Cracker by Damian Christie

Storytime II

Right. Thanks for your votes and comments on the various stories.

Despite the best attempts of one competitor to have When Christmas Parades Go Bad disqualified (on the basis that it didn't really happen to the author, but rather her grandfather), I rule it admissable. She was there, therefore it happened to her. No correspondence will be etc.

But, even if it was as ill-fated as Bauble Peters' strike against Bob Clarkson, the challenger had good instincts: When Christmas Parades Go Bad romped home, followed by Claws. And coincidences abounded, one of the votes for All Aboard came from someone claiming to be the stories' sweaty antagonist.

So onto round two. There may be one final round after this, on Monday morning, of any stories sent in since my last post. Gotta be in to win and all that.

As well as the books offered in the last post, the stakes have also been, er, raised, with two new prizes on offer: Loner: Inside a Labor Tragedy by Bernard Lagan (all about Mark Latham's rise and fall) and the brilliantly (unintentionally I think) wacky Hitler Was a British Agent by Greg Hallet and the Spymaster. Not only does it describe how Hitler survived WWII, it goes on to draw some startling insights into Aotearoa:

New Zealand is the spies' holiday and retirement home. In New Zealand it is not illegal for a woman to kill her male partner, as long as she is dark brown, lesbian, lesbians are attracted to her, or she has a history of mental illness... New Zealand's legalising of 'female murders male' came under the KGB operative Prime Minister Helen Clark...

Wow. Okay, maybe that book should go to the worst story, because let's be honest, there are a couple of shitters. Votes for that too please.

Also a warning: By his own admission, Greg's story, Chilly Willy, is really long. I've put it last, so you can just read down to there, and if you run out of time you can print it out, and use it to occupy those down times during the next five day international.

Crap titles mine once again.

Oh, and finally before we start: I was searching for Cathy Odger's new blog the other day, and accidentally stumbled on this little gem of a blog. It's like a haiku trapped in ice - perfect in its frozen simplicity.

And now...

by David

I've never been a fan of waking up. I'm a dreadful morning person and no amount of caffiene can cheer me up. I found it particularly difficult to wake up at a reasonable hour while at university. I tried everything - moving my alarm clock to the other side of the room - hiding it in different places every night - using multiple alarms. All to no avail.

During one of my years at varsity - undergrad or honours, I guess, I discovered a foolproof way to wake up. Only, it wasn't by any action of my own. We were living in this absolute dive. Mould everywhere, freezing cold (Chch winters...) and really thin walls. Anyway, I found myself waking up to this really weird noise. It sounded like a fish being hit against the bench - followed by what can only really be described as being like a wounded possum vomiting hairballs. Bloody possums, I thought, and spent the next several weeks trying to find out where this injured brute was. I'd wake up just before each time (without any alarm being used) to try and pinpoint the sound. It wasn't in the ceiling, on the roof, or in that pitiful excuse we called a 'tree'. I couldn't find the bastard anywhere. Until, as you've probably guessed, I realised it was the sound of one of my flatmates whacking off in the shower.

I felt really dirty but would you really want a shower after that?

I still hate alarms.

by Kris

I was born in Sweden, and when I finished high school I took a year off and went back there to work on a freight ship that sailed around the Baltic and the North Sea. Duty free booze was sold on board, and everyone made the most of this because of the high taxes on alcohol in Sweden. You were only allowed to bring in one bottle of liquor and one crate of beer at a time, but the crew changed at a small, remote port and the older hands were adamant that there were never any customs agents there.

I was too young to buy booze legally at the time, so I took two bottles of liquor with me when I disembarked. The first machinist was considerably more gung ho, taking several bottles of liquor and several crates of beer which he wrapped in plastic bags. He told me that the amount he had was just under the definition of smuggling: if he was caught with any more he could have faced jail rather than just a fine.

So we got off and, sure enough, there were a couple of customs agents waiting on the dock. Being a fairly clean-cut kid, I hadn’t had any run-ins with the law, so when they asked me if I had anything to declare I stuttered nervously but managed to say no. I was sure one of them gave me a suspicious look, but luckily they didn’t ask to check my bags and turned their attention to the first machinist. Standing in the midst of all his booze he said breezily ‘Nothing to declare, you can have a look if you like.’ I was fully expecting one of the agents to say, ‘You must be joking, open your bags,’ but it didn’t happen. Such was his chutzpah that they just thanked us and drove off, though I’m sure that in hindsight they must have wondered what was in all those beer crate-sized boxes wrapped in plastic.

I learned a valuable lesson about bulshitting that day.

by Carl
Many years ago whilst doing the backpack thing I spent three months in the middle east, flying to Israel in early Jan from Amsterdam. This little trip around Europe had soaked up a lot of my travelling funds unintentionally. Anyway I arrived in Israel with only $300 and an return airfare. Luckily I also had a credit card. Anyway after sleeping on a beach in a cafe, at night, for three weeks, I hooked up with some Scandinavians who were headed back to their Kibbutz.

After a month there we all decided to carry on over the border into Egypt. By this time I was very low on funds, deciding to travel cattle class to Aswan on Egyptian rail (which makes NZ rail look like the TGV). About two weeks into the Egypt jaunt I said goodbye to the scandys and started heading north to Cairo. Please note that this was 1988 and there was no internet.

Anyway down to my last tenner I decided to risk one more trip to the bank to get some funds on the credit card - only to be confronted by a bank official cutting up the Visa in front of me! INSUFFICENT FUNDS!

Emergency calls to New Zealand ensued with 1988 style phone systems and toll charging ($20US for 5min max!). I think that I scared my poor parents who tried to get John Banks (MP for Whangarei at the time) to intervene. Anyway I managed by pawning off my camera to a fellow traveller. (I actually managed to get that back eventually too).

I was only 22 at the time so it was probably inevitable something like this would happen.

by Louise

My mum had invited my two Nanas round for dinner. (They were both in their early eighties at the time and one has since passed away - although she wouldn't mind me telling this story.) I overheard a conversation they were having on the couch - talking AT each other, as old people do.

They were both talking about 'sets' except that one Nana was talking about TV sets, and the other about sets of dentures. Despite talking about two completely different things, they seemed to be agreeing that 'sets' were expensive things. The best line was TV set Nana suggesting to denture set Nana that she should consider getting a second hand set, because 'they work just as well as new'. The look on denture set Nana's face at the thought of it was priceless.

by Brian

The sun was warm and the space was clear, I smiled and started removing my plimsolls. Toes together I arranged them, pointing into the yard, heels about say 6 inches from the wall. Socks, shaken stretched, laid over the shoes, at right angles about where the knots in the laces would be. Pants folded flat, creases aligned, layered back and forth. Again placed upon and at a right angle to the socks. With the belt finishing over the heels of the shoes. Shirt the same with the collar ending over the belt, singlet a heap in the middle – a cushion.

Still the little pile under my bum was comfy and the wall was warm against my back. I turned my attention to my kit and removed the brown paper bag, unfolded the top, slid out the sandwich I'd made in the morning and sat it on the flattened bag between my feet.

The bread was white, soft cotton wool, thick sliced for the toaster. Avocado spread thickly as butter. Crisp leaves of lettuce providing the textural contrasts, and a liberal sprinkling of salt and ground pepper for taste. On the way here I'd picked a lemon, I removed this from my and bit into it. I lifted the the top slice and squeezed on the juice, the gooey avocado split apart, some sticking to the bread, some caught in the folds of lettuce.

With the top back on I lifted my head, two guys were standing nearby, well not just standing, it looked like they were hugging. Upon closer attention I realised they were fighting, or one was punching the other but standing far to close to get in a decent swing. I wondered at this and guessed they can't have been too serious. Anyway back to my lunch, I reached for my sandwich, to see soaking into it the last drops of a spurt of blood, that ran back to the hugging couple. Blast! It would be a while before I would get another avocado.

by Mark

Air marshals in the US yesterday shot dead an airline passenger who had 'indicated he was carrying a bomb in his bag'.

18 months ago I flew to Romania with six hard disks in my hand luggage. I had flown from London to Munich to Bucharest and surprisingly no one looked twice at what I thought was an unusual enough collection of hand luggage.

It was only when I tried to leave Romania that things got a bit interesting, I placed my bag into the x-ray machine, and waited, 30, 45, 60 seconds while three security guards stood around the screen trying to figure out what they were looking at, then they started looking at me, back to the screen, back at me, they finally let the bag continue with the command to empty the contents out onto the table, which I duly did.

More staring at collection of electronics that was my luggage, more staring at me, some head scratching, and all the while the little knot of tension in my stomach was growing and growing. I had done nothing wrong, but I began to sweat. Profusely. The first thing they asked was "what is this?" I explained as simply as I could. More stares, more head scratching, until finally one of them turned to me and asked their second question: "Are you working for Al Qaeda?" Then silence. Three blank stares waited.

"No smart arse comments" I thought. "This is no time for fooling around" I reminded myself. "Keep it together here" I roared in my brain, but – to my horror – the words "you look more like you'd be working for them than I do" escaped from my mouth all by themselves!

A couple of horribly long seconds passed, and then one of his buddies turned to my questioner and laughed "he's right, you do". Mercifully, the four of us fell into joking and teasing as I repacked my bag – their 'airport humour' was great, but I've never been so relieved to get on a plane.

by Jody

When I was a teenager I regularly attended church at the Salvation Army hall in Whangarei. Often there were times, towards the end of Sunday services, where members of the congregation would be encouraged to come forward to an area below the stage and the pulpit but in front of the pews, to kneel and pray, should they feel so inclined.

Now one weekend, the youth group from the Hamilton Salvation Army Corps had travelled to Whangarei. Amongst them was a pretty red headed girl called Nerollee, upon whom I had formed a crush. I wrote her a poem, and one line of the poem referred to her teeth sparkling like silver, in reference to the magnificent set of braces she sported. It was meant to be in jest but she took it seriously. If that wasn't bad enough, after a particularly passionate sermon, I felt moved to leave my seat at the back of the hall next to the lovely Nerollee and go forward to the aforementioned area to kneel and pray, and beg forgiveness for my numerous sins.

What I had failed to realise, was that I had gotten hot during the service and had removed my jacket.
On that particular morning I had decided to wear under my jacket, a recently acquired long sleeved T-shirt that I insisted that my mother purchase me for my birthday. It was a Bad Boy brand T-shirt and on the back of it was a cartoon picture of a scowling young man raising a fist accessorised with a studded bracelet. But the best bit about the T-shirt was that underneath this image the words "SHIT HAPPENS" were written. (You can imagine my mother's joy when I took her to the surf shop in Whangarei and told her that this was what I wanted for my birthday, more than anything in the world.)

So there I was, asking the Lord above to save my wretched soul, whilst displaying to all and sundry my 'SHIT HAPPENS' shirt, and completely oblivious to this fact. When they had realised what had happened, one of the uniformed members of the church quickly knelt beside me to join me in prayer and placed their arm around me, thereby conveniently covering the offending literature.

After the meeting had finished I retrieved my jacket, said my goodbyes and went home. No one mentioned anything to me about what had happened. It wasn't until a couple of weeks later that my father, (who hadn't attended the service in question) bailed me up at the dinner table about it, and accused me of attempting to bring the good name of our family into disrepute. Apparently he had received a phone call about the incident from an irate member of the congregation, who had totally failed to see the irony of it all.

And I never saw Nerollee again.

by Greg

One night back in 1996, my good friend and flatmate John and I were having a few beers, and both trying to write short stories for the writing competition in Critic, the Otago Uni student newspaper. Periodically as we got a little more under the influence of the beers and a little more impeded by writer's block, we would hurl insults across the hallway at each other, proclaiming our prowess at both writing and beer drinking, a la Charles Bukowski, who we both admired a lot. Finally this culminated in a challenge to a game of Scrabble to the death to prove once and for all who was the superior wordsmith. A little way into the game I began to realise that Speights was not increasing my word power, in fact I seemed to be reduced to scrambling for words like 'cat' and 'and', while John was gleefully laying out stuff like 'irony' and 'paroxysm', as his score raced into triple figures akin to an Australian one-day cricket score against Jamaica.

Realising that I was in for a serious pasting, but never wishing to admit defeat to my old friend and foe, I put on a brave and proud face and declared emphatically that he would never beat me, and if he could, I would happily run down the length of George Street naked.

To cut a long-winded tale slightly shorter [but not much - Ed], of course he caned me, as I continued to drink beer and my score shrivelled. John nobly offered to allow me to forgo my forfeit, as it was about 11pm at night, and surely quite chilly on the Dunedin streets. But I was insulted by this and refused.

So before long I was standing on a corner of Moray Place, handing my clothes including shoes and socks to John, to be placed in his backpack, along with a camera. So with John on his skateboard following behind, I immediately set off at a cracking pace on the left hand foot path of George Street.

Now being a Tuesday night in sleepy little Dunedin, there was not a lot of traffic to contend with but I did get the occasional whoop from a passing car, and because I had chosen the main shopping street, the sidewalk was well lit as I sprinted past Arthur Barnett's, and the Robbie Burns pub, giving any passers by a full view of my state of mind.

I kept going at full tilt until I cleared the main shopping area and was past Governor's coffee shop, where I slowed down and John caught up with me.

We started to discuss whether I needed to go all the way to the far end of George Street, when we suddenly noticed a police car slowly easing up beside us. It was time to cut my losses and run, and I told John to pretend he didn't know me as I shot up around the corner and into a block of flats behind the 24 hour dairy.

The police car followed up but no-one got out at that stage. I disappeared into the concrete block jungle which by coincidence was the flat complex I had been living in for the last two years. After a few panicky circuits with my heart beating fit to rupture I realised the police had done a circuit, but didn't seem to be around.

So I went back down to the corner by the 24 hour dairy, looking for John, and to this day I don't know if it was because I was drunker than I thought, or because I have some sort of mental issues around exhibiting my chicken legs and bony ass, but I seemed to be on that corner for much longer than was reasonable, at some points in the full glare of the neon lights.

I still don't know exactly what happened to John, he got freaked out, naturally, but before I had time to think more a police car again hit the scene, and this time I sprinted up the pathway with some real live officers after me. It's an odd sensation that you have when being chased by the police, it is kind of exhilarating but at the same time there is an edge of the unknown, a kind of giddy terror.

This block of flats has some built on funny angles into the side of the hill, with deep banks by the bottom floor, and as I ran like a hopped up rodeo clown up a narrow pathway, terrifying a poor international student returning from the library, I ran out of driveway and plunged headlong down one of the banks. The resulting cut on my knee didn't faze me at all as I was so pumped up on adrenalin. I rounded a corner and headed straight for a large tree, and threw myself under, trying to bury myself under the leaves and rubbish gathered around the low lying branches at the base of the trunk.

The human heart is really quite like the drums I like to play, and at that moment there was an enormous bass drum right pounding in my ear, right in the middle of the still of the night. I had time to pause for thought, and apart from the unprintable words going through my head, there was time to reflect on the error of my ways, and almost chuckle at how I had come to find myself lying there in the dark, a few metres beneath the window of my old flat, clothed in nothing but leaves and old Twisties packets.

The silence was disturbed by the voice of a police officer nearby, stating words to the effect of he knew that I was in the vicinity, and that he had someone with him, namely a canine companion, and unless I wanted his friend to start looking for me personally, I should do the right thing and reveal myself.

Faced with prospects which would bring a wince to the face of any naked and vulnerable man, my better judgement returned for the first time that evening and I surrendered myself to the nearest available blanket of the law.

From there, it was a long short trip to the police station, being admonished by two police officers for scaring the crap out of the students by tearing around like some flashing pervert, which on reflection was fair comment. The police gave me a stern dressing down back at the station. John arrived with my clothes, and I was allowed to dress, minus my shoelaces and the drawstring from my trackpants.

After some more lectures from the staff sergeant, and the threat of a disorderly behaviour charge looming, I was released with a warning. And so John and I headed over to A & E to get a couple of stitches in my knee.