In the Neighbourhood of Fame
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Rock musician Jed Jordan’s former fame means the events in his life have become public property. Years after 'Captain of the Rules' made him world famous in New Zealand, Jed is living quietly in an Auckland suburb with his family, growing peppers and recording in his home studio, when some disturbing new attention threatens to tear his world apart.
Also profoundly affected are three women whose lives are closely caught up in Jed’s – his wife; a childhood friend who has returned from Australia for her father’s funeral; and the fifteen-year-old Jed chats to in the local dog park. Vivid and engaging, In the Neighbourhood of Fame shines a light on modern relationship struggles within and between families, and on the unpredictable power of celebrity and social media.
In the Neighbourhood of Fame is Bridget van der Zijpp’s second novel. Her first, Misconduct, was shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Best First Book Prize, South East Asia and the Pacific region, and for the 2009 Montana New Zealand Book Awards Best First Book of Fiction.
‘a writer who knows how to explore familiar territory of sexual and personal angst with humour and astute observation’ —2006 Montana NZ Book Awards Judges’ Report
‘an alert and amused attention to human foible and idiosyncrasy’ —New Zealand Books
From: In the Neighbourhood of Fame, by Bridget van der Zijpp
Chapter One: Evie
He came to see me on the morning of my father’s funeral. It was inevitable that the past would come crowding in, on a day like that, but I wasn’t expecting it to turn up in the form of Jed Jordan striding purposefully up the driveway.
I’d been sitting in a muted daze at the breakfast table, in the home I grew up in, feeling the recentness of my father’s presence. I’d just rinsed the grounds of Dad’s last coffee out of the percolator. The power bill lay unopened on the table. There were gardening shoes casually discarded just outside the ranchslider door. A spade, the handle worn down by my father’s hard-working hands, was propped up against the deck railing. Years ago I used to leap from that railing straight into the above-ground pool, but that old eyesore was long gone, replaced by the more practical veggie garden. And from where I was sitting I noticed that the beans, indifferent to the ceasing of a heart, needed picking.
Dylan drifted into the kitchen and informed me that he’d come to the church part but he didn’t want to have to stand around being polite to people over cups of tea.
‘It’s not about you,’ I said. ‘It’s about respecting your grandfather.’
He’s not really a heartless kid. The remark made its landing. ‘S’pose,’ he shrugged – and just as I was about to try to engage him further we were distracted by the glimpse of Jed Jordan walking up to the front door. ‘There’s that guy,’ Dylan said, and dissolved out of the room.
There was only enough time to go to the sink, splash water on my face and dry it on a faded tea-towel before Jed was knocking.
He greeted me with a word I hadn’t heard in years: ‘Beavie!’ I must have not quite managed the expected smile, because he continued more carefully. ‘Is this a bad time? It probably is, but I just heard about your father and I wanted to come over and say how sorry I was.’
I invited him in for a cup of tea, but high feeling was lumbering around inside my head and I couldn’t decide whether his presence might be too testing for this time.
He hadn’t changed all that much. Had not yet got rid of that unruly hair, and still had those naturally smiling features that enabled him to get away with just about anything. His clothes were so artfully unkempt as to be an announcement that he was above caring what anybody thought of him. And he was so tall – maybe six foot three, six foot four? The kind of tall, anyway, that made my own lack of height especially noticeable.
I motioned for him to take a seat at the table.
He said, ‘It’s good to see you, it’s been a long time. I don’t think I would’ve recognised you in the street, but then again I haven’t seen you since … since … when would it be?’
As I moved around the kitchen, making tea, I felt horribly conscious of my own state – unshowered, dressing-gowned, bed-haired. ‘Probably not since we were about eighteen or nineteen,’ I offered vaguely. Although I knew exactly. My nineteenth birthday. Not long after his first single broke through.
‘Really? As long as that? Gee, crap neighbours then, aren’t we?’
I’d never thought of us as neighbours exactly. Technically, I suppose, it was correct. Part of the edge of his property backed on to ours – but the houses were separated by a big wooden fence, a tall brush hedge and a significant difference in proportion. It wasn’t any cosy side-by-side arrangement. His long tree-lined driveway was at the opposite end of the section, and he’d have to walk around three blocks to get to ours. But still, a lot of people would have preferred to walk thirty blocks in the opposite direction rather than stride right up to the front steps of somebody they’d had little contact with on the morning of a funeral. It was definitely very neighbourly of him to come.
‘Well, I’ve been in Melbourne for most of that time,’ I said.
‘Really? Australia? Actually, I think I did hear that. Married?’
‘Yes. A son.’ I turned my face away from him and busied myself at the sink.
‘Me too. A son, I mean. He’s ten. Going through his mad scientist stage.’
Even though Jed wasn’t exactly featuring anymore, he had a residual fame that meant the larger milestones in his life were somehow public property, so I knew about his ten-year-old. It had also come to me that he’d married a woman called Lauren, who was said to be uncommonly beautiful. They had a big outdoor wedding at their place, and his father paid a team of professional landscapers to work for six months to ensure the garden was worthy. This news had been in a House & Garden magazine that my cousin Roma had sent over. I also knew that Lauren had a prominent career as a theatre manager, and some people considered her to be quite aloof. ‘Stuck up’ was the expression most heard around her name, but there was much local willingness to judge her. People are often inclined not to like those who are too lucky – who married their resident celebrity and happened to live in the type of house that throws their own into inferior relief.
You seldom heard anything disparaging about Jed, even though it was actually his family’s homestead, and his great-grandfather who originally possessed the land that all these seventies houses were built on. The locals had a special sense of ownership about him. There was a collective pride in his achievements, and he was known to conduct himself around here in a fairly humble manner, considering. Around here, his songs were still on high rotate on the local supermarket’s sound system and people liked to claim they knew him well.
With his big, capable, sun-browned hands wrapped around a mug of tea, he said, ‘I know this is a bit weird, coming here today. But you know how sometimes you just have to act on a small inspiration?’
An image flashed through my mind of the teenage him, riding out ahead of us all, a boom-box strapped to the back of his bike and a pair of bull’s horns tied to the front handlebar.
‘When I heard about your dad, I started reeling through my mind all the things I knew about him. Not that much, really, considering I’ve lived so close to him my whole life. But the one thing I remember best is the night he took us all eeling – do you remember it? The more I thought about it, the more I thought I should come over here and just say it was one of my best memories of growing up around here.’
‘Eeling?’ I said, as lightly as I could manage.
‘Don’t you remember? It was that summer when we had a gang going, biking up to the reserve every day, and making forts and having land wars and all that. I distinctly remember you were part of that, weren’t you?’
‘I think so,’ I replied, as if it had barely registered – that summer when I was beside myself with joy to find I was included, against the general norms of popularity, in the local gang of boys – my admittance due mostly to my drawing skills and my ability to muster up quality portraits of skateboards, Dodge Chargers and monster trucks.
‘And on the last night of the holidays your dad hung that big stinking sack from the old foot bridge across the creek. Full of dead possums, remember? ’
‘I remember,’ I admitted. My father had put a lot of investment into making that night a success. It was as if he was acknowledging that I’d somehow achieved infiltration into something special, but only tenuously, and he wanted to aid and abet. First he’d got the Para pool in, then later he’d come up with a surprisingly adventurous idea for the last night of the holidays.
‘I’ll never forget when he pulled up that sack and the whole creek was just writhing with eels,’ Jed said. ‘It was magic! They must have come from miles around. I’ve never seen anything like that ever again. It was a good moment to be a kid!’
He raised his tea to the level of his face and blew on its surface. It was strange and unreal having Jed right there at the kitchen table, as if a common but previously indistinct personal delusion had taken on form and walked into the house. I don’t quite know why I said what I said next, because it wasn’t true. Perhaps in a pathetic way I wanted him to feel some sense of exclusion, in the same way we all felt excluded from his life after he went off to boarding school and made his new friends.
‘We did it again quite a lot over the next few years,’ I told him.
‘Did you?’ he said, good-naturedly. And then, ‘I wonder if there are still eels up there these days.’
Dad’s budgie made an exploratory peep from under the cage cover, as if to ask politely if it was time for everybody to be awake yet. As I went across to lift the sheet off its cage I had the sense that Dylan was loitering nearby, listening in. Jed said, ‘Anyway, I just wanted to say that your dad was really cool that night.’
He stood, preparing to leave already, and I found myself searching his face for some mischievous intent. Did he come here and choose to bring up this one particular night, skimming so close, as a slight tease? Today? Was he that complex?
‘My dad never did a thing like that,’ he said. ‘You were lucky, I reckon.’
‘Yes, well, thanks, I guess.’ Balancing as I was atop a subsidence, all the words coming out of me sounded much less than intended.
‘Sorry. I probably shouldn’t have come. It’s just that, well, I won’t be able to make the funeral or anything but I thought it was maybe a good thing to do, to let it be known I was affected by him in some way. Sorry, is that arrogant? I never know the right thing these days.’
He moved towards the front door. His tea remained on the table, barely sipped.
‘I’m glad you came,’ I said, trying for more warmth.
Jed shifted from foot to foot for a moment, looking as if he was getting ready to talk about something profound, and I felt both scared and unprepared for how much of this kind of thing I was going to have to receive on this day. I didn’t want to go through with the funeral. I didn’t want my father to be dead. And I wasn’t quite armed to have lobs from my past come flying in at me.
‘It’s hard when your parent goes,’ he said. ‘They’re the one person who’s known you from when you were born. They’ve seen you grow up and they know all your little tricks, and they’ve known how to manipulate you for your own good right from when you were little, and then as you grow up they still manipulate you, and they can also be a pain in the arse, but when they go you know that nobody is going to know you that well ever again.’
‘Are you trying to reduce me to tears now?’
‘Jeez, sorry. I’m a doofus. Just ignore me.’
‘But thanks for coming.’ His mother had died when he was only young, I remembered now.
He went down the steps, then turned and said, ‘Hey, can I give you a hug?’
Up close he smelt masculine, but different from the way my father had smelt, and underneath there was a sweet-acrid odour that I guessed had something to do with the peppers I’d heard he was growing. I was close to collapse inside those arms, trying to breathe in some clues, trying to unravel the ingredients of him, and decode both the pleasure and difficulty of his existence.
As I watched him walk away, back down the driveway, I wondered if it was a conscious thing that he’d waited until he was down on the bottom step to ask.
Later, sitting on the back seat of Uncle Simon’s new Holden, on the way to the church, with Aunt Iris humming under her breath in the front, I almost felt as if I was being driven off to stay with them for the holidays at their Taupo caravan site. Except that it wasn’t my sweet-faced cousin Roma sitting beside me in the back, but a wearying seventeen-year-old who was forcing his body so far away from me he was practically sitting on the door’s armrest.
It was as if an ionised force-field existed between us, a sort of magnetic repulsion. I only noticed how powerful it had become when I’d boarded the plane from Melbourne and found that Dylan was seated a few rows back. We’d checked in together, and had been handed our boarding passes at the same time, but while I was in the airport bookshop he must have gone back to the counter and requested a different seat. Ever since, I’d been choosing to interpret it as his mishandled grief, rather than a complete lack of caring. It wasn’t the result, I had to try and convince myself, of hopeless parenting.
It was curious the way he’d said ‘There’s that guy’ when Jed arrived. He was too young to remember him from appearances on TV or from touring. I certainly never talked about Jed, and I didn’t think Dylan would have had a chance to meet him before. It was possible he’d heard stories about him from some friend he’d made on our trips back home. Or maybe Dad, or Aunt Iris, or Roma, or some other of Dad’s visitors had chatted about him some time. I couldn’t remember. That was probably it – people were always talking about Jed around here, and Dylan could have seen him about, or spied on him through the back fence. Or maybe he’d seen his face on a video, possibly some retrospective on one of those music channels he occasionally watched. I wondered if he’d meant ‘There’s that famous guy’, or just ‘There’s that guy from around the neighbourhood’.
And if he did have an attraction to him, was it just the normal charismatic allure that always drew people toward Jed, or was it some other powerfully innate thing?
We passed the street sign that pointed up to the reserve, and I could see that there wasn’t much of it left now that ugly new developments were creeping up the hill. That summer we’d named every part of it. Day after sun-drenched day we’d emerged, zinc-nosed and astride our Raleighs, ready to follow Jed up into the magic realm to play the complex games of his urging like a platoon of willing soldiers. Even back then there was a magnetic, heroic quality. If you looked at our school photos from around that time and had to pick the kid who would be famous one day, you’d find Jed straight away. Your eyes would skim over the faces of all the other kids who were straining to display their character, and you’d find yourself zeroing in on this one who you could see had a special apartness. The faces of all the lesser lights would fade into obscurity once you’d noticed him.
In that dusty, framed photo sitting on the top shelf of Dad’s ugly teak sideboard, my body leans in Jed’s direction. There I am, facing forwards, but it’s as if an invisible string is pulling me towards him. We were all pulled towards him, even as he pulled away from us. Already, he knew the power of aloofness. And he knew the power of singularity.
Afterwards, it was acknowledged that he roused something in all of us during that one last holiday before he went away to school and discovered the guitar and a different calibre of friend. Many things were mastered that summer of my thirteenth year – hut-building, how to perform a 360 on a bicycle, how to wield a stick as if it was a sword, the advantage of a low height in wriggling out of a wrestle-hold, and most especially the usefulness of a sharp remark.
And, on the very last night, there was the eeling – the over-excited kids, the barking grandfather eel, somebody (Vince, was it?) using it to terrorise others, a boy, a sooky boy, running off into the night. Sobs carried on the wind. A rush to pull up the hooks. Dads taking the lanterns and the other kids off to rescue him. Me and Jed left there with our lines tangled. The two of us lagging behind in the shadows. Jed gloomily reciting the list of things he was required to pack for his exit to boarding school the next morning – ‘Eight pairs of white underpants with my initials sewn into them.’ Then, the others moving too far ahead. Just us two, sitting down on a fallen log to wait. Running out of things to talk about. Jed saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you stand up here?’ Not asking why. Climbing up on to the log and turning around to find that, for once, our faces were exactly level. Putting a hand on his shoulder to keep balance, and then him leaning forward. I remember thinking Don’t die in the moment just before our lips touched. And that feeling of achiness that was close to hunger as his experimental tongue found its way into my mouth. Even as it was happening I was thinking that it would always mean a lot more to me than it would to him.
Oh, so long ago, and such an immaterial thing to have on your mind on the way to your father’s funeral.
I’d never had much reason to want to like Jed’s wife, but it was after the funeral that my active dislike came about. It’s not completely logical, I admit. It’s possibly not even fair. But there you are. These things happen.
First, I suppose you could say the formal part of the funeral went as well as any funeral can go. Aunt Iris got up and told some tales about when they were children, allowing herself to come off as a playfully petulant brat saved from folly by the endearingly plodding common sense of her older brother.
Roma took her turn too, standing in front of us all with that lovely soft face and with her pregnancy beginning to show in her very slightly distended belly, and talked about how her fidgety Uncle Gerry always liked to be doing something with his hands. In the last few years, she said, he would often get us to take off our shoes so he could give them a quick polish. It became a running joke in their family, she said, that they’d remind each other to put on their most worn-out shoes before popping down the road to Uncle Gerry’s to be sure to give him some satisfaction.
I laughed along with everybody else, but at the same time I found it excruciatingly sad. If only I’d thought to tell some sort of anecdote about him. But once I was sitting in the church I felt unprepared to do anything but the reading my aunt had suggested, and even then I wasn’t sure I could get through it. Perhaps I could have mentioned the story about the eeling? But it was hard to frame that, as he wasn’t normally given to adventures of that kind. Looking through the family album for a photo for the front cover of his memorial book, I’d been struck by how many were taken on completion of a project. Here he was in his stubbies, shirt off, cracking open the first beer on the newly finished deck. Here he was concreting the driveway. Here he was filling the new Para up with water. Here he was with Uncle Simon, sitting in the just-finished two-car garage, bottles of DB at their feet and the barbecue smoking away in the corner. That was mostly what he did for pleasure – indulging his work ethic.
A woman I’d never met before asked for permission to speak, and gave an earnest speech about how valued my father’s work had been in Home Sweet Home, a charitable trust helping local elderly people manage their lives in their own homes. His skills at doing everything from fixing dripping taps to putting in cat doors would be dearly missed, she said. The woman spoke of him so warmly that I wondered if there might have been something between them. My mother died eleven years ago, so it’s possible he’d had some flirtations, dalliances. There were certainly a lot of other candidates – the pews were packed with dewy-eyed widows.
I’d known many intimate details about my father – had heard him padding down to the toilet three times a night, sat across from him as he dipped his freshly peeled boiled egg into a little pool of salt at breakfast, knew the tunes that he whistled as he weeded his vegetables, and I’d heard the jokes he told when he was a bit pissed at Christmas. But I’d not lived in the same city as him for many years and I didn’t know if he’d lately had love in his life. Sitting in that pew, the largeness of previously unknown layers emerged at what felt like high velocity, in the way an avalanche suddenly exposes a new rock face, but it was far too late for the unsought truth.
At one stage I looked across and saw Dylan blinking hard. At last there was some dissolution in the world of cool he had been wearing around himself like an impenetrable, protecting skin. Perhaps the funeral was broadening for him. Maybe it was forcing him to feel some new respect for his grandfather, some sense of loss at least. I wondered if it was occurring to him that he had nothing much left to hold on to now, in the patriarchal sense.
Afterwards, in the Atrium, I was reaching for an asparagus roll, not sure if I could actually get it down, when my eye caught on a small group of men, clumped together, looking awkward. They were approaching forty now, all those boys from school. They could have been in their prime, but not these ones – the ones who had seldom travelled south of the bridge. I’d seen a few of them before on my trips back home. Jonty who’d taken over his father’s real-estate franchise down the road. And Peter from the chippy, who everyone could see liked his product a bit too much. And Terry who married his girlfriend from high school, and did his plumbing apprenticeship with his father-in-law, and once kindly came around to Dad’s on Boxing Day when the sewerage system gave out and the toilet was backing up to the rim. One of them (Jamie, was it?) had lost a few fingers. It was good of them to come. They were that kind of community-minded men now.
I took a breath and forced myself to go over. They were bent towards each other – Christ, you should’ve seen the arse on it, one of them was telling the others – but they widened their circle to welcome me in. ‘Sorry for your loss,’ they muttered. Things like that. Terry, who had scabby knuckles and whose suit gave off the sweet odour of mould, was blushing at the strain of coming up with the correct social nicety. ‘Haven’t seen you for ages,’ he tried. They, like me, were holding cups of tea but looked as if they were desperate for an open bar. It had been my aunt’s idea to hold the gathering in the church’s new Atrium straight after the funeral. ‘Your dad was a really good bloke,’ one of them said. There was a lull then, an awkwardness, as a suitable topic of conversation was reached for.
Jamie cleared his throat. ‘Keeping the house?’
‘Um. Bit too soon to know,’ I said. ‘Probably not.’
‘So you’ll be going back to … Aussie, is it?’
‘Good time to sell at the moment,’ Jonty offered. ‘Probably won’t take long. But you might be best to rent it out. Hang on to it. You never know when you might want to come back.’ He’d become the sort of man who was used to dispensing advice.
I shrugged. Any thoughts about what needed to be done were instantly exhausting, like standing before a muddy bog you were expected to chug your way through.
Jonty said, ‘Your dad’s house is near Jed’s, isn’t it? Ever see him around?’
‘Yes. He popped in this morning,’ I told them, and they all looked at me with interest and mild surprise. ‘That was the first time I’d seen him for years, though,’ I added. They nodded, and I had the feeling they were almost relieved.
‘Did he talk about his new album?’ Jonty asked.
‘No. Has he got a new one coming out?’
‘Rumour has it.’
‘Concrete rumour? Or speculative, do you think?’
‘Pretty concrete. My sister’s boyfriend reckons he did some horn-playing on it.’
‘And next-door’s son sometimes helps out in the glasshouses and reckons Jed’s got a studio all set up in one of his sheds,’ Terry said.
Ah, I understood now where that sense of relief had come from. This lot had stuck around but hadn’t been able to maintain a personal friendship with Jed, and it was threatening to think somebody from the original gang had somehow managed it from all the way over in Australia. It had always been slightly humiliating that Jed’s celebrity had pushed all of us, his earliest and we’d like to think sincerest of friends, towards a degree of unimportance in his life.
‘Bout time he did something new,’ Terry said.
‘Yeah, it’s been a waste,’ Peter agreed.
I wanted to ask them more about Jed, but I also itched to move away. In the midst of their company it felt like we were collectively nothing more than the sad, bedraggled little crew who had long ago lost their captain and never sailed again. I glanced back around the room, and a woman I didn’t know caught my eye and motioned me into a corner.
‘I was the one who found him, you know,’ she said.
‘Found him?’ I’d noticed this woman in the church earlier, with her triple-looped pearls, sitting with the Home Sweet Home lot. Even now she was wearing the expression of someone who considered herself to be an altruist.
‘On the street. Poor man. Like everyone else, I thought at first he was one of the homeless sleeping it off, but then I recognised those polished boots.’
A vein pulsed on the side of my neck. ‘What do you mean, like everyone else?’
The woman flushed. ‘Well, the others that had passed him that morning. It’s just he’d fallen in the doorway of a pub, and he’d … well, he’d …’ She hesitated, changed tack. ‘We were going to the same meeting. That’s how I knew him, you see, from the Home Sweet Home committee. He was the only man any of us ever knew who polished up his work boots and we—’
‘Wait. He’d what? What had happened? He’d what?’
‘Well, he’d … oh dear, I didn’t mean to say …’
‘But you’ve started now.’
‘Perhaps it’s best if I don’t …’
‘It’s best if you just tell me,’ I insisted, but I was scared now.
‘Well he’d … um … lost control of himself.’ She grimaced, hating now to be the one with this news.
What did she mean? That he’d collapsed in some sort of untidy heap? Or did she mean he’d wet himself? Or worse?
Suddenly it was as though the floor around my feet was moving. I thrust my cup and saucer into the woman’s hands and rushed blindly towards the ladies’ room. Safely inside the cubicle, I sat on the toilet and wondered why I hadn’t thought before to ask what had happened. They’d called me at the restaurant in Melbourne, and by the time I’d arranged a flight and arrived at the hospital, he’d already died. They told me simply that he’d collapsed on his way to a meeting and been collected in an ambulance. Why hadn’t I thought to ask more than that? Now the possibilities were just horrible. Had he lain incontinent and half alive in the street while people looked away, thinking he was just some drunk, nobody they had to care about?
It took me some long minutes to pull myself together. I wanted to stay inside the toilet, with its grim odour of industrial cleaners and plastic perfume, until everybody had gone home, but I felt still a duty to try to endure the remainder of the afternoon. This was not the time to fall to pieces.
The woman was waiting near the toilet door. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said urgently. ‘Perhaps I shouldn’t have said anything. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
‘Did he speak? Did he say anything?’
‘Well, no, he made some noises but … well, not words. It was lucky I came along. I was late for the meeting and I had missed my bus and I nearly didn’t go at all.’
‘What time did you find him?’
‘I suppose it was about 9 a.m.’
‘And what time was the meeting supposed to be?’
My father was seldom late for anything. Had he lain there for half an hour with all those morning commuters passing him by? Maybe stepping over the damp line that ran from his body to the gutter, thinking What a squalid disgrace?
‘And what pub?’
‘The pub where he collapsed in the doorway?’
The woman searched the room for support. ‘I don’t know the name, dear. It’s the one next door to the big BNZ bank.’
‘Right. Thanks then.’
As I walked away, the woman called out, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
What had she expected, I wondered, when she’d urged me over with her wretched little half-smile? She’d used that veil of deep sincerity to deliver something that would haunt me forever. Had some cruel little part of her meant to do it, at the same time she was convincing herself that I would like to share in the profundity of her experience, her terrible presence during my father’s last minutes?
The next morning I got up very early and drove into town. I was sitting in the doorway of The Dark Ale by 8.30 and then spent the next half hour, feeling near insane, staring at the parade of faces, thinking: Was it you? Was it you?
Some people met my gaze, but not many. Mostly they just stared ahead of themselves, at where they were going. They hurried along, their shoes clicking on the footpath, a wave of careless humanity. I began to hate every single passing person.
Amidst it all there was one face I thought I recognised. Lauren, from next door. I couldn’t be sure, though, because I’d only ever seen her in photos, and Lauren – or not Lauren – was one of the ones who never turned her head.