The man who ate Lincoln Rd was at Waitakere Hospital on Wednesday. No one in their right mind goes to hospital for the food, but there I was ordering a really foul cheese and onion toasted sandwich.
Actually it was only half the reason I chose to go there this week. I wanted to be close to death, or at least grief and suffering; and my misery needed that kind of company.
My brother Paul got a hero's farewell at his funeral on Monday. There was standing room only. The day before I went to see him in the coffin - lying room only. There was a certificate on the wall at Legacy Funerals stating that Taina Savage had completed level five in embalming, and I can attest to her sensitive touch. Paul looked good.
He wore his favourite cap and black jersey. He was forever rolling up the sleeves, because he was forever on the move, either from table to table at the RSA, or at work as a housepainter. Many at the packed funeral were there to pay their respects to a master tradesman. They said his brushwork and his feel for colour were second to none.
It was great hearing that and I felt real proud to be his brother but the fact remained he was dead, gone, lying in the coffin that we carried in and then carried out on a cold day in Pyes Pa, Tauranga.
And so to Waitakere Hospital, that monument of sorrow. There was a sign by the front door directed at taxi drivers. IF DELIVERING SPECIMENS OUT OF HOURS, PLEASE PROCEED DOWNSTAIRS. What?
I proceeded inside the main entrance to the café. I ate two very small bites of the really foul cheese and onion toasted sandwich, but the ginger slice was nice. I took my cup of tea over to a table and talked with Ethel Graham, 93, and Fay Strongman, 69.
Ethel was in to remove a fluid that had built up behind her eye. She explained that they gave her drops of anaesthetic, then stuck a needle into her retina. "God almighty," I said. "Oh, it's not too bad," she said.
Fay tucked into a muffin, and Ethel finished off a slice of carrot cake. I tend to think of hospitals as places you go to where you only get worse and die, but Ethel was a reminder that it's where also you go to get better.
She was in hospital last year for six weeks because of her hip, and 15 years ago she had a heart attack. Her mind was in tip-top shape, and her hearing was better than mine. We chatted away happily and there was only one silence, which came after she told me her mother died not long after giving birth to her.
Ninety-three years without a mum...Fay drove Ethel back to her home in Hobsonville, and
I sat down at another table with Bryan Swainson, 70, of Henderson.
He had a big hospital-issue brown paper bag with his name on it: he was off home. "I came in on Monday morning with a virus that triggered my asthma," he said. "Now I'm fixed and ready to fly."
We talked about hospital food, which he refused to criticise because he was grateful to the health system. Then he mentioned in passing that he was a musician, and toured with 1970s pop acts such as Bunny Walters and Craig Scott. I looked him up when I got home and found a fantastic photo of The Bryan Swainson Group, taken in 1970. Bryan was a very handsome Maori rocker who wore a groovy pendant around his neck and had beautiful hair.
"Music was 20 years of my life," he said. "But you can't go on forever unless you're great. But in the industry I'm in now, I'm great. I don't mind saying that."
I said, "What do you do?"
He said, "I'm a housepaint inspector."
I said, "My brother Paul was a housepainter."
He said, "We don't have any tradesmen anymore. They're just not there. The plan to build 420,000 new homes in Auckland? Impossible."
I said, "My brother Paul was one of the last great tradesmen."
He said, "I work for New Zealand's number one painting company. We paint 'em, and I check 'em. Things like the gloss levels, and the prep work, too, otherwise what's the point of putting a shine on it?"
I said, "My brother Paul..."