Auckland Parks

The car park at the centre of consciousness

There is, apparently, a significant shortage in Auckland of technically qualified, dexterous and competent people who will happily—and at a reasonable price—singe, pluck, pick, rip, rub, thread, and otherwise deprive you of that atavistic expression of our Cro-Magnon pedigree, excessive amounts of bodily hair. They’re calling it the biggest Depilatory crisis since the Muldoon years.

You would think Parnell might have been spared this shortage. What with our streets so quaint and narrow that our SUVs sometimes get stuck on something, such as the odd pram with an infant inside. (Incidentally, happy mother’s day everyone). What with our expensive lattes, and French farmers markets, and a fancy restaurant that makes risotto with a tomato-based paste, a recipe that Wattie’s will make billions selling out of a can, if they haven’t done so already. What with all Parnell’s expendable income, surely it could attract the best and brightest in the robust depilatory services sector. Not so. Not even in Parnell.

Shangri La Apartments on Gladstone Road. An “iconic art-deco building in one of Parnell’s top locations”, according to real estate company, Bayleys. There was an apartment for sale here that was snatched up instantly at auction. It looked nice, but I can’t imagine living in a Shangri La without a decent hair reomovalist.

I blame the brain-drain. For those of you not living here, the brain-drain, as the name suggests, is the phenomenon in which smart, talented New Zealanders entering the workforce discover that they can get paid a lot better for the same job anywhere else but here, but usually in Australia. I was a big fan of the brain-drain, until recently. Brain-drain has ensured my job security by making me look a lot better to my employers than I actually am. But now that I’m suffering from the down side of brain drain, I’m not so happy.

The art of brain-drain. Ceramic statues from what seems to be called the “Everything Must Go” store, filled with Italianate tchotchkes, on Parnell Road.

A glazed horse head makes an attractive conversation piece.

In the depilatory sector, gifted technicians have fled to pull and pluck in foreign places. And overseas. What we are left with is a cadre of practitioners not so much concerned with excess hair removal and trimming, as it is with selling unnecessary products.

I didn’t realize things had gotten so bad until Jacquie went to Forme last week for an emergency eyebrow wax-and-dye. Normally, she has a girl back in Mt. Eden to do this. But as she was on vacation, Jacquie had no choice. She describes her experience here:

There were two people there when I came in and they both came around from behind the counter. They both had a different product they wanted to sell me. One was a dye and the other was a failed glaucoma medication that has the unexpected side effect of making your eyelashes grow really long. I had turned up in a ratty old sweatshirt and a baseball cap and I thought, “you think I’m the kind of person who buys that shit?” The one with the failed glaucoma medication shoved her face in mine and said, “Look, I have done it”.  Her lashes were pretty long. They looked like a bunch of spiders. I can’t believe that people actually use this. But the gross thing was I DID buy something. It was the only way i could get out of there. A few days later they left a voice mail for me saying, “How are your eyelashes doing?” The only reason I went there as because my normal one was away.

I feel her pain. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to pluck your excess hair. I just wouldn’t go to a salon to do it. There’s nothing that a good pair of fingernails and a quick flick of the wrist can’t solve on the depilatory front. Sure, my method leaves me looking like the victim of an industrial accident, but at least it was free. At the same time, as I was starting to say, I sympathize with Jacquie. Things couldn’t possibly get worse in the developed world.

A BASEMENT LIFE  MOTHER’S DAY QUICK TIP: Now, I know Forme offers gift certificates for procedures such as waxing and such. People might be tempted to treat their mothers to a Forme spa session. But can I make a suggestion? It’s my experience that mothers are touched by home-made things on Mothers Day. So, instead of getting your mom a gift certificate, offer to pluck her excess body hair yourself with your fingernails. She’ll think it’s adorable, and quickly say yes.

So if we don’t have a decent hair plucker, what is there in Parnell?

It might surprise you, but the centre for consciousness is located right around the corner from us. See?

How to find your centre

Frankly, I don’t understand how an enterprise that specializes in consciousness can stay in business. Who wants to have anything to do with consciousness. At best, I’m more interested in what happens at the margins of consciousness. Unconsciousness can also be pleasing. Still, it’s nice to know that if I ever do take an interest in consciousness, there’s plenty of parking available. See?

The car par at the centre of consciousness.

Incidentally, and stop me if I’ve said this before, but what do cars need a park for? Because they don’t get enough fresh air? What, do they run around and toss frisbees at one another and have a picnic? Do they climb the monkey bars and shit? Do they drink beers out of brown paper bags? I don’t really see in the picture above the “park” aspect to what Americans refer to as a “parking lot”. Maybe after all the people leave, it turns into a theme park with rides and simulators and stuff. Maybe that’s the Park part that we never get to see. Maybe there’s a simulator that give cars the chance to feel what it’s like to drive a car. The technology is there.

But if you’re going to leave your car anywhere by itself, make sure it’s not at the Parnell Rose Garden car park. Apparently, what Parnell has are a lot of smash and grabs, at least according to this warning:

If you need a sign to tell you not to leave a bag marked “$” in your car, the sign isn’t going to help you at all anyway. Indeed, I scoffed when I saw this ridiculous warning. Then I noticed that some guy who had his feet, hands and head chopped off running away with Jacquie’s money bag. So, I definitely learned my lesson.

This was on the same day Jacquie and I passed the Parnell Baths on our way to the Hobson’s Bay Mangrove walk where you’re not supposed to let your dog off the leash but everyone does.

Anyway, the Parnell Baths looked pretty cool off-season when they were empty.

Just imagine how they’ll look when the summer comes back again:

Written with Jacquie Matthews.

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We’re better than you

Now that New York has been destroyed, Auckland is rubbing its hands in glee, anxious to fill the cultural gap as the premier city of the anglophone world.

The horrible bruising the Big Apple received in the arms of Hurricane Irene should be seen as a great opportunity, not just for Auckland to finally not suck in comparison to New York. But an opportunity for New Yorkers, themselves.

If you live in New York, and you’ve drowned, you might consider how moving to Auckland will improve your circumstances.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Superior Climate

Wouldn’t you love to live in a place where the temperature never soars above 80 nor sinks below 70? Where you are constantly refreshed by gentle trade winds, and where cocktails are served by sea turtles wearing cute little bow ties? Well, in Auckland, we wish we could too, so get over yourself.

A view of Eden Park, looking northeast from Sandringham Road, and a five minute walk from my house. Eleven of the 48 Rugby World Cup matches will be played at Eden Park. The surrounding residents look forward with great anticipation to the French Rugby fans urinating on our public and private infrastructure, just as they do in New York. The World Cup begins September 9, attracting something like 75,000 drunken foreigners to this city.

2. Superior Agriculture

Most New Yorkers weren’t prepared for the devastating affect Hurricane Irene would have on their flocks. Consequently, their sheep at this moment are being herded like cattle into high school gymnasiums. The luckier ones are shitting on their owners’ friends’ futons. And the luckiest ones have been able to make special friends of their own. Auckland presents a different story. You might think that story ends in a slaughter house. But it doesn’t. That’s just the beginning. It then goes to the part where you have a little too much to drink, but thank god the kebab shop is still open. But the story still doesn’t end there. Because after you’ve wolfed down your doner kebab, you say to yourself, “holy crap, I’m going to vomit.” But the story still isn’t over, because even though you’ve completely missed your toilet bowl, your cat is showing a keen interest in what’s been spewed on the bathroom floor, and the cycle of life continues.

Fresh lamb, warmed over, resting on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, not too far from their whoring mother.

 

3. Superior Lifestyle, Fantastic People

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself standing in a parking lot. You’re in New Zealand, so you’ll have to imagine yourself standing in a ‘car park’. I don’t use that term, myself, because I don’t like the idea of my car having fun without me. I’m not sure what Kiwis mean by car park. Is it a park where you can toss your frisby and your car will catch it in mid-air? Or is it the kind of park with water luges and roller coasters and rides that go in circle until you vomit and then all the cats come around to check out what’s been spewed on the ground? Well, no matter what kind of park it is, you’re standing in it. And you’re having a good time. At least you’re imagining that you’re having a good time. (I hope you’re still keeping your eyes closed). Now imagine yourself standing in the car park with a few friends. Perhaps one of them is smiling. Maybe another one is looking at his camera and realizing that the photograph of the hazy, rain-disturbed murk off the coast of Piha is actually not as interesting as he thought it would have been. Perhaps you have your hands on your hips because the ocean that you are looking over from the car park at the top of the coastal ridge is somehow displeasing to you.

Now with that picture in mind, open your eyes and look at the photograph below.

In Auckland, you don't have to imagine yourself having a good time.

Why I shouldn’t be allowed near a camera

It’s Friday night in New Zealand, and I’m coming down with some kind of upper-respiratory infection, just in time for the weekend.

But why should I suffer alone?

You too can suffer. All you have to do is keep reading.

And enjoy these pictures I took during the last hike Jacquie and I did on the Montana Heritage Trail in the Waitaks; my four reasons why I shouldn’t own a camera.

If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll notice there’s a duck, right of center, making waves in the air.

A duck making waves in the air?! Far out.

But before you smack my left butt cheek in a congratulatory, sportsman-like manner, you should know this photograph is a dirty lie. You’ve been deceived…by the world of trick photography.

You see, in holding my camera upside down, I was able to freak out the duck so much that it lost sphincter control as it flew from me, thus releasing a hitherto long-contained fart (which the duck had been saving for the right moment) that propelled the poor creature past the speed of sound in an instant. The “wave” you see is the duck breaking wind –and the sound barrier — at the same time. And that’s the first reason I shouldn’t be allowed to own a camera: I’m a dumbass.

My college photography instructor, Tom Roma, used to say that a person’s IQ dropped 20 points when they picked up a camera. I could never figure out if I believed that or not. But what he said in critiques stuck with me. Every week at least one student would show a picture that contained almost nothing of interest to anyone. These often featured dead public areas, like the cobbled base of the statue at the center of a traffic circle or a bit of sidewalk with the shadows of bicycle wheels, Maybe a pigeon or two, one of them blurry. Tom would ask, “What are we looking at? Is this where you’d take someone on a date? Is this what you’d point out for them to look at?” I realize, nearly 20 years later, that Tom was right. Not only has my IQ dropped dangerously under my normally low baseline, but I’m also the kind of person who considers hanging around public infrastructure a fun date. And that’s the second reason I shouldn’t own a camera. I take pictures of infrastructure.

“Look honey: civil engineering. Let’s make out.” And that’s the third reason: I take LOTS of pictures of infrastructure, from multiple angles.

A bridge, as seen from a dam. That bridge was a lot of fun to cross. Jacquie and I spent a good hour just going back and forth and back and forth. We’re going back there Sunday to go back and forth some more because I don’t think we went back and forth over the bridge enough. What was nice about it was the view the bridge afforded us of some vital public infrastructure. You know what we be a good picture? A pigeon beside the shadow of a bicycle on top of a dam. I carry my camera around hoping that someday, through kismet, the proper alignment of the stars, whatever, I will be ready to take such a photograph. And that’s the last reason: nobody should have to see a picture of two pigeons, one blurry, beside a bicycle on top of a dam. And they won’t have to if someone would just take away my camera.

Well by now it should be obvious to you that my illness has gotten the best of me.

But you should also know that I’m definitely coming down with a cold.

And that means I probably won’t be able to go back to take more pictures at the Waitakere Dam.

Damn.

Right?

Fog

Auckland’s wet, chilly winter feels interminable. Sure, the temperature rarely dips below freezing except maybe during the coldest weeks from late-June to mid-July, and yes it never snows, and of course the worst is over by August.

But you get tired of the shifting from cold, dry spells to the not-as-cold snotty, spitting precipitation, the skies only now-and-then clearing as the sun warms the air to the low- to mid-60’s only to dip back down to the 40’s by nightfall with…more rain.

Sometimes, though, a fog rolls in on a mixed front. That can be of interest. The fog was so bad last Monday, more than 50 domestic flights were cancelled or delayed.

We couldn’t see three feet in front of us, being bipeds, but we could see four feet in front of us, technically speaking, if we faced each other.

“Are you going to sit there  all day and watch soap operas ?” Jacquie said. “Or are we going to go out and enjoy the morning?”

“The first one,” I said.

“Let’s go.”

Of course, given the lack of visibility, Jacquie insisted we take a drive, take in the sights. But my head was elsewhere.

Sean pushes Nicole into the passenger seat and drives in hot pursuit of the ambulance that Russell has just carjacked with Kieran unconscious and strapped to a gurney in the back and Russell's business associate from Thailand whose name I never caught riding shotgun keeping an eye on Nicole's friend Gerald.

We drove to Cornwall Park and walked around with our cheap digital camera, Old Crappy-Cam.

Callum, Rachel, Sophie and Hunter discuss a special television news report about the police "discovering" Russell's body.

We strayed from the path and crossed the grassy fields where sheep and cows graze. Cornwall Park is home to the last functioning farm in Auckland and the inner city livestock can be a little rough. We feared for Old Crappy-Cam.

Chris eats pizza with Phoenix, Brian and Scotty at Scotty’s house. “Chicken on a pizza," says Brian. "Well, who’d have thought?” Chris watches Phoenix doodling, leading Chris to believe that Phoenix may well be Chris' son because Chris used to doodle, while Phoenix's mother, God rest her soul, never found the time.

“Run,” Jacquie said. “Don’t let those bastards take Crappy-Cam.”

Chris asks Isaac if Isaac has talked to Tania about Zoë.

We evaded our pursuers. Our feet were soaking wet and cold. We were lost in the mists of time.

Harry asks Chris if Chris and Zoë have decided when Harry and Dallas can "hang out" next.

We walked and walked and walked.

Donna tells Rueben that Donna met Joaquim in triage and Rueben tells Donna that Joaquim likes Donna and Donna tells Reuben that Donna had better introduce Joaquim to Hunter before Joaquim gets the wrong idea and Rueben leaves Donna who spikes Reuben's chocolate-chocolate protein-shake with something out of a medicine dropper.

We took pictures of an Algerian Oak, a stand of cedars and some cherry trees that had been planted in the last few years.

Kellan, Lindsay, Robert "Jelly Donut" Johnson, Theo D., Fluffy, Samantha, the twins, Moishe and Drago hide behind a lampost from Russell's business associate from Thailand. "Chicken on a pizza?" Drago says. "Well, who'd have thought?"

Gerard feels bad for Karen. Paul has trouble starting his car. Pip brings food to the escaped convict. The writer duly goes into the kitchen and gets a half-bottle of Four Roses and two glasses with ice.

The whole thing began to crater.

We found our car again. Crappy-Cam made it through without a scratch.

The End

Our Horrible Day Off

Jacquie and I look forward to nothing more than we look forward to Activity Day, the day we set aside each week to do an activity, often with each other.

We initiated Activity Day when we realized the one thing that’s true for all relationships. Whether you’re married or dating or just serving time in prison, it’s fun to do things as a couple. It’s important. Activity Day, like dietary fiber, binds people so that things can work out in the end. Eventually.

You never forget your first Activity Day. Jacquie and I went  to the Auckland War Memorial Museum for ours.

The shy and elusive Auckland War Memorial Museum. As the center-piece of the Auckland Domain, this handsome edifice rises high above a sprawling sprawl of picnic areas, rugby fields, wicket pitches and mugger hidey holes. In other words, the perfect setting for Activity Day.

Auckland Museum houses permanent exhibits about New Zealand history, nature, geology and the art and cultures of the South Pacific. That’s really five museums shrink-wrapped into one manageable package if you think about it. Sure, you could spend three hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and not even scratch the surface of its collection. But use those same three hours at the Auckland War Memorial Museum and you’ll leave with two-and-a-half hours left over to do something more interesting. I call that a bargain.

So after we saw the stuffed albatross, the Fun Ho! Midgets and the gift shop, we left.

From the top of the Museum steps we could see  a lot of the domain and much of the harbor below.

So we immediately noticed the squad of soldiers nearby conducting drills around a flag pole. They were shouting in gruff voices and moving in this direction and that.

“Why do you think those military guys are marching around like that?” I said.

“They have a personality disorder?” Jacquie said.

After the soldiers finished we walked through the domain. We passed two old guys near a cricket pitch. We introduced ourselves and asked if they could explain to us why cricket was so boring. The taller one looked at me.

“I’ll tell you all about cricket young lady,” he said. “Cricket is a game played between two teams made up of eleven players each. There is also a reserve player called a ‘twelfth man’ who is used should a player be injured during play.”

“Injured?” Jacquie said. “What injuries do you get playing cricket. Nobody moves in cricket. You must mean ‘atrophy.'”

The man looked annoyed. But he continued nonetheless.

“The twelfth man is not allowed to bowl, bat, wicket keep or captain the team,” he said. “His only job is to substitute. There are also two umpires on the playing field and a third umpire off the field to make the video decisions. If the call is too close for the field umpires to make, the third umpire reviews slow motion video to make the decision. Any questions so far?”

“How does the umpire know if he’s watching the slow motion video or the actual game?” Jacquie said. “And isn’t the video really so that the players at the end of the game can see how young they were when they started?”

The men were pretty angry. They started to suspect that we were “taking the piss” out of them, as they said.

“You’re right,” Jacquie said. “We’re only playing with you. We really have nothing against the game. Or against you personally.”

The two men accepted her apology. Then we asked them their names. That’s when we found out they were both called Bob.

“Really?” Jacquie said. “You’re both named Bob?”

“Yeah, isn’t that funny,” the tall Bob said. “We’ve been best friends for more than thirty years.”

“That is soooooo narcissistic,” Jacquie said.

The two Bobs walked away.

“Can you believe that?” Jacquie said.

“People don’t know how to have a conversation in Auckland,” I said. “Come on, let’s get something to eat. I’m starving.”

So Jacquie and I went over to the nearby Parnell district to find a cafe. Parnell is a hotbed of wanker activity. We sat down at Igaucu, a restaurant catering to wankers, near a wanker family visiting from the States. The concentration of wankers in Parnell is higher than that of any other place in the English speaking world, including the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We didn’t realize how bad the wanker situation was until we were in the middle of our meal when Jacquie looked up from her fancy plate and said, “I could make this at home.”

Activity Day was coming to a sad and disappointing end. As it turned out, nothing in Auckland was more  exciting than looking at Fun Ho! midgets. Even the dinner we made later didn’t work out as planned. We tried to saute pumpkins in butter but it came out dry.

“How do you like it?” Jacquie said.

“Good,” I said. “Like I’m a termite eating a house.”

Additional material by Jacquie Matthews

A Walk in the Park

Picnickers frolic beneath the deadly sun in Auckland's beautiful Western Springs Park, one of nearly 500 places in the city where anyone can spend a day outdoors, beneath the hole in the ozone layer.

Auckland is far more verdant than my old home. If I were to assign north Brooklyn a single particular color, it would have to be “WD-40.” Although I loved many aspects of my neighborhood there, Greenpoint didn’t deserve its name (although WD-40-point, while more accurate, wouldn’t roll off the tongue quite as well) since in the entire area there couldn’t have been more than eight trees, and those were all being converted into luxury condominiums.

Not so Auckland where there is no luxury and where its citizens are positively up to their arses in chlorophyl. This metropolis is lousy with swards, copses, fens, strands, arbors and meadows, to say nothing of its tree-lined streets.

Rush hour on Queen Street, Auckland's main thoroughfare.

This new lush setting inspired Jacquie to make me make a new year’s resolution to visit every publicly owned parcel around. Boy, did we have our work cut out for us. Our sources had it that there are 481 green spaces within the city limits. That’s one park visit for every day of the year. We had a lot of speed-walking ahead of us.

Incidentally, larger green spaces in Auckland have the word domain or park in their official names, but the difference between these designations is obscure to me. Perhaps there is none, but for whatever reason, modern Auckland has 16 Domains, 88 Parks and 337 sites called Reserves, smaller areas set aside for dog-runs, bowling lawns and potted-plants.

We decided to begin our new year’s resolution with a trip to Western Springs Park, home to the Auckland Zoo and the Museum of Transport and Technology (or MOTAT) an institution devoted to the preservation of ancient farm equipment and tetanus.

Western Springs offers lakeside strolls and shady paths under native pine trees and thrilling views of endangered animals and humans assailing one another in their timeless struggle over packed lunches. Jacquie and I saw plenty of stuff there that I’d never seen before, which New Zealanders seem to take for granted.

A pensive dinosaur (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus).

It was a warm bright day and the sun shone down on us like a hole in the ozone layer gently tinkering with our melanin.

“God, I wish we could spend our entire lives indoors,” I said.

“Bed-ridden people are so lucky,” Jacquie said.

We decided to continue our walk through the pines. Being a New Yorker, I reflexively grew wary of criminal activity. The shadow underneath the trees seemed to swallow our path in darkness, a common tactic for muggers. Sure enough, a man suddenly appeared before us, strolling aggressively in our direction. The mugger wore a shabby sweat jacket with shorts and sandals. He had long, greasy hair and it was obvious that he hadn’t shaved his legs in a very long time.

“Let’s turn back,” I said.

“It’s too late,” she said. “He’s spotted us. Be polite.”

We presented our purses for our mugger to inspect, but he didn’t seem to notice them.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” we said.

“Enjoy,” he said. “Enjoy.” He continued on his way.

After that close call, we weren’t going to take any more chances. We decided that we would scream for help every few minutes just in case. And if anybody else did approach us, we were supposed to run away in separate directions so that at least one of us could get on with our lives, which I truly hoped would be me. Secretly, I  planned to kick Jacquie in the shin to gain the advantage and I mentally prepared myself for this eventuality.

As it turned out, we didn’t see anyone else on the pine walk, but we did have an experience that changed our lives for 37 minutes. As we moved farther into the bush, we started to take pictures. That’s when I heard a cat meowing.

The Pines Photo. Jacquie, still visibly shaken from our run-in with a mugger, ignores the pleading of a stranded cat (upper left).

The Pines Photo, enlarged.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

“What?”

It then occurred to me that the meowing might be the ruse of another mugger to lure us off the path. I screamed for help, kicked Jacquie in the shin and ran away and, 3o meters down the path, just as I was starting to heal from my trauma, ready to move on with my life as a widower, I heard Jacquie calling my name.

“It’s not a mugger,” she said. That’s when I saw it, stranded high up in a pine, 15 meters off the ground and meowing its little head off. There, clinging to its perch for dear life, was a blurry cat.

We didn’t know what to do. It was too high up for us to reach and there weren’t any loose branches long enough to reach the poor fellow.

That’s when I decided to call 911 (1-1-1 in New Zealand). Nobody picked up. So then we called the SPCA. The woman on the other end told us that they usually wait 24 hours to respond to such a call, just to be sure that the cat is sincere about wanting to come down from the tree.

“What about the zoo?” I said. “Would they help? I mean, zoos love animals.”

“Yeah, sure,” the SPCA woman said. “Whatever.”

So we marched to the zoo and reported the stranded cat. Several people had already reported it, as it turned out.

“You’re not the first good citizens we’ve had today,” the zookeeper said. “What happened was that cat was chased by another cat up the tree. It happens all the time. People often drive here, dump their cats and speed off. Anyway, we called the fire department and they should take care of it when they get a chance.”

Jacquie and I were so relieved to hear that somebody else was taking care of this problem that we forgot about our mugging and went straight home to spend the rest of the day indoors, with the curtains drawn, watching videos.