The Return Of The Army Of Light – Excerpt – Inspired by My Heart Belongs To Daddy (The Trolley Song Reprise)
On a bright and breezy late afternoon of Sunday 29 February 2004, as I stood on my flat’s balcony above the Wellington Working Men’s Club, overlooking Cuba Mall, I saw a naked man running down from upper Cuba Street. Depending on who tells the story he may have stopped in front of the ethnic shop, or the kebab place, I am sure he stopped across from a men’s clothing store. The naked man grabbed a fellow by his arm and kissed him on the lips. Some people were stunned, few cheered, others applauded, somebody handed the naked guy a coat from an Op Shop, although some people claimed that the man he kissed, took off his jacket and put it on the naked man’s shoulders. They held hands and walked north on Cuba Street. People kept going about their day.
People who go to Cuba Mall in Wellington during the weekend know what to expect: buskers, street vendors, tourists, people sipping coffee at sidewalk cafes, having drinks at a bar, shopping in some of its unique stores, or just hanging around the bucket fountain. Two sections of the street were closed to traffic during the late 1960s to make room for a pedestrian mall. However, this Sunday was unique; the annual Cuba St. Carnival was taking place during the weekend. Saturday had been grey and rainy, but Sunday had turned out to be fine and luminous.
On this late summer afternoon, the view from my balcony was spectacular. From the bottom of Cuba St, at Manners Mall all the way to the top, at Webb Street, a wave of thousands of people moved back and forth among the numerous music band stands, browsed through the stalls of international food and art crafts, and patiently queued for their turn at the few carnival rides placed on surrounding streets.
It is safe to say that having a naked man kissing another man in the middle of the street was out of the ordinary but in true New Zealand fashion, it takes more than a naked man on the street to impress Wellingtonians.
It has been years since that happened, and yet every now and then you hear the story, usually from people who were not there, retelling it from someone else who told them. The event has several versions, either man is old, young, fat, short, tall, muscular, bald; drunk, on drugs; a biker, a homeless; he could be Indian, Samoan, American; wheelchair bound, blind, and deaf mute; even some even claim they saw a woman with short hair. Often the story takes place in another part of town: Courtenay Place, Lambton Quay, Parliament, the Botanic Gardens, the railway station or the airport. Sometimes, it happens during Christmas, Easter or Anzac Day.
People kept telling the wrong story, and it bothered me, not only I had witnessed it first hand, but it was not until years after the event of that Sunday I felt compelled to find out what really happened.
While the story of the two men kissing kept changing characters, places and times; something curious began to occur. A common thread began to weave itself among all the different versions of the story.
Love seemed to be the only thing that gave sense to an otherwise singular story, on an ordinary day.
These days whenever you hear about the dealings of that leap day in 2004, the last line, as a moral of sorts, is usually, “You see? Love can happen anywhere, anytime, to anyone.”
Whatever prompted that man to run naked down the street and kiss another man that day had become, in other words, a modern day gay and still tired version of happily-ever-after.
Not everybody believes that the two men found love; some even do not even think it happened at all. Nevertheless, when a story is told repeatedly, giving it a reason to be, or a purpose, it just takes on a life of its own. The story gets to a point where it does not need to be verifiable or even real anymore, as long as it tells what people want to hear and need to believe in, and more importantly if it is a story where they can picture themselves.
Back in 2004, I toyed with the idea of writing about it, not because I was a writer or intended to be one, but at the time I was trying to figure out what to do in this new country, and compiling the events leading to that kiss seemed like a good option. I had a few leads, but I was never able to crack the story open. Perhaps I was not ready then. I had only been in New Zealand for exactly three weeks, I was not even sure what I was doing in this country; all I knew was that I was meant to be here. In a way, it felt as if I had been summoned to this place.
I often revisited the events of that Sunday and wondered what had really happened on that day, and why in such a dramatic way. Although it is clear now, I was not sure why after nearly eight years, in the spring of 2011, I took a sudden and almost obsessive interest in the story again.