Work/Career

Plugging away in the swamps of unemployment

I’m procrastinating on a script-writing project right now. Not without just cause.

Creative writing like this requires imagination, focus and the gumption to get things done, well, no matter how many hours of the day it takes to make deadline.

Which is frankly way beyond my capacity.

I’d be lucky if I had enough attention span to—found left-over cookie crumbs stuck to my jumper. Win.

Parnell Sky series, #1

It’s not entirely due to a deficiency of skills that I’m avoiding work. I’ve got skills. Mad skills. And one or two actual skills.

Well one. As CareersNZ points out, one skill is being an influencer. I can influence all humanity in one sentence. It is my will and my command (and strongest possible recommendation) that everybody in the world from now on should do exactly what they were going to do anyway.

So, I’ve got influencer in my toolkit. Unfortunately, I also have in my toolkit a reluctance to do anything that seems like work. That tops the SKILLS IN TOOLKIT list on my CV, followed by indolence, sloth, birth-related brain damage (ie, I’m stupid), trichotillomania, one pair of skinny jeans that haven’t fit since 1998 but that I still wear out to networking events because I’m hip, rickets, Lotus Notes, and lastly, influencer.

But mostly it’s a reluctance to do anything that seems like work that attracts people’s attention.

Which is exactly how I got into this procrastination mess to begin with, and for which I blame Josh Borthwick and Ush de la Croix over at Wolf Productions.

Parnell sky series #2

I met Ush and Josh right after I was “made redundant”. They stopped to listen to me busking my little heart out on Queen Street. Incidentally, it seems I didn’t actually know most of the lyrics to Hey, Jude after all. And my guitar only has two, three strings, tops. You’d be surprised how much you can make for minor technical difficulties with enthusiastic humming.

Anyway, Josh and Ush stayed through the song. They recognized immediately that I didn’t want to do anything that resembled work, which is exactly the kind of person they were looking for.

So, instead of putting coins in my guitar case (cheap bastards), they asked me to join them as a writer for a new webseries they’ve conceived.

Granted, this “writer” title is largely honorary, considering that most of the scripts have been outsourced to a factory in Bangladesh. But when I’m not posed on all-fours so they can put up their legs on me like an ottoman, they’ve also tasked me with writing three webisodes. And if they don’t like my scripts, they transfer me to Bangladesh.

Parnell sky series, #3

It’s a great opportunity, and I thank Wolf Productions for giving me a shot, right when I just so happen to be launching a comedy writing career.  I’m enjoying the collaboration with Josh and Ush, and fellow writer, Andrew Thompson.

But that doesn’t mean I have to do any work.

Not this minute. Not right away. Because Josh and Ush and Andrew are not the boss of me. Jacquie is. And she only just found out that I’m trying to write comedy for a living. Until recently, Jacquie thought I was a nude model at a drawing salon in late 19th century Paris. Which is, I admit, what I’d been leading her to believe all along.

If these people think I can just flick a switch and instantly go from human ottoman to a human ottoman that also writes scripts, they must be kidding themselves. This is a process that’s going to take a couple of days.

In the first place, my back and knees are still sore. And secondly, it’s hard being a creative anything: writer, artist, magician, concentration camp commandant, or even a dentist. If you’re going to do something, you have to do it excellently. And in order to do something excellently, you have to put it off until the last minute, and do something else while you wait.

Especially something like this blog, which doesn’t have to be anywhere near good, in keeping with the caliber of the average visitor.

I’m just saying I need some me time. Time to sort out all my funny ideas, and separate them from the horrible PTSD flashbacks of my childhood, which can be tiresome.

Even if that means doing my homework on a napkin while driving my car over to the next Wolf Productions staff meeting. Hey, that method got me through high school chemistry, coasting on a solid C-.

[[third draft. with edits thanks to Vera Alves, and fixed bad sentence. And apologies. I stink]]

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Conversations with comedians

A question I’ve been wrestling with is if I need to develop a standup routine ancillary to the pursuit of a comedy writing career.

The thought of going on stage makes me want to vomit. I just picture myself getting called up, hopping up on stage and vomiting.

Sure, vomiting is funny, and not many comedians are making a career of it right now, so I would be unique. But I don’t think I could ever come up with enough vomit for an entire five-minute set, let alone a 20-minute act in front of a festival crowd.

A kitty!

Ooooh, a kitty!

Nevertheless, the argument for developing a standup act is compelling. I can’t rely strictly on comedy writing to make ends meet. It’s a small country. And considering the fact that my writing is mostly a tedious litany of things I hate about people, and my arguments in favor of a global thermonuclear war, the audience for my writing will be quite narrow.

So, thinking about ways to supplement my career, I investigating the Auckland standup scene.

Auckland isn’t exactly bursting through the sphincter with comedy venues. The Classic is the only game in town, singularly referred to as “the club”.

There is, however, a growing list of open mic nights, including Snatch Bar’s Snatch Comedy, every Wednesday, 8:30 p.m., free admission, Ponsonby Road, for more information what do I look like, the fucking Yellow Pages? Click on the link. I’m not your mother.

Parnell accountants' office

Sorry, wrong slide.

Snatch (I will not make a cheap joke, I will not make a cheap joke) is a tight little hole in the wall where anybody can penetrate the comedy scene. It brings together performers of various experience levels, from clueless neophytes to clueless veterans.

Snatch has a great vibe. The crowd is warm and supportive, making it a perfect launch pad for deluded people like me. And despite my sheer terror, it looks kind of fun. Stepping up on stage in front of that crowd with those lights in your eyes is probably as exciting as being told by a cop to kneel beside your car with your hands behind your head. But I’m willing to try anything twice.

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Snatch also presents an element of risk. The stage is set close to the door, and people walking in during a set can throw a comedian off his game.

This is what happened last Wednesday, when one comedian had just been introduced, and was about to start when two drunken cows slammed into the bar. The guy was so close to the door that they hit him with it on the way in. And before the comic can say anything, the lead cow screams, “Where’s the party!?”

She even continued to talk as the comedian, with justified rage, cut her down. He started screaming, saying things like, “What kind of cum catching whores come into the middle of a set screaming….How fucking stupid are you?…”

Subbasement car park, plus conference room

Yes, I know, completely irrelevant.

I talked about what happened with Snatch’s organizer, Jarred Fell, 23, a comic-magician who dropped out of school at 17 to go professional. His act centers on magic tricks and the back-and-forth he improvises with volunteers from the audience. Fell agreed to be the first subject of a new, regular feature on Basement Life called Conversations with Comedians.

Q: How would you deal with hecklers like that?

A: You want to hit them back. Because the crowd is behind you, the crowd knows that person is being a dick. Let’s mock them, shut them down, and 80 percent of the time, they go “ok”, and they shut up. And then you get bitches like that. And when [comedian] stopped [his set], she won. I don’t know if a comic should do that.

Q. Is the worst kind of disruption the volunteer who thinks they’re funnier than you?

A. Nah. They usually shut up very quickly right after you put them in their place. It’s the really drunk people that get aggressive. I had a guy punch me in the face in Palmerston North. Another place, a guy threw a bottle at me. I didn’t see it at first but as I turned I saw it and I caught it. People got up and clapped because how did you catch that bottle?

Q. Your comic delivery kind of reminds me of Jerry Lewis. You don’t know what I’m talking about.

A. <puzzled, perhaps mildly annoyed expression>

Q. I hate Jerry Lewis. It’s just that you remind me of him. Don’t get me wrong, I like your stuff. I’ll stop now.

A. My style is camp, normally. Hit on the volunteers. It’s very Tommy Cooper style. He’s an idol. Tommy Cooper is from the same time as Paul Daniels, who was the magician that always failed. I want it to look like everything is going wrong, and in the end it all works out.

Q. So who did you learn magic from?

A. Me, myself, and I, man. I saw Copperfield when I was 11 in Vegas. I was amazed and I wanted to do that. I started doing research, magic clubs, and just practicing. In my spare time, I masturbated a lot, too. I was in theatre. When I was seven, I was doing theatre, musical theatre. That’s where I got my stage time. Then I added the comedy and magic about seven years ago. There’s no one over here that does it. And so I keep that unique difference and in a year, I turned pro, and was just working. It usually takes a comic a good three or four years. Alternative acts make it faster because they want to slip someone else into the mix.

Q. Do you think the small population of New Zealand, and its general lack of sense of humor makes it easier?

A. Uh, yeah. When you do comedy lineups they want alternative. you can only listen to an all comedy show of just talking for so much. Someone like myself or like Gish it breaks it up, it’s more of a show, I find, anyway.

Q. So what do you have coming up?

A. I’m doing a one-night only show at the Classic on August 16 called Fellon. And I’m touring that one in August, in Wellington, Nelson, Matamata. All the big places, mate. Goodbye Vegas. Hello Matamata.

Q: So, how do you develop and prepare your acts?

I think of something impossible to do and learn how to do it. And what I use on stage and how I can make that funny, a lot of that is improv. And a lot of it depends on the volunteer. A bad volunteer can ruin an act.

Business smart, business heart

I used to think people who hung inspirational posters in their cubicles to keep them going through the day were kind of pathetic.

They were the twitchy type, the kind that could snap any moment.

I used to dread going to work for fear that one of them would crawl out on a ledge. I wouldn’t know what to do in that situation. Should I try to talk them down, or encourage them to jump, by showing them one of their inspirational posters one last time. Maybe the one that says YOU CAN DO IT! superimposed on a dewy meadow.

Pathetic or not, you can’t blame people for wanting to eke a modicum of joy from their inane work life. But you can help them improve their taste.

Most inspirational posters are hackneyed, life-affirming snippets that make you want to poke your eyes out. It’s usually something Gandhi or Maya Angelou said, and a picture of a mountain or a beach or a trailer park. Needless to say, these posters speak to everyone, which means they speak to nobody in particular.

That’s why I’m introducing a new feature: Basement Life Business Learnings ¡nspirationa!s.

These are little phrases, observations and bon mots superimposed on beautiful, professional-esque photographs, customized to address your specific feelings about your particular shitty job.

Feel free to peruse them. Select the one(s) you like, print them out, and tack them on your wall. You’ll thank me later.

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Nice people are more than a nuisance

I’ve been on the job as a comedy writer full-time for more or less than a week now.

What a start to a wonderful new chapter in my life. Words fail.

Here is a picture to illustrate all the amazing developments so far.

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I know what you’re thinking. What did I expect? That it would be easy? That I’d just decide to become a comedy writer and presto I’d be rich and famous?

Of course I did. And between you and me, if I knew it was going to take longer than a week, I’d have gone with my original plan. DIY Family Dentistry. My motto was going to be “There’s nothing a little Number Eight wire can’t handle”. All my patients would be British expats because, let’s face it, how could I possibly make it any worse for them?

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Anyway, I’ve been giving a whole lot of thought as to why it’s taken so long for me to get a paid writing gig. It’s a complete lack of quality content on this blog.

This is obviously not my fault. Over the last week, I was forced to trash two hilarious blog posts that would have put me on the map. All because people turned out not to be the assholes I’d expected them to be. Assholes.

Yes, warm, friendly folk have found a way into my heart, thus destroying all my plans to write horrible things about them.

From now on, if you are nice and we meet, you should assume that it is my intention to write something bad about you on my blog. If you act accordingly, we’re fine. But if you are nice to me, you are actually being an asshole.

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But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. Perhaps one can get mileage out of meeting nice people. Hell, everyday assholes make it easy. Perhaps the challenge is to discover what is so galling about nice people. Let’s take a look at one case study

A kindly old man walking dog

Sunday afternoon I was outside the flat supervising Vince in the vivisection of an earthworm.

An elderly gentleman approached walking his dog, startling us. The dog sent Vince running inside.

“Thanks, mister,” I said. “My cat needs to be put in his place from time to time.”

“That is a beautiful cat,” the old dude said.

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“Thanks, mister,” I said.

But as soon as I did, I wondered why. I didn’t have anything to do with Vince being beautiful. What was this moron trying to suggest? That I had consort with a feline, begetting this fine specimen? I’m not opposed to the idea. It’s just not likely, so why is this guy trying to ruin my life by making me say thank you for something I had nothing to do with. At best, he’s complimenting me on my selection of a pet, or maybe he doesn’t mean anything by it. Maybe it’s a tick. Maybe he’s always paying compliments, regardless of who’s around. “That is a nice telephone pole….what a nice cloud.” And I just happened to be in the way.

Whatever the case is, he was an asshole and I wish I had run up to him, pet his dog, stood up and knee’d him in the nuts. “That’s for being courteous and amiable and not providing me with decent material for my blog, douche bag.”

The guy did seem to linger. It felt like maybe he was holding on for me to pay him a compliment in return.

“And your dog is beautiful, too,” I said.

Which was a flat-out lie. His dog made me want to vomit. It looked like something that crawled out of the transporter device at the end of The Fly. Like a rat crossed with an old shag carpet. But I was just being nice.

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[[Rough draft, no proofing, Getting it trite the first time]]

How to tell your loved-ones that you’re out of a job

Well, the cat’s out of the bag.

A guy who works with my wife told Jacquie that I was getting canned. He’d read about it on my blog.

Thanks a lot, douche-bag. Do you realize the shit-storm you’ve caused? Jacquie didn’t even know I was writing a blog, let alone that I was being made redundant.

I hope your huge gaping mouth gets so cavernous that all your teeth fall out. Then I hope on your way to the dentist they jump back into your mouth. And then when you cancel your appointment, your teeth fall out again, and so on and so forth, in perpetuity, ad infinitum. No offense, but I’d watch that on TV. An endless loop of your teeth falling out of your mouth then jumping back in. That would amuse me.

Have you considered a career in children's parties, corporate functions, and gardens/

Who hasn’t considered a career in children’s entertainment, Renaissance Weekends, or just hanging around outside a stranger’s house all the time?  I can’t wait to discover the opportunities that await me when I wear red lipstick.

Now on top of all my other problems, I have to deal with Jacquie knowing about one of my problems?

For your information, you greasy rat-weasel, I was going to tell Jacquie. I have always said that the secret to a successful marriage is transparency. That’s why it’s crucial to open up and be honest with your partner as soon as you realize you’re about to be caught in a lie.

Anyway, this rat weasel co-worker of Jacquie’s has thrown my schedule off by months. I was going to break it to her in September. End-of-the year, at the latest.

I may have time to go back to weightlifting

I may have time to go back to weightlifting.

I had the story all worked out. With my redundancy pay coming in one lump sum next month, I’d have to account for the surge in our bank account. I’d tell Jacquie that it was from some freelance work I was doing for the Mongrel Mob, but it was nothing to be concerned about. It would be just, you know, a little money laundering. Because my employers required discretion, I would be forced to tell people I was an office administrator for the Mongrel Mob.

I would lead Jacquie to believe that the Mongrel Mob Human Resources Director was going to offer me a permanent role, and that this would be a more lucrative alternative to print media. Then when Jacquie noticed no income in September, I’d confess. I’d tell her the Mongrel Mob let me go for incompetency. Jacquie would totally buy that story. And being canned by the Mongrel Mob would make getting laid off by Fairfax as not such a bad thing after all. Not in the scheme of things.

I can forget that plan now. It would have worked. And I would have had three months of doing nothing but what I wanted to do. Hang around a random stranger’s house dressed as a Gnome.

Jacquie isn’t really keen on that idea, now that her asshole friend spilled the beans. She’s more concerned about my prospects, about being realistic. She wants me to find a balance between my dreams and the incredible amount of housework she expects me to do once I was fully fledged “redundo”, as my friend Craig calls it. (I prefer the term “differently abled” myself.)

She’s also worried that an unemployment-triggered downgrading of my mental health will become a nuisance, and perhaps interfere with her enjoyment of boring BBC costume dramas ultimately derived from Ford Maddox Ford’s fucked-up life.

“Don’t take this situation as an excuse to fall into a self-indulgent depression,” Jacquie says. “Because that would be annoying. I have enough to deal with at work.”

Which is exactly what Sylvia Tietjens said to Christopher Tietjens in Parade’s End, just after she cuts his penis off and tosses it from a moving train.

Jacquie didn’t stop there, and now that she’s found my blog and is reading over the archives, I feel like this is just the tip of the iceberg. I guess I know one thing I’ll be doing through my redundancy: accounting for my past sins.

Portrait of Jacquie

Keep making memories, everybody

A friend is sometimes described as the person who holds your hair back when you’re sick at the toilet. That way the friend can get a clear shot with her iPhone of you hurling chunks. And then sell the photos to Vice.

I count my former co-workers as such friends. There isn’t one of them that I would not like to take a picture of vomiting. For my scrapbook.

Fenway Park, vs. Texas

Last night, the soon-to-be-former Fairfax Business Group staff gathered for a farewell drink at Beresford Square Wine Bar, near K Road.

Speaking for everyone without actually verifying it, we all had a great time. Last night presented something for everyone. There was drunken candor. There was vomiting and unabashedly tearful hysterics. And prosciutto. Usually all at once.

Last night made me realize that working alone is going to be a lonely experience. I’m going to miss the intelligent conversations I used to have at Fairfax with myself. And it was a bonus to have people around to talk to, also. People need people, as social beings, which means that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world. At work, when I wanted to hear a different opinion, I was lucky that I could go to any number of smart, funny people, hear their side of the story, then explain to them why they are wrong and I am better than they are.

Isn’t that what friendship is all about? Important people like me need to be surrounded by a cadre of mindless yes-men who don’t mind being condescended to. Or who want to have their picture taken whilst vomiting. Those are the two classes of friendship.

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Sadly, I was not able to take photos of anyone vomiting last night. Nor could I convince everyone to pose for a group shot of the gang vomiting simultaneously. The thought of me working without these people makes me a bit anxious.

To answer that question, I’ve been watching The Shining on an endless loop. Which is what the HR person said I should do to prepare myself for the coming months.

She also says I should watch Woody Allen movies.

Manhattan has struck a chord. Woody Allen plays a 42-year-old television comedy writer facing a career crisis, among other things. I saw it the other day and I was like, “Shit, I’m 42. I face a new crisis every 14 minutes. I’m from New York city, I’m something like a Jew, with the schnoz, neuroses and chutzpah to back it up. Now how do I cash in?” It’s quite possible that possessing all the necessary ingredients of a stereotype could be a gold mine. There could be thousands, if not three thousand dollars to be made here in New Zealand, where I am as rare as Apteryx australis itself.

I’m thinking “Jewish petting zoo”. Just a thought. I’m not married to the idea.

The question is, do I model myself after Isaac Davis, the character Woody Allen plays in the movie? He and I share many characteristics: ethnic profile, questionable masculinity, perpetual bad hair days, and on and on and on.

There are a couple minor, but remarkable differences. Isaac is trying to get out of a successful television comedy writing career. I, on the other hand, am trying to get used to the fact that I have no marketable skills. The only option for people like me is a career in comedy writing.

Oh, and Isaac is sexually involved with a 17-year old girl.

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Now, it is fair to say that any number of teenagers would be thrilled if I were hanging off their arms. Nothing spells “sophisticated woman” better than being seen with a man of wisdom and accomplishment. Or in my case, a receding hairline. These days my forehead takes up about 90 percent of my face. It’s alarming to look at pictures of myself over the years. Like time-lapse satellite images showing the desertification of a once fertile farming region in north Africa.  It’s big. I can’t lie down in the park because I’m afraid a helicopter might try landing on it. And forget about my nose. That shit has its own weather system. There are as yet undiscovered mammals living in the rainforest that is my left nostril. Not to gild the lily or anything, but I’m hot.

But, sorry girls, I’ll have to pass. I’m a happily married man, wed to a woman of ample years. But, more importantly, let’s face it. What the hell are we going to talk about? How unfair it is that your parents won’t buy you an iPhone so you can take pictures of your friends vomiting? I know how you feel, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to be seen in public discussing such intimate topics. I mean, what if an adult caught us making out on the street, and made a comment about our age difference? Do you really think, “It’s ok, she’s my daughter,” will stand the smell test?

It’s all good, though. I can still model myself on Isaac Davis. I don’t need a 17-year-old girlfriend to get my career going. All I need is a schnoz and a dream and an entourage and a nice car, and an office in Los Angeles, and the ability to write something funny. Then I’ll be set. Just like Isaac Davis.

New management consultancy takes the workers’ side, for a change

Do you often daydream of the day “they” put you in charge for a while?

Are you frustrated by having your most brilliant ideas dismissed by your CEO, because they are “completely irrelevant to what we do as a company” supposedly?

Has your CIO instituted a BYOD policy, without explaining how it will impact your mobile workplace consumption of adult entertainment?

Are you looking to get the most out of your busy day, through the optimization of bathroom visits, coffee breaks and personal internet shopping?

A lot of consultants would be more than happy to answer these questions, for a price.

Air guitar businessman

And with an obvious agenda. The fact is, business consultants are in the business of helping other businesses do business better with better best-practices essential to a business’ core business. Their recommendations will always represent the interests of management, without taking into consideration the feelings of you, the every working stiffs of Parnell.

Let’s face it. Nothing you say or do will ever dissuade your employer of the absurd belief that he is the boss of you. There is a disconnect here. You are the boss of you! Everyone knows that. You’ve made this fact abundantly clear throughout your prolonged adolescence. But your boss doesn’t care.

In these difficult times (unlike all the other times, which passed so smoothly, we hardly noticed), everyday-working-Jo(e)s need an adviser, someone to help them navigate the treacherous currents of their dead-end careers. Someone who’s been there, and done that, and is willing to revisit the entire nightmare on behalf of people who don’t know what they’re in for. I want to be that person.

Christ executive officer 2

I want to share with you my learnings from almost 20 years in the workplace. My core-competencies may have shifted over that time, but I think I have a good story to tell going forward. And I can tell it in the fresh, original language that only a storyteller with skin in the game can add value as we take this journey.

Occasionally, or probably never, I will post advice in response to the hot items that impact you, the cornflower-blue-collared Working-stiffs of Parnell. Drawing from an erratically elliptic career, bridging two centuries, I will tell you how to feign interest in workplace gossip; give you my top ten cyber-stalking do’s and dont’s; make an argument for wearing Birkenstocks to work every day (not just dress-down Friday); having fun with PowerPoint; and much, much more.

So stop by once in a while, in the off-chance that I actually follow-through with this dumb-ass idea.

Oh so pleasantly Parnell

It’s springtime in Parnell.

The weather has grown a gentle touch with its flowers all in bloom, and the days stretch forth lavishly to the night.

Which is fucking bullshit.

I live in a block of flats whose residents must share a common court-yard.  With the days getting longer, the risk that I will be required to comport myself in a pleasant manner has grown unacceptably high. Because the later the sun goes down, the more likely it is that a neighbor will see me, and attempt to interact. Perhaps we will see each other at the mailboxes. We’ll make a joke about how the only thing we ever get is bills, followed by a vague departure that always seems overly abrupt. How can people live like this?

In the winter months, it’s easy for a guy like me to slither into the darkness at the hint of danger. Although sometimes I think my neighbors actually do see me hiding, but don’t say anything out of that peculiar sense of propriety a lot of Kiwis seem to have. Once or twice there were startled screams and swear words, and a lengthy explanation as to why I was “skulking around”. (I’d say more, but my attorney advised me not to).

In short, it’s gotten a lot harder to keep to oneself at this time of year. Thanks a lot axis tilted from perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic by 23.45°, thanks a million.

Don’t get me wrong. My neighbors are all very nice. I’ve had plenty of decent conversations with our friends in the courtyard.

But after a long day at work, I really don’t want to have to pretend to give a shit. After all, I promised myself a long time ago I would never take my work home with me.

So far I’ve been lucky, as none of my neighbors have been there to force my hand to act pleasantly.

In fact, the only person I’ve seen this spring after work was a stranger. I was almost done smoking a cigarette in the courtyard. This strange woman stopped on the sidewalk at the other end of the courtyard 25 meters away. She looked to be in her 60s. She had dark hair and wore sunglasses. I realized she had stopped there because she was walking her dog, which at that moment was pissing on all our mail.

I bent over, stubbed the cigarette, flicked the butt in the trash and headed toward my door. The woman must have been watching me.

“You don’t have to put that out because of me,” she yelled. “It’s ok with me if you’re smoking a joint.”

Thanks to everyone who pointed out the many grammar and spelling errors in this post.

 

Crowdsourcing shame and disgust

Never take it for granted that people are assholes.

Because there’s ample evidence to justify your bias.

Nobody knows this more than an ex-smoker like me.

If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard for me to quit smoking, and why I ended up smoking two cigarettes this week, you don’t have to look far for the answer.

It’s your fault. For being an asshole.

You see, when a smoker gives up cigarettes, it’s like the scales fall from your eyes, man.

You start to perceive just how despicable everybody is. This new clarity of vision, curiously enough, improves in proportion to how much you want a cigarette. Who knew.

The fact is, everyone in your life, from your spouse and children, to your colleagues and friends, to your service professionals and spiritual advisers, is an asshole, more or less.

The active ingredient in tobacco, nicotine, is an insidious drug. It mimics Acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter indirectly responsible for the idea that people you know are “not so bad”. This delusion metabolizes completely within 72 hours after your last cigarette. By a week in on your quit, your ability to perceive the truly insufferable character of everyone you knows has completely returned.

I’ve certainly noticed over the last week what many ex-smokers claim. Namely, that their ability to detect assholes is far keener than those who have never smoked.

I’ll give you an example. The dairy near my work. From August 2011 through Friday, October 12, I smoked just under a pack a day. Sometimes I’d go to the dairy near Fairfax media to buy some Marlboro Gold.

The place is owned by a recent immigrant family from somewhere in eastern Asia, probably China. Every time I came in, the entire family would stop what they were doing to greet me. The mother could be out back sorting stock, and the father in the toilet with diarrhea, and the cousin or daughter is in class down at Uni. When you come in they stop. Whatever they’re doing they’ll drop so they can come out to say hello. And you cannot proceed with any transaction until each member of the village is satisfied that they have made you feel at home in their shop.

The mother comes in from the stockroom saying hello, the father comes out of the toilet and says hello, and if the cousin or daughter can’t be there in person, she will at least call in to the store to make sure the customer understands just how seriously they take hospitality.

Back when I was a smoker, nicotine had me fooled into thinking this was a good thing. How thoughtful and caring did their small talk about the weather seem. Of course, now I realise how wrong I was. They weren’t being nice. They were cloying and solicitous and generally overbearing. They made the simple prospect of purchasing a tin of mints more like what I imagine the experience of being shivved in a prison exercise yard to be. And I owe this revelation to quitting cigarettes, which has given me an acuity few possess.

In the week since I’ve quit smoking, mostly, I’ve wondered, is it really necessary for the entire village to greet me every time I come in to purchase a $3.50 item? Wouldn’t it be preferable if there was a single representative to speak on behalf of the group, so as not to interrupt so many people in their work?

By the way, I suspect this is only partly due to cultural practices the family brought with them from China. The pervasive mercantile culture in Auckland ranges wildly. There are, of course, people that I like, such as the owner of Videon, and a few bartenders at the now re-done “Fat Controller”. But there are also people at clothing stores at the mall who say things like, “isn’t shopping at the mall great” ranging to a notorious real estate agent from Barfoot and Thompson,covering Mt Eden, Eden Terrace and Kingsland. If this agent shows you an apartment for rent, don’t ask her anything, like how many jackpoints are there, or what the square footage is, because her only answer is, “How should I know?”

This kind of insight has been opening my eyes since I mostly quit smoking. I say mostly because I did smoke a couple of cigarettes when I had to give a brief presentation on the sixth day since I’d gone cold turkey.

It was an awards presentation my magazine co-sponsored and I was meant to give a little pitch for the brand. The thing is that not only had nicotine sharpened my insight of the proclivity among all my acquaintances to being assholes.

My brain was also stirred with electrical activity. I became anxious, haunted by the strange thought that perhaps I should store my semen in a sperm bank, undergo a sex change operation, and have myself inseminated with my own seed, specifically so that I could claim both maternity and paternity leave and get the next 16 months off from work.

When I told Jacquie, a psychiatric nurse by profession, she wasn’t very surprised. But she did raise a good point.

“You might find that difficult,” she said. “How are you going to inseminate yourself when a sex change operation does not include a uterus?”

“I would insist on it,” I said.

And I would. Technically speaking, I was just asking for the right that every man and woman takes for granted whenever they successfully procreate: it’s the constitutional right to fuck myself by having a kid.

Plus, I’m a fighter. “Not without my child” is my motto.

Deep down, however, I knew Jacquie was right. The acquisition of a uterus was just a pipe dream.

It was in this nicotine-deprived and disappointed state of mind that I prepared my two-minute presentation for the awards show. I arrived for the rehearsal, which went by pretty quickly, and suddenly found myself with hours to kill before the event.

This wasn’t going to be a demanding presentation. But the idea of public speaking can sometimes have a deleterious effect on me. I count this as the main reason I never made it past the open mic circuit as a standup comedian. That, and I wasn’t funny.

This might have been because to cure stage fright, I would always drink heavily before my set. That way, by the time I got to the microphone, I was on the edge of blacking out. Which was really the most amusing part of my routine. It was just easy on Thursday to revert to my public presentation form. I drank two glasses of champagne before it was my turn to go up on stage.

The longer I waited the more anxious I became, and with these terrible thoughts off public embarrassment and asexual reproduction floating through my head, I caved, and purchased a $17 pack of cigarettes (not my brand) and smoked a cigarette, which immediately made me feel light-headed, but not quite euphoric, thanks to an overwhelming sense of nausea.

In fact, I was so green that during my two-minute presentation several member of the audience interrupted me, I think to see if I was ok or if I needed an ambulance. Pretty soon, it was over, though, and things returned to normal. Because I realized that everyone that interrupted my speech to see if were ok were actually a bunch of assholes.

The therapeutic relationship

Update: A run-on sentence was corrected so that it actually makes sense.

Talk therapy may be taxonomized the same way interactions in the biosphere are put into categories by naturalists.

You become familiar with certain paradigmatic, therapeutic relationships when you live in New York City.

The reason why everyone mows you down on the sidewalk is because everyone is running late for their weekly session.

You think it’s because they’re busy? Nobody’s busy in New York. They’re just in therapy. Everyone sees a shrink there.  It’s like a law or something.

Consequently, when you live there long enough, you get to hear some pretty alarming stories about therapists. There’s transference and counter-transference. There’s the corporate medical plan deciding that they’re no longer covering your mental health, unless you’re absolutely positive that you’re going to take a gun in to work and take out half the staff. Even then you need a reference from your GP. Then there is the creme de la creme. It’s the moment when you discover that your therapist’s partner is a huge blabbermouth, because your therapist’s partner is your ex-girlfriend’s therapist, and one day your ex-girlfriend says that her therapist said that your therapist said that you “had the most miserable childhood” she’d ever heard about in her 20 year career. Horrors.

Given that, it might make it easier to understand the generalization that all therapeutic relationships are, to some degree, a kind of mutual predation.

In Auckland, though, I’ve found therapy to be far more beneficial, symbiotic. My therapist gets as much of our regular sessions as I do. For one hour each Friday, I get to go on and on and on about my bizarre youth and upbringing, my various ersatz careers, and my inability to accept Auckland as legitimate city. Meanwhile, my therapist gets to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You see, therapy doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. It’s a total win-win.

To be honest, my relationship with my therapist doesn’t stand out as exceptional among all my relationships The only difference between therapy and the rest of my waking moments is that when I’m in a session, strangers aren’t gaping at me like I’m a six-toed geek whilst I mutter incoherently. That doesn’t happen in therapy. My psychologist is a professional, trained in the delicate art of concealing her disgust. Which is neither here nor there, as between the time she sets her alarm clock and 50 minutes later, she is asleep.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike my therapist or my therapy. Quite the opposite. I haven’t made it a secret on this blog that I’ve been suffering from depression, for which I take a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or “Happy Slappy” as I call it. And for which I gave up reading in order to watch every episode of every series in the Star Trek franchise. (From The Next Generation to the largely horrid and unwatchable Enterprise).

And for which I have seen a psychologist. It has been more than a year, now. And I would have to give therapy credit for lifting me out of the abyss I descended when I first found out in early 2010 that Jacquie meant us to move to New Zealand, not just visit. My outlook has gotten a lot better since those evil days, and not just because of Happy Slappy, neither.

Of course, I do slip once in a while. A few weeks ago, I experienced my worst episode in two years. It was a usual Friday after work, but I’d arrived at my therapist’s office 15 minutes early. There was a radio playing, which I’d assumed was meant to prevent me from overhearing the session going on behind closed doors while I waited. It took a few minutes after I’d sat down to realize that I was in a really shitty mood, and the reason was the radio was tuned to The Breeze FM, Auckland’s answer to a fatal morphine drip.

Actually, morphine drip is the wrong metaphor. In fact, it’s difficult to understand how the shrill, nasally, canned, screaming, soft pop The Breeze plays is supposed to relax anyone. Personally, it makes me feel violent. They play the exact kind of creepily unimaginative music that used to drive me out of delis at lunch time back in New York.

Here I was seeking to improve my life when all of a sudden I wanna dance with somebody by the late Whitney Houston comes on. Was this her shrieking, horrible cry for help? Would things have turned out differently had she been able to finally dance with somebody? And was it her off-putting, siren like, ear shattering voice that actually prevented her from dancing with somebody? The more I heard, the deeper my gloom. I had never wanted to commit suicide more in my life than that moment.

But as I say, I have a good therapeutic relationship, who interceded just as I was about to fashion a noose out of an extension cord.

My therapist sat me down, gave me a drink of water, and assured me that suicidal ideation was not an uncommon reaction to Whitney Houston music.

After I’d calmed down a bit, my therapist said, “And you could have always just turned off the radio.”

This subject will be picked up again in a future post. In the meantime, feel free to adore my kitten.

His name is Vince. He’s a six month old purebred Maine Coon (with papers). His breeder name is Mainflame Red Hustler. And I will tell you more about him in an upcoming episode of Basement Life.