What to do when your spouse does something offensive

Jacquie’s mother wanted to get us something for Christmas.

So, Jacquie asked her mom for a set of towels. They decided to meet up later this week to shop for them. So far, so good.

But when she was telling me about this, I couldn’t help getting the feeling that she wanted me to come along.

Why in the hell would I want to go to the mall on a weeknight with Jacquie and my mother-in-law to shop for towels? In what parallel universe does this invitation even make sense? The one where up is down, and down is gazebo?

In fact, the proposed scenario contained several hideous elements.

Malls are a complex of awkward, sometimes social, architectural and culinary experiences, with interconnecting walkways.

I would rather go to the dentist than go to the mall. Well, on second thought, I would rather my dentist go the mall, to see his dentist, than to go to a mall. In New Zealand, sales girls are trained to manifest the thrill of purchasing a pair of socks, at the mall. It is never just their particular sales commission that they love. They are far more excited about the Anthropocene wonder that is a complex of shops representing merchandisers, with interconnecting walkways.

Is it any wonder that Dawn of the Dead is set in a mall?

But, in addition to that, what in the world would make Jacquie think I didn’t have anything better to do with my time than to go shopping with her and her mum.

“What color do you think we should get?” she asked me.

She really thought I was interested. What have I done to make her think that I gave a shit? How is it that you can live with someone for eight years, and they still just don’t get you, man.

I had to test if it were true, if Jacquie didn’t really know me, or worse, she knew me all to well, and was taking a sadistic pleasure in making such an indecent proposal.

“Were you just inviting me to go shopping with you and your mum?” I said.

“Oh, no of course not,” she said.


The suffering of not suffering

All this talk about a hurricane hitting near New York is getting a little old, don’t you think?

Destructive winds, scores of deaths, a flooded-out subway system. Alright, we get the picture. It’s a disaster. Have a biscuit. Next subject.
But no, not “next subject”. Hurricane Sandy is all anyone could talk about this week.
And that perfectly illustrates the level of depravity I’m dealing with here.
People keep asking: “Did everyone back home make it through the storm ok?”
I kept thinking: What the fuck do you care?
I kept wondering if, perhaps, they would like to send my family a parcel of Wattie’s baked beans. It would come with personal messages of hope and wishes of dryness and an urging for them to “be safe”.  Addresses would be exchanged, greeting cards posted on appropriate occasions. Perhaps a strong personal bond will form between two pen pals. One will write about indoor plumbing, and the other will write something related to New Zealand, in return.

“No they’re not ok,” I tell them. “But what’s that got to do with the storm?”

People back home are fine. School was called off and my sister’s kids spent the first day painting uni-brows and beards on one another’s faces. They wanted to look more like their grandmother. (I won’t say which one). I’m not sure what this face painting phase says about my locality in the human genome. But I do know one thing: I’m damned if I’m going to sit here and have anyone explain it to me. Some things are better left a mystery.
But back to my point. Where the people I cared most about are concerned, it wasn’t bad.
I don’t want to seem callous. The deaths that struck me hardest were the ones where people were killed by trees crashing into their houses or cars. I don’t really know if anyone can truly say one way to die is worse than another. They all seem to be rather dismal options. But this is nature-on-human violence, gruesome, not just too close to home, but in the middle of the living room. Like a large-screen television with a Werner Herzog movie playing.
There will be a huge economic impact, as well. Infrastructure repairs, preparations for what is most likely to be a developing climatic pattern. And there’s the property owners. I can’t wait to see how insurance companies will get out of it this time. The violence is over, at least with the vast majority of New York and New Jersey emerging more or less intact. That’s swell.

But it isn’t news. The suffering of New Yorkers has been duly recorded. Everybody BEEN knowing about it, as we used to say in the Bronx.

So when co-workers asked, in their thoughtless way, how my people in New York were doing, it hurt me. It really, really hurt me. What about how Simon is doing? Did you even once stop to consider what I was going through reading about what other people were going through? Do you know how hard it was for me to look at all of the MTA’s Flickr photographs of the storm’s damage to subway and commuter rail infrastructure? Do you have any idea what that’s like for me? I hate using Flickr.
I had a rough week, too, you know. I had to cancel my Internet Service Provider, Orcon, because Orcon is a piece of shit company whose name reminds me of a piece of shit cartoon from my childhood.
We didn’t have internet service for six weeks, forcing us to use a 3G stick modem purchased from Orcon’s competitor, Telecom. We arranged for a technician to look at our modem. They scheduled repair on a weekday, because as every fucking utility in the world knows, everyone is home on a weekday.
Finally, they did one good thing. They called me a week later because my issue hadn’t cleared their system and arranged for a technician to come on a Saturday. (Boring part continues below the photo)
(Continue boring part)
That’s how, after about five weeks, we got our internet and phone line back. For two days. It went dead again. I put in another service ticket. But Orcon’s policy is to give themselves a comfortable three days to respond to a service call, just in time for one of their employees to get off their bony asses. Of course, all this time without service, we’re still paying for it. Two days went by, and that was it. For $150, I canceled the service, and it will be worth every penny.
Two things may happen.
First, Orcon may surprise us with a charge in addition to what we owe according to the agent who cancelled our service. Supposedly, this is $114 for our last bill, and $150 for breaking our contract. Considering the purpose-built incompetence and opacity that make service providers such a delight, I fully expect to face an additional charge.
Second. Despite paying all bills by direct debit, our final charges will somehow enter Orcon’s system as “delinquent” and without attempting to contact us first to settle the dispute, our account will be turned over to a collection agency.  This has happened to several of my friends dealing with a variety of companies.
On top of that, I had to deal with Jacquie’s new idea for Vince, our kitten. He’s getting bigger, and a little restless inside our small flat. Jacquie wants to try putting him on a leash.
I tried to argue with her. I said, if I saw someone walking toward me with a cat on a leash, I’d think, “What a twat.” (Especially in Parnell). But Jacquie is determined to go through with it, and drag me down with her so we’ll both look like twats. And if that weren’t enough, I left my mobile phone charger at work. So anyone thinking that my people back home deserve more human kindness than me, I ask you, aren’t we the same, in the end? When someone’s a prick, do I not kvetch?
The pathetic truth is, I’m suffering from catastrophe envy. I didn’t give the hurricane much thought until my Tuesday morning.
I was too busy enjoying the best Spring we’ve had since I moved here three years ago. It’s been beeeeeeeautiful. But then I saw all the posts on Facebook, and read the articles and saw the pictures.
What was going on in New York City was difficult to get my head around. There had never been a hurricane like Sandy that I could recall in my 38 or so years in New York. When I was growing up, news casters would breathlessly sensationalize a tropical storm. Hurricane Gloria scared the schools shut, but dissipated and continued up the coast , leaving behind warm, sunny day. My friend from down the street told me we were in the eye, probably about the time Gloria had reached Massachusetts.
That’s the kind of hurricane I knew. We survived tropical storms blown out of proportion by hyperbolic media hungry for ad revenue. And goddamn it, we liked them.
This was when I realized something. New York and I had been through a lot together. There were the two blackouts, two muggings, three minor earthquakes, and a really bad acid trip during which my legs fused together and my only solace was a late-night rerun of Mr. Belvedere. There was that family of rats dying in my basement apartment. There was September 11 and a GWAR/X-Cops show. There were a dozen home-bound commutes when, after waiting on a subway platform for 20 minutes, coming off a night shift at the New York Post, a maintenance worker would say, “You know there ain’t no train coming,” as they went on with their shift.
But I could never add Hurricane Sandy to my CV.  And as self-indulgent, and tone-deaf as this will undoubtedly seem, that’s a real downer. Because as soon as the subways are running again, everyone in there will have graduated in the same class, with a shared, dramatic experience, and I will be one disaster less a New Yorker.

My sweet little atheist kitty

Apparently some early Christians might have believed that Jesus was married.

This is probably blasphemous where you come from. But if a fourth-century fragment bearing Ancient Coptic Egyptian writing turns out to be authentic, then maybe you’re the one going to hell.

Personally, I find the suggestion of a Mrs Christ romantic. Imagine the fantastic Walt Disney movie that would have come out of that storyline.

There would be a big waltz scene, Jesus’ sidekick-animals looking on. A ferret, a tarantula in nanny glasses who knows all the Proverbs by heart, and the donkey from Shrek.

Then Jesus would suddenly run off because he was late for supper with the apostles.

But he promised to call her on Saturday.

We should pause now to acknowledge my christian loved ones. I am aware that this rendition of the Jesus story will seem offensive, perhaps.

So, let me tell you one thing in my defense.

I have a kitty.

He’s a six-and-a-half month old pure-bred Maine Coon we named Vince. He’s a healthy boy, with barely a mile on the odometer.

Purrs like a kitten.

He fetches small, woolen mice. He has inserted almost everything we own in his mouth. Except for maybe the refrigerator, but not from lack of trying. His ridiculous, outsized paws are an indication, I think, of the size he will reach once he has matured. This takes longer for Maine Coons than other varieties. Which is pretty cool, as far as Vince is concerned, because he loves being a kitten.

The tragedy is that Vince will never win a cat beauty contest. This is a huge disappointment for Jacquie in particular. You moms with ugly daughters know I’m talking about. Jacquie’s dreams have been dashed. But not because of Vince. It’s because of the “people who run those high society cat shows. They have this prejudice against polydactyls.

It doesn’t matter that Vince has a sexy breeder’s designation (Mainflame Red Hustler) and a documented pedigree, they’ll never think of a six-toed cat as anything but a freak.

Fuck ’em. Doesn’t matter. Jacquie and I have been in love with Vince since we picked him up four Saturdays ago.

In fact, buying Vince was the second best pet decision we have ever made. And it really helped us get over the terrible loss of Sunny, our previous cat who we’d had euthanized the hour before.

So, anyway, back to that papyrus. Not everyone is convinced about its authenticity. Experts disagree about the text’s grammar, and the ink has yet to be scrutinized. Results of that analysis will be discussed next year in the Harvard Theological Review.

The Holy See didn’t like the sound of this. They rejected the fragment as a clumsy forgery in the editorial page of the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Of course, they don’t give a reason. They do run a companion article in which a church scholar criticizes the release of this information before it was tested. Which might be a valid criticism of professional conduct, perhaps, but really is a moot point. The papyrus is going to be tested, and then we’ll know more.

I don’t blame the church for being pissed. If I were a priest, and it turned out that Jesus was married after all, I would start to resent my career choice. Oh sure, there would always be the rosary to comfort me. But instead of the Hail Mary, I’d be saying “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

If it makes Christians feel any better, I highly doubt Jesus was married. After all, I ask you: what woman is good enough for a Jewish mother’s son? And don’t pretend Jesus wasn’t a Jew. He lived at home until he was 30 and his mother thought he was god. What else could he be but Jewish. (Well, Italian, but that’s a whole other blog post). Judging by 2,000 years of depictions of the crucifix in Western art, I’m surprised there isn’t something in the gospels about Holy Mary at the cross, calling up to her son, “You’re skin and bones.”

Oh, um. What were we saying about Vince?

I’ve been trying my hardest, but I just can’t work up a damn about Sunny’s death.

Sunny had a lot of problems. He was relatively old when rescued by the SPCA. They probably de-sexed him after he’d already developed secondary sexual characteristics. Like that vampire tweener from Let the Right One In. So it was kind of understandable that he’d be unfit for domestic life. We were Sunny’s third or fourth home when we took him in. And we tried our best with expensive medication and talk therapy to integrate him with our lives. For two years. For nothing. We were constantly under attack. We couldn’t move from room to room, or even our bed, without Sunny trying to claw or chew us to death. The final straw came three months ago when Sunny wrapped his claws around Jacquie’s head, sinking his teeth into her face and giving her deep cuts across her neck.

So coming to the end of our rope, and foreseeing a return to the SPCA as an ultimate death sentence for the poor guy anyway–and that after some indefinite solitary confinement at the rescue center–we decided to put him down. And we’ve never been happier. Which is why killing Sunny was the first best pet decision we ever made.

So what is it about the papyrus story that made me write this post?

Because it illustrates to me a fundamental error in the way people of faith deal with reality. A person of faith thinks something is true for any number of reasons. In many conversations with christians over the last year, these reasons tend to have boiled down to personal experience, miracle claims, or circular reasoning, or a combination of these. Regardless of what the reason is, it is never supported by objective measures.

This is true for extraordinary claims  of any kind, whether it’s about gods, astral traveling, ESP, the “plane of the eternal”, hydrotherapy, or anything else like what Carl Sagan writes about in The Demon Haunted World.  Christianity just happens to be closest to my heart. Many in my family are highly devout, as I was until about 20 years. They are convinced that Jesus is part of a trinity. They absolutely believe that everyone in the world deserves to be put to death, and that Jesus Christ can somehow save them. And they base this all on a compendium of books they swear is the infallible word of a presumed god. And how do they know all this? Because one day god changed their life and like the Catholic Church in the face of a married Jesus, nothing is going to change their minds. Not even if it were verified to be true. And this isn’t how people deal with reality in any other realm of their life, for the most part.

Well, by now, I doubt I have any readers, let alone Christian readers following along.

But at least I still have my cute little atheist kitty.

Oh. Oh, dear.

The first-ever Basement Life Readers poll

Do it. Do it, now.

Shifting flats

Last month Jacquie and I received terrible news. We were being evicted. This had never happened to me before. (In New Zealand). We were mortified.

Our landlord dropped the bombshell on us right out of the blue. It arrived by post, like some kind of hate-mail: with the proper amount of postage.

Recognizing the sender, Jacquie opened the apparently innocuous correspondence. She suspected this had to do with the water bill, which we split with the other renters in the building, the family upstairs.

As Jacquie read, her face darkened. She bowed her head and handed the paper to me, solemn, without suggestion of tears, for she was brave and rarely lost composure.

“Read,” she said.

Apparently, our neighbors take issue with our alternative lifestyle.

The letter divided us. Who was at fault? Which of us was more self-indulgent and pleasure-seeking than the other? Which one of us ate a can of baked beans every night for dinner when the other was working a night shift and the one who was at home didn’t know how to do anything in the kitchen but heat stuff up on the stove? Of course it was Jacquie.

We began to look for an apartment. It was bad timing. In several weeks, we were to be visiting the United States and we had already spent a lot of money at the travel agency renting donkeys to take us to the airport on the day of our flight. The money we had left over was meant to purchase a sheep which we would slaughter on board the plane so that we would have something to chew when our ears clogged up due to the pressurization process in the cabin. But now we needed that money for something more important. A place to live.

As we searched for a home, we decided to list the three things both of us wanted. Our new apartment would have to be cheap, walking distance to one of our jobs and have some architectural character, a precious commodity in these parts. Luckily, it didn’t take us long to find what we wanted.

It's the one on the bottom.

We first saw this flat advertised on the Internet. Oftentimes, realtors will post photographs that intentionally make a place look better, so Jacquie and I were pretty skeptical at first.

Later, we went to a real estate agent. Before we got a chance to tell him what wanted, he said, “I have just the place for you.”Again, we were skeptical.

But I’ll say this. Real estate agents in New Zealand are pretty sharp. They take one look at you and, bang, right off the bat they know exactly where you fit in the relative scheme of things. And wouldn’t you know it, he took us to the very same apartment we’d seen advertised on the Web. It was kismet.

We fell in love with the flat once we saw the dusty old wheelbarrow filled with week-old standing water. "Just think of all the things we can do with that dirt," Jacquie said. Already, her designer's imagination raced into overdrive. "Our late 19th century Japanese military campaign chest will sit handsomely back there next to that coil of stainless steel flexible electrical conduit." Jacquie's instincts for color, composition and texture once again elicited my admiration, to say nothing of my envy. We signed the lease that very moment.

We really didn’t want any trouble. When you’re in your 20s and you move to a new apartment, you don’t hire professionals. You get your friends to do it. You say, “Hey, come help me move and I’ll buy you pizza and beer.” There’s always one friend who knows how to do things and seems to take authentic pleasure in the logistics and management of a move, while the three to five others that tag along are really just doing it because they hope you’ll owe them one when their turn comes around. Then when everything’s shifted, you take your friends out to eat and you get them so tanked that they end up splitting the bill in the end anyway.

This method might be appropriate when you’ve just graduated from college. But after 15 to 20 years, you kind of grow out of doing things that way, mostly because by the time you hit 40 you don’t have any friends left and you’re kind of forced to hire movers anyway. This is what most people refer to as “maturity”.

Moving day is always a drag. Not only is there stuff to carry and clean, but it's easy to forget important things when you're shifting flats. That's why we decided to throw all our possessions, including rubbish from the old place, into one convenient bin. After the guys we hired to push the bin to our new house left in the ambulance, we dove right in, selected the stuff we wanted to keep, and left the rest in the bin for somebody else to take of. Who said moving has to be difficult? I'm sure eventually one of our neighbors will get so sick of the bin, they'll have to complain to the Auckland City Council because, hey, who wants to live next to garbage? Not me. If there's a petition to get the government to remove that thing, my name will be at the top.

We had to do a lot of cleaning, both at the old flat, deep in the mildew forests of Mt Eden’s sub-alpine northwestern slopes, and at the new place, the exact location of which will remain undisclosed indefinitely due to the criminal element that makes up the majority of my readership.

In any case, cleaning both apartments sent latent particles into the air that triggered my allergies. I sneezed for three days straight.

The people at work wondered if this were finally the grounds for my dismissal they’d been praying for since I was hired. Their attitude toward me evoked the memory of one of my first jobs. I was a gallery assistant in a mediocre decorative painting space. We had an important exhibition. When the exhibition closed and those paintings that weren’t sold were sent back to the artist, it was my job to wrap everything in bubble wrap. Including the paintings, as I discovered later when my boss came in to check on my progress. I was able to secure bubble wrap around one painting, but my enthusiasm had gotten the best of me and I managed to wrap several other things with the painting underneath the bubble wrap, including a stapler, a telephone and half a burrito I couldn’t finish at lunch. My boss stood in silent horror looking at the work I had done so far.

“What are you, retarded?” she said.

Needless to say, I was flummoxed by her insult. On the one hand, there was no doubt that when it came to bubble wrapping things, I was indeed “retarded”. But from a strictly clinical perspective, her point was quite open to debate.

However, so taken by surprise was I that I let the matter drop, and continued to bubble wrap the gallery owner.

The point is that Jacquie and I performed what seemed like the labors of Hercules until our new flat was in order.


Our lounge.


We were able to relax finally. I could watch movies again. There was one video I rented called  One Day in September a riveting documentary about the 1972 Munich Olympics. My brother in law told me it would be “grim”. But I didn’t know how grim until I watched it for myself. What a terrible, evil tragedy. I mean, the USSR beating the USA at basketball? A national disaster.


Archway to the breakfast nook.

The view I see every day, just before I rifle through Jacquie's dresser drawers.

It’s Sunday morning early, 12:15, as I write this. Later today I will fly from Auckland to Los Angeles for a conference. Then next Sunday I will head to NYC. I hope to post another blog while I’m on the road. Aren’t you excited.