Distance-Learning: Empathy

Early this month, there was a serious earthquake on Te Waka-a-Maui, the South Island of New Zealand. One person died from cardiac arrest in the 7.1 magnitude tremor. Damage to the city of Christchurch and the region was extensive.

Though Auckland is 650 miles away on the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui) I knew exactly what those people were going through and my heart went out to them.

It was a terrible day. I found out my supermarket no longer sold Wattie’s reduced-fat, low-salt Vienna sausages at two cans for the price of one. “Why god?” I screamed. “Why do you let such terrible things happen?”

The manager came over to see what the fuss was about. Of course, this forced me to exchange a few unpleasant words with her. The whole experience was so distasteful that I now suffer PTSD because of it.

Anywhoodles, the Canterbury Earthquake, as the tremor has been dubbed, was the eighth most powerful to hit New Zealand in modern history. I’m not likely to forget it any time soon because my brother-in-law told me a funny Holocaust joke that day.

He’d heard it from a German comedian whose name I can’t remember. Probably not Adolph, times being as they are.

I remember feeling bad about us being too flippant in light of tragedy. Sure, the Holocaust was a long time ago, but some people haven’t gotten over it yet.

Just then, the TV flashed a telephone number for us to call if we wanted to help out with the earthquake relief effort.

I wanted to help, nay I was compelled to help.

Operator: Relief hotline.

Me: I want to help, nay I’m compelled to help. You’re not getting my money. And I hate needles so if it’s blood you’re after, you’d better find yourself another stooge.

Operator: Do you have any clothes?

Me: You can have my old pleated khakis. But only as an anonymous gift. I won’t be known as the guy who gave pleated pants. Just because I’m generous doesn’t mean I have to come out looking like a chump, you know what I’m saying?

Operator: Um–

Me: What I really want to donate is a special gift: the gift of laughter.

Operator: Uh–

Me: You know, the gift of humor. You like Holocaust jokes, right?

Operator: I’m not sure–

Me: Sure you do. I’ll tell you one and then you can spread it. Share it with as many earthquake survivors you want. Or Holocaust survivors for that matter. But really, if there’s some guy trapped under some rubble and they’re not going to be able to dig him out for a few days, what better way to cheer him up? Only, he probably shouldn’t laugh too much because of the oxygen situation but you’ll figure it out.

Operator: Sir–

Me: Come on. Laughter is the best medicine. So here goes. My grandfather died in the Holocaust…yeah, he fell from a guard-tower at Auschwitz.

I’ll never know where my gift of humor ended up because somehow the telephone line was cut off, probably due to one of the Canterbury Quake’s hundreds of aftershocks.

But from that day on, I was filled with love for all living creatures. Sheep, specifically. September is lambing season so the sheep get all up in your face and the fields are dewey and red with discarded placentas and the hills and paddocks are alive with the sound of little hooves squishing said placentas.

A (an?) ewe and her newborn lamb at One Tree Hill in the city of Auckland. The sheep-birthing process is quick and painless, as this photograph clearly illustrates. One minute, you're in the fetal position, the next--boing, boing, boing--you're hoovering grass like you were in some kind of friggin' bucolic idyl and shit. (Photo by Harold "Doc" Edgerton).

There’s been trouble, though. The news has reported that this has been such a cloudy, rainy spring (which in NZ officially begins Sept. 1, three weeks before the equinox). Consequently, the lambs aren’t getting enough sunshine and many are dying, ostensibly from being wet and cold. (Welcome to New Zealand).

So, Jacquie and I went to One Tree Hill last week to see the poor creatures. I mean, what a tragedy, lambs dying before anyone got a chance to eat them.

And now for a random selection of recent photographs. (Note to Matt E…I will post a couple pictures you took soon. Your work was not in vain!)

Kauri grove in Cornwall Park/One Tree Hill

Drinking at The Patriot in Devonport.

Devonport is a waterside enclave on Auckland's North Shore. The small, rather posh community is home to at least five book stores, including this one in the ferry terminal.

Sunny, the pet that currently flops in our flat.


  1. Hi Simon,

    Just catching up on your blog a little bit. How are you enduring, er, I mean, enjoying life in New Zealand?

    Michael is off to your half of the world today. He’s going to Nepal for a few months. I know Nepal isn’t really in your part of the world, but it’s got to be closer to you than NYC, right?

    Say hi to Jacquie for me!

    1. Hey, Allison, thanks for stopping by. I’ve been following your blog from time-to-time, as well.

      We’re doing ok. Kind of sick of the chilly, rainy weather. Winter seems to last seven months. Other than that, juggling projects. Jacquie says hello back.

      I hope Michael’s doing ok in Nepal and his exercise regimen helped with the high altitude. It’s very exciting. Send him our regards.

  2. This weekend I heard about the Grain Merchant gig. Then on Monday I read that the Spartacus lead had to drop out due to illness. Is your gig now on or off?

    Today is the last day of summer in our hemisphere.

    1. Hey, Uncle Peter. I did indeed have an extra role in Spartacus. Twelve hours on the set for a few scenes. It was fun but tiring.

      You guys had an intense summer. Might be glad to see it go.

      Hope everything else is ok with you. Send my regards to everyone.

  3. Lucy Lawless is overrated and typecast, lets see her do Shakespeare! Yeah, didn’t think so. Hey Lucy, pull off some “out out damn spot!” Not happening.

    Sorry I haven’t written, I keep trying to fit the letter in the modem socket but it just won’t go.

    I will write more in an email.


  4. is devonport the town on the island? I went to some town on an island where the tides limit you leaving during the day. It was nice but quite boring. No one would talk to me and I was stuck there all day. Hate being the lone wolf sometimes.

    1. Devonport’s at the end of a peninsula on the north side of Auckland Harbor so tides don’t really strand anybody there. In a very limited sense, Devonport reminds me of Hoboken. I’m not sure what island you might have been on…Rangitoto?

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