To cross now or not to cross now, that is the question that has flitted through pedestrians’ minds for centuries, and this week’s icons have managed to forge a career out of our indecision at intersections. Back here briefly to plug their new book Find Your Inner Orange Man, I chatted to New Zealand’s most famous expatriate twins, Green Man and Red Man.
I arranged to meet them in Ilott Café where we could survey some of their handiwork. There was no problem distinguishing who was who, with both brothers impeccably attired in pinstriped suits of their respective colours. Their New York accents gave them an edge, a curb if you will, that made me watch my step. At their zenith these guys would have witnessed literally millions of drive-bys, making Tony Soprano’s Godfather look like a good fellow.
Their story is the stuff of roadside legend. They ran away from their Wanganui home to escape a Hungarian father and a weightlifting mother in the 1960s, going wherever and whenever Green felt and only topping when Red stood up to his smaller but slightly older brother. They helped old ladies to cross streets and amplified their victims’ stooped gratitude into a feed and a bed for the night, a technique they called ‘curbing’. It wasn’t until they stowed away overseas and discovered a world of bigger roads and richer pedestrians that their curbside courtesy turned into a highly unsophisticated criminal racket. Unsuspecting pedestrians were walked and wooed by the two handsome lads, sometimes to the bedroom, often to bankruptcy. Male, female, old or young, if you crossed a road on their patch you were fair game.
“We were taking tips in New York bigger than the monthly wage back home. People got to know us and trust us and knew never to cross us,” Green says. “Curbing was big business, and we were the biggest, no one hustled a curb like we did,” Red reminisces, stopping to draw on a fat cigar.
By the mid seventies they had a huge clientele on their books, including many distinguished socialites who saw the twins as the fashionable way to cross a road. Some crossings turned into photo frenzies with the press almost stopping the traffic for Red. “Why did the chicken cross the road? Cos I told him to,” was Green’s mantra, and people listened. But as technology advanced and the public began to favour the allure of the red and green signals, the need for the two men diminished. The lights were often the subject of vandalism, which Green is not afraid to admit his part.
“Yeah we smashed lights, but we only smashed the lights on our patch. No one likes to feel outmoded.” Curbing as a profession was at an end but it was all that the twins knew. They tried a stint as stop-go men but it was all one-way traffic and they were soon fired. Then Green had a bright idea.
“I wasn’t really into thinking much back then but anyways, I got to thinking and came up with the idea of a suit with lights on it, to be more visible like the lights, ya know. Well would you fucken believe it, we were like a fucken tourist attraction, a real traffic stopper.” From that one idea came a second so practical and so contemporary that, bar a few variations, it hasn’t been surpassed.
After the advent of the Little Green and Red Man (Green is still bitter about the ‘little’) the twins sold their idea to all takers and were millionaires by the age of 30. This gave Green an opportunity to get back to some more thinking and the results have been a prolific output over the last 30 years culminating in his latest work, in collaboration with his brother, Find Your Inner Orange Man.
“After all the years telling people to cross or not to cross, we realised that we never really crossed that road ourselves and this book is about listening to your inner orange man and instead of looking at things in red or green, try orange, and see where that leads you,” Red says with a flicker of emotion.
Looking from the balcony, Green points out one of his pedestrian pet hates. A young man pushes the button but walks across on a red man. “Moron!” Green yells out the window while Red lets go a mouthful of phlegm.
“It’s all about the flow, if you push the button, obey the man, if you don’t wanna obey the man, don’t push the fucken button.” The above scenario is just one of the many pedestrian pitfalls that New Zealand’s stumble into as well as being brainwashed with the phrase: ‘Look right, look left, look right again’. This phrase, Red admits is why all of New Zealand’s little green men walk to the left: to remind everyone about looking to the left again. Green could go on for hours but Red stops him revealing too much and tells me about his favourite part of Amsterdam. Stop it Red, don’t even go there.