Sport 17: Spring 1996
Peter Hall-Jones — (Aside)
I've spent a good whack of my life pretending to be asleep. And most of that in the last four or five years. There's the daily thing, with Ginny's alarm clock going off at 6.00, there's the baby we had, there's the bus ride into town, and music with headphones at the library. Then there's the ride back, and too much pot in front of TV. But how bad is this—pretending to be asleep in the middle of a party I'm actually enjoying.
Still. People have been known to call their parties off altogether the moment Mad Merv and Yoni Drine turn up. I know a guy that sent out invitations to a made-up party at a woolshed in Waitati just to lure them away. It worked too; the Drines were later reported brawling at the Fart and Marmoset. Better still, they had made it back into town and found the party by eleven-thirty.
Anyway.The two of them turned up at Jane Bell's before ten. Yoni went straight for Mason Binh, who was coaxing his bizarre mood music out of an old synthesiser, and Merv made for the last of the nibbles. Which involved sitting down next to me on the couch. Which is why I'm pretending to be asleep.
I don't know why he chose me. There are at least thirty people in the room, another thirty in the kitchen, perhaps 100 all up in the different rooms of the house. In the room next door the student exec have met to convene a game of Pikemaster—the drinking and cards game where the winner is the last to empty his/her bladder (invariably, for the hardcore players, in his/her pants). Further down the hall is Tim Grey's bedroom. His is the pot-smoking room, not that any other isn't. And then there is the hallway, a self-sustaining gauntlet for those who don't feel quite right.
Perhaps Merv remembers me. I've heard him out a few times now, at the frayed ends of parties. Should I worry about that? Maybe I'm headed that way myself? Whatever—even if I made up my mind to page 122 worry about it, I wouldn't.
‘A sousafuckingphone! Hooo-dahh! Mate, I thought you kids were so straight these days, and there's you, marking time in the corner with’
I had snored again. He believes I'm asleep, I'm sure of that, but unconsciousness is nothing to Merv. He and Yoni exist at the top and bottom of the food chain, utterly necessary to each other, inseparable, but neither lovers nor friends. And there's no denying it, we need them as much as they need each other. It would be a pretty shattered host of whose party it was said: ‘Even the Drines stayed home.’
So maybe Jane Bell breathed a quiet sigh of relief when the two of them turned up. They had heard about her birthday, not about the bad taste party in North East Valley, not the Netball Club piss-up in Corsterphine, not the mushroom gobble out at Portobello, not the first-year toga howling in Clyde St nor the retro slumber party in Leith Street. And they are right, this is a good party. I make another noise to keep him at bay.
‘Hey see that chick in the Oroton catsuit? That's Yoni Drine, mate, the poet. She did “The Monster From All The Planets”. You say potatoes, she sez tomatoes. You know what she took for a buzz before coming out tonight? You know what? Steroids. A half a dozen fucking steroids, washed down with ether and port. No sweat. She's Bukowski, Kerouac and Jean Genet, mate. And Herman Hesse, mate! Steppenwolf.’
I feel crappy because there is something sarcastic creeping into my snoring. It is very bad karma to dump on the Drines. Even the skins chuckle politely at Merv's ramblings. Rednecks become perfect gentlemen around Yoni. I've heard of beatings dished out to people who make cracks about Merv's personal napkin (and how do we know Merv wears a napkin when he goes out? because he shows us, is how).
‘Useless as an ashtray on a fucking motorbike. Fuck this place. Return to the womb, sure, but they don't tell you the mother died in the seventies. In a still birth. Whooah—’ ere we go, you watch now. Old Yoni is going for that dingleberry at the stereo. Fucking bit of page 123 Velvet Underground—that'll soon pump out this fresh water.’
‘A few years ago she taught herself to speak whalesound, you know? She can still do it with a few drinks.’
I can tell that he is looking around for someone else to talk to. It won't be long now. What would happen if I turned off totally? For too long? Maybe that's what cot death is like.
‘God, you punky student types are so fucking straight when it comes down to it. Those haircuts don't fool anybody. Lambs in wolves’ clothing. But I like you, y'know? No problem. Hey Yoni, get over here. No, come on, turn around. You can hear me. Bitch.’
I can't believe it—he really does think I'm a student. He's probably no more than five years older, maybe forty. My spider senses are tingling. Jane is behind us, pretending to talk into the telephone. She must be trying to work out what Merv is saying—collecting anecdotes for tomorrow. Oh man, what am I going to do? There's only one more bus tonight—that gives me half an hour. After that I'm walking home (seven miles in the night dew) or I'm looking for a bed. And I know what that will mean.
I only met Jane Bell a few hours ago. She was playing the wooden gong thing in the Papua New Guinea section at the Museum. I tried not to listen. But now I'm here, smuggled into her birthday party because I happened to know The Who did the original of ‘Volare’. While Ginny is sitting at home drinking herbal tea and reading a Russian novel. There's a dozen times I haven't made it back at night, for a dozen good reasons. It would be so easy.
I think Jane Bell likes me too.
‘Nobody ever accused me of selling out. Sold out. What a crock.’
He and Yoni must have had a fight. I remember seeing them at it in the queue at the vege co-op caravan. And I mean fighting, too, not some kind of embarrassed snap counter-snap. She grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head down as she brought one knee up, whack, and shouted You felcher!—a word she explained at length to the queue once he'd gone.
Jane took me to the Athenaeum Library by Tip Top and showed me things she had found on wet days. There was a book on the Peculiar People, who had a dispensation in law to beat their children; page 124 one on the Joanna Southcott Box-ians, witnesses to the Resurrection after a fatal phantom pregnancy; or an extended passage about the Barkers, who congregate to bay at the devil until they have treed him, like some preternatural opossum, and then batter the trunk with their, foreheads until Grace intervenes.
I bought some Rawleighs for her cold and she said to the man behind the counter ‘How plump is your cock, please’ instead of ‘Half a pack of Codral, please’. He's probably still cleaning his ears out. Then I told her my Burt the Toucan story and we ate crap food. I can't make Ginny laugh any more.
Merv's still on about selling out. I wonder if I'll be mumbling like that in five years? Shit, I'd sell out in a flash if I could find a buyer. I've been lying to everybody since the cot death. Ginny knows it. Come to think of it, I don't even try to make her laugh any more.
A Reformed Mormon for Christ came and sat with us in the Octagon, as if conjured by Jane's browsing in the Athenaeum. He told us how wrong the Mormons were about everything and Jane quizzed him about Moroni, but I couldn't hear anything for the traffic inside.
Hold it, whoah, something is happening. She is joking with me. She is making weird wheezes into the telephone to go with my snoring and Merv's ranting. Shit. My sensors were down and all that time I wasn't alone.
And Mason Binh has latched on from across the room. He is joining in with psychedelic belly rumbles from his left hand and crazy little speeches with his right. While Merv bowls on regardless, not hearing the way his voice is rising to the occasion.
Actually, this is not good. Mason has gone too far. This is dumping on the Drines. Actually, this is terrible. Jane has fallen silent, feeling the tension in the room as people start to disapprove. I open my eyes a crack.
Yoni is looking perplexed, as if trying to recognise a song in her head.
‘You ever heard of Merv the Mooch Drine? Dunedin's meanest bluesman? Well you're looking at him, mate. Or you would be. Me and Gary Thain went to the same school. Gary Thain, mate, ‘Rain’, the best song Heep ever did. Measuring carefully my years. Hey page 125 Yoni, leave his nuts alone. I'll tell you what, she's a mean poet. Here, check this out. She wrote this no more than an hour ago.’
You're really fucked, I'm not kidding—Yoni Soit
You know what your problem is!
You're the one who's always!
And that's another bloody thing!
What about the time!
I'm not listening to Merv any more. Jane and I are silent, hoping that Mason will notice the assembling huff. But he is too absorbed in his sarcasm. My eyes close from behind the lid and I resign myself to complicity in the shaming of Jane Bell, perfect stranger and birthday girl.
Then all of a sudden Yoni joined in with her whalesounds. Her whole body became a slide trombone, and she filled the room with a huge swooping yodel. Then she let out a sharp cascade of falsetto yaps. And Merv stood and the rest of the room stood and the party gasped and cheered her on.
I opened my eyes a crack. Merv was clapping his hands against his heads and Yoni was convulsing like a worm on a hotplate. Mason was whooping as he fell away into a cheery, bobbling bass, and at least a dozen people had found room to dance.
And through all of this I suddenly saw something else. Ginny sitting in the dark by herself.
And while the ectoplastic Jane Bell, twenty-one and nice and pogoing and leering, sloughs off the last of her innocence, Ginny and I are busting apart trying to shed a single experience.
I pretended to wake up.
And as invisibly as I could, I stood and ran like hell for the day's last bus.