March 20, 1994


Josh Becker

       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?" I asked.
       "Twenty bucks worth wrapped in tin foil."
       "That sounds good to me."
       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 day.
       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 the world.
       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 now."
       "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," I said.
       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.  How come?"
       "'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," he added.
       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 off, eh?"
       "Well, we're not, are we?"
       "No, it's this guy who's in Auckland right now, his house is just past theirs."
       "And he left these plants for you?"
       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 me.
       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 completelyfoolhardy.  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 God's sake. 
       I flicked my cigarette butt.  "Let's go now."
       Jer grinned.  "Let's do it."
       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 it."
       "Fuck that shit, mate, were here."
       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 forgetfully.
       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 torch."
       "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 after him.
       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 eyes.
       "Jesus Christ!"  I proclaimed.  "You're nuts!  And I'm even crazier following you."
       "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 outta here."
       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.

Josh Becker