Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'm a lot like you were

Did you think maybe that just because I'm back in Neuseeland I might stop it with the blogging? No such luck. Auckland is a lot like Berlin, I have found, except that everything is further away and it costs more. The main difference is that when people are rude to me on public transport here I usually know what they're saying, and I have a chance to respond with a witty remark. The situation doesn't arise much, of course, because Auckland doesn't have any public transport to speak of. If it did, though, I would be prepared with some of the pithy comebacks I've been saving up for when I got back to an English-speaking country where they would appreciate my ready wit. This may not sound apropos, but I've been working on my witty comebacks in my head for the past couple of weeks, ever since I got heckled by a toothless busker in Freetown Christiania.

It was just another day at the An Emerald City office - we were rolling through the lawless streets of Copenhagen's autonomous anarchist zone in Jim the Eagle, the German ex-police van with crow-black bulletproof windows. I was perched on the windowsill of the shotgun-side door, ostensibly the better to navigate through the windy hodgepodge of stalls and hawkers with their t-shirts and overpriced cannabis, but actually because I was pretty sure that I looked kind of rad sitting up there all rock'n'roll with my leather jacket and my top button undone. We were in good spirits, heading for a venue called Loppen, where we had been told we could confidently expect to have a very pleasant evening. As we slowed to negotiate a bottleneck, a wizened fellow banging on a five-stringed guitar looked up and called out to me something I didn't quite catch about my hat. Because objectively it's a very good hat, I figured it must have been an unsolicited compliment, so I smiled benignly and gave him a regal wave. I share this story now because I suspect that this was my mistake - behaving like royalty from the comfort of a police-looking Volkswagen may not endear one to the kinds of anarchists who get by playing five sixths of a guitar to broke wasters in open-air drug markets, and if you dear reader are able to profit from this insight one day then more power to you, I say.

Jim the Eagle, roosting outside Loppen.

After we'd found the venue and packed the gear in using their Steampunk Family Robinson freight elevator, we decided to go an have a look around the neighbourhood. Christiania is a good place to play a show, because it has something for every member of the modern psychedelic instrumental rock ensemble. If you're a political theory nerd (and every band has one) it is an interesting case study in spontaneous organisation and the effects of a power vacuum on the marketplace. If you're into weird little houses that look like they were built for hobbits by wizards, it has those in spades. If you need a new hat for the stage, or a cape for everyday wear, the selection is wide and relatively inexpensive. If you like to get into conversations about the relative merits of Moroccan versus Tibetan hashish, you will find plenty of people to talk to about your hobby; there are also swings and slides for the rhythm section to play on.

Anarchist goods elevator. Don't bother looking for the
inspection history or any of that bourgeois nonsense.

To get to all of these diversions, however, it was necessary to pass by the toothless busking man again. We were strolling, you know, six deep, looking kind of like a band with a couple of hours to kill and probably also like we knew it, when the busking dude calls out 'Hey! nice hat man!'

'Thanks dude.'

'Yeah man, nice hat! Shame you're yuppie scum!'

'Beg your pardon?'

'Nice hat! Shame you're yuppie scum!'

'Oh. Yeah. I um, I guess it is.'

This was really confusing. I mean, I'm used to getting yelled at by people, don't get me wrong. Usually though, it's for doing things like Looking Like a Fag in Public, or Not Paying Attention During a Discussion, or Playing a Noisy Solo While The Guy Who Wrote the Song is Singing About His Feelings, all of which I have been guilty of and actually quite enjoy doing. Getting a yell in these situations may not be always welcome, but at least it is not unexpected. Strolling through Hippietown with my musical co-conspirators though, wearing not even a suit, but my busking hat with the lucky crow's feather in, I would have thought I was safe from accusations of yuppiedom. Particularly when these accusations are leveled at me by a busker with few teeth, the kind of guy who usually winds up on my team, these things can smart.

Pretty good hat, for a yuppie. Note that the coffee is a long black,
not like a cappuccino or something that maybe a yuppie would have.

In the absence of a witty comeback from the proud owner of said hat, Dan, bless him, was all for going back and starting something with the guy. He was in the army down in Israel for a while, and sometimes the esprit de corps comes out I guess. Rob, however, was quickly at pains to appraise us of the sociopolitical realities of the situation in which we found ourselves: when you're in an autonomous zone controlled by an anarchist tribe who have thrown out the cops, it's a good idea not to start altercations with people with no teeth. I didn't have much to contribute; I was sulking a little bit, which is what I usually do when people call me a yuppie and I can't think of a funny thing to say back.

I don't know about you, but when people call me things I tend to go through a brief period of introspection to determine whether or not the new label is accurate. I mean, there is every chance that the broken-down minstrel hanging out on the fringes of the cannabis bazaar shouting at strangers has some sort of insight into my life that has hitherto been hidden from me. It would be a shame to forgo this chance for self-improvement just because I find the messenger's behaviour boorish. I also probably needed to walk past the guy again in order to get back to the venue for soundcheck, so I wanted to have a think about how things stood and where our relationship was at so I would know how to interact with him should the opportunity arise a third time.

As the others tried on hats and chatted with the pushers, I considered the situation from a few angles. The first thing I thought was that I hadn't heard anyone say 'yuppie' for quite a long time, really since the nineties if I think about it. Maybe it's common in Denmark, though, and the guy didn't have to be down with the latest slang if he really had a point, so I let that slide. Was I dressed like a yuppie? I didn't even have to check, I had been wearing the same clothes for several days and none of them would have earned me rapid preferment in an office context. So not that then. Could it be my overall appearance apart from my clothes? Yuppies, I'm pretty sure, shave a lot, and generally engage in grooming. Like cats, they wash themselves frequently. They are well turned out, and their nail polish is usually not chipped as far as I am aware. I, on the other hand, had left my razor in a gas station restroom in Calais over a month ago, I was beginning to smell faintly ursine, and I lost points in the nail-grooming category as well. In short, I was well prepared for playing space violin in a psychedelic rock band, but I would not have even made Casual Friday in most downtown workplaces.

Guys, to smell 'ursine' is to be like these chaps. Not whatever you were thinking.

Perhaps it was something more intangible then, like attitude? It's true that I am arrogant and I tend to walk around with a vast sense of entitlement, but I would have though that 'asshole' was a more appropriate label for someone with those traits, and in any case I'm working on it. Perhaps he meant that I have an eye for the main chance, a keen instinct for the vagaries of the market, and a razor-sharp focus on my career? How to tell the poor man, then, that I am used to playing for little or no money beyond costs, and my idea of career development is a day spent listening to every single Led Zeppelin album, back to back and in order? It made no sense. This aggression, I decided, would not stand.

I will not trouble you with the range of options I went through in my head regarding the inevitable future encounter with this heckling busker. The problem I had was that any verbal riposte on my part would inevitably come across as prepared and stilted, since he would know that I had spent the past couple of hours thinking about it. That essentially meant that the better it was, the more it would seem like I'd thought about it, which would mean he'd got to me; whereas if it was lame I would look extra-dumb because after all, I'd had a couple of hours to think about it, hadn't I? Any non-verbal response, though, would be very far out of character for me because of how well brought-up I am,* so I really was in a bit of a bind. I guess I could have mooned the guy, but that seemed, and still seems, tacky. My least bad option, as far as I could see it, was to embrace the yuppie/busker dichotomy and offer the guy twenty Kroners to shut the hell up. As it happened, I was spared the decision by my old allies: social confusion and my congenital inability to recognise humans.

What happened was, the group of us became separated for various reasons and me and Rob were the last to wander back to Loppen together for soundcheck. As we approached the spot where the busker had been, I could hear a cracked voice singing 'Old Man' by Neil Young, and all I could think was you've got to be fucking kidding me. We stopped by the guy playing the guitar and he's all like, do you like the song? And I'm like, yeah, I mean, I like the song I guess but to be honest it isn't his best work and you really need more strings for that shit don't you? Rob kind of gives me a look like don't be a dick, man, and the guy asks what we're up to in Christiania. Rob says we're here to play music and the guy says cool, he plays music too. Rob says uh-huh, cos the guy is holding a guitar and has just been observed to sing.

'Whereabouts you boys playing?' He sounds Canadian. Whereaboots. Come to think of it, he looks kind of like Neil Young, if Neil Young smoked crack.

'Over there. In um, in Loppen?'

'No way. Tonight? With that Canuck band?'

'Yeah, I guess.'

'Wanted to get to that. Couldn't get a ticket.' Yeah, because you spent all your money on crack, Neil, thinks I. But doesn't say it.

'Oh, well we've got some door list I think. Have we still got door list, dude?'

'What? Um I guess so. Maybe we shouldn't -'

'Yeah OK, cool man, we'll get you on the door. What's your name?'

So the guy gave us his name, and I was very confused because that wasn't how I expected it to go at all. At the same time I was quite impressed with Rob because I figured that this had to be the last thing the guy was expecting, and it was a pretty masterful comeback, if that's what it was. We didn't discuss it though, and the two of us walked back to the venue, speaking of more lofty matters. Later on, however, over dinner, Reuben suddenly remembered the guy.

'So did you see Toothless Busking Man again today?'

'Yeah man, saw him again on the way back.'

'Did you give him a karate chop?'

'Um. Yeah nah that didn't seem appropriate really, after Rob had like invited him to the show and whatever.'

'No way! Did what?'

'Wait, what? No I -'

'Yeah he did! Dude, you totally did invite him. Do you have a hole in your brain?'

'Yeah, well, yes. I mean I do, but what? Holy shit, was that the same guy?'

'Yeah, the busker, man! The one who saw through my disguise? That was the guy we were talking to on the way back. Who you said to come to the show. Wasn't it?'

'Really? Are you sure that was the same dude?'

'Fuck I don't know man, people are people, right? These broke-down old junkies all look the same to me with their guitars and their Neil Young and shit. But yeah, I think so.'

'Nah look I'm pretty sure that was a different guy from before. No way was I going to invite that guy. Jesus.'

'For real? You're sure?'

'Yeah, like, ninety per cent?'

'OK, that's pretty high. Far out, this town bugs me out man. I totally thought it was the same guy.'

'Oh man, and you didn't say anything?'

'Yeah well what was I gonna say? You were just about pashing the dude.'

Social confusion, retarded development in the part of my brain that recognises faces, these are powerful forces that conspire to strip meaning from my life. It's possible that the guy came to the gig that night, but to be honest, the Danes really like their Black Mountain so the room was pretty full and I didn't see anyone with that many gaps in their teeth. Basically, this kind of incident is by no means isolated for me and it often takes me about four goes before I recognise people's faces at all. This often has hilarious consequences for everyone except me, which is fine, because it's good to make people laugh, but it can be inconvenient when it comes to things like revenge. Dad reckons that it means I should never try to be a politician, and he's probably got a point. I reckon the main thing it means though is that I need to work on my comebacks, because when you're me and all the faces look the same, you only get one chance with the haters.

*and also a bit of a sissy.


  1. I've been wearing that hat every day for three months, through about 40 shows and a 39 degree heat wave. Trust me, you don't want it back. Let it go, man.

  2. I got called Fanta Pants once in Aotea Square. It was awesome!