The sun is high when I lock the door behind me with the old fashioned skeleton key, the house as old as my grandfather, rest his soul. I don my straw fedora and tip the brim against the shadows of the citrus trees clustered next to the steps, down from the veranda. I take my time, examining the grapefruit starting to sprout, and it’ll be bursting when my boy turns five in about a month’s time.
I walk past the garages up the drive and between two houses where there are private access steps to the park beyond. I don’t expect to see anyone and the world meets my expectations without complaint. From the hill atop the park all I can see is the harbour and the grassy volcano to the south, the sun bleaching it from lush winter green to a shade lighter than my fedora. I don’t see hide nor hair of the dog walking group that usually takes up most the domain in the valley. This used to be a lava rock quarry long before anyone I know was young; now it is a flattened cone, the rock cut out and used to edge road sides and curbs all around the city. Surely this is a Tuesday and as I recall Tuesday is dog walking day around here but maybe it’s too hot. Maybe my watch lost time. Maybe it’s not Tuesday after all.
Now, through the valley along the path lined with ancient figs and manuka and out the wrought iron gate the city council threatens to close at dark but never does, up and over a chord of Mount Victoria past the primary school my son will start in 29 days walking a parabolic section of the volcano’s cone, down to the village where old timers and beach goers mind their business the way drunks mind whiskey.
The ferry terminal is all tourists from a cruise ship that docked overnight across the harbour. It occurs to me they’re all half a world from home, and I still haven’t checked that message that rang in somewhere around breakfast, though it seems days ago now, the way I’ve been lost in walking and sunshine and got lost in the sunshine again and figured on checking later, in the shade, on the boat, if I remember.
I’m early for the 11:15 ferry. I always bring a book, so I read a chapter before the boat arrives and continue into another chapter along the way after checking in. I finish the second chapter of the day and replace the bookmark and shut the book as the boat pulls into port. I walk up the ramp to the Auckland terminal and depart through the automatic turnstyle and walk past the first line of shops and cafés and around more tourists inquiring at the inquiry desk about tours and tickets and day trips under budget. They seem so jet lagged I swear I hear them ordering whiskey and pancake lunches, and thirsting for Vermont Maple Syrup nine thousand miles from Vermont’s closest tree to tap.
I wait at the crosswalk with a couple hundred people as patient as school kids at 2:59. I cross Custom Street and pass down the alley between Queen and Fort Streets to my favourite café. I order a cappuccino and a hot dog – the Arizona they call it, kitschy Americana wrapped in bacon and topped with roasted hot peppers. Poor taste guides my choice more than time zones, but then I’ve got nothing to prove and no holiday snaps to share.
I take a table by myself and put my fedora on a chair next to me and set out my book and notebook in front of me and adjust the number thirteen they give me, just so they can see it from the back where the hot dogs come out. I’m hungry.
While I wait, I read a couple more chapters in this hard-boiled detective novel and fantasise about how I’m navigating my own mystery, or my own search as it were – for a job rather than a crossed love. And I consider how a crack in the case last week – finding a job I’d be happy to take and even able to pay my own expenses if I had to – has renewed my confidence. But I’ll never let it show that my confidence was anything but renewed all along.
I finally remember to check that hours-old message and it’s my wife. She couldn’t make it to lunch in the city today, but here I am anyway. Plenty to read still, so I’m not fussed.
I think about all this and write a few comments in my notebook assuming I might learn something from it all later. My coffee arrives and the girl from the till leaves the number thirteen on the table because the hot dog is still on its way she says. Some ten minutes later it arrives, and in the meantime I knock out another chapter. Philip Marlowe is up to his eyeballs in confusion by now, and Chandler’s style sure did change in three years since his first stab at a novel and a damned fine stab at that, and I note this as well and as I wait patiently I map myself on his history, voyeur or stalker I’m not sure, and I imagine Marlowe would have ordered whiskey and pancakes without regret, without reason other than pure possibility. I might have to make it tomorrow’s first meal.
What I’m telling you is that I move from one location – my home – to another – this café – with neither confusion nor stress driving me any faster than the pace of fate.
I’m telling you what’s on my daily plate and it’s a hot dog. But before you go thinking this makes me nothing more than a man of leisure, know this: I’m a man defining himself and that definition doesn’t include a mobile digital device stitched inside my eyelids, scarred to my consciousness. And I don’t reckon you’ll feel this way yourself if you try to emulate my day by doing nothing more than shutting off your own device. It ain’t access makes the difference. It’s my head, slowing down, taking time, poking around until the case cracks itself, talking out the finer points with the key players, casually, in the real world and never at risk of running low on battery.
© Brian Sorrell
Brian Sorrell has worked as a cook, typist, computer programmer, woodworker, bicycle repairman, and university lecturer. In February 2012, he and his family packed up their house in California and relocated to Auckland, New Zealand, where Brian writes about life as a stay-at-home-dad at “Dadding Full Time” and life as an expat at “Root Beer in New Zealand“. Visit Brian at Dadding Full Time on Facebook, Root Beer in New Zealand on Facebook, @DaddingFullTime on Twitter, or connect with him on LinkedIn.
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