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.

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?”


“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?”


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

Escape to Alcázar

First the bad news.

Thanks to properties unique to Jacquie’s physiology, we’ve been evicted from an apartment for the second time in eight months.

They’re running us out of Mt. Eden, but good.

Now we have to go through that tiresome packing process all over again.

And what’s worse, you have to read about it.

See, it’s not just the big stuff, the furniture and the books and all that that’s the problem.

There’s also the dozens of boxes of clothes to shift, another dozen for shoes. Plus a small plastic bag for my things.

But there’s a silver lining around here somewhere. It’s this: we’re moving to a neighborhood known for its quaint wankerliness, to a building called Alcázar, in the mysterious land of Parnell.

Strangely enough, I haven’t seen the new place yet. But Jacquie assures me it looks something like this:

It all started in February, while I was on an overnight trip to Wellington.

That would be this nation’s capital (for those abroad that can’t be bothered with Google Maps).

It’s a compact place with heart, and a half-million people or so at the bottom of the North Island.

It’s got lively streets, scaled to pedestrian traffic, and art and theater, and a McDonald’s that stays open sometimes past 11.

In short, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Wellington and if you’re ever down that way, my recommendation of can’t miss things you need to are this:

And this:

And this:

As superior a city to Auckland as these photos prove Wellington to be, don’t let that mislead you. It wasn’t all beer and skittles for me. There was work to be done. The company had flown me down to moderate a breakfast event, which required standing at a lectern before dozens of business executives.

Obviously, I had to look sharp and perform at my best. So the morning after I got into town, I woke up early, tossed on a t-shirt with only one mustard stain, and made my way over to City Gallery Wellington, only to realize halfway there that I had forgotten my pants.

So I went back home, put on a pair of good pants, brought along an extra pair, because you can never be too careful.

Anyway, and in all seriousness, City Gallery is a really great event venue. I liked it a lot, and will definitely revisit next time down. The foyer was the perfect size for the audience we expected, and large, imposing pieces by artist Rohan Wealleans, who was part of a group show of New Zealand sculptors, provided a pleasantly surprising backdrop.

The discussion started after breakfast, with the panelists doing all the heavy lifting while I played Tetris on my Smartphone, interjecting every now and again with something like, “Fascinating. I just beat my old high score”, through the microphone. So we all did our part, and the discussion moved along splendidly, until out of nowhere my phone rings, and I see that it’s Jacquie.

“Ah, shit,” I said to the audience, holding up the phone. “My wife. Gotta take it. You know how it is. I’d never hear the end of it. Yap, yap, yap. Guys, you know what I’m talking, right?”

I said hello to Jacquie.

“Are you sitting?” Jacquie said. I could tell she was upset.

“Ot-nay ight-ray ow-nay, know what I mean? Sort of in the middle of something here.”

“We’re getting kicked out of the flat,” she said.

“What for?”

“Oh, no reason.”

“That’s odd.”

“Yeah, it is. It’s odd. Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, complaints have been made, you know, around the neighborhood about certain smells and sounds, you know, emanating from somewhere in the vicinity of my ass.”

“Oh, no, Jacquie,” I said. “Not again. We have to leave because of your constant farting?”

“I swear, it’s not me,” Jacquie said.

“Come on. Who else but you?”

“It’s Blastula,” she said. “Blastula’s back. And she means business.”

To be continued…


Be a pal and tune in again soon for the exciting conclusion of Escape to Alcázar.

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.”

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.


Not sure what this is either.

A new section still under construction.

Batting Back Blogger’s Block with Current Events

It’s been real hard coming up with decent, original material lately.

None of my current ideas lives up to the usual high standard of trivial blather that the readers of this blog have grown to expect, and which they so richly deserve.

I thought of writing about oil exploration in New Zealand, in light of the Gulf of Mexico being turned into a gigantic pot of toxic gumbo. (I can almost smell the fried sea turtles from here. Yum.)

Not to miss out on the Peak Oil beach party, New Zealand recently granted Petrobras a five-year permit to search for petroleum deposits in the Raukumara Basin off the East Coast of the North Island.

New Zealand has barrels of pristine beaches, like this one at Port Waikato.

What excited me most about this announcement was the solid assurance of Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee that nothing like the Gulf of Mexico disaster could happen here.

“I’m of the strong view,” Brownlee said, “that any of the oil companies who might be interested in pursuing their options will themselves, for the matter of their own liability, want to make sure that they are as safe as they possibly can be.”

I’m sure Brownlee is right. Look at British Petroleum, after all. Left to its own devices by a neutered regulatory agency, BP exposed the entire Gulf region of the States to untold risk rather than invest up to $7 million in preventative measures.

The company lost half its stock valuation as a result of following industry best-practices. But that seems irrelevant compared to the cost of destroyed industries, decimated ecosystems, and lost life.

Perhaps Brownlee’s assurance refers to the invisible hand of the free market and its ability to plug-up any hole with just its pinky finger. He’s right. The invisible hand of the free market is always ready to give us the finger.

BP being as safe as it possibly can be in Tairua.

But enough with stupid cheap-shots and preachy hyperbole. I’ll admit that being a long-time consumer of fossil fuels hampers my credibility as a critic.

But how did this disaster come to be known as a spill?

I doubt people that call it a “spill” have ever spilled anything in their lives.

It’s not like if you were sipping a Martini in a crowded bar and your arm got jostled and vodka and olives continued to flow for three straight months so that drink experts would be called in to suck up the mess and Congressional committees would have to cross examine bartenders and everybody who lived near the crowded bar would be drunk all the time from the vodka fumes. I mean, if that were the case, I’d seriously have to consider moving next to a bar.

I thought of writing all that, but then I thought, “What a bunch of crap. Maybe I should write about the weather instead.”

It’s now officially winter, which means it’s finally colder outdoors than it is inside my apartment. But only a little.

The cold, hard light of the Winter Solstice, June 21. The sun rose at 7:48 a.m. and set at 4:58 p.m.

See, as many of you have probably guessed by my demeanor, hygiene and grammar, I live in a cave.

We all do down here. That’s because most residences in New Zealand do not have central heating.

We get by. We put on our indoor fleeces (as opposed to our fancy, outdoor, doing-the-town fleeces) and we crank up our electric heaters to 3 and we burn architectural elements in our fireplaces.

So the temperature, I can deal with. In the cold and damp, however, there thrives a mold, the national flower of New Zealand, that aggravates my asthma.

This, unfortunately, is also a bunch of crap.

Maybe this week, I just don’t have it in me to write original material. Maybe it’s better for everyone if I just re-print material from someplace else.

Like this partial transcript of a White House Press Briefing about President Barack Obama’s reaction to Gen. Stanley McChrystal disparaging the Administration in a Rolling Stone article:

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6/22/2010

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:52 P.M. EDT

Q    Were you with the President when he reacted in any way to this story?  And if so, how would you describe it?  Was he surprised?  Was he angry?

MR. GIBBS:  I was — I gave him the article last night.  And he was angry.

Q    How so?

MR. GIBBS:  Angry.  You would know it if you saw it.  (Laughter.)

Q    What did he do?

MR. GIBBS:  I’d rather not talk about it.

Q    Come on. Don’t tease.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I went in to show him the article. He said, “I thought I told you never  to interrupt me when Cougar Town is on.” I told him it was important. “Wait for the commercial,” he said. It was the longest five minutes of my life.

Q    Why?

MR. GIBBS: Because he was wearing his eye patch and he had a snooty looking persian cat on his lap, which he caressed menacingly. When the commercial came on, I showed him the article.

Q    And?

MR. GIBBS:  First he bit my ankle. Then he smashed me over the head with a portrait of one of the presidents. (Laughter.)

Q    Which president?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know. It was wrapped around my head and facing the other way. The President laughed at me. He kept saying, “Now you know how I feel when someone interrupts me watching television.” And then he said, “Oh, don’t start crying now. I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Q    How deep was the bite?

MR. GIBBS:  I needed six stitches. They gave me a tetanus shot and they injected me in the abdomen with a Rabies vaccine, just in case. (Laughter.) It was very painful.

Q    But what did the president say about the article? What were his first words?

MR. GIBBS:  The last thing I heard before I passed out was something along the lines of, “I’m going to fix myself a sandwich. You want anything?”

The Neighborly Thing to Do

I hate my upstairs neighbor. He thinks he’s so cool. Just because he’s a Morris Dancer. He’s always throwing it in my face. Hitting my face with his ankle bells and handkerchiefs, driving around my face in his 2002 Honda Civic hatchback. Show-off.

His name is Dabney. He’s a defense contractor. Dabney’s job is to toughen-up recruit-training through the pageantry of Morris Dancing.

A New Zealand Special Forces Morris Dancer trains his entire life for this moment. No Morris Dancer would go into battle without his stick and bell-pads.

What a jerk. His whole family is a bunch of jerks. They’re very noisy. His wife Daphne gets her exercise by going up and down the stairs late every night. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but the sound of her hoofs clopping on the wood makes it difficult for me to fall asleep.

Their daughter is loud too. Polly-Anastasia studies music at University, according to some of her mail I’ve been opening. She’s been practicing day and night for a big audition. I’m no Broadway expert, but judging by the sound of Polly’s voice, I think she’s going out for a part in Bronchitis, The Musical. If there is such a thing. Otherwise, it’s probably an adaptation of The Lion King, but instead of Africa, it’s set in the Everglades and features a herd of echolocating manatees.

But the thing I hate most about Dabney is his annoying friendliness. Like, Jacquie and I hadn’t lived in New Zealand for two seconds before he got all up in our shit introducing himself. He even tried to get us to join the local Welsh Choir. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Only 40 percent of the songs are in Welsh.”

Why in hell would we want to do that? In the first place, everyone knows that Welsh is a made-up language. How about I throw a bunch of silverware on the floor and call that a language? Same difference. And secondly, when a friend of one of Jacquie’s friends found out that I was considering taking Dabney up on his offer, she pooh-poohed the idea. She said that people who join choirs were “the biggest douchebags in the world.” That settled it. There was no way that I was going to socialize and be stimulated by a novel experience if that meant incurring the casual disparagement of a complete stranger.

And the more I thought about what the stranger said, the more it made sense. Dabney wasn’t even from Wales. Just what kind of non-Welsh douchebag joins a Welsh choir? Then I realized the answer: a Morris Dancer. That’s who.

Recently, this douchebag gave me one more reason to hate him. One day I came home from shopping for breakfast stuff at the supermarket, my arms filled with potato chips and vodka. There was Dabney, working on one of his Morris Dances. He was so excited, he insisted on teaching me the moves. The routine involved us taking turns hitting each other over the head with aluminum beer trays. I have to admit, I found the experience so pleasurable that I actually started to think of Dabney as a person, and not as a douchebag. I even shook his hand.

Big mistake. Because a few days later, my hand broke out in mysterious, bulbous nodes, which Jacquie identified as “buboes.”

Thanks for the buboes, douchebag.

Well, that just tore me up. You act nice to a guy, indulge his passion for a 15th century dance form, and what does he do? He turns around and literally hands you a medieval plague. This called for immediate action. With the daily clopping, shrieking and jingling coming from upstairs, we had to fight back, fight fire with fire.

“Jacquie, we have to end our moratorium on farting.”

“No. No. You promised.”

This was serious business. A few weeks before, Jacquie and I got into a huge fight. She was angry because I had allowed trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder, to ruin my life. The trichotillomaniac has the irresistible urge to pull out his body hair. Jacquie said that I did it too much and she wanted me to stop. But I said I only plucked my hair as a nervous response to Jacquie’s constant farting. She disagreed but we made a deal. If she could go for 72 hours and fart only in authorized areas, then I would stop plucking my hair out. And by God we did it. The apartment went quiet. Air smelled fresher, food tasted better, and for the first time in six years, I had eyebrows.

Until Dabney gave me buboes.

“I’m sorry, Jacquie. Ending the moratorium is the only way.”

“Does this mean that–”

“I’m afraid it does.”

So I began to pluck and we both farted as much as we could.

As a trichotillomaniac, I managed to pluck right down to my skull, which turned out to be more angular than I thought it was when I had hair.

But it worked. We won in the end. Ater a few weeks of plucking and farting, I went up to Dabney to show him my hairless head. We could hear Jacquie farting in the background. Tears came to our eyes. From the fumes. And Dabney began to cry and apologize for everything.

But I still have the buboes there to remind me of the war I fought, and won, against the Morris Dancing douchebag upstairs.

Sunshine on my buboes makes me happy.

Buboes make ideal features on topographical maps.

In Auckland, Food is on the Menu

A lot of friends back home seem to be under the impression that the only thing we eat down here is sheep. They have this silly idea that because sheep outnumber people in this country by roughly 8-to-1,  a cute ready-to-eat meal will curl up on your plate and overdose on sleeping pills right in front of you whenever you’re hungry. This might be true most of the time, but there’s a lot more to the Kiwi diet than lamb chops and mutton.

There are also what the natives like to call “restaurants.” These businesses really didn’t exist decades ago in the infancy of New Zealand’s hospitality industry. Older acquaintances here remember a time when there weren’t even cafes or bars and they had to go on long voyages to Sydney just to get into a drunken fistfight (a one-time common excursion known to the Australians as a “busman’s holiday.”) As the hospitality sector matured in the 1980s, Kiwis suddenly found themselves with a choice of bars in which to fight with Australians (while supplies last) and an even greater number of places to eat afterwards. Food was on the menu at last.

Auckland’s dining scene took on a decidedly Asian flavor. Immigrants from Sri Lanka to Japan settled here, blessing these shores with an ever expanding repertoire of gustatory delights. I could stab myself with a flat-head screwdriver for  writing that cloying sentence, but I’m actually being serious. I’ve had, on average, tastier and more interesting meals from Indian take-out joints here than in New York City. Japanese restaurants are cheaper (again, on average)  for similar, if not superior meals, and items that I didn’t normally order in the US, like donburi, I now enjoy on a regular basis. With so many choices–Korean, Mongolian, Nepalese–I was pretty much resigned to eating like a pig for the rest of my life.

Needless to say, when Jacquie told me about a Malaysian place where she and her co-workers liked to eat like pigs, I just had to make her take me there with her there too to go there with her to eat. We struck out on a Saturday afternoon, walking a roundabout way to work up our appetites, which happened to be what the name of the restaurant we were going to means in English. We arrived at Selera after hoofing it for 20 or 25 minutes. It was the last in a strip of a dozen restaurants on Khyber Pass Road near Broadway in the commercial neighborhood of Newmarket just  northeast of our house in Mount Eden.

Selera means "appetite."

We obeyed the English language portion of this sign and moved as fast as we could down the sidewalk.

The strip of restaurants on Khyber Pass Road in the commercial neighborhood of Newmarket.

Jacquie had been there eight times that week already so she knew exactly what to order. We shared an appetizer of Chicken Satay.

Malaysian Chicken Satay

It was delicious. Next Jacquie thought I should try the Sambal Chili Chicken, at the risk of being redundant.

Sambal Chili Chicken

Mmm. So good. And none too greasy. Finally, Jacquie had a fish plate.

Sambal something fish something something.

Our food was excellent and we were full. We looked around us at what the other diners ordered. Everything looked as delicious as the food pictured above. So I started taking pictures of their plates.

“Wait!” Jacquie said. I thought she was going to stop me out of a sense of propriety and respect for the other customers. Thank God that wasn’t the case. “Take a picture of me next to this curry laksa.”

I was leaning in for the money shot of a Five Spice Roll when the guy who’d ordered it started screaming in my ear. “What are you doing?” he said.

“I’m enjoying an afternoon out with my wife,” I said.

This guy started acting crazy, like some kind of Australian on a busman’s holiday. He started pushing and shoving me away and otherwise taking umbrage with my lifestyle choices, which really wasn’t fair or very reciprocal of him seeing how much I appreciated his lifestyle choices. The restaurant manager came over to see what the trouble was. Selera, to our surprise, had a “No Pictures” policy, judging from the fact that the manager asked us to pay, leave and “take that camera with you.”

Might as Well Jump

Some people in New Zealand have swimming pools and most own at least one car. But nearly everyone has a trampoline. Hyperbole? Why not. Yet walk down any street in Auckland and rest assured that if you suddenly get the urge to jump up and down, you won’t have to do it the old-fashioned way with your stupid old boring legs. Because there’s bound to be a trampoline nearby to assist you in meeting your leaping needs. Indeed, there are at least three trampolines on my small block alone, including this one below.

Not too shabby. But what does this fascination with assisted-leaping apparatuses tell us about the New Zealand psyche? Is it the first sign of a collective yielding to cabin fever? Or is it the crowning achievement of New Zealand’s national space program? Or is it just a funny coincidence?

The trampoline-industrial-complex will have you believe that assisted leaping is fun, but they have yet to convince children of that fact. Maybe that’s because safety standards have improved since the dark ages of the 1980s when trampoline-related deaths seemed not so uncommon. Children just won’t do anything unless there’s a guarantee of somebody getting hurt. That’s why despite the prevalence of such contraptions throughout Auckland you will never under any circumstance see a child have fun anywhere near a trampoline.

To get a picture of what we’re dealing with here, check out this map (view The Trampolines of Auckland, NZ in a larger map) I made showing all the trampolines in a 1.6 square kilometer area of Mount Eden. Note that though it is a sunny day and many of the trampolines are perfectly visible, there isn’t one child jumping up and down with assistance.

It’s a Small World After All

New Zealand is a tiny place, if you ask me. I’ve only been here for six weeks now and I’m pretty sure I’ve met everyone. They all ask me the same question: just what is it about New Zealand that makes it seem so different from what you’re used to back home?

Well, if I could gather the entire New Zealand population in one room so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself eight times, I’d give them my answer. I’d say to them that between the United States, a Nation of 300 million citizens, and New Zealand, a pair of inflatable life rafts adrift near Antarctica, the single most blaring difference is almost too obvious to mention. It’s the volcanoes. They’re everywhere!

Auckland, the city where I live, sprawls over 49 volcanoes, like a picnic blanket spread out over 49 volcanoes of much smaller dimension. As I’ve written in this blog before, Mt. Eden, like all the other volcanoes, isn’t dangerous anymore. They all pretty much blew their wads. They’re finished in this town. Washed up.  Harmless. If you ever come to Auckland, feel free to visit them with impunity and a naive feeling of security, in flagrant obliviousness to the infernal powers of creation that would make your heart quail to countenance. And don’t forget to stop by our refreshment stand.

But know this, and be warned, and lo, while the 49 volcanoes that have blown up around Auckland in the last 140,000 years may be extinct, the Auckland Volcanic Field that fed them is still quite active and will remain so for the next 900,000 years. The existing volcanoes are unlikely to erupt ever again but new ones are guaranteed to form. What’s more, the Volcanic Field has seen an increase in both the volume and frequency of eruptions over the last 20,000 years, with the biggest one, Rangitoto, being the most recent. Rangitoto emerged 600 years ago out of the depths of Auckland Harbor, forming the largest real estate bubble ever. Scientists say there’s a five percent chance the area will see another eruption within fifty years. But what do scientists know?

Actually, I believe them for once, and I’ll tell you why. The other day, Jacquie and I decided to clear our heads after a very stimulating and dramatic Christmas celebration with her family. After about three martinis, we thought it would be a good idea to take a walk up our favorite (wink, wink) “extinct” volcano, Mount Eden, upon whose western slope we reside. Mount Eden (Maungawhau, the ‘Mountain of the Whau tree in Māori) rises 643 feet above sea level, making it the highest point known to man. The view was so nice, we decided to take some photographs of the Central Business District, a few kilometers to the north.

As any fool can see from the three above photographs taken moments apart, Auckland’s Central Business District is moving away from Mount Eden at an alarming rate. It was a good thing Jacquie and I spotted the danger and an even better thing that we were drunk at the time otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to find the courage to warn everyone of the calamity New Zealand faced. We had to get the word out to the public. Luckily, and by coincidence, everyone in New Zealand happened to be there already, gathered at the top of the mountain for the country’s annual group photo.

We were on the opposite side of the cone, so we had to shout at the top of our lungs. “Hey, over here,” Jacquie screamed.

“Hey,” someone screeched in return. “How are you going?”

“Oh, not so good, eh,” Jacquie bellowed. “And it’s probably going to get worse.”

“You reckon?” the stranger stammered.

“I do reckon,” Jacquie said.

“Is that Jacquie, by the way?” the stranger said. “Jacquie, is that you mate?”

The stranger, funnily enough, turned out to be an old friend of Jacquie’s from “uni”  (short for “University”). They screamed pleasantly across the volcanic cone for about eight minutes before they realized that though they were pleased to see each other after so many years, they just didn’t have much in common any more, and so the conversation came to an abrupt and awkward halt.

“Anyway, it was good to see you,” Jacquie said.

Just then, somebody else screamed in terror, for he too realized that he had gone to Uni with Jacquie, and what at first seemed to be the End of the World eventually turned into an impromptu Uni reunion; indeed, a veritable re-uni-union, which dragged on and on into hours of awkward silence. Similarly, the danger of death by violent tectonic upheaval turned into an almost certain death by boredom.

The whole experience made me wonder. What could we who live in the Auckland Volcanic Field do to save ourselves in the event that a new volcano exploded and so many people had to get out of the area in a hurry? How would we save ourselves? Luckily, the Auckland City Council has developed an evacuation plan.