Auckland History

Haunted menorah revitalizes NZ Halloween

Halloween is only two weeks away, and New Zealand is nowhere close to ready.

Back in America, they’re already piping Christmas elevator music at the Duane Reade.

We don’t even have a Duane Reade. Or elevators.

People, we are way behind.

Are we really going to do this again? Pretend nobody’s home on Halloween night, until the visitors give up and move on to Australia?

The least we could’ve done last year was put a bowl of candy out on the tarmac. It’s more than three hours to Sydney.

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You guys. We need to do some soul-searching.

We are too house proud to be known as the neighborhood party pooper.

We need a plan.

This isn’t about going over the top. It’s about finding the mid-point between what’s tasteful and what’s West Auckland.

Good taste isn’t everyone’s “thing” here. And I dig, man, given New Zealand’s reputation for working toward a fuller life, not simply for the festoons of wealth.

Shit, man. You are the thriftiest, most resourceful, self-sufficient sheep-fuckers anyone has ever met. Nobody’s arguing with you there.

Indeed, your pluck is the envy of the world. You’ve worked toward an easier life in New Zealand, whether you came here by waka, merchant vessel, or airplane under heavy sedation folded up inside some strange woman’s carry-on luggage.

That thing you did, turning most of the native brush into grazing land? Classic!

And wiping every Moa and Huia off the face of the earth? That’s the kind of do-it-yourself project that makes even America seethe with jealousy.

And that’s the only country in history to have vaporized two cities.

So what am I getting at?

Atomic weapons,  Halloween and Christmas decorations?

Well, I forgot.

Unlike some countries I’ve lived in, New Zealand does not rely heavily on ever-ballooning credit card debt to prop its economy.

That means, in short, there is no strong commercial motivation for retailers to shove the holiday spirit down your throat, no matter how much you want them to get you drunk.

It also means there is a relatively discrete level of holiday hard-selling in supermarkets and malls. Thus, fewer decorations. See?

You can wheel your cart down the aisles at Countdown oblivious to the calendar, which many Kiwis have been doing since the Muldoon years.

(Frankly, most Kiwis wheel their carts down the aisles oblivious to everything, which makes shopping so awful. I blame Muldoon.)

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That’s the opposite of what happens in America.

Last time I went Christmas shopping in New York City, back in 2007, it was very obnoxious.

This one store had a decorated tree, a children’s choir, and a security guard dressed as Santa, who held a gun to my head because I hadn’t bought enough shit.

“You get back in that fucking Duane Reade or so help me your brains will be all over the sidewalk, you hear me?” Santa came to say. “What kind of asshole gets ten-packs of Tic Tacs and nothing else for Christmas? That’s not a gift. That’s a stocking stuffer.”

“But I’m half Jewish,” I said.

“You stingy motherfucker,” Santa said. “You get back inside and look for the Hanukkah section.”

Then he cocked his side-arm and pressed the muzzle into my mouth. “You think I won’t? You think I won’t?”

I really don’t miss that retail aggressiveness. I mean the guard with the gun was ok, but did he have to dress as Santa? It’s too much.

Anyway, that’s the kind of shit that goes on in America, and it starts weeks before Halloween.

New Zealand needs something that isn’t over the top like in America, but isn’t too beige either.

That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Haunted Seven-Candle Menorah, now on display through Halloween. Only in Parnell.

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Halloween will never be the same again, with the establishment of the Haunted Seven-Candle Menorah.

As the only Haunted Seven-Candle Menorah display in the entire South Pacific, it’s certain to become not only a local feature of the Halloween season, but also a major tourist attraction.

Global demand for a Haunted Seven-Candle Menorah has never been higher.

Extensive market research via social media channels indicates that 85 percent of seven people around the world would “like” to see the only Haunted Menorah in the South Pacific.

Fifty-seven percent of those who would like to see it, would pay for it. Another 27 percent would pay, but only if admission included a complimentary fold-up laundry drying wrack.

The Haunted Menorah display is an unprecedented opportunity for New Zealand to celebrate its diversity, and tick off the Halloween box at the same time.

There is more to the Haunted Menorah than pumping up the tourism trade with “shock” “entertainment” “value” for the whole family.

Research also points to a unique cross-cultural, educational opportunity, a chance for New Zealand’s gentiles to add dimension to their dearly-held ethnic stereotyping of Jews. Indeed, according to the survey, 27 percent of respondents who would pay to see the Haunted Menorah, would also like to learn about its long, rich history, from its origin as a prop in the movie Frankenstein’s Bar Mitzvah to making landfall in Auckland in 2009.

What a history it has.

My part goes back to 2004.

Jacquie had recently been licensed to practice nursing in New York State.

Her first job was taking care of wretched, fossil-assed Park Avenue dandies, the only people in America who could afford Jacquie’s services.

Anyway, Jacquie was taking care of this 87-year-old British expat who’d suffered a series of bad strokes, and had to spend much of his time in bed because of the subsequent tennis elbow.

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One stormy night, the British guy fell asleep, and Jacquie went into his library to see if there were any books she wanted to steal.

Suddenly, the British guy appeared in the doorway, and started talking about the seven-candle menorah on one of the shelves.

Apparently, his father had been a producer at Hammer Studios, famous for its vampire-mummy-werewolf style horror movies.

He said the menorah was a prop from the studios never-released 1958 buddy-horror flick, Frankenstein’s Bar Mitzvah, starring Peter Cushing and Henny Youngman.

The studio lost hundreds of thousands of dollars on the doomed flick, and they blamed the menorah.

The bloke said it was his most prized possession.

Then he keeled over from a massive heart attack.

Acting solely on professional instinct, Jacquie leaped to his side, grabbed the menorah and ran.

And it’s been running with us ever since then.

The bottom line is, everyone is sick and tired of the same old haunted hay rides and corn mazes. New Zealanders and the world alike hanker after pointless, time consuming novelty.

So, America, listen up. If you don’t have any plans for Halloween, come on down and visit the Haunted Menorah. You’re not welcome inside my house, but there’s a backpacker’s hostel down the block.

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Sunshine and rubbish

Parnell gets the best light of anywhere in Auckland.

Situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure, Parnell today is considered one of the city’s oldest suburbs situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure. This combination of ridge-sitting and northwestern-facing-ness joins together to form the most unique blending anyone could ask for in a neighborhood.

Pinko-Commie-bastard Samuel Duncan Parnell was the first newcomer to acknowledge that “Parnell is chocka sunshine”.

Geyser Parnell at corner of Garfield Street

It’s a lot more fun walking in Parnell than in most other neighborhoods here, which tend to be huge stretches of dull, suburban landscapes, better to drive through than to walk.

The pedestrian-scale streets, bestride with both residential and commercial properties make you really believe that Auckland is a city, after all.

Parnell does a New Yorker’s heart good, especially the rubbish. Nothing is more urban-ish than trash. And nothing helps to create a better sense of neighborhood than picking through your neighbor’s garbage. We always did that growing up. Where else do you think we got all our furniture? (The old black-and-white set we found never worked, but we always got a kick out of the rat that was trapped behind the screen).

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It’s easy just to say, ‘hello’ to someone in passing on the way to work. But when you take the trouble to find out about somebody first, you turn a casual greeting into a powerful community building moment. In fact, just the other day, I was able to let the woman in Apartment 6 know that I was “there for her” when we saw each other in the laundry room.

“How are you going?” she said.

A lot better than you,” I told her. “Thank god for the morning-after pill, eh?”

Jacquie later explained to me that the reason why the woman in Apartment 6 ran off crying was probably because she felt embarrassed and vulnerable that I had been so prying as to look through her rubbish. I hastened to point out that, technically speaking, it wasn’t really “her rubbish” once it was in the rubbish bin, and that if she didn’t want the neighborhood nosing in her business, she shouldn’t have left her morning-after pill packaging lying around in the third bag from the top mixed in with some the remains of a Chinese take-away and a whole lot of used kitty litter.

If that’s how it’s going to be, then I won’t be doing much community building anymore. As Jesus said, a community builder is never welcome on his own block.

The trash problem isn’t always found in the rubbish bin, I’m afraid. As the New Zealand Herald reported two weeks ago, there was a bag of rubbish found on the street in Parnell. That was right outside our house. One morning, I went out there and it was right in the middle of the road, obviously tossed from the driver’s side of a moving car.

Stubborn as I am, I decided to give neighborhood-building one more chance. Against my better judgement, and feeling taken for granted, I decided to remove the litter.

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It was one of those plastic grocery bags, and from a distance, it seemed to be the remains of a meal from a Subway sandwich shop.

It turned out to be much more than that. It was a window into the mysterious Parnell folkways. Inside the bag with the Subway wrapper were also an empty can of Red Bull, a plastic baggy filled with the remains of a crystalline substance, and the crème de la crème, a used condom. All of which spilled through a previously undetected hole, and onto the road, splashing at my feet as I picked it up off the ground.

Needless to say, my community spirit began to flag. On the bright side, I found a used condom, and what a fascinating find it turned out to be. Through scientific methodology and analysis, one can determine what the typical date of a Parnell-couple consists of.

The single Subway sandwich wrapper is indicative of the sophistication and refined taste that Parnell is known for. What it also tells us is that the couple either shared a sandwich, or more likely, one part of the couple ate the sandwich while the other one was forced to watch. Washed down with a Red Bull, followed by the snorting and/or smoking of the crystalline substance, it was promising to be a very romantic evening, which is obviously where the condom comes in. Finally, the hole in the plastic bag, chucked out of the driver’s side window, was probably due to being dropped while at a high speed, a sure sign that the driver had an important engagement to attend to after dropping his or her partner off somewhere (presumably while the car was at a rest).

Thanksgiving in Mordor

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America.

I know what some of you in the US are wondering and the answer is ‘no’.  Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand.

This is for a very obvious reason that shouldn’t need mentioning: New Zealand isn’t thankful for anything.

The mindset here diverges from the Americans’, formed in parallel, colonial histories that intersect from time to time.

Mt. Tongariro erupted this afternoon at about 1:30, sending a plume of ash three or four kilometers into the troposphere. It was a brief and less dramatic explosion than one that occurred in August. There were 100 or so school kids hiking nearby, but I don’t think anyone was hurt. Mt. Tongariro served as the template for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This image was lifted from Dan News (https://twitter.com/dannews).

The Europeans that settled New Zealand were just as unpleasant as those that settled the US. They were both kicked out of some of the same countries, even. And not without good reason. They were all ugly and they smelled like cow manure. But that’s where the similarities end.

Today, not only do Americans smell much better than New Zealanders, but they also come from a much different experience with indigenous people. The English in colonial Massachusetts were treated by the Native Americans to a huge Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmin’s (whatever the fuck that means). Then they all said a prayer, and lived happily ever after together in peace and harmony. Apart from that little misunderstanding over land and small pox-laden blankets. All water under the bridge. Your modern Indian today happily occupies crucial niches in American society, not just as the sporting team logos that grace our helmets, but as the custodians of our favorite vices tax-free.

Of course, the Maori-European experience was not so fortunate. Instead of James Cook and his crew being feted by the Maori in their first encounter, a handful of those European sailors were actually eaten instead. By the handful. (With the leftovers put away in the ice box and used for sandwiches for the kids to take to school).

You’d have to be a saint to show gratitude after traveling seven miles through someone’s intestines, only to be shat in a ditch (on Thanksgiving Day no less.) How is it even possible to turn the other cheek, after it has been braised, and dressed in a delicious mint sauce? Lick the other cheek, is more like it. So, I give Kiwis a pass for not celebrating Thanksgiving.

And I give the Maori a pass, too. I don’t blame them for eating a few poms now and then, back in the day. I do blame them for having eaten the wrong people.

You can’t go back in time and change history. But wouldn’t it be great if Peter Jackson’s ancestors had been eaten?

Better yet, could someone eat Peter Jackson now, tonight, while the authorities, I don’t know, looked the other way?

Peter Jackson and his movies have done great things for New Zealand. I guess. In essence, he accomplished what the US compulsory education system could never achieve. He has alerted Americans to the concept that there is some place that isn’t the United States. That is no minor feat.

But it only goes so far. Before I moved to New Zealand in 2009, there was a bit of a disagreement among my friends and family over where I was actually going, if it did indeed exist. Some said the east coast of Australia. Others said, “that island where they filmed Lost.” An old friend from college asked me if New Zealand was one of the flyover states.

At the airport, there was a suggestion to hold that year’s family Christmas celebration in a place equidistant from New York and New Zealand.

“Like, maybe somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike,” they said.

Clearly, Peter Jackson has a job to finish. And he’s more than willing to take on the task, without complaint. And with the helpful hand of the New Zealand government, which has slavishly tailored tourism promotions into little more than Hobbit-abilia. This essentially makes Peter Jackson the biggest welfare queen in the country. There are also in-flight promotions on Air New Zealand. For at least a year, probably longer, Air New Zealand used a video featuring Richard Simmons in its pre-flight instructions videos. Now, of course, it’s hobbits and dwarves and other Irish folk.

After Peter Jackson decided to milk The Hobbit into a trilogy, after he blackmailed the government into changing labor laws or lose the production to Romania, after the allegations of animals dying by the dozen in hazardous pens, and after the “mysterious cover ups on autopsy reports”, I just think Peter Jackson needs to be eaten. Full stop.

So have yourself some Bath Salts, and sharpen your forks and knives. It’s Thanksgiving.

Editor’s Note: I can’t wait to see The Hobbit.

Vacated minds, wasted spaces

When you’re on holiday, you don’t have to worry about punctuation forming a coherent thought or personal hygeiene.

If you don’t wreak bumbling the neighborhood muttering nonsensical, grammatically incorrect, run on sentences, then you haven’t earned a vacation.

Management experts believe that people who have their shit together must never have a good time. Only the incompetent, they say, should be allowed to take paid leave. I would take this one step further. Incompetent people should be encouraged to spend as much time away from the office as possible. I’m pretty sure that’s why a lot of people at work were happy when I announced I was going to be gone for 10 days. If efficiency and productivity improve by the 200% I expect in my absence, I will recommend to my bosses that I should go on leave indefinitely, so as to lift company performance. Always happy to take one for the team.

It’s crazy. Leaving Auckland for a week. Why would I want to do that? Auckland is an urban planning marvel. It’s the city dreamed by a car. Beware of pedestrians.

It leads to dead spaces.

The only scenario I can imagine in which someone would sit in a space like this is if they’ve just been shivved by a fellow inmate, and they needed a sec to light a cigarette as they bled out.

I haven’t formulated why I think these spaces are because of cars. I’m thinking of explaining it in a photography project cataloging Auckland’s wasted spaces, even crowdfunding for decent equipment.

But cars are definitely a part of the calculation. A lot of people drive them. Entire transportation infrastructures have disappeared.

Obviously it wasn’t cars that obviated railroads. Planes did that. But in truth, the infrastructure hasn’t disappeared.

Some of it ends up with a historical society.:

If you want a glimpse of future events:

That’s Auckland Domain beyond the rail-bed.

A car loves speed and billboards and signs. It is amused by appeals to its addictions. It adores pithiness at 60kph.

Juxtapositions of its basic appetites allow it to dwell on itself. Here is Magnum Ice Cream, in heat. It is barely visible in this shot (there’s another picture below). The ad is essentially a conflation of  commodity junk food with coitus. You can buy an orgasm. (I mean, without involving a professional). It guarantees a presumably feminine audience an alternative delight to the one that so often eludes them, at least according to the popular imagination. How are you going to sell that to a man? As the Woody Allen line from Manhattan goes, “I’ve never had the wrong kind. Ever. My worst one was right on the money.”

But if you notice in the picture above, right next to the Magnum ad is Neat Meat:

Part of the joke is cultural specific. Magnum is a condom brand. I’m not the first person to giggle about it.
Neat Meat. Magnum. It’s like a sausage with the casing on it. You see? Or maybe an easier simile: it’s like a penis with a condom on it.

Anyway, back to wasted spaces. This is the oval in front of  what was once the Auckland Railway Station.

Which is now pretty much something to park near.

The station facade.

Just in case you mistook the railway station for a railway station, there’s a sign.

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Anyway. I’ll kvetch about this crap another time. I just need to rest. Go away.

Jacquie does too. Lately she’s been stepping on the ends of mops and getting clocked in the head by its handle.

Jacquie is the only three dimensional person I know of who has done that. Like in the cartoons. Unless Jacquie is Wilma Flinstone, that really shouldn’t be happening at all.

She says this happens because, “I’m the only one who cleans up around here.”

But I think hitting herself in the head with a mop handle, like in the cartoons, is really some weird cry for help. Obviously, it was an accident, she says. Obviously, Jacquie? Really? Because I think there are no accidents. I mean, you start with these kinds of gestures, and next thing you know you’ll be arranging to have a piano fall on your head. Just like in the cartoons.

Oh, crap. Stick a fork in me because i’m

Jubilee-joobity-do

This is a special time for a special lady and the entire world is sitting up and taking notice, like a well-meaning but half-witted poodle.

It’s Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and in New Zealand, everybody gets a three-day-weekend, as we also happen to be commemorating the monarch’s 86th birthday. Everybody wins. I get to sleep late, England gets to enjoy the illusion of its own significance, and the Queen gets to look back on another year of opulent sloth.

If I’m coming off as harsh, it’s only because I’m jealous. Most unemployed, inbred, octogenarian people with dumb accents spend their birthdays like any other day. By spitting tobacco juice out of their toothless gobs onto the heads of the grandchildren eating dirt in front of the porch and don’t even notice anyway. Oh, no. Not the Queen. That’s not her scene. No, Queen Elizabeth gets something special. A thousand-vessel flotilla up the Thames, including a waka.

I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t understand the royal prerogative. In America, we don’t have a person who inherits the mantle of statehood by dint of genetic composition; who earns, simply from having been born, the deference of a nation, and the power to rule it supremely, for life. In America, anybody can be a douchebag.

And most of us are. It is no glowing, jingoistic hyperbole, but a simple, historic fact the Declaration of Independence civilly GUARANTEES an individual’s inalienable right to being a douchebag, specifically in the pursuit of happiness. America has come through with flying colours, as far as I’m concerned, in the protection of THIS, OUR PREMIER among several DOUCHEBAG FREEDOMS. From slavery, to the Vietnam War, to American Idol, what happiness could be greater than the joy we take in the suffering of others? That’s why America rebelled in the first place: why should the Royal Family have all the Schadenfreude?

New Zealand never broke with the mother country the way America did. So it’s easy to understand why some Kiwis look to the throne with Britannic pride. She’s still Queen Regnant here, albeit more figurehead than executive, and the visit she made to New Zealand 60 years ago still makes the odd person stop in the middle of the street and break out in tears remembering the occasion. In fact, I had an experience the other day when I found this strange rock in the alley by our flat.

One of our neighbors told us that it was a coprolite. I was suddenly excited by my discovery. It touched my imagination. What ancient creature could possibly have generated this fossilized piece of crap? The neighbor, however, explained that it was not from any dinosaur, but it was from 1953, when the Queen paid a royal visit to the region, shitting everywhere she went, including New Zealand.

According to my neighbor, Elizabeth had tried to hold it in for as long as possible, so as not to have to use a toilet that someone else might have used. But two months is a long time, even for a royal sphincter. Also, Elizabeth was constantly being fed. And though she spat into a napkin as much of the food as she could without anyone seeing, it was obvious to her staff that she must evacuate her royal person, or die. Or die trying. They conferred, and seeing the royal doctor’s wisdom, she decided to shit as soon as she landed in Auckland. Her one caveat was that she still refused to sit on strange toilets, and when given the choice of having a new toilet manufactured for the occasion, or shit standing up, the queen chose the latter.

Whenever Elizabeth stopped to address a crowd, she would take that opportunity to shit and be adored by her subjects at the same time. My neighbor said some observant Aucklanders noticed and collected them as souvenirs of the royal visit.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “But how in the world did the Queen’s shit get fossilized in 60 years?”

My neighbor seemed perplexed.

“What do you mean ‘fossilised'” he said. “It came out that way.”

Still, Elizabeth’s reign is impressive. She’s spent more time doing nothing than any other monarch in British History, besides her great, great grandmother, Victoria, who celebrated her60th year of indolence in 1897. Considering this historic achievement, I think now’s a good time to write about my recent trip to Martha’s Backyard.

The last time I visited this emporium of American brands was a little more than two years ago, before it moved to Harvey Norman Plaza.

If you haven’t been there since the relocation, the new spot is a vast improvement. In the first place, it’s bigger, with wider aisles to accommodate the ample American ass. There are far more products in stock, apparently more staff who pay attention to inventory, and generally a superior, easier shopping experience than the last place. Best of all, it occupies a dominant corner of a soulless, suburban shopping center, with plenty of parking, which should satisfy many Americans’ nostalgia for the Old Country.

Actually, I got to Martha’s Backyard a little early the Saturday I went, so it was helpful to have a few other shops nearby to visit. I bought a rain jacket from a store where everything is made out of rubber, except the rubbers.

The day I went, I bought two jars of Vlasic pickles (Kiwis look at you funny when you mention savory pickles), a box of Cheerios, a box of Triscuits, some Mexican hot sauce, and something else, all of which I mixed into a bowl and dipped in a fat-fryer.

I didn’t get any Pop Tarts, but there is something at Martha’s Backyard for everybody. Even if you’re not from America. The day I went, I heard quite a few Kiwi accents talking about how they remembered this or that thing from when they’d visited the States. But even those who’ve never left New Zealand can find something in New Zealand to like.

There’s even an aisle that I think Bishop Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church might be interested in.

Now that I look at these pictures again and think about the significance of the Diamond Jubilee, I’m compelled to make an observation.

The queen might have been big here 60 years ago, but with America’s cultural domination, political influence, and bullying of the local judiciary, as illustrated by the Megaupload case, I have just one thing to say to Her Majesty on behalf of America. Hands off, lady. New Zealand’s our bitch now.

And now the conclusion to Flight to Alcázar

Everyone in America knows Jacquie is gaseously challenged.

That didn’t bother me when we started dating. I mean, the asthma attacks, the burning eyes, the emergency room visits, and the flash fires, I could deal with all that. I just kept telling myself that some day I would be dead and it would all be over, and that made it all ok.

Besides, you have to put things in perspective. We lived in Greenpoint, a convenient few blocks away from New York City’s largest aggregation of excrement, the Newtown Creek Waste Treatment Facility, famous for its egg-like “digester tanks,” known to the locals as the Shit Tits.

Now how much more noxious, I used to ask myself, could Jacquie’s effluvium possibly be stacked up against those four giant Shit Tits?

A little, but that’s not the point. The point is, I held my nose and, because I wasn’t busy that Saturday, got hitched up to my special lady.

It didn’t take long, however, for the true dimensions of Jacquie’s intestinal character to manifest. One day, we were late heading to a friend’s party. As we rushed toward the turnstiles to catch an arriving subway train, Jacquie dropped her Metrocard. I got a little impatient.

“We’re going to miss the train,” I said.

“Don’t rush me,” she said. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m rushed.”

“If we’re late it’s your fault.”

She grit her teeth, snarled, and her irises turned yellow. From the sulfur. “I warned you,” she said. “I am Blastula.”

I was scared. I won’t lie. I watched Blastula bend to pick up her Metrocard. The resulting pressure in her abdominal cavity must have been too much. It squeezed out a fart that rocketed her over the turnstile and into the waiting subway train just before the doors closed behind her. The irony is, she got to the party on time, and I was late. But what I saw that day was something I never wanted to see again. Blastula is someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley unless you have a match and you want to see a fireworks show.

So when Jacquie told me a few weeks back that we were being evicted thanks to Blastula, I didn’t want to believe her. I didn’t want Blastula back in my life, in our life. Ruining everything. If it were Blastula, we surely would be evicted, no question. But if it were something else, maybe I could convince our landlord to let us stay. So I waited for my flight to Auckland, thinking of possible alternative reasons for our landlord’s displeasure.

To be honest, Jacquie and I haven’t been the best of neighbors. Since we lived in Mt. Eden, property values have bottomed out, and we are not welcome in most shops. Because of the sulfur.

So, maybe if it were something else, some particular episode, we could apologize and make things right. I remembered:

1. The Girl Guide Episode

It was a cold, rainy afternoon, a typical summer day in New Zealand. There’s a knock at the door, and I open it and standing there are these 10-, 11-year-old girls that to my recollection looked a lot like the one in this police sketch:

I stifled my desire to scream in terror, fearing that it would only make matters worse to agitate the Girl Guides.

“Would you like to support the Girl Guides by buying some biscuits?” the leader said.

I thought the only way to get rid of these meth addicts would be to buy a couple of boxes. And thinking that the “Girl Guide” “biscuits” would be just like a Girl Scout cookies–you know, edible–I thought, everyone wins. But mostly me because I’d have a delicious cookie, and I would longer live in fear.

So I bought two boxes and sampled one of these “biscuits”.

“Oh, my god,” I said. I spat out half an uneaten cookie. “Girls, come back here a minute. Where did you make these cookies? In pottery class? I think you need to give me my money back.”

They were flummoxed, but I was able to get my money back when Jacquie threatened to fart near them.

2. The pet ducks episode

One day Jacquie wanted a pet duck.

She wouldn’t be dissuaded.

“I always had a duck growing up,” she said. “It had its own duck pond, but it liked to swim with us in the people pool and she and the hen used to clutch their eggs together and they were inseparable. We all had ducks growing up.”

So we went to Pet Stop, New Zealand’s one stop shop for all your pet needs.

“Oh, no, Jacquie, we’re too late.”

“I want a pet duck,” she said.

Her irises turned yellow. So we bought all the pet ducks that were hanging the shop window, plus a nice plastic pool for them to swim in.

Then we came home and let the ducks go free on the lawn we shared with our neighbors and their two young children who liked to play on that lawn.

But the ducks seemed unresponsive, and pretty soon, we lost interest in them, but our neighbors kept giving us looks, because every time they passed our door, Jacquie was passing gas.

3. The newspaper headline episode

One day I was sitting on the front step reading the local free newspapers, when Matt, the neighbor-husband came home from work.

“Simon, I’ve been meaning to ask what you planned to do with these, um, ducks you’ve left on the lawn.”

“Our pet ducks?”

“Pets?”

“Yes, well, they’re not much for pets now, ever since the rats got to them. Oh, there’s one now.”

“Yes, well, um.”

“You think we should take them to the vet? They look like they might have rabies.”

Matt was speechless, probably out of respect for our poor ducks, which at that very moment were being attacked by another wave of rats.

“Hey,” I said. “Cheer up. Check out this terrible headline.”

Matt read the headline. “What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s a lie. How in the world can lepers touch anything?”

“You’re a dick.”

Just then, there was an extended, muffled rumbling from within our flat.

****

So, the Girl Guides hated us, our neighbors hated us, and the lepers hated us. Not to be redundant.

And remembering all those episodes, I knew there would be no pleading. Blastula, I realized, was involved in every situation.

When I returned home, Jacquie was in high spirits.

“I’ve already found us an apartment, in Parnell.”

The highest concentration of wankers in New Zealand.

“You’ll love it,” Jacquie said. “It’s got a washing machine, and it’s in a historic deco building. Called Alcázar. Like in Spain. See?”

Cute.

Come back soon for the exciting epilogue to this incredibly stupid blog post.

Most Ill-Favored Nation Status

When it comes to beauty, Kiwis must be graded on a curve.

I know this statement is hard to take, but I have every reason to believe it’s true because of the high regard I hold for my own opinion.

Thus it is with a heavy heart and a generous dose of self-satisfaction that I hereby grant New Zealand “most ill-favored nation” status.

Kiwis, please don’t be upset. Look on the bright side. At least you’re not British.

In fact, if anyone is responsible for causing offense in this post it’s obviously the British.

The British spent hundreds of years dumping their most wretched citizens on distant shores. Scientists say this explains why Australians, for example, are so difficult to look at.

And historians agree that the British established their empire mostly out of a painful awareness of their own horse-like countenances. The unfortunate teeth, the flaring nostrils of an endless schnoz, the galloping around on all fours and the immitigable desire for salt-lick. Of course you’re thinking, “But that’s just Prince Charles. Surely there are good-looking Brits?”

Yes, there are. Now that the wretches have been sent away, the best-looking Brits, like Amy Winehouse, finally have a chance to stand out, (assuming they can stand at all.)

New Zealand’s membership in the Commonwealth obviously means it was not exempt from Britain’s off-loading scheme. The ill-favored were dispatched here beginning in the 1830s and 1840s. The worst of these were sequestered in a “wanker colony” called Parnell, today considered Auckland’s most thriving community of ill-favored wankers.

A window in Parnell. A window on Parnell.

For the rest of New Zealand, Britain’s plan took an unexpected turn. Former Brits improved themselves through such local circumstances as miscegenation with the Maori, the introduction and application of toothpaste and dental floss, and a switch from British cooking to actual food.

So, chin up, Kiwis. You’re not as bad looking as you think you are.

Unless you’re my neighbors, the Von Trolls. Thanks to a mix of Australian, New Zealand and British blood, the Von Trolls are ill-favored par excellence. They seem engaged in a kind of genetic “race to the bottom” in terms of looks, intelligence and personality.

The Von Trolls recently tried to ingratiate themselves to human beings by getting into the spirit of Halloween. They bought candy and decorated their porch with fake cob webs. To add to the illusion that their house was an authentic portal to hell, they had young Polly-Anastasia do her voice exercises on the front steps. As a music major (with a minor in Manatee Vocalization so she’ll have, you know, something to fall back on) Polly-Anastasia was able to scare the shit out of every living creature in the South Pacific.

It was this disturbance that had Jacquie run out of the house.

“What’s that terrible sound?” she said.

“Relax,” said Dabney Von Troll. “It’s for Halloween.”

“Oh, I see,” Jacquie said. She turned to Polly-Anastasia. “I should have guessed. What a wonderful mask your daughter has on. So grotesque. Rubbery, yet lifelike. What are you supposed to be? Let me guess: deranged mule?”

“I’m not wearing a mask,” Polly-Anastasia said.

“Oh,” Jacquie said, “well, that’s ok. It’s still a great costume. Your parents must be proud.”

Maybe, Jacquie, maybe. But remember, she’s being graded on a curve.

A Brief Word About History

History is everywhere. Check your nose. You’ll find some.

That moldy smell in the bathroom? Yep: that’s the rough-draft of history. That milk in the fridge from last January? That’s history in the making.

When it’s put that way, the goal of the historian becomes clear. It’s the same question about humanity that’s plagued everyone from Thucydides down to Barbara Tuchman: What stinks around here?

But history’s great. Really. Who doesn’t love recalling facts about the past?

For instance when my wife reminds me her birthday’s coming up. That’s ancient history come to life. Like a Civil War re-enactment. Or a toga party.

If someone pointed a gun at my head and made me choose between participating in a Civil War re-enactment and a toga party, I’d have to pick the Civil War. But only if I could play a crazy soldier. One who believed he was a Roman general. That way I could be in the Civil War but still wear a toga.

You see? History isn’t always a drag. Like a root canal or a Ken Burns documentary.

Sometimes it’s terrifying. But in a good way. Because you can’t spell terrifying without most of the letters from “terrific.”

Like this terrific place me and the misses went. Whoo boy. Is it historic.

It’s called Alberton, the 19th Century farmstead of Auckland luminary Allan Kerr Taylor (or Mr. T, for brevity’s sake.)

Mr. T spent his youth in India where his father served in the army. His father implored him to put his youth in a mutual fund and not touch it until retirement, but the kid spent his youth anyway. The ogee roof you see in the picture above was influenced by the architecture Mr. T saw in India. At least that's what the hobo living under the verandah told us as we came in. Come to think of it, the hobo was probably Mr. T himself.

Or should it be…

You could almost hear the thunder cracking and the little girl's voice eerily humming a familiar nursery rhyme off-key and with heavy reverb.

Alberton was filled with stuff.

Ground-breaking stuff.

Consequently, some of the floorboards needed replacement.

There was still something for everyone to enjoy.

Like this one innovation straight out of the history of women’s lib.

Windows in the kitchen!

This array of windows is also said to be borrowed from Indian architecture.

Imagine it’s 1865 and there are windows in the kitchen. How about that ladies, huh? That Mrs. T was one lucky broad.

If you stand very still, you can almost see her staring vacantly out one of them, pondering the meaninglessness of her toilsome life. Few women of her time had that luxury.

And if you stand still even longer, you can see her thrashing the scullery maid. Few women had that luxury, either. That’s why every Christmas, Mrs. T loaned her scullery maid out to charity so that people who didn’t have a scullery maid––like scullery maids––could thrash Mrs. T’s scullery maid just to see how the other half lived.

And they say if you stand longer yet, you can see the scullery maid spreading typhoid fever through the family soup.

See if you can spot her in the act:

Just stare for a while.

Alberton is famous for its wall paper. All the wall paper there is original. And some of it is in disrepair.

Wall paper. Blurry. Thanks Crappy Cam.

The dining room was fully equipped with the finest cutlery and china that money could buy. But the family never knew this because the dining room was kept in perpetual darkness.

That was probably intentional. I mean, think about it.

With dentistry the way it was, could you really stomach an hour of Mr. T and family gumming their roast beef?

Now it's dark.

We came across a well inside a semi-attached shack at the back of the house. Nobody could tell us what it was used for.

Technically, that’s because we didn’t ask anybody.

So I went to the volunteer.

“Look,” I said. “My wife and I don’t want to have to ask questions. It’s our day off. You guys need to designate one person to walk around going up to people saying, ‘Do you realize there’s a well in a semi-attached part of the house at back? Have a look-see.’ That’s all. Is that so hard?”

“I take it you’re from Brisbane,” the volunteer said.

All 17 of Mr. T's children (with two successive wives) were spawned from eggs laid deep in the cool, protected recesses of this well.

Alberton even displays a model of itself, done up in matchsticks.

Matchstick Alberton

Or should I say…

You can almost hear the...oh, screw it.

There was a couple from Brisbane touring the place at the same time we were.

They were heading in the same direction, so Jacquie and I had no choice but to follow them and smirk at everything they said.

We came to the bedroom where both Mrs. T’s (Patty and Sophia) gave birth to all 17 or 18 of the children fathered by Mr. T.

"What a dump."

“What’s that awful stain on the wall?” the woman from Brisbane said.

“Amniotic fluid, obviously,” the man said. “From all the children the two wives had over the years.”

“Are you kidding?”

“No.”

“How is that possible?”

“Midwives.”

“But how did the stain get there?”

“Maybe the bed folds up into the wall. I don’t know.”

Stupid Brisbaners.

Here are some other things we saw…

The nursery. Some visitors got cute.

The maid's room. Setting aside the back-breaking work, the 20-hour days, the stuffy attic room and the annual Christmas thrashing, it really was a sweet gig.

A cool tree. I'm so negligent about identifying trees. This might be a kind of pear tree.

Where Mr. T did most of his thinking. Stinking thinking. And look. It's built like a brick shit house. I always thought that was just an expression.

Enjoying the Auckland Waterfront

New Zealand will host the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

I know, I know. I’m just as excited as you are.

Especially because this means that Rand McNally has finally agreed to include New Zealand in all its future world atlases.

And also because Auckland stands to gain a “party central” venue, a place where rugby fans from every nation can beat the shit out of one another in the name of friendly competition and excessive inebriation.

“Party central” was originally slated for Queens Wharf.

The plan was scrapped after some people opposed the razing of two old cargo sheds––having some historical value––to make room for the venue.

The bustle of Queens Wharf on a sunny weekend afternoon; there's nothing quite like it. Or it's quite like nothing. I get confused sometimes. Shed 10 (left) was erected in 1914 while Shed 11 was erected in 1911 while Shed 10 likely will remain erect beyond 2011, while Shed 11 is to be shed after 2010.

I was curious about the sheds. I left the house on Sunday to check out the waterfront and see what the controversy was about.

But the biggest jerk in the world, my neighbor Dabney Von Troll was blocking my path.

“Do you have a minute?” he said.

“Oh, uh, I was just on my way to, um, to have something removed…to have my….self removed…from here.”

“I promise to make this quick.”

“Ugh. OK. If you have to.”

“I had to go to hospital the other day. I was having terrible chest pains.”

“Is this story going to take much longer?”

“At first the doctor thought it was a heart attack. But as it turned out I was going into labor.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. With a gas baby. I had no idea I was even pregnant with a gas baby. But there I was in my gown, worried about my heart, when all of a sudden I start going into labor.  The proctologist came to see me and confirmed that I was dilated: I was definitely ready to fart. Just then, I let rip a big one and out came my beautiful gas baby. Good thing I was already in the hospital, otherwise I might have had my gas baby in an elevator or on a bus or something. Well, it wasn’t an ideal gas baby birth. I prefer to have my gas babies in a heated swimming pool or a warm bath. It’s much less strenuous that way and it eases the gas baby’s transition into the world by recreating the conditions the gas baby enjoyed while inside me. Well, anyway, it was a quick labor in the end, so to speak. I had triplets. They’re resting comfortably inside. You want to meet them?”

“No.”

“Good. Now you  know exactly how I feel every time you and your wife blow a fart.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, man. Let me make this clear. The walls between our flats are very thin and very porous and every time you and your wife pass gas, not only can my family hear the disgusting sounds you make, but the smell drifts through the walls. Until you came along, I had no idea that ‘flat’ was short for ‘flatulence.’ So do me a favor, buddy. If you have gas, blow it out your ass. Someplace else. Or you’ll be sorry.”

“Uh…ok,” I said.

“Great,” Dabney said, smiling.  “She’ll stop by tomorrow. Thanks.”

He dashed into his house and closed the door behind him.

I realized then that the preceding dialog was not actually what had transpired between us but what I had WISHED had transpired between us and that I had completely blanked out what Dabney REALLY had said. All I knew for certain was that a girl or a woman was going to stop by my flat on Monday for reasons that were completely lost to me.

I walked down to the waterfront in a confused state, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

Auckland's Central Business District as seen from Queens Wharf in a photograph that is almost identical to the one posted above.

"Enjoy your waterfront walkway." Normally, I would enjoy such an inviting landscape. But Dabney Von Troll's cryptic request continued to trouble me.

The Axis Bledisloe Container Terminal as seen from Quay Street.

"Attention Chilled Meat." New Zealand in 2009 exported $5.6 billion worth of beef, veal, lamb, mutton, venison and "other meat." It exported more "other meat" than it did venison. Very few people know what "other meat" is. They only know that it's delicious.

The Rainbow Warrior Memorial, beautifully situated in front of the Axis Bledisloe Container Terminal. Saturday, July 10th was the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the ship by French government agents at an adjoining wharf.

The mural.

Two Noell Straddle Carriers parked side-by-side. Sweet ride.

I’d been walking for hours. What had I agreed to do for Dabney? Had I committed myself to walking up and down the stairs with his wife, Daphne, in her daily Happy Troll Exercise Hour routine? Had I obliged myself to a recital of the young Polly-Anastasia Von Troll gargling, or whatever it was she did in the morning before heading off to study music at school, without the benefit of earplugs? The possibilities were gruesome.

I left the waterfront and walked past the old Auckland Railway Station.

This station served as a set for the 1983 movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie.

I went inside. It cheered me up.

Inside the lobby. The station has been converted into residential housing, mostly for students attending the University of Auckland, which owns the property.

Standing in the old station was the next best thing to being shrunken down to 1:87 scale and placed in my idea of the perfect world (and yours), a world where the trains always run on time and everyone is made of plastic. A world where nobody ever heard of the Von Troll family. A world called Miniatur Wunderland. (Check out their official video here.)

The internal facade.

Then I left, ready to face whatever it was the Von Trolls had in store for me.

There's no "wrong side of the tracks" in Auckland.

A stranger knocked on the door the next day. She was about the same age as Polly-Anastasia. She explained to me that Dabney had said I’d be willing to give a donation.

“What a relief,” I said. “I thought the Von Trolls were going to make me do something heinous, like listen to them sing. Anyway, you don’t care about all that. You just want to get this over with don’t you? You’re a sweetheart. God bless, God bless. Now, what is this donation for again?”

“It’s for UNICEF, the international children’s charity.”

“Oh, no. I’m sorry. No. No way.”

“But, why not? Mr. Von Troll said you would.”

“Yeah, but that’s before I knew what it was. Sorry. No, uh. I have to, uh, go now. It’s kind of an emergency, I have to, um, have my…self…removed…from…you know.”

“But why wouldn’t you give to UNICEF?”

“Why?” I said. “Are you kidding? U-NI-CEF. LU-CI-FER. Get it? Do I have to draw you a picture?”

One…Singularity Sensation

A Review of the Future

The New York Times ran a story last Friday about the venture-capitalist aspect of the Singularity. The article describes the Singularity as a time

when a superior intelligence will dominate and life will take on an altered form that we can’t predict or comprehend in our current, limited state.

…(when) human beings and machines will so effortlessly and elegantly merge that poor health, the ravages of old age and even death itself will all be things of the past.

The apparent contradiction that life in the Singularity is unpredictable yet it will surely improve the lot of humanity doesn’t evoke much cognitive dissonance among its zealous popularizers, like inventor/businessman Ray Kurzweil who seems to believe the application of science is always good, not the mixed-bag it really tends to be.

For example, one can argue that advances in medical and agricultural science have dramatically reduced suffering associated with starvation and illness. That’s good. One could also say that healthier people living longer thanks to better nutrition and medicine has contributed to overpopulation with all its attendant conflicts for finite resources and apparent irreconcilable differences with the environment. That one’s not so good. See? Mixed-bag.

So people who believe in the advent of a super-intelligence that will sweep away such complications ignore history, or maybe they assume that history doesn’t apply to them.

The latter possibility vexes me. The Times reports that Singularity University charges $15,000 for a nine-day course that “focuses on introducing entrepreneurs to promising technologies.” I don’t have a problem with elites charging other elites lots of money to develop new markets for innovative tchotchkes. But that high tuition made me wonder: how much am I going to have to shell out to get in on this Singularity action?

And will it even be worth it? Like, what if the Singularity comes up with a way of converting our consciousness into data and uploading that data onto some kind of gigantic iPod, except it’s called an iBod to avoid copyright infringement and instead of us carrying an iPod, the iBod will be carrying us?

And say the Singularity forgets to make the battery on this iBod very durable so that after a year or two, the whole iBod is fried? What happens to us? Do we die? If so, do we at least get a refund?

And what if our iBod dies after we’ve synced it up to our computers, which version of us will be us: the one that fried on the iBod or the one on your “Favorites” list on your computer that you like to play when you have people over for drinks?

And what if we’re the last person in line at the Singularity Store and by the time we get up to the counter, not only has the Singularity Store run out of iBods but everybody else, including the cashier, has already uploaded themselves onto their iBods? Who are we supposed to complain to? What are we supposed to do then? Read a book?

And what if only the very smart and very rich are able to upload themselves onto their own fancy expensive iBods? What is everyone else supposed to do then? With my brains, wealth and charm, I’d be lucky to get one-week summer-share on a Commodore 64.

As you can see if you’ve bothered reading this far, and I really don’t know why you would, that Times article had me quite worried. I wanted to evolve to the Singularity, but I wasn’t sure if I had enough money. There was only a couple dollar in my pocket. Perhaps if I made myself as smart as Ray Kurzweil, I would be allowed to progress to the Singularity. I had to go out and learn something.

An Education

That’s when Jacquie and I decided to visit Highwic, a historic site and one of New Zealand’s finest Gothic timber houses. This place was a real test of our cognitive abilities with lots of sly puzzles for us to solve.

For example, just beyond the cashier as you enter the house, you come across a table, a kind of tiny gift shop, part of which looked like this:

We almost passed this table without noticing the problem.

“Wait a minute,” Jacquie said. “Decoupage isn’t fun. It’s tedious and boring.”

“That has to be the answer.”

I was so excited I told the cashier who was markedly less impressed than I had been. She stared at me.

“It’s ok if you don’t understand,” I said. “Not everybody can progress to the Singularity.”

“Hey, I know where we can learn stuff,” Jacquie said. “Let’s go to the toilet.”

So we went to the toilet. We spent a lot of time there. Then we saw this sign posted on the actual toilet itself.

The sign says: You are welcome to use this bathroom for washing your hands and using the mirrors. The toilet must not be used under any circumstances. It is a heritage toilet, for display purposes only. Thank You

We were so proud of ourselves because even though we didn’t see the sign until later, we hadn’t used the heritage toilet anyway. We figured it out on our own.

“We’re two-for-two!” I said.

What we had more trouble figuring out though was how to work the heritage enema.

I hope there won't be any heritage enemas in the Singularity because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't figure out how to use it. The bedpan, however, was a cinch.

At that point we decided to quit while we were ahead. We’d learned enough for one day. The future was still far off into the future, so there’d plenty more days to figure out how to use the heritage enema. In the meantime, we decided to enjoy the rest of Highwic.

Highwic was founded in 1862 as a private residence for Alfred Buckland, who started off as a farmer and rose the ranks of Pakeha society to become an even wealthier farmer. He had 21 children with two successive wives. The house stayed in the family until 1978 and the family stayed in the house until later that same year.

A closeup of the dollhouse. For some reason, I took about a dozen pictures of the dollhouse.

The doll house included an exact replica of the heritage bathroom.

The grounds include a fernery and a billiard house. Above is the billiard house now overgrown by ferns.

We were pooped by the end of our tour. The future was looking good. Our brains were brimming with lots of information. Highwic even inspired us with an idea to make our flat as homey as the one Alfred Buckland lived in.