Married life

That dairy there on Sandringham

I come home from work with some shopping. Jacquie leaves for sewing class and after a short while I’m staring at my feet. She won’t get back until nine. She wants me to meet her half-way at Dominion after it’s done. She’s still not used to the neighborhood. It’s too dark at night, she thinks. What does she think I’ll do? At the first sign of trouble, I’m running.

Nine O’clock, she won’t be back til. Three hours for a sewing class. What on Earth could they possibly be going on about for three fucking hours? Who has the energy for that kind of industriousness?

I’m still on the couch and I haven’t decided what to do about the thing. There’s the couch, there’s the DVD with Star Trek again, the one with the atrocious theme. There’s dinner in a cold pot on the stove. I asked Jacquie to smell it before she left because it was in the refrigerator so many days we had to count backwards on our fingers to remember. The coil sparks against the bottom after the heat’s on long enough. I eat and look at Star Trek and look out the window and it’s going to be light for a while, and there in the wood tray by the laptop, underneath some jewel cases, stray bills and a USB cable, is the thing, nearly empty.

There is something, now that I think of it, that I didn’t get at the store on the way home from work that I can go get now. Jacquie won’t be back for more than two hours. She missed the first class because she was on shift that night, so she made arrangements not to miss the second. She paid a-hundred-something, two-hundred-something dollars. Disparate friends knew of the teacher, all saying the woman has a mean reputation for never refunding deposits to anyone dropping the class, regardless of reason. A prima dona of the Bernina. A prima dona. Instructing a sewing class. I don’t get it.

The overcast sky is at just before the color blue it gets at dusk. It will be like that in another hour, to make your eyes tear. Am I the only one that ever happens to? I pat the key in my right pocket, shaking the thing loose from my left pocket to get it to my mouth. I see the marigolds are doing well. It’s a good time to walk because it’s after everybody comes home, even after they go out for a run. A lot of people here make that healthy lifestyle choice.

There were these two couples I passed the other night. The girls jogged in front talking together side by side a few paces ahead of their male counterparts doing the same thing. I can’t even imagine the dialogue that led up to this scenario. Did they plan it? Did they mark it on their Outlook calendars:

Jogging with Stella and Pete, 6:00-6:30  :-b  

It baffled me which among them said to their spouse, “We haven’t seen the lovely so-and-so’s for a while, let’s have them over one night after work. It’ll be fun. We’ll go jogging.” Them jogging meant  that—as with any fucked-up relationship—the other spouse had to have enabled the first, saying something like, “What a great idea. I’ll mark it on my Outlook calendar.”

My timing now couldn’t be better. Some evenings you’ll come across a whole family of joggers. None of them are around. There’s a warm salt air to remind you you’re on an island, and birds being territorial in the trees barely in bud.  A few doors down toward Sandringham, a late commuter slams the door shut to his car and makes one of those neutral-neighborly assessments of me as I take my hand down from my face and smile back as he turns toward the light of his porch.

There’s a bird carcass near the shortcut to Sandringham. I stop and look. There’s no blood and the wind animates its feathers. But it is dead. It seems to have crash-landed head-first, broken neck, left cheek pressed against the asphalt with its right eye staring up at god kn0ws what. It makes me think of a painting I saw at the National Gallery in Washington, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, (1430/1435). It shows a guy talking to a satyr. When I first saw it, all I could think was, “What the hell is he doing there.” For a moment, I wondered if there were satyrs in the bible and I just forgot about them. But of anything in the bible, I think I would have remembered something like a satyr. This was a guy with cloven feet, not some no account leper or  dime-a-dozen chick with an issue of blood. A satyr in the bible would make it about 1 percent more likely I would still be a theist today, not because I believe in the existence of mythical goat-men, but because goat-men are so fucking awesome.

It started to become apparent to me what was going on in this painting, even before I read up on Saint Anthony of Egypt. Here was this guy. He’s a bit on the devout side. He’s just minding his own business in the fourth century wilderness, thinking about god and stuff, going out of his way to talk about god stuff with another guy who thinks a lot of god. Out of nowhere comes this figment of the Greco-Roman imagination. An emblem of the same culture that inspired a secular, mercantile alternative to domination by the Catholic Church and her noble allies, was tempting a faithful man to stray from the path. I don’t know what was happening in 1435 Siena, but somebody sure was pissed off about the Renaissance.

I finish the thing at the corner, then wait for a car to round the bend before crossing to the short cut. Will the driver see the bird carcass in time or run it over again? I can’t imagine. I cross the road and head to Sandringham. Putting myself in the driver’s shoes, the question would not be if, but how many times I run it over. That’s a lie. There was that sea turtle they found a couple of weeks ago, and I felt really bad about it because I heard it might have eaten something plastic that got lodged in its esophagus. It made me feel depressed for a few days. I felt responsible, indirectly, by dint of using plastic. Then I found out I was invited to preview some new Xbox video games, and I haven’t thought of that turtle until now, for which I blame that fucking bird.

I toss into the rubbish can the empty box that the thing was in. The dairy is up and down. It doesn’t carry club soda all the time. It doesn’t sell peanut butter cups. I stand there looking for something else. Jacquie still won’t be home for an hour. A three-hour class. At least an hour of that has to be for announcements and toilet breaks. I mean, they use sewing machines in this class. You’d think with a machine, you wouldn’t need any more than 20 minutes. There’s nothing I want to eat here. Behind the cashier is the cigarette case on top and below the cabinet where they used to keep the legal marijuana. It was banned a couple of months ago, but there’s always something coming out to market under a new name and I guess just have to know where to buy it.

I get a new box of the thing and say thanks. Back on the street by the rubbish can, I unravel the plastic and tap the box open and look around with the lighter poised. Nobody coming. The clouds are that almost electrified blue that tears my eyes. I can’t believe I’m the only one who experiences this. But it has never come up in conversation with anyone. Outside the light from the dairy, there whooshes a passing bus. It is always a comfort to smell diesel exhaust. It gives a certain kind of license, as if demonstrating to the odd, sanctimonious passerby that one passively inhales fumes just as toxic as my second-hand smoke. Even with nobody around on the sidewalk, I’m still self-conscious about blowing cigarettes into the face of a pedestrian that might appear out of the blue. The plastic wrapper goes into the rubbish for the sea turtles to eat.

The walk home is unremarkable. That smoke stinks. Jacquie must smell it on me, in my clothes and hair, despite the washing, flossing, rinsing. The bird is still dead, not squashed. The door opens, and the new thing replaces the old thing under the USB cable and jewel cases. I watch Star Trek until Jacquie comes back, saying the teacher is nice, nothing like they said she would be. She loves the class, and the people are nice, and there is this one student that uses a very old, large pair of scissors with tape wrapped around in places as if it to keep it all from falling apart. They used to belong to the student’s grandfather, who was a tailor back in India, and again in New Zealand when he emigrated. They’re learning how to sew an apron. Jacquie wants to make a barbecue apron for her dad, out of the polyester material she bought to practice on. The teacher said it was flammable, but Jacquie asks if I think it would still be ok to make the barbecue apron. I think she’s joking.

Advertisements

Shifting flats

Last month Jacquie and I received terrible news. We were being evicted. This had never happened to me before. (In New Zealand). We were mortified.

Our landlord dropped the bombshell on us right out of the blue. It arrived by post, like some kind of hate-mail: with the proper amount of postage.

Recognizing the sender, Jacquie opened the apparently innocuous correspondence. She suspected this had to do with the water bill, which we split with the other renters in the building, the family upstairs.

As Jacquie read, her face darkened. She bowed her head and handed the paper to me, solemn, without suggestion of tears, for she was brave and rarely lost composure.

“Read,” she said.

Apparently, our neighbors take issue with our alternative lifestyle.

The letter divided us. Who was at fault? Which of us was more self-indulgent and pleasure-seeking than the other? Which one of us ate a can of baked beans every night for dinner when the other was working a night shift and the one who was at home didn’t know how to do anything in the kitchen but heat stuff up on the stove? Of course it was Jacquie.

We began to look for an apartment. It was bad timing. In several weeks, we were to be visiting the United States and we had already spent a lot of money at the travel agency renting donkeys to take us to the airport on the day of our flight. The money we had left over was meant to purchase a sheep which we would slaughter on board the plane so that we would have something to chew when our ears clogged up due to the pressurization process in the cabin. But now we needed that money for something more important. A place to live.

As we searched for a home, we decided to list the three things both of us wanted. Our new apartment would have to be cheap, walking distance to one of our jobs and have some architectural character, a precious commodity in these parts. Luckily, it didn’t take us long to find what we wanted.

It's the one on the bottom.

We first saw this flat advertised on the Internet. Oftentimes, realtors will post photographs that intentionally make a place look better, so Jacquie and I were pretty skeptical at first.

Later, we went to a real estate agent. Before we got a chance to tell him what wanted, he said, “I have just the place for you.”Again, we were skeptical.

But I’ll say this. Real estate agents in New Zealand are pretty sharp. They take one look at you and, bang, right off the bat they know exactly where you fit in the relative scheme of things. And wouldn’t you know it, he took us to the very same apartment we’d seen advertised on the Web. It was kismet.

We fell in love with the flat once we saw the dusty old wheelbarrow filled with week-old standing water. "Just think of all the things we can do with that dirt," Jacquie said. Already, her designer's imagination raced into overdrive. "Our late 19th century Japanese military campaign chest will sit handsomely back there next to that coil of stainless steel flexible electrical conduit." Jacquie's instincts for color, composition and texture once again elicited my admiration, to say nothing of my envy. We signed the lease that very moment.

We really didn’t want any trouble. When you’re in your 20s and you move to a new apartment, you don’t hire professionals. You get your friends to do it. You say, “Hey, come help me move and I’ll buy you pizza and beer.” There’s always one friend who knows how to do things and seems to take authentic pleasure in the logistics and management of a move, while the three to five others that tag along are really just doing it because they hope you’ll owe them one when their turn comes around. Then when everything’s shifted, you take your friends out to eat and you get them so tanked that they end up splitting the bill in the end anyway.

This method might be appropriate when you’ve just graduated from college. But after 15 to 20 years, you kind of grow out of doing things that way, mostly because by the time you hit 40 you don’t have any friends left and you’re kind of forced to hire movers anyway. This is what most people refer to as “maturity”.

Moving day is always a drag. Not only is there stuff to carry and clean, but it's easy to forget important things when you're shifting flats. That's why we decided to throw all our possessions, including rubbish from the old place, into one convenient bin. After the guys we hired to push the bin to our new house left in the ambulance, we dove right in, selected the stuff we wanted to keep, and left the rest in the bin for somebody else to take of. Who said moving has to be difficult? I'm sure eventually one of our neighbors will get so sick of the bin, they'll have to complain to the Auckland City Council because, hey, who wants to live next to garbage? Not me. If there's a petition to get the government to remove that thing, my name will be at the top.

We had to do a lot of cleaning, both at the old flat, deep in the mildew forests of Mt Eden’s sub-alpine northwestern slopes, and at the new place, the exact location of which will remain undisclosed indefinitely due to the criminal element that makes up the majority of my readership.

In any case, cleaning both apartments sent latent particles into the air that triggered my allergies. I sneezed for three days straight.

The people at work wondered if this were finally the grounds for my dismissal they’d been praying for since I was hired. Their attitude toward me evoked the memory of one of my first jobs. I was a gallery assistant in a mediocre decorative painting space. We had an important exhibition. When the exhibition closed and those paintings that weren’t sold were sent back to the artist, it was my job to wrap everything in bubble wrap. Including the paintings, as I discovered later when my boss came in to check on my progress. I was able to secure bubble wrap around one painting, but my enthusiasm had gotten the best of me and I managed to wrap several other things with the painting underneath the bubble wrap, including a stapler, a telephone and half a burrito I couldn’t finish at lunch. My boss stood in silent horror looking at the work I had done so far.

“What are you, retarded?” she said.

Needless to say, I was flummoxed by her insult. On the one hand, there was no doubt that when it came to bubble wrapping things, I was indeed “retarded”. But from a strictly clinical perspective, her point was quite open to debate.

However, so taken by surprise was I that I let the matter drop, and continued to bubble wrap the gallery owner.

The point is that Jacquie and I performed what seemed like the labors of Hercules until our new flat was in order.

 

Our lounge.

Molding.

We were able to relax finally. I could watch movies again. There was one video I rented called  One Day in September a riveting documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympics. My brother in law told me it would be “grim”. But I didn’t know how grim until I watched it for myself. What a terrible, evil tragedy. I mean, the USSR beating the USA at basketball? A national disaster.

Molding.

Archway to the breakfast nook.

The view I see every day, just before I rifle through Jacquie's dresser drawers.

It’s Sunday morning early, 12:15, as I write this. Later today I will fly from Auckland to Los Angeles for a conference. Then next Sunday I will head to NYC. I hope to post another blog while I’m on the road. Aren’t you excited.

 

 

My dog spider

I only ever wanted two things out of life when I was young.

The first was I wanted to grow up to be an irredeemable slob married to a woman of superior intelligence, wisdom, earning-potential and physical beauty, so inexplicably contrasting with my own qualities that people seeing us together in public would marvel, saying to one another “He must have a lot of money” by way of justification of this mystifying arrangement. In retrospect, my desire was not an overly ambitious one, considering that by the age of five, I was already considered by most experts on the matter to be a child prodigy in the “irredeemable slob” category. I was that much closer to attaining the American Dream.

The author (left) enjoying a visit with a family of domesticated Okies on display at the Monmouth County Fair Grooming Stables in Red Bank, New Jersey, 1979. The author exhibited from a young age a preternatural instinct for becoming a slob.

The stunned, even offended expressions of our wedding guests as Jacquie and I marched to the altar that infamous day in 2007 only confirmed my sense of pride and masculine achievement. Perhaps the prospect of such a match was revolting to our friends and relatives who saw it as a defilement of nature. How could anyone argue with that? But nobody that day would even dare try to come between me and my happiness.

And I was happy. For a while. Then I became depressed, a contributing factor to which was the realization that though I was married to someone who smelled better than me, had more money in her pocket, knew her way around dental floss and could fill out a tax form, whereas I was limited to signing my name with an X (drawn in crayon), there was still that other thing missing from my life. I felt its absence sorely.

I did not have a devoted pet, the kind of animal I imagined when I was 11 I would eventually have by the time I was an adult: a furry thing that would wait by the door every night for me to come home from my job sorting the discount sex-toy bin at a local adult-emporium. But that was just a childhood fantasy. The reality is, I don’t have my dream-job sorting the discount sex-toy bin at the local adult emporium. Nor do I have anything more companionable in my life than my cat, Sunny, an orange miscreant with a bad attitude, a short temper and shiv-like claws with which to kill and maim.

My bad luck seemed to have finally changed recently. A winter storm had caused a power outage in Mt. Eden.  The house was dark when I came home from work. I was instantly surprised to feel something furry nuzzling my leg. I thought I’d finally gotten that pet dog I always wanted. I couldn’t see him very well in the candle-light, but he was real friendly and we played for a long time. I kept throwing things and he kept bringing them back.

Woof, woof, woof, woof.

Come on boy. That's it. Come to daddy. Who wants to go for a walk? You do. Oh yes you do.

Wait a minute. Something's not right here

Apparently, my dog was really a Black House Spider (Badumna insignis). What I thought was playful cavorting was actually its attempted insemination of my leg using its palps. And what I thought was me having fun and enjoying myself turned out to actually be excruciatingly painful swellings, nausea, vomiting, sweating, giddiness and skin lesions from multiple venomous fang marks.

How I found out it was my wife’s birthday

Jacquie and I had a candid discussion the other day about our marriage.

She had just come home from the supermarket laden with many bags of groceries. I was busy watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine on DVD, otherwise I would have helped Jacquie unload the car.

Nana Visitor as Kira Nerys on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a show that I've been watching on DVD to ease my crippling depression. Unfortunately, it's had the opposite effect.

When the episode ended, I went to the kitchen to help Jacquie as she stocked the cupboards and refrigerator.

“Good work, honey,” I said. “You’re doing great.”

Then I went back to the lounge to take a nap.

For some reason, this upset Jacquie and she asked me why I wasn’t helping her.

“But I did help you,” I said. “As I understand our relationship, your job is to get up at the crack of dawn and till the fields and plant the potatoes and disembowel the livestock. My role is to wait at home for you to return from your 17-hour day of sweat and toil and tell you a joke while you make dinner. I’m pretty sure those were our vows.”

“You know,” Jacquie said, “there are reasons that only you find that funny.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just don’t ruin my birthday, dip-shit” she said. “If you fuck up my birthday, you’re going to be sorry, motherfucker.”

“When’s your birthday?”

“Do something thoughtful, and not hideous.”

“OK. I’ll start right now.”

I immediately went to the kitchen to stock the refrigerator all by myself. But almost immediately there was trouble.

“What are you doing, you idiot?” Jacquie said. “Tasty Cheese does not go in the vegetable crisper.”

“Well, I can’t win, can I?” I said.

(It’s for reasons plainly illustrated by this post that I am offering $20 to any reader willing to plan a thoughtful and not-hideous evening for Jacquie’s birthday. Make it something nice, but not too expensive. Jacquie is fond of Burger King, but she’ll happily pick through the garbage behind most of your fancier restaurants. For entertainment, take us back home after dinner so that Jacquie can organise things around the house, since that’s what she likes to do best.)

Jacquie's favourite restaurant.

After the refrigerator fiasco, Jacquie and I got into a terrible fight in which she used the worst insult she could think of to describe me–“disorganized”–to which I replied with a satirical fairy tale narrated in a voice that was supposed to mimic Jacquie’s as nasally, juvenile and snide. As it turned out, that’s how I normally talk, so Jacquie didn’t realize I was making fun of her. Anyway, my fable went something like this:

There once was an incredibly virile lumberjack named Simon who lived deep in the lushly appointed western slopes of Mount Eden with his wife and scullery maid, Jacquie. Every night the couple would engorge themselves on takeaways of one kind or another from the shoppes on Dominion Road.  Mondays were fish and chips, and Tuesdays were referred to as “Kebab Night”, but Fridays were best. They called Friday “Smörgåsborgasm.”

Every Smörgåsborgasm, they would separately purchase a meal in a plain brown paper bag so neither would know what the other had bought. Then they mixed the dinners together in a third plain paper bag until the meals were completely indistinguishable one from the other.

These peculiar dining habits persisted for many years, and over time, the lumberjack and the scullery maid slowly evolved into a pair of disgusting lard asses. All the children in the neighborhood shrieked in a mixture of delight, terror and confusion whenever the lumberjack or scullery maid were seen in public. The opprobrium of their neighbors confined them to shadow and despair, burrowed in the mountain’s frigid heart of scoria, to a life of severe isolation and gloom, which pretty much describes life in New Zealand anyway, so nobody noticed the difference. Myth fell to legend, and some things that should have been remembered, were forgotten (ie, the couple in this story).

The gloom and isolation of two disgusting lard asses.

This went on for many years, day in and day out, and the couple grew repulsed by themselves and one another. Then one day something incredible happened. Jacquie had boiled a pot of water in which to soak her bunions. She reached up into the cupboard for her bath salts but she didn’t notice was that she had knocked into her pot  old beans of different sorts from the days when the couple used to cook along with some dried soup mix.

But after a while of soaking her toes, she began to notice an aroma and tracing the scent to her pot, she tasted it and decided to feed it to her husband as a kind of practical joke. Simon loved it and asked for more and for weeks after, Jacquie would prepare the soup in the exact same manner. But finding it impossible to keep the joke to herself, she eventually confessed that she had been soaking her feet in her husband’s soup.

“I do not mind,” Simon said.

“Why not?” Jacquie said. “Are you not disgusted by my freakish prank?”

“Why, no, it’s quite the opposite,” Simon said. “I’m elated.

“Why?”

“Because thanks to your bean soup, I’ve had the most wonderful bowel movements of my entire life and…

Jacquie interrupted me in the middle of my fable.

“OK, I have two questions,” she said. “What are you talking about and will you be stopping any time soon?”

I didn’t know the answers to those questions, but at least I found my wife had a birthday coming up. The only trouble was, when?