Thursday, April 21, 2005

Apathy Jack writes:

In the name of not whining so much, I’m going to write something positive. If you only come here to laugh at my pain, you may as well have the next five minutes off...

I’m going to write about why I like my friend Wonko.

Of course there’s the stuff about him being a good bloke and pleasant company and all, but here is something to illustrate what a decent chap he is...

First off all, we have to flash back to my university days, before I even met him.

When I was nineteen, I was like a lot of second year Uni students – a dick.

I had fallen into the activism scene, and had adopted the commensurate class-hypersensitivity and hatred of the bourgeois that comes with Second-Year-Socialist Syndrome. Fortunately, living in the Whitest Suburb In New Zealand™, I had more than enough targets for my newfound vitriol.

One of the biggest targets of my ire was a chap from the church I belonged to at the time. Rupert, we’ll call him.

Now, lets be clear – I was a dick who took every opportunity to rail against my own social class, and really was quite humourless with it. However, a young radical couldn’t ask for much better a target than Rupert.

Rupert’s parents were, if not obscenely wealthy, then at least in the higher order of very well off. Rupert lived in a nice house and drove a good car, both of which had been paid for by his parents. He worked a few days a week at a factory they owned, getting paid more than most of the full-time employees, and still received the odd stipend when the need arose.

Of course, being of upper-middle class stock myself, this by itself did not damn him. What made him so reprehensible in my eyes (and remember – I was bringing to bear the sort of passion you can only arouse when you are a nineteen year old self-loathing whitey who has just discovered the cliff notes on Marxism) was that he didn’t have any concept of money as something that some people didn’t have.

Case in point: Another student in the congregation was complaining that her rattletrap car was breaking down, but most of this month’s allotted loan money had already gone on necessities, so she wasn’t sure what she was going to do.

Rupert mused on her situation, saying that he didn’t get why she just didn’t buy a new car. And that’s the thing, he was telling the truth: He genuinely didn’t get why that wasn’t a viable option.

Hell, to this day I maintain that Rupert was worthy of some level of scorn. Perhaps not as much as I began to openly pour on him, but you know...

I guess that after a while all of my various taunts, rants and general antipathy must have started getting to Rupert, because one night he tried to buy me off.

Sounds far more dramatic that it really was, so let me explain: An outing for the younger types of the congregation, and we stopped off for dinner at McDonalds. (How’s that for being a paragon of socialist revolution: A church trip to McDonalds. I’m Che Guevara, me.) Digging deep into my ragged pockets for the evening’s fiver, I dropped it on the floor, probably spilling sundry protest leaflets and copies of The Communist Manifesto at the same time...

As I bent down to pick it up, Rupert performed some manner of remarkably unballetic move in attempting to substitute my five dollar note for a twenty that he produced from seemingly nowhere.

When I asked him exactly what he was doing, he made the sort of face my grandmother used to make when she’d sneak me lollies before dinner, and said something about me just keeping the twenty. I don’t exactly remember his exact words, but to this day I remember his “wink wink don’t tell Mum” tone.

Well, young Castro that I was, this enraged me. He was trying to salve his conscience by giving me money. As if throwing cash at me would mean that there weren’t poor people anymore. If I would shut up about the fact that not everyone was born with a silver spoon, then he wouldn’t have to have his face rubbed in it anymore. This is what his sort always did – ignored the problem. They didn’t want to face the unpleasant underside of the capitalist dream that paid for the Chardonnay they drank on their yachts.

Hell, even aside from revolutionary ideals, I remember feeling distinctly insulted at the implication that I would accept such a payment.

Even these days that memory makes me realise that Rupert was kind of a dick, even if I was one too.

Flash forward a few years, and I was one of the actual poor: Unemployed, paying $125 in rent every week, but only bludging $124 off Work and Income.

Some friends and I were at Waiwera, queuing to pay the entrance fee. Wonko, who happened to be standing with me as I searched my pockets for loose change, matter-of-factly told me that he was paying for me to get in. When I protested, he said simply “I have a job, and you don’t. I’m paying today.”

As we shuffled toward the hot pools, I found myself for the first time in years flashing back to the McDonald’s episode, and comparing the two.

The essence was not in Wonko’s words, which were far blunter than Rupert’s “just slip it in your pocket before anyone sees and we’ll say no more about it” equivocation, but in his straightforward tone, as if it was a foregone conclusion. This was not someone trying to clumsily bribe me into easing their conscience, it was a tiny little gesture by a friend. It was the easiest thing in the world for him to do, so he did it. Which sounds eminently sensible, but not many people make that leap.

Rupert was trying to get me off his back, maybe to massage his aching upper-class guilt, or just to heal an annoying pain in his ass. He genuinely seemed to think that he was doing the right thing by throwing money at someone who hated him for having too much money.

My mate Wonko was being just that – My mate.

Sitting in the hot pools, I decided that when I got a job and had some money to spare, I owed Wonko a drink.

Of course, there’s a coda to this story:

Years later, in a bar, and I remember my promise to myself vis Wonko’s drink. I remind him of the time at Waiwera, and explain why he’s getting a drink out of me. I pull out my wallet, and ask him what he’d like.

He tells me to put my wallet away, and says that if I want to pay him back for what he did, then the next time I saw someone who could use a hand, I should give it to them.

I mean, come on. How can you not like that guy?

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