The Outdoorsman

Green about the gills

New Zealand is beautiful. In parts.

But that’s all right. New Zealanders love it all, from the zesty first lamb of spring, to the last 126 Kakapos clinging to their perch.

Kiwis are in love, in love with the lush forests, and the glacial mountains. In love with dried possum skins as well as the average clod of dirt.

Nature: they can’t get enough of that shit.

But sometimes they go a little overboard in protecting their environment, fragile as it is.

Yeah, that’s a piece of bread. In the recycle bin.

I love the fact that New Zealand makes a concerted effort to make use of everything we’ve got. We recycle paper, aluminum, glass, most kinds of plastic. We use and re-use everything, from newspapers to automobiles to 11-month-old Anglophonic culture.

But has it become necessary for us to recycle bread now?

I had so many questions when I saw that bread. I wondered who put it there, and if they would be upset if I ate it out of the dumpster. Or would I have to wait. Did my bread need to go to the recycling facility for washing, sterilizing and reconstitution before I could eat it? Was there a symbol on some loaves at the supermarket, reading “100% recycled bread”?

As I performed several thought experiments weighing the feasibility of a recycled bread program, I noticed something odd. A few paces away from the recycle bin, a potential riddle: more bread, only this time on the ground and broken in pieces.

This bread seemed to have been toasted. The mystery deepened. Why would we be told to recycle regular bread, but when you toast it you can get it way with just tossing it anywhere you wanted? I wondered if my MP was aware of this ludicrous double-standard. And I don’t want to hear any of that horseshit about how the technology to recycle ‘isn’t there, just yet’. I call bullshit. If John Key wants my vote next time around, he has to pledge more resources for not only recycling toasted bread, but for developing new products and markets that recycled toasted bread is bound to open up, especially among the eco-conscious everywhere.

Among people that love nature as much as we do.

If it were up to me, I’d go one step further. I’d put the dairy industry together in a room with the recycled bread industry and make them stay there until they agree to co-produce a line of pre-toasted grilled cheese sandwiches, made from 100% New Zealand recycled bread, for the export market. (Recycled cheese optional).

Think about it. New Zealand is always talking about moving from commodity- to a value-add-led export. All around the globe in this modern circus freak show we call a world, people are far too busy with the important things than to waste time making their own grilled cheese sandwiches. New Zealand, the cheese griller of the world. And with our conscientious practices and ‘pasture-to-plate’ (so to speak) tracking, someone as far away from France will know whose recycle bin in Auckland their particular slice of 100% recycled bread came from.

This was one of those times I hoped to see my neighbors. The couple next door. They’re into fitness. At least, they wear sweat pants at night before they go to bed. Close enough. They’re in better shape than me. And they might be able to shed some light on this recycled bread phenomenon, I thought.

But when the couple came home, that was the moment Vince came out to sniff shit.

So of course it was all about Vince. Which really ticked me off.

Jacquie joined us and we all started talking. About that asshole Vince. The woman-neighbor was telling Jacquie about another cat from another flat, and asked how many months Vince was, and if he went outside much.

“And have you had him done, also,” the woman neighbor asked.

We weren’t sure what she meant, until she explained she was referring to Vince having his balls cut off.

“Oh, no, no, no,” Jacquie said. “Simon sprays all the time.”

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Wholesome activities

Jacquie wanted to go see her young nephews play soccer.

I’m still wondering how she roped me in. If I were a parent and my eight-year-old tried to drag me out of bed on my day off, just to stand on a cold, dank field for three hours while she tried to get her spasmodic neuromuscular issues under control, I’d tell her to fuck off. How boring. Then I’d stick a bag of Doritos in her hands, and go back to sleep. After all, I don’t hate kids. I just don’t want to have anything to do with them.

Parents are by no means immune to such thoughts. Don’t be fooled. The square community just doesn’t like to advertise the contempt they hold for most of their children’s activities. They think it would make them seem like bad parents. But it’s quite the opposite.

A conscientious mother or father should gladly provide their children with a healthy dose of reality. Would it really hurt a boy much if his mom said something besides “good job” every time he accidentally came in contact with a ball roughly 65% his mass and volume? That’s not an accomplishment. Kids accidentally bump into things all the time, but you don’t hear parents scream “good job” when that happens, do you? Why is soccer so special? If you put a bunch of kids on a field with a ball, chances are one of their feet will touch the ball, eventually.  So, just once, it would have been nice to hear a soccer mom scream something like, “well done, honey, statistically speaking,” while continuously looking at her watch.

As I said, I’m not sure how Jacquie roped me into getting up at 7 a.m.—an ungodly hour even on a work day—simply to watch other people’s children play soccer. It is annoying to get up early on a Saturday. But to to so with the express purpose of enduring two of life’s most tedious horrors, sports and children? It buggered belief. I sat in the car during 25 minute drive to Huapai when my life went so wrong.

We found the Norwest United AFC soccer club playing field, in spite of my sister-in-law’s best efforts. This is not a slam on her in particular. Kiwis generally hate giving or receiving directions. Whenever someone at work asks me where I sit, and I don’t want to see them, I tell them my desk is in the northwest corner of the building. That usually does the trick. By the time it takes them to figure out which way north is, they’ve given up on ever seeing me in person, and send me an email instead.

New Zealanders hate road maps. They prefer GPS devices instead. I’ve always found GPS devices rather distracting. The one that I used last year couldn’t articulate Maori place names. A text-to-speech feature unable to pronounce a country’s other official language is pretty useless. And besides, if want driving directions barked at me in an incomprehensible accent, I already have Jacquie in the passenger seat.

As we walked across the field in the rosy-fingered dawn, I tried to come up with a way to cut short this excursion. The only thing I came up with was to act like those obnoxious parents that used to watch my teammates in little league when i was a kid. But I didn’t have any hard alcohol with me, so I wasn’t sure if I could do it authentically. I didn’t want to cause confusion. I just wanted to get kicked off the playing field.

We were introduced around to some of the parents. They were warm and friendly and happy to see one another. Even the league appeared to be institutionally structured around parental involvement beyond sideline booster-ism. They took turns supplying fruit, coaching and acting as referees. After the games, they talked about what the kids did right, regardless of the score, and they recognized MVPs from both teams, awarded on merit, with a touch of democracy. Everyone would probably get one eventually. This is not to suggest they sacrificed the nature of the game to sportsmanship or a liberal’s idea of what’s fair. It’s just that it allowed the children to contend, without the uglier side of competitiveness always in your face, which is how I remember little league to be.

Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised. I was actually pleased to be there. But this was deceptive. They had lulled me into a false sense of warmth for human society

You see, the field was separated by a rise into two parts, with the younger children playing in the lower fields. When it came time for the older kids to play, we all moved. But as we moved, we saw a woman and her son ahead of us on the ridge line. She stooped over the boy, pulled down his pants, and right there in front of more than 100 people—including women and children—the boy proceeded to urinate. The ironic thing about it was they were 20 feet away from a toilet. Nobody seemed to mind. And if that all weren’t bad enough, when the boy was done pissing, his mother gave his penis a couple of shakes to get rid of the little drips that are often left behind under such circumstances.

The whole thing was quite distasteful. And patently unfair. What do you think would happen if it were me up there with my pants down, with Jacquie giving my penis “a little shake”? We’d never hear the end of it. We’d probably even be the lead story on the nightly news. But this mom is allowed to hose down the field with her son’s urine? I’m sorry, but double-standards sour me on people. When I saw that lady again a little while later, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “shit, I’m glad we’re not the sole survivors of a zombie holocaust”.

This came to mind because Jacquie and I had just finished watching the second season of The Walking Dead, largely because the writers hadn’t quite worn out its novelty by the end of season one. But almost right from the start of the second season, they do everything in their power to every single character completely unlikable.

I told Jacquie that if being on the soccer field that morning resembled in a zombie apocalypse, I would have no part of it. I would definitely kill myself. Who wants to live in a world where your choices are zombies, or a group of speechifying geeks and rednecks. As Jacquie says, we’d be more likely to die from boredom than a zombie bite. The problem with season 2 is that the writers have ramrodded cookie-cutter dramatic domesticity into an apocalyptic context. But the characters’ motivation just occasionally ties together with the zombie premise. They more often than not grapple with mundane conflicts—extramarital affairs, unwanted pregnancies, inter-racial dating—in mundane ways. The characters are prone to orating moral positions, leaving aside all consideration of zombies. It’s only when the narrative requires a boost to the next plot point that the characters motivation connects with zombies.

In the end, I don’t want to condemn a good thing because of one urinating apple. All in all, these folks were nice-enough. And it was good to know my usual cynicism can be countered from time-to-time. So, to all those people who were at the soccer games that Saturday morning, I would gladly survive a Zombie holocaust with you. Just don’t piss near me.

Pity-party-pooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking pictures of my cat washing his hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrible Holiday Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why the fuck would you do that?”

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

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

So I clapped.

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

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

Now, whose life sucks more than mine?

Why I shouldn’t be allowed near a camera

It’s Friday night in New Zealand, and I’m coming down with some kind of upper-respiratory infection, just in time for the weekend.

But why should I suffer alone?

You too can suffer. All you have to do is keep reading.

And enjoy these pictures I took during the last hike Jacquie and I did on the Montana Heritage Trail in the Waitaks; my four reasons why I shouldn’t own a camera.

If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll notice there’s a duck, right of center, making waves in the air.

A duck making waves in the air?! Far out.

But before you smack my left butt cheek in a congratulatory, sportsman-like manner, you should know this photograph is a dirty lie. You’ve been deceived…by the world of trick photography.

You see, in holding my camera upside down, I was able to freak out the duck so much that it lost sphincter control as it flew from me, thus releasing a hitherto long-contained fart (which the duck had been saving for the right moment) that propelled the poor creature past the speed of sound in an instant. The “wave” you see is the duck breaking wind –and the sound barrier — at the same time. And that’s the first reason I shouldn’t be allowed to own a camera: I’m a dumbass.

My college photography instructor, Tom Roma, used to say that a person’s IQ dropped 20 points when they picked up a camera. I could never figure out if I believed that or not. But what he said in critiques stuck with me. Every week at least one student would show a picture that contained almost nothing of interest to anyone. These often featured dead public areas, like the cobbled base of the statue at the center of a traffic circle or a bit of sidewalk with the shadows of bicycle wheels, Maybe a pigeon or two, one of them blurry. Tom would ask, “What are we looking at? Is this where you’d take someone on a date? Is this what you’d point out for them to look at?” I realize, nearly 20 years later, that Tom was right. Not only has my IQ dropped dangerously under my normally low baseline, but I’m also the kind of person who considers hanging around public infrastructure a fun date. And that’s the second reason I shouldn’t own a camera. I take pictures of infrastructure.

“Look honey: civil engineering. Let’s make out.” And that’s the third reason: I take LOTS of pictures of infrastructure, from multiple angles.

A bridge, as seen from a dam. That bridge was a lot of fun to cross. Jacquie and I spent a good hour just going back and forth and back and forth. We’re going back there Sunday to go back and forth some more because I don’t think we went back and forth over the bridge enough. What was nice about it was the view the bridge afforded us of some vital public infrastructure. You know what we be a good picture? A pigeon beside the shadow of a bicycle on top of a dam. I carry my camera around hoping that someday, through kismet, the proper alignment of the stars, whatever, I will be ready to take such a photograph. And that’s the last reason: nobody should have to see a picture of two pigeons, one blurry, beside a bicycle on top of a dam. And they won’t have to if someone would just take away my camera.

Well by now it should be obvious to you that my illness has gotten the best of me.

But you should also know that I’m definitely coming down with a cold.

And that means I probably won’t be able to go back to take more pictures at the Waitakere Dam.

Damn.

Right?

A Midlife Crisis Holiday

The world is in flux. A revolutionary wave of anti-government protest has spread from Tunisia to Egypt, threatening to overturn the autocratic regime of Hosni Mubarak, a long-time ally of the United States. With all this going on, there are probably a million questions swirling through your mind.

Like, you must be wondering, “How was Simon’s vacation? Did he enjoy himself? Did he bring enough changes of underwear? Or any underwear? Did he maintain an appropriate level of dental hygiene or did he ‘let caution fly to the wind?'”

The answers to these questions go back to early January, as I despaired at the prospect of my impending birthday. Like a physician conducting a colorectal exam, I gaped into the geriatric abyss, and there beheld the unsavory vision of my incipient dotage.

I had to face the music. In a few days, I would turn 40. This was no laughing matter.

Jacquie observed my flagging spirits and proposed we take a trip as a momentary distraction from the disgusting march of time. Our kitchen table was covered instantly with South Pacific travel brochures. They enticed us to balmy tropical paradises. But none was suitable to my advanced state of decay, nor my special dietary requirements. The travel literature before us made few references to coral reef access ramps, no early-bird specials of which to speak. But Jacquie would not be daunted.

Jacquie suggested––after an irritating 20-minute song-and-dance review of The Sound of Music––that I was having a midlife crisis and a midlife crisis called for a road trip.

“Midlife crisis,” I said. “Pshah.”

The phrase smacked to me of man-boys stricken by mortal terror making fools of themselves with women half their age in a futile attempt to deny their burgeoning sexual irrelevance. The idea didn’t sit well with me.

But then I realized that this condition didn’t apply to me thanks to my peculiar genetic inheritance. Given my lumpy, misshapen Irish potato head and my humongous sesame-seed bagel-nose, the fact of the matter is I was never sexually relevant. Crisis averted!

“Still,” I said with a sheepish grin, “there’s one stereotype I’d like to live up to, especially if we’re taking a road trip.”

“What’s that?” Jacquie said.

“Can I blow our life-savings on a really awesome car?”

Jacquie agreed, and so the next day, I got up very early, went straight to the car dealership and recklessly purchased a 2002 Honda Civic Hatchback.

With tinted windows.

And we were on our way.

We were driven by wanderlust down the Forgotten World Highway, a 155 km stretch of mostly paved road wending through rugged pasture land and lush valleys.

We stopped for lunch in the famous-in-New Zealand town of Whangamomona, which declared itself a republic years ago (read about it here). At the Hotel, I ordered a green salad, which arrived covered in ketchup; the town’s efforts to project itself as a colorful tourist attraction had surely paid off.

“This is the best midlife crisis ever,” I said.

I liked Whangamomona. I was sad to see that the hotel was for sale, among other signs that this tiny republic was struggling through hard times. Maybe it was too remote. Maybe other tourists don’t take truck with ketchup salad. Whatever the reason, Whangamomona was getting to be a downer. We had to leave before our wanderlust turned to Weltschmerz.

We drove to the end of the highway, through the hideous town of Stratford.

Then we drove as fast as we could up to Dawson Falls on the slopes of Mt. Taranaki where Jacquie and I had booked several nights at the Dawson Falls Romantic Hotel.

 

We went on several hikes around  Mt. Taranaki. We intended to enjoy my midlife crisis in the peace and seclusion of our romantic hotel. But we were not alone.

Three British septuagenarians checked in soon after us. We could tell they were British from their baleens. There was one male and two females. The females were curious beasts that did not fear swimming and splashing with humans after finishing their plankton suppers (Which Jacquie and I thought were quite overpriced.)

The British tourists’ attempts to communicate with us, however, were hampered by their cumbersome teeth, forcing them to rely heavily on a combination of clicks, whistles and bodily gestures, as is common among the British. We enjoyed, nevertheless, a polite, if superficial conversation about our respective itineraries.

We later bid our new British friends good night. But as we repaired to our room, we could hear them talking about us in speculative tones.

“What a lovely couple,” one of the ladies said. “And I don’t care how old and decrepit they seem to be. If two consenting adults have functioning units, why shouldn’t they experience pleasurable friction on occasion?”

Needless to say, we soured on the romantic hotel and we left under cover of darkness. We had to keep moving. We had to feel the invigoration of our powerful Honda Civic thrumming under our loins. We drove. We drove hard. Toward Wellington. We didn’t speak at all and we stopped only once to visit the Taranaki Pioneer Village because Lonely Planet said it was “creepy.”

What’s creepy about that? It’s just the human life cycle, done up in mannequins. Life, death, bank loan applications, bad moustaches and wooden meat: Taranaki Pioneer Village was, I realized, an exact replica of my own life. And seeing this taught me something. It made me think how lucky I was not to have to work at the Taranaki Pioneer Village; how fortunate I was to have been born in a time when I could get into my high-performance Honda Civic and drive away from such an awful place at great speed. And as we left, I turned to look back on Pioneer Village one last time.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you for teaching me such a great lesson, you stiff, awkward, silent, life-like people.”

“No worries,” said one of the ticket-takers at the entrance. “And you come back any time.”

“Maybe I will,” I said. I pursed my lips, squinted my eyes and nodded deliberately, knowingly. “Maybe I will.”

The ticket taker smiled. A beam of light seemed to shine from her face. I turned to leave. Then I turned back a half-second later and said, “Psyche. I’m never coming back here. What are you fucking kidding me?”

Then we drove off. Me and Jacquie. We headed down south to Wellington and by the time we checked into the hotel there, the malaise of my midlife crisis had begun to lift.

We spent a lot of time in Wellington, eating in cafes and restaurants on Cuba Street, checking out the Te Papa Museum and seeing a rare Kiwi bird up close in the highly valuable Zealandia sanctuary and exhibit.

(Plenty more pictures, but I’m bored by now. Maybe another post. Stay tuned)

We saw a lot and though I was beginning to get used to being 40, I had the strangest sensation walking around Wellington that something still wasn’t right about my life.

In No Particular Order

Jacquie and I are going on a road trip. We’re bringing a GPS device. Like an iPad, its screen automatically changes orientation as you go from holding the device vertically to horizontally and back again. This way we’ll know exactly where we are as our car tumbles down the side of a cliff. So, I won’t be posting here for a while, especially if we tumble down the side of a cliff.

In the meantime…

 

 

Gardening is Fun and Easy

No matter how hard I’ve tried not to, I’ve learned a lot about New Zealand since moving here.

If not for Meat Week at the Pak 'n Save, I'd never have learned you could buy it by the liter.

Take gardening, for example. I didn’t know until recently what a popular hobby it is in New Zealand.

Everyone’s doing it. Buying shovels, coming home late at night, digging holes in dark corners and putting something I couldn’t quite make out (but looked quite bulky) in said hole.

Plus, there’s composting. I bet most Kiwis get into gardening just for the compost heaps.

Now, if you grew up in the Bronx, as I did, you’d think gardening was strictly reserved for that guy down the block with his shirt tucked into pleated suit pants pulled up to just under his man-breasts, the guy who always bragged that his was the best homemade wine in the neighborhood and he’d  let you try some if you went down into his basement.

But you’d be wrong: gardening isn’t just for creepy loners who produce consistently bold, complex Cabernet Sauvignons year after year after year despite whatever else the police might say.

Gardening is for everyone.

And as the weather in Auckland plods tepidly into summer, I find the thumbs I’ve been sitting on all year have turned green for whatever reason.

It's impossible to say what's more fun: watering plants, or popping a couple Valium and watering whatever gets in the way. (Photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia)

It was Jacquie that turned me on to “the scene.” She’d already bought a bunch of flora for the deck, including a young olive tree (pictured).

One day we were reading in the lounge.

“Do you mind if I read some of my gardening magazine out loud?” she said.

“––,” I said.

She started in on an article about mulch. After she finished, she took her watering-can (pictured) and poured it over my face to wake me up. Then she started in on the next article and when she was done with that she took her watering-can and poured it over my face. This must have gone on for two or three hours before she got to a feature that caught my interest. It was about the joys of pulling potatoes out of the earth.

“Wow,” I said.

“I know,” Jacquie said. “Have you ever watched potatoes being dug out of the ground?”

“Once, but unfortunately they had to re-buried right away.”

That’s only partly true.

There was a small courtyard behind the house I grew up in, a cobbled area for us and the neighbors to park our cars.

And there was a narrow plot of dirt back there, hemmed in by thorny roses and an apple tree that produced very sour fruit.

And once in a while, my parents tried to plant vegetables.

And one morning we got a rooster instead. We don’t know where it came from, but it mysteriously vanished a few days later, on what turned out to be what my mother called “Stuffed Capon Night.”

So as far as my experience with gardens is concerned, sometimes it was famine, sometimes it was Meat Week, but I never saw potatoes being dug out of the ground.

Well, that’s all in the past now. And if there’s anything I’ve learned recently it’s that the past is better off in the past.

If you don’t napalm your epidermis with Veet, how can you show off your sexy new top-of-the-line sea-girdle? This old newspaper ad is taped to the window of the sometimes offensive Antique Alley on Dominion Road. The ad offends me for obvious reasons. I mean, as a trichotillomaniac, why singe away your hair when you can pluck?

Another Antique Alley classic. A toby jug shaped like a man holding a toby jug. It's like an infinity mirror for dipshits.

These days, I’m all about helping around our nascent garden, in sort of a hands-off, supervisory role, with a concentration in quality control.

Watering the fern. Jacquie's one of my star waterers.

Only through trial-and-error can you determine which plants thrive on vodka martinis and which plants don't.

Spring in the South Pacific

Poetry. Nobody understands it. Even fewer bother to try. Its purpose appears to be to make the dull moments of our lives seem exciting by comparison.

People who write poetry (or “poets”) often turn their thoughts to springtime. About once a year, I’d guess.

I can’t recall any examples of spring-themed poems right now. But I’m sure there’s a poem that makes reference to at least one of the seasons.

Come to think of it, there’s a famous sonnet in which Shakespeare writes, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

If a poet said that to me, I’d be like, “What’s the catch?”

Even if Sonnet 18 doesn’t mention spring exactly, it does refer to summer quite openly. To which I say, “Close enough.”

Because––and forgive me for waxing poetic––spring is the appetizer of summer.

The cenotaph outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum is a replica of the one in London memorializing the English killed in World War I. According to the Museum's Website, the design was copied using cinema newsreels because the blueprints were too expensive. "Poet" Rudyard Kipling provided the epitaph.

Except, I really don’t like the word appetizer, especially on a menu. Isn’t the very fact of going to a restaurant proof that one already wants to eat and therefore is in no need of having their appetite stimulated? Wouldn’t it make more business-sense to offer appetizers at the end, thus enticing customers to start all over again despite having just eaten a full meal?

Here’s a multiple-choice exercise to illustrate what I’m talking about:

It’s late one Friday afternoon and you say to your significant other, “I have absolutely no desire to eat.”  Your significant other replies:

  1. That’s fine as long as it doesn’t interfere with my drinking.
  2. But without food, how are we supposed to plug-up your pie-hole?
  3. Let’s go to a restaurant. We might have to make a reservation; you know how a lot of people don’t feel like eating on a Friday night.

If you chose number 3, chances are you own a restaurant that serves appetizers at the start of a meal, and you don’t live in New Zealand. Because the restaurants in New Zealand don’t have appetizers. They only have “entrées” followed by “mains” followed by “severe cramps and diarrhea.”

So despite the effects of destructive snow storms in mid-September, we can finally welcome spring, the entrée of summer, the time of year when the beauty and innocence of nature arouses the poets in us…

An anthurium just hanging around the hot house at the Auckland Domain's Wintergarden.

Jacquie and I celebrated the arrival of spring, and our third anniversary (leather) on Sept. 29, with a trip to the Auckland Domain.

We had lunch at the Museum then took a stroll through the Wintergarden.

The giant lily pad will spread only when properly titillated.

An orchid. If you look closely, you can seen an insect going down on it.

This waxflower is characterized by a hairy calyx.

The following Sunday we went to the Auckland Botanical Gardens.

Cherries and daffodils.

The tulip, up-close and personal.

Inside lily.

We were so casual about things, we never caught the names of these trees.

Flowers

Not sure what this is either.

A new section still under construction.

Fog

Auckland’s wet, chilly winter feels interminable. Sure, the temperature rarely dips below freezing except maybe during the coldest weeks from late-June to mid-July, and yes it never snows, and of course the worst is over by August.

But you get tired of the shifting from cold, dry spells to the not-as-cold snotty, spitting precipitation, the skies only now-and-then clearing as the sun warms the air to the low- to mid-60’s only to dip back down to the 40’s by nightfall with…more rain.

Sometimes, though, a fog rolls in on a mixed front. That can be of interest. The fog was so bad last Monday, more than 50 domestic flights were cancelled or delayed.

We couldn’t see three feet in front of us, being bipeds, but we could see four feet in front of us, technically speaking, if we faced each other.

“Are you going to sit there  all day and watch soap operas ?” Jacquie said. “Or are we going to go out and enjoy the morning?”

“The first one,” I said.

“Let’s go.”

Of course, given the lack of visibility, Jacquie insisted we take a drive, take in the sights. But my head was elsewhere.

Sean pushes Nicole into the passenger seat and drives in hot pursuit of the ambulance that Russell has just carjacked with Kieran unconscious and strapped to a gurney in the back and Russell's business associate from Thailand whose name I never caught riding shotgun keeping an eye on Nicole's friend Gerald.

We drove to Cornwall Park and walked around with our cheap digital camera, Old Crappy-Cam.

Callum, Rachel, Sophie and Hunter discuss a special television news report about the police "discovering" Russell's body.

We strayed from the path and crossed the grassy fields where sheep and cows graze. Cornwall Park is home to the last functioning farm in Auckland and the inner city livestock can be a little rough. We feared for Old Crappy-Cam.

Chris eats pizza with Phoenix, Brian and Scotty at Scotty’s house. “Chicken on a pizza," says Brian. "Well, who’d have thought?” Chris watches Phoenix doodling, leading Chris to believe that Phoenix may well be Chris' son because Chris used to doodle, while Phoenix's mother, God rest her soul, never found the time.

“Run,” Jacquie said. “Don’t let those bastards take Crappy-Cam.”

Chris asks Isaac if Isaac has talked to Tania about Zoë.

We evaded our pursuers. Our feet were soaking wet and cold. We were lost in the mists of time.

Harry asks Chris if Chris and Zoë have decided when Harry and Dallas can "hang out" next.

We walked and walked and walked.

Donna tells Rueben that Donna met Joaquim in triage and Rueben tells Donna that Joaquim likes Donna and Donna tells Reuben that Donna had better introduce Joaquim to Hunter before Joaquim gets the wrong idea and Rueben leaves Donna who spikes Reuben's chocolate-chocolate protein-shake with something out of a medicine dropper.

We took pictures of an Algerian Oak, a stand of cedars and some cherry trees that had been planted in the last few years.

Kellan, Lindsay, Robert "Jelly Donut" Johnson, Theo D., Fluffy, Samantha, the twins, Moishe and Drago hide behind a lampost from Russell's business associate from Thailand. "Chicken on a pizza?" Drago says. "Well, who'd have thought?"

Gerard feels bad for Karen. Paul has trouble starting his car. Pip brings food to the escaped convict. The writer duly goes into the kitchen and gets a half-bottle of Four Roses and two glasses with ice.

The whole thing began to crater.

We found our car again. Crappy-Cam made it through without a scratch.

The End

Batting Back Blogger’s Block with Current Events

It’s been real hard coming up with decent, original material lately.

None of my current ideas lives up to the usual high standard of trivial blather that the readers of this blog have grown to expect, and which they so richly deserve.

I thought of writing about oil exploration in New Zealand, in light of the Gulf of Mexico being turned into a gigantic pot of toxic gumbo. (I can almost smell the fried sea turtles from here. Yum.)

Not to miss out on the Peak Oil beach party, New Zealand recently granted Petrobras a five-year permit to search for petroleum deposits in the Raukumara Basin off the East Coast of the North Island.

New Zealand has barrels of pristine beaches, like this one at Port Waikato.

What excited me most about this announcement was the solid assurance of Energy and Resources Minister Gerry Brownlee that nothing like the Gulf of Mexico disaster could happen here.

“I’m of the strong view,” Brownlee said, “that any of the oil companies who might be interested in pursuing their options will themselves, for the matter of their own liability, want to make sure that they are as safe as they possibly can be.”

I’m sure Brownlee is right. Look at British Petroleum, after all. Left to its own devices by a neutered regulatory agency, BP exposed the entire Gulf region of the States to untold risk rather than invest up to $7 million in preventative measures.

The company lost half its stock valuation as a result of following industry best-practices. But that seems irrelevant compared to the cost of destroyed industries, decimated ecosystems, and lost life.

Perhaps Brownlee’s assurance refers to the invisible hand of the free market and its ability to plug-up any hole with just its pinky finger. He’s right. The invisible hand of the free market is always ready to give us the finger.

BP being as safe as it possibly can be in Tairua.

But enough with stupid cheap-shots and preachy hyperbole. I’ll admit that being a long-time consumer of fossil fuels hampers my credibility as a critic.

But how did this disaster come to be known as a spill?

I doubt people that call it a “spill” have ever spilled anything in their lives.

It’s not like if you were sipping a Martini in a crowded bar and your arm got jostled and vodka and olives continued to flow for three straight months so that drink experts would be called in to suck up the mess and Congressional committees would have to cross examine bartenders and everybody who lived near the crowded bar would be drunk all the time from the vodka fumes. I mean, if that were the case, I’d seriously have to consider moving next to a bar.

I thought of writing all that, but then I thought, “What a bunch of crap. Maybe I should write about the weather instead.”

It’s now officially winter, which means it’s finally colder outdoors than it is inside my apartment. But only a little.

The cold, hard light of the Winter Solstice, June 21. The sun rose at 7:48 a.m. and set at 4:58 p.m.

See, as many of you have probably guessed by my demeanor, hygiene and grammar, I live in a cave.

We all do down here. That’s because most residences in New Zealand do not have central heating.

We get by. We put on our indoor fleeces (as opposed to our fancy, outdoor, doing-the-town fleeces) and we crank up our electric heaters to 3 and we burn architectural elements in our fireplaces.

So the temperature, I can deal with. In the cold and damp, however, there thrives a mold, the national flower of New Zealand, that aggravates my asthma.

This, unfortunately, is also a bunch of crap.

Maybe this week, I just don’t have it in me to write original material. Maybe it’s better for everyone if I just re-print material from someplace else.

Like this partial transcript of a White House Press Briefing about President Barack Obama’s reaction to Gen. Stanley McChrystal disparaging the Administration in a Rolling Stone article:

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 6/22/2010

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:52 P.M. EDT

Q    Were you with the President when he reacted in any way to this story?  And if so, how would you describe it?  Was he surprised?  Was he angry?

MR. GIBBS:  I was — I gave him the article last night.  And he was angry.

Q    How so?

MR. GIBBS:  Angry.  You would know it if you saw it.  (Laughter.)

Q    What did he do?

MR. GIBBS:  I’d rather not talk about it.

Q    Come on. Don’t tease.

MR. GIBBS: Well, I went in to show him the article. He said, “I thought I told you never  to interrupt me when Cougar Town is on.” I told him it was important. “Wait for the commercial,” he said. It was the longest five minutes of my life.

Q    Why?

MR. GIBBS: Because he was wearing his eye patch and he had a snooty looking persian cat on his lap, which he caressed menacingly. When the commercial came on, I showed him the article.

Q    And?

MR. GIBBS:  First he bit my ankle. Then he smashed me over the head with a portrait of one of the presidents. (Laughter.)

Q    Which president?

MR. GIBBS:  I don’t know. It was wrapped around my head and facing the other way. The President laughed at me. He kept saying, “Now you know how I feel when someone interrupts me watching television.” And then he said, “Oh, don’t start crying now. I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Q    How deep was the bite?

MR. GIBBS:  I needed six stitches. They gave me a tetanus shot and they injected me in the abdomen with a Rabies vaccine, just in case. (Laughter.) It was very painful.

Q    But what did the president say about the article? What were his first words?

MR. GIBBS:  The last thing I heard before I passed out was something along the lines of, “I’m going to fix myself a sandwich. You want anything?”