Sunday, July 14, 2013

THE CRAZY CAT LADY FROM CLOVER PARK

A speech by Matt Nippert for Think of the Pay Cheque event run by Pantograph Punch and held June 13, at Auckland Trades Hall.

The story that inspired this tale ran on page 8.



IT WAS A FRIDAY in October when I found her ramshackle South Auckland home.
A cat colony – I counted at least six moggies in various states of health and pregnancy – were living on the property.
At least three weeks of recycling sat on in an overflowing bin at the top the driveway.
Talking to witnesses I'd determined who I was after.
Reports were conflicting, and gathered from scenes across the city. There was a hunchbacked woman and her male accomplice described – and I quote - “as like a rough looking Santa, without the beard.”
Finding this Clover Park address hadn't been easy.
Using work-sanctioned tricks with Big Data - now deemed illegal - I'd tracked the ownership of the silver van used in their crimes.
The better part of a week had been spent leading up to this climatic moment.
Now to confront the perpetrator, I approached the broken-glassed front door down a long side walkway.
She was there, along with a couple of feral children, and yet more cats, living amidst rubbish and filth.
The hunchback, wearing pyjama pants, aged in her 50s, was mostly incoherent. She initially denied everything. Of course she would.
I badgered her again, demanding to know the truth.
The people deserve to know, I may have said.
She stammered some recollection of part of the crime, but described herself as a victim.
She then said she couldn't talk – one of her many cats was sick.
She slammed the door in my face, but just before she did I was told to Fuck Off.
I walked, forlonly, back up that long driveway, away from the crazy cat lady from Clover Park.
Just another job, apparantly botched, for the glorious Herald on Sunday. 

BUT WHY SHOULD YOU CARE about such a failure? Because this wasn't failure. This was work.
Solid work, honest work – well maybe not entirely honest – but infinitely better than what came before.
For I, too, was once like you. A shambling unemployed hipster, gigging a job here and there.
Scraping together $30 for a dozen Flame Beers and a packet of Port Royal before gatecrashing gallery and festival openings to subsist on canap├ęs.
But, despite my soft hands that have never experienced hard labour, I've scraped my way ahead. And it's scraping, no doubt about it.
It was mid-2009 and unemployment was biting.
Expectations need to be lowered before they're met, and so when the chance to become a tabloid newspaperman came – I took the chance.
Needs must when Shayne Currie offers.
A tabloid is a strange place, and a weekly one especially so. It's an asylum where the full moon comes every Saturday.
The work puts you into contact with drug addicts and fantastists - and that's just the recently departed news editor.
He was marched a month before I arrived after his work car was spotted one too many times outside a P House under police surveillance.
I've chased ambulances, door-knocked Tony Veitch, helped seize booze from school ball after-parties, and been part of a team dialling every Brown in the South Island on a Saturday night desperate to find a relative of a murder victim.
A big part of the job is gathering what was termed in the office as “wangst”.
This is combination of wank and angst, whereby tearful recollections or outrage are harvested from the recently bereaved or victimised.
The competition for wangst was such it wasn't unknown for a reporter to beat the Police and be the one to tell unkowing family members their loved one had died in a car crash.
Currie, the editor, was known to live in hope and dream for a fatal shark attack.
Every summer reporters were required to call every coast guard station around the country, every hour.
Demanding to know if there'd been a sighting.
In a strange twist of fate Currie is now editing the New Zealand Herald. When the country had its first fatal shark attack in 30 years – recently, off Muriwai – Currie missed the show as he was on leave.

GOING BACK TO CLOVER PARK, why was I chasing this crazy cat lady?
As anyone whose read All the Presidents’ Men will know, journalism is all about following the money.
And cat lady was running a financial scam.
But this was no Watergate. It was a farce of an investigation.
The crazy cat lady was said to approach people in supermarket carparks claiming to have run out of petrol.
She’d then pocket the proffered change before immediately trying her sob story out again on a new victim.
I convinced myself this was high stakes.
Literally a handful of people had complained.
Her take – mostly coins – could have been upwards of one hundred dollars.
This was story that could bring down the government.
The people deserved to know.
But, after being told to Fuck Off and walking down that pathway, past the overflowing recycling, I realised I'd failed in my foolish quest to expose the inconsequential.
I’d travelled with a photographer who'd been unable to take pictures of the woman, and we shared commiserations as we returned to the car.
But then she returned.
The crazy cat lady was stomping – well shuffling – down her path, having taken precautions.
She'd donned a hat, and large sunglasses – presumably to shield her identity in pictures.
She was still wearing her pyjamas, but brandished a chunky black high-heeled shoe, a cat and a can of flyspray.
She marched out onto the street – menacing as only a hunchback with an aerosol can can can be.
This woman wasn't large – she came only up to my chest with her hunch - and I didn't know quite what to make of her.
I had my notepad out and stood firm – trying to take down her complaints while my colleague started taking pictures.
My notes here aren't particularly clear – but neither was the crazy cat lady from Clover Park – her barks were mostly obscenities.
“I'll get you charged with assault,” she brayed, hurling the shoe at the photographer.
The shoe missed by some distance.
“I'll sue you,” she screamed, raising the can of flyspray.
“I’ll call the Police,” she said as she lunged, activating the can, trying to spray insect poison into my eyes.
At this point, with my glasses now dusted with Mortein, I decided to stop taking notes and beat a hasty retreat.
But it wasn't over.
The child living with the cat lady joined the fracas on the street, and was arming herself from the recycling bin.
Bottles began flying, with the hunchback egging on her young charge to keep up the fusillade.
We made it to the car – simultaneously bemused and bewildered – and escaped the cul de sac, empty bottles of Spree and Fanta raining off the back window.

THIS WAS NOT THE WORST job in the world.
Well, actually, it might be.
A United States study ranked 200 professions and had my job ranked dead last. 200th. Beneath even lumberjacks and low-ranked members of the military fighting in wars.
Even actors came in at 196th.
Getting killed on the job, or having to kill for one, is apparently better than newspaper reporting.
But you know what's in 201st place? Being unemployed
At least journalists have someone to look down on.
And despite the trevails my time at the Herald on Sunday - lasting only as long as the agreed on 12-month contract – the experience made me who I am today.
It put hairs on my chest.
I now no longer flinch when Wellington property developers and football club owners text with unsolicited inspirational messages like “fuck off you four eyed dick head”.
Or when a unnamed West Auckland politician and Radio Live talkback host hired private detectives to stalk me and my family.
If you would believe it – and you probably shouldn't - when I started that job I sung in a church choir.
Soprano.
Now the only time I go to church is to gate-crash funerals.

No comments: