The therapeutic relationship

Update: A run-on sentence was corrected so that it actually makes sense.

Talk therapy may be taxonomized the same way interactions in the biosphere are put into categories by naturalists.

You become familiar with certain paradigmatic, therapeutic relationships when you live in New York City.

The reason why everyone mows you down on the sidewalk is because everyone is running late for their weekly session.

You think it’s because they’re busy? Nobody’s busy in New York. They’re just in therapy. Everyone sees a shrink there.  It’s like a law or something.

Consequently, when you live there long enough, you get to hear some pretty alarming stories about therapists. There’s transference and counter-transference. There’s the corporate medical plan deciding that they’re no longer covering your mental health, unless you’re absolutely positive that you’re going to take a gun in to work and take out half the staff. Even then you need a reference from your GP. Then there is the creme de la creme. It’s the moment when you discover that your therapist’s partner is a huge blabbermouth, because your therapist’s partner is your ex-girlfriend’s therapist, and one day your ex-girlfriend says that her therapist said that your therapist said that you “had the most miserable childhood” she’d ever heard about in her 20 year career. Horrors.

Given that, it might make it easier to understand the generalization that all therapeutic relationships are, to some degree, a kind of mutual predation.

In Auckland, though, I’ve found therapy to be far more beneficial, symbiotic. My therapist gets as much of our regular sessions as I do. For one hour each Friday, I get to go on and on and on about my bizarre youth and upbringing, my various ersatz careers, and my inability to accept Auckland as legitimate city. Meanwhile, my therapist gets to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You see, therapy doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. It’s a total win-win.

To be honest, my relationship with my therapist doesn’t stand out as exceptional among all my relationships The only difference between therapy and the rest of my waking moments is that when I’m in a session, strangers aren’t gaping at me like I’m a six-toed geek whilst I mutter incoherently. That doesn’t happen in therapy. My psychologist is a professional, trained in the delicate art of concealing her disgust. Which is neither here nor there, as between the time she sets her alarm clock and 50 minutes later, she is asleep.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike my therapist or my therapy. Quite the opposite. I haven’t made it a secret on this blog that I’ve been suffering from depression, for which I take a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or “Happy Slappy” as I call it. And for which I gave up reading in order to watch every episode of every series in the Star Trek franchise. (From The Next Generation to the largely horrid and unwatchable Enterprise).

And for which I have seen a psychologist. It has been more than a year, now. And I would have to give therapy credit for lifting me out of the abyss I descended when I first found out in early 2010 that Jacquie meant us to move to New Zealand, not just visit. My outlook has gotten a lot better since those evil days, and not just because of Happy Slappy, neither.

Of course, I do slip once in a while. A few weeks ago, I experienced my worst episode in two years. It was a usual Friday after work, but I’d arrived at my therapist’s office 15 minutes early. There was a radio playing, which I’d assumed was meant to prevent me from overhearing the session going on behind closed doors while I waited. It took a few minutes after I’d sat down to realize that I was in a really shitty mood, and the reason was the radio was tuned to The Breeze FM, Auckland’s answer to a fatal morphine drip.

Actually, morphine drip is the wrong metaphor. In fact, it’s difficult to understand how the shrill, nasally, canned, screaming, soft pop The Breeze plays is supposed to relax anyone. Personally, it makes me feel violent. They play the exact kind of creepily unimaginative music that used to drive me out of delis at lunch time back in New York.

Here I was seeking to improve my life when all of a sudden I wanna dance with somebody by the late Whitney Houston comes on. Was this her shrieking, horrible cry for help? Would things have turned out differently had she been able to finally dance with somebody? And was it her off-putting, siren like, ear shattering voice that actually prevented her from dancing with somebody? The more I heard, the deeper my gloom. I had never wanted to commit suicide more in my life than that moment.

But as I say, I have a good therapeutic relationship, who interceded just as I was about to fashion a noose out of an extension cord.

My therapist sat me down, gave me a drink of water, and assured me that suicidal ideation was not an uncommon reaction to Whitney Houston music.

After I’d calmed down a bit, my therapist said, “And you could have always just turned off the radio.”

This subject will be picked up again in a future post. In the meantime, feel free to adore my kitten.

His name is Vince. He’s a six month old purebred Maine Coon (with papers). His breeder name is Mainflame Red Hustler. And I will tell you more about him in an upcoming episode of Basement Life.

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.


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

Selective Memories at the Bath Street Gallery

I had the accidental pleasure of going to the Bath Street Gallery last Thursday night, as I passed on the way home from the dairy*.

It was the opening reception of a three-person show called Selective Memories, featuring Simon Ogden, Bronwyn Taylor and Bianca van Leeuwen.

The show runs through August 11, so make time to see it.

Before getting into why, I should first make some comments about Auckland and culture.

For months I had avoided entering the Bath Street Gallery for months, despite living two minutes away from the place. The work, to be general yet frank, didn’t rise above its locality. After my first visit, I would pass, but not go inside.

This could very well have been a function of my cultural New York City-bias. Jacquie accuses me of being such a snob, I dismiss out of hand the possibility that New Zealand could produce interesting art. A couple of weeks ago, she rented a documentary about Colin McMahon. She took it as a wholesale indictment of New Zealand culture when I left the room a few minutes after the film started, to pluck the hair out of my ear lobes and shoulders.

She thought I should accord McMahon respect for overcoming a provincialism all Kiwi artists must confront. I only partly agreed with this. Travel agencies had recently advertised weekend packages to Melbourne built around the chance to see the musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman. So, clearly, there is an uphill battle going on here. But it seemed to Jacquie that I was painting with too broad a brush. This may be an island-culture on the frontier of the Anglophone world, but everyone that Jacquie counts as a friend or loved one, she said, would rather eat their own head than to see a musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman.

When Jacquie could see that I wasn’t being won over to McMahon’s side, she was ready to concede something.

“Yes, it’s true he had a terrible drinking problem,” she said. “But he still did some great work.”

All artists have terrible drinking problems. And in America, at least before the 1970s and excepting the Depression, artists also faced a long history of resistance from the greater culture. So, why should I give McMahon a special dispensation?

The work in Selective Memories strikes you at first glance as dealing head-on with formal issues, without letting academic preoccupations suck the joy from their aesthetics. Simon Ogden’s 47 small linoleum on plywood point toward the portability of migration art, altar pieces, Orthodox Icons, then hang a left turn where figure meets ground. His color choices give an electric hum to imbue a bird-figure with the suggestion of a deity, or an organelle-like structure the hint of native intelligence.

There’s a little bit of Matisse, Philip Guston, and in his bigger works, Roberto Matta.

I had no idea if what I was thinking about the work at the opening made any sense. Was it grandiose to say to myself this show had restored my faith in art? Were my observations of the artists’ balancing act of form and content anything but obvious? Was I having a moment of profound insight? I was actually scared. A gallery assistant saw me standing there, frightened and disoriented like an octogenarian who forgets where he put his teeth. The assistant asked me if I wanted a glass of wine.

“I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be here,” I said.

I was that insecure. But the fact remained, if it came from an acid flashback, or an epiphany, or whatever else you want to call it, something about this show had instantly resonated with me. Which seemed too good to be true.

So I left the gallery with the existential fear that I had been so long alienated from the art world, I no longer understood its language (assuming I ever did), to the point that my interpretation of the art was off the mark, shopworn or (god help me) middle class.

So I decided to return on Saturday morning to see whether my thoughts had any art world currency. In May, 2013, it will be 20 years since I graduated from Cooper Union, a competitively selective program that offered a respectable art education, absolutely free. (Free tuition has been under threat recently). Many graduates go on to have art careers, but the most prominent person from my year is, by far, the television and movie director, Patty Jenkins, who reminded me at the time I first met her of my older sister because of their shared intolerance of bullshit.

Intermittently over the years, I’ve felt a pang of guilt for not having built a career on what I did at Cooper, thinking perhaps someone else could have used the education to greater effect. But regret and guilt are boring.

It was nice to have these feelings, in light of my history, ratified by the gallery assistant. Hugo I think is his name. (Sorry if I got that wrong and you’re reading this). He echoed some of my thoughts about the work. We talked about how Bronwyn Taylor’s drawings, their deceptively simple approach to a sometimes neglected medium, making it more than a sketch, without having to be epic and melodramatic, like some of Ed Ruscha’s drawings seem to be.

Her drawing makes process as important as line, and while this is anything but novel, Taylor makes it seem fun. It’s a caprice that is always under her control.

Which is similar to the feeling I had looking at Bianca Van Leeuwen’s pinhole images on liquid light. The expressionist gesture that applied the photosensitive liquid crystallizes the potential for speed and motion, across a plain or down a road.

The anticipation of movement, however, is contradicted by image of the unused road. Nobody is going to be driving by for a while.

Anyway, regardless of whether this is all bullshit or not, pretentious or not, connected to the art world or not, overcompensation for possible alternate realities or not, it was refreshing to be able to go into a place where remarkable things were on display, to let them stimulate your thoughts, to share those thoughts with someone else, and if it fit with an orthodoxy provincial to New Zealand or to New York City in its own globalized and hip artists’ meat market kind of way.

And it was good for me to talk to Hugo again, because the last time I’d seen him, I was pretty cynical about anything to do with art. I guess I’m not so much right now.

*Note to Americans: New Zealanders call a bodega-like, minimart grocery store, “the dairy”. Don’t ask me why. You never see a cow in any of them. But it’s possible that, as with tobacco product, livestock is by law required to be kept hidden away from the customers’ view.

New Zealand outdoor advertisement, getting it right

The last post didn’t really do it for me.

But the Oreo incident in the States that I wrote about got me to thinking about how New Zealand organizations appeal to their audiences. How do they do their marketing?

A brief walk from Parnell to downtown Auckland gives us a clear indication. When it comes to public display advertising, Kiwis need to prime their A-Game.

I mean, take a look at this advertisement for a new, reality television show called The Block.

Sorry for the lousy exposure, but I think it’s clear enough. TV3 made a huge error in judgment. The models featured in this billboard strongly suggest that the network is targeting the highly desirable, 18-to-32-year-old, douchebag market segment. I mean, if that’s not who they’re banking on to attract advertisers, then they’ve got me confused. You just have to look closely to understand what I’m talking about.

Clearly, these people are operating at a social, if not a cognitive, deficit. The woman above wants to re-enact a scene from the movie, Misery, with the man on the right. But she’s swinging her mallet in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the guy isn’t even playing along. He’s too busy congratulating himself for taking a shit in a 1920’s-era tennis outfit. We’re all proud of you, bro.

But just because the models look like they come from Douchebag Central, that doesn’t mean the people on the show or the people watching it are also douchebags. So I decided to do a little digging. The Blockis New Zealand’s hot DIY programme. The network bought a few do-ups in a row somewhere, and selected a corresponding number of couples to fix up the houses. I guess the ones that do the best work win something.

I don’t really know, since I grew completely bored reading about it. But I was on the programme’s Website long enough to see this picture.

Speaking as a douchebag myself, this just doesn’t resonate with me. I’m left to wonder who it is they’re aiming for, and what kind of people so enthusiastically look forward to eight hours of strenuous labor in a toxic atmosphere of mold, dust and asbestos? The guy on the left is clapping his hands, without realizing the irony that at some point he will accidentally cut one of them off with a radial saw.

And what about the guy on the right? What kind of person wears jogging clothes to a construction site, complete with gym shorts and black socks? A douchebag, yes. But not my kind of douchebag.

This all could be the network’s spin on Tom Sawyer getting everyone else to paint the fence. Maybe people are supposed to see how positively giddy the models in the billboard ad are, and say to themselves, “Hey, having a rusted nail drive up your jogging shoe, through your foot looks like a fuckload of fun. Let me get down to Warehouse and buy some caulking right away.”

The network is not as clever as that.

Which is to say, in Auckland’s outdoor advertising ecosystem, TV3 is not alone.

This one, from ANZ Bank, commands another busy approach to the motorways, but from the direction of the CBD, on Beach Road.

It celebrates the bank’s sponsorship of the New Zealand Olympic team competing in London at the end of the month.

I’ve passed it many times over the last few months, and it has always troubled me as unpleasant and insensitive.

Does ANZ really want its brand to be associated with lumps in people’s throats? I hate to break it to them, but not every lump in a person’s throat is a good thing, necessarily. Most lumps in people’s throats, in fact, have serious health implications that need to be addressed immediately by a doctor. These can range from a chicken bone, to someone’s index finger poking around, to an unfortunate incident with a Tic Tac.

It’s hard to imagine what ANZ is thinking. Do they really want to risk having people say things like “I have a benign throat polyp thanks to the friendly folks at ANZ.” We seem to have moved far beyond the day when they gave you a toaster for starting an account.

ANZ’s sloganeering isn’t that far off, though. They just need to tweak the ad to appeal to their core customers. These are the kind of people with second mortgages and retirement funds, the ones that are truly engaged with banks in general. Considering that target demographic, it’d be much more affective if the poster read “Proud sponsor of the goiter on your neck”.

The next one is a slightly different species. It alerts us to the existence of a bar somewhere in the drab and depressing residential/commercial complex on Beach Road, the Waldorf on Scene Apartments.

I’m really not sure which feeling this mildly psychotic display is intended to evoke. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps something a little more kinetic and exciting, like discomfort or hangover.

In the end, this feels like the place you take your spouse to reveal your gambling addiction, and that you have 24 hours to pay off the loan shark or you’re going to end up in Auckland Harbor. At least that’s the only time I’d take Jacquie there.

Finally, there’s this next one, hanging on the railroad trestle obverse to The Block promotion.

KiwiRail wants you to know that it’s transforming the way we move freight over land in this country. This isn’t your grandfather’s locomotive. We’re talking high-tech efficiency, here. So, congratulations, New Zealand, you finally have a train engine powerful enough to poke its way through a sheet of paper.


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.

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.”

Antipodian Superbowl commercial super-wrapup

Every year about this time, trillions of Americans, and other sorts, gather to watch the Superbowl.

For those of you that haven’t heard, the Superbowl is a gargantuan sporting event, considered by some to be the Superbowl of American football.

In fact, it’s probably the premiere sporting event of the year in the US. If you’ve never watched it, to get an idea of what this year’s spectacle was like, imagine a giant plastic bag the size of Australia seeping testosterone, and you’ve got a pretty good idea. And that’s just counting Madonna’s half-time show.

Because this battle of brains and brawn to determine the best football team of the year attracts such a huge audience, advertisers pay a lot of money to get their products seen. They put their most creative of their many feet forward to capture the imaginations, and the inexhaustible credit debt, of the average consumer watching the game on TV. So, you get to see a lot of humorous, edgy and memorable spots when you watch the Superbowl.

The only problem from an antipodean perspective is that because the cost of renting a 30-second slot equals the gross national product of New Zealand, no Southern Hemispherean company will ever get the chance to reach the American market, as it should.

So to rectify this injustice, I’ve decided to put forward my vote for best antipodean TV commercial that should have been featured during the Superbowl.

My first prize goes to Herbal Ignite.

Apologies for the bad sound. Honestly, it’s not too far off from the actual sound. But if you can’t sit through the whole thing, be sure to watch the bit starting at 15 seconds. You’ll see why I’m a true believer. At $2 a day for a better sex life, it’s like they’re paying me. But don’t take my word for it. Take it from a guy tooling around his car in the car port.

And the runner up is Sir George Seymour National College of Airline, Travel and Tourism

I’ve always wanted a career wherein I would have to compete with websites and apps. Call today!

There was a second runner up, but I can’t find it on the web and I erased the crappy image I recorded off the tv. It features a bunch of half naked women with eyes above their bikini clad cleavage and on their mid-riffs. I have no idea what they were advertising, but what difference does that make when you can look at cleavage?

Oh,wait. Thanks to my friend, Vera Alves of supergeneric girl, here is the second runner up for the Superbowl TV ad…

Let’s put an end to bad advice about underwear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What just happened: a Rugby World Cup rundown for Americans

The 2011 Rugby World Cup is over. The All Blacks edged out the French squad in the finals on Sunday night, 8 to 7. It was a heart-stopping finish to a six-week thrill ride that at times seemed more like six months.

Everyone celebrated with drink and song and spontaneous line dancing long into the night. By the time it was over, every Kiwi man, woman and child could hold their heads high above their toilets while vomiting and feeling a sense of pride they had not known since 1987, the last time the All Blacks won the cup. Admittedly, most of the people celebrating would have been holding their head high above the toilet on a Monday morning anyway. But at least on this occasion, they were vomiting with a purpose.

Auckland turned its Queens Wharf into a FanZone, one of the places around the country where people could watch the rugby games if they couldn't get in to the stadium. The one in Queens Wharf was called "Party Central". Somebody give that marketing team a medal. Party Central featured "delicious" food, beer, large screen televisions, people, and exhibits, like the one pictured above. I think the inside of "100% Pure New Zealand" was empty, to simulate the experience of living here.

I lived through most of the six weeks under fear that the All Blacks would lose. How many of New Zealand’s people would have thrown themselves off the top of Auckland’s tallest buildings if the All Blacks hadn’t won. By winning, the All Blacks averted a lot of sprained and twisted ankles. The depression would have been that bad, if not worse.

Many of my American friends will not know what the hell I’m talking about right now. And for once in my life, it’s not my fault. Rugby, after all, is a highly nuanced sport. Far too complex for the simple American brain to comprehend, some say. To which America would probably say: “We have nuclear weapons. And we’re not afraid to use them.”

But it’s true that Americans don’t get rugby, not the way they get baseball, basketball and football. That’s because the only way to make money off a sport, I mean real money, is to cut to a commercial break each time the Washington Nationals have to go back to the bullpen for a new pitcher. Rugby is played without breaks, which is why it will never gain traction in the US. Americans still tell time by advertisement.

The general idea of the sport really is easy to understand. But the rules may seem a bit arbitrary. So when people back home ask me to explain rugby, I struggle. Where do I even start?

Rugby. Nowhere else will you find 15 sweaty, fit young men “crouch, touch and engage” for 80 minutes with 15 other guys, without hearing “Cut! That’s a wrap.” at the end of it. This is a man’s sport, splattered with misunderstood intentions and hurt feelings. Sometimes a player has to be carried off the field, he feels so bad. The point is that everyone had fun. You can understand that, can’t you? You see? Easy peasy.

Party Central with the Cloud on the right and one of the old sheds on the left. I visited three times.

Psychology plays a huge role in this contest, as much as stamina and speed, strategy and tactics. The All Blacks perform a Haka before every game, a Maori war dance that combines intimidating gestures with a deep-throated chant. Total mind-fuck. In a subtler way, it felt as if some of the media were running their own PsyOps, belittling France’s chances–challenging opponents as they turned out to be–while the people on the street felt the zeitgeist of the mob mentality.

To see how riled up these mobs were, I decided to pretend to be a French man just before the game. I sat in a cafe wearing a beret, chain-smoking Gauloises and squeezing the waitress’ ass like it was a fresh baguette. I couldn’t believe how angry the waitress got, not to mention the other diners . I’m glad I’m not a French man, with that kind of reception.

I went to the FanZone three times to try out the Heineken Drunk Driving simulation. It had a bucket seat with a steering wheel and what looked like three high-definition flatscreens to give a 180° view. Each time I went, the simulator was not working. There was always a laser printed sign taped to the central screen that read "download in progress". Later, I realized this wasn't another example of technology failing to live up to expectations, but a clever message. If you're drunk, you shouldn't get behind the wheel of a car. That's the simulation. I suppose if you wanted to be literal about it, you could interpret that "message" as "if you're drunk, you shouldn't get behind the wheel of a simulated vehicle". Anyway, FanZone wasn't a total loss. At least I was able to select a lost child while waiting for my accreditation to be processed at the information booth. They were doing a two-for-one that day.

Still, I wasn’t convinced my treatment was completely related to the mob mentality of the rugby scene. When it got closer to game-time, I decided to go out again, this time with my face painted in the Tricolour. I came across a bunch of fans at a bar, dressed in their All Black fan jerseys. They appeared to have been drinking for several hours. I said, “bonjour, mon amis.” I don’t want to get into the horrific details of what happened next. Let’s just say the police were involved, and that I’m down one pair of pants, and leave at that.

Generally speaking, though, the RWC brought a lot of positive energy to New Zealand in the spirit of competition. 80,000 fans from other countries came to support their teams. The US fielded a squad, as did Russia and some other countries I didn’t expect. I watched the US beat Russia at a bar for a little Cold War nostalgia.

It was so hard to resist, even Jacquie got wrapped up in the excitement. The Saturday before the big game, she was watching a television interview with one of the All Black coaches. He was talking about what the team has learned from its experience since the RWC started back in 1987. Jacquie says he told the reporter, “We don’t go out drinking and eating spoiled oysters the night before a big match. Learned that one in ’95.”

If you ever have to play in a RWC final, don't eat this the night before. This tasty delight comes from the window of Liang Da Gu restaurant on Symonds Street.

In the end, New Zealand enjoyed a really great RWC, and I was very glad to be a witness to it. We saw many exciting games, and there was a big payoff for the country after a lot of anxiety. The only irritating thing was that all the permanent residents had to move to one side of the North Island so that we wouldn’t capsize when the 80,000 visitors from abroad went home.