The Outdoorsman

Three Tramps in Mud Time

The New Zealand government long ago recognized the potential for boredom in this, the Levittown of the South Pacific.

Consequently, it invented many novel holidays in the hope of making it seem as if there was a lot to do here and plenty of good reasons to do it.

Last Monday, for example, we celebrated the Queen’s Birthday. Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday? A holiday? Give me a break. Why should we get the day off just because some random horse-toothed transvestite turns 84?

New Zealanders don’t seem to mind. In fact, Kiwi workers are happy to be entitled to four weeks of paid vacation and paid holidays every fricking year.

That’s what you would expect from a commie-type situation like we got down here. Back in the world’s scariest democracy, most workers would be grateful for 20 minutes annual toilet-leave. Which is exactly how it should be. As Jesus always used to say, “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong part of town.”

I have to admit, returning to the subject at hand, that it’s not really boring here. There’s plenty to do in New Zealand. Three things, to be precise. You can go for a walk and I forget the other two.

That’s what Jacquie and I wanted to do at the end of May. Forget. We went to Tairua. It had been a week since our last holiday. We were burned-out, exhausted from so much looking forward to our next holiday. It stayed sunny in Tairua long enough for us to unload the car. Then it rained for two days.

Heavy downpours caused the stream behind our bach to inundate the flood plain where cows sometimes graze. Not this time, but sometimes.

The water took five or six hours to drain into the Pacific overnight. No cows were injured in the incident.

We feared we might have to spend the entire week stuck inside, talking to each other. Maybe that’s the punishment we deserved for our hubris, for not expecting foul weather. After all, late autumn in the central north island tends to be rainy and chilly. Then we heard that the stream only breaks its banks once a year and we counted ourselves lucky to have picked the right week for this patently exciting event. Perhaps as a bonus we would also contract Dysentery.

But things returned to normal by the third morning. The weather turned warm and fine.

There's got to be a morning after/as long as there was a night before/All our holidays have been disasters/with a fitting movie score. (From The Poseidon Adventure theme.)

Thank goodness the flood spared our bach.

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky by noon and we could clearly see the distant mountains.

“It’s exactly like being in New York City,” I said.

“How do you mean?” Jacquie said.

“Look at those mountains and close your eyes.”

“Ok.”

“Now imagine that instead of mountains, there are buildings, and instead of lush vegetation, there are people.”

“Ok.”

“Now also imagine that you aren’t bored. You see? It’s just like being in New York City.”

The sun was busy warming the land. We could go on some hikes after all, further conversation averted! The only bummer was that the tracks would be muddy and we didn’t want to get our hiking shoes all mucked up. So instead of hiking we decided to take a tour of typical New Zealand baches around Tairua.

This bach belongs to NZ's eleventh wealthiest man. Locals say he's a refrigerator magnate.

This bach sits on 2,000 square meters of protected bush. A chastity belt marks its boundaries.

This is a tree house.

The next day we visited Broken Hills, a public park and the site of gold mines long defunct.

The day after that, we went to  Cathedral Cove.

The awesome Cathedral Cove. The nearby beach was covered in dried-out British tourists who would soon return to sea, carried out on the next tide.

Along the beach at Cathedral Cove. (Photo by Jacquie Matthews)

Cathedral Cove returned to its pristine state once the tide had swept away the last of the desiccated whinging poms. (Photo by Jacquie Matthews.)

A local entertainer used his hands and reflected sunlight to dazzle us with a free shadow puppet show. Here his intricate fingers create the illusion of a tree's silhouette. (Photo by Jacquie Matthews)

On the way back to the car from Cathedral Cove, we came across the remnants of an ancient Smurf Village.

If this is Amanita Muscaria, we're in trouble.

“Jacquie,” I said. “Look at that mushroom.”

“It’s beautiful.”

“Whatever you do, don’t eat it. It could be poisonous.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

"Deeee-lish."

Seven minutes later…

"Are you feeling ok, honey?"

"Are you feeling. Ok, honey?"

"For your information, if you think you smell cow manure, it's probably just your upper lip. Just saying."

Seven hours later…

"That was incredibly dull."

And so our “adventure” came to a close. But the everlasting search for excitement continued. When we returned to Auckland we drove straight to the SPCA and adopted a cat.

His name is Sunny. He’s about one year old. That’s all for now. Later.

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The Brick Bay Sculpture Trail

Jacquie and I took a day trip recently with some cool friends. We left Auckland and headed for a vineyard about an hour’s drive north. Two hours if the driver is Jacquie.

Our destination was the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail at the Brick Bay Vineyard. “Art and wine entwined.”

For real. The five of us started on the trail. There was art everywhere. We couldn’t spit without hitting a piece of art. Believe me. We tried. But every time we saw a piece of art, we were compelled to spit on it.

The work we saw ranged from clunky to articulate to provocative to sublime. Exactly like me over the course of three hours at a bar.

I liked the spirit of Aika Root’s heliotropic Discs and Judy Darragh and Rachel Shearer’s eerie sound-installation, Girls in Trees. I also liked Neil Dawson’s Whare (pronounced Fa-ray with a soft r: the Maori word for “house”).

I also took pictures of a couple pieces I liked but, for whatever reason, didn’t get the name of the artist.

One of Dane Mitchell's Commemorative Plaques. This one is in commemoration of maligned intent.

Entrance to the vineyard and sculpture trail. You can get sloshed and then go look at art. Unfortunately, we looked at the art first.

Note to my regular readers (or “Dear mom”): Basement Life will be taking the next week off. Not that Basement Life hasn’t taken time off before without notice, but I’m trying to get more “regular.” See you after next Sunday.

The Parking Space Imbroglio

A film crew came to our street last Friday to shoot on location.

I don’t know if it was for a television series or a movie, but whatever it was, they had to go and make a big production out of it.

There were trucks and equipment and assistants with important-looking cappuccinos strewn all over the place.

Idly watching the cast and crew at work got me all choked up with tears of schadenfreude. These folks were were real friendly, too. One of the actors let me pet him.

But best of all was the craft services table. The food was to die for, at least judging by the slightly-used bagel I found on the sidewalk after everyone was gone. Just imagine. I ate––and later pooped––something that once belonged to someone tentatively associated with the entertainment industry in New Zealand! A good day was had by all.

Where the stars are borne, and the stuff of stars is born, on a regular basis.

But to tell the truth, Jacquie and I were relieved to see the crew pack up and go. We don’t take truck with theater people. The idea of those types lurking about the neighborhood after dark made us glad to live in a modern, paranoid society.

So imagine our disgust when we came home Sunday evening from one of our tedious hikes in the woods only to find all the parking spaces on our street taken up by traffic cones.

It was obvious the film crew intended to return Monday morning to do more of its dirt.

We didn’t know how to react at first.

But then I remembered that I come from the scariest democracy in the world.

And then I thought to myself: my great great great grandfather––Admiral Buck “The Nucular F**k” Eskow––did not die face-down in his down comforter just so that some punk foreigner could come and take away my God-given right to a parking space directly in front of my rented house in New Zealand.

So I got off my ass for once, got out of my car and marched right over to the cones whilst playing Yankee Doodle on my fife, because some principles are worth making an ass of yourself for.

“Please don’t go near the cones,” a voice said. “Thanks, mate.”

I turned around. That was when I first saw him: the Overnight Location Guard, the lowliest of the lowly assistants to the Second Assistant Location Manager. His job was to stay up all night drinking Mountain Dew to make sure nobody parked where the crew would be filming the next day.

Like the cicada, the Overnight Location Guard appears for a limited time and purpose. After gestating underground for 17 years, the fully mature Overnight Location Guard emerges for two weeks of courtship, mating, laying eggs and dying, all while telling people they can’t park in front of their own house. But that’s just how the circle of life works.

The circle of life. The clockwise or counterclockwise drainage of the circle of life is not determined so much by the coriolis effect as it is by whether or not you've been having a shitty time.

I moved one of the cones.

“Hey, I said you can’t park there,” Overnight Location Guard said.

“Look man,” I said. “I didn’t sit through Saving Private Ryan just so you can tell me what to do.”

This confrontation was shaping up to be a regular David-versus-Goliath story. Only the Goliath here was more like another David, because the Overnight Location Guard didn’t have any power of his own. Let’s face it, neither did I. So our standoff was really shaping up to be one of those classic David-versus-a-guy-evenly-matched-with-David-and-oh-what-a-coincidence-that-guy’s-name-is-David-Too stories that you hear so much about.

I decided to take a new tack. I learned a long time ago that when life gives you lemons, complain as much as possible in as loud and whiny a voice as you can muster.

“But where am I supposed to paaaark my caaaaaar?” I said. “You have all the parking spots on the streeeet blocked off already.”

Just then, I found a space two doors down from my house.

But I wasn’t going to let this major inconvenience pass without a fight. The universe may not be fair, and it may be cruel but damn it, the universe is not going to be unfair and cruel to me.

But what could I do that was more effective than whining? I had to take real action. This production needed to be destroyed once and for all…from the inside. And to do that, I had to go undercover and join the cast as an extra.

Last night's closing credits.

The next day I woke up early and made an appointment with a casting company.

The Waitakere Agency, or TWA, as it calls itself, specializes in casting extras.

But more importantly, TWA teaches combat training, which was exactly what I needed for whenever I finally infiltrated the Overnight Location Guard’s team and terminated his command, allowing anyone to park anywhere they wanted and thus ruining the entire production.

The agency’s headquarters are located about 6 klicks west of downtown Auckland. I plotted my route and prepared for the drive over. To demonstrate my eagerness to enter combat training, I decided to wear a headband like the one that actor Rambo wore in his movie Rambo and also to camouflage my face in case I needed to blend in if there were any ferns or ficus plants in the TWA office.

I could not find camo makeup in Jacquie’s cosmetics bag. However, I did come across a nice Intensive Lifting Eye Cream I used to offset the aging effect of my crow’s feet.

Next, I applied just enough Stila Convertible Color to subtly add height and definition to my cheek bones without being obvious about it.

Then I put on some Daring Rose Color Fever by Lancome to give my lips a classic 1940s movie star richness, for maximum kissability and texture.

Oh, also, I couldn’t find anything like Rambo’s bandana in Jacquie’s drawers but there was this beautiful turquoise pashmina that I just couldn’t resist throwing on as I ran out the door.

TWA headquarters: guaranteed to be the closest shave you've ever had from a disposable razor or your money back.

There were two people at the agency. To make a long story short, they loved me. Oh, they just ate me up. I mean, they told me that one day I could be as famous an extra as Malcolm Flannelwitz or even Zoe Smith-Mackerel. I was like, “Where do I sign?” But, as it turned out, I couldn’t work for them because I never got my Internal Revenue Department number and so my plan was ruined and by the time I got home, the crew was packing up, having finished shooting in our corner of the world. If only my papers had been in order, this never would have happened.

On Holiday

Jacquie came home from a 12-hour shift one day, completely fatigued.

“Man, I’m knackered,” she said. “I could sure use a holiday.”

“I know what you mean,” I said. “Updating a blog every six weeks makes you forget how important it is to stop and smell the roses once in a while.”

We decided then to take up Jacquie’s sister and brother in-law’s offer to let us stay at their holiday home, or “bach.” The word is pronounced “batch” and comes from “bachelor’s pad” because a bach is typically small and modest, just like a bachelor. Indeed, a bach can be nothing more than a mobile home with a deck built around it, but as with houses in general, baches can range from ramshackle lean-to to palatial extravagance. A lot of New Zealanders, in any event, grow up aspiring to one day own a lean-to.

Nothing says "holiday" quite the way a bach does. This one in Tairua would have a great view of the Pacific Ocean if its windows weren't made of plywood.

My in-laws’ bach is in a town called Tairua (a Maori word meaning “two tides”) on the Coromandel Peninsula, a two hour drive from Auckland. Any trip longer than 30 minutes is a challenge to our car, to say nothing of my attention span.

I took the car to be inspected by the Automobile Association, similar to AAA in the States, but with its own chain of full-service garages. I parked in a corner of the lot not in direct view of the main office and I went inside. The cashier/manager recited the list of things the mechanics would do to the car.

“We will check the oil and then add as much oil as it needs,” she said. “Afterwards, we can turn the engine over for five minutes to prevent sedimentation for an extra $12.”

I thought, “Won’t I turn over the engine as soon as they finish anyway? What nerve. Any reason to squeeze extra money from you.”

“That sounds great,” I said.

I went for a coffee but then I realized that I hadn’t told the manager where I’d parked the car. I had visions of her trying to contact me to no avail because I hadn’t left her my cell phone number. I went back to the office to make sure she knew where I’d parked.

“We know where your car is,” the manager said.

I thought, “How condescending and rude.”

“Thank you,” I said.

New Zealand is famous for its breathtaking landscape.

As it turned out, our car failed its semi-annual Warrant of Fitness inspection. It needed a whole new brake system. But Jacquie and I didn’t think we would use brakes on our drive so we decided not to get them fixed ever. With due-diligence out of the way, it was time to go home, pack up and say goodbye to our house.

Wait, that's not our house.

We drove down on the Monday after Easter, against the holiday crowd. In New Zealand, Easter is the final adieu to summer, sort of like Labor Day weekend in the US. Many businesses close from Good Friday to the following Tuesday. Some shops take advantage of this temporary monopoly by adding a surcharge to their prices. Jacquie drove and I sat in the passenger side and drove too. Chester came with us.  Here are some photo highlight of our four days away.

Chester enjoyed the trip.

Tairua as seen from the nearby Paku Mountain.

Lynch Stream near Whenuakite (Wh in Maori words is pronounced like Ph in English). We had to traverse this stream several times as it meandered across our path.

Cathedral Cove is a secluded but popular destination. There were a lot of British people sunbathing here, forcing us to squint.

A sunset.

A sunset, five minutes later.

Part of my in-laws' kitchen and lounge.

At night, we drank wine, watched television and played Scrabble.

They Write About Shooting Horses, Don’t They?

Have you ever sat in your windowless office, suburban tract home or hobo encampment thinking, “Gee, I sure would like to write a fictional account of a horse. But, I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

Well now you can know where to begin thanks to the people who’ve thought of everything: wikiHow. Just use their easy-to-follow instructions, and you’ll be chomping at the bit just to get started on your very own fictional account of a horse or horses.

Here are highlights from wikiHow’s 11-step guide (thanks to my Facebook friend Diyan for drawing my attention to it in the first place). I’ve put in bold the advice that I will follow or at least keep in mind whenever I get around to writing my own fictional account of a horse:

  • Learn about horses…If you can, spend some time observing real horses and interacting with them. If you can’t get to a place with live horses, watch videos with horses to get a sense of how they move and behave
  • (A horse’s name) can say something about the horse’s character. For example, a horse named “Flame” might be wild and rebellious, maybe a stallion, and likely bay or chestnut colored….Try to have horses in your story with a variety of different personalities. No one wants to read about a bunch of horses who all act the same.
  • While humans are not always essential in a story about horses, they are frequently present. They should be just as fully developed as characters as the horses are….
  • Do some prewriting…List the characters, both horse and human, as well as the setting, and some specific details about them. For example: Hudson (horse): Clydesdale, bay, old, smart
. Danielle (girl): 14 years old, blond hair, owner of HudsonYou may also want to draw pictures to help you visualize the story.
  • …Some possible conflicts include:
 An orphaned foal struggles to survive in the wild; A band of wild horses are brought to live on a farm; A horse is purchased by a cruel owner; An old horse and a young rider must learn to work together; A group of people acquire a wild horse and try to tame it.
  • events should relate to the main conflict in your story. For example, if we have a story about wild horses coming to live on a farm, some events that could happen are:
 A headstrong mare gets loose and runs away. The foals like the humans, but worry about losing the respect of the lead stallion. The humans try to ride one of the horses for the first time. One of the horses is ill and the humans must nurse him back to health.
  • Write a rough draft…this is not the final copy. Don’t worry about spelling and punctuation yet.
  • Edit the rough draft with a pen or pencil
  • Complete the final copy. You may wish to type it, or you can simply write the story on paper.

A Walk in the Park

Picnickers frolic beneath the deadly sun in Auckland's beautiful Western Springs Park, one of nearly 500 places in the city where anyone can spend a day outdoors, beneath the hole in the ozone layer.

Auckland is far more verdant than my old home. If I were to assign north Brooklyn a single particular color, it would have to be “WD-40.” Although I loved many aspects of my neighborhood there, Greenpoint didn’t deserve its name (although WD-40-point, while more accurate, wouldn’t roll off the tongue quite as well) since in the entire area there couldn’t have been more than eight trees, and those were all being converted into luxury condominiums.

Not so Auckland where there is no luxury and where its citizens are positively up to their arses in chlorophyl. This metropolis is lousy with swards, copses, fens, strands, arbors and meadows, to say nothing of its tree-lined streets.

Rush hour on Queen Street, Auckland's main thoroughfare.

This new lush setting inspired Jacquie to make me make a new year’s resolution to visit every publicly owned parcel around. Boy, did we have our work cut out for us. Our sources had it that there are 481 green spaces within the city limits. That’s one park visit for every day of the year. We had a lot of speed-walking ahead of us.

Incidentally, larger green spaces in Auckland have the word domain or park in their official names, but the difference between these designations is obscure to me. Perhaps there is none, but for whatever reason, modern Auckland has 16 Domains, 88 Parks and 337 sites called Reserves, smaller areas set aside for dog-runs, bowling lawns and potted-plants.

We decided to begin our new year’s resolution with a trip to Western Springs Park, home to the Auckland Zoo and the Museum of Transport and Technology (or MOTAT) an institution devoted to the preservation of ancient farm equipment and tetanus.

Western Springs offers lakeside strolls and shady paths under native pine trees and thrilling views of endangered animals and humans assailing one another in their timeless struggle over packed lunches. Jacquie and I saw plenty of stuff there that I’d never seen before, which New Zealanders seem to take for granted.

A pensive dinosaur (Porphyrio porphyrio melanotus).

It was a warm bright day and the sun shone down on us like a hole in the ozone layer gently tinkering with our melanin.

“God, I wish we could spend our entire lives indoors,” I said.

“Bed-ridden people are so lucky,” Jacquie said.

We decided to continue our walk through the pines. Being a New Yorker, I reflexively grew wary of criminal activity. The shadow underneath the trees seemed to swallow our path in darkness, a common tactic for muggers. Sure enough, a man suddenly appeared before us, strolling aggressively in our direction. The mugger wore a shabby sweat jacket with shorts and sandals. He had long, greasy hair and it was obvious that he hadn’t shaved his legs in a very long time.

“Let’s turn back,” I said.

“It’s too late,” she said. “He’s spotted us. Be polite.”

We presented our purses for our mugger to inspect, but he didn’t seem to notice them.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” we said.

“Enjoy,” he said. “Enjoy.” He continued on his way.

After that close call, we weren’t going to take any more chances. We decided that we would scream for help every few minutes just in case. And if anybody else did approach us, we were supposed to run away in separate directions so that at least one of us could get on with our lives, which I truly hoped would be me. Secretly, I  planned to kick Jacquie in the shin to gain the advantage and I mentally prepared myself for this eventuality.

As it turned out, we didn’t see anyone else on the pine walk, but we did have an experience that changed our lives for 37 minutes. As we moved farther into the bush, we started to take pictures. That’s when I heard a cat meowing.

The Pines Photo. Jacquie, still visibly shaken from our run-in with a mugger, ignores the pleading of a stranded cat (upper left).

The Pines Photo, enlarged.

“Do you hear that?” I said.

“What?”

It then occurred to me that the meowing might be the ruse of another mugger to lure us off the path. I screamed for help, kicked Jacquie in the shin and ran away and, 3o meters down the path, just as I was starting to heal from my trauma, ready to move on with my life as a widower, I heard Jacquie calling my name.

“It’s not a mugger,” she said. That’s when I saw it, stranded high up in a pine, 15 meters off the ground and meowing its little head off. There, clinging to its perch for dear life, was a blurry cat.

We didn’t know what to do. It was too high up for us to reach and there weren’t any loose branches long enough to reach the poor fellow.

That’s when I decided to call 911 (1-1-1 in New Zealand). Nobody picked up. So then we called the SPCA. The woman on the other end told us that they usually wait 24 hours to respond to such a call, just to be sure that the cat is sincere about wanting to come down from the tree.

“What about the zoo?” I said. “Would they help? I mean, zoos love animals.”

“Yeah, sure,” the SPCA woman said. “Whatever.”

So we marched to the zoo and reported the stranded cat. Several people had already reported it, as it turned out.

“You’re not the first good citizens we’ve had today,” the zookeeper said. “What happened was that cat was chased by another cat up the tree. It happens all the time. People often drive here, dump their cats and speed off. Anyway, we called the fire department and they should take care of it when they get a chance.”

Jacquie and I were so relieved to hear that somebody else was taking care of this problem that we forgot about our mugging and went straight home to spend the rest of the day indoors, with the curtains drawn, watching videos.