Puzo, Mario (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969, ISBN 9780399103421)
Visiting Matt and Darryl meant sneaking through the lair of a cranky, nocturnal gremlin that had lodged itself in their living room. Tread too hard on a loose floorboard and it would jolt awake. In almost one breath it would shout obscenities, accuse you of freaking it out, demand to know your name and ask to borrow twenty dollars until Sunday.
The gremlin had a fringe of long hair around the edges of a bald scalp. In front, a silvered chain linked a piercing through its nose to a piercing in its right ear. Out in public it affected a knobbed staff and a billowing khaki duffle coat. In Darryl’s living room it wore a bathrobe (supplemented on occasion by something it’d “found spare” in Darryl’s clothes hamper).
It had come to nest there by such gradual steps that it took months before either of the housemates realised it aimed to stay.
Years beforehand, as a student in New Zealand, it had discovered that it could claim a student loan and receive the total sum, meant to support it through its whole undergraduate degree, as a single payment.
After spending the money on drugs, it scoured the government grants system for a new source of obligation-free cash.
That year, hoping to induce more citizens to run in the government elections, New Zealand’s electoral commission introduced a scheme to grant independent candidates the money to run their campaigns. But, evincing a rudimentary appreciation of the potential for abuse, they would only fork over the money if a poll they conducted found that at least some certain percentage of the candidate’s electorate said they might vote for him.
Their pollsters executed the poll by reciting the list of candidates to people over the phone in alphabetical order and then asking them which ones they might vote for. The gremlin decided that if it changed its name to something catchy, other stoners might say they might vote for it on the strength of its name alone.
It worked. By changing its name to, ‘Very Impressive’, it garnered enough interest during the poll to meet the minimum percentage.
After spending the money on drugs, Mr. Impressive found himself charged with embezzlement, electoral finance fraud and defrauding the student loans scheme. He fled to Australia.
Very had some slight acquaintance with Darryl from back in Christchurch. When he first materialised at Darryl’s door, he just asked to spend the night on his sofa. At dinner the next day, he explained that, after trying all day, he still hadn’t gotten in touch with the friend whose apartment he’d arranged to mind. Would it put them out too much if he stayed until the end of the weekend?
“No, of course not,” they said.
A few days later he said that he’d organised to move in with his sister instead, but she wouldn’t return from out-of-town until next weekend. Could he linger until then?
“Sure,” they said.
A week later, Impressive again explained how circumstances had conspired to maroon him in their living room for just a little while longer. The week became a fortnight. The fortnight, a month. The month, three months. Then six months. Then a year.
Meanwhile, he devoured every scrap of food in the house. He began selling drugs out of their living room. Paranoid that somebody might swipe his stash, he divided it into dozens of little packages and hid them throughout the house. Matt and Darryl would find them stuffed into Pringles tins in the attic, inside sofa cushions, behind their drainpipes and floorboards or taped behind the toilet cistern like Michael’s gun in The Godfather.
Once, after more than a year, they managed to kick Impressive out, only to have him cajole his way in again. So the second time round, they took the time to do it right. As when fumigating to remove any pest from a house, they knew they would need to vacate the premises themselves for several days.
When Impressive left the house one evening, Matt threw his Grateful Dead albums out into the street and hired an afterhours locksmith to change all the locks. Then they went to stay with friends and relatives until the air cleared.
Reconnaissance missions they mounted in Matt’s car suggest that Impressive loitered around the front of the house for at least a couple of days thereafter. Taking no chances, they waited a full week before they returned.
A documentary film about Very Impressive directed by Luke Goodall premieres next week at the St Kilda Film Festival: