' What Martin wants, he realises, is for the farmer to be here and at the wheel, for the farmer to be coping with
page 106Mrs Key. 'What's your stockage per acre?' she would demand and they would agree vehemently about land rights. But he'd had to take somebody for a ride to establish ownership! Once he's living in the car he will be able to restrict all conversation to contact with his formal, his Academic persona, a prospect that sends a surge of excitement to his accelerator foot. Of course there are problems ahead but as he reads everywhere, his optimism is his most negotiable asset. His foot thrusts Mrs Key submissively into the imitation leather; he realizes that she closes her mouth if only he goes fast enough. Everything gets out of his way with alacrity. He wishes his reflexes were better, but in this confident vehicle every near miss seems like good planning. At last he manages to be headed back towards Jordan Terrace, the engine growls as he slows. 'And you could install a microwave and serve toast,' Mrs Key beams, ambitious lipstick, 'oh, you're finally catching on, Martin!'
Quack, spieler, charlatan: can he be one?
Up in his room again, listening to 16 Big Ones, Martin tries to reconcile Roy Orbison with pseudology. Obviously The Big O is clued-up, a sophisto, an early artnik. But Roy, chinless, almost-albino Roy, the insider from Wink, Texas, Roy could never really lie. Martin senses that with his dark glasses on he looks like Roy, though of course Roy was never a bearded person. Martin knows it will not be his fate to escape the Roy inside himself. But what he hopes is that when Roy goes out on stage he's playing a part, he's acting. The staging of passion — a high lonesome sound. We know it's passion because we can feel that even when he's sobbing Mama, Roy. . . believes.
Yes, it's believing that's the key. All Martin has to do is believe that his Academy really can fill its great hall with laughter.
Downstairs he hears the telephone ring.