Friday, July 21, 2006

Stress-testing a new voice

Shut up and listen, an old man is talking
By Matt Nippert
(Published in Salient, July 10, 2006.)

Twelve dollars a jug. Normally I have a rule against using the vulgar exclamation point, but twelve dollars a jug!?! A weary traveler, a weathered battler, I returned to my alma mater and the institution formerly known as Eastside to discover campus-wide inflation has been running at Zimbabwean levels. Twelve dollars a jug? This will not stand!

Fellow students, although I am now old and clean-shaven and get up before noon, I know the path to a better future and a cheaper beverage. Follow me as I take Victoria back to when the grass was greener, the colours more vibrant (although not wide-screened), and beer was only four dollars a jug. Four dollars a jug! That time was my first year, the glorious 1998.

So who's with me? I'll take your apathetic stares and slovenly inaction as agreement. Quit with the texting, unplug those iPods and shut up and listen: Because an old man is talking.

This was a simpler time. Women wore frilly petticoats atop wide-leg jeans, while men wore a random assortment of op-shop rags and called it “grunge”. We strung onions on our belts, as was the style at the time.

France was storming through the Soccer World Cup, and the All Blacks lost five in a row. New Zealand had a National government. Remember those? Protests over education funding cuts were practically street battles. Honest, grunge-and-petticoat-wearing students, marched by the thousand, matched against policemen unencumbered by political correctness who wore riot gear and made arrests by the dozen.

This was good, honest war between the academy and the government – nothing like the current political insurgency where both friend and enemy wear Labour red. (Just to be sure, I say we shoot 'em all.)

Effigies of Education Minister Wyatt Creech burned brightly up and down the country. A notorious Craccum cover had Creech's face in a sniper's crosshairs with the coverline “This asshole needs to be wiped.” Today? Steve Maharey, and the more recent Minister Michael Cullen, have flame-retarded their Teflon coats would undoubtedly press sedition charges over something similar. Killjoys.

I recall movie theaters offering a great two-for-one date combo to see Saving Private Ryan and Shakespeare in Love. Tickets costs less than ten dollars.

International politics was then interesting without being frightening. The American President was an object of ridicule, but only for rabidly pursuing women, not hydrocarbons. (Bill Clinton also bombed Iraq, but only a little bit.) The cities most likely to face nuclear annihilation were Delhi and Islamabad.

Where you were when Geri Halliwell broke up the Spice Girls?

Hear this hacking cough? That's the sound of freedom. The freedom to smoke in all places and at all times. In 1998, only California had moved to ban this pungent habit, and so I smoked like a tyre-yard beside a reform house for young arsonists. Right up until this year's lung hemorrhage. Those were the days.

Do they still smoke pot in the cemetery?

Student fees had just recently cracked four figures. VUWSA was frightfully dreary, and no one voted in elections. The deck of the bar formerly known as Eastside had yet to be built (the coming smoking ban was mooted as a reason to begin construction).

The jugs cost four dollars each - have I mentioned this already? - four-fifty if you wanted Monteiths. I drank like a dehydrated fish, even while writing columns like this. Drank right until my kidneys packed up. Those were the days.

Every year, without fail, Salient was accused of being boring. So I signed up for a year. We compared Helen Clark (unfavourably) to Muldoon before National became fashionable. The ninth floor wrote us a strongly worded letter. We almost won a Qantas Media Award but lost out to a nappy magazine called Little Treasures. We ran an issue with the sole cover feature being a large word in red type: “cunt”.

People said we were "too political" and, therefore, boring.

Oi! You! Don't walk away, I haven't finished! One day you'll be as old as me, 26 and on a sickness benefit, and fall victim to the same nostalgic reminiscing. For these are the golden years, and only senility will dull their lustre. That, and too many four-dollar jugs.

What? They're now twelve dollars!? Pain in my chest! Where's my pills!?! Can't find my damned medication bottles with these new-fangled eyeglasses...

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