So there I was… a young man. It was now the winter of my disco tent or was the winter of my teen years or maybe even the winter of my discount Ent?… I was 17 and certain wrong turns along the road of life had found me living in the hollow of a large tree at the bottom of Albert Park in central Auckland.
I had a small bag containing my worldly possessions, which were two pairs of pants, a woolen jersey a yellow t-shirt, a pencil case and a notebook filled with assorted musings and scribbles.
I wore a long black trench coat and boots. Both would keep me warm as I curled up in the hollow of the tree to sleep the darkened shivering sleep of the homeless.
I lived in that park for nigh on two months, most of the fall of 94. I was one of the lost children of Nirvana. One of the few that the nihilistic grunge tornado had left lying battered and confused in its torn, spiraling wake.
I would wake and peer about for passers by before leaping out into the freezing dawn.
The only people who every visited the hollow were drunk students coming from the nearby university and needing to piss, but I would gibber and yell when I heard some one climbing in, scaring them away.
I would wander around downtown talking to random people about random things, sneak into movies, scrounge smokes off the ground and feed pigeons small rolled up bits of paper.
For food I would wander in to food courts and skarf down the remains of up to 10 meals in an hour (following skinny middle aged woman about is a good source of streetcarbs).
Staggering from the food court, with a bloated belly, all the goodies sloshing about in me from the dregs of 6 Cokes.
Sometimes I would have to lie on the pavement outside for an hour as I was so bursting it was too painful to walk.
For the rare shower (going with the warming and protective layer of filth option 9 days out of 10) I would sneak into the University gym where there was hot water and soap slivers aplenty.
I had started hanging out at the university more and more because of the facilities and game rooms. It did have its own little food court but the leaving of the starving students of New Zealand were slim.
It was on one of these days I saw a group of clean clothed nice smelling dudes playing a card game with an unrivaled intensity.
The card game was Magic The Gathering. Highly fun fantasy card game. Addictive and collectable.
If someone was to tell me then that this game was going to be the genesis of my salvation and the beginning of a whole new life of sitting hunched over low tables, I would have looked at them quizzically…yet it was to be.
I watched for half a day. I learned how to play. I borrowed decks until everyone hated me. I begged cards until I had a 200-card deck of grimy unsleeved dregs. It was my new life; I was there from 8 am till 11 pm at night.
They called me Worzel Gummidge after the Living Scarecrow man from “Worzel Gummidge” the BBC children’s program. Worzel lived in a park and scrounged around in bins
They were mean to me and I yearned to crush them beneath mighty legions and sear them with devastating fiery blasts.
I heard that the greatest set of cards so far was coming out, LEGENDS! Which according to the gossip was going to have new “Gold Cards” In it.
Only a certain amount of these cards were coming into the county as well and you had to put your name down at the store for your allotted 10 packs, once the packs ran out down the list, that was it!
I needed 44 dollars so I could get the ten packs I had signed for, at the shop I was later to be banned from.
I had a brainstorm. I would get a job!
Taking time out of my busy schedule I went to the gym showers. There I scrounged many soap slivers off the floor, which I pressed together into a ball and used this ball to clean my spare shirt, my pants and the scum from my manky greased out skinny body.
I found a discarded razor and used it to skin the 9 weeks of matted fuzz from my face.
Attempting to dry my clothes under the gray autumn sky met with limited success so I put them on damp and headed down the main street of town to get a job. I was sure I was in for a grueling and horrible ordeal where I would be seen for what I was, a Worzel Gummidge, and sent packing… but no!
I came to the door of Wendy’s Hamburgers and the smell of what I would later come to call Wend sucked me to the counter. I said, “ I want a job!”
The Dude said, “ Ill get the manager”
The Manager said, “ Here’s your mop and here’s your uniform”
I was set, I was on the ultra high pay rate of NZ 7.25 an hour with the high NZ tax rate comes to about $5.
I soon got given the job of upstairs dining room table clearer awayer and that meant all the half eaten Wend I could skarf down when no one was watching. As I had nowhere to go and only one goal in mind I worked from 8 am till 10 pm. Retiring to my tree to sleep the sleep of the happy and Wend bloated.
Three days after I started disaster stuck, and I don’t mean the mini disaster of being caught stuffing down half eaten taco salads (a valuable source of cheese) either.
I was emerging from my tree at 7 am to get ready to start and the early morning Wendy’s crew caught me as they missioned through the park on their way to work.
After they questioned me and discovered that I actually was living in the tree and the laughter stopped I begged them to not tell any one at the store. They promised they would not tell.
When I arrived the laughter and mocking Ewok jokes gave away that fact that the Oath taken in the Druid grove had not been kept.
The manager called me in and asked if it was true.
I told him a tale of youth gone astray and how this job was my ticket out of the tree and into somewhere nice, like a dank cellar or maybe even a moldy smelling basement.
When he stopped laughing he told me he would lock me in the store over night and I could sleep in the upstairs dining room until morning. Then I could work until close. When he asked what I had been living on I tried to convince him it was leaves, twigs and grubs and not half eaten burgers and scooped out baked potato rinds foraged from the dumpster out the back.
He lent me 50 dollars from his own pocket. That immediately went on 11 packs of cards.
I worked long hours thinking of very little other than Magic. All lunch and dinner hours were spent furiously playing at the card shop down the street, which I would sprint from and to.
All non-vital functions of my life were halted to feed the need; others would call “Wallet the Opening”.
Payday came and my hard work had seen me receive a whopping check of about 400 dollars for around 90 hours work.
I immediately went and put my money down on the Legends packs.
Then I went shopping for basic things I really needed, like socks and a toothbrush.
Then up to the University, to rain down vengeance with my new huge deck complete with powerful game winning cards.
I was back in the game.
I secured myself a place to live for 40 dollars a week in the laundry of a student flat. I lived between the washer and the drier in a huge mounded nest of clothes I had bought for 2 dollars a garbage bag full. When it was cold I would burrow deep into the nest, and when it got really really cold, I would just put another old man suit on.
Life was good.
It is now 13 years and 3 huge card collections later. I have come a long way from that tree in the park and I will attest that it is Magic and my own powerful drive to kill and win that got me out of that Ewok hole (and into a damp basement laundry).
The most valuable lesson I learned while groveling was that if you can handle the dizzying highs, the shattering lows and the creamy middles of life, you can handle anything.