A Land Really Down Under

The Monkey King Dances is a collection of columns written for two New Zealand newspapers – which don’t archive online – between August 2007 & July 2008. Columns are reprinted as originally published barring any serious grammatical errors. Pictures and links added for fun.

Watching South Africa walk off with the Rugby World Cup and still overwhelmed by the end of the All Blacks’ march to victory, JEFF WINKLER could only muster up the strength to reprint the letter he sent back home to Arkansas. In his occasional series about his New Zealand experience, he laments on the country’s most recent loss.

Pops. In regard to your last letter, I recommend you NOT use the 12-gauge to get rid of the squirrels in the attic. On another note, could you please call up the library and tell them I’ve died? They’ve gotten a collection agency hunting me down like a fugitive, and I’m pretty sure the suspicious character walking past my house last week was one of their agents. Just tell them I was mauled by a kiwi bird.

As for things in Wanganui, the weather is starting to turn for the better. The daily dose of winter’s cold, harsh rain has turned into a daily dose of fresh spring rain. I’ll take whatever I can get here, and it feels good to think about up-coming summer barbecues and long nights on the beach.

But that’s where the good times end. You probably haven’t been keeping up the rugby World Cup.

The closest thin our family’s ever come to an interest in sports is the occasional mule jumping contest. here, rugby is everything.

You remember how much we dreaded those hours before an Arkansas Razorback football game when the tension was so palpable  could cut it with a dull knife? Multiply that by an entire county and a few more years of cult-ish tradition and you’ve got an idea how much the Kiwis love the All Blacks. The captain, Richie McCaw is Jesus, Buddha, Michael Jordan – all the cosmic superheroes – rolled into one invincible man, and the coach is the kind of Freudian father-figure every person secretly wishes they had.

I can’t even remember when the rugby fever began to reach full pitch, but it wasn’t long after I arrived.

The World Cup started in September and everyone was ready for the All Blacks to come back with the Webb Ellis trophy. It was theirs to lose. Not a day went by, before or during the ABs’ trek to France, when there wasn’t an analysis of coach Henry’s sneeze or Dan Carter’s fart in every form of mass communication.

It’s all over now, though. All the hype, all those weeks of teeth-grinding anticipation, came to a dead halt in less than 40 minutes.

Remember when we saw that skydiver land on our property with a monumental thud after his chute failed to open> This country ain’t much better off than that poor guy.

It’s usually pretty quiet here but in the hours after the defeat to France, the town was silent. Even the river seemed to stop and mourn the death of the nation’s only past-time. Across the bridge, far on the hill looking over the town, there was an AB flag flying at half mast. Why its owner didn’t also think to present it upside down, I don’t know. Leaving work that night, I could have sworn I heard someone playing taps in the distance.

The two weeks have gone by since the grand defeat and a filed attempt to return to normalcy. And with every great loss comes the great soul-searching question: Who’s going to be drawn and quartered? At least, that’s what they’re asking in print and on Tv.

The news coverage since the defeat has been but a thin veil of resentment.

The All Blacks were supposed to win and with that victory, every sports writer in France; every company investing millsions; every who-ha with a month off and a few traveller’s cheques was going to ride a wave of victory for years to come. Everyone was going to have their moment in the sun.

The Sports writers and Tv faces were going to be showered with goodie bags of wine and cheese and maybe a Qantas award. Air New Zealand was going to look patriotic after its Iraq fiasco and more than a few Kiwis were going to be able to come back, with T-shirts and pictures gloating “I WUZ THERE”. Now those who were so hungry for success are thirsty for blood.

As for the office-full of paid sports nuts and a town of part-time fanatics, everyone seems reluctant to talk about the issue. Just as we stopped talking to Uncle Bob after what he did to Mom, those around me seem hell-bent on denying the problem or simply ready to move on to more promising endeavours.

Honestly, I can’t blame them for trying to put this whole mess behind them as quietly and painlessly as possible. You told me once denial is an ugly thing. But sometimes it helps.

A few people are still writing letters to the editor and columns about how it’s just a game. It only makes things worse by poking  a stick in the fire.

You get a sense that those who rant about how stupid the game is would have nothing else to talk about if the whole of rugby was suddenly sucked up into New Zealand’s ozone hole.

Yeah, it’s just a game but it’s also a way I was able to bond with strangers for two months. It might sound shallow, but I enjoyed braking the ice with someone by taking the mickey out of England rugby rather staying shy and quiet.

Like the Olympics every four years, the World Cup allows the whole world to put all it’s anger, hope, drive and fear into 80 minutes of overgrown recess. It’s better than another world war and the next showdown is going to be right here. The one bright spot about the end of rugby fever is the anticipation of having the event in New Zealand. Forget Beijing, I’m saving myself for the 2011 RWC.

Well, that’s all the news I’ve got for you. Hope all is going well back in Fayetteville. I think they’re getting ready to have a liquidation sale at the All Blacks store in Auckland, so keep an eye on the mail for packages.

I’ve also got a great idea for Spawn No 2’s birthday present. I heard trademe.co.nz is auctioning off the heads of some All Blacks players.

Let me know whether or not Sissy prefers one with cauliflower ears. No rush, though, at the moment they’re only going for a dollar a-piece.


Spawn No 1.

Wanganui Chronicle, Oct. 2007