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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking pictures of my cat washing his hair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Horrible Holiday Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why the fuck would you do that?”

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

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

So I clapped.

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

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

Now, whose life sucks more than mine?

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.