What just happened: a Rugby World Cup rundown for Americans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re better than you

Now that New York has been destroyed, Auckland is rubbing its hands in glee, anxious to fill the cultural gap as the premier city of the anglophone world.

The horrible bruising the Big Apple received in the arms of Hurricane Irene should be seen as a great opportunity, not just for Auckland to finally not suck in comparison to New York. But an opportunity for New Yorkers, themselves.

If you live in New York, and you’ve drowned, you might consider how moving to Auckland will improve your circumstances.

Here are three reasons why.

1. Superior Climate

Wouldn’t you love to live in a place where the temperature never soars above 80 nor sinks below 70? Where you are constantly refreshed by gentle trade winds, and where cocktails are served by sea turtles wearing cute little bow ties? Well, in Auckland, we wish we could too, so get over yourself.

A view of Eden Park, looking northeast from Sandringham Road, and a five minute walk from my house. Eleven of the 48 Rugby World Cup matches will be played at Eden Park. The surrounding residents look forward with great anticipation to the French Rugby fans urinating on our public and private infrastructure, just as they do in New York. The World Cup begins September 9, attracting something like 75,000 drunken foreigners to this city.

2. Superior Agriculture

Most New Yorkers weren’t prepared for the devastating affect Hurricane Irene would have on their flocks. Consequently, their sheep at this moment are being herded like cattle into high school gymnasiums. The luckier ones are shitting on their owners’ friends’ futons. And the luckiest ones have been able to make special friends of their own. Auckland presents a different story. You might think that story ends in a slaughter house. But it doesn’t. That’s just the beginning. It then goes to the part where you have a little too much to drink, but thank god the kebab shop is still open. But the story still doesn’t end there. Because after you’ve wolfed down your doner kebab, you say to yourself, “holy crap, I’m going to vomit.” But the story still isn’t over, because even though you’ve completely missed your toilet bowl, your cat is showing a keen interest in what’s been spewed on the bathroom floor, and the cycle of life continues.

Fresh lamb, warmed over, resting on a pleasant Saturday afternoon, not too far from their whoring mother.


3. Superior Lifestyle, Fantastic People

Close your eyes. Imagine yourself standing in a parking lot. You’re in New Zealand, so you’ll have to imagine yourself standing in a ‘car park’. I don’t use that term, myself, because I don’t like the idea of my car having fun without me. I’m not sure what Kiwis mean by car park. Is it a park where you can toss your frisby and your car will catch it in mid-air? Or is it the kind of park with water luges and roller coasters and rides that go in circle until you vomit and then all the cats come around to check out what’s been spewed on the ground? Well, no matter what kind of park it is, you’re standing in it. And you’re having a good time. At least you’re imagining that you’re having a good time. (I hope you’re still keeping your eyes closed). Now imagine yourself standing in the car park with a few friends. Perhaps one of them is smiling. Maybe another one is looking at his camera and realizing that the photograph of the hazy, rain-disturbed murk off the coast of Piha is actually not as interesting as he thought it would have been. Perhaps you have your hands on your hips because the ocean that you are looking over from the car park at the top of the coastal ridge is somehow displeasing to you.

Now with that picture in mind, open your eyes and look at the photograph below.

In Auckland, you don't have to imagine yourself having a good time.

The greatest depression ever

It’s only been in the last month or so that I started to recover from a severe and prolonged depression.

Next stop, Deliciousville. Things are looking up.

It was bad. A preoccupation with death, a constant flow of hateful self-talk, the lost ability to remember, to concentrate, to something else that slips my mind, continued unacknowledged and festering until the miserable condition became familiar, even comfortable.

It was really bad. It was as if one of Hieronymus Boschs demons was taking a six-month-long shit on my medieval tonsure and I liked it so much I massaged it into my scalp thinking it was ok because, hey, it’s organic. I lost interest in all those things that once animated me: reading, socializing and sexing.

Even writing blog-posts with my signature “Take my wife…please” sensibility (as humorous now as it was when it first circulated the Catskills 50 years ago), even those entered the endangered list, although they never went extinct. So my condition wasn’t just bad; it was schlocky.

Things got to such a low state that I fell into a habit more disgusting and pitiable than my obsessive eyebrow-hair plucking and chronically inadequate personal hygiene. I started to watch Star Trek, from the beginning of The Next Generation, to the end of Deep Space Nine.

Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Tourism Board.

Some people might ask, “Simon, what do you have to be depressed about? You live in New Zealand where shoes are optional, where people drive with their eyes closed, and where everyone is in bed by nine because what else are they going to do? Where it’s OK to be a grown adult and still talk in your outdoor voice throughout a live performance of Mary Stuart starring that lady from the second Lord of the Rings movie, true story. What could be so bad?”

Lieutenant Paris (right) reports to Captain Janeway and Commander Tuvok on his recent visit to Meat Plaza.

While it is true that I was feeling like shit before relocating, and that moving from Brooklyn to New Zealand temporarily elevated my mood to its jaunty “I-hate-the-world-and-everything-in-it” baseline, this reprieve did not last long.

So many factors played a part in the plunge I took in New Zealand that I cannot give them justice in one blog entry.

I will, however, mention here one factor contributing to my recent disposition, since it has weighed heavily on my mind: my colleagues at Fairfax Business Group. They are a mean-spirited, bullying lot that picks on me because I’m different, because I talk funny and come from America. They did terrible things to me. They made me watch them eat lunch, and they called me names like “Johnny Argyle” just because I happen to own one or two articles of clothing with that particular pattern.

Technically speaking, Johnny Argyle is a misnomer, since my entire argyle wardrobe consists in a zip-up jumper and a sock I found at the laundromat and took home with me, just in case I needed an extra sock.

I tried to complain about these malicious fiends to the Human Resources director. But I knew the company would have trouble seeing my side of things when I entered the director’s office and she said, “What can I do for you, Jimmy Argyle?”

I was mortified. “It’s not Jimmy,” I screamed. “It’s Johnny. Johnny Argyle.”

Then I screamed some more like I did when I was a little boy, which was exactly like a little girl. Then I ran to the restroom to have myself a good cry and there wasn’t a day that went by during my first six weeks at Fairfax that did not contain some element of wailing and/or gnashing of teeth, which will probably earn me a “needs improvement” on my next performance evaluation.

Of course, I have since reached a mutual sort of respect and understanding with my wonderful colleagues. They love Johnny Argyle. And Johnny Argyle loves them, and doesn’t even mind watching them eat their lunch any more. Mostly.

So, that’s just one example of the many things that have depressed the shit out of me.

But as I say, this subject is far too big to be wrapped up in one blog entry. Which is why I plan to return to this subject in the future, so that you might enjoy my recent, horrifying depression as much as I did.