A Closer Look

Old people are ruining social media

Conventional wisdom has it that teenagers don’t use Facebook because their parents are watching online.

Preliminary findings of a study of social media, for example, suggest young people can’t “be free” if they know their parents may learn of “every indiscretion”.

Do we really need research to tell us that?

Teenagers obviously don’t want their parents to know they partied and smoked pot instead of studying. They could get in trouble.

Or worse, be forced to share their drug connection.

Teed Street, Newmarket

If I were a father, my adolescent children need not worry.

There isn’t anything a teenager could post on Facebook that I would find remotely interesting.

I wouldn’t say that, not in so many words. This is a kind of birds and bees conversation requiring wisdom and finesse.

So, I’d simply tell my children that I would sooner down a bottle of bleach than to follow the ignorant, hormone-soaked brain farts of your everyday, zit-faced bobby soxer.

It isn’t personal. I love puppies. But you don’t see me patting them on the head when they hump my leg.

And that is far less disgusting than teenagers.

I will not allow updates regarding alcohol binging or unwanted pregnancies to ruin my newsfeed.

Especially not from my own children.

Newmarket Station concourse, Monday afternoon

Very few people under age 35 have anything worth sharing on Facebook.

And the numbers don’t get much better at 35 and up.

So, to little Shlomo Junior, and my dear Jacquette, I would say this: your Facebook feed will be blocked until you develop a personality.

Whitcoulls Building with Santa

Sadly, that is one conversation I will never have, I’m afraid.

Not now, after Jacquie and I received news about our fertility.

A specialist recently told us in no uncertain terms that we cannot have children.

She said we have too much cool, expensive shit in our home, and we can’t have children around fucking it all up.

Parnell, Monday afternoon

I can imaging many teenagers have secrets they can’t afford to reveal.

But that’s not the main reason they’re leaving Facebook.

It’s because they don’t want to be seen in that sphere with their grandmother.

The grandmother doesn’t know what the fuck is going on in Facebook.

She has spent most of her life in the real world, and now she has arrived in this virtual reality, and her interaction with it is indistinguishable from her smashing her face into the keyboard and pressing ‘Enter’.

She means well. But she is just not accustomed to the mores and nuances of social media etiquette.

Earle Street

Somebody I know has a nonagenarian relative who recently started using the Internet.

It didn’t take long for the old fella’s curiosity to lead to the web’s many splendored “Red Light District”.

This would not have come to the friend’s attention if not for the elder’s obliviousness to the long, dirty trail of popup window ads that are the bane of the pornography-consuming public.

Which seems to me the same as leafing through the Penthouse magazine you’re waiting to buy at a busy corner store. That is not the level of sharing anyone wants. Even stupid teenagers know that.

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Just play it cool, boy; real cool

Every morning I ask myself, “Am I awake, or am I stuck in one of my recurring nightmares?”

I’m not talking about the ones like where Jacquie is a slutty dolphin and we perform unspeakable acts against aquatic nature.

Nor am I talking about the ones where I look out my window and it’s Auckland.

No, what I’m talking about is, of course, the Royal Birthing, and the fact that I even know about it.

KING'S BRAND PLACENTA

I swear, news of this shit is being transmitted into our brains via satellite, continuously. You’d have to live in that bunker from Lost, and also be completely retarded, like most of the characters in Lost, to be ignorant of the fact that a likely future king of England was born this week. And even then, you probably had a gut instinct. Because it’s a fucked up crazy island. OK, maybe Lost was a bad example. But you get the picture.

Because you’ve been living the nightmare, too. Today we all thrilled over the baby’s first photo-op with the parents.

Judging by some of the pictures, Kate Middleton seems to have already gone to work on baby number two. Or maybe that’s just pregnancy fat. Whatever it is, one hopes the Duchess will remember to put on spanx before her next public appearance. I mean, just the spanx. No top. Whilst nursing.

Anyway, in case you were one of the characters from Lost, here is a picture of the young family at the public debut, right after the public burping and spanking of Prince William, but just before the bris.

Hermits, I give you the Duchess of Cambridge, a baby–which currently goes by the name NO FRILLS–and a balding man.

newborn

Here’s a closeup.

Royal baby 2

Mainstream memes

The word meme is getting tiresome.

It was not that long ago when the only people who used the word ‘meme’ were pretentious assholes and graduate students. And the only difference between them was the latter had an advanced education, preferred black and white movies, and smoked American Spirits because it was more socially conscientious. (The ones in the light blue pack were my favorite. I mean, hypothetically, of course).

Now ‘meme’ has gone mainstream. It describes any internet phenomenon that keeps popping up in American culture over and over despite being extremely stupid in the first place. Like Rick Rolling, planking, or Sarah Palin.

The word does fit. But, in the old days, we knew what meme meant. It meant, if you casually dropped the word ‘meme’ in passing conversation at a party, you were almost certainly going to knock boots with someone that evening. It was a sign that you read Richard Dawkins, before he was cool. You stopped liking him when he sold out and started doing critical thinking “just for the money”. I mean, or so I have read.

Memes generally come out of the oven dry. This is because they spread very quickly over the Internet, especially via Twitter. Social media in general represent the industrialisation of the meme. One of these, the Keep Calm and Carry On with the little graphic crown, appears to have instantly gone from sincere to farce in a matter of mements.

In the beginning, they were printed up and taped around the cubicles by someone who actually believes that a trite expression will motivate you through the more excruciating ordeals of one’s working life. If you are motivated by Keep Calm and Carry On you’re a psychopath. You should not be allowed near firearms, matches or puppies. Once a year, you may light a sparkler. But that’s it.

Obviously, other people felt this way. They responded by satirizing the notion of motivationalism, with ironic twists that seemed to also have been stamped from a template. Instead of Keep Calm and Carry On, we got Now Panic.

But I think people have taken this particular meme a little too far, into vulgar and strange places. See for yourself:

Now, honestly. Is there any reason for this kind of indecent material? Clearly it was the product of a crude, juvenile imagination. Sure, a lot of men probably would find this poster handy to tape up in a prominent place in their offices. In those cases, it would function as a kind of “health and safety” notice, sort of like Employees must wash hands or How to give the Heimlich Maneuver. But perhaps there is a more subtle way to say it.

Some of the posters have no excuse, though.

Not all the posters are of a sexual nature. In fact, some even have a comfortable domesticity about them. Like this one:

But the majority, as I say, are nonsensical. So please, if you’re going to propagate a meme, at least be smart about it. And try above to be as cogent as I am.

Bad signs and mixed messages

New Zealand readers may be familiar with the Hobson’s Choice brand.

Well, sir. I’m here to tell you this company loves its meat.

I didn’t know how much so until two weeks ago. It all started when I went to Newmarket to take photos.

This was right after I’d written about a PSA advising New Zealand children to stop in the middle of the road when a speeding car was bearing down on them, instead of running out of the way. At least that’s how I read it.

The ambiguity of the PSA prompted a search for more examples in signs and billboards of that mysterious Kiwi aversion to precise communication.

Newmarket, a shopping district, seemed the perfect locale for the expedition.

The signs were disappointingly concise and informative.

Still, there were one or two things I found worth commenting on. Of course, I used to snack on lead paint chips, so what do I know?

The first thing I spotted on my search was the local outlet of a national shoe chain.

Admittedly, this is ambiguous only as far as it is questionable branding.

I mean, what is so tantalizing about a clinic? It’s so medical. Isn’t a clinic where you go to find out if you should be worried that it burns when you pee and that funny swellings happened to appear in a special place only a few days after you blacked out during your last drinking binge?

(Incidentally, and on a completely unrelated matter, Jacquie, if you’re reading this now, we need to talk. I have a surprise for you. Nothing to be concerned over. Not too much. Yet. But, yeah. We’ll talk.)

Maybe some people find the association of shoes with potentially frightening, painful, or invasive diagnostic procedures a good reason to go into a shoe store.

Personally speaking, after five minutes in any store, a colonoscopy starts to seem like a more pleasant way to spend my time.

But what kind of person reads “Shoe Clinic” and thinks, “If I go there, maybe I’ll get stuck with a long needle or exposed to X-rays. It’s a value-add. They are so getting my money”?

Me, that’s who. Shoe Clinic doesn’t only concede that going to a store is a tedious, uncomfortable experience; it’s saying that’s exactly the experience you can expect when you step inside. I can’t tell you how refreshing I find their honesty. Just like going to a clinic.

Not far from Shoe Clinic, we have tchotchke emporium Texan Art Schools.

When I first came across this store a couple years ago, I assumed there’d be something to do with art inside, like pencils, and drawing pads, and books on Banksy.

Alas, no. Just a lot of Kiwiana, some of it quite chintzy and little of which I’d gift to anyone that I didn’t want to hate me. You’d be surprised how many people fall into that category. Maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. In which case, I’ll probably be shopping at Texan Art Schools for your next birthday.

It is obvious that the owners of this store have never been to Texas. Unless, by putting “Texan” and “School” so close together in one name, they were being ironic. This is the state, after all, that put into office a governor whose policy response to a serious drought was to declare three days of prayer while slashing funds to fire services battling record numbers of wildfires…thanks to the drought. Now that’s smart thinking, and not a way of thinking you can learn in any school. Unless you’re in Texas, apparently.

There were other pictures even less worth talking about than these two, so I went back to my neighborhood, slightly dejected. Which brings me back to Hobson’s Choice. On the way home, I passed one of its trucks making a delivery, and I felt drawn to take this picture.

I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. There was nothing patently interesting about the sign. Hobson’s Choice is a clever enough brand name. And what it is selling is a pretty commonplace staple that I was already sold on years ago. In fact, you might call me a Hobson’s Choice man. It is not unusual to find me lying on my stomach tasting the maple difference out of an open faced sandwich spread before me. Other times, I’ll just lie on my back and have the Hobson’s Choice lowered to my mouth. I’ve handled it with my fingers on occasion, but that can be quite messy, so mostly I pretty much prefer to eat it.

I looked at that picture several times over the next two weeks. There was something attractive, yet odd about it. It inspired my appetite, but there was something revolting there as well and  I couldn’t figure out what that was until I finally showed it to Jacquie.

“Oh my god,” she said. “Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head. She was blushing. She pointed to a particular part of the picture, and the light bulb went off in my head.

“‘Oh my god’ is right,” I said. “That’s a picture of a ham sandwich.”

Public Service Ambiguity

New Zealand children returned to school this month, when their summer holiday came to an end.

What a bunch of idiots.

But you kind of have to feel sorry for them.

The first day of school in New Zealand is always set aside for the annual de-lousing and anti-rabies regime, a difficult, but necessary public health program.

Then it was back to the grind, to sitting in Social Studies, gazing upon the giant wall atlas, day-in and day-out, with the disappointing realization flickering to life in every child’s mind that, yes, they still live in New Zealand.

A little harsh, I’ll admit, but not nearly as grim as what I discovered last night on the way home from my local and passed a bus shelter with this sign:

I stood for minutes wondering what it was about, because I enjoy deciphering the subtexts of public signs, and because, what else was I supposed to do while I was urinating?

But the poster was so ambiguous, I had to take a picture of it with my mobile productivity device.

The poster seemed to be saying that drivers tend to speed up at school crossings, with the goal of running children over, and they shouldn’t. For whatever reason.

I soon doubted this interpretation. What if the sight of a student crossing a street recalled to a driver his or her own de-lousing experience, thus triggering a kind of post-traumatic stress road rage to the level of vehicular homicide? Auckland Transport, I reasoned, surely would view this as a value-add. After all, if drivers were encouraged to run-down children at school crossings, fewer children would make it to adulthood who otherwise would have run children over as a consequence of their own post traumatic de-lousing stress disorder. Sure, it would require patience, but I bet that after two or three generations, Auckland Transport would see a dramatic decrease in school crossing vehicular homicides.

But at the very least, that would require Auckland Transport to advise drivers to speed up recklessly at school crossings, which, I concluded, this particular poster was not doing. (Note the phrase “Slow down around schools”.)

Then I started thinking, maybe Auckland Transport wasn’t talking to drivers, but rather, to the students.

If you study the poster closely, you’ll see that the only object in need of slowing down is the dorky student himself.

And while we’re at it, why should we assume that the dork is turning to look at a speeding car? What if we assume that the dork is turning to look at an adult who is offering some helpful advice. Under this assumption, the scenario becomes very clear, with the adult (not pictured) saying:

Hey, slow down around schools, huh? Don’t you know how dorky you look, running to school? You really shouldn’t. The only thing waiting for you on the other side are two bullies who spotted you eagerly running across a busy street. For what? To stare at a wall atlas depicting New Zealand as the east coast of Australia because it was printed in America? You’re just running to your own beat-down, son. And look at your shoes? Who wears black high-tops with grey woolens? Who the hell dressed you, your dog? Why don’t you do yourself a favor. Stop before you reach the other side, turn around, go back home, shut the door, and do what your parents did when they were your age: start a meth lab.

Oh…uh, sorry. I think I got carried away recalling one of my own childhood traumas.

But, having said all that, I don’t think that’s what this poster is saying, either. In the end, I think what the subtext of this poster is getting at is bad acting.

Frankly, whatever this kid is selling, I just don’t buy it.

Let’s put an end to bad advice about underwear

There has long existed a humorous trope, already a cliché by the time I was born. It’s the one about a mother’s advice to wear clean underpants in case you get into an accident. I never received such instruction myself. In fact, clean underwear was considered optional through much of my childhood, if memory serves correctly.

Underwear was just not something you discussed at the dining room table. Such garments could only be referred to through cryptic allusions and innuendo.

Not the face of a child wearing clean underwear. The author (circled) enjoying the third grade at St Helena's in the Bronx, NY. (Photo stolen from Patrick Scully's Facebook page).

When I first heard this supposedly wise admonition in my teen years, it felt as if my parents had been denying me some vital information. I couldn’t cross a street without worrying about the state of my underpants. What if I got hit by a car? What would the EMTs think?

But as I got older, I started to question if that was even sound–let alone realistic–guidance. Its premise, at the very least, is a shaky foundation on which to base your personal habits. In the first place, it assumes that every accident that could befall you will require the removal of your pants. What, all of a sudden we’re supposed to drop trou’ every time we stub our toe? I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t live in a world like that. I could try, but I wouldn’t like it. Mostly. To some degree.

The premise also takes a dualistic view of reality. According to this conventional wisdom, one wears clean underwear or one wears dirty underwear, and those are the only choices you get. What if you’re not interested in wearing undergarments? You tell a Scotsman that he can no longer go commando when he puts on a kilt. He’ll be furious with you. For your average Scotsman, it’s either dirty underwear, or no underwear at all, end of story.

There is also a problem with timing. The adage presumes either that you will get into an accident as soon as you put on a clean pair of underpants, or it presumes that the underpants will remain clean up until the time of your accident. If I got into an accident every time I put on a fresh pair of boxers, it probably wouldn’t take me very long to start wearing a kilt in the traditional way, instead. But let’s say you take your mother’s advice and you put on clean underwear before you start your day. You hope that when you do finally get into some bloody car accident, the EMTs will be able to look down on your mangled body with a smile. How impressed and satisfied they will be with your forethought as they peel your underwear off the pavement with a king size Spackle knife, along with whatever else remains of you.

Daniel in the Lions' Den by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614/1616, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. Here Rubens depicts the moment that Daniel, realising that God has saved him from the lions, offers another prayer that his highly prized underwear has remained immaculate throughout the ordeal, in the event of being seen in soiled underwear by King Darius' men once they've finally released him.

To be fair, most of us can get through most days without having to take our pants off in public, accident or no. But suppose you were a postal worker, and you’ve just eaten some bad sushi, and some dogs chase you for most of the afternoon, but when you finally do outrun them, there’s a huge line for the bathroom at Starbuck’s. Then, as you’re running out of Starbucks to use the bathroom in the Starbucks next door, a giant anvil lands on your head, followed by a grand piano. Your underwear is probably not going to look so good, despite your best efforts to keep it clean through a long and trying day.

And here’s another problem. What if this clean underwear thing takes off and everybody starts doing it. What happens when there’s a big aviation disaster in which each and every passenger and crew is wearing a brand new pair of Fruit-of-the-Loom. Some of them still with the pins attached. Think of all the hours that could have been saved identifying disembodied torsos if each person were, instead, wearing underwear befitting their station in life.

Now it’s hard to ask air travelers to get on a flight with dirty underwear. It should be required, however, at the very least for business class passengers to wear clean underwear, while those in coach should be required to wear the same underwear on their flight as they’ve been wearing for the last week. (You’ll know you’ve worn your underwear long enough if you’ve started to develop a rash). This will ensure an expedited identification of cadavers, in case of an accident. And one word to those who fly coach, I wouldn’t worry too much about the odor in your cabin section. Chances are that if you’re flying coach, you probably smell like shit anyway.

You see? There are just too many variables to make this clean underwear work. Practically speaking, it pretty much requires one to constantly change their underwear. So the adage shouldn’t be to wear clean underwear in case of an accident, but to not forget to bring 150 changes of underwear which will you use throughout a typical day, in the event of an accident.

Words that Wound and Other Yuletide Festivities

Christmas came early to our house this year.

It arrived way ahead of New Year’s Eve.

But not before St. Patrick’s Day stopped in for a beer just because it “happened to be in the neighborhood.”

This made Christmas very uncomfortable, of course, after their ugly fight at Thanksgiving.

They had exchanged…words that wound.

The flowers of the pohutukawa tree. The pohutukawa ("drenched with mist" in Maori) is sometimes referred to as the New Zealand Christmas Tree.

Now the two sat in the lounge for what seemed like an eternity of stilted, awkward conversation.

Christmas couldn’t take any more. It got up to leave, insisting it had a million “little chores” to do at home.

Which was all for the better, frankly, seeing how the holiday had caught me off guard.

I’d forgotten to get Jacquie a present.

It's beginning to look a lot like the Nihotupu track in the Waitakere Ranges. This stream feeds the Upper Nihotupu reservoir, part of Auckland's water system.

Jacquie handed me a small object wrapped in colorful paper, with a fussy little ribbon.

“What’s the occasion?” I said.

“Ha ha, Simon, you’re so funny,” she said. “You’re the funniest person in the world. I don’t know why people don’t walk up to you on the street and give you a million dollars and name their children after you. And you’re so nice and considerate and you never use words that wound. Open your present.”*

It was an iPod Nano (6th generation).

I was touched. But that was beside the point. I was moved. This was a surprising gift. I hadn’t owned a personal listening device in ages.

“Where’s the cassette go?” I said.

“––.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know it takes CDs.”

The Upper Nihotupu reservoir has a capacity of 336,000,000 gallons. Dam, that's a lot of water. Here the liquid passes through a pipe, as you can see. I'd been carrying 0.079251616 gallons of what you see there until just before this picture was taken.**

The device, as it turned out, imposed a steep learning curve that taxed all my faculties.

After six hours of screaming, one sprained wrist, third-degree burns all about my face and torso, a torn ligament and 25 mg of Valerian, I finally managed to upload a single tune.

Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean.

The situation was turning ugly.

I know what you're thinking. So I'm going to come out and say it to clear the air of...words that wound. This isn't a Hobbit hole, ok? That's just such a stupid, obvious joke. This is a damned tunnel. Alright? Just a tunnel. Not a nasty, dirty, wet tunnel, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy tunnel with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat. It's a tunnel that passes under the MAXX rail-bed and leads from the east side of Auckland Domain to Parnell (where the wankers dwell.) Hobbits use this tunnel to commute to work, and to sell drugs and sexual services to one another.

I called technical support.

I told them I was having trouble manipulating the controls on Nano’s little touch-screen.

“I see what the problem is, sir,” the tech support person said.

“You do?”

“Yes. Your fingers are the size of Hungarian sausages. Lay off the Ring Dings, if you can be bothered, and maybe in a few years you’ll be able to enjoy one of our fine products.”

I was going to yell at the tech support guy for using…words that wound.

But on second thought, he made a valid point as far as my physique was concerned.

You see, my Nano had gone missing for a while that day.

Jacquie and I looked everywhere. Things seemed hopeless. I tossed my head back in Joan of Arc fashion and just as I did that, the Nano popped out from a fold of adipose tissue between my second and third chin. We figured it must have slipped in there while I was eating a Ring Ding.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “Got any other helpful tidbits?”

“Yes,” the tech dude said. “Your blog is getting lame, bland and repetitive.”

“‘Getting’?”

“Bravo,” he said. “Well done. Didn’t see that one coming. Please, no more. I don’t want any part of it. That whole ‘Christmas came early this year’ bit as a segue into this Nano routine? Nuh-uh. Total crap.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

A disused railroad siding in a layer of adipose tissue between Auckland Domain and Parnell, near the Hobbit tunnel. (Note Hobbit feces). "Look," I said to Jacquie. "It's the G train. Finally." Even the Nano tech dude would have to admit this was a very humorous comment because the G train is a subway line in New York notorious for long waits, unannounced disruptions, and mildly irritating graffiti featuring...words that wound. Thus the implication here is that the "G train " was so tardy in its arrival that the motorcar corroded to the level of decay (pictured), making for a whimsical moment of absurdist satire that sophisticated people on one-and-one-fifttieth continents can enjoy. Note the added layer of humor in the suggestion that a NYC subway line could be extended to NYC's near-antipode, which would be highly impractical even if it were technically doable.

I couldn’t think what else to say.

Tech dude’s cherished yuletide sentiments had wounded me in the sebaceous area between my second and third chins.

I threw my head back in pain, adding my trademark Joan of Arc flourish. A Nano shot out of my adipose folds, soaring through the air, smashing against a Ring Ding.

I was about to hang up on the tech dude when Jacquie furiously grabbed the phone out of my hand.

“I just wanted to say one thing to you,” she screamed. “Merry Christmas.”

Then she hung up.

Then she turned to me.

Then she screamed again.

Then she said “Well, do you have a gift for me?”

Traffic signs in New Zealand often provide confusing or self-contradicory information, resulting in hundreds of thousands of wounds and deaths, costing the nation a few hundred dollars in lost productivity every year. But sometimes you come across a traffic sign that is relatively clear. New Zealand's written driver's exam always has at least one question regarding what to do when approaching the sign pictured above.

As a matter of fact, I did have time to prepare something.

“Here you go honey,” I said.

I handed her an envelope.

She was getting all teary eyed.

She opened the envelope, pulled out a note I’d written, and read out loud.

“‘I.O.U. one fantastic gift,'” she said. She looked at me, astonished. “But that’s what you got me for my birthday.”

“Not exactly,” I said. “This time the note was written on toilet paper.”

Jacquie was disgusted. She used several “words that wound,” alluding to uncomfortable-sounding objects orienting themselves in time and space to my nether region.

Then she smelled the IOU toilet paper and gagged. “Is that brown ink or is that what I hope it isn’t?”

“I’ll never tell,” I said. “But I’ll say one thing: getting a Hobbit to take stool-softener and spell out a letter with his own excrement is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be.”

This microscope is an inexplicable part of the penguin habitat exhibit at Kelly Tarlton's, a sort of combination aquarium, wildlife exhibit, children's museum and, at night, corporate event venue. My new employer held its Christmas party there.

Then the doorbell rang. It was the Apple tech guy.

“Would you please, please, end this stupid post now?” he said. “It’s terrible and nobody’s read this far because it’s Christmas and you’re already at like 1,250 words.”

They served a buffet dinner that included several kinds of meat.

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

A segment of tentacle at Kelly Tarlton's has absolutely no friends. It's not attached to anyone. It just likes to hang out in formaldehyde.

“OK,” I said. “You’re right.”

“Thank you,” the tech guy said.

“Merry Christmas.”

Another fine specimen. Although it has nothing to do with this picture, Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the underwater viewing tubule used by many modern aquariums.

* Quote taken verbatim.

**Because I pee’d in the reservoir.

Spring in the South Pacific

Poetry. Nobody understands it. Even fewer bother to try. Its purpose appears to be to make the dull moments of our lives seem exciting by comparison.

People who write poetry (or “poets”) often turn their thoughts to springtime. About once a year, I’d guess.

I can’t recall any examples of spring-themed poems right now. But I’m sure there’s a poem that makes reference to at least one of the seasons.

Come to think of it, there’s a famous sonnet in which Shakespeare writes, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

If a poet said that to me, I’d be like, “What’s the catch?”

Even if Sonnet 18 doesn’t mention spring exactly, it does refer to summer quite openly. To which I say, “Close enough.”

Because––and forgive me for waxing poetic––spring is the appetizer of summer.

The cenotaph outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum is a replica of the one in London memorializing the English killed in World War I. According to the Museum's Website, the design was copied using cinema newsreels because the blueprints were too expensive. "Poet" Rudyard Kipling provided the epitaph.

Except, I really don’t like the word appetizer, especially on a menu. Isn’t the very fact of going to a restaurant proof that one already wants to eat and therefore is in no need of having their appetite stimulated? Wouldn’t it make more business-sense to offer appetizers at the end, thus enticing customers to start all over again despite having just eaten a full meal?

Here’s a multiple-choice exercise to illustrate what I’m talking about:

It’s late one Friday afternoon and you say to your significant other, “I have absolutely no desire to eat.”  Your significant other replies:

  1. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with my drinking.
  2. But without food, how are we supposed to plug-up your pie-hole?
  3. Let’s go to a restaurant. We might have to make a reservation; you know how a lot of people don’t feel like eating on a Friday night.

If you chose number 3, chances are you own a restaurant that serves appetizers at the start of a meal, and you don’t live in New Zealand. Because the restaurants in New Zealand don’t have appetizers. They only have “entrées” followed by “mains” followed by “severe cramps and diarrhea.”

So despite the effects of destructive snow storms in mid-September, we can finally welcome spring, the entrée of summer, the time of year when the beauty and innocence of nature arouses the poets in us…

An anthurium just hanging around the hot house at the Auckland Domain's Wintergarden.

Jacquie and I celebrated the arrival of spring, and our third anniversary (leather) on Sept. 29, with a trip to the Auckland Domain.

We had lunch at the Museum then took a stroll through the Wintergarden.

The giant lily pad will spread only when properly titillated.

An orchid. If you look closely, you can seen an insect going down on it.

This waxflower is characterized by a hairy calyx.

The following Sunday we went to the Auckland Botanical Gardens.

Cherries and daffodils.

The tulip, up-close and personal.

Inside lily.

We were so casual about things, we never caught the names of these trees.

Flowers

Not sure what this is either.

A new section still under construction.

Picture Past Imperfect

My computer was cluttered. I started deleting useless files from my hard drive.

“What are you doing?” Jacquie screamed.

“Getting rid of junk.”

“Those are our wedding photos.”

“So?”

Jacquie explained why I shouldn’t delete photographs of our wedding.

“Oh, I get it now,” I said, three hours later. “It was our wedding. That makes these photos special.”

“Yes.”

“Pictures help us remember. We had a really musical wedding, didn’t we?”

“Indeed.”

“We’re a musical couple, then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Even though we’re tone-deaf and when we dance, people try to keep us from biting off our tongues because they think we’re having seizures, right?”

“Is there a point to all this?”

“No. Just that these photographs are bringing back a lot of fond memories.”

I remembered our wedding, how we started with Bjork’s It’s Oh So Quiet for our processional and how we danced to Bob Dylan’s The Man in Me to mark our debut as a married couple. But most of all I remembered this:

Singing and strumming my rendition of Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin', the perfect serenade for a bride. And not a bad choice for a caterer's assistant, too. Think Leon Redbone by way of Lord Humungus with a deviated septum.

“It’s too bad about that picture,” Jacquie said. “If only the caterer’s assistant wasn’t right there in the middle.”

“I know. He doesn’t seem moved by my serenade. And I was really trying to woo him. You know, in lieu of a tip.”

"I am totally not impressed by your version of Ain't Misbehavin'. Your voice makes me wish I'd been born with a cochlear defect and your guitar-playing sounds like the rusty hydraulic system of an ancient sanitation truck being pleasured by a young, healthy Tyrannosaurus Rex. Would you care to sample a canape?"

“The fact that he’s in this picture at all is the problem,” Jacquie said.

“I’m pretty sure he’s sneering at me there.”

“Whatever.  If there was only a way to remove that guy from the picture altogether.”

I hated to disappoint Jacquie, but facts are facts.

“We just don’t have the technology yet to edit digital photographs on our MacBooks,” I said. “I’m afraid the only way to ‘photoshop’ the caterer’s assistant out, if you will, would be to travel back in time and ask him to step out of the frame.”

Conveniently enough––and in a plot-twist oddly similar to the 1979 sci-fi flick Time After Time starring Malcolm McDowell, which I’d seen recently (by complete coincidence)––there just happened to be a functioning time-machine at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology, tucked between a 1920s John Deere tractor and the Men’s room.

I went down to MOTAT and hid until after closing. Then I put on a costume so that nobody in the past would recognize me and thus potentially jeopardize the space-time continuum that has only recently started to grow on me. Then I got into the time machine and headed back to what I thought would be September 29, 2007.

Unfortunately, I landed in Brooklyn in the year 2001 and in a strange turn of events, I ended up with this photograph:

"Oh, how cute. We don't have squirrels in New Zealand. I think I'll keep this one and name him Sylvia Plath. Of course, he'll have to be de-sexed as soon as possible. Let's go for a walk in Central Park, Sylvia Plath, so everyone can see your cute little bow."

I was surprisingly content with this new time-line and I heartily looked forward to my de-sexing operation until I got to the vet and kind of freaked out. Suffice it to say, I don’t like needles. Anyway, I bit the vet, ran away and somehow ended up in MOTAT again.

My second trip in time proved just as futile, despite managing to sneak into the wedding unseen and getting close enough to the assistant to have this moronic exchange:

Me: Hey, you. Caterer guy. Over here. Can I have a canape? Only kidding. I need a word with you.

Assistant: Oh, no. Not another talking rat.

Me: I’m not a rat, you idiot. I’m a human being wearing a Cowardly Lion costume. You know: from The Wizard of Oz.

Assistant: Then why are you wearing a red bow in your mane?

Me: By that token, why would a rat be wearing a red bow?

Assistant: Because yesterday was Dress-Down Friday at the vivisection lab and you haven’t had time to change? How should I know. You’re the rat.

Me: Look. Could you just sit someplace else for a minute?

Assistant: What’s in it for me?”

Me: I’ll tell you who wins the 2010 World Cup.

Assistant: They have octopuses for that. Wait, shut up. I want to hear that guy sing…Oh, man. He stinks…Hey wait a second. He looks just like you.”

Just at that moment, I turned around and ended up with this photograph:

"Oh my God, a feral rat...and another one standing on the table to his left. Everybody run."

Well, I found success in my third and last attempt by taking a bit of a gamble and traveling all the way back to the early 1900s when the building where we got married was still under construction. There I came across a brick mason, happily mumbling to himself as he worked.

Me: Could you make this part of the wall more narrow so that in 100 years time, a caterer’s assistant won’t have any room to sit there during a wedding ceremony?

Brick Mason: I’ve never in my life said “no” when a Leprechaun assigned me a task no matter what the cost to my health, my job or my relationship to my wife or children, and I don’t plan to start saying “no” now. Leprechaun, it would be my absolute pleasure.

And as I said, the third time was the charm because after this foray into history, I finally came up with this:

 

"Yuck. When will he stop singing already?"