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March 12, 2018 | by  | in Features Splash |
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Raiders of Lost Property

I was 10 when I fell in love with materialism.

Specifically: a pair of Nikes. Rebel Sport had just set up in New Plymouth and it was, literally, the talk of the town. This was the first sports store that didn’t sell guns and ammunition next to their running shoes. No, Rebel Sport had all sorts of branded paraphernalia that you never knew you needed until you went in. And it was all such sweet forbidden fruit to someone like me, with friends like mine.

Of course – these Nikes would be out of the question. My Mum grew up with eight siblings. So Catholic it was almost laughable. The toilet paper came off the roll so mum put in a ziplock bag. Waste not want not. You see our VHS player in 2009? You see our 1985 Mitsubishi Mirage, four different coloured doors you have to slam shut and when you shut one another jumps open, like some bogan Benny Hill pantomime? Shoes that probably cost as much as a week’s groceries? I think not. But I was blissfully unaware. Making ends meet was a mystical science to a 10 year old, and dreams were especially free. We all would soon learn the true cost of funding our self-esteem through “borrowed” clothes. But it was summer 2006, and material jealousy burned brighter in me than the New Plymouth sun. 90% humidity.

For us, mufti days were a huge affair. You best believe we made sure all our gears were washed and dried by the night before. Nike shox? Check. Nike socks? Check. The only thing unbranded were our undies. We were like modern day dandies, overly concerned with our appearance but not above spitting in public.

Labels were an escape for boys like Wiremu, who wore their brother’s hand me downs, the third  in a family of eight crammed into a state house. In a corner of that house, tucked away from blackened light bulbs and empty fridges, were shoes and clothes, akin to a superhero suit. Wear this and become more than you ever dreamed, even if just for the day. Step through the battered door and across the beaten lawn, taking care not to stand in muddy patches. Reach the road outside to complete your transformation. He had a Denver Nuggets jersey in pale blue and he was the suburban dream, looking like an extra in a Mario video. Only, he was loitering outside a dairy, and the only cameras on him would be security ones.Website-Cover-Photo2

Looking good came before learning. Hemi dropped out of school to work at McDonald’s. $210 a week seemed like a lot to us. Nikes could only do so much to lift the soul, the way it weighs after a night of constant heat, the stench of fried food and gang signs in the drive-thru. Undoubtedly his parents wanted more for him than some new shoes. But youth minimum –  which at the time was $8.20? It was at once an insult and a hand up. A Job 38:11 moment: Here you will come, but no further.

I was too young for a job, but I wasn’t above “borrowing” other people’s gears and grabbing someone’s Adidas from the lost property box. Two sizes too big but for two days I was a superstar in superstars, albeit around my primary school. Crying in the principal’s office, picking up rubbish for two days after the teachers caught me? Worth it. Obviously, they knew the shoes weren’t mine. I think everyone knew, apart from myself. But none of that mattered. We were bogans, living our bogan best lives.

Of course it never lasted. In Taranaki the rain is never far away, and white shoes can only gleam under the sun for so long. They were not cat burglars, they were young kids ripping off tags and stuffing shoes into backpacks. I was too young to accompany them, left behind for better or worse. I escaped the trespasses and police cautions, those frivolous things which made any sort of job after school impossible to obtain.

As humans, we make demons of everything we don’t understand. Whoever dealt with those boys did something like that. $8.20 to fill their hours, if they were lucky enough to be employed. Wanting to look cool doesn’t make you a felon. Those clothes made their thin chests swell with pride, an emotion rarely seen amongst the dumped washing machines and waterlogged mattresses scattered across the street. It made them think that perhaps they could live their lives free from the amber light of the bottle that casts its shadow over their families, free from the crystal in the light bulb that wraps itself around brother sisters cousins. We were all just playing make believe, desperately wanting to live the costumed lives we had created.

God helps those who help themselves. I can’t say I believe in a God anymore but my friends sure didn’t get any help. Benefits, bills, and kids of their own had a separating effect. I lost touch with them, they lost touch with their childhood innocence. Nothing is more tolling on the soul than a life lived perilously close to splitting at the seams.

I still covet clothes. I still worship those same idols. I don’t know if the attraction is the same as it was when I was ten, or whether I now dress to remember. To remember the feeling of invincibility, as if everything was achievable if you were wearing the right gears. To remember my friends who showed me the power of transfiguration, the beauty of make believe. Wear this and reach your next form, something more. Even if just for the day.

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