Writer and producer Victor Rodger (his plays include My Name is Gary Cooper and Black Faggot) grew up in Christchurch but has often vowed never to live there again. So guess where he’s spending lockdown? No more Gentleman Callers – he’s back at the family home.
At times it feels like being in an episode of Big Brother that none of us actually asked to be in.
Casting-wise we’re a reality show wet dream: Mother Teresa (Mum), Homer Simpson (stepdad) and Tom Sainsbury’s eye rolling Gingerbread cat (moi) – three distinct archetypes stuck under the same roof, custom-made for conflict.
And yet here we are, almost three weeks into lockdown, and my fifty-year-old self has only truly channelled my inner fifteen-year-old once.
The day that Jacinda announced we would be moving into Alert Level Four, the words had barely escaped her mouth before one of Mum’s friends rang: she was just out of hospital after a hernia operation – could Mum please go to the supermarket to get her some gluten-free items?
My reaction was: “hell no!”
My mother simply said: “sure.”
My mother is very Do Unto Others What You Would Have Them Do Unto You whereas I’m more of a No Good Deed Goes Unpunished kinda guy (case in point: My stepfather helped push-start the stalled car of a one-armed driver last year and subsequently ruptured his Achilles tendon).
I was pissed off with Mum’s friend for even asking Mum to enter into what was bound to be a pre-lockdown bunfight at the supermarket but perhaps even more pissed off with Mum herself for agreeing. Sure, Jacinda encouraged us all to be kind but Mum was potentially exposing herself – and by extension my stepfather and I – to Covid-19 by getting her friend some fucking gluten-free shit.
“You’ll kill us all!” I said to her as we entered into the hysteria of the local supermarket in search of gluten-free Up&Go.
That’s not what made actually me take to my bedroom in echoes of my fifteen-year-old self, though.
That happened when Mum went back to the supermarket the day before lockdown to get her friend some more Up and fucking Go.
I’m a Gemini. And people who know their Zodiac signs will know that Geminis are notorious for changing their minds.
Deciding where to spend lockdown wasn’t easy.
Because as lockdown loomed, the question I had to ask myself was: Do I want to spend the next month or more in my parents’ house in Christchurch? Especially since I live by myself and haven’t had to compromise with anyone for quite some time?
The week before lockdown I’d flown down from Auckland to Christchurch to support a friend at the memorial for the mosque massacre. When the memorial was cancelled as the gathering Coronavirus storm clouds grew, I decided to stay on with my parents and spend some time with them. And as some sort of lockdown began to seem inevitable, I flew home that weekend to my apartment in Wellington to grab some work with the intention of flying back to Christchurch.
Back in my writer’s garret overlooking Oriental Parade, I, uh, reconnected with a certain Gentleman Caller whom I hadn’t seen all year. We reconnected all Saturday morning but paused reconnecting long enough to watch Jacinda’s midday announcement where she first outlined the four-level alert system New Zealand would employ against the spread of Covid-19.
It seemed pretty clear that she was priming the country for Level Four – the question was when. But the more immediate and pressing question for me was: is this the last time I’m going to have sex for a while?
So my Gentleman Caller and I resumed reconnecting.
When we were done, I began to pack my suitcase – just in case I did decide to return to Christchurch.
When I finished packing I realised I’d packed as if I was going to be going out every night: all my Lacoste’s and Sup2’s and Calvin Kleins. I even thought about packing the fake fur I’d picked up in the States at the start of the year.
The temptation to stay put in Wellington grew strong over that weekend. But in the end I decided to leave my writer’s garret (and my fake fur) and fly back to Christchurch.
However, when Jacinda announced we would be going to Alert Four later that week, my Gemini reaction was swift: I booked a ticket back to Wellington.
Part of me wanted to be in my own space. (I was an only child until I was sixteen and like most only children I know, I’m very good with my own company). Besides, I would’ve been in a bubble with my next-door neighbour. And I would’ve had a view.
But ultimately I stayed in Christchurch: and I’m glad. I would’ve hated not to be here if anything happened to my mother, especially - even more than I hated her going to the supermarket for her friend to get that gluten-free shit.
We moved to the house on Effingham Street in 1984 when I was midway through high school. My crushes at the time were Tom Selleck, Ian Ferguson and Jimmy Peau.
I left Effingham Street in the spring of 1990 for Paris.
And while the saying goes, You Can Never Go Home Again, that’s never been the case for myself or my siblings. The door has always been open for my siblings and I to return.
The home on Effingham Street is most definitely a home as a opposed to a house: a lived-in home full of memories, a home where people always feel comfortable, where they don’t need to sit up straight or worry about spilling things on a pristine carpet. (I once house-sat a friend’s flash house and invited Mum over, thinking she’d be impressed, but Mum was bemused by it all: “This is a house,“ she said. “Not a home.”).
It’s actually pretty sweet staying here – even though there will be no Gentlemen Callers for the duration of the lockdown.
Mum comes into my bedroom most mornings before we go for our daily walk along Waimairi Beach. She has discovered Leonard Cohen after watching the film The Farewell and one morning insisted I play Come Healing and Waiting for the Miracle on my laptop.
Walking to and from the beach is now a game of pedestrian chicken when walkers appear in the distance. Who’ll veer away first? Supermarket shopping is a real-life video game where the goal is to stay two metres away from your opponents.
The one source of low-key friction has been my desire to Marie Kondo the shit out of this place. But the mere mention of the world’s most famous de-clutterer makes my mother’s lips purse together in disapproval. I suspect that if Marie Kondo ever came to Effingham Street and suggested that Mum thank each piece of clothing that didn’t spark joy in her, that it wouldn’t end well for Marie Kondo.
My parents vacated their bedroom and moved into one of the spare rooms just before the lockdown so that visiting family could sleep there. They’re still ensconced in that spare room, so their bedroom has now become my temporary office.
It’s in that office that I read back through some old emails from Darren Lee Cole, the artistic director of the SoHo Playhouse in New York. I produced my cousin Tusiata Avia’s play Wild Dogs Under My Skirt there in January to critical acclaim and we were meant to fly back during Easter for a six-week return season after winning a prestigious Best in Fringe Award.
ME: As you may have seen the Prime Minister here has advised NZers against non-essential travel; the US itself is obviously under a state of emergency.
DARREN: How long has the PM said to hold travel? Worse case scenario I may want to delay one week.
One afternoon I am sent a clip of a family friend’s funeral: the footage has been filmed off a laptop with a Facebook feed from the crematorium.
The camera at the crematorium moves up from the back of the casket and onto our friend’s face. We can hear her children singing a song from my childhood church days – Bless the Lord/Oh My Soul/And All That is Within Me….
Soon Mum, my stepfather and myself are singing the song in unison with the family.
The song finishes.
“Okay. We closing the casket now,” says the funeral director.
We can hear the children crying, off camera
“Alright, bub-bye, Mum” says the funeral director.
The cyber service is over and the camera filming the Facebook feed pulls back to show the children, stunned and hugging each other.
And in that moment I am so glad that I made the decision to stay home with my parents during lockdown.