The Smog of Judgement

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.

It sounds shallow, but I think most people can be summarily judged and dismissed by their seasonal preference.

Sure, laugh it up. Let it be stated for the record, though, that I’ve heard more than one person’s entire existence summed up by their choice in supporting a particular Super 14 team. Obviously, neither system is a perfect indicator of character, but at least they’re more reliable than New Zealand’s dental clinics. I’ve been told that eating Highlander supporters can cause cavities. So until I get a proper dentist – which seems unlikely – I’m going to stick to stereotyping by season.

Nothing makes the winter fool happier than spending all day reading Sophocles’ plays by the fire while they sip hot coco and wait impatiently to trudge through the morning snow for an hour and cut firewood. Mind you this is all just a conjecture. But those who prefer winter are usually the introverted geniuses. For them, time in peaceful solitude is time blessed and they consider thermal underwear to be the 12th major organ.

Spring people are an odd group. They’re always “looking forward”. It’s the signs of summer that get them excited, as if they were unimaginatively programmed with the seasons, which means they can be as flighty as the wind. Most flimsy “local artists” fit into this category. There’s a lot of heathens in this group who worship the Rites of Spring. Needless-to-say, these folks are a drag when winter comes around.

Those whose faces only really shine in the summer should never be considered for leadership or spiritual positions. They’re the worst. A summer fiend should never be trusted. Ever. Those who “just can’t wait” until summer live in a paradise reality where everything is wonderful and nothing ever dies. They love those mindless, carefree days, which is great if you really need a break and if such a thing actually existed. I’m always suspicious of summer people. I hold them same regard as editors and vegans.

Like all Crusaders supporters who use superficial standards to judge others – that is, like most people – I naturally fall into one of the best categories, I’m a fall person. When summer’s last march crawls slowly through the trees limbs, a tingle goes up my spine. Fall has all the joys of summer stripped of its mindlessness. Like winter, you can actually watch as your existence escapes your mouth and comes hard-up against a colder reality, but without the incumbencies of weighted clothing. In Arkansas, trees put on their best faces in the fall, with a thousand coloured leaves falling through the air like rogue comets.

I know fall has really settled in when the smell of small fires lingers in the crisp morning air. When they’re close enough, I like to watch my breath rush out toward the smoke like school kids running to meet their playground friends. It’s one of the most exciting moments of the year for me and I’ve always been able to remember the season’s first occasion in detail.

Fall people are a reflective bunch. A bit melancholy but generally good-hearted. I remember the first time I stepped out of the Herald office and got all them old feelings again. Being reflective, I now look back to that moment a few weeks ago and think, “Was I that stupid?!?!”

If I could have actually breath that night, the answer to my own question would probably be an unequivocal “yes”. But it’s not my fault, really. I never knew about the Timaru smog.

The first night it happened, I was overjoyed with the familiar smell being so strong as to leave a taste. On the second night, I marveled at the sight of the town’s evanescence behind the haze of a smoke. On the third day, I wondered if someone was clearing land; on the fourth day, I worried it had gotten out of control; and on fifth day, I wished the out-of-control-burn would just engulf me before the headache got any worse.

It wasn’t until the second week that I was educated about Timaru’s serious “smog” problem. Even with that new information, however, I still have trouble incorporating it with my old feelings. When I think of “smog”, I think of pollution and the world’s slow death, painful death thanks to humanity’s insatiable appetite for greed, corruption and every mindless pleasure that can be mined from mother earth. When I think of smog, I always imagine LA.

I see the images of people wearing surgical masks on the street and always wondered how people in LA and Beijing can cope. Now I know it’s simply a matter of time. The smog was so heavy the first few weeks, that I could almost see it in the office. It’s hell on the nerves when you’re in the midst of a workday and you have the sudden fear that the building is on fire. It’s also a terrible feeling when driving down the road. No one wants to have their car burst into flames only five minutes from home.

Now, I can barely even tell the smog is there. And it’s a plus that the nightly cloud helps to cover up the smell of cigarettes on my clothes.

But mother nature always has a way of upping the ante. Last week, I went through the thickest natural fog I’ve ever had experienced of clawing my way through. This was troubling for several reasons. For one, I could only about a couple of metres in front of me and having just gotten a handle on converting my measurements, I felt particularly vulnerable.

Driving through the haze, missing my turn and becoming genuinely disoriented, I was reminded of how the Boy Scouts got their start. An English man, lost in fog, was guided home by a kind, young stranger who declared that it was is duty to help others.

I don’t have any AA road-side service, and as I inched along the road my trepidation only grew as I realised I was stepping into a big cosmic joke: I didn’t know the Kiwi number for “911”. Drifting through an intersection, I wondered if the operator would be able to patch me through to the local Boy Scout troop.

I drifted to the left until I felt the curb and then dialed for help. The operator put me through to an answering machine. In my desperate situation, I left a message.

“Hey! I’m a stranger here in Timaru and I’m lost in the fog. Could you please send a boy scout to guide me, at least First Class. And make sure he’s a Crusaders fan.”

On reflection, I probably would have gotten assistance, had it not been for that last part.

Timaru Herald, May 21, 2008

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