Kelly Tarlton’s

That dairy there on Sandringham

I come home from work with some shopping. Jacquie leaves for sewing class and after a short while I’m staring at my feet. She won’t get back until nine. She wants me to meet her half-way at Dominion after it’s done. She’s still not used to the neighborhood. It’s too dark at night, she thinks. What does she think I’ll do? At the first sign of trouble, I’m running.

Nine O’clock, she won’t be back til. Three hours for a sewing class. What on Earth could they possibly be going on about for three fucking hours? Who has the energy for that kind of industriousness?

I’m still on the couch and I haven’t decided what to do about the thing. There’s the couch, there’s the DVD with Star Trek again, the one with the atrocious theme. There’s dinner in a cold pot on the stove. I asked Jacquie to smell it before she left because it was in the refrigerator so many days we had to count backwards on our fingers to remember. The coil sparks against the bottom after the heat’s on long enough. I eat and look at Star Trek and look out the window and it’s going to be light for a while, and there in the wood tray by the laptop, underneath some jewel cases, stray bills and a USB cable, is the thing, nearly empty.

There is something, now that I think of it, that I didn’t get at the store on the way home from work that I can go get now. Jacquie won’t be back for more than two hours. She missed the first class because she was on shift that night, so she made arrangements not to miss the second. She paid a-hundred-something, two-hundred-something dollars. Disparate friends knew of the teacher, all saying the woman has a mean reputation for never refunding deposits to anyone dropping the class, regardless of reason. A prima dona of the Bernina. A prima dona. Instructing a sewing class. I don’t get it.

The overcast sky is at just before the color blue it gets at dusk. It will be like that in another hour, to make your eyes tear. Am I the only one that ever happens to? I pat the key in my right pocket, shaking the thing loose from my left pocket to get it to my mouth. I see the marigolds are doing well. It’s a good time to walk because it’s after everybody comes home, even after they go out for a run. A lot of people here make that healthy lifestyle choice.

There were these two couples I passed the other night. The girls jogged in front talking together side by side a few paces ahead of their male counterparts doing the same thing. I can’t even imagine the dialogue that led up to this scenario. Did they plan it? Did they mark it on their Outlook calendars:

Jogging with Stella and Pete, 6:00-6:30  :-b  

It baffled me which among them said to their spouse, “We haven’t seen the lovely so-and-so’s for a while, let’s have them over one night after work. It’ll be fun. We’ll go jogging.” Them jogging meant  that—as with any fucked-up relationship—the other spouse had to have enabled the first, saying something like, “What a great idea. I’ll mark it on my Outlook calendar.”

My timing now couldn’t be better. Some evenings you’ll come across a whole family of joggers. None of them are around. There’s a warm salt air to remind you you’re on an island, and birds being territorial in the trees barely in bud.  A few doors down toward Sandringham, a late commuter slams the door shut to his car and makes one of those neutral-neighborly assessments of me as I take my hand down from my face and smile back as he turns toward the light of his porch.

There’s a bird carcass near the shortcut to Sandringham. I stop and look. There’s no blood and the wind animates its feathers. But it is dead. It seems to have crash-landed head-first, broken neck, left cheek pressed against the asphalt with its right eye staring up at god kn0ws what. It makes me think of a painting I saw at the National Gallery in Washington, The Meeting of Saint Anthony and Saint Paul, (1430/1435). It shows a guy talking to a satyr. When I first saw it, all I could think was, “What the hell is he doing there.” For a moment, I wondered if there were satyrs in the bible and I just forgot about them. But of anything in the bible, I think I would have remembered something like a satyr. This was a guy with cloven feet, not some no account leper or  dime-a-dozen chick with an issue of blood. A satyr in the bible would make it about 1 percent more likely I would still be a theist today, not because I believe in the existence of mythical goat-men, but because goat-men are so fucking awesome.

It started to become apparent to me what was going on in this painting, even before I read up on Saint Anthony of Egypt. Here was this guy. He’s a bit on the devout side. He’s just minding his own business in the fourth century wilderness, thinking about god and stuff, going out of his way to talk about god stuff with another guy who thinks a lot of god. Out of nowhere comes this figment of the Greco-Roman imagination. An emblem of the same culture that inspired a secular, mercantile alternative to domination by the Catholic Church and her noble allies, was tempting a faithful man to stray from the path. I don’t know what was happening in 1435 Siena, but somebody sure was pissed off about the Renaissance.

I finish the thing at the corner, then wait for a car to round the bend before crossing to the short cut. Will the driver see the bird carcass in time or run it over again? I can’t imagine. I cross the road and head to Sandringham. Putting myself in the driver’s shoes, the question would not be if, but how many times I run it over. That’s a lie. There was that sea turtle they found a couple of weeks ago, and I felt really bad about it because I heard it might have eaten something plastic that got lodged in its esophagus. It made me feel depressed for a few days. I felt responsible, indirectly, by dint of using plastic. Then I found out I was invited to preview some new Xbox video games, and I haven’t thought of that turtle until now, for which I blame that fucking bird.

I toss into the rubbish can the empty box that the thing was in. The dairy is up and down. It doesn’t carry club soda all the time. It doesn’t sell peanut butter cups. I stand there looking for something else. Jacquie still won’t be home for an hour. A three-hour class. At least an hour of that has to be for announcements and toilet breaks. I mean, they use sewing machines in this class. You’d think with a machine, you wouldn’t need any more than 20 minutes. There’s nothing I want to eat here. Behind the cashier is the cigarette case on top and below the cabinet where they used to keep the legal marijuana. It was banned a couple of months ago, but there’s always something coming out to market under a new name and I guess just have to know where to buy it.

I get a new box of the thing and say thanks. Back on the street by the rubbish can, I unravel the plastic and tap the box open and look around with the lighter poised. Nobody coming. The clouds are that almost electrified blue that tears my eyes. I can’t believe I’m the only one who experiences this. But it has never come up in conversation with anyone. Outside the light from the dairy, there whooshes a passing bus. It is always a comfort to smell diesel exhaust. It gives a certain kind of license, as if demonstrating to the odd, sanctimonious passerby that one passively inhales fumes just as toxic as my second-hand smoke. Even with nobody around on the sidewalk, I’m still self-conscious about blowing cigarettes into the face of a pedestrian that might appear out of the blue. The plastic wrapper goes into the rubbish for the sea turtles to eat.

The walk home is unremarkable. That smoke stinks. Jacquie must smell it on me, in my clothes and hair, despite the washing, flossing, rinsing. The bird is still dead, not squashed. The door opens, and the new thing replaces the old thing under the USB cable and jewel cases. I watch Star Trek until Jacquie comes back, saying the teacher is nice, nothing like they said she would be. She loves the class, and the people are nice, and there is this one student that uses a very old, large pair of scissors with tape wrapped around in places as if it to keep it all from falling apart. They used to belong to the student’s grandfather, who was a tailor back in India, and again in New Zealand when he emigrated. They’re learning how to sew an apron. Jacquie wants to make a barbecue apron for her dad, out of the polyester material she bought to practice on. The teacher said it was flammable, but Jacquie asks if I think it would still be ok to make the barbecue apron. I think she’s joking.

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Words that Wound and Other Yuletide Festivities

Christmas came early to our house this year.

It arrived way ahead of New Year’s Eve.

But not before St. Patrick’s Day stopped in for a beer just because it “happened to be in the neighborhood.”

This made Christmas very uncomfortable, of course, after their ugly fight at Thanksgiving.

They had exchanged…words that wound.

The flowers of the pohutukawa tree. The pohutukawa ("drenched with mist" in Maori) is sometimes referred to as the New Zealand Christmas Tree.

Now the two sat in the lounge for what seemed like an eternity of stilted, awkward conversation.

Christmas couldn’t take any more. It got up to leave, insisting it had a million “little chores” to do at home.

Which was all for the better, frankly, seeing how the holiday had caught me off guard.

I’d forgotten to get Jacquie a present.

It's beginning to look a lot like the Nihotupu track in the Waitakere Ranges. This stream feeds the Upper Nihotupu reservoir, part of Auckland's water system.

Jacquie handed me a small object wrapped in colorful paper, with a fussy little ribbon.

“What’s the occasion?” I said.

“Ha ha, Simon, you’re so funny,” she said. “You’re the funniest person in the world. I don’t know why people don’t walk up to you on the street and give you a million dollars and name their children after you. And you’re so nice and considerate and you never use words that wound. Open your present.”*

It was an iPod Nano (6th generation).

I was touched. But that was beside the point. I was moved. This was a surprising gift. I hadn’t owned a personal listening device in ages.

“Where’s the cassette go?” I said.

“––.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know it takes CDs.”

The Upper Nihotupu reservoir has a capacity of 336,000,000 gallons. Dam, that's a lot of water. Here the liquid passes through a pipe, as you can see. I'd been carrying 0.079251616 gallons of what you see there until just before this picture was taken.**

The device, as it turned out, imposed a steep learning curve that taxed all my faculties.

After six hours of screaming, one sprained wrist, third-degree burns all about my face and torso, a torn ligament and 25 mg of Valerian, I finally managed to upload a single tune.

Caribbean Queen by Billy Ocean.

The situation was turning ugly.

I know what you're thinking. So I'm going to come out and say it to clear the air of...words that wound. This isn't a Hobbit hole, ok? That's just such a stupid, obvious joke. This is a damned tunnel. Alright? Just a tunnel. Not a nasty, dirty, wet tunnel, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy tunnel with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat. It's a tunnel that passes under the MAXX rail-bed and leads from the east side of Auckland Domain to Parnell (where the wankers dwell.) Hobbits use this tunnel to commute to work, and to sell drugs and sexual services to one another.

I called technical support.

I told them I was having trouble manipulating the controls on Nano’s little touch-screen.

“I see what the problem is, sir,” the tech support person said.

“You do?”

“Yes. Your fingers are the size of Hungarian sausages. Lay off the Ring Dings, if you can be bothered, and maybe in a few years you’ll be able to enjoy one of our fine products.”

I was going to yell at the tech support guy for using…words that wound.

But on second thought, he made a valid point as far as my physique was concerned.

You see, my Nano had gone missing for a while that day.

Jacquie and I looked everywhere. Things seemed hopeless. I tossed my head back in Joan of Arc fashion and just as I did that, the Nano popped out from a fold of adipose tissue between my second and third chin. We figured it must have slipped in there while I was eating a Ring Ding.

“You’re probably right,” I said. “Got any other helpful tidbits?”

“Yes,” the tech dude said. “Your blog is getting lame, bland and repetitive.”

“‘Getting’?”

“Bravo,” he said. “Well done. Didn’t see that one coming. Please, no more. I don’t want any part of it. That whole ‘Christmas came early this year’ bit as a segue into this Nano routine? Nuh-uh. Total crap.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.

A disused railroad siding in a layer of adipose tissue between Auckland Domain and Parnell, near the Hobbit tunnel. (Note Hobbit feces). "Look," I said to Jacquie. "It's the G train. Finally." Even the Nano tech dude would have to admit this was a very humorous comment because the G train is a subway line in New York notorious for long waits, unannounced disruptions, and mildly irritating graffiti featuring...words that wound. Thus the implication here is that the "G train " was so tardy in its arrival that the motorcar corroded to the level of decay (pictured), making for a whimsical moment of absurdist satire that sophisticated people on one-and-one-fifttieth continents can enjoy. Note the added layer of humor in the suggestion that a NYC subway line could be extended to NYC's near-antipode, which would be highly impractical even if it were technically doable.

I couldn’t think what else to say.

Tech dude’s cherished yuletide sentiments had wounded me in the sebaceous area between my second and third chins.

I threw my head back in pain, adding my trademark Joan of Arc flourish. A Nano shot out of my adipose folds, soaring through the air, smashing against a Ring Ding.

I was about to hang up on the tech dude when Jacquie furiously grabbed the phone out of my hand.

“I just wanted to say one thing to you,” she screamed. “Merry Christmas.”

Then she hung up.

Then she turned to me.

Then she screamed again.

Then she said “Well, do you have a gift for me?”

Traffic signs in New Zealand often provide confusing or self-contradicory information, resulting in hundreds of thousands of wounds and deaths, costing the nation a few hundred dollars in lost productivity every year. But sometimes you come across a traffic sign that is relatively clear. New Zealand's written driver's exam always has at least one question regarding what to do when approaching the sign pictured above.

As a matter of fact, I did have time to prepare something.

“Here you go honey,” I said.

I handed her an envelope.

She was getting all teary eyed.

She opened the envelope, pulled out a note I’d written, and read out loud.

“‘I.O.U. one fantastic gift,'” she said. She looked at me, astonished. “But that’s what you got me for my birthday.”

“Not exactly,” I said. “This time the note was written on toilet paper.”

Jacquie was disgusted. She used several “words that wound,” alluding to uncomfortable-sounding objects orienting themselves in time and space to my nether region.

Then she smelled the IOU toilet paper and gagged. “Is that brown ink or is that what I hope it isn’t?”

“I’ll never tell,” I said. “But I’ll say one thing: getting a Hobbit to take stool-softener and spell out a letter with his own excrement is not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be.”

This microscope is an inexplicable part of the penguin habitat exhibit at Kelly Tarlton's, a sort of combination aquarium, wildlife exhibit, children's museum and, at night, corporate event venue. My new employer held its Christmas party there.

Then the doorbell rang. It was the Apple tech guy.

“Would you please, please, end this stupid post now?” he said. “It’s terrible and nobody’s read this far because it’s Christmas and you’re already at like 1,250 words.”

They served a buffet dinner that included several kinds of meat.

“I’ll think about it,” I said.

A segment of tentacle at Kelly Tarlton's has absolutely no friends. It's not attached to anyone. It just likes to hang out in formaldehyde.

“OK,” I said. “You’re right.”

“Thank you,” the tech guy said.

“Merry Christmas.”

Another fine specimen. Although it has nothing to do with this picture, Kelly Tarlton was the inventor of the underwater viewing tubule used by many modern aquariums.

* Quote taken verbatim.

**Because I pee’d in the reservoir.