March 20, 1994
Late yesterday afternoon I
received a call from Jer, which is not his real name. Jer is six-
foot-two, muscular, a bouncer at a bar, and twenty years old.
He worked on the film crew here in New Zealand for a few days back in
December. During a many hour lull in shooting, Jer and I ended
up talking. For a big, young, dopey-looking guy he was rather
charming, with a surprising intuitive wisdom about many things.
One subject led to another until we arrived at marijuana. I told
him that after five weeks in the country I still hadn't scored.
Jer shrugged, rolled his eyes and waved his hand, indicating that scoring
weed was easy.
"How much do you want,
mate? A tinny?"
"What's a tinny?"
"Twenty bucks worth wrapped
in tin foil."
"That sounds good to
I gave him a twenty -- big
deal, it was worth about ten dollars American. Even if he burned
me it wouldn't mean much. Jer said he'd have my tinny the next
However, the next day he informed
me that the tinny hadn't come through, so instead he gave me a joint
of his own stash. The tinny, he said, would be forthcoming in
a day or two.
Two days later Jer was off
the picture and the tinny hadn't happened. Well, fuck it, I thought,
twenty bucks was a bit steep for a joint, but what the hell, it was
all the smoke I'd had in nearly six weeks and it was better than nothing.
I quickly and easily put the whole thing out of my mind.
A few days after that Jer
called at my hotel. He came up to my room holding his motorcycle
helmet and smoked a couple of big fatties with me, then gave me a few
doobs and split. I was buzzed and had a little to spare.
Jer had proven himself to be an honorable man. All was well with
Having completed the first
of the five TV movies being shot in New Zealand, I went back to the
States for a month.
Upon my return to Auckland,
I contacted Jer and he promptly scored some leafy, bright green shit
that had been picked too early, dried too quickly and was mainly leaves.
Nevertheless, I was happy to have it.
Then, last night, Jer called
and asked if I wanted to take a ride in my car -- since he only had
a motorcycle -- up to Keri-Keri to score some killer stuff. Having
just purchased a new $300.00 raincoat, new hiking boots, and a pair
of pants and a shirt, I said, "I'm a little low on money right
"That's O.K.," said
Jer, "you don't need any."
A light bulb should have gone
off in my head at that moment. However, I was naively led to believe
that since I was going to give him a ride, he was just going to lay
some shit on me. Nice and simple. I said, sure, we can take
my (rental) car, and he said he'd be right over.
Once we were in the car and
Jer was driving us out of Auckland, he said, "You know, it's a
four hour drive to Keri-Keri."
I had been to Keri-Keri shooting
and it hadn't seemed that far. "I don't think it's that far,"
Jer shrugged noncommittally.
As it turns out there is Kare
Kare, which is forty-five minutes from Auckland, and Keri-Keri which
is four hours from Auckland. However, when a Kiwi says either
one, they sound exactly alike.
Without turning and looking
at me Jer said, "Now we'll be going off in to the bush, ya know."
"No, I didn't know.
"'Cause we've got to
pick it, mate. It's not just waiting for us."
"And these are your
plants?" I inquired.
Pause. ". . . No,
they're a mate of mine's. He left 'em for me."
This didn't sound completely
convincing to me, and the smile that Jer now displayed made it even
less so. "This is going to be kind of . . . commando mission,"
I was growing more suspicious
by the moment. "And why would that be?"
"We've got to get past
a few houses, one filled with Maoris with dogs. They have plants
in the same area. We don't want them thinking we're ripping them
"Well, we're not, are
"No, it's this guy who's
in Auckland right now, his house is just past theirs."
"And he left these plants
Jer's eyes lit up and he grinned
mischievously. "Not exactly."
I finally got it. "So
we're ripping him off?"
Jer nodded. "But
that's how it's done up here, mate. Everybody steals from everybody
else. That's how I've always done it since I was a kid."
He looked at me expectantly.
I still needed more information.
"And you want me to sit in the car, or go with you?"
"Well, you're the writer,
mate. Thought you might want something to write about. Have
a little adrenaline rush."
Somehow, in Jer's inimitable,
twenty year old fashion, he had cut to the center of my whole existence.
Writing, no matter how well you might do it, is passive; doing something,
no matter how ridiculous or weird, is active. And to do something
that was not only illegal -- which I've always been willing to deal
with in regard to smoking pot -- but against fellow dopers . . . a house
full of pissed-off Maoris with guns and dogs who might just kill us
if they caught us -- well . . . that was doing something, I guess.
"So, mate, you up for
it?" Now Jer was completely serious, and very obviously challenging
We were already several hours
on the road. I could easily stay in the car, but that's not what
Jer had clearly laid out in the open for all to see. As he glanced
over at me, hills covered in thick tropical vegetation winding by outside,
I realized that my manhood was on the line. If I didn't go on
this "commando mission" with him then I was chicken.
And far more than not wanting Jer to think I was a coward, I didn't
want to have to believe it of myself. And I had my doubts.
I've gotten into one fight
in my adult life, which I personally find rather surprising considering
I've always been quite a smartass. I got attacked by a drunk Mexican
man when I was eighteen and after his first unexpected sucker-punch,
I easily kicked the shit out of him.
That was seventeen years ago.
I was in good shape then and I was young. Now it was 100,000 cigarettes
later. And probably twenty almost-fights that never went beyond
words later. That's not very much to work with.
So there I was, three hours
north of Auckland, on my way to rip off some Maori's pot plants.
An enormous wave of How-did-I-get-here? swept over me. Jer was
still glancing over at me expecting an answer.
"So . . . What
the fuck, we're already up here."
Jer grinned. "All
right, mate," and shook my hand.
We stopped and had fish &
chips at a takeaway in Keri-Keri. We ate looking out at the ocean,
but I wasn't seeing it; I was going over the plan to make sure it wasn't
completely foolhardy. Once Jer explained how close we'd
be going to the Maori's house, and that they had both Dobermans and
guns, and that we were going way back into the bush, and it was
raining (and I was wearing my brand new hiking boots), and that we would
then have to carry the entire, eight foot plants back this same route,
that's when I realized that it was in fact a very foolhardy plan.
Over and over my mind raced with, "How did I get here? How
did I get here?"
We stopped to take a leak
and discussed the possibilities of doing the deed then, at 9:30 P.M.,
or waiting until the Maoris were asleep at midnight or one. Jer
and I both lit cigs and weighed the pros and cons. Finally, we
both fell silent. It had stopped raining for the moment, the sky
cleared, and suddenly there were a lot of stars in the sky, more than
I ever see in the city: constellations, galaxies, the vast cosmos within
which we and our entire planet were but a tiny mote of dust, as insignificant
as any grain of sand. And I had somehow found myself in the far
end of nowhere; in northern New Zealand, on a commando mission, for
I flicked my cigarette butt.
"Let's go now."
Jer grinned. "Let's
We drove to the place in silence.
It began to rain again. For a moment, watching the dark, curving,
rain-swept roads roll by, I forgot where we were going. It was
all just movement and sound.
Jer said quietly, "It's
bad karma stealing people's weed. What goes around comes around."
I couldn't believe he was
saying this now and I started to laugh. "Oh, great!
This is a fine time to bring that up."
Jer laughed hollowly.
"It is bad karma, ya know."
"So then let's not do
"Fuck that shit, mate,
He pulled the car over to
the side of the road, cut the engine and the lights. The rain
had stopped again. Clouds drifted in front of the moon and it
was dark. Seriously dark. And shockingly quiet.
Jer shook his head.
"I wish we'd brought a bloody torch."
"You mean a flashlight?"
Jer nodded, then shrugged
We got out of the car, shut
the doors very quietly, and walked up the straight, dark, asphalt road,
our boots clunking and crunching hollowly. We walked quickly,
trying to make as little noise as humanly possible. Jer pointed
to the right at a small white house with lights glowing in the windows,
then put his index finger to his lips. We both made even less
noise with our footsteps, arching our feet in our boots trying to roll
our soles soundlessly.
Beyond the Maori's house was
a line of tall shrubs and trees, then an orchard. We turned right
and walked along the far side of the foliage, the lights in the front
windows of the house appearing and disappearing behind the towering
evergreens. Now we were walking on gravel and had to go even slower.
Several times Jer grabbed my shoulder and tapped his finger against
his lips indicating that I should make less sound. I slightly
resented this since my new boots were far quieter than his clunky old
army boots. Nevertheless, my life was now in Jer's hands.
I had said to Jer in the car
when I had agreed to go, "But you're the Captain and you've got
to lead the way . . . and get your men home safely."
Jer had accepted this responsibility.
Suddenly, the gravel and orchard
ended and we entered the bush. It also began raining again.
It was a short section of bush, but reasonably dense and filled with
a multitude of Gorse bushes: dried yellow plants covered with numerous
long spikes. I was wearing a grey, wool, crew jacket and jeans
and could feel myself getting poked through my pants, and my hands getting
stuck and torn. As soon as we were in the thick bush it was totally
and completely dark. All I had to follow was a white patch on
the back of Jer's sweatshirt, and frequently I'd lose that.
Arriving at a barbed wire
fence, Jer being three inches taller than me nimbly got over it.
I, on the other hand, got a rusty steel barb in the bottom of my scrotum.
As painful as it was I did not make a sound.
The ridiculously thick bush
finally gave way to a many-acre tilled field. We crossed the undulating
soil and found that it too was entirely covered in Gorse pickers.
Every single step our legs got poked. Jer asked for a cigarette
and we both stopped for a smoke at the edge of this huge field.
We were both soaked with sweat. I lit our cigarettes with my Zippo
which I had luckily just filled with fluid.
It was raining steadily now,
however it was such a relief to be out of the bush that it felt wonderful.
I'd actually done something.
Experienced a little pain, sure, but I was alive. I sucked the
smoke deep into my lungs feeling whole.
Jer smiled and nodded his
head toward the surrounding dark bush.
"This next part's gonna
be a bit harder, mate. I sure wish we'd brought along a bloody
"I've got my lighter."
Jer and I both flicked our
butts into the open field. They'd go out in a second in the rain.
Jer turned and headed into the black foreboding bush and I followed
Within seconds the ground
dropped twenty-five feet, thick with Gorse, fallen trees, stumps, areas
so dense that they couldn't be penetrated, low-lying wire fences, a
hidden stream where I plunged in one of my new boots up to mid-calf,
pickers finding every bit of exposed skin, tearing at my face, neck
and hands. Jer was swearing. He borrowed my Zippo and a
two foot area would illuminate for a flickering instant, then the rain
would douse the flame.
Jer had no idea where we were,
or at least where the plants might be. There were supposedly several
in different spots. We could find none of them. This was
going on a for a long time -- an hour -- trying to sight with the lighter,
or to pin down our location in regard to the sound of a rushing stream
that I never saw. We stopped and had another cigarette.
Totally soaked from the rain, sweat dripping with a salty sting in my
I proclaimed. "You're nuts! And I'm even crazier following
"They're right around
here," he assured me, and off we went again.
A faint white square floating
before me in a hostile sea of thick undergrowth and pickers. Frequently
we would have to get down on our knees and crawl due to the incredible
density of the foliage.
At one unspecified point I
tripped over a fallen log, flew head first into a tree, then came down
on my shins on another log. I just lay there, my bruised shins
screaming, my head ringing. Jer did not stop and the idea of being
left alone in this bloody nightmare seemed far worse than my present
predicament. I hoisted myself up and went after him.
"Jer," I said.
"Do you know how to get us out of here?"
"Then do it."
"But they're right around
here. If I'd just brought a bloody cunt of a torch we'd have gotten
them and been out of here now."
"But you didn't.
So let's get the fuck outta here!"
"You really want to give
it up?" he asked.
"Really and truly,"
I assured him.
"All right, mate, we're
It was every bit as ugly going
as coming, but my heart felt infinitely lighter. We hadn't stolen
anything from anybody, I'd had the balls to go in, and we were on our
way out of that insane hell. My karma was still intact.
When we arrived back at the
furrowed field, Jer headed off across it so as not to pass as close
to the Maori's house. I wondered why we hadn't taken this route
to begin with, but said nothing. Gorse pickers stuck us in the
legs with every step. My shins were throbbing and I could feel
a sting on the bottom of my scrotum which made me wonder if the rusty
barb that stuck me was going to give me tetanus and my balls would have
to be amputated. But we were out of the hellish black bush and
on our way out of danger.
We climbed another fence,
then went through a thin patch of trees beside the road with Jer out
ahead. I lost sight of him for a moment in the dark, then I suddenly
plummeted six or seven feet into a drainage ditch. I scrambled
out of it to find Jer standing in the road laughing.
"Why the hell didn't
you tell me about that ditch?" I inquired angrily.
He shook his head, still laughing.
"I was about to."
As we got into the car and
shut the doors, I felt secure for the first time in hours. We
were both completely soaked, covered with wet weeds and brambles.
Our hands were coated with cuts and little red welts from the pickers.
My shins were bleeding and there was a sharp little pain emanating from
between my legs. I couldn't even imagine what anyone would say
when, and if, I ever told them this story.
"Don't tell anyone we
did this," stated Jer.
"Well, I may," I
responded. "But if I do I'll change your name."
Jer nodded. "O.K."
We started the car and began
the four hour drive back to Auckland. Although it would have been
very, very easy to drop off to sleep, I decided to stay awake and make
sure Jer didn't doze off and kill us both in a car wreck. That
would certainly be a very silly way to die having just gone to such
great lengths to prove I was alive.