Here is what I knew about rugby when I got to Wellington yesterday afternoon: they love it in New Zealand, it’s sort of like football without all the padding or concern for wellbeing, and it’s a very efficient way to lose a few teeth.
Here’s what I now know about rugby after spending the evening in the company of a few thousand hardcore fans: they love it in New Zealand to a degree that’s either admirable or disturbing, it’s sort of like football but far more confusing, and it’s a very efficient excuse for an entire city to party like it’s Mardi Gras, Halloween, and the Super Bowl rolled into one. That last one is because of a rugby competition called Sevens. Which apparently does not mean there are only seven teams competing, but rather that there are seven players on each team instead of nine or 13 or 47 or however many people are normally on a rugby team. Truth be told, I was a little distracted when someone actually tried to explain it to me. That’s because this is what was going on the other side of my pub table.
See, the real details of what is going on with this rugby tournament are all but irrelevant. As you can see, the real purpose of Sevens is for people from all over New Zealand and the world to descend upon Wellington, drink beer, and party into the wee hours of the morning. Also, from my research, tradition dictates that about 49% of the population (both male and female) dress up like Duff Man from the Simpsons, while everyone else transforms into everything from your standard-issue sexy bumble bee/lady bug/Ninja Turtle to home-made pinatas and giant jandals. (“Jandals” is what they call flip-flops here. I know it kinda sounds like some weird celebrity-couple name or something, but I am trying to assimilate, so just go with it).
So, this is what I arrived to yesterday in Wellington. Some new friends and I set out immediately to find costumes and ended up at what I can only describe as a remarkably well stocked dollar store. For three bucks NZ I walked out with a half-open plastic wrapper containing cow ears, a cow-print bow-tie of incomprehensible necessity, and a cow tail I managed to fasten to my dress with a barrette. It was a pretty classy affair.
The cops shut down Courtenay Street, just around the corner from my hostel, to traffic for the night, leading to break-dancing on the asphalt in the rain, hundreds-strong rounds of Soul Train, and an opportunity for me to exercise those bob-and-weave-and-elbow methods of getting through crowds I perfected in NYC.
It was a great night, to be sure, but somehow not complete until just as I was walking home, when I spotted my favorite costume of the night and, maybe, of all time.
Have you ever spun around on your heels in jandals on a wet sidewalk? It’s kind of dangerous. But that’s what I did when I saw this guy, immediately followed by me whisper-yelling at him: “Oh my God! Are you… Raul Duke??”
“See,” the guy called to his girlfriend, “people know who I’m supposed to be.”
“Obviously it’s another American,” she pointed out.
“Hey,” he retorted before pulling me in for a picture, “she could be Canadian!”