The Jemaine Clement Sewer Goblin Incident: a retrospective

This is the story of the most Wellington thing that has ever happened to me. I wrote a breathless twitter thread at the time, but it has since vanished as part of my rolling deletion, and if it was lost to history I think our culture would be poorer for it.

Anyway, in mid 2018 I was sitting in Satay Kingdom, grinning from ear-to-ear, reeking of raw sewage, with giant dark bags under my eyes, inhaling roti canai with a worrying enthusiasm and getting sauce everywhere. When I looked up, Jemaine Clement was staring at me. I have no idea what his expression was trying to communicate. Maybe he didn’t see me at all, and was looking intently at the wallpaper behind me, but from where I was sitting he looked very much like a hare that’s just heard a drunken hunter barrelling through the woods. I live in constant fear that I am going to be the subject of an episode of Wellington Paranormal, and if that episode makes me laugh then that’s it, I’m done, my soul gets instantly yeeted out of my body and doesn’t stop until it’s in the next solar system over. 

It started in my shower. It wasn’t draining properly, so I went at it with a plunger, and suddenly I was up to my ankles in reeking black water, tiny shards of shattered bone, and waterlogged pieces of what looked like flesh and skin. You cannot imagine what it’s like to have a jet of sludgy black water and shredded bone erupt at your face, to realise you’re standing in a mess of jellied remains of unknown creatures (?people? No of course not, too small, but what if), to have no idea why the water is thick and black and clings to your ankles like it has always been hungry but has finally given its hunger a name. 

I do, it is – to use the common parlance of my people – real fuckeen scary mate.  

So the shower was fucked and the shitter was fucked, and generally it was just a nightmare. I called a plumber and they told me they would be in by morning. Then it started to rain. The rest of the chicken and black water erupted from the shower and toilet and began spilling out into my bedroom. I did not sleep the entire night, piling towels and sheets and anything I could find to bulwark against the rising tide of black water. When the rain finally stopped, my makeshift dam was about 30cm high. It reeked. Shit and food waste and a sort of earthy sulphur. I would later have to throw out every single part of the dam; no amount of cleaning would get the smell out of any of it.  

I have never been as happy as I was when the plumbers arrived. They figured out that the pipes were ancient, made of clay almost a century ago, and that a tree root had grown into one and fed on wastewater until it was so massive and swollen that it blocked the entire pipe, and all the house’s wastewater was going back up through the lowest point it could, my bathroom. Mud had stained the water black, and a cooked chicken that hadn’t spent enough time in the garbage disposal was apparently the final straw.  

The relief, my god the relief. I’d lived through a horror movie, lived through the hungry monster in my drain rising up against me. I hadn’t slept all night. I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime the day before. I had class in a few hours and needed to rush out the door. I’d just spent almost my entire weekly budget on two men with a big white van to come and save me the toilet demon.

So I did what any Wellington grad student does after a shitty night, and I went to Satay Kingdom. Satay Kingdom is legendary, it’s almost as important to Wellington’s students as the chips from the 3am buffet at KC Cafe. In an extremely gentrified Cuba Street, it remains one of the places to get a cheap, good, filling meal. I have never been as happy as I was when my roti canai came out; it was the morning sun over Helm’s Deep. I didn’t eat it so much as inhale it. I flapped the roti around so much I could swear I was about to become a bird and take off. And then I looked up, and multiple Grammy-award winning musician and actor Jemaine Clement was sitting at the next table over, talking to a man facing away from me, looking past him at me with a sort of dawning horror. I cannot imagine how bad I smelled. Just this terrible sewer goblin, this wee beast risen up from the muck, splattering the table with sauce, grinning so widely the top of its head is about to hinge off.  If he ever sees this: I am very sorry Sir, but in my defence I’d spent the night fighting monsters that came from up the toilet, monsters borne from our city crumbling infrastucture, an inquisitive and hungry tree, and a whole cooked chicken from Countdown.

Was I supposed to not get roti canai from Satay Kingdom?

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