The Sportsman

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.

Advertisements

Antipodian Superbowl commercial super-wrapup

Every year about this time, trillions of Americans, and other sorts, gather to watch the Superbowl.

For those of you that haven’t heard, the Superbowl is a gargantuan sporting event, considered by some to be the Superbowl of American football.

In fact, it’s probably the premiere sporting event of the year in the US. If you’ve never watched it, to get an idea of what this year’s spectacle was like, imagine a giant plastic bag the size of Australia seeping testosterone, and you’ve got a pretty good idea. And that’s just counting Madonna’s half-time show.

Because this battle of brains and brawn to determine the best football team of the year attracts such a huge audience, advertisers pay a lot of money to get their products seen. They put their most creative of their many feet forward to capture the imaginations, and the inexhaustible credit debt, of the average consumer watching the game on TV. So, you get to see a lot of humorous, edgy and memorable spots when you watch the Superbowl.

The only problem from an antipodean perspective is that because the cost of renting a 30-second slot equals the gross national product of New Zealand, no Southern Hemispherean company will ever get the chance to reach the American market, as it should.

So to rectify this injustice, I’ve decided to put forward my vote for best antipodean TV commercial that should have been featured during the Superbowl.

My first prize goes to Herbal Ignite.

Apologies for the bad sound. Honestly, it’s not too far off from the actual sound. But if you can’t sit through the whole thing, be sure to watch the bit starting at 15 seconds. You’ll see why I’m a true believer. At $2 a day for a better sex life, it’s like they’re paying me. But don’t take my word for it. Take it from a guy tooling around his car in the car port.

And the runner up is Sir George Seymour National College of Airline, Travel and Tourism

I’ve always wanted a career wherein I would have to compete with websites and apps. Call today!

There was a second runner up, but I can’t find it on the web and I erased the crappy image I recorded off the tv. It features a bunch of half naked women with eyes above their bikini clad cleavage and on their mid-riffs. I have no idea what they were advertising, but what difference does that make when you can look at cleavage?

Oh,wait. Thanks to my friend, Vera Alves of supergeneric girl, here is the second runner up for the Superbowl TV ad…

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.

Enjoying the Auckland Waterfront

New Zealand will host the Rugby World Cup in 2011.

I know, I know. I’m just as excited as you are.

Especially because this means that Rand McNally has finally agreed to include New Zealand in all its future world atlases.

And also because Auckland stands to gain a “party central” venue, a place where rugby fans from every nation can beat the shit out of one another in the name of friendly competition and excessive inebriation.

“Party central” was originally slated for Queens Wharf.

The plan was scrapped after some people opposed the razing of two old cargo sheds––having some historical value––to make room for the venue.

The bustle of Queens Wharf on a sunny weekend afternoon; there's nothing quite like it. Or it's quite like nothing. I get confused sometimes. Shed 10 (left) was erected in 1914 while Shed 11 was erected in 1911 while Shed 10 likely will remain erect beyond 2011, while Shed 11 is to be shed after 2010.

I was curious about the sheds. I left the house on Sunday to check out the waterfront and see what the controversy was about.

But the biggest jerk in the world, my neighbor Dabney Von Troll was blocking my path.

“Do you have a minute?” he said.

“Oh, uh, I was just on my way to, um, to have something removed…to have my….self removed…from here.”

“I promise to make this quick.”

“Ugh. OK. If you have to.”

“I had to go to hospital the other day. I was having terrible chest pains.”

“Is this story going to take much longer?”

“At first the doctor thought it was a heart attack. But as it turned out I was going into labor.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know. With a gas baby. I had no idea I was even pregnant with a gas baby. But there I was in my gown, worried about my heart, when all of a sudden I start going into labor.  The proctologist came to see me and confirmed that I was dilated: I was definitely ready to fart. Just then, I let rip a big one and out came my beautiful gas baby. Good thing I was already in the hospital, otherwise I might have had my gas baby in an elevator or on a bus or something. Well, it wasn’t an ideal gas baby birth. I prefer to have my gas babies in a heated swimming pool or a warm bath. It’s much less strenuous that way and it eases the gas baby’s transition into the world by recreating the conditions the gas baby enjoyed while inside me. Well, anyway, it was a quick labor in the end, so to speak. I had triplets. They’re resting comfortably inside. You want to meet them?”

“No.”

“Good. Now you  know exactly how I feel every time you and your wife blow a fart.”

“Excuse me?”

“Look, man. Let me make this clear. The walls between our flats are very thin and very porous and every time you and your wife pass gas, not only can my family hear the disgusting sounds you make, but the smell drifts through the walls. Until you came along, I had no idea that ‘flat’ was short for ‘flatulence.’ So do me a favor, buddy. If you have gas, blow it out your ass. Someplace else. Or you’ll be sorry.”

“Uh…ok,” I said.

“Great,” Dabney said, smiling.  “She’ll stop by tomorrow. Thanks.”

He dashed into his house and closed the door behind him.

I realized then that the preceding dialog was not actually what had transpired between us but what I had WISHED had transpired between us and that I had completely blanked out what Dabney REALLY had said. All I knew for certain was that a girl or a woman was going to stop by my flat on Monday for reasons that were completely lost to me.

I walked down to the waterfront in a confused state, wondering what I’d gotten myself into.

Auckland's Central Business District as seen from Queens Wharf in a photograph that is almost identical to the one posted above.

"Enjoy your waterfront walkway." Normally, I would enjoy such an inviting landscape. But Dabney Von Troll's cryptic request continued to trouble me.

The Axis Bledisloe Container Terminal as seen from Quay Street.

"Attention Chilled Meat." New Zealand in 2009 exported $5.6 billion worth of beef, veal, lamb, mutton, venison and "other meat." It exported more "other meat" than it did venison. Very few people know what "other meat" is. They only know that it's delicious.

The Rainbow Warrior Memorial, beautifully situated in front of the Axis Bledisloe Container Terminal. Saturday, July 10th was the 25th anniversary of the sinking of the ship by French government agents at an adjoining wharf.

The mural.

Two Noell Straddle Carriers parked side-by-side. Sweet ride.

I’d been walking for hours. What had I agreed to do for Dabney? Had I committed myself to walking up and down the stairs with his wife, Daphne, in her daily Happy Troll Exercise Hour routine? Had I obliged myself to a recital of the young Polly-Anastasia Von Troll gargling, or whatever it was she did in the morning before heading off to study music at school, without the benefit of earplugs? The possibilities were gruesome.

I left the waterfront and walked past the old Auckland Railway Station.

This station served as a set for the 1983 movie Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence starring David Bowie.

I went inside. It cheered me up.

Inside the lobby. The station has been converted into residential housing, mostly for students attending the University of Auckland, which owns the property.

Standing in the old station was the next best thing to being shrunken down to 1:87 scale and placed in my idea of the perfect world (and yours), a world where the trains always run on time and everyone is made of plastic. A world where nobody ever heard of the Von Troll family. A world called Miniatur Wunderland. (Check out their official video here.)

The internal facade.

Then I left, ready to face whatever it was the Von Trolls had in store for me.

There's no "wrong side of the tracks" in Auckland.

A stranger knocked on the door the next day. She was about the same age as Polly-Anastasia. She explained to me that Dabney had said I’d be willing to give a donation.

“What a relief,” I said. “I thought the Von Trolls were going to make me do something heinous, like listen to them sing. Anyway, you don’t care about all that. You just want to get this over with don’t you? You’re a sweetheart. God bless, God bless. Now, what is this donation for again?”

“It’s for UNICEF, the international children’s charity.”

“Oh, no. I’m sorry. No. No way.”

“But, why not? Mr. Von Troll said you would.”

“Yeah, but that’s before I knew what it was. Sorry. No, uh. I have to, uh, go now. It’s kind of an emergency, I have to, um, have my…self…removed…from…you know.”

“But why wouldn’t you give to UNICEF?”

“Why?” I said. “Are you kidding? U-NI-CEF. LU-CI-FER. Get it? Do I have to draw you a picture?”