Speaker by Various Artists

3

Unknown Places: Gravel Lot (Mangere)

by Damian Pereira

At eleven years old, not seeing my dad was a daily thing;  he left home for work at 6 am, returning around 8 pm, the day having long passed. He would lay down on the couch, unfazed by the world around him, flip through channels, settle on a WWE re-run, and just fall asleep. In the morning he would be gone, not really disturbing the house. My brothers and I grew up accustomed to this routine. But one night it just seemed to change, after an argument he had with Mum. He became more active in our lives. He woke me up late one night and I could barely open my eyes. He pulled clothes out of my drawer, laid them on my bed, and told me to head to the car once dressed. The stars were far more plentiful than normal, like a rural midnight. But the cold air cut through the beautiful scenery, making me hurry to the car.

Dad looked tired but had a smile on his face. The warmth of the car made the outside feel like a distant memory. My brother looked out of his bedroom window, waving at the car as we drove off. 

We drove to McDonald’s, the bright lights seemed to drown out the stars. He told me to order anything I wanted, which was a Big Mac combo. But Dad changed our drinks to strawberry milkshakes. After we left it was quiet, not like an awkward silence, just like nothing needed to be said. I put my window down. Braving the cold holding my hand outside. Catching the wind in my hand, it was like I was flying. Dad turned the radio on, playing songs I knew from parties at our house. He started to sing, not that he really could, sounding more like a mangled cat than anything else. But he was happy, smiling as his voice tried to hit the right note, but always getting it wrong.

I started to hear this rumbling sound, thinking it was just Dad’s voice, but I looked out the window and saw a plane passing over our heads. The airport was a stone’s throw away. The lights held back the darkness, welcoming all into its embrace. I asked Dad why we were here, but he just told me to wait and said that we would be there soon. Thoughts ran through my head, maybe we were picking someone up or going to play mini-golf, but none of that was the right answer. Instead we stopped at this dingy little carpark, facing the runway. It was a small lookout point. Only big enough to fit 10 or 11 cars at most, it looked like it was in the middle of nowhere, a quiet place even though planes flew overhead. He parked the car and we started to eat our burgers and drink our milkshakes. He told me stories that I had never heard before, about how he was a chef, about to leave the country for bigger and better things, about how that all changed when he fell in love with Mum. He told me stories of the path he chose in life and how he wouldn’t change a thing. Listening to him, I felt sad, thinking that he gave up so much for us and that the only reason we never saw him was that he was working hard to give us better lives. 

As he told stories it felt like he was unloading all the things he kept from us, as if he was trying to explain why he acted the way he did. Like he was the kid and I was his parent. It was nice, that he felt it necessary to explain this to a kid that should be thanking him. When we finished eating, we weren’t in any rush to go home, so we sat there. Watching as planes landed, and others took off. The roar of the planes didn’t even reach our ears, we just sat there listening to the radio play music from home.

In the car next to us was this old dude, sitting alone, watching the planes take off just like us. After a while he knocked on my window, had me thinking our music was too loud, but he just offered me a fizzy drink, telling us he was used to buying two of everything and just did it out of habit. Dad told me to take it and say thank you, so I did, and then Dad started talking with him. The old man told us how his wife loved to watch the planes take off, how he brought her here most nights so he could see her smile. He said that his wife had passed away and that this is the place where he felt closest to her.  When we listened to him not once did he look sad, even at the mention of her death, it was just the same smile on his face. Dad said thank you to the old man for sharing his story. I looked at the planes wondering why his wife loved it here, at this little gravel-filled lot, which seemingly no one even notices. I smiled thinking what a good husband he must have been, and just how much his wife must have loved him. 

The old man left, saying goodbye and that it was good to see other people using the lookout. After he was gone, I looked at Dad, asked him why he brought us here. He just said it was something he always wanted to do. That one night he wanted to come down to the lookout and watch planes take off, and wonder, where they were going and where they had come from. He smiled, telling me that we would come here again, drink strawberry milkshakes, talk about our day and just watch the planes come and go. I hope that one day I will drive down in my own car, with my own son, drinking strawberry milkshakes and tell him that because of this little lookout point, I knew my dad loved me.

This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are:

The Crescent (Otara)

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

Gravel Lot (Mangere)

Names in Stone (Waiuku)

The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

 Armageddon (Greenlane)

2

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

by Annette Morehu

Go up K Road after dark, stay on the south side, and head west. Here, in the shadows, you might meet a queen. Ask her the right questions and you could get to know her. Or she could get to know you, depending on your preference.

And how much you want to pay.

Everybody knows her as Beulah, but that wasn’t always her name. At twenty three, she changed her name by deed poll. Solicitation was illegal then, and if you were arrested and charged, it was printed in the newspaper. So, not wanting to bring any more shame to her family by having their name continuously splashed across the crime section of the local rag, and rather than change her profession, she changed her moniker. From the bland and boring ‘Brian Howard’, to the glamorous, exotic ‘Beulah de Reine’.

When she was just fourteen, and still a boy, Beulah heard whispers of a magical place, where standing out meant you fit in; where during the day, all of the ‘cool’ people would flock in their thousands, but at night, people like her were free to be themselves, and more importantly, where you could earn decent cash. This utopia was called Karangahape Road, but everyone just called it K Rd, and that was where Beulah wanted to be. So, one Friday morning she ditched school and hitched her way from her sleepy home-town (where the most exciting thing that ever happened was the annual kumara festival), to the big, bright lights of Auckland City. The first car that was generous enough, or curious enough, to pull over at the behest of her outstretched thumb, took her all the way to Grafton Bridge. She had heard stories about people jumping. Once, a politician’s son was found on the pavement below. Beulah peered around at the hustle and bustle and couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever want to leave.

She headed west along the southern ridge of the road; past the Jewish section of the Symonds Street cemetery, past high-end clothing stores, past the newly fashionable cafes, up and over the Queen Street intersection, past Pitt Street, then over Mercury Lane and across Hopetoun Street — to the end of K’ Road. Here, in the steady light of the streetlamps, Beulah saw for the first time what she had only ever heard of before. Real life, out and proud, fabulous queens. They were pretty, they were powerful, and they were getting paid. And Beulah wanted to be just like them. 

That night, the kingdom of K’ Road crowned a new queen.

 *

Beulah’s flat: a government state house, Freemans Bay, Friday night — forty years after her induction to K Road. Sitting at her Formica dining table, relaxing before a night out on the road; sipping red wine from an odd wineglass, smoking a cigarette, a Buddha stick burning, Beulah speaks:

 ‘Clients? Well, they’re all the same, aren’t they? Men. This one guy paid a girl five hundred bucks and a big bag of crack to fist him up the you-know. I let her use one of my rooms for the job, so we shared the proceeds. We look after each other, ay. Most of us. Most of the time. New girls learn the rules quick, either that or someone will teach them the hard way. We don’t so much have our own corners, but we stay on our own sides of the road and it’s up to the client which side he wants to shop on.

‘Who gets the most jobs? The queens of course. You go see the other girls, you’ll see why. They’re up there in their pyjamas, wrapped in blankets, glaring at everybody. Queens, well most of us anyway, we just want to look pretty and make our money, and maybe have a bit of fun while we’re at it. Oh, we get all sorts of weirdos coming up there. All sorts I tell you. The worst are the cross dressers. They come out in a suit during the day, put on a dress in a half-shaved face at night. They can piss off.

‘Worst job I ever did? Well there was that time I left my teeth on the backseat of a client’s car, that one cost me much more than it was worth. Or there was the time I woke up in a strange house surrounded by all these strange utensils. Don’t know how I got there! So I knifed my way out. Spent three years in The Rock for that one. Why do I do this? Well...what else would I do? And the money’s good. And yeah, maybe if that bastard didn’t do what he did when I was a kid, I wouldn’t be here. But, life happens, and here I am. That bastard? Let’s not talk about that, ay. Everybody else wants to talk about their childhood all the time, but not me. What’s the point?

‘Talking doesn’t pay the bills. Or buy my wine. 

‘Or my drugs.’ 

*

She inserts the needle

Waits for the blood to flow

Applies pressure,

And pushes love through her veins.

 

A low-cut halter-neck reveals

Her surgically enhanced breasts

‘Sin City’ inked across her chest.

A denim miniskirt wraps thick around her thighs

Devilish red boots climb up to her knees

Blonde hair wisps beneath a brown beret,

Disguising a thinning crown.

 

When she walks, she stalks

Prowling along the pavement,

Surveying her territory.

 

She is a painting

A sculpture

A masterpiece,

Hanging in a streetside gallery.

 

The girls all know Beulah

The queens all know Beulah

The clients all know Beulah;

 

She’s been here longer than any of them

This is her kingdom,

And she’s the queen of K Road.

–––

This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are:

The Crescent (Otara)

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

Gravel Lot (Mangere)

Names in Stone (Waiuku)

The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

 Armageddon (Greenlane)

4

Unknown Places: The Crescent (Otara)

by James Littlewood

1.

Lovegrove Crescent has no beginning, and no end. It’s like a miniature race track, a lopsided circle of tarmac connected to Otara’s main drag by a short lane; an umbilical cord, diverting and circulating traffic from the main arterial route. It’s an inverted foetus, suspended inside the body of Otara.

Crowning the head of the foetus, between the busy mechanic and the empty factory — now an occasional church — are three imposing state institutions: Work and Income, Child Youth and Family and Manukau Institute of Technology’s Faculty of Creative Arts. Even within the preborn body of the crescent, this triumvirate of welfare stands ready for those who breathe and walk the earth. Need a job? An education? A social worker? You’ll find one at Lovegrove Crescent. 

But by the time this is in your hands, M.I.T. will have moved on from this intra-uterine metaphor to newer, and newly restructured, premises, leaving our empty, decaying shell to the vagaries of South Auckland’s commercial real estate market, and a family of possum who’ve moved into the roof space.

Today, that’s still in the future. For now, go back a few weeks. Walk up the concrete stairs, through the badly designed entrance, turning left at the staff room, past the toilets, and into the narrow, windowless corridor. Room Z130 has sad yellow walls, higgledy piggledy furniture and temperamental lighting. 

Z130 is the writers’ room, and this is our group. Eight of us on a good day, with four regulars, three usuals and me. We are Writers at Work. And all that we do is in your hands.

2.

We were tasked with exploring the collaborative skills of professional writing. So our first decision was simple: we’d write a book together. Next, we formed ourselves into our own editorial board. I facilitated, but otherwise, everyone had an equal say. It had to be consensus, or nothing. Well, I never actually said it. But that was the plan. Next step was to figure out what kind of a book.

Some of us liked fiction. Others stuck to the facts. So we couldn’t define ourselves on those terms. It all came down to just one thing: the place we live. Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland.

Sometimes it threatened to take the form of a tourist guide. We wanted something meatier. Saracen said ‘we should be shocking people, jolting them awake with our honesty’. It was hard to disagree with that. But Anna was keen for us to leave room for poetics, or even nostalgia. Can we do both? Sure, we can do both. Let’s be real, but let’s also make it welcoming.

We knew we favoured a young audience: those who can no longer be satisfied to wonder what’s round the corner, but who respond at once to the urge to check it out first hand. And that’s how we wrote: first hand. We wanted to introduce you to our Auckland, an Auckland that maybe not everyone knows about — or to write the familiar features of Auckland with a new, personal interpretation.

3. 

So, we get drunk in the park, and that doesn’t end well. We hang out in apocalyptic masquerades, and feel the adrenaline rush of big crowds in big rooms. There is war, recalled through a dream of alcohol and decrepitude. Historical changes play out in time-lapse from the vantage point of a prominent hill. There are faded holidays at the beach, a father bonds with his young son under low level flight paths, and drag queens paint the K Rd strip red.

The locations are precise: you’ll find yourself on this spot, in this place, at this time. These locations cultivate their own unique ecosystems: our characters couldn’t survive anywhere else, nor would their actions make any sense there. We love the universal appeal which these specifics enable. You might even find yourself in these pages. We know we did.

Lovegrove Crescent’s our home. Like all homes, it has no beginning, and no end. But we’re leaving it now, and we’re taking you with us. So, Auckland, Tamaki Makaurau, you city of lovers, welcome, welcome, welcome to your unknown places.

This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are:

The Crescent (Otara)

Unknown Places: Queens of K Road (Central)

Gravel Lot (Mangere)

Names in Stone (Waiuku)

The Bach (Awhitu Peninsula)

 Armageddon (Greenlane)

7

Cold Turkey, 2018

by Greg Jackson

I’ve been under Dr Lennon the last few days, taking tips from his detox ditty 'Cold Turkey'.

 36 hours rolling in pain/praying to someone to free me again

It’s junkie journalism at its finest as I retch and shudder my way through an opiate detox that is unexpected, awful and with a pain point of origin that’s ludicrous.

A fucking chihuahua bite got me rolling down the road toward this place I last visited nearly 40 years ago. The dog jumped me and bit my arm, I jerked back to get away from the tiny fangs tearing my flesh. A few days later the ligament in my knee, already frayed, went snap.

The pain was excruciating. I’m good on pain. When I got kidney stones I let my partner sleep a few hours before waking her up to get me a lift to hospital. I have a lot of aches and pains from car crashes, bar brawling and the carnage that goes with active alcoholism and drug addiction in my teens and 20s.

When the ligament in my other knee snapped and frayed during the run out of town in the big  February Christchurch earthquake I survived on a stick for a year before an ACC/Southern Cross impasse about paying for the op got resolved.

This time, the pain sent me off to after-hours within hours.

The options for pain relief were codeine or one of the new-fangled forms of junk. I went for codeine. There was no choice.

Now, codeine and I have history.

I learned how to make opium in my teens and was an early adopter of heroin when the Buddha stick boys starting bringing in quality skag with the sticks. When I got codeine for a back injury I found a legal(ish) substitute for smack that kept me well with a few hundred mg a day without having to work through my horror of needles.

Addiction does have its downsides. When I finally cleaned up I had a house with an unpaid mortgage, a vicious knock-down divorce, no furniture, no food and a herd of cats plus a dog who loved me.

So why am I telling you this dreadful shit? Where is the upside? Like a lot of life’s bum cards there is no upside.

I’m telling you as my nose runs and I retch from cold turkey because I know the ropes just as well as any old junkie extant.

But I have had time in my broken sleep to reflect on the total madness of a health system that has closed down just about all the treatment centres and detox joints.

In my recovery years my networks have given me access to world experts on addiction and treatment. My post alcohol and drugs career has put me on talking “pick up the phone” terms with lots of politicians and CEOs.

I wish that I was a baby/I wish that I was dead

I know the ropes. This detox follows on from a few months of feeling like I was tiptoeing across barely cooled lava, taking a minimum dose till I got surgery and knowing the trapdoors of hell were creaking below me.

On Tuesday this week rather than taking my post-op drugs I sensed in the old mad dog way only an ex-junkie can that there was a wee window of magic and possibility open.

That if I just quietly snuck through, threw away the drugs and breathed gently I might be able to kick and return to what has become my normal state of clean sobriety.

So I did throw away the drugs and as the hours piled up it became clear my old habit had not cared less about minimum doses and medical necessity.

“Got you now baby and you know what’s gonna fix it”, it whispered.

“Fuck off, my God’s stronger than you," I said and settled down for a wee fight for my soul.

Now my world now is not a bad one. Stable relationship, house without mortgage, glasshouse, fruit trees, lots of kids starting to do adulting, even the miracle of a grandchild.

My friends that I had to leave behind? Bar one who got zapped by Jesus they are all dead. I’m like a very old man who has outlived everyone. I got my second shot at life by going through detox and treatment three times before biting the bullet.

That’s a luxury that’s barely on offer now. Even for the rich who can buy full on in-house treatment, it’s rare.

Some cost-cutting madness persuaded a generation of decision makers that in-house treatment and ongoing aftercare were not part of the answer to addiction treatment.

I’m spilling my guts here in the hope it impels our new Government to at least look at reviving proper, adequate treatment systems in New Zealand.

I am an old lag with a luxurious support  system who has found these last few days horrendous beyond any adequacy of words.

Trapped in a corner, prodded with a stick and gazing glumly at the guillotine, I write stuff. Never happily or enthusiastically, but because I have to. It is how I make sense of this insensible process called life.

Sniff

Like Dr Lennon did when he nailed it with 'Cold Turkey'.

But he was another tough old survivor who bar those fateful bullets would be with us still, bringing back his broadcasts from the outer limits of life’s rich tapestry.

Not all people who go down the Bill Burroughs highway are this hard.

My old habit had its fuse lit by an accident. I think after a few more bad sleeps I’ll come right.

I want the few people who pick up on this to think how many people out there need proper help now.

After the P epidemic we are going to have an opiate epidemic like this country has never seen.

After speed comes a need for downers and smack. Take it from me.

As a nation, we are not ready. We need to start to rebuild our addiction services along with the rest of society that public health policy has let fray and decay.

We need to start now.

4

Poverty, and mistaking symptoms for causes

by Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw

What happens when you don't spend enough time understanding good research is this: you take facts which are true and mould them to an explanation that suits, and a solution that suits your ideology even better.

The NZ Initiative report on welfare contains many truths, for example that adults on a benefit are more likely to have a parent on a benefit. Poverty does, we know, cause intergenerational symptoms like the one they highlight. Experiencing poverty as a child increases your risk of experiencing it as an adult.

Why does it though? The highest-quality multidisciplinary research shows us that children in resource poor families are affected by the stress involved in not having enough. Their brain development and their immune systems are impacted by this stress. When they start school they are already disadvantaged and remain so.

Such disadvantage makes it incredibly hard to make use of the education system and what it offers in the same way that other children can. We call it the compounding effect of poverty, just like capital attracts more capital over time, so does a debt build. Stress eats away at families, their relationships and their wellbeing when you don't have enough [PDF].

In Chapter 1 (Special Topic: Intergenerational Poverty), we discussed how, like any asset, skill and human capital accumulates across a lifetime and across generations. The initial presence of a skill allows a child to much better take advantage of opportunity and investments that are made in them than a child who starts with fewer skills. We also explained that in the same vein we see capital and skill trickle away from a family over time, the effects compounding and, and leading to intergenerational disadvantage.

Pennies from Heaven (2017) Berentson-Shaw.

There are some excellent studies showing that financial stress has the same effect on our "cognitive bandwidth", our ability to do higher-order tasks of living in a complex world, in the same way extreme sleep deprivation does. Nothing is simple where poverty is concerned.

So taking a fact like “poverty creates more poverty” and suggesting that welfare dependency, poor parenting, schooling, is both the problem and the solution ignores the "wickedness" of the issue. It mistakes symptoms for causes. It ignores the multiple systems that need addressing:

“Seriously disadvantaged young people lack basic work skills and many don’t even understand what paid work entails. This is more a failure of upbringing and schooling than lack of money.”

“Governments must do a better job of finding out what programmes really work to break the cycle and help people overcome their predicaments.”

Dr Bryce Wilkinson , New Zealand Initiative

But it also ignores the straight up obvious that "money works". And money works for the reasons I explained that not enough money extracts so much from families and their wellbeing.

So sure, let's talk about supporting families who don't have enough to find their freedom, their independence, their self determination, but let's not pretend that a think tank with a pre-established position on the role of government, its size, and the welfare state has a good grip on the best quality research. Of course business is part of this solution, just not in the way it is being proposed here.