Author: Simon Eskow

A personal milestone

Working freelance after a full time job takes time.

I’ve done a number of contract projects since being made redundant in July.

Ad copy writing, corporate gigs, research projects: they’ve all been very interesting, and I’m learning new things as I go, even about myself.

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A contract worker, for example, must hone his business skills, even if he is “creative” or “stupid”.

This fact dawned on me a few days ago when I realized that I’m just as equipped to manage my own business as the next guy, who at that moment was a Down Syndrome-dude selling pencils on Queen Street.

Add business to my growing “incompetence list”, right up there with being a techno-tard, fuck-tard, bastard and leotard.

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Business is just not my thing. So yesterday, I finally got my ass over to a professional. I went to see an accountant.

This was a huge milestone for me because on the way to my appointment, I stepped in dog shit.

It was the first time I stepped in dog shit in New Zealand. Not only that, but it was also the longest I’ve gone without stepping in dog shit, by far (363 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 17 seconds).

I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I stood there on Dominion Road, my Birkenstocks tread-deep in dog shit, overwhelmed by tears pride my accomplishment.

In case anyone didn’t know or you forgot, I’m New Yorker. Asshole.

And everyone in New York is constantly stepping in dog shit. You’re lucky if you don’t step in shit before getting out of bed in the morning.

It’s not unusual for subway commuters to get to work completely covered in all kinds of shit. This means they have to go back home to clean up and change clothes.

The braver ones sometimes go back to work, only to go through the cycle all over again. Usually, we just call in sick, but if you’re in a union, you might get some annual “covered in shit” paid-leave days.

It took a while to sort out the mess. I didn’t want to start off a professional relationship with my feet covered in shit.

So I shuffled through some twigs for a while, and used a snot-rag I had in my pocket to clean the shit from between my toes, as I happened to be wearing Birkenstocks.

The accountant showed me into a conference room after arriving at his office. He was really helpful in giving me advice about starting my business.

But even though I’d cleaned myself thoroughly, there was still a foul smell in the air, faint but persistent. It seemed possible I was imagining things.

Then the accountant started finding one excuse after another to leave the room. Kiwis would rather do that than to openly acknowledge a problem. So he kept interrupting himself from giving me advice, staying away longer and longer.

The last time he was gone the longest, maybe three minutes, and when he sat down again I could see a bit of whatever he’d had for lunch on his now-stained tie.  (It sucks when you think you’ll make it to the toilet in time, but don’t.)

Then he asked me to leave and if I could show myself out.

Which I thought was a little on the unprofessional side. If he’d only asked, I could have told him about my milestone. But when I got home, I realized it wasn’t the dog shit I was smelling, but the natural odor of my feet. In which case, sorry, Mr Accountant. My bad.

<<first draft. Not proofed. No SEO. Heading out the door.>>

How to resolve your inner conflicts

Earlier today, a friend confided his professional ambivalence to me over the phone.

This isn’t to suggest that my friend is ambivalent about phones. He uses them all the time. But it’s natural to sometimes be of two minds when faced with only difficult options. I believe resolution is always at hand, and I wholeheartedly agree.

My friend started in right away on his career woes. It was an obvious sign, a cry for help. I could tell by his pathetic sobbing.

There's light at the end of the tunnel. And it's not even a really long or particularly dark tunnel. So, stop your bitching.

There’s light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not even a really long or particularly dark tunnel. So, stop your bitching.

There is no better feeling in the world than helping a friend, letting him know it’s not the end of the world if I’m smarter than him. That’s why I gave my friend advice without him even asking. That’s the kind of guy I am.

Paying it forward is a way of life. When people give you good advice, share it.

Talking about it sharpens your own thoughts about your life goals. Of course, all the advice I’ve received from anyone turned out to be rubbish. So I had to make up something on the spot, and hope to god it was relevant.

Mixed messages.

Mixed messages.

What I came up with may sound strange, at first. But it is highly relevant to anyone stuck in work or life. People are the sum of all the stupid mistakes they’ve made. What harm could one more do?

Let’s say my friend’s name is Jim, but everyone calls him Jim.

Jim was at a crossroads. I don’t know why he had to phone me from a busy intersection, but that’s Jim for you.

Jim confided to me that he was at a crossroads. His job was going nowhere. He had pretty much gotten as high as he ever would at his firm, now that they’ve instituted regular toxicology screening. Jim wasn’t sure if he should find a job with a competing firm, or leave his sector altogether.

“Jim,” I said, “Have you ever considered telling everyone that you’ve joined Starfleet?”

The long ensuing silence on the line showed me that Jim was intrigued by the idea.

Eventually, I asked if Jim were still on the line. He said yes, but no, he hadn’t considered telling people he had joined Starfleet.

“I think it’d be a good career move for you,” I said. “A new employer; definitely a new sector, to say nothing of the Delta Quadrant. Plus, it will look great on your LinkedIn profile, and you get to wear a comfortable uniform.”

The best part is, I said at the end, when people ask what you do for Starfleet, Jim can say with a studied, casual shrug, “I go on adventures,” and then walk away, leaving the rest to other people’s imagination.

Friends and good advice go hand-in-hand.

Friends and good advice go hand-in-hand.

Jim didn’t know what to say at first. Then he said, “OK, but how will I make money?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t make any money,” I said. “But you would be institutionalized. Which is better because you won’t need money. And if you’re lucky, they’ll keep you sedated, and maybe even let you go on wearing the uniform.”

At that point, Jim had to get off the phone. I’d given him a lot of food for thought. What kind of friend would I be if I hadn’t?

Am I still a New Yorker?

The sound of gushing water interrupted my workflow this evening.

It came on suddenly, from behind one of the walls in the kitchen.

I ran over to see that puddles had already formed on the ground. It was coming through the ceiling and down the walls inside a cabinet we use to stow drinking glasses. The shelves also puddled and the glasses were filling up and overflowing to the lower shelves, ultimately to pool at my feet. The water was warm to the touch.

That’s exactly when I remember! My upstairs neighbor is pregnant. “Mazel Tov,” I shout to the ceiling. The young lady’s water has finally broken, her fluids cascading to the lower floors, for all to share in her joyful event.

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So I rush upstairs to wish her congratulations, just as her husband comes to the door.

“I know. We’re calling a plumber,” he says.

“OK, but wouldn’t you prefer a midwife or a maternity ward?”

“What are you talking about? The hot water pipe under our sink burst.”

“OHhhhh,” I said. “I thought maybe your wife’s water broke and that’s what was spilling into my kitchen, and I was going to say congratulations, and ask when she could clean it up.”

“My son was born a month ago,” this guys says, and then slams his door in my face. Can you believe that? For a joke, I go call the emergency operator to say my neighbor was going into labor again, second time in a month. But they weren’t buying my story about how it was a conjoined twin, but it was just coming a little later than his brother. Just like Jacob and Esau.

I can’t help thinking, after tonight’s social activity, that Auckland has turned me into a pussy. If this had happened in New York City, and my neighbor’s wife broke her water, and it flooded into my kitchen, and this shit was going on FOR A MONTH after the first conjoined twin was born, it would have been a lot more disagreeable, and thus a more hilarious outcome than having a door slammed in my face. We would have screamed at each other. Then the husband would have slammed the door in my face, and the plumber would have come an hour later to plunge the rest of the baby out of the clogged womb.

It feels bad when a good part of who you are begins to fade. Maybe not as bad as when a guy turns 60 or so and his penis starts to telescope back up into his pelvic delta like a scared turtle. But close.

New York city was my home, man. It was the Petri-dish in which my cells flourished, as if I were one huge aggregation of E Coli, bred in a research laboratory. But only as a side project for one of the technicians.

It’s been four-and-a-half years since my wife held me at gunpoint, hijacked a plane, and flew us to Auckland. And three and a half years since I was seized with Stockholm Syndrome. I guess this is how long it takes to start noticing when a part of you has died.

A couple weeks back, I had a chance to gauge my remaining New Yorkiness by a scientifically sound list I found on Buzzfeed.

It was a list of 35 things New Yorkers do, and I wanted to see if I still did them.

In the first place, when I lived in New York, I actively gave little to no fuck about Internet memes. So, one strike against me, and I haven’t gotten to the list. Seriously, I only yesterday learned about goatse.cx (circa 1999) from my friend and former colleague, Super Generic Girl, who emigrated here years before me, from a small peasant village on the Iberian peninsula.

The saddest realization an exiled New Yorker finds immediately are all the things they once enjoyed doing, but can’t now because they live at the last Rest Area before the Americas (for Australians that need to use the john, or to buy some crisps). Complaining about the cable provider (#1) is simply a cliche. I miss complaining about a lot of things, but that was never my biggest complaint. I mean as far as cable was concerned, I had more trouble explaining certain Pay-per-View purchases I made at my girlfriends’ apartments. It’s more about things like looking up at night to check what color the Empire State Building (#28) and trying to figure out what the display commemorates, as it changes from day to day. And riding over a bridge on the subway or in a cab, look at the skyline, and remember why you live here in the first place (#35) makes me cry. I know, it’s like the opening of Manhattan: saccharine, overly sentimental-ised, but fucking true.

Panorama of New York at Flushing Meadow. One of my favorite places in the city.

Panorama of New York at Flushing Meadow. One of my favorite places in the city.

There are a bunch of other things I can’t do because Auckland is so different from New York. I really can’t eat at “food trucks” (#10) because there’s, like, really just one, and that’s only there because the owner was a restraunteur who’d run out of petrol and said, “she’ll be right,” and set up shop right where he stopped. I also can not eat bagels as drunk food (#22) because I would not stick whatever passes for a bagel in New Zealand in my worst enemy’s mouth. Or in their bums. It would be a disaster. There might even be a diplomatic incident.

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Alley in the Bronx near my childhood home, which was in a different alley.

There are a lot of things on that list I never did, or stopped doing before we moved here in 2009. For example, use to complain incessantly about brunch, but still go to brunch ($4), but I stopped that a long time ago. Mostly because people didn’t usually invite me to brunch a second time.

Weather related complaints such as the lack of central AC in your apartment building (#26), irrationally angry tweeting every time it rains (#9) and always wishing it were another season (#12 and #13) don’t carry over, but do have distant cousins here. The folk-joke about Auckland’s temperamental, Ocean-powered climate is “Four Seasons in a Day” to which I sometimes add, “And all of them are winter”. So fuck you. I’ve got my own problems.

Videon's cute sense of humor. It's almost too cute.

Videon’s cute sense of humor. It’s almost too cute. This is a video rental place that makes me less homesick, especially for Photoplay in Greenpoint.

Which brings me, at last, to those things that I still do, those quintessential “New York” qualities that four years of New Zealand haven’t managed to leech out of me just yet.

The most obvious is cursing a lot (#7). As you might have gathered from reading thus far, I fucking curse more than fucking ever. I shit you not. Back in New York, Jacquie said everyone in New Zealand curses like a sailor who just found out that his favorite prostitute of seven years in one particular port has been a transvestite all along. That’s what I’m fucking talking about. I took Jacquie’s advice in my professional dealings, and I’ve had some pretty fucking colorful conversations with my contacts in the New Zealand IT business sector when I was editor for Reseller News. Which, now that I think of it, may explain why I’m currently unemployed.

I frankly can not see how a New Yorker can manage life in New Zealand without cursing a lot. Have you tried their bagels? Don’t even fucking bother.

Comedian Matt Stellingwerf and the madness of Auckland crowds

Used to be the only people who could stay calm in the face of barbarity were psychopaths and Buddhists.

That’s what I thought, until I started seeing open mic in Auckland. Comics belong on that list..

Comedians have a tough enough job keeping a group of strangers focused. The problem with Auckland is the people in the audience fucking suck.

Not all the time. But I have to say, by the power invested in me as a culturally superior New Yorker to condescend from my celestial alight upon you gormless nobs , doing open mic in New Zealand is like introducing the people of Deadwood to soap.

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I’m not even saying that a lot of people are like this. It just takes one or two assholes to make a room difficult. And usually there are five or six (including the subs for the assholes that leave).

That isn’t really a value judgment. It’s just well-known that free or low-cost open mic venues have only begun to proliferate in the last 18 months. Snatch, the Lumsden, the Patriot in Devonport, the Thirsty Dog, to name a few off the top of my 8 GB capacity head.

So, naturally, some people just aren’t know quite what to make of it when they see open mic for the first time. These are the same people who can’t really make much of anything else. So it isn’t surprising that they’re the ones that have to be the dicks.

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The thing I’m learning (after performing forty–scratch that– four times) is that, like it or not, you have to address the crowd situation. If someone’s making a dick out of himself, you can’t just talk over him. You have to spin it some way.

I could not adopt, however, the relaxed posture of Matt Stellingwerf. Not to be too New York again, but I’m too neurotic.

I chatted with Stellingwerf a few weeks about how he works to develop his act:

Simon: You told me once you have a general idea about what you’re going to say on stage, and that you add material on the spot. How does one get to the point where they can do that?

Matt: I don’t know. I think it’s something that has grown more as I started MC’ing more. It just grows as you grow as a comic, as well. You start going more off the script. I never was a huge script guy. My material in its most complete form is still bullet points or one word. So it gives me room. I know it, and nine times out of ten it will come out exactly the same, and word for word. But I’ve never actually set it out as this is the way I’ll do it.

S: You’re not writing it, but sort of working it out, out loud?

M: Yeah I sort of just play with it. Everyone does something different. Mine is in the shower. Or just before I fall asleep when I’m lying in bed. Which is why I waited until I didn’t have a girlfriend before I started to do comedy. Because the light would be switching on two hours after going to bed. You always think you’re going to remember something, but you never do. So, that or in the shower, and they just kind of grow. And once they get to a certain stage, it’s a process of cutting it back down and getting rid of the fluff.

S: How do you determine what’s the fluff?

M: It’s done and trimmed in front of the audience. Perhaps I’m not qualified or experienced enough to be able to do it at home. I have a general idea of what will work: that won’t, this will work with that kind of crowd, what is unnecessary, what could be funnier. And that’s something you can sort of work out at home. It’s not so much written as it is improvised on a good night. That’s why a lot of comics recommend recording their bits. But after a while the other comics know your material so well they’ll come up to you and say you did that different this time. When you’re jiving and the crowd is really good, things just happen. And you’ll find segues between material. I’ve got shorter bits and longer bits, I tend to construct my set on the fly, and I know more or less how long bits are and I’ll chop and change and mix them together.

S: Does that sense of time come with experience?

M: Yes, I think so. Because another hard thing is when you start going off topic you stumble. The more experience you have the more free you feel to stop halfway through and vent and chat about something that happens at that moment. That can become very difficult. You can lose a lot of time without even thinking about it. Also, in a 15 minute set, you can spend three or four minutes of it with quick interactions with the crowd. That’s why you do have to pay attention to the time. Any comic, or any person that runs a venue will tell you sticking to time, next to making people laugh is the most important thing.

S: So you develop a sense of tempo. Can you also put that into your performance?

[[At this point a Female stops by to say hello]]

Tired

M (to Female): Turns out if you’d gone on tonight, you’d have done better than me.

S: Yeah, so anyway, there’s always a weird vibe in Snatch.

M (to me): After the second break, that’s when it starts to lose its shape. It doesn’t help being sandwiched between two of the best comics. Especially when one does voices  and the other does magic. They have actual skills other than just, like, talking. “Oh, so you just…talk?”

S: By the way, I don’t like you talking to other people when I’m interviewing you. It wastes battery power. So, what’s your story? Where’d you grow up?

M: I was born in Hamilton, spent eight nine years in the Waikato on a dairy farm, spent some time in Amsterdam (my father retired there). I was supposed to take a one-year OE and it turned into four-and-a-half. just roaming the globe. I lived on a sheep and beef farm outside Wanganui from when I was 10 until I went to boarding school. I’m a product of the private boarding school system. Why do you think I made a reference Orwell? “I don’t smoke because I have an education.”

Q: Asshole. So when did you know you wanted to go into comedy?

M: It was something I’d always wanted to do. My parents are Brit-comedy freaks.  Monty Python. I grew up on the Two Ronnies, Red Dwarf, Greenwing. And I think I’d always wanted to but I never really knew how to get into it. It’s not somethign that you can talk to your career guidance counselor, especially in the scholl I went to. Go into law or medicine. We had classes in Latin. You only  need to learn that if you’re preparing people to be lawyers or doctors.

Female: Or priests.

M: Yeah, we try to keep that to a minimum.

S: Matt. You’re wasting battery power again. So in terms of comedians you like, who do you like?

M: I would say my favorite comedian is still Brendhan Lovegrove.

S: Really?

M: I truly, honestly think that. Especially in front of a hopping and bopping kind of crowd.

S:  He seems to thrive on that. Maybe a bit too much.

M: He thrives on it. Matybe a bit too long. But when it comes to unruly crowds like that, there might be a few comics in the world that are as good, but none that are better. Not anywhere. I also love Dylan Moran’s low key delivery style. Dave Allen is just amazing. Just sitting there, got a fag, got a scotch.

S: Is that what you’re going for in your style?

[[Female leaves]]

M (to departing Female): You’re allowed to get involved in the conversation. We gave you the vote.

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S: Matt. Please…my batteries. Your style?

M: I don’t know because it’s still in the formative years, as it were.  It changes from gig to gig. At the moment, both the gigs I did I was low key. But I was sick the last few days, and I got fucked up last night.

S: That sounds like an excuse.

M: No. it is generally low key. MC’ing is different. MC’ing is an act. For some people, it’s their standard “being friendly and inviting”. To me, MC’ing is acting, and standup is truth, as it were, not to sound too wanky. But it is something. I know a lot of comedians say it takes two or three years, maybe a couple hundred gigs, I’ve been doingit for 17 months and done 150-odd gigs. So I feel I have plenty of time to grow. But I think it’s gooing to stay I like it chilled, low-key, conversational, rest the hand on the mic stand. That sort of thing.

Mission to the indiscrete chemists

My mother sent me an urgent email today.

Terrible news. Everybody in her household is constipated all at once.

My mom, my sisters, my brother-in-law, and all the kids, and all the dogs, have been constipated for almost four days now. It seems as if it will continue indefinitely, because they are all too embarrassed to ask a pharmacist for laxative suppositories.

Refusing to eat roughage, and having no friends in a 1200 mile radius willing to risk the shame of asking a pharmacist for suppositories, my mother reached out to me. She had no other option. The problem was getting worse. Each day, the family ate their regular meals, while expelling…nothing.

My mother was giving me a mission. She wanted me to cast aside my own feelings about suppositories, and buy some at the pharmacy, and express mail it to her as soon as possible.

So, I put on my sunglasses, my Boston Red Sox hat, my loud scarf, and my bright suede jacket, and shod in my trusty Birkenstocks, I made my stealthy way along a rainy winter sidewalk at lunchtime.

My biggest fear was that one of my readers would recognize me if I weren’t dressed so hip and urban. I didn’t want them to know about the horrid, but necessary task I faced. My mother, sisters, brother-in-law, and nephews and niece and their dogs were counting on my discretion in the matter.

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It was nice to be among people in action, for the moment at least. About a dozen people were passing to and fro, as two EMTs hopped out of their ambulance, parked at the curb on Parnell Road, between Garfield and Windsor streets.

It was then I first noticed at least three pedestrians that seemed in need of immediate intervention from the health care sector. There was an obvious drunk, a guy shouting at a fire hydrant, and a guy hunched over, with his knees bent together, hobbling down the road.

I wondered how the EMTs knew which one they’d been dispatched to pick up. Or did they conduct regular sweeps and force every sick-looking person into their ambulance. The thought scared me because I am certain that I look like someone in need of immediate physical and/or psychological intervention. Was I going to be caught in the dragnet as well? Almost one millisecond later, I realized I had it all wrong when I saw the EMTs popped into the Subway for their lunch. Maybe they figured, you know, the deformed guy walking with his knees together, he can’t get too far, too fast. Why not pop in for a sandwich first?

Then I looked at this guy and the way he was walking, and I thought, maybe that’s what happens when you’re constipated but too embarrassed to buy laxative suppositories at the pharmacy.

I had to hurry. My family needed me.

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I got to the pharmacy. I wasn’t sure where to look for this product. Was there an aisle for things that you put up your ass? I’ve never had to think about this kind of stuff before.

A sales clerk finally decided to do something about the dumbfounded look on my face.

“Can I help you?” the sales clerk said.

This was the moment I dreaded. The first encounter with the chemist in regard to something you put up your bum. It’s a delicate situation. You never know how they’ll react. And this one was young, with a first-generation Chinese retailer’s concept of friendly customer service. Lots of smiles and boisterous hellos. I thought the best tack to take was to be direct. “I’m looking for Dulcolax suppositories.”

The clerk didn’t know the brand and made me spell it out. She didn’t find it on the computer. I had to explain to her in detail what it was for. She repeated everything I said, in a very loud voice.

Then she said maybe they had a similar product and she looked in a drawer and screamed, “Oh, we do have Dulcolax suppositories after all.”

While I waited to be rung up by the cashiere, the sales clerk went to another customer who whispered something.

“FOR BLISTERS?” the sales clerk screamed. “LET ME SEE…”

I walked quickly out of the store, and ran all the way home, covered in shame.

But I got home in time to send off the care package.

And in a few days, way back home in the US, an entire household of constipated loved-ones with finally have their relief.

A long build up to a conversation with Anthony Wilson

I’ve been carrying a digital voice recorder in my pocket.

In case you were wondering what that was.

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The way I see it, a creative genius should always have a DVR on hand to capture the gossamer threads of brilliance from their muse.

Of course I do it because you never know when an opportunity will arise to blackmail a friend or loved one.

Hey, don’t judge. I’m unemployed and I say good business is where you find it.

Besides, I’d be wasting my time waiting to hear from my muse. Last I heard, she’d moved to Jersey, got married, knocked up, and sells commercial real estate for a living.

So, fuck that bitch. She made her choice. Now she has to live with it.

Because here I am, living it up, pursuing my two month old dream of becoming a professional stand up comedian and comedy writer, carrying a digital recorder around everywhere I go.

Even if I don’t really know how to use it. Today it took me hours to find the recording of a conversation I had with comedian Anthony Wilson a few weeks back.

Wilson and I met one Thursday in July at the Thirsty Dog, where he was MC-ing the open mic. The atmosphere there was not like what I’d grown accustomed to from Wednesday nights at Snatch.

Thirsty Dog is a bigger space than Snatch, with patrons sitting around a dozen or more circular tables. From where my friend Ben and I sat, it felt as if any performer had a wide gulf to bridge between him or herself and the audience. So Wilson had his work cut out for him, especially wrangling the attention of an audience that was, on that night, largely the talent. This was a lot like the open mic nights I did with my friend Jay in New York City ten years ago. It would be me, Jay and nine other guys waiting our turn, which I realize sounds like the premise to a gay porn movie. But I assure you, there was very little of that going on, as far as I can recall. Basically a lot of us would get drunk before going up. Open mic was less standup, more “hey, check out that fucked-up alcoholic dude pissing his pants in the alley”.

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Wilson didn’t have that problem. It was more how do you keep things going apace for an audience of other comedians. That, to me, is kind of a tough room. Wilson managed to pull it off.

At least from what I remember. That’s another reason I carry my DVR: I have the RAM of an x386 machine, running DOS 5.0. But I have a body for sin, so it all evens out.

So Wilson and I had agreed to sit down for a chat after the show, which I recorded (to remember accurately) for my incipient Conversations with Comedians series.

But because I’ve been carrying this DVR in my pocket everywhere, I have accidentally filled it up with hundreds of accidental recordings from my everyday life.

So I’ve spent the last few days sifting through hours and hours of shit, in order to find my interview with Anthony Wilson.

Most of the recordings were a few minutes long, capturing what life would be like if I shrunk you down to the size of a Boba Fett Action figure and stuffed you in my trouser pocket, warm and snuggily against my person.

Some recordings are just the sound of rustling and ambient street noise. Sometimes it’s my friend Craig saying, “Don’t touch me there, it hurts,” but without any hint of context. Or irony. I have one 15 minute recording of me at the cafe trying to decide what to eat, only ending up by saying, “Oh, forget it, I’ll just go to Subway” and it was the right decision in the end.

Finally, though, I did come across the recording of my conversation with Anthony Wilson:

Eskow: That room is tough.

Wilson: It’s an uphill battle. It’s got one of those vibes like an awkward family reunion. And mom’s like, “oh, Anthony does comedy. Get  up there and tell the family some jokes.”

E: Are there other venues like that?

W: I suppose it’s a special vibe. It’s intimate. We’re all kind of spread out, so you have to battle for your laughs. But when you get there, you get there. It’s rewarding.

E: Why?

W: I don’t know. You can go out tell some dick jokes and everybody loves a good schlong joke. Then things like this they don’t want to hear more jokes, so you want to get more involved with the audience and make it a special visit . If they want to hear any open mic comedy, they can go any other place around Auckland.

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E: Do you have a standby joke?

W: Standby joke? I have jokes that I know work in case things aren’t going too well. But a go-to joke, just my routine stuff. I’ve got a lot of stuff about….some rough gags, a bit rough around the edges, a bit risky. I’ve got a “rapy” joke. It’s a bit rough, but it’s like self-effacing, at the end of the day.

E: “Rapy” joke?

W: Yeah, it’s like I don’t think I’d be very good at sex. I’m a glass half-full sort of man. Because of premature ejaculation, right? So, If sex was a race I’d win it. I could do it during the ads. But the main premature ejaculation rape joke is: it’s not rape if you finish before she says no. The reason I say it’s a bit risky is a woman came up to me and said, “That gag deals with the hard subject matter of rape, and I don’t think you should do it, and you would never do something like that, right?” And I said, “Yeah, well, you would have to be fucked to do something as terrrible and horrible like that to another human being.” And she said, “No, that’s not what I meant. I just mean you don’t have the upper body strength to pull off the task.” That’s my bit.

I don’t think there’s any taboo subject if you’re doing it in the right light. You’re not picking on the victims’ experience. You can get away with so much by directing it back at yourself, especiially when you look like this.

E: What’s your day job?

W: Apache. It’s  a sales company. I’m just knocking on doors. One of those guys. It pays the bills.

E: Any good jokes from knocking door to door?

W: I just try to have fun with it. People who don’t speak english, you know, I’ll throw in something vulgar. I tried that today with someone. He said “No english” and it was too good an accent I could tell he was lying. So I said, “Look your shoe’s untied.” And he looked down. And I said, “Fucker, I got you.” And I ened up signing him up after that.

E: Where did you grow up?

W: Nowehere too exciting. Just around East Auckland, moved to a country town, Helensville, in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere, a bit of hot pools and a few cows.

E: I’ve been through there a few times.

W: Yeah. It’s a nice place

E: yeah.

W: Yeah

E: Yeah

W: It just couldn’t hold my creative genius. Now I’m living closer to central Auckland (in Ponsonby)

E: So you feel like even moving from just Helensville to Auckland is a step up? I mean, I’m coming from New York, so it all seems the same to me.

W: Yeah, I mean, we have lovely small towns all around the place but I couldn’t have…you have that small town mentality. You go to high school there. You get some fucking nine-to-five job. Grab the first girl closest to you, knock her up and live there the rest of your life. So, in a way, it’s quite [[inaudible]] down a little bit.

E: How long have you wanted to be doing something in comedy?

W: I think I don’t have any other skills. I mean, if we’re being serious. From a young age, I really do remember wanting to make people laugh, even from four or five, slapstick stuff, beat myself up, people used to love that. What else am I going to do? I’m going to go out there, do what I love and even if that’s just in front of eight people in a run down tavern, good. I haven’t made it yet, but you have to do that shit.

E: What shows do you have coming up?

W: I’m talking with some people about doing a show near Helensville at these hot pools. So people sit in hot pools and we tell jokes. We’ve packed it out before. We’ve done about 10 or 12 of these shows there now and they always sell out. It’s at the Parakai Hot Springs. It’s called Comedy on the rocks. It’s totally different to anything you’ll see. It’s a relaxed, rural crowd, beers are three or four dollars. People travel from an hour off to come. It’s a real different atmosphere. We’ll have five or so comedians. Pros like Brendhan Lovegrove, Jeremy Elwood, James Keating, and Jarred Fell.

The conversation trailed off after that. To tell you the truth, I’m an awkward interviewer. Basically, the last two minutes was about my uneasiness over the rape material, even though I think that Wilson’s intent is to be self-deprecating. Personally, I think all comedians have one thing in common: they transgress normative or popular values, to a greater or lesser degree. So, I admire Wilson for stepping out on a limb, while being thoughtful of the tension it creates.

And I’m glad I finally found his recording on my DVR in the end. Otherwise I’d be making up a lot of shit about Anthony Wilson that nobody would like.

The third prong

Back when I was a pack-a-day cigarette smoker two weeks ago, the worst thing in the world to me was running out of cigarettes after the dairies have closed.

For those of you from out of town, in New Zealand, grocery stores are called “dairies”. And the store clerks are called “milk cows” and can work the registers for many, many lactations.

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The problem is that most dairies in Auckland close long before the cows come home.

So if you run out of cigarettes after a certain hour of the night, your options are limited. And one option more dreadful than the other: you can drive to a gas station, or, like an adult, you can delay gratification and wait until the dairy opens in the  morning.

Fuck that “being adult about it” bullshit. I want my wah-wah. So it sucks to be a Parnell smoker in the wee hours of the morning. I myself was caught with my pants down on more than a few similar occasions. Each time, as I pulled my pants back up, I discovered that I was out of cigarettes. Not only was my bum sore. Not only was I out $5. But I had nothing to smoke. So I was fucked coming and going. Of course, I’m speaking figuratively here, you all understand.

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A few months ago, I discovered the Juice Bar, the live performance venue attached to the Windsor Tavern.

The shows I caught were actually kind of fun, funky cover bands that dropped phat beats. A bouncer at the door saw me reach for my wallet to show him my ID and started laughing.

I could see why when I went in and started feeling my own mortality choking me about my double chin, making my gray stubble stand on end.

It’s chilling to be 42 and standing in a room full of sexually charged 20-somethings in Sunday best, and drunk/drugged out of their heads.

So naturally I start bobbing my head in rhythm to the music. That way I start to blend in. I don’t want to tip my hat that the only reason I’m there is to buy cigarettes. I look around, pretend to be judging the scene for coolness, to see if Juice is up to my high standard of cool. Because if it isn’t, I’m splitting. It’s the last thing the Windsor wants to see happen. A trendsetting blogger, yawning and walking out.  But it was OK. Because I liked the music, and it felt good to bob my head in tempo. I felt like a big, fat spasticated bower bird failing at his mating dance. Naturally, it took some time to acclimate to the sensual/erotic atmosphere engendered by relatively new model humans. So I noticed these two young ladies standing next to me. And in the coolest voice I’ve ever heard coming out of my mouth, I said, “Don’t you love this kind of music?” or something along those lines.

Long story short, eight seconds later, I was at the bar, buying my cigarettes.

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Of course that’s all in the past. Because as of August 2, I don’t smoke cigarettes.

I had gone into this thing with the idea that I’d use the patches and once in a while I’d resort to the e-cig.

Instead, I went the first few days without the patch, and have so far been patchless the entire two weeks.

Unfortunately, I have relied heavily on the e-cigarette to ease me through the occasional pangs.

It’s not a great idea for two reasons. E cigarettes prolong your chemical and psychological dependence on nicotine.

But worse than that, you look so cool using an E cigarette that you catch people’s attention.

I went to the St. Luke’s Westfield the other day. God knows why. To cash in on a gift certificate.

Malls in general are painful disasters of social architecture. Mostly because the chicks you see there have huge asses. It’s depressing.

So, yesterday, after about 30 minutes of looking around the shops for something buy with my gift certificate, I found myself just staring down from the second floor to the people eating and browsing in the food court, and the thought came to me that the worst thing about the Cold War was that we didn’t nuke each other.

Anyway, as I stood there, pondering, I took out my e-cigarette and started puffing away.

These two older chicks, maybe in their late 40s, early 50s, spotted me and started whispering to each other, but in a stage whisper.

“My god, is he smoking?” one said.

“What is that, a cigarette,” the other said.

“That’d better not be a cigarette.”

“Is he smoking a cigarette inside the mall.”

So I turned to face them, and show that it was an e-cigarette,

“Oh, it’s one of those electronic cigarettes,” the one said to the other, completely ignoring me,

“Is he allowed to do that?”

“Nobody’s stopping him.”

“Somebody should stop him.”

And on an on. The chicks’ whispering reminded me of a horror movie when demons start hissing to each other.

So, I had a few choice words with the two old bags, and before I knew it the three of us were in a hotel room making an adult video.

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The point of all this is manifold. In my first month of unemployment, I’ve made some progress in establishing a sound business case for me getting paid to be a funny person.

I know, I know. Everyone, except for maybe a severely retarded person or a United States Postal worker, thinks they are funny enough to entertain people, and make money doing it.

I may be retarded in many vast areas of my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think I’m funny. I do think I’m funny.

I just don’t know how to convince anybody else that.

So, in this, the incipient stages of what is probably going to be a very long-ass, painful and largely unrewarding experience (much like watching a Peter Jackson trilogy, but a lot more expensive), I am hoping to add to my developing repertoire.

In addition to doing stand up and pursuing any creative writing assignments that come my way, I have been convinced to compile a book of essays, perhaps based on what I’ve written on this blog, but printed in large type so my grandmother can read it.

Jacquie and my friend Sabine have given me several reading assignments to familiarize myself with the essay form that I’d like to write: David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Sarah Silverman, and Lance Armstrong.

That’s right. I’m going to be a famous non-fiction, personal essayist/humorist.

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Ginga, please.

And this blog, for the moment, is the link that feeds the other pursuits. So, while I talk about my essay writing project here, when I do stand up, I can make jokes about how my blog is about my book of essays.

And, to bring it full circle, I can talk about how my standup routines are all about my blogs being about my essays.

Constantly recycling material from one state to the next in a perfectly homeostatic system of funny shit.

I like to think of it as Ouroboros, a very ancient symbol that stands for “synergizing your core competencies into a multi-platform, multi-channel marketing strategy that will have you rolling in the dough and retired before know it.”

The only thing is, I have to get it started, by talking about what I know. Me. I’m basically going to become everyone’s worst first date. I’m going to drone on and on and on about myself. And I’m going to stick you with the bill at the end.

Which is why this blog was mostly about e-cigarettes.

So, if you see me doing standup, or if you buy my book some time down the road, and it all seems familiar, it is.

NOTE: A special shout out to Anthony Wilson, a funny comedian whom I interviewed a few weeks ago, after he MC’d a very tough room: I have been too lazy to write it up man…but I will…soon.

[[second draft. deleted phrase. very little subbing. Fuck you. You sub it.]]

No more Mr. Nicotine guy

I haven’t smoked a cigarette in more than ten days.

And as far as I can tell, I’m not much more of an obnoxious person than I ever was.

I’m surprised.

It’s a win-win. Really it’s two wins for me. And nothing for you. But who gives a shit about you? This is my story. Screw off.

Oh, man. It’s so much fun being an ex-smoker. It really is the life for me.

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When you stop smoking, you’re allowed to be an asshole. So when people protest that I’m being short-tempered or irritable with them, they’re being assholes.

They’re interfering with my smoke quitting. Because they want me to die.

Do you really want my death on your conscience?

Because if I’m not allowed to call you fat or ugly, or whatever, then I may go back to smoking, and you don’t want to be that kind of asshole, do you.

So, cheer up, fuck face, and know that you’re helping a friend quit cigarettes.

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You should also know that I’m going to be watching you, for the least sign of insult, criticism or anything. Expect me to say something about how you’re being an asshole to me.

Even if we’ve never met. And you have to like it. Because only an asshole wouldn’t support someone quitting cigarettes.

I’ve already had to complain to several people that they are assholes. And they’ve apologized, because they know how hard it is to quit smoking. It’s been tough correcting everyone. I’ve even had a word with a career counselor, when she crossed a line that she would soon be told was there but not to be crossed, after the fact, by me.

Fairfax Media had essentially hired this woman as part of our redundancy package, to guide us into the picturesque world of unemployment.

A dozen of us or so in the business group lost our jobs in that round. Naturally, they were all contacting the counselor.

Quite a few of them got to see her before my turn came.

She called to arrange our first meeting and she apologized for not getting to me sooner.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, with a chirpy optimism. “You just wouldn’t BELIEVE how busy I’ve been this week,”

The electronic cigarette is a delivery mechanism for a nicotine aerosol. You can mist wherever you like, and nobody will say nothing. In fact, in my experience they mostly just leave the room in a hurry.

The electronic cigarette delivers nicotine infused water vapor when you draw a puff. I call it misting. And I’m going to make misting cool. I mist wherever I like, and nobody’s said nothing. Mostly they’ve just left in a hurry.

Later I told her what she had said was kind of insensitive, considering the reasons for her being busy and for me contacting her in the first place.

She apologized, but I don’t think she understood what the problem was. The next time we spoke, I asked how she was doing. “I’m doing fine,” she said. “But I know you don’t like to hear how I am doing.”

Fuckin’ eh. Here I am, unemployed and worried. And here’s this woman telling me how great that is for her. It’s like you’re an insect caught in a web and the spider is telling you how wonderful a nice meal is.

I was afraid she would ask me to help her decide what to do with that bonus money. Three weeks touring Europe, or buying a new Mini Cooper.

I’m not saying this woman is bad at her job. She’s been good to talk to and her advice has been a help.

And she told me about all the stages of grief over my lost job that I had to look forward to in the coming decades. She said most people go through seven stages, but after talking to me for ten minutes, she could tell that with the way I handle crisis, I was going to need more like 40 or 50 stages of grief.

I’m currently in what she calls “zany antics” but ready to move on to “chug-a-lug”, whatever that could be.

She also helped me think of ways to develop business for my comedy and creative writing services start-up.

We talked about what I’d been doing, and she was very encouraging.

She said even though I had a dragon on my back I was keeping the wolf at the door. I’m not sure what that all means, but I hope it has something to do with getting a Dungeons & Dragons game going.

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But here is where I find that even my asshole-ness has its limitations.

After all, as I say, this counselor is good at what she does, and she means well.

And today she said I looked “very New York” which made me feel really good. And I don’t care if by “very New York” she meant I scared her in the way a deranged, half-naked homeless man screaming “Fuck it all” sends red flags up for some people.

It doesn’t matter, really. There are plenty other people I can be an asshole to, and that’s something to get you out of bed in the morning, if I’ve ever heard it.

Bumped into the doldrums

This past week pretty much blew chunks.

I quit smoking and haven’t had a cigarette in more than eight days. But that has nothing to do with how shitty I think everything is.

It’s sort of just the icing on the cake. Whatever the root cause, it’s been an unpleasant distraction.

Look at this picture, for example. It’s of a Beach Road business that offers a very special service.

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I haven’t a single god damned clue what ageaing is, but I’m totally against it.

You should always be suspicious of and hostile to words that sound funny. And then act violently toward it.

And it’s stupid things like that window which have filled my brain this past week. Also, for example

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The only people who would find this picture fascinating, and not always for different reasons, are mental patients and the unemployed.

I’m covered, in any event.

But why is this happening to me right now? I’ll tell you my theory. I’m in the doldrums. I’m unemployed, middle-aged, and I spend most of my waking hours having one way conversations with a cat. And despite all these advantages, I still feel like there’s something wrong.

Episodes of Tina? Finished. Advertising scripts? Done. There was nothing needed finishing. This post has been in draft since Tuesday. There was no wind in my sails.

Like all sailors before the steam ship, I literally was stuck in the Intertropical Convergence Zone, so to speak. (The fact that I also suffer from rickets is immaterial).

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But that still doesn’t answer how one gets stuck in the doldrums. In this day and age, with our modern satellites and mood stabilizing drugs.

The answer is you have to be put there. Something has to set you off.

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What did it for me. What really pushed me over the edge into a brown study.

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What really set me thinking that I’d hit rock bottom, and froze my career and my life in its tracks.

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Was the fact that I was bumped from an open mic for standup comedians.

Never in my entire three-and-a-half week standup comedy career have I been subjected to such contemptible treatment.

I didn’t even think it was possible to get bumped from an open mic. I thought the whole idea of an open mic was to give people a chance. Not to dash their dreams of one day co-starring in a movie with Rob Schneider.

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And what about my free speech rights, and my rights as an American citizen to get anything I want, whenever I want it?

Snatch needs to understand they didn’t just prevent an aspiring funny person from getting some microphone time. By denying me my rights, they are letting the terrorists win.

And we were doing so well until now.

Anyway, I think I have a solution that could benefit us all with a lot of free publicity. A frivolous lawsuit.

This is how it’s going to work. I’m going to tell the world that Snatch Bar bumped me from open mic because I’m Jewish. Voila. Instant publicity for everyone.

Our names will be in the news, but sadly, not as much as if I were a holocaust survivor, or even 100 percent Jewish for that matter. I’m sorry to report that my mother is gentile.

So when I hold my first press conference, I will explain that I am accusing you of semi-antisemitism. Or anti-semi-semitism. (I may use both.)

I think this fiasco would get Snatch a lot more than if someone, say, referred to Anne Frank as a slut.

Which I wouldn’t recommend.

So, let’s make this work, suing each other out of the doldrums.