Married life

Some injured people are very rude

I didn’t see the Grafton Residents Association newsletter in the mail slot until it was too late.

The single-sheet circular announced a General Meeting on April 13th, which had already passed.

Jacquie and I weren’t too disappointed to miss out on the fun.

Me and the old-lady just moved to the neighborhood, so we had yet to accumulate a list of grievances of sufficient length to warrant the meandering, slobbering public harangue we’d always looked forward to making as proud homeowners.

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You can bet your life the GRA will get an earful from me next meeting, when I excoriate their tardy communications, no matter how indifferent I am to checking my letterbox.

Who the hell wants to check their mailbox? It’s either a bill, an advertisement, or a letter from your grandma without a check inside. It’s all bad news.

I’ll probably lead with that in my remarks to the GRA at the next meeting. I’ve got 20 minutes of material already. I haven’t even gotten past complaining about my grandmother yet.

In retrospect, I started looking forward to addressing one of the agenda items a week too late, after all. Bummer. Item 4: Local Issues was right up my alley. It read, I mean It still reads (ie, I haven’t twinked it yet):

A number of local issues have been taken up with Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and others. For example, we have received complaints about some helicopters going to and coming from the hospital, taking short cuts across the residential area. This has caused noise problems, especially at night.

Having mistaken myself for a journalist in the past, I instinctively put out some feelers. Communicating with the inside sources was very deep throat, very cloak and dagger, very click-here-for-more-information. They helped me to clarify to myself, in time for the next GRA meeting, in what direction I will publicly spew my bilious indignation.

They confirmed that Westpac Rescue Helicopter had received complaints, Westpac apologized, and their pilots are once-again faithfully adhering to flight paths designed to mitigate noise in residential areas. So, no darms. Another bummer.

Speaking strictly for myself, I thought,

Man, it takes a bit of cheek to complain about a rescue helicopter making noise. Aren’t people in rescue helicopters literally at death’s door? Isn’t that, like, their main qualification for being in the helicopter in the first place? Doesn’t bad shit happen all the time? Isn’t it better to land a patient as quick as possible so that they don’t die, or end up a vegetable that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer funding to maintain its oh so special existence? Did I amend my will to make sure Jacquie DOES or DOESN’T unplug me if I end up in a coma? I really should get that will sorted out. Maybe I’ll bring this up at the next GRA meeting.

Then my thoughts trailed off to something else entirely.

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The point is, at first, I thought the complainers were being assholes.

But then I remembered what a light sleeper I am, and how cranky I can be without at least a solid seven. What if a helicopter rushed over my house at three in the morning because someone in Dargaville let their kid stay up all night drinking Jack Daniels and riding their bicycle into telephone polls. Is that any reason for me to be irritable and tired the next day?

You may think that’s a really mean thing to write. I used to be as naive as you. Look at all the benefits to society that delaying medical treatment to a head trauma from Dargaville—or any place. I’m just picking names out of hat, really. Do we really want that drunken kid mixing his (demonstrably undesirable) DNA with the old national gene pool? No, because he’ll grow up to sire kids that will get drunk and ride their bicycles into telephone poles. You see what I mean?

That’s how I started coming around to the other way of thinking. I live across the road from the hospital, and though the helicopters don’t fly overhead any more, these hospital people and me, we don’t see eye-to-eye all the time, as you can see from Episode 3 of my webseries Let’s Get Fixed.

 

And really, at heart, I’m all about being a good neighbor. I look forward to fighting with all of them.

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Grafton’s despicable hordes

I never wanted to be a parent.

Kids just didn’t seem like anyone I’d want to spend time with. Don’t know why.

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It’s not that I despise children, with their exasperating need for constant attention, their volatile emotional states, their ‘live and let live’ approach to hygiene, their nonexistent social skills, and their psychotic conversations.

It’s just that, I despise children. How irritating, then, that I now live upstairs from a kindergarten.

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I know I’m coming across as a babbling old fart shouting tired clichés about kids playing on someone’s lawn, but there’s a very good reason for it, which I’ve now forgotten.

Oh, right: I like children as individual people. In fact, some of my best friends have children, as far as I’m aware. And all my nephews and nieces are cool beans.

It’s when kids form hordes, clamoring like armies of Orcs disguised as ugly children, that they become instantly despicable. Kids in groups are the people my parents instructed me to avoid when I was growing up. While other kids were outside doing sports or stealing shit from the deli, I was sitting quietly in my bedroom, hands folded on my desk, waiting to turn 18.

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It has taken me since that time to become an actual adult. I haven’t wet myself  in years, I rarely simper in public. And now Jacquie and I bought this flat.

My personal equity until last month had never matured so much as rocked back and forth in the fetal position. Owning a home has foisted great responsibility on my shoulders to convince other people that I’m mature. It’s a duty I take quite seriously.

 

Our apartment is a funky walk-up, a short walk to Karangahape Road, in one direction, and the Auckland Domain in the other. And as one reader pointed out, it’s a very convenient place to be hit by a bus, because Auckland hospital is right across the road. (I’ve already taken the time to introduce myself to the emergency room staff).

Our home would be perfect, if not for the horde of Orc-children downstairs.

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The other day, one of the them was shrieking and sobbing in the playground. For about six hours. I got so pissed off, I finally went to the window and screamed, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” Then I told her how much money was in my checking account. One of the teachers heard what I’d said and scolded me for scaring the children, who had all run inside. Mission accomplished.

After that, the teachers would shoot cold leers of indignation in my direction, whenever I happened to pass the window. They didn’t like my attitude toward the children, and they were furious last Monday, when I got a little drunker than usual for a work day at noon. A terrible commotion downstairs drew me to the window. One boy was beating up another, and that made me angry. So I lit a cigarette, topped up my Jack Daniels and marched right to the window and screamed at the bully.

“Leave that kid alone, you little bastard,” I said. Then I pointed to myself and said “This is you in 39 years.”

Then I tossed the Jack Daniels out the window, and it splashed all over the kid’s Spider Man costume.

Then I flicked my cigarette at him, hitting him in the eye. It was a lot of fun watching him try to explain to his teachers why he reeked of alcohol, to say nothing of the cigarette butt still smoldering at his feet.

Those teachers need to relax about the whole incident, because I was simply trying to illustrate that in New Zealand, anyone can grow up to be the kind of person who smokes cigarettes and drinks heavily in the middle of a work day.

So, not only did I stop the bully from beating his victim, I also put the fear of god in him, using my life as an example.

They should be paying me.

A man, technically

Sometimes I wish I had a job.

I mean: a man’s job. Or a woman’s job.

Someone’s job. It doesn’t matter, as long as they let me have their job.

But only if it requires physical strength and good problem-solving ability.

It also should present a modicum of danger.

I’m thinking I’d like to be an “electrical contractor”.

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Look at all those cables and stuff, and that thing people use to climb places.

That’s the accoutrement of a man’s job. Or a woman’s. Doesn’t matter. If you’re an electrician in New Zealand, you’re a sparky.

“Sparky”. Typical. If there is a cutesie way to describe something, Kiwis will use it. You watch.

Here’s an example:

The arvo went pear-shaped when the sparky made his wees on a 10,000 volt power line. But she’ll be right, he had two bikkies for brekkie, and they were yum.

When Kiwis talk like that, I wonder why the other Commonwealth nations don’t slap New Zealand upside the head.

Then I hear Australians talk, and I remember the lingual bar for entry into the British Commonwealth is low, probably somewhere at the bottom of the Kermadec Trench.

Plus, Australians are assholes.

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Two things get in the way of me being a sparky.

I have no desire to urinate on live electric wires.

I also have no idea what any of the tools are called, or how to use them.

I’ve lost count how many times an implement ended up puncturing my colon because of my complete lack of tool skills.

I guess I’m just not a man’s man. I don’t know from tools. I hate sports.

Plus, men are assholes. A lot of what men do is just foreign to me.

Of course, regular readers will know me as a ladies man. But the man part is more of an honorarium than anything else.

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The most I can say is I’m a man, technically speaking.

Which means I’m going to have to work at being a man.

Especially in light of our new neighbors.

Nobody knows much about them, except they like to have sex a lot. This is public knowledge, I swear.

They leave their door open, and all their windows, and the woman is quite enthusiastic in the vocalization of her pleasure-taking.

Some days, it’s so loud, it sounds like a David Attenborough special on Bonobos, but with a classic porn soundtrack (our neighbors are always playing funk).

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Jacquie got the idea to take revenge.

We were the best qualified couple in the area to teach these newcomers how embarrassing it is to hear other people have sex.

The next time we did it, we left all the windows up, and the door open, and we amplified the noises we normally made.

It was a lot of fun, but how many times was I supposed to shout, “ow, not there; ow, not there,” to get the point across?

I wasn’t used to this sort of thing. Usually, I just bite my pillow.

Doesn’t matter because the exercise was lost on the neighbors. If anything, their romps got louder and more public.

First it was the laundry room, then it was by the rubbish bins, once inside their car, twice inside ours, and I even saw them do it in the queue while I was waiting to buy soda water at the shop.

To tell you the truth, I was starting to feel self-conscious. Was I performing my functions adequately as a man? Should I cry less or more during the act?

This was turning into a crisis.

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To make things worse, the new guy-neighbor started building furniture because they didn’t have anything for the apartment.

Every time I passed him working those tools, my penis retracted another centimeter into my pelvic region. Another two weeks and I’ll have a vagina.

This guy needed furniture, never picked up a tool in his life, went out and got everything he needed, and voila. He saw a problem, and fixed it, like a man.

It was clear that my status as alpha male of all Parnell was being challenged by this upstart.

I had to compete on his level, so I wracked my brain to come up with a DIY project of my own.

The first step was to identify something that needed fixing. What problems were there around the house that Jacquie has been complaining about for a while?

After much soul-searching I realized what needed to be fixed. Me.

I have been successful thus far in my five or six year sex-life to keep my man-pollen sequestered, far away and safe from the Death Star (ie., Jacquie’s egg sacks).

But the only way to full-proof against accidental contamination is to cut the essence off at its source.

So, I decided to give myself a vasectomy.

In retrospect, I probably should have thought twice before taking that old fashioned Kiwi “No. 8 wire” approach to major surgery.

Not because I actually went through with it. Jacquie made sure of that when she caught me naked in the bathroom with a 500-foot spool of No. 8 wire.

But more because I was so threatened by this guy, I told him on the spot, “Hey, big shot, you think you’re a man because you can build a shelf? I’m going to cut my own balls off. How do you like that, pansy?”

Well, I’m not sure what to do, because he made me promise to show him the results.

I’m going to have a lot of egg on my face when he sees close up that I’m still a man, right where it counts.

How to tell your loved-ones that you’re out of a job

Well, the cat’s out of the bag.

A guy who works with my wife told Jacquie that I was getting canned. He’d read about it on my blog.

Thanks a lot, douche-bag. Do you realize the shit-storm you’ve caused? Jacquie didn’t even know I was writing a blog, let alone that I was being made redundant.

I hope your huge gaping mouth gets so cavernous that all your teeth fall out. Then I hope on your way to the dentist they jump back into your mouth. And then when you cancel your appointment, your teeth fall out again, and so on and so forth, in perpetuity, ad infinitum. No offense, but I’d watch that on TV. An endless loop of your teeth falling out of your mouth then jumping back in. That would amuse me.

Have you considered a career in children's parties, corporate functions, and gardens/

Who hasn’t considered a career in children’s entertainment, Renaissance Weekends, or just hanging around outside a stranger’s house all the time?  I can’t wait to discover the opportunities that await me when I wear red lipstick.

Now on top of all my other problems, I have to deal with Jacquie knowing about one of my problems?

For your information, you greasy rat-weasel, I was going to tell Jacquie. I have always said that the secret to a successful marriage is transparency. That’s why it’s crucial to open up and be honest with your partner as soon as you realize you’re about to be caught in a lie.

Anyway, this rat weasel co-worker of Jacquie’s has thrown my schedule off by months. I was going to break it to her in September. End-of-the year, at the latest.

I may have time to go back to weightlifting

I may have time to go back to weightlifting.

I had the story all worked out. With my redundancy pay coming in one lump sum next month, I’d have to account for the surge in our bank account. I’d tell Jacquie that it was from some freelance work I was doing for the Mongrel Mob, but it was nothing to be concerned about. It would be just, you know, a little money laundering. Because my employers required discretion, I would be forced to tell people I was an office administrator for the Mongrel Mob.

I would lead Jacquie to believe that the Mongrel Mob Human Resources Director was going to offer me a permanent role, and that this would be a more lucrative alternative to print media. Then when Jacquie noticed no income in September, I’d confess. I’d tell her the Mongrel Mob let me go for incompetency. Jacquie would totally buy that story. And being canned by the Mongrel Mob would make getting laid off by Fairfax as not such a bad thing after all. Not in the scheme of things.

I can forget that plan now. It would have worked. And I would have had three months of doing nothing but what I wanted to do. Hang around a random stranger’s house dressed as a Gnome.

Jacquie isn’t really keen on that idea, now that her asshole friend spilled the beans. She’s more concerned about my prospects, about being realistic. She wants me to find a balance between my dreams and the incredible amount of housework she expects me to do once I was fully fledged “redundo”, as my friend Craig calls it. (I prefer the term “differently abled” myself.)

She’s also worried that an unemployment-triggered downgrading of my mental health will become a nuisance, and perhaps interfere with her enjoyment of boring BBC costume dramas ultimately derived from Ford Maddox Ford’s fucked-up life.

“Don’t take this situation as an excuse to fall into a self-indulgent depression,” Jacquie says. “Because that would be annoying. I have enough to deal with at work.”

Which is exactly what Sylvia Tietjens said to Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End, just after she cuts his penis off and tosses it from a moving train.

Jacquie didn’t stop there, and now that she’s found my blog and is reading over the archives, I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg. I guess I know one thing I’ll be doing through my redundancy: accounting for my past sins.

Portrait of Jacquie

Keep making memories, everybody

A friend is sometimes described as the person who holds your hair back when you’re sick at the toilet. That way the friend can get a clear shot with her iPhone of you hurling chunks. And then sell the photos to Vice.

I count my former co-workers as such friends. There isn’t one of them that I would not like to take a picture of vomiting. For my scrapbook.

Fenway Park, vs. Texas

Last night, the soon-to-be-former Fairfax Business Group staff gathered for a farewell drink at Beresford Square Wine Bar, near K Road.

Speaking for everyone without actually verifying it, we all had a great time. Last night presented something for everyone. There was drunken candor. There was vomiting and unabashedly tearful hysterics. And prosciutto. Usually all at once.

Last night made me realize that working alone is going to be a lonely experience. I’m going to miss the intelligent conversations I used to have at Fairfax with myself. And it was a bonus to have people around to talk to, also. People need people, as social beings, which means that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. At work, when I wanted to hear a different opinion, I was lucky that I could go to any number of smart, funny people, hear their side of the story, then explain to them why they are wrong and I am better than they are.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Important people like me need to be surrounded by a cadre of mindless yes-men who don’t mind being condescended to. Or who want to have their picture taken whilst vomiting. Those are the two classes of friendship.

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Sadly, I was not able to take photos of anyone vomiting last night. Nor could I convince everyone to pose for a group shot of the gang vomiting simultaneously. The thought of me working without these people makes me a bit anxious.

To answer that question, I’ve been watching The Shining on an endless loop. Which is what the HR person said I should do to prepare myself for the coming months.

She also says I should watch Woody Allen movies.

Manhattan has struck a chord. Woody Allen plays a 42-year-old television comedy writer facing a career crisis, among other things. I saw it the other day and I was like, “Shit, I’m 42. I face a new crisis every 14 minutes. I’m from New York city, I’m something like a Jew, with the schnoz, neuroses and chutzpah to back it up. Now how do I cash in?” It’s quite possible that possessing all the necessary ingredients of a stereotype could be a gold mine. There could be thousands, if not three thousand dollars to be made here in New Zealand, where I am as rare as Apteryx australis itself.

I’m thinking “Jewish petting zoo”. Just a thought. I’m not married to the idea.

The question is, do I model myself after Isaac Davis, the character Woody Allen plays in the movie? He and I share many characteristics: ethnic profile, questionable masculinity, perpetual bad hair days, and on and on and on.

There are a couple minor, but remarkable differences. Isaac is trying to get out of a successful television comedy writing career. I, on the other hand, am trying to get used to the fact that I have no marketable skills. The only option for people like me is a career in comedy writing.

Oh, and Isaac is sexually involved with a 17-year old girl.

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Now, it is fair to say that any number of teenagers would be thrilled if I were hanging off their arms. Nothing spells “sophisticated woman” better than being seen with a man of wisdom and accomplishment. Or in my case, a receding hairline. These days my forehead takes up about 90 percent of my face. It’s alarming to look at pictures of myself over the years. Like time-lapse satellite images showing the desertification of a once fertile farming region in north Africa.  It’s big. I can’t lie down in the park because I’m afraid a helicopter might try landing on it. And forget about my nose. That shit has its own weather system. There are as yet undiscovered mammals living in the rainforest that is my left nostril. Not to gild the lily or anything, but I’m hot.

But, sorry girls, I’ll have to pass. I’m a happily married man, wed to a woman of ample years. But, more importantly, let’s face it. What the hell are we going to talk about? How unfair it is that your parents won’t buy you an iPhone so you can take pictures of your friends vomiting? I know how you feel, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to be seen in public discussing such intimate topics. I mean, what if an adult caught us making out on the street, and made a comment about our age difference? Do you really think, “It’s ok, she’s my daughter,” will stand the smell test?

It’s all good, though. I can still model myself on Isaac Davis. I don’t need a 17-year-old girlfriend to get my career going. All I need is a schnoz and a dream and an entourage and a nice car, and an office in Los Angeles, and the ability to write something funny. Then I’ll be set. Just like Isaac Davis.

It was Mother’s Day?

I’ll be the first to admit that I had more than one agenda when I finally agreed to marry my wife.

On the one hand, I promised myself that I would lose my virginity by the age of 37.

It was a lofty goal that only crossed into the realm of possibility when Jacquie and I started to date.

Still, I wasn’t sure if she was “the one”.

Norman Rockwell Mother's Day plate

In fact, it wasn’t until the third time Jacquie proposed to me that I finally acquiesced, after I had realized that our betrothal could benefit me, as well.

You see, another dream I’ve had since I can remember was to invent a pretext so credible that my family would have no choice but to excuse me from ever seeing them in person again. It would be christened the OMEGA Excuse, the justification of all justifications. No more birthdays! No more funerals! No more other boring bits in between!

I had known for some time that Jacquie was keen to return to the homeland 9,000 miles away from New York City. That might be some people’s idea of a “comfortable distance” to put between themselves and their family. But not most people. Most people would need to live permanently on a space station to reach their familial comfort zone. And I understand the feeling. But in my case, let’s be real. I wasn’t going to get a better offer than 9,000 miles. Before Jacquie, I would have been grateful for a one way ticket to Hoboken.

We quickly made plans to move to Auckland, and then I popped my cherry. Eighteen seconds later, we were back to talking about Auckland. It was a moment of triumph. No longer must I rely on my grossly inadequate neocortex (I was born breach) to think up new excuses to avoid personal contact with my loved ones.  with our relocation to Auckland arranged, if anyone in my family asked if I were attending this or that gathering, I had the OMEGA Excuse to save me. “Oh, I’d love to spend Thanksgiving at your house eating your dried out turkey and repeating the same conversation we had last year. Oh, no. I just remembered. I’m going to be 9,000 miles away living my new life in Auckland that day. Damn.”

It’s hard for me to say all this. I’m a sentimentalist at heart. But if I’m honest, I think me moving away was the best arrangement for all parties concerned.

Norman Rockwell's sentimentality

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and infrastructure, even separation by a continent and an ocean is not enough to suspend all contact with loved ones, unfortunately. Facebook and Twitter keep us up to date on important news from the folks back home, such as what they had for lunch, and how some of it is still stuck in their teeth. (The rest is made up of George Takei re-posts).

There is also gmail, for our semi-literate siblings and parents. And there is Skype, for those relatives who want to see how fat I’ve gotten.

This  multichannel, always-on, ever instant online access to anyone in the world means that we still have to deal with shit like Mother’s Day.

Which I only just found out it was yesterday.

I’ve been adequate keeping in touch on every occasion. Except for  Mother’s Day, which has proven a tough nut to crack.

My first Mother’s Day here, I woke up that Sunday morning, eager to beat my siblings to wishing mom a happy day.

I called her on the land-line, but what I failed to take into account was that, due to the International Dateline, it was still early Tuesday morning back in New York.

Needless to say, mom was kind of angry I woke her. She said goodnight, and then implied that of all her children, I was the one that came closest to being aborted. Then she hung up.

I decided I’d take the high road the next year, by tagging my mother in a photograph that, if memory serves, had something to do with Mother’s Day.

But by 2012, the demands of acknowledging this holiday, year-in, year-out, had pretty much exhausted my creativity, to say nothing of my interest. I ended up tagging my mom in a status update about how she can fart on request.

But this year, I was inconsiderate. The day passed without my notice. And that made me feel bad.

To make up for my neglect, I decided that for the next day or so, I would be nice to whatever mothers happen to get in my way.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out well, either.

On Sunday morning, for example, I stopped to say hello to my neighbor, Lucy, who had just come out of her apartment accompanied by an older woman.

I made a comment about the pleasant weather. I mentioned how much I liked Lucy as a neighbor, even though she doesn’t clean up the dog shit from the courtyard, and I think she’s been reading my mail, and that she must be proud.

This woman was very offended by what I said. “I’m her sister, you asshole,” the old lady said, before storming off.

Then there was the poorly timed “baby sea lion for lunch” joke I told to a mother who happened to be raising money for the SPCA, and the whole misunderstanding over my use of the word “bastard” in passing, and on and on and on.

So, I give up. I’m no good at this shit. That’s my new Omega Excuse.

There’s this app called Paper that’s kind of addictive.

It’s the perfect gift for those indolent, self-styled creative-types that make your life so interesting.

Apple or someone (maybe the developer, FiftyThree) categorizes Paper as a “productivity tool”.

I kind of have to take issue with their nomenclature. I’ve probably lost 17 or 18 hours to Paper, doing nothing but doodles. If a productivity tool is supposed to save you time, then clearly somewhere in the supply chain, there has been a gross miscarriage of the service level agreement.

And if Paper wants to make it so easy to doodle your life away, then they should also develop an app that makes its users more responsible managers of their time. They could categorize it as a productivity tool. Its only task would be to prevent the customer from using Paper. It could be called Paper+ (now with added productivity).

Hello, FiftyThree? I’m reasonably certain that I have more important things to do with my time than doodle. Like, my job or paying attention to the cars in front of me in traffic. And when Jacquie is telling me it’s time to clean the cat box, how many more times do you think I can get away with, “Not now. I’m being productive” before she catches on that I’m just doodling? Seven, eight more times is my guess.

Paper is a digital palimpsest on which you make marks to simulate physical media, as they might behave in a rigidly ordered world. There is a brush with a water color effect, and tools that mimic a pencil, a magic marker, a pen. You are constrained by the rules of the app, parameters that force you to pay attention to the potential of the tool combined with gesture. This includes the simple “undo” interface, which antiseptically corrects your missteps, the way physical erasure could hardly ever be.

Anyway, I like to doodle. And not just the whatever comes to my head kind of sketching, but real portraits.  Here’s one I did of Vince as a microscopic parasite.

Vince as microscopic parasite

I also like to doodle my wife. I use my finger. I could doodle her all day long.

Last night, I was doodling her and she didn’t even notice.

She said, “Simon, the cat box smells terrible.”

And I said, “Not now. I’m being productive.”

This is the piece I was working on at the time.

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I know realism isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But as you can see, Paper makes it a cinch. In fact, if I had decided to draw Jacquie with conventional tools, she would have put her shirt on and sat up straight by the time I started sketching.

Midlife crisis, on the cheap

When I was nine or ten, I made a solemn vow.

“One day, long after I’ve grown into a man,” I pledged, “I will divorce my wife and run off with my secretary, who will be half my age.”

Reality, of course, does not always work out the way we plan. And there isn’t always a happy ending. And we learn to enjoy the contours of our lives, taking solace in those precious moments when we are alone and can sob bitter tears of regret over the dreadful hands that fate has cruelly dealt us. That’s called aging gracefully, the acceptance that we do not earn nearly enough money to afford a really awesome mid-life crisis.

Not like the ones our fathers and grandfathers took for granted.

If my generation was led at a very young age to believe the big lie, we have only our print media to blame. After all, the one thing I learned as a schoolboy from my friend’s father’s Playboy magazines, was that I would have it all. The cherry red mustang, the shapely college cheerleader, the pack of Newports with 17% less tar, and the bottle of Old Spice. It was all supposed to be there for the asking.

Since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, there has been a lot less home equity available to men of my age and older. Consequently, for the first time since the Great Depression, the average middle-class, balding, shriveled up, overweight heterosexual American male could not afford to sustain a respectable mid-life crisis. The men of my generation are only now confronting this shocking truth, right at the point in our lives when our penises are starting to slowly but inevitably telescope up into our abdomens, where they will eventually disappear altogether within the fleshy, adipose folds surrounding our crotches.

All is not lost, though. You can enjoy a decent midlife crisis without breaking the bank! You just have to think creatively. Instead of buying real Ray Ban sunglasses that can run as high as $900 a pair, just buy the $20 Ray Bans the next time you fill your car with gas. That’s how I’m doing it. Instead of a Mustang convertible, I roll down the window of my Honda Civic and stick my head out while I’m driving. Instead of a mistress, I have a kitty. And instead of a venereal disease, I have a feline venereal disease. Midlife crisis, with all the fixings.

You know how I know I’m middle-aged? Because today, someone posted this on Facebook.

And I realized that there would be a lot of people out there who wouldn’t get that joke. And that would be for most of them because they were born after me. A long time after me. Like, I was doing adult type shit before they even existed, and now I’m closer to dead than I am to childhood aspirations for satisfying mid-life crises. But they’re not.

But I took out my depression on two who were very dear to my heart. Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. And I wrote horrible things about them on Facebook.

I wrote that Uncle Owen was a “martinet”, and that I was glad “they did him”. Uncle Owen was always like “Luke do this; Luke do that; Luke, there’s going to be hell to pay; Luke, it’s time for your colonic.” Poor Luke. And the worst part about it? Uncle Owen wouldn’t let Luke waste time with his friends picking up power converters at the Toshi Station, until all of Luke’s chores were done.

If I were Luke, I’d be like “fuck that” then use the force to put a cap in the motherfucker’s ass. Uncle Owen gets in my way? He’s got to fall. Because, let’s face it, that’s what Luke was like. “Toshi Station” and “power converters” were such a transparent euphemism for “losing one’s virginity at a whorehouse full of Jawas”.  Uncle Owen wasn’t a fool. He knew what went on at that cab stand. That’s why the chores were never-ending.

I could have continued. But a silence seemed to have descended over Facebook. It was as if nobody knew what I was talking about. And the only possible explanation for that, beyond the unlikely suggestion that I am incoherent, is that those people are too young to even understand.

Pity-party-pooper

Why do people give a crap about other people’s problems? A veterinarian gets crushed by a retired circus elephant, in her own zoo. A young gastronome develops brain damage from eating Kentucky Fried Chicken. Yeah, OK, fine. We all wake up on the wrong side of the bed once in a while. So deal with it and move on so people can focus on my calamities for a change. Is that really too much to ask?

I'm not sure what bothers me about this Stuff.co.nz headline about Milla, the 39-year-old circus washout that killed its keeper, Dr. Helen Schofield. Stuff might have been saving this one in the event that Kim Dotcom made a dramatic and deadly escape, while maintaining a solid journalistic insouciance toward the entire affair.

If I found out the hard way that the Colonel’s secret recipe was salmonella, and suffered brain damage for it—delicious, crispy original brain damage—do you think people would give me the time of day, at last?

Damn straight, and much, much more. I’d be rich and famous. And retarded. People would be forced to pay attention to me. Not out of respect, an aspiration I long ago abandoned due to the modest amount of effort involved, but out of a deep sense of pathos, the quality most coveted by all mankind. Or at least the mediocre segment of that cohort. A walk is as good as a single, as the Boston Red Sox might say.

I want to let KFC know that if I do manage to achieve brain damage from my now thrice-daily visits to their fine establishment, I would not sue them. In fact, I would offer myself up as a kind of “celebrity vegetable” for ribbon-cuttings and franchise promotion. They could just prop me up near the drive through window and let my day-time nurse drag my palsied, pen-bearing hand across someone’s napkin so they can show all their friends. KFC could even name a meal after me: the “Sad Sack”, consisting of a giant boiled potato, an autographed napkin, and a beaker of salmonella. Well, the KFC guys can figure out the logistics, but I guy can dream, can’t he?

I guess what I’m saying is, I’m throwing a pity party and nobody has even RSVP’d. You want to know what for?  It’s this: I had the shittiest summer. Now, a lot of people in Auckland will say their summer sucked too, what with the record number of cloudy days, the below-average temperatures and the rain. But mine was the worst because it happened to me. Besides, look how I was forced to spend mine, indoors, taking pictures of myself washing my hair.

Taking pictures of my cat washing his hair.

And taking pictures of a book I was reading while I was waiting for the cat to finish in the bathroom.

Incidentally, this was a horrendously misleading title. I will admit this “handbook” contained plenty of information for granola-shitters, such as how many people you should hug at night when you’ve reached the “confessional” stage of hypothermia, and how to construct a blind for moss-watching, and the 11 signs that you’ve just swallowed a berry. All that’s well and good. But there wasn’t one useful bit of information for stalkers. If anything, it gives that forsaken cross-section of hopeless romantics some fairly impractical advice.

“The party is moving as a unit”. How in the world are you supposed to stalk as a “unit”? It’s a dead giveaway. How would you even find a group of stalkers to go after the same target? Do they take turns? Does everybody meet at the mall with their rucksacks and bedrolls, and draw straws?  Does the winner say, “Yeah, this week we’re going to stalk my ex-wife. Everyone follow me.”? What if the target turns around all of a sudden? Is it better for the stalkers to try to hide, act casual, or should they start singing and pretend they’re a choral society and it was just a coincidence they were in the mall in the first place? And what happens when the security guard comes over and says they don’t have permission to sing in the mall? What then? You see? You finish reading this book with more questions than answers.

Anyway, that’s the kind of morass you sink into when you have a bad summer. Of course, when the autumn came, the weather started to improve.

But, by the time we took our belated summer holiday this week in Tairua—a two-hour drive south and east of Auckland, on the Coromandel Peninsula—it was shit again.

Frankly, it’s not just that the summer was bad, and that our consolation holiday was bad. It’s that any time Jacquie and I have some time off and do anything together, a few things inevitably happen.

  1. The weather turns shit.
  2. One spouse contracts a stomach virus and vomits.
  3. The other spouse laughs so much at the first spouse vomiting that it makes the second spouse vomit.
  4. The rest of the community vomits, en masse.
  5. Authorities are notified. Evacuation procedures are put into effect. Tsunami alarms are sounded
  6. We go home and pick Sunny up from the cattery.
  7. I nearly die from fur exposure.
  8. Jacquie laughs so hard that she vomits.
  9. etc. etc.

How’s that for a pitiable routine? I hope Stuff picks it up. I even have pictures they can use, along with a few scenarios, from this week’s abhorrent excuse for rest and relaxation. As I always say, when life gives you lemons, complain to as many people as possible.

Horrible Holiday Highlights

Jacquie was eager to run on the beach, in spite of the rain.

She ran ahead. Some fishermen nearby seemed to shake their heads, and leer at me.

Later we went to the supermarket to get ingredients for dinner and I saw this.

Aha. What better opportunity to draw attention my piteous than by arguing with a supermarket clerk about Tairua’s apparent treatment of women as pets. How dare they pooh-pooh my wife when she runs on the beach without a collar. What nerve of them to insinuate in their Vitapet display that my wife does not already sleep as comfortably as a dog of roughly her size and proportions. Stuff is going to hear about this. This is going to knock that salmonella story right off the splash page…etc. etc.

The clerk seemed to find all this amusing and the whole thing fizzled.

The next day, during a break in the storm, we went to Cathedral Cove about 20 kilometers north of Tairua.

Here, I found a new angle with which to generate sympathy for myself.

I would turn myself from hapless holiday-maker to infelicitous widower, due to the unfortunate combination of a precarious rock formation and a series of very loud sounds.

“Jacquie,” I said, “Sit inside the cathedral cove, and I will clap for you.”

“Why the fuck would you do that?”

“Just indulge me. I will clap and clap.”

“OK, but only because I feel sorry for you. Moron.”

So I clapped.

It came to leave and after putting my hands on ice at home, I went back to Tairua, defeated and furious that the world was so unjust, feeling sorry for myself that more people didn’t feel sorry for me.

There was only one thing for it. A secretive purchase of adult entertainment from the local video store.

Now, whose life sucks more than mine?

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.”