The International Writers Magazine:Somewhere in the Pacific
The Antipodean Dream
John M Edwards
On an Antipodean dream the stars and different and water circles counterclockwise down the drain. . . .
“Excuse me, sir, do you know how to get to Queen Street?” I said sprightly with a light lift in my Rockports.
“Where are you from?” the random stranger turned around and asked with a somewhat challenging-looking smile. “Canada?”
“No, the United States.”
“I don’t like Americans,” he said bluntly and wandered off.
I couldn’t tell if he was just joking or not. I felt like the laughingstock for asking directions in the first place in a city so small I could have teletransported any place I wanted with any serviceable hotel map, or even a Lonely Planet Guide.
I was on a virtual movie set resembling New Yorker Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange or one of those “Escape From. . .” movies with “Snake” (played by Kurt Russell with an eyepatch) and dubbed the rude denizen who so breezily blew me off, refusing to give a pale-faced foreigner such as myself directions, “Dim.”
A couple of fierce-faced South Pacific Islanders (Tongan gang members, not Maoris) with tribal tattoos passed by and amiably said hello, then disappeared into the apocalyptic shadowy wrecked skeleton of a clearly abandoned office building.
I realized this might be the only place on this pleasant islands chain, that only ten or twenty years ago most AmeriCanadians would have had a little trouble locating on a map—when some of us had trouble even locating where the Netherlands was, as I discovered at a party in Westfield, New Jersey, when an airhead blonde said, “I’d like to go to Dutch!”)—er , also that this largest city here might just have a little bit of a crime problem.
Short of that, I really wanted to expatriate myself here, a Southern Hemisphere dreamscape where the stars are different and water circles counterclockwise down the drain. I even had some rellies here, the “Havighursts,” Mayflower cousins of my grandmother Helen Havighurst Edwards, who lived to be exactly 100 years old and died on her own birthday (how’s that for magic?)—and who also doled out sandwiches to tramps and hobos during the Great Depression. Pretty neat, huh?
One thing I like about Commonwealth countries is that it’s very easy to do whatever you want, especially if you hail from an “Anglophone” country like Canada, Australia, Ghana, Fiji, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the former British Guyana and frivolous Hong Kong, or the ex- colonies of present-day USA. Indeed they still say “The sun never sets on the British Empire”—larger even than the Roman one was—all except there really isn’t much of it left, except for maybe The Falklands and Jost Van Dyke.
Also, I was now addicted to lamb and gravy sandwiches and fresh whole milk deliveries coming in bottles with a cholesterol-rich crown of clotted cream on the top. I’m with you: “pavlova” (the signature desert resembling merengue pudding) was invented here, not in Australia. (Though the Aussies are assuredly the only people in the world who dress their hamburgers with fried eggs and sickly sweet slabs of beetroot.)
I stumbled into a very small bar on this dazzling conurbation’s most famous high street (yes: all roads lead to Queen Street), whose interior resembled a comfortable coffin.
I received friendly greetings all around; one or two of the locals even looked a little familiar.
Then stepping out of the shadows came a tall British-seeming gentleman whose face was tomato-red from too much sun: when I looked more carefully at his carefully chiseled facial features I realized that he was in fact a "Subcontinental," an obvious product of the ancient “Aryan” invasion of northern India or Pakistan, even maybe the descendant of a “memsahib”?
I couldn’t help but laugh at how English he seemed.
He drew himself up dramatically with Shakespearean depths and said in the low dulcet tones of a Globe Theatre regular like Richard Burbage, “AMERICA IS GOD’S COUNTRY!”
I was not only impressed with the flattering comment but also felt a glow of comparable national pride.
The other customers however seemed a little offended by the too-tan gentleman, whose breath bubbled and foamed with single-malt Scottish whiskey, cask strength.
Once again, he said, “AMERICA IS GOD’S COUNTRY!”
“Hey thanks, I feel that way myself.”
“Get stuffed,” I heard someone mutter under his breath mixed in with the rugby game blasting on the TV. I don’t really know anything about rugby except this: Dig, a bunch of insane imbeciles locked grappling in a “scrum” all avoid getting hurt by avoiding the ovoid rolling on the ground, until some brave daredevil snatches up the ball, from thence it is tossed back and forth from behind and side to side until someone crosses the finish line. Naturally, the team with the highest score wins. It’s easier to figure out than the test matches of cricket, or even the vagaries of “snooker” (similar to pool). Anyway, it’s fun to watch, with amusing team names like the “All Blacks” (when everyone on this former jigsaw-puzzle piece of the supercontinent Gondwanaland is either white or cocoa complected).
“You, sir, are going to Heaven because . . . AMERICA IS GOD’S COUNTRY!” With that, the Indian Raj guy shook my hand and stumbled out into the street, which if I remember correctly had real cobblestones (a sure sign of a historic district or touristic gentrification).
To avoid getting rolled by a cartoonish thug wearing a striped shirt from some Tintin comic, especially with the dreadful licensing laws closing down the British-or Irish-style dive “public house” at ten o’clock, when most people head to underground clubs and “speakeasies” straight out of Prohibition-era America, complete with light knocks and secret handshakes, I made a break for it. Who knows, maybe one of the “bottle shops” was still open for a fastly purchased case of Steinlager.
All of a sudden I wondered if I was really going to emigrate here when “America was God’s country.” I passed a “traveller” (Antipodean slang for “homeless chap”) begging for some coin. Unlike my grandmother I tended to shy away from charitable “tax-deductible donations,” vastly preferring to talk our way into mutual good health, mirth, and merriment.
“Hey, buddy, keep a stiff upper lip and don’t take any wooden nickels,” I greeted the slightly dazed stumblebum.
He absolutely exploded with laughter.
An unuuusual noise emanated from his depths, like the strange endemic language of alienated birds (wekas, keas, you name it), sounding like emanations of a character from The Shining. “Red Rum, Red Rum!”
I felt kind of sorry for him because he looked like a rosy-cheeked “postmodern”--(Dig: does anybody really know what that descriptive term means?)--version of Anthony Hopkins in "MAGIC!"
And maybe I was in fact the Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist’s dummy.
I SIT ON HIS KNEE
NOW HE IS ME
WE TAKE HER TO BED
But not according to the “Foreign Office.”
© John M. Edwards, November 2011
BIO: John M. Edwards, an award-winning travel writer and Mayflower descendant directly related to William Bradford, is the editor-in-chief of the upcoming annual Rotten Vacations. His work has appeared in CNN Traveller, Missouri Review, Salon.com, and North American Review. He lives in New York City’s “Hell’s Kitchen.”