Another Day At The Office



It's the night before departing Adelaide, after a few days stopover from Perth to visit my mother. Already the managerial decision making processes are stirring a deep ebb. Should I wear my everybody-else-conservative look or go with my recently renovated King Gee bib 'n brace overalls. Now sporting sleek maroon stripes down the outside leg and the King Gee advertisement on the front covered by artsy fartzy needle work.

I'll be wearing overalls to remind myself that I'm working, and not on some extended overseas jaunt/junket!? The leg inserts have softened that workman-ready-for-roof-renovation look and landed somewhere between hip hop rapper dude and older man wearing funky young peoples clothing.

The use of Spanish language is intended to give a feel of what it's like to be in New Mexico, where road signs, menus, street names and general conversation/greetings etc. all mix English with Spanish.
The customs check in Los Angeles, followed by the dreaded La Paz possibilities, are the forthcoming occasions keeping me awake though. It's the old "I don't want to be mistaken for a drug trafficker, terrorist or contrabandito", dilemma. My trusty nineteen year old backpack has squeezed in half my instrument collection, an assortment of DAT and video tapes, a medical kit and pair of jockettes, and is ready to burst. The packing expertise may never be repeated. Little was I to know, but is would be my day pack hand luggage which would draw the short straw of customs concern. And concern was seemingly still on stage red when two hefty marines sporting AK47 machine guns stood alert at every checkpoint I would go through.

Friends had asked if I was gaining a sense of excitement about the forthcoming travels. No, had been my general response, due to this having been the longest birth of a departure date on record. Back problems and personal life dilemmas had plagued me.

As I lay down that night, I felt my mind drop free-fall into a reverse forward loop. Checking mental lists of "to do's", wondering about my health self experiment, deciding not to get any shots, take no anti-malarial tablets, and whether taking the Indian foot rattles was a little too excessive, especially since they'd made it in at the expense of a pair of socks.

"Focus on anything and it eventually arrives at your door" I mused whilst strolling down the chute to board the first flight leg towards Albuquerque. The belated decision to go to the U.S. and take lessons with someone who I'd only ever email chatted with, left me with moments of questioning. What was Joel Laviolette like? A native American belly dancer who could "toot on tubes"? Would he be earthy or one of those self illuminating Americans that Aussies felt so undone by? America is to Australians, like Australia is to New Zealanders or Tasmanians!

The day had arrived and the feet were moving in the onward mode. Adelaide, Sydney, a fourteen hour hop to Los Angeles, then Dallas, finally Albuquerque.

Twenty six hours later I stood in a fazed stupor, a slow motion bewilderment, staring blankly at the luggage claim roundabout in Albuquerque, in the state of New Mexico. Continually broken sleep, the incessant (but informed) monologues of gay Jim, ex-Sydney Mardi gras, and heading home to Portland, and the arrival of in-flight meals just when sleep seemed an attainable short term goal. These were the ingredients for slowed perception and dishevelment.

"Ticker, ticker, brrrrrrrr, ticker, ticker, brrrrrrr". Round and round. Train tracks passing into rhythmic nonsense. Giving birth to an odd assortment of baggage, and finally delivering "baby blue" backpack to me. My first impression as "blue" slid down the chute and onto the roundabout, signaled that things were not as they were when I had checked in at Los Angeles.

The cover I had sewn, to help conceal my packs, loose security system, was open and torn. The tube containing half of my slide didgeridoo had gone walkabout. Only days later would I discover a slightly crushed nai (Romanian pan pipes) and snapped tube on my malta (plastic version of Bolivian pans), all of which signaled that the pack must have plummeted from an unreasonable height. I continued to look hopefully at the "birthing chute" until the rhythm finally stopped. The rest of the passengers had collected and gone. The last bus had departed.

More ticker sounds now, but this time it's my computor compiled complaint. Baggage pilfering in the U.S.A - born in the U.S.A. Tiredness plus stress equals weird versions of old songs streaming through the brain. Descriptions of baggage, and personal details, given to the bouncy Irene, and sent to LA and Dallas. The tickering terminated temporarily, the word didgeridoo and PVC tube not binding well in the current vernacular.

Joel Laviolette lived and studied the nyanga pan pipes of northern Mozambique in the same area where I am headed. Because of the complex nature of their tradition, the lessons taken with Joel have been an enormous help, and will allow me to concentrate on the accompanying songs and dance steps.
A relatively short taxi ride, and an inordinate sixty Oz dollars, landed me at Joel's house. The taxi driver parted with his American Airlines lost property story, one which had no fairytale ending.

I hoisted my twenty three kilos, plus twelve of hand luggage (video camera, tripod, microphone and DAT recorder) and walked the five meters to the front door, glad that I had been pumping iron back in Australia in readiness for such grueling pack animal impersonations. I knocked once, twice and seven more times. Same treatment for the suspect looking door bell. Nobody answered.

A verandah with a dusty old lounge chair, a beer bottle and an ashtray on it, left little room for error. The last email contact from Joel had given GPS bearings on the location of the ashtray, under which the front door key would be hidden. But, alas, no key! All excited, I looked under the bottle, no key! Dissected the lounge chair. Nada! Letterbox. Side of the verandah. Two hundred leaves on the front lawn. Not a sausage! Ten fifteen, second street, northwest Albuquerque was beyond entry.

I sat a while and rested. Waited. Dusk washing over the stunning Sandia Mountains and the cool air demanding an extra layer of clothing.

Los Alamos is where they make nuclear weapons, the nearby White Sands is where they test them
Next move was to jump the high security fence to the side of the house, and check all windows, in the hope of a security flaw. In retrospect, it was lucky I hadn't gained entry and encountered the alarm system described as loud, loud, loud. Apparently akin to the same alarm used at the nearby, infamous, LosAlamos military site!? Crisp air, freshly garnished with snow-cold molecules was now demanding some head wear and layer numero dos. A friend, Kaye, had knitted my beanie from her own hand spun llama fleece and I felt her warmness of spirit traveling with me, even though it felt a bit weird to take such an item to the land of llama wool beanies.

On the road again, down a dimly lit backstreet of the personaless, light industrial area of this inner city suburb. Walking to keep warm, to find a place to sit, eat, wait. I left a note for Joel, but felt fine about being homeless, with a musty bed and dubious looking blankets inside one of two war-torn Kombi vans in the backyard. I was so tired that this seemed a godsend. Deep inside I was bubbling with the excitement of adventures, both present and destined for.

Burger King, in all its dazzling lack of personality and decent food, appeared as a beacon of hope, a few hundred meters along the main road I now wandered. My packs felt heavy and a niggling badminton war wound was making me compensate my walking style, hence a slight limp.

Standing in front of that neon face, representing everything I disliked about food and culture, I conjured up the idea to look beyond. A barely visable neon sign, some flashing lights, and regular car activity ahead. Hope. Onward. Forward.

As I approached the overlit entrance to the service station come McDonalds, I perceived what seemed (to bleary eyes) to be an immense white light beaming out and over me. Let the real American god take my soul, rest me in true gastronomic peace with the other ninety million souls worldwide.

To the documentary film-maker in me, this was presenting pages of script and images, with every step toward the service counter. As the squeaky southern drawl requested my order, I came within inches of asking for a new digestive tract, with a side order of grease and chemicals. "Hey bro Bourque, check out my colono" I would like to say at the end of my meal.

Self-voyeuring, a loss of McDonalds virginity, a moment of true enlightenment. Abundance. Manifestations of this magnanimous moment, with my backpacks perched on the other two chairs at my table, my inhuman company, and the ragged "street man" and McDonalds staff my attentive onlookers.

Digital camera perched across the table, flip out viewer screen reversed so I could compose the best image, and remote controller at the ready. Next I set up the microphone, which, once assembled, resembled a dead rabbit impaled with a black stick. A wind sock "softie" in tech lingo. For full authenticity I ate the hamburger and fries, and narrated my first day feelings.

During my two hour stint I produced a puppet named McPete, utilizing my "fries" packaging, some hand drawn features, and squeaky voice narrating improvised silliness. I fleetingly caught the street man's eyes. He was right with me, front row, in this instant theatre.

The walk back to Joel's seemed long but easy. I was exhilarated by the plummeting air temperature. An article in the local paper, about the Zimbabwean lady who stood in line for twenty hours to cast her vote in the elections, kept my feet on the ground. I set up a beat-box rhythm in the back of my throat and walked with ease, laughing aloud at the McDonalds travesty. It was perfect, and conjured up a phrase which I would repeat many times in my Albuquerque time. "Only in America", delivered in my best New Mexican twang.

"tres padres, seis niños, cien instrumentos musicales" translates to three single fathers, six children, one hundred musical instruments.
Joel answered the door with a clear smile of goodwill, and welcomed me into the home of "tres padres" (three fathers). Otter, Mark and Joel, three inspired single fathers, with six children and hundreds of musical instruments. I felt quite at home with berimbaus, mbiras and experimental found instruments lining the walls.

Almost before the greetings had finished, "Jay" as he was known to friends, had launched himself head first into a flour sack and began thrusting stories and pan pipes into the air. A nyanga (Mozambiquen style pan pipes) frenzy ensued. Simultaneously I became excited and overwhelmed.

Playing midnight basketball with Joel and his girlfriend Hari, the poster advertising the all female AC-DC tribute band, Hells Belles, meeting a man in the street who had just come back from Bolivia and had heard about the imminent arrival of "some Aussie playing pan pipes and making a documentary" and the all round excesses. These were the momentary pangs of surreal America. Earthy and uplifting America existed right in this loungeroom. Four people, dancing and playing the mesmerizing, interlocking sing-blow patterns of Mozambiquen pan pipes.

A couple of hours later, as I lay down for what I hoped to be the night of the death sleep, I began to wake up. Thirty hours since departing Adelaide and the body clock struck Perth hours.

Only in America.