Veterans of War and Elvis
Rotorua is a town invaded by thermal activity. It seems that there are these potential volcanoes still kicking in the Earth's womb, not yet outside into the air...but definitely there and kicking. We stayed the night at this hostel in Rotorua, the smell of sulphur wafting through the air. I remember having my ear nearly talked off by this Australian lady, she was older and had travelled the world; was some sort of anthropologist.
Then night fell. And as Tyler were walking around this sulphur-inundated streets. We heard this loud far off music. Like it was ripping from some distant mountain. Or in between the cracks and crevices of the fetal volcanoes. Our footsteps made their way towards these sounds. And what to our ears we did sense? but Ricky Martin's "Livin La Vita Loco" and we knew that this distant place had to be visited. We followed the sounds for a good ten minutes...somehow never arriving, thinking them to be mystical sounds emitting from the stars of the southern skies. Around a bend, we finally discovered the source of this NZ getdown....it was the circus....a Samoan circus at that! Which meant that large Polynesian warriors in grass skirts with painted faces doing acrobats and juggling canoe paddles...and maybe if lucky riding unicylces.
Of course, my natural reaction was..."Hey, Tyler let's find a way in." Of which Tyler's natural reaction was "I'm not sneaking in there. Those guys are really big. Whose descendants used to be cannibals." (Tyler really didn't say the part about the cannibals; I added it to spice up the dialogue.) So Tyler talked me out of more tomfoolery. And we didn't want to pay to get in...for the show was nearly over and what fun is paying for admittance.
So we skipped on down the street away from the carnival-styled pavilions, away from the booming tents, until we ended up walking towards this building with all these young athletes standing around in jerseys. Maybe it was a rugby team, maybe it was netball, or maybe, it might have been a very rare basketball team that you can still catch sights of in NZ. We passed through this crowd of uniformed juveniles; they all gawking at us, when just on the other side of this building, through the windows thronged multiples of elderly people. There was this type of country twang seeping out of the walls into the streets. And all these older folks swayed in their seats and their tables that were lined with mugs of beer and glasses of wine. A few grandfathers with their age-old lovers dancing to the rhythm, entwined into the moment of youthfulness and joviality in that sweep of music.
Again, my reaction was "We've got to go in." Tyler's reaction was a little hesitant. I darted inside the doors to the bustling crowd. I was curious about this place. Maybe it was the place where all the happy, content old people go to review their life, to recall the most joyful times of their long lives. As though the hours had been collected of all that makes one happy, and it so shined forth into one room and one place and time.
I was in the New Zealand RSA which stands for the Returned Services Association. The same thing as our VFW...and tonight was a hoedown night. The Kiwis with their wives assembled here had served their country afar and could still tell their stories of WWII and there after, and if that was not enough than they could recount their father's stories of WWI. And if you still weren't content then they could retell their grandfather's or great-grandfather's tales of the Boer Wars in South Africa. Contrary to belief...the Kiwis have been active in the Great Wars, and believe it or not have pride enough in this service to commemorate their veterans. Believe me...I just spent ANZAC day in this nation and there is much hype about it.
But what was I to do with these folks? This wasn't the first time mingling with an older crowd. In Arkansas, my friends and I dressed in tuxes and went bounding through the local Lions Den inciting all kinds of madams and old southern gals to try to catch a dance with us youngbloods. (It was after we'd been to a wedding and as most weddings in Searcy, AK goes...no dancing. So we thought we'd find a jiving dancefloor on our own.)
I went around the RSA bar dodging walking sticks and cheerful, inquisitive stares. When sitting back at this table sort of away from all the crowd were two younger people, about my age. A guy and a girl. With them sat this older man who nodded amiably at me when I looked towards them. "They're about as out of place as I am." I thought. Tyler eventually joined me and we were standing there taking in the music and all, getting ready to leave when the older fellow who was off with the young couple off to the side taps me on the back and with a grin asks me if I was German. He was tall, kinda big. He sort of had this forward lunge with his shoulders going that made me think of a boxer. Along with a gold tooth or two and his large, spade like hands.
Now, it would be logical to assume that at most RSAs and VFWs, he was up to causing trouble with this question. Seeing how it is very possible that one of his best friends or his uncle was killed by a German. But no such caution ever occurred to me, and the guy seemed too nice to be provoking a bar brawl especially with all these grandmothers around. I say, "No." He says, "Well, where are you from?"
"From the states."
He then careens around to the young couple back at that table. And says to me, "Now, I was betting them that you were German....like them. But I guess I was wrong, mate. Well, then, my name's Mike. Mike Baker. I'm from around these parts...Rotorua."
He sticks out this large hand we shake as he gives me this military big guy grip.
"Come. the both of you, get you a drink and join us."
So we do so. And these two young people are from Germany. And Mike had met the girl in town. Mike Baker was one of those guys who must show off his hometown so he meets absolute strangers and foreigners and shows them around. And invites them to every single thing that he himself does. They all saw me and my long, blonde hair and thought that possibly I could add to their party a 3rd German. But I disappointed their efforts. I don't know why people hold to these stereotypes. I mean, all the Germans I've ever known have had brown hair and brown eyes.
We talked a great bit. Mike was giving us all a long lecture about the history of New Zealand. Mainly because I asked and I enjoy to hear the stories and the passions of older people. We went on talking about Germany. According to Tyler, the German girl was really locking eyes with me. But I don't know about that. I was having a hard time figuring out if the German couple really was that..a couple. So I asked if they knew each other before they got to New Zealand or met while backpacking around. She didn't really understand my question and before I could rephrase it, Mike Baker, I guess wanted to provoke some drama to the table, perks up and says, "He wants to know if you're single?" And then gives this sinister gold-toothed grin. Somehow I managed to rephrase the question and the awkwardness was lessened.
All of us were deep into conversation, when all of a sudden an Elvis impersonator enters the building all dressed in white and begins to sing. Mike Baker gets really excited and completely stops whatever he was telling us and turns around to view Elvis. "Oh..Elvis is here. Time to go up closer." So he just rushes up with his mug of beer to the edge of the dancefloor to view Elvis. We were left to wonder what all the commotion was about for everything got really quiet in there. Even orders at the bar stopped which was a big deal for New Zealand. All eyes and ears were on this Elvis performer. The women were all starry eyed. He would sing and shake his hips and walk over to the old ladies and fondle them. They would shiver in their seats. Even the old men seemed to shiver with utmost respect for Elvis Presley. It was almost as though it was their national anthem being played and everyone had to show their honor. The rest of us young people followed Mike to the edge of the floor.
I kept asking Mike questions and his attention would only stay with me for a half a second and then go back to Elvis. "How come no one's dancing?"
"Because Elvis is out there." Mike shot back.
The impersonator was pretty awful. His southern accent sounded Australian. And he couldn't sing too well. I could do a better Elvis performance.
Mike gave me his contact information and told me if ever I was in Rotorua again to look him up. There is a good chance of that and I will definitely look him up. We left the building, pretty sure that no one noticed...because Elvis hadn't left it yet.