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September 24, 2018 | by  | in Features | [ssba]


On the wall outside my sister’s room, there’s a painting that looks like a cross between a coffee table and a penis. It’s a flesh coloured shape on a black background, with little veiny oil paint wrinkles. I can remember Bill asking me what I thought the painting was of, though I can’t remember what I told him.
All my memories of him from them are hazy. I don’t think I really saw him as a person yet. He was more of a hero; everything I knew about him was coated in mystery and awe. I knew that he spent most of his days painting. I knew that my parents valued his friendship so much that they’d pay him to garden, just to keep him round the house all weekend. I knew he was my godfather, or whatever the atheist equivalent was. This was all a long time ago, before his girlfriend got jealous of our family dynamic and stole him away to Auckland, leaving the penis painting as one of the many pieces of him for me to put together.
The rest of those pieces were strewn across Wellington. Midnight Espresso, his old hangout. The various tiny apartments that doubled as studios. The American Embassy where he got arrested trying to take some photos for the National Library. Wellington was his city, but he wasn’t here to live in it, and that was all Debbie’s fault. Why else would he have stayed in Auckland if not for her seduction? Auckland was the city of traffic jams and rich people. It was single-handedly responsible for the continued influence of the ACT party.
At the start of 2018 I went with a couple of friends to Auckland to see The National perform. I was also booked to see LCD Soundsystem, and my opinion of Auckland was further cemented when they cancelled due to “conflicts”. As my friends were boring “go up late and leave early” people, and I had an extra day to kill because of the Auckland Aura’s effect on James Murphy, so I sent Bill an email.
I was shocked when I got a reply. My parents had always had an incredibly difficult time contacting him, and most of the times we’d seen him since he’d left had been when he’d pop in at 8am without warning. Supposedly Debbie was so evil that he had to sneak off to visit us without her knowing.
I set a time to meet up at Real Groovy, remembering stories my parents had told me of how he used to spend what little money he had on CDs at the now dead Wellington store, burn them and then return them for half of what he paid.

So, we met up.

And he was everything I had hoped.
I didn’t get an earth-shattering realisation about the nature of humanity. He lived up to every expectation I had, and I didn’t leave feeling that love was a lie or that dreams were fake. All that changed was that I understood why he was still in Auckland. I had spent a couple of hours wandering through Papatoetoe that weekend, and I saw a lot. I saw a missing persons sign. I visited the world’s most depressing New World. I saw a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses preying on people. It took me a while to realise that I’d ended up in the mythical “South Auckland”. I’d been raised my whole life alongside upper-middle class Khandallah kids saying “at least it’s not as a bad as South Auckland” about places like Porirua or the Hutt. While my older, hyper-liberal brain would never admit it, some part of my subconscious was shocked to find that “South Auckland” was a normal place, with normal people.

Bill described Papatoetoe to me as one of Auckland’s “Eight Newtowns”. Bill’s Auckland is one of raw culture and wealth inequality. It’s the second most multicultural city in the world, where one suburb can be almost completely dominated by one race and the neighbouring one filled with another. It’s a city that could’ve just as easily birthed a penis coffee table as Wellington.
We email a lot now, and he talks a lot about Auckland. He described to me the other day how he can see the estuary where “Obama and John Kee-Wee” played golf from his window. I thought about the missing persons poster, and I thought about how Midnight Espresso is kept afloat by upper middle class white Gen Xers buying scones — and I knew that Auckland was more Bill’s city then Wellington would ever be.


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