Back Page: The Abuse of Cliche

By Mike Ferrentino
Photo by Camilla Stoddart

He rolled up behind the flock and the frenzied barking of the sheepdogs as
they tried to climb out of the truck was loud enough to completely shatter the rural peace. But it wasn't loud enough to cover up the howl of laughter from the car behind him, as the photographer groped for her camera and began shooting.

The flock, ripe with the lanolin-greasy smell of wool and dung, cluttered together in the usual half-stunned confusion, doing nothing to raise the image of the ovine species up from the basement in terms of relative intelligence within the animal kingdom. And as he idled there, rolling slowly into the flock, he knew beyond certainty that this image would be his legacy of the trip.

Nobody would talk about the photos of him shredding berms in Queenstown. There would be no memory of the alien landscapes they'd found and shot near Wanaka. The beech forest session in Nelson wouldn't even merit a first pass at the photo editor's desk. But this, this completely common and normal part
of everyday life in New Zealand farm country, this would make the cut. And then the jokes would start coming.

There'd been a time, a couple years before, when some lantern-jawed asshole—with a magnificent and convenient crop of curly white hair—at the bar of a golf resort overheard him talking about New Zealand and, with the customary bluster that rich drunk people seem so good at summoning, loudly blurted out the old cliché, "New Zealand! Where men are men and sheep are scared! HawHawHawHawwww!"

Deciding to rise to the bait, he turned to the curly haired stranger and administered the following retort:

"Scared? Scared—why would they be scared? What do you know of the bond between a man and his sheep, of the love that is there, the trust? They are the flock, we protect them, we cherish them. You know nothing of this. You make your crude jokes, you laugh at the thought of stereotypical sexual abuse. You see the world as something to rape, and so you understand nothing of love and care and respect. You have never seen those yellow eyes reflecting the light
of the full moon, gleaming with a trust that can only be shared in a true and loving way. You are ignorant, sir, a fool."

In the stunned silence of the bar, as he took his leave, he leaned in close to the stranger and delivered his parting shot in a low voice. "But I have to admit, that hair of yours looks so strong and lustrous, it reminds me of home. What are you doing later?"