Parnell life

Plugging away in the swamps of unemployment

I’m procrastinating on a script-writing project right now. Not without just cause.

Creative writing like this requires imagination, focus and the gumption to get things done, well, no matter how many hours of the day it takes to make deadline.

Which is frankly way beyond my capacity.

I’d be lucky if I had enough attention span to—found left-over cookie crumbs stuck to my jumper. Win.

Parnell Sky series, #1

It’s not entirely due to a deficiency of skills that I’m avoiding work. I’ve got skills. Mad skills. And one or two actual skills.

Well one. As CareersNZ points out, one skill is being an influencer. I can influence all humanity in one sentence. It is my will and my command (and strongest possible recommendation) that everybody in the world from now on should do exactly what they were going to do anyway.

So, I’ve got influencer in my toolkit. Unfortunately, I also have in my toolkit a reluctance to do anything that seems like work. That tops the SKILLS IN TOOLKIT list on my CV, followed by indolence, sloth, birth-related brain damage (ie, I’m stupid), trichotillomania, one pair of skinny jeans that haven’t fit since 1998 but that I still wear out to networking events because I’m hip, rickets, Lotus Notes, and lastly, influencer.

But mostly it’s a reluctance to do anything that seems like work that attracts people’s attention.

Which is exactly how I got into this procrastination mess to begin with, and for which I blame Josh Borthwick and Ush de la Croix over at Wolf Productions.

Parnell sky series #2

I met Ush and Josh right after I was “made redundant”. They stopped to listen to me busking my little heart out on Queen Street. Incidentally, it seems I didn’t actually know most of the lyrics to Hey, Jude after all. And my guitar only has two, three strings, tops. You’d be surprised how much you can make for minor technical difficulties with enthusiastic humming.

Anyway, Josh and Ush stayed through the song. They recognized immediately that I didn’t want to do anything that resembled work, which is exactly the kind of person they were looking for.

So, instead of putting coins in my guitar case (cheap bastards), they asked me to join them as a writer for a new webseries they’ve conceived.

Granted, this “writer” title is largely honorary, considering that most of the scripts have been outsourced to a factory in Bangladesh. But when I’m not posed on all-fours so they can put up their legs on me like an ottoman, they’ve also tasked me with writing three webisodes. And if they don’t like my scripts, they transfer me to Bangladesh.

Parnell sky series, #3

It’s a great opportunity, and I thank Wolf Productions for giving me a shot, right when I just so happen to be launching a comedy writing career.  I’m enjoying the collaboration with Josh and Ush, and fellow writer, Andrew Thompson.

But that doesn’t mean I have to do any work.

Not this minute. Not right away. Because Josh and Ush and Andrew are not the boss of me. Jacquie is. And she only just found out that I’m trying to write comedy for a living. Until recently, Jacquie thought I was a nude model at a drawing salon in late 19th century Paris. Which is, I admit, what I’d been leading her to believe all along.

If these people think I can just flick a switch and instantly go from human ottoman to a human ottoman that also writes scripts, they must be kidding themselves. This is a process that’s going to take a couple of days.

In the first place, my back and knees are still sore. And secondly, it’s hard being a creative anything: writer, artist, magician, concentration camp commandant, or even a dentist. If you’re going to do something, you have to do it excellently. And in order to do something excellently, you have to put it off until the last minute, and do something else while you wait.

Especially something like this blog, which doesn’t have to be anywhere near good, in keeping with the caliber of the average visitor.

I’m just saying I need some me time. Time to sort out all my funny ideas, and separate them from the horrible PTSD flashbacks of my childhood, which can be tiresome.

Even if that means doing my homework on a napkin while driving my car over to the next Wolf Productions staff meeting. Hey, that method got me through high school chemistry, coasting on a solid C-.

[[third draft. with edits thanks to Vera Alves, and fixed bad sentence. And apologies. I stink]]

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A sensitive question

It is confirmed. The taciturn couple upstairs are with child.

I have been careful not to pry or comment, lest the young lady’s discernible weight gain turned out to be her winter blubbering.

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I’ve seen this mistake made enough times to know that a woman’s precipitous corpulence is a conversational No-No Zone. To query is to invite carnage. That’s why, hard to believe, I have never speculated about a woman’s maternity just because she look like she’s having trouble digesting a basketball. I may be an asshole, but I’m no moron.

I’ve always played this one carefully. Once, I went to a party where a friend I hadn’t seen for awhile did, in fact, appear to be swollen in the the fullness of her womb. Curious, but mindful of making a faux pas, I took the precaution of asking all the women if they were pregnant. When it came time to ask my friend, she said yes, she was expecting, and she joked that it anyone who asks a woman that has to be a complete asshole. To which I replied something along the lines of, “Nonsense. I always ask women if they’re pregnant. By the way, that skirt makes you look like Octomom.”

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It has been a similar challenge to confirm my neighbor’s maternity. She and her husband (boyfriend, first cousin, whatever) are not the most forthcoming tenants of the Alcazar Flats. I’m not saying they are bad people. They’re cordial, but apparently not sociable. While I’m on the subjects, I’d like to state for the record that the couple upstairs were always quiet, kept to themselves, and never bothered anybody. Whatever their names are. I’ve lived here 12 months and I still don’t know. Even vigilant sorting through their mail has proven fruitless, as former tenants continue to receive correspondence at this address.

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This maternity thing proved to be a waiting game. At some point, it just became obvious that there was a legitimate pregnancy going on here. But, just to be on the safe side, I decided to fly the question by the guy.

“I guess congratulations are in order,” I said to him as we passed outside the apartments. In retrospect, this seems like a dumb thing to say. What was I really saying? “Congratulations for having an adequate sperm count?” Say it was a pregnancy, but it was an accident? How did I know if the guy was miserable, having been forced into a marriage by the couple’s shotgun wielding grandfather? And if the young lady weren’t really pregnant, in what context would her mate take my statement?

Everything worked out in the end, though. Turned out I guessed right. He didn’t say it in words, so much. It was more the way his head bobbed up and down as he walked away from me without even acknowledging I was there.

Getting the hang of LinkedIn

Do you enjoy having your skills endorsed by your LinkedIn connections?

I love it.  First thing in the morning, I’m on LinkedIn. Finding an endorsement for allegedly being able to do anything makes my day.

Without regular endorsements, I would be forced to go into the manager’s office and stab myself in the neck with a letter opener as I handed her that week’s time sheet.

Not something anyone wants to see happen. But at least I’d still get paid. And I may even get sick leave for it.

So, yeah, I rely on endorsements, within reason. How else are you supposed to know you’re good at something if strangers and casual acquaintances don’t tell you so?

Fun with apps

As un-stabby as an endorsement makes me feel, I now have second-thoughts about their value, professionally speaking.

Endorsements are inherently qualified. In my experience, the only people who endorse you are the ones that know you well enough to be overcome with pathos and charity. Endorsing should have been one of the beatitudes. Blessed are they that endorse on LinkedIn, for they who love to be endorsed are some sorry-ass motherfuckers. 

So, maybe it’s your buddy endorsing you. Or maybe someone wants to be endorsed in return.

But what exactly are we endorsing?

More fun with apps

Last week, I wanted to endorse my buddy so that they would endorse me in return so I wouldn’t have to stab my neck for the fifth time that week.

The way LinkedIn works, it asks you a question. So for my friend, it was “Does ___________ know about Newspapers?”

Well, I should fucking hope so. Newspapers have only been around for like more than two centuries. Who doesn’t know about newspapers? You’d have to have been freeze-dried in an avalanche 22,000 years ago in present day Switzerland to not know about a fucking newspaper. My 10th grade English teacher spent half a class period teaching us how to properly fold the New York Times for when reading on the subway. And they say public schools are going down the toilet.

Parnell at night

LinkedIn sometimes asks loaded questions, like, “Does ___________ know about Proofreading?” Was their last email rubbish? Is this a rhetorical question to underscore  someone’s inability to string together two coherent sentences?

See? There’s just no way to know.

Some questions are rather vague. I really don’t know how to answer “Does ___________ know about Swedish?” Swedish what? Meatballs? Same goes for “Does ___________ know about Wireless?” for which I selected ‘yes’ because I happened to know what kind of bra this person wears.

There was a serious typo in one question: Does ___________ know about CRM? Uh, I have a question. Does LinkedIn know about Spellcheck?  The word you’re looking for is C-R-I-M-E, dumbass.

Sky, afternoon, with Paper and Procreate
You get the picture.

The point is you have to be wary of LinkedIn endorsements. Sometimes, payforward is a bitch.

Backhouse

Not long after we moved to Parnell, the occupant of 19 Earle Street next door, Mindfood magazine, relocated a few blocks away to Augustus Terrace.

That vacancy was filled later in 2012 by Backhouse.

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It took me more than a year to realize that the name did not refer to the furnishing of gazebos. Backhouse actually is the family that owns the business, which sells well-designed office and home furniture to architects and interior designers. (When you grow up in the Bronx, you meet a lot more Finkelsteins and Rodriguezes than you do a Backhouse. The ratio is 2:1)

Backhouse participated in the annual Urbis Design Day a showcase of design shops around Auckland, quite a few of them in Parnell.

For their part, Backhouse set up a lawn out front, as part of a bringing the outside in.

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Which meant Vince had to assert himself.

Furbis Design Day

Michelle Weir of Backhouse was kind enough to share this photo with me.

Sunshine and rubbish

Parnell gets the best light of anywhere in Auckland.

Situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure, Parnell today is considered one of the city’s oldest suburbs situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure. This combination of ridge-sitting and northwestern-facing-ness joins together to form the most unique blending anyone could ask for in a neighborhood.

Pinko-Commie-bastard Samuel Duncan Parnell was the first newcomer to acknowledge that “Parnell is chocka sunshine”.

Geyser Parnell at corner of Garfield Street

It’s a lot more fun walking in Parnell than in most other neighborhoods here, which tend to be huge stretches of dull, suburban landscapes, better to drive through than to walk.

The pedestrian-scale streets, bestride with both residential and commercial properties make you really believe that Auckland is a city, after all.

Parnell does a New Yorker’s heart good, especially the rubbish. Nothing is more urban-ish than trash. And nothing helps to create a better sense of neighborhood than picking through your neighbor’s garbage. We always did that growing up. Where else do you think we got all our furniture? (The old black-and-white set we found never worked, but we always got a kick out of the rat that was trapped behind the screen).

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It’s easy just to say, ‘hello’ to someone in passing on the way to work. But when you take the trouble to find out about somebody first, you turn a casual greeting into a powerful community building moment. In fact, just the other day, I was able to let the woman in Apartment 6 know that I was “there for her” when we saw each other in the laundry room.

“How are you going?” she said.

A lot better than you,” I told her. “Thank god for the morning-after pill, eh?”

Jacquie later explained to me that the reason why the woman in Apartment 6 ran off crying was probably because she felt embarrassed and vulnerable that I had been so prying as to look through her rubbish. I hastened to point out that, technically speaking, it wasn’t really “her rubbish” once it was in the rubbish bin, and that if she didn’t want the neighborhood nosing in her business, she shouldn’t have left her morning-after pill packaging lying around in the third bag from the top mixed in with some the remains of a Chinese take-away and a whole lot of used kitty litter.

If that’s how it’s going to be, then I won’t be doing much community building anymore. As Jesus said, a community builder is never welcome on his own block.

The trash problem isn’t always found in the rubbish bin, I’m afraid. As the New Zealand Herald reported two weeks ago, there was a bag of rubbish found on the street in Parnell. That was right outside our house. One morning, I went out there and it was right in the middle of the road, obviously tossed from the driver’s side of a moving car.

Stubborn as I am, I decided to give neighborhood-building one more chance. Against my better judgement, and feeling taken for granted, I decided to remove the litter.

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It was one of those plastic grocery bags, and from a distance, it seemed to be the remains of a meal from a Subway sandwich shop.

It turned out to be much more than that. It was a window into the mysterious Parnell folkways. Inside the bag with the Subway wrapper were also an empty can of Red Bull, a plastic baggy filled with the remains of a crystalline substance, and the crème de la crème, a used condom. All of which spilled through a previously undetected hole, and onto the road, splashing at my feet as I picked it up off the ground.

Needless to say, my community spirit began to flag. On the bright side, I found a used condom, and what a fascinating find it turned out to be. Through scientific methodology and analysis, one can determine what the typical date of a Parnell-couple consists of.

The single Subway sandwich wrapper is indicative of the sophistication and refined taste that Parnell is known for. What it also tells us is that the couple either shared a sandwich, or more likely, one part of the couple ate the sandwich while the other one was forced to watch. Washed down with a Red Bull, followed by the snorting and/or smoking of the crystalline substance, it was promising to be a very romantic evening, which is obviously where the condom comes in. Finally, the hole in the plastic bag, chucked out of the driver’s side window, was probably due to being dropped while at a high speed, a sure sign that the driver had an important engagement to attend to after dropping his or her partner off somewhere (presumably while the car was at a rest).

Production dailies from A Heart Unsundered

Great news. The funders a few weeks back gave me the green light to pursue my short film project, A Heart Unsundered.

Work is already underway, with a six week shooting and post-production schedule.

I thought it would be nice to share with you the reel from today’s shoot, on location in Parnell.

Video Press Release: Movie Project featuring Vincent Red-Hustler gets green light

Check back again from time to time in case I decide to update you. Or even to see if I bother following through with that I just said.

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.

Walking your cat

I swore to Jacquie that I would sooner wax my privates on a regular basis than be observed walking a cat in public.

That was a long time ago. Circumstances change attitudes. I am now a cat-walker.

Jacquie makes fun of me any chance she gets

Incidentally, I did stay true to my oath about waxing. And now I can look down with humility and satisfaction. Take it from me, a tree does stand taller when it’s not in the middle of a forest.

My objection to walking Vince is simple. People who go out in public to take their cats for a stroll generally look like pretentious assholes.

Practicality has obviated my former bias. Over the months—as I’ve exploited Vince to plug a hole in my self-worth, and with luck, the even bigger hole in my net-worth—I learned something. Vince needed mobility and a modicum of independence, and we needed to make sure our expensive cat didn’t get run over by a truck. Vince and Jacquie and I reached a compromise in which Vince would be allowed to roam under supervision in the day time, but at night, he could only go out on a harness and lead.

It’s going to take a long time before we get this right, but I think we’re making progress.

Yet, despite the practical benefits of walking Vince, I can’t get over the public attention I’ve received.

Every night, someone says something, and I think my neighbors are starting to avoid contact with me.

So, it’s not all bad.

What bothers me are the strangers passing on the street. I don’t know if they’re going to punch me in the teeth or just laugh in derision until I start crying. Perhaps more the former, because it is the quickest way to make me cry. And there is no rule that says they can’t laugh derisively in addition to punching my teeth.

So far, my encounters have been less dramatic.

One night, this guy was heading toward the youth hostel down the road.

“Holy fuck, is that a cat?”

He was obviously dunk, or from Wales, based on his pattern of speech.

“Yeah, sorry.”

“No bro, that’s absolutely genius.”

“Oh, yeah, I like it a lot.”

“Brilliant.”

“Thanks man.”

“Yeah–”

Unfortunately, he fell down in the middle of the road before he could finish his sentence. But he turned out to be ok, I think, because I found him in the exact same place the next afternoon, with no visible signs of having been run over.

I’ve met other interesting people. A guy on a moped one night pulled into the driveway of the business next door. He got off his bike, unzipped his pants, and proceeded to urinate. He didn’t see me with Vince until after he was finished. He was startled and annoyed when he did see us, but I smoothed things over. I suggested that having his privates waxed on a regular basis would do him a world of good. He left without a word. Didn’t even thank me. But there was the unspoken agreement that if I didn’t say anything about his public urination, he wouldn’t tell the world about me walking a cat.

Agreed.

Everyday jobs, everyday people

Coming home from work this evening, I passed a woman dressed up most unusually for 5:30 in the afternoon.

Her hair was done up in the form of a lampshade. Her makeup was brilliant and seductive, like a sexy waitress who just turned into a zombie last week.

She was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and  shorts and sneakers. But in one arm she toted a pair of shiny, thigh-high leather boots, and in the other, she carried a black piano chair.

It did seem strange to me at first. What an odd way to present oneself to the world on one’s evening stroll through Parnell. There is no accounting for taste in New Zealand, after all.

She almost seemed part of a prank. I expected to spot obscured cameras in van windows. Most women in New Zealand would have at least left the chair home.

But what if this wasn’t strange? What if this woman were some kind of sex-industry worker, and she was commuting to or from a job? Just like the characters in my all-time favorite book.

People do shit in this book. They stand around, watch other people work. The front cover alone makes you feel like doing something like that. Something adult, like spitting or drinking vodka from a thermos while lighting an oxyacetylene torch.

One day, when I was three (or 11 or 12, I can’t remember) I stopped putting the book in my mouth and started to take interest in the pages. Each was a call to adulthood. It was an urging to action that I felt and answered. But having no prior construction work experience, I instead drew on my bedroom wall a picture of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, with my own feces. That was all I knew at the time. And I enjoyed doing that kind of work, following the example of the people in my book.

Then one day, you’re walking home from work and you see this woman bouncing past you, with her shoes and her chair. This epiphany that happens. You realize there is no place for this woman in the worlds of Tibor Gergely, Richard Scarry, or Dr. Seuss’ world. You wish there had been, to prepare you for the real world.

I don’t know what this woman did for a living. Maybe she was a stripper heading to her club. Maybe she was a dominatrix coming back from a visit to a needy shut-in. Maybe the chair meant she was a house mover. I don’t know. But I do know that while you might find a house mover in the Berenstain Bears’ house, you sure as shit won’t find a prostitute.