Now Zealand

Slip, slop, slap and snow

A storm dropped six inches of snow on New York, plunging the temperature to 24 degrees.

It’s going to be a Currier & Ives Christmas for all you romantics and children at heart.

For you homeless, it’s going to be a special trip to the emergency room, to have your frostbitten toes snipped off.

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I don’t mean to seem callous. I speak from experience. I have personally felt the pain of homelessness.

I don’t mean that I was ever homeless, though my childhood house would make you wonder. We never got frostbite, at least.

I did suffer an amputation when I was young. It traumatized me. I can’t stop wondering how much bigger my penis would be if I hadn’t lost my foreskin.

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My true connection to the homeless, however, goes many winters back to a mid-December New York.

I was traipsing to work the morning after a ferocious ice storm. Waiting for a light to change, I looked down at my feet and screamed in horror.

My shoes had been totally ruined by rock salt stains.

Thank god Kenneth Cole was nearby. I bought a new pair, and went off looking for a homeless man to shod with my now useless ones.

Call it Kismet, call it Christmas, but as it turned out, three clerks were homeless. None of us could believe our luck.

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Unfortunately, the shoes were too small for the one guy in the trio. He said it didn’t matter; a few more frostbite emergencies, and they would fit perfectly.

Until then, he agreed to share the pair with the two homeless saleswomen, one shoe to each.

What a quintessential New York Christmas story, if I do say so myself as a half-Jew.

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You don’t catch wind of heart-warming Christmas stories like that in Auckland. Partly because the slack-jawed yokels that live here never wear shoes.

But mostly because, fuck snow. What’s that? It’s 24 degrees here too, New Yorkers. But in Centigrade, dumbasses. If America had switched to the metric system, New York wouldn’t be a frozen, piss encrusted slush pile right now.

You see, Christmas in Auckland isn’t about snowstorms.

It’s about a perpetually gobsmacked five-story Santa looking down on the perpetually gobsmacked Aucklanders as they waddle past the decorated windows at Smith & Caughey’s.

That’s what Christmas in Auckland is all about. That, and a UV Index through the roof. (Jafas: don’t forget to slip, slop, slap, especially around your slackjawed faces).

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I was out enjoying the weather recently, myself.

As I strolled through the city, meditating on what Christmas means to me, I had an epiphany.

I didn’t know what a hymen was.

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I used to think a hymen was the last obstacle–after dinner and a movie–to clear before you could unlock your achievement, and poke into the next level, a woman’s No No Zone.

I had to double check, though, and according to WebMD, the hymen is a thin membrane of tissue that surrounds and narrows the vaginal opening, which may be torn or ruptured by sexual activity or by exercise.

So, I was right.

Anyway, what do I know? Every No No Zone I’ve entered had been visited before. Sometimes after a long queue.

But what really bothered me was, this being Christmas and all, how it was that Jesus could escape the birth canal if Mary was a virgin with her hymen still intact? Here are some suggestions:

1. Jesus gouged out the hymen with his Jew horn, from within the birth canal. Which is how I’d do it from the outside, if given the chance.

2. Mary had a Super Vagina, with a retractable hymen that worked sort of like an automatic garage door opener.

3. Celestial c-section. Even in Roman times, they were forcing healthy young women to undergo unnecessary c-sections, so as to free up the manger for the next Virgin. Hail Caesarean.

4. More prosaically, one of the three Magi could have turned out to be a doctor. With a name like “Wiseman”, it’s a good chance at least one of them was at least a dentist, while the other two were probably CPAs.

Who knows. The possibilities are endless. The important thing is everyone has a good time, whether you’re shoveling snow out of your driveway, or heading out to enjoy a beer in the 75˚ sun.

Which reminds me, I’m running late.

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Trains, yachts, and automobile shops

People overseas probably don’t understand how big the Americas Cup yacht race was in New Zealand.

I don’t either.

Kiwis viewed the race as some kind of Cinderella story for the nation.

Could our team of Kiwi, Australian, and English yachtsmen, flying the flag of one of the world’s largest airlines, beat the team of Kiwis, Australians and English sailing for one of the biggest software makers in the world?

We didn’t know. We wouldn’t know until it got closer to the end. That’s how time works, dip-shit.

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Our eyes were glued to our computer screens, throughout the race. Our asses were screwed to our chairs, our fingers frozen on the refresh button.

We had a lot of explaining to do when the paramedics showed up.

Was the self-mutilation worth it? Millions of Kiwis are into yachting. And millions more are into self-mutilation. So pretty much everyone had a good week there.

Not me. I was disappointed. Americas Cup, my ass. If it was the “Americas” cup, why were there no shots fired? Oracle could have demonstrated what makes the US the greatest nation in history: our eternal commitment to wanton gun violence.

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Instead, Oracle relied on top equipment, good management, and excellent team work to take the Cup. Well.

That’s not the America I know and love.

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New Zealand has a lot more interesting things going on than coming in second place in a corporate sea-spectacle.

And by “a lot” I mean, in this instance, they have a nice train station.

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That’s the award winning New Lynn intermodal transportation depot, designed by Architectus and Brewer Davidson Architects.

As Architectus writes on its website, “Modal priority in interchanges should follow the principle of having the most efficient and sustainable modes given the most prominent location.”

And how.

And how in the world did I end up passing through there in the first place?

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It’s a funny story. Remember a few years ago when I had some prominent, non-speaking cameos in Spartacus: Sand and Blood and Shortland Street? And remember when I promised I’d never do that kind of shit-work again? And remember when I said I’d rather eat raw sewage than to spend any time in New Lynn?

I was working as an extra in New Lynn.

Juxtaposing buildings, one under construction.

Buildings off the  New Lynn memorial plaza.

It was for a TV commercial being filmed on location at a mechanic’s shop near the depot.

At first, the producers wanted me to play a happy customer.

But after a few takes, they realized they would not be able to get my whole nose into the frame without a more expensive lens.

The director saw me smiling and decided the best solution would be to have me play a jack-o-lantern in the background, as long as she only got me head-on.

It was easy work, and it had some perks.

The day before, we were shooting on location at a cafe and we got tons of free coffee.

The mechanic was equally generous and gave us tons of free coffee mugs filled with motor oil.

As I didn’t have my car with me, I felt obligated to drink some of it, so as not to come off as ungrateful.

Then I went home.

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Auckland’s historical suburban development does not lend itself to beautiful, or even remarkable public spaces.

The New Lynn station is one of them.

Light imbues warmth to even the most institutional materials necessary to meet the fire code.

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The main escalators are sided with clear and opaque glass, allowing light to penetrate to the lower level of the terminal.

The escalator leads to the waiting area, which connects commuters to a major bus terminal outside, to buses and a taxi stand.

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The bus stops and taxi stand on the street would not have made sense without the trench, which allows for surface traffic to move unencumbered by passing rail traffic.

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Details in the trench walls convey a sense of animation to passengers in trains leaving and entering the station.

But they are also reminiscent of contour maps, a reference to Auckland geography, adeptly contrasting a human relationship with motion and stillness

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The contours may also cushion the noise from passing trains, while at same time giving bored passenger who forgot their kindles something to look at that won’t drive them completely insane.

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The design is conscious of light throughout, with a pleasant lattice forming between the shelters and cross braces and the platform below.

If you were tripping on LSD, you’d probably think you were standing on a sun-speckled forest floor.

Or you might think you were a nectarine. It all depends.

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Anyway, here come choo choo.

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Or as the judges of the New Zealand Architecture Awards said:

As a hub for a catchment benefitting from improved transit-oriented catchment for public transport, the hub performs a welcome place-making function in a part of Auckland ill-served by a generation of car-focused planning.

By lowering the rail track beneath road level, the architects have untangled local infrastructural knots and provided ample space for a user-friendly platform. A successor to the noble tradition of railway architecture, this project is a beacon of quality in a sea of indifferent buildings and a benchmark for future development.

Like I said, “Here come choo choo.”

A personal milestone

Working freelance after a full time job takes time.

I’ve done a number of contract projects since being made redundant in July.

Ad copy writing, corporate gigs, research projects: they’ve all been very interesting, and I’m learning new things as I go, even about myself.

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A contract worker, for example, must hone his business skills, even if he is “creative” or “stupid”.

This fact dawned on me a few days ago when I realized that I’m just as equipped to manage my own business as the next guy, who at that moment was a Down Syndrome-dude selling pencils on Queen Street.

Add business to my growing “incompetence list”, right up there with being a techno-tard, fuck-tard, bastard and leotard.

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Business is just not my thing. So yesterday, I finally got my ass over to a professional. I went to see an accountant.

This was a huge milestone for me because on the way to my appointment, I stepped in dog shit.

It was the first time I stepped in dog shit in New Zealand. Not only that, but it was also the longest I’ve gone without stepping in dog shit, by far (363 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 17 seconds).

I’m not ashamed to say I cried. I stood there on Dominion Road, my Birkenstocks tread-deep in dog shit, overwhelmed by tears pride my accomplishment.

In case anyone didn’t know or you forgot, I’m New Yorker. Asshole.

And everyone in New York is constantly stepping in dog shit. You’re lucky if you don’t step in shit before getting out of bed in the morning.

It’s not unusual for subway commuters to get to work completely covered in all kinds of shit. This means they have to go back home to clean up and change clothes.

The braver ones sometimes go back to work, only to go through the cycle all over again. Usually, we just call in sick, but if you’re in a union, you might get some annual “covered in shit” paid-leave days.

It took a while to sort out the mess. I didn’t want to start off a professional relationship with my feet covered in shit.

So I shuffled through some twigs for a while, and used a snot-rag I had in my pocket to clean the shit from between my toes, as I happened to be wearing Birkenstocks.

The accountant showed me into a conference room after arriving at his office. He was really helpful in giving me advice about starting my business.

But even though I’d cleaned myself thoroughly, there was still a foul smell in the air, faint but persistent. It seemed possible I was imagining things.

Then the accountant started finding one excuse after another to leave the room. Kiwis would rather do that than to openly acknowledge a problem. So he kept interrupting himself from giving me advice, staying away longer and longer.

The last time he was gone the longest, maybe three minutes, and when he sat down again I could see a bit of whatever he’d had for lunch on his now-stained tie.  (It sucks when you think you’ll make it to the toilet in time, but don’t.)

Then he asked me to leave and if I could show myself out.

Which I thought was a little on the unprofessional side. If he’d only asked, I could have told him about my milestone. But when I got home, I realized it wasn’t the dog shit I was smelling, but the natural odor of my feet. In which case, sorry, Mr Accountant. My bad.

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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.

Supermarket sociology 101

Think about the people who you admire the most.

Take your time.

They kind of suck, don’t they?

We all do. That’s what defines humanity as one big family that really, really sucks.

I’m not saying everybody sucks all the time. Far from it. But if we didn’t suck for a significant, notable portion of our waking days, would people ever have needed heroes, saints, or my blog?

This isn’t something that I just came up with. It’s from the hours and hours over the course of my life that I’ve wasted in supermarkets.

Supermarkets must circulate an airborne compound that reduces people to they way we were when we realized we had moved from the world of the simians to a new, elevated form of asshole.

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It’s not that people’s intelligence quotient, per se, drops precipitously when entering a supermarket. (Assuming they survive the passage through the automatic doors). Supermarkets want you to spend, so they will leave people with an adequate supply of brain cells to remember their PINs with. Any more stupid-compound in the air, and the supermarket would have to initiate a “special needs” aisle just to keep the lines moving.

Which is, of course, an abortive concept, when considering that a “special needs” aisle would be completely lost on the shoppers that needed that aisle the most. Pretty soon, supermarkets would have to assign staff to round them up every so often just to get them to the special needs aisle in the first place. Sort of like what they do already with the carts in the parking lot, only with a moron attached.

No supermarket is going to do that. Are you kidding me? It’s bad enough they had to surrender the choicest parking spots to the preggos and toddler-laden. Supermarkets know full well that they would turn over a lot more cash per hour if the spots closest to the doors were reserved for the right demographic. These are the people guaranteed to spend the least amount of time shopping, making room for others of their kind on a regular basis.

This segment includes men shopping by themselves, OTC drug abusers, and shoplifters. I’m getting screwed out of a good parking space in three different ways.

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You might think of a supermarket as the most reliable place to find life’s essentials. Why, you could be blindfolded, and still find the pork rinds, cheese-spread, word-search puzzle-books, and canned spaghetti, without knocking that many things or people over. Believe me.

These days I’m treating trips to the supermarket as sociological field research. As I’ve explained to the managers at Countdown over and over, I’m only trying to learn about the human condition when I follow people through the aisles, taking notes, and occasionally crashing my cart into theirs and blaming them for the collision. This isn’t some crazy stunt. It’s academic rigor.

Ultimately, the supermarket is where people go to suck the most. And wherever these assholes go, that’s where you’ll find the sociologists.

In this scientific-y light, looking upon supermarkets as dispassionately as I now do, you will come to understand that all supermarket shoppers, regardless of their class, ethnicity or gender, are assholes.

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This is not completely their fault. A supermarket is never designed as a communal space, but as a conveyor of individual selection. So if someone is blocking the aisle because they can’t decide between Schwepps Ginger Ale and Home Brand, you would be technically correct to identify your subject as an asshole. But you have to be true to the context. It is probably the first time in hours, if not days, that this person has not been in a seated position at home, in a car, or in a cubicle. Try to remember that the next time you start hitting one of these assholes upside the head with a box of Cheerios. I can’t stress this enough. If someone had only warned me about interacting with assholes out in the field, I’d be published in a journal by now.

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Don’t think that I’m excusing this behavior at all. Not everything comes down to nurture.

I’m having trouble categorizing my latest subject. It was 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. I had just pulled into the children’s parking lot to replenish my supply of word-search puzzles, before getting in the queue for the self-check out slots. There were three or four people in front of me, and it took longer than necessary to wait for a station to open, thanks to my subject. It seems that the woman decided that this was another great opportunity to teach her five-year old daughter about how the world works, and have fun doing it.

I give it up to the girl. It only took her 18 tries before she got the litre of skim milk scanned. She had a little trouble with the bananas, but after about an hour, it all worked out. As in so many cases like this, it wasn’t the child that was at fault, but the mother, who qualified under academically sound guidelines, as 100 percent asshole.

I really don’t think you can attribute this case to a differential between personal and public social spaces. After all, I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she took her child to the supermarket. Had she been paying attention all those other times, she might have noticed the line forming thanks to her sprog’s adventures in point-of-sales technology.

This is the pathology of a particularly acute asshole, one who imagines that everyone else in the world is going to love participating in her child’s personal development. Oh, fucking joy. Don’t these people understand that some people have places to go, like one of the stalls in the men’s room at the office, which is the only place where I can really get some word search puzzles done.

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Of course, without more data, it’s impossible to know why this mother behaves as she does. One theory is that she has had so many children in quick succession that some of the blood that other people normally have flowing to their brain just said “fuck it, we’re just going to end up coming down here again”, which is not an efficient distribution of oxygen to anyone’s system.

But, as I say, one can never know. But one can make an educated guess.

A little help for Ben Affleck

New Zealand has jumped on the band wagon of critics calling for Ben Affleck’s head on a platter.

While that could improve Affleck’s acting ability tremendously, decapitation is not always the answer.

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But, according to some New Zealand commentators, Affleck must answer. Following on the heels of Canada, and everyone who sat through Pearl Harbor, New Zealand critics demand an apology, not just for the bulk of his on-screen career, but because of how New Zealand is depicted in Affleck’s Oscar winning movie, Argo.

Patrick Gower of TV3 explains that New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn away hostages, but assisted Canada in sheltering them. Which is not what the movie portrays. As Gower explains in a recent opinion piece:

The New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn the hostages away at all – in fact we played a key role assisting the Canadians to shelter them.

Affleck defended himself, saying some of his best friends are New Zealanders. He qualified his statement by adding that even though he didn’t like the idea of eating  kangaroo meat, he still thought “that sea-shell-y opera house is kind of cool”.

Personally, I don’t understand what the problem is. As an American who has not seen the movie himself, I think I have a lot to say on the subject.

I didn’t think New Zealand minded being shat upon by the American entertainment industry. If John Key can trample civil rights on behalf of Hollywood and Big Music, and if John Key can recruit the taxpayer as an uncompensated producer of The Hobbit, to the tune of at least $67 million, what’s so bad about being depicted as impotent and feckless? (Even if that is a distortion).

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It has been a tense five days since the Oscars, with talks between New Zealand and Ben Affleck reaching an impasse. Affleck threatened to recall his ambassador, while New Zealand said ‘go on, then’. If not for two New Zealand companies, Grabaseat and Air New Zealand, inviting Affleck to “come and see New Zealand for himself”.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. And I want to do my part to make this happen. That’s why I’ve created a cheat sheet for Ben Affleck if he decides to come for a visit. This handy item, which Affleck can print out and laminate and wear around his neck from a lanyard, gives Ben Affleck all the basic information he needs to know about New Zealand, without having to google it himself. This list is guaranteed to impress his hosts, and demonstrate that Affleck is willing to do his homework.
Basic information that Ben Affleck needs to have for his trip to New Zealand

Country: New Zealand
Motto: “Not as useless as tits on a bull.”
Population: Several dozen
Gender distribution: 52% male, 48% wool
National flower: Mildew
Capital: Wellington
Major cities:
Major exports: paper, paper towels, stationery, paper tigers, paper moons, newspaper, wallpaper, fly-paper, fly-on-the-wall-paper, tis’Shue paper, paper bags, paper airplanes, paper boy, pepper, wrapping paper, scrap paper, drawing paper, graph paper, re-cycled paper, pre-recycled paper, timber
Prime Minister: Sir Peter Jackson
Common phrases: “Hey there, chief”; “Badda-bing, badda-bang”; “it don’t taste great, doesn’t taste bad. But it’ll make a turd”
National holidays: Thursdays
Opening hours: New Zealand is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, except Thursdays. If nobody is here when you arrive, just wait. They probably just went out for a fag.

Doing the Parnell bloke

A particular genre of masculinity prevails in New Zealand.

And it scares the shit out of me.

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A lot of New Zealand men are not merely men. They’re blokes.

Blokes are New Zealand’s “Regular Joes”. They enjoy being physical, building useful things, and just generally keeping active every frigging spare moment of their fricking lives.

Their weekends are spent deep-sea fishing, watching the rugby in the “man cave”, and getting strung-up naked by the wrists as their mates take turns thrashing their buttocks with a garden hose. And that’s just Saturday.

There isn’t anything wrong with any of that. It’s just blokes keeping busy and what-not.

My problem is how self-conscious I have become since moving to New Zealand of how alien the blokes and their folkways are to me.

It makes me realize that the only “man cave” I can accept is the one tucked safely away when I sit on my ass all day trying to think up new ideas for this lousy blog.

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My sense of masculinity is a case of nurture screwing with nature’s head, from a strictly cissexual perspective.

When you’re raised among sisters, your sense of gender-coding gets distorted by the colorful hand-me-downs you’re forced to wear. Boys on JV basketball don’t take you seriously when you show up to practice in the Osh Kosh overalls your sister was wearing the day before.

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None of that means anything. You’re still a man. With serious qualifications, sure.

But a man, nevertheless.

Just not a bloke.

How easy it is for a man like me (certain conditions apply) to feel a little less than a man when he’s around blokes. All eyes are on him as he returns from the bar with his shandy. Blokes laugh at him when they see him walk his cat at night. And he feels ashamed, even after his neighbor assured him that it is routine men to walk their cats, as long as they live in the confines of Parnell.

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This isn’t to say there aren’t blokes living in Parnell.

In fact, Parnell blokes sometimes display the one blokey quality I find intolerable.

It’s a juvenile, covetous fascination for other blokes‘ expensive cars.

I once saw some construction workers accidentally bury their foreman in cement because they were momentarily distracted by some wheels of desire. “Yeaah, awright,” they shouted, though it was unclear if they were cheering for the car or for what they did to their foreman.

This went on every day for more than a week, right here on Earle Street. One day, somebody parked a black, 2002 FERRARI 360 MODENA F1, I think they call it, right across the road from our building.

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The car was in front of Otis Elevator’s single-story building on Earle Street, in a yellow-marked loading zone with a five-minute parking limit during business hours.

Bloke after bloke, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends or family, stopped dead, looked the car over and said, “Yeah, that’ll do.”

These continuous displays of envy disquieted me, amusing as it could be. I’d watch the blokes passing, pumping their fists, audibly drooling. Then I’d look at the cat and he would look at me, then there’d be laughter and one of us (usually me) would say, “what a dick”. (After a pause for the dick in question to pass out of earshot. We don’t eat our own in Parnell).

Even more galling was the prospect of the owner himself. How could he get away with parking in a five minute zone for more than a week? Not one ticket on this car. When you buy a Ferrari, does the sticker price include a bribe to the local constabulary? Was the conventional wisdom true, after all, that men who own Ferraris are to generally assholes?

The Ferrari being there didn’t make any sense. Until I remembered how a couple days before the Ferrari showed up, there was an attempted break-in of one of the furniture shops on the street.

One of the owners told me the police thought it wasn’t a real attempt, but someone casing the block, testing which buildings had what kind of alarm systems.

The owner advised me to be watchful. I agreed and tried to leaven an otherwise dour and extremely boring conversation lighter with a stock “cat burglar” joke.

“It was probably just Vincent,” I said.

Followed by a comment about how self-conscious I get when I masturbate in front of him.

She did not respond or smile, but walked away briskly, watching me from the corner of her eye.

It took me ten minutes to realize that not only was I not standing there with my cat on the leash, as I had originally thought I had been doing, but that not every new person I meet knows that I’m talking about my cat when I use the name Vince. Go figure.

So, first the break-in attempt, then the Ferrari shows up. Was the car part of some kind of sting operation? Was it left there intentionally, with a tracking device hidden inside, to tempt presumptive burglars? The possibility made me feel sorry for the New Zealand police department for this flimsy operation. If the burglars were smart enough to case the neighborhood, wouldn’t they see the Ferrari as the “too good to be true” score that it was?

Do the police lump all criminals together in one big stereotype? I mean, do burglars even possess the requisite skill sets and core competencies that car thieve so often take for granted? Or are the business models so alike, they’re exchangeable?

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Perhaps the police meant the Ferrari as a warning to the burglars that the area was being closely watched. In which case, the police have made a big assumption. Just because you’re breaking into a building, doesn’t mean you’re a bloke that gives a shit about sports cars. This is Parnell, after all.

Overheard conversation at a Newmarket cafe

Got back to work today and immediately went into catchup mode.

Replying to emails, and sorting piles of press releases and such. And going through the files on my digital recorder.

For my job, I have to record every interview, and transcribe it later to be uses in an article. I do this to make sure that what I’m writing is accurate, especially because, even after three years living in New Zealand, I still can’t make out what these Kiwis are blathering on about half the time. I don’t blame them. It’s my hearing. And maybe my perception. The Kiwi accent, in its extreme, is a tough one to love, like really sour lemonade you mom just made. Anyway, some of my best friends are Kiwis.

Hey, good job buddy!

So, I listened to my digital recorder to determine the files I could delete. One of them was something I had completely forgotten.

Last November, I agreed to meet the country manager of a well-known software company near his office in Newmarket for an interview that would go into an article I was writing.

We decided to have our conversation over coffee at Jones the Grocer on Carlton Gore Road. This place is highly recommended. It was the first cafe in New Zealand that didn’t put ice cream in when I ordered an iced coffee. New Yorkers might think of it as what Dean & Deluca was like in the early mid-90s.

Anyway, of course I get there 20 minutes early. A chronic problem, whenever I remember that I have an appointment, is that I inevitably show up way too early. This comes from being the son of a man whose own father was Basic Training at Fort Dix in the early mid-60s.

Good on you, mate!

So I ordered an ice coffee, found a table, put my stuff down and waited.

That’s when I noticed the two pretentious assholes having a really stupid conversation nearby. They were both dressed in suits and ties. One was extremely large, and obviously uncomfortable in his workaday clothes. He sweated profusely, causing him to take off his wire-rim glasses for periodic de-fogging, while muttering to himself ‘Ok. Ok.’ He kind of reminded me of Sasquatch, or perhaps the ill-favored consequence of a union between Han Solo and Chewbacca’s spinster aunt.

Sasquatch was a kiwi. The other guy was American.

What's wrong with bringing a sidearm to a business lunch?

The American was not as large as the Kiwi, but he was by far the greater misshapen. He had a forehead you could dock a zeppelin next to, and mouse-colored hair, and an extremely long nose situated on his face as if somebody had knocked it off his head, then tried to stick it back on using a cheap glue from the $2 store. The texture, color and pudginess of his skin suggested that he was made of a sack of rotting potatoes.

Anyway, after catching a few moments of their incredible conversation, I decided to record them. Which is exactly the file I found today, and transcribed to post here, to share with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

SASQUATCH: I haven’t read any Salman Rushdie. Should I?

POTATO-HEAD: I never read him because of his popularity. Then I read Satanic Verses, to support my preconceived bias.

SASQUATCH: Ya huh. He’s never appealed to me as something special I’d be interested in. Life of Pi comes across as Salman Rushdie Lite. Based on what I assume Salman Rushdie to be like.

POTATO-HEAD: See, now I have to read Life of Pi to understand what you’re talking about. I’m not in the mood for homework.

SASQUATCH: Eh, don’t bother

POTATO-HEAD: Whew. That’s a relief. I’ll just tell people I did, and hated it….I told you about my non-fiction thesis, in creative writing, right?

SASQUATCH: …average story with a non-sensical twist, which is supposed to be thought provoking, but really doesn’t hold together…

POTATO-HEAD: I made myself read five novels on The New York Times Best Seller List. I wanted to know why these books were so popular. The thesis really sucked.

SASQUATCH: I can’t imagine the books were very satisfying.

POTATO-HEAD: Mitch Albom is a man that needs to be disembowelled before a live studio audience, in a television special broadcast around the world. Like the Miss Universe pageant. Then it should be on continuous loop on every network in the world, for a year. People in the Amazon should be shown footage of this upon first contact with modernity.

SASQUATCH: There’re lots of writers like that. Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho…

POTATO-HEAD: Deepak Charlatan.

SASQUATCH:The Alchemist is one of the most tedious things I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

POTATO-HEAD: People say it’s a good thing that people are reading anything these days. Fuck that. I’d rather have a quality 5 percent literacy rate, like they had in the Roman Empire, than to have the 98 percent shit-for-brains mentality that qualifies as “literate” these days. You don’t mind if I use this conversation for a blog post? Or would that be too wanker-ish?

SASQUATCH: I feel bad about the book I’m reading at the moment. It’s terrible. Ambrose-ian hero-worship at its worst. It’s called Dog Company and it’s about the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s assault on Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day.

POTATO-HEAD: D-Day. Sure. From World War II.

SASQUATCH: I love the story. And that is easily my favourite period in history. But he writes like a 12-year-old would about his grandfather. I like the details though. But it’s no Antony Beevor.

POTATO-HEAD: It’s Antony Beevor we’re talking about here.

SASQUATCH: This guy, though. This guy can’t write. I just want the book to be over.

POTATO-HEAD: He’s, it’s thinly veiled hagiography. That’s what it is.

SASQUATCH: I just said that.

POTATO-HEAD: Beevor is a good story teller. Ambrose is much more sepia-toned.

SASQUATCH: This guy. He has interviews and what-not. But no balance, and no perspective. It’s like he’s writing about it with no historical context, that we haven’t had 70 years of contemplation.

POTATO-HEAD: There’s a rush to get a lot of these stories down on paper. This generation is going to disappear soon. It’s like “the world’s oldest civil war widow” kind of thing.

SASQUATCH: They over-look far more interesting aspects though, all the NKVD files that have been closed for decades, the Japanese perspective is still a mystery. I don’t need to hear about another all-american GI or stiff British lip

POTATO-HEAD: Doesn’t matter what you want. You’re not American.

SASQUATCH: The German stories are good too, but mostly they are too embarrassed to talk about….

POTATO-HEAD: Hey, do you know anything about styluses for iPads?

SASQUATCH: I don’t know anything about anything.

POTATO-HEAD: Good. You learned the two most important lessons in life. Never open your mouth. And never rat on your friends.

SASQUATCH: Everybody takes a beating sometimes.

POTATO-HEAD: You know what they say about “Paulie”, they can say the same about your last stint in customer support. “He didn’t like to use the phone.”

SASQUATCH: And every other job I have ever had.

POTATO-HEAD: But for the purposes of your CV, now you have something to say about it. Your role summation could say, “I was like the character Paulie from Goodfellas.” But don’t go into any more detail than that. Save some of the details for your first interview.

SASQUATCH: I could come up with a character for every job..”At Dymocks I was like Nemo from Finding Nemo. At Sky City I was like Hunter S Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

POTATO-HEAD: So, you never answered my question. Would I be a wanker if I posted this conversation on my blog? I wouldn’t use either of our names. I would say that I was in a cafe waiting to meet a source for an interview for work, when I overheard these pretentious assholes talking. Then I would describe the assholes, and pass this off as their conversation as transcribed from my digital recorder.

SASQUATCH: I already said ok. You missed it. Too busy being a pretentious Parnell asshole.

POTATO-HEAD: You say ‘ok’ like it’s a fucking verbal tick. How the fuck am I supposed to know what you’re “OKing” from minute to minute? Oh, god.

SASQUATCH: What, the cream in your latte off or something?

POTATO-HEAD: No. I was just thinking about my idea of posting this conversation as if it were authentic, overheard dialog, when I was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea.

SASQUATCH: Are you sure that’s not your groin playing up?

POTATO-HEAD: Do you have any preferences as to how I should describe your character in this post? I was thinking of basing you on Sasquatch.

SASQUATCH: I was thinking of something more swash-buckling than Sasquatch, a Han Solo type.

POTATO-HEAD: What if you were the breech-birthed love-child of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s bitch of a sister?

SASQUATCH: Home run.

POTATO-HEAD: Well, better get going. It’s going to take me ages to figure out how to format this as dramatic dialogue.

SASQUATCH: I hate WordPress.

Then the guys left. I would have posted the actual file, but I had to make room on my digital recorder.

Catch you next time, buddy.

Hospital

Frederick Wiseman is my favorite documentary maker.

You could have read about him if you’d clicked on the link to his Wikipedia page.

But you didn’t.

Interior, Ernst & Young building, Takutai Square, Britomart

Was that because you’re intellectually lazy? Or, just too cowardly to test your own convictions? Or perhaps it is that you have the tractability of a cult member, blindly accepting as gospel whatsoever proceeds from the brilliant minds of experts and influencers such as myself?

We may never know the answer to these questions. But whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure. I spit on you and everything you stand for.

You’ll have to forgive me if I’m blunt. Sorry to have hurt your feelings. But guess what? Nobody goes to the hospital over hurt feelings. They go for hurt groins.

Take it from me. Last Wednesday, I woke up in severe chills, with a swelling in my left groin. Actually, the swelling had been there since Saturday. After first discovery of the swelling, I googled my symptoms only to find the possible causes running from inguinal hernia to serious vascular clutter to lymphoma. But these swellings in my groin area happened all the time, typically passing quickly, leaving me little the worse for wear. Surely this swelling would too.

But days went by, and on Wednesday, I had violent chills and fever.

Taken the day I went to the hospital.

Taken while waiting for Jacquie to do her make up before our trip to the ER. Note the world’s tallest Dalek under construction, to the left. (Joke made of 100 percent recycled material).

Jacquie rushed me to the emergency department at Auckland City Hospital.

Which brings me back to Frederick Wiseman. Going to the emergency department reminded me of Wiseman’s documentary, Hospital. Going to the hospital was almost as real as watching a documentary about one.

And I learned a lot about what makes the New Zealand health care system differs from the one in America.

For example, the system as a whole is very efficient. The admitting nurse took all the important information. Her questioning was thorough, and thoughtful.

“And how are your balls?” she said.

“Fine, fine,” I said. It made a good impression on me, this keen interest the staff were taking. The admitting nurse summoned an orderly to guide us to the ED registrar where I was immediately assigned a room. While neither of them asked after my masculinity, I was visited by several doctors and nurses who needed to “have a peek at your privates”.

At this point, I was absolutely thrilled by the New Zealand medical care system. Nobody in the US, in or out of the health care sector, ever asked about my privates. My enthusiasm for the New Zealand way of life swelled, and I began to wonder if I didn’t seem just a little too eager to pull down my underwear so a professional could “see what’s going on with the old stick and pebbles”.

They drew blood to rule out more serious things, dosed me with an antibiotics drip, and sent me away with scripts to take down the swelling, which turned out to be an infected lymph node, probably due to me scratching my dry itchy skin like an animal. Just like in the movies.

Vince was originally blamed for a rash of ringworm in our health district.

Vince was originally blamed for a rash of ringworm in our health district.

The one thing they missed, though, was the ringworm on my right wrist. Jacquie later assumed I’d gotten it from holding Vince, with the fungus taking advantage of my preoccupied immune system. But the vet said Vince didn’t have ringworm. Jacquie wondered how else I could have contracted it.

“Has he held a hedgehog lately?” the vet said.

That’s exactly the kind of magic that happens in Wiseman’s movies. The lack of narration, and utilitarian titles, would lead one to believe that Wiseman is pretending to objective narration. But that isn’t the case. Because he takes many more hours of footage than he will need in the final cut, his perspective comes out in editing. The result is something like how a musician might softly riff on a theme. At least that’s what some guy told me.

And what my experience with the New Zealand health system tells me is I may have suffered a week of fever and chills due to a terrible infection in my groin, my balls were never once in any danger. And some day soon, I’ll be able to say the same thing about much of the rest of my body.

The bull-tide carol

People think we’re all great and shit just because we do stuff other animals wouldn’t dream of doing.

But, should we really be so proud of a species that has produced intercontinental ballistic missiles and Justin Bieber?

The problem is evolution and framing. People only live for 70, 80 years. They also tend to hang out together, and ponder their existence, which basically boils down to who has the biggest penis.

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So when people look upon their inherited advantages through the prism of their self-aggrandizement, they can’t help but think how much better they are than all the other animals, put together.

Shit, you don’t see monkeys coming up with 172 uses for corn. Sure, they may stick a cob up their ass after taking a dump. But that’s pretty obvious, don’t you think? The truth is, monkey probably don’t even like corn. Ergo, they must be stupid.

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That’s the current thinking, anyway. It’s like we’re saying, “The day a dolphin can take my order at a restaurant is the day I’ll stop asking for extra Bottlenose in my Tuna Nicoise.”

It’s a fantastic hierarchy that conveniently ignores the demonstrated truth that evolution is adaptive, not progressive. We are the children of organisms that were optimized to the likelihood of passing on their genes. The fact that so many people distort reality to fit their religious preconceptions on these matters, with all that we know to be true now pretty much demonstrates that we’re still just a bunch of hillbillies whose brothers are their uncles, and whose sisters you know are having their period because they’re only wearing one sock.

But it’s understandable. We’re proud of ourselves! And we should be. Wasn’t it just last week that we discovered fire? And didn’t that help us find our way to the computer in the dark room? And where would we be today had we not invented free internet porn yesterday? Yeah, we are pretty clever. Which makes it such a weird coincidence that some of our gods happen to look a lot like us. What are the chances? A universe with billions and billions of ways for a god to be, with so many varieties of environments, inhospitable to fragile man, but suited to an omnipotent entity. And he happens to look like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard. And he’s a He!

Let me ask a theological question for a moment. What the fuck does an eternal, omnipotent being need with a penis? Can you just clear that up?  I’m getting to the age where I’m wondering why have a penis. But if we’re made in god’s image, and god’s a man, then doesn’t that mean he has some kind of dick? You know what it means that god has a dick? It means it took him at least 13 billion years to get laid. And I thought I was a late bloomer.

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Sorry for that. I do tend to get a little carried away with the holiday spirit.

And that has been difficult this year. A friend of mine has a sister who teaches at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut where the horrible massacre took place last week. It’s not that I’m friends with her, but there’s a personal dimension to this story for me.

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I’ve never really had much of an opinion about gun control, to be honest. I think I had one of those “liberal urban” consciences you can probably buy for $14 at Urban Outfitters. Didn’t like automatic weapons, but if you hunted, that’s cool, if you’re eating the meat.

I still think hunting for food is a worthy adaptation to preserve. I’m now, more than ever, opposed to automatic weapons, high-capacity cartridges, and a wild west mentality, both in attitudes and in the shameful multitudes of channels arms manufacturers now have to markets.

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I do have a solution to the issue, that I think should make everyone happy. I’ll agree to leave your guns alone. You can have as many weapons, in any style, with as many bullets as you can carry. Hell, you can even have your penis replaced with a bazooka. And probably best of all, we’ll makes sure the Stand Your Ground law is interpreted to include as a “threat” anyone who “You don’t like the look of.”

But there are a few conditions.

First, you all have to move to Utah. I’m sorry. That’s not even negotiable.

Second, when traveling to any of the 49 ‘sane’ States, you have to leave your weapons at the door. We may make exceptions for Civil War re-enactors.

And finally, you have to agree to have your testicles snipped, to decrease the chances that you’ll give birth to a mentally ill person with no access to medical care but plenty of access to your guns with which he goes to shoot up an entire classroom of children.

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So, yeah, we’re great and all. But we’re still subject to our primate heritage. But seeing as we’re so great at making AR-15s and high capacity cartridges, we must have the intellectual capacity to create institutions and methods by which to keep this shit from happening again.

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Especially because I’m flying into the States tonight, and I don’t want to get shot.