Why is a gunky green creature seeking a place on the regional council? And just what happened to Jennifer Shulzitski? Toby Manhire investigates.
I needed to talk to Slime. While there is no shortage of freakishness among the nominations for this month’s local elections, Slime the Nitrate Monster was in a class of its own. “I am a simple multi-celled organism, with no heart or soul,” said the thing, setting out its stall on Policy.nz. The candidate photo revealed two eyes peering out through tendrils of vivid, oleaginous green. What did it do “before politics”? “Toxic algal bloom.”
The official documents listed the candidate as “Jenn (Slime) Shulzitski”. I found an email address. “Hello human,” came the reply. “Jennifer Shulzitski was a human, an ecologist, and a lover of rivers. In the 1980s, she swam in the rivers by Kapuni fertiliser factory, never to be heard from again. Now I, Slime the Nitrate Monster, live in her home.”
I was directed to a different email, in Slime’s name. Could we meet up? “Slime is happy to accommodate humans who increase Slime’s power,” said, well, Slime. “I know you will love meeting me. I am very good looking, and I am very connected to money.” Slime and I compared diaries and settled on a time. Studiously avoiding my questions about the health and whereabouts of Jennifer Shulzitski, the Nitrate Monster wrote: “We would love to take you out of town just five minutes in the Team Slimemobile. My private driver will ensure your safety and wellbeing. I hope you don’t mind diesel.”
We meet at Morning Magpie on Stuart Street – me, Slime, and Slime’s driver, Andrew. Most of the other patrons in the Dunedin cafe, true to the regional stereotype, pretend indifference. The exception is a small child, who leaps, delightedly, to say hello to this ribbony green Chewbacca. I can’t quite make out what Slime is saying to the child. Something about the deliciousness of pollutants and avarice.
We sit across from one another, Slime and I, at a large wooden table. Your Slimeship, I nervously begin, what motivated you to enter the Otago Regional Council contest?
“As you probably know, I have been spreading across your waterways here in New Zealand since the 80s,” says Slime, speaking in a sandpaper staccato, like a slimy robot. “We’ve been intensifying our agriculture. We used to grow things like clover and lucerne, but that’s not going to make anyone rich. That’s not going to create toxic waterways for slime. So since I’ve been growing and blooming, I realised that some people are getting a bit – how shall we say – poisoned by this way of doing business,” says Slime, rocking with laughter. “Yes. So now, they’re coming up with these crazy ideas, like Te Mana o te Wai, or the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, and that makes Slime tremble and feel fear.” Slime illustrates the point by trembling. “So I thought I must step in and make sure that care for all waterways does not come at the expense of the Slime Nitrate Monster.”
Slime’s position is clear: the contamination of New Zealand waterways through the leaching of nitrogen fertiliser – the use of which has, according to the prime minister’s chief science adviser, increased by 627% between 1990 and 2019 – is really, really great. Slime approaches the issue, of course, from a toxic algae perspective and through a specifically slimy lens, but its glee is infectious.
After a gruelling campaign that has seen Slime and the other candidates for the council travel around the region to participate in forums and debates, what would the monster say to an idealistic young Otago voter who would like to see rivers clean and swimmable? “Oh, you know,” says Slime, checking its privilege, “humans, they do have hearts, and they do have souls, and I do not have either of these things, which makes me a perfect candidate for political office.”
Slime says: “I do have, I think you say, ‘empathy’ for people like this.” Slime pauses. “But listen,” it continues, with a growl, “stop your whimpering. Go to the swimming pool. Pay for giant tanker trucks full of chlorinated drinking water, you’ll be fine. Let us get back to the important business of making money and growing slime.”
It’s time to ask the difficult question. I stare Slime the Nitrate Monster squarely in its concave, glub-encased eyes. “Who,” I say, “is Jennifer Shulzitski?”
A pause. For a moment the Morning Magpie cafe feels frozen in time. “Ohhhh,” says Slime. “I feel a bit uncomfortable with this question. But Jenn Shulzitski was a human, my human form. And she loved nature. She studied ecology. Yes, she did outdoor education, kayaking in nature, taking young people out to appreciate our natural resources.” A hint of melancholy begins to taint Slime’s monotone. “In the 80s, she was swimming in the rivers around Taranaki where the giant Ballance synthetic nitrogen fertiliser plant was built. She was swimming in the waters. She was drinking from the rivers. And she was never to be seen again. Only Slime now lives in her home.”
I wonder aloud if I should alert the authorities. “Oh no, don’t worry about that,” says Slime, which settles matters to my satisfaction. Especially as it’s time to go for a drive to an undisclosed location.
As we head for the Slimemobile, I ask the monster to pose for a photo on an electric scooter. Unless you don’t want to be seen on such a gasoline-free form of transportation? “I don’t mind!” it says, bounding on to the Slime scooter. “I am curious about technology. Let’s rely on more technology to fix all of our issues.”
Andrew drives us in his Slime emblazoned, diesel-powered Mazda down State Highway 88, the road to Port Chalmers. We’re not 10 minutes gone when he pulls over by the harbour, at Moller Park. We’re alongside the Ravensdown fertiliser works, and there is a twinkle in Slime’s eye. Ravensdown says it is committed to reducing its environmental impact, but the co-op has become a target of activists who condemn both the effect on waterways and the importation of “blood phosphate” from Morocco-occupied Western Sahara.
Slime is in its element, however, spinning in excitement, jumping up and down on a nearby hillock. “I’m here at the source of my power, where we use fossil fuels to create synthetic nitrogen fertiliser,” says Slime, almost fainting with happiness (and dehydration). “Then we can use fossil fuels to pour synthetic nitrogen fertiliser on the land, which lets us grow more grass, which lets us have a lot of cows on the land more than could otherwise be sustainable. And then the cows urinate, and poo-poo all over the place and all of these nutrients rush into our waterways and they create toxic algal blooms like slime. So I am here to ask for you to vote for me. Money at all costs. Kia ora.”
At one point, as the monster gazes, spellbound, at the Ravensdown fertiliser works, I ask Andrew about Jennifer Shulzitski. She’s an activist, he says, with an imagination. He starts talking about a local artist cutting up a green yoga mat into strips and making a costume. I nod politely, but to be honest I couldn’t care less about Halloween. What I want to know is: what happened to Jennifer Shulzitski? Andrew looks at me with what at first seems confusion, even pity, but I later resolve it must be something else: fear. He’s already said too much.
With voting under way, and Slime propaganda plastered across social media and on Dunedin walls, the monster is contemplating the possibility of victory. If it does win a place on council, I want to know, will it manifest at the table in the same green slimey form it does today? “For that,” says Slime, “you’re just going to have to vote and see what you find out.”
A few minutes later, back in Dunedin, I see the slimemobile again. Andrew is driving; in the back seat, a woman. Is it Jennifer Shulzitski? Has she escaped? Has Slime shapeshifted back into human form? I fumble around in my bag for a camera. I’m going to blow this thing wide open. Too slow. I look up to see the vehicle peeling off into the distance. Powered by diesel, bound for its algal lair.