New Zealand

A little help for Ben Affleck

New Zealand has jumped on the band wagon of critics calling for Ben Affleck’s head on a platter.

While that could improve Affleck’s acting ability tremendously, decapitation is not always the answer.


But, according to some New Zealand commentators, Affleck must answer. Following on the heels of Canada, and everyone who sat through Pearl Harbor, New Zealand critics demand an apology, not just for the bulk of his on-screen career, but because of how New Zealand is depicted in Affleck’s Oscar winning movie, Argo.

Patrick Gower of TV3 explains that New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn away hostages, but assisted Canada in sheltering them. Which is not what the movie portrays. As Gower explains in a recent opinion piece:

The New Zealand diplomats didn’t turn the hostages away at all – in fact we played a key role assisting the Canadians to shelter them.

Affleck defended himself, saying some of his best friends are New Zealanders. He qualified his statement by adding that even though he didn’t like the idea of eating  kangaroo meat, he still thought “that sea-shell-y opera house is kind of cool”.

Personally, I don’t understand what the problem is. As an American who has not seen the movie himself, I think I have a lot to say on the subject.

I didn’t think New Zealand minded being shat upon by the American entertainment industry. If John Key can trample civil rights on behalf of Hollywood and Big Music, and if John Key can recruit the taxpayer as an uncompensated producer of The Hobbit, to the tune of at least $67 million, what’s so bad about being depicted as impotent and feckless? (Even if that is a distortion).

Iran hostage file photo

It has been a tense five days since the Oscars, with talks between New Zealand and Ben Affleck reaching an impasse. Affleck threatened to recall his ambassador, while New Zealand said ‘go on, then’. If not for two New Zealand companies, Grabaseat and Air New Zealand, inviting Affleck to “come and see New Zealand for himself”.

Personally, I think it’s a great idea. And I want to do my part to make this happen. That’s why I’ve created a cheat sheet for Ben Affleck if he decides to come for a visit. This handy item, which Affleck can print out and laminate and wear around his neck from a lanyard, gives Ben Affleck all the basic information he needs to know about New Zealand, without having to google it himself. This list is guaranteed to impress his hosts, and demonstrate that Affleck is willing to do his homework.
Basic information that Ben Affleck needs to have for his trip to New Zealand

Country: New Zealand
Motto: “Not as useless as tits on a bull.”
Population: Several dozen
Gender distribution: 52% male, 48% wool
National flower: Mildew
Capital: Wellington
Major cities:
Major exports: paper, paper towels, stationery, paper tigers, paper moons, newspaper, wallpaper, fly-paper, fly-on-the-wall-paper, tis’Shue paper, paper bags, paper airplanes, paper boy, pepper, wrapping paper, scrap paper, drawing paper, graph paper, re-cycled paper, pre-recycled paper, timber
Prime Minister: Sir Peter Jackson
Common phrases: “Hey there, chief”; “Badda-bing, badda-bang”; “it don’t taste great, doesn’t taste bad. But it’ll make a turd”
National holidays: Thursdays
Opening hours: New Zealand is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, except Thursdays. If nobody is here when you arrive, just wait. They probably just went out for a fag.

Everyday jobs, everyday people

Coming home from work this evening, I passed a woman dressed up most unusually for 5:30 in the afternoon.

Her hair was done up in the form of a lampshade. Her makeup was brilliant and seductive, like a sexy waitress who just turned into a zombie last week.

She was wearing a spaghetti-strap top and  shorts and sneakers. But in one arm she toted a pair of shiny, thigh-high leather boots, and in the other, she carried a black piano chair.

It did seem strange to me at first. What an odd way to present oneself to the world on one’s evening stroll through Parnell. There is no accounting for taste in New Zealand, after all.

She almost seemed part of a prank. I expected to spot obscured cameras in van windows. Most women in New Zealand would have at least left the chair home.

But what if this wasn’t strange? What if this woman were some kind of sex-industry worker, and she was commuting to or from a job? Just like the characters in my all-time favorite book.

People do shit in this book. They stand around, watch other people work. The front cover alone makes you feel like doing something like that. Something adult, like spitting or drinking vodka from a thermos while lighting an oxyacetylene torch.

One day, when I was three (or 11 or 12, I can’t remember) I stopped putting the book in my mouth and started to take interest in the pages. Each was a call to adulthood. It was an urging to action that I felt and answered. But having no prior construction work experience, I instead drew on my bedroom wall a picture of a kitten playing with a ball of yarn, with my own feces. That was all I knew at the time. And I enjoyed doing that kind of work, following the example of the people in my book.

Then one day, you’re walking home from work and you see this woman bouncing past you, with her shoes and her chair. This epiphany that happens. You realize there is no place for this woman in the worlds of Tibor Gergely, Richard Scarry, or Dr. Seuss’ world. You wish there had been, to prepare you for the real world.

I don’t know what this woman did for a living. Maybe she was a stripper heading to her club. Maybe she was a dominatrix coming back from a visit to a needy shut-in. Maybe the chair meant she was a house mover. I don’t know. But I do know that while you might find a house mover in the Berenstain Bears’ house, you sure as shit won’t find a prostitute.

Please Stand By

Hello, friends. I am planning to post something here very soon. I’ve been busy with other things and we just had a three-day holiday weekend so I wasn’t on the computer very much. But, for those who care, there will be something in the next few days. In the meantime, here are some more pictures of Chester, named after Parkchester, the housing development and neighborhood near where I grew up in the Bronx.

See you real soon.

It’s a Small World After All

New Zealand is a tiny place, if you ask me. I’ve only been here for six weeks now and I’m pretty sure I’ve met everyone. They all ask me the same question: just what is it about New Zealand that makes it seem so different from what you’re used to back home?

Well, if I could gather the entire New Zealand population in one room so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself eight times, I’d give them my answer. I’d say to them that between the United States, a Nation of 300 million citizens, and New Zealand, a pair of inflatable life rafts adrift near Antarctica, the single most blaring difference is almost too obvious to mention. It’s the volcanoes. They’re everywhere!

Auckland, the city where I live, sprawls over 49 volcanoes, like a picnic blanket spread out over 49 volcanoes of much smaller dimension. As I’ve written in this blog before, Mt. Eden, like all the other volcanoes, isn’t dangerous anymore. They all pretty much blew their wads. They’re finished in this town. Washed up.  Harmless. If you ever come to Auckland, feel free to visit them with impunity and a naive feeling of security, in flagrant obliviousness to the infernal powers of creation that would make your heart quail to countenance. And don’t forget to stop by our refreshment stand.

But know this, and be warned, and lo, while the 49 volcanoes that have blown up around Auckland in the last 140,000 years may be extinct, the Auckland Volcanic Field that fed them is still quite active and will remain so for the next 900,000 years. The existing volcanoes are unlikely to erupt ever again but new ones are guaranteed to form. What’s more, the Volcanic Field has seen an increase in both the volume and frequency of eruptions over the last 20,000 years, with the biggest one, Rangitoto, being the most recent. Rangitoto emerged 600 years ago out of the depths of Auckland Harbor, forming the largest real estate bubble ever. Scientists say there’s a five percent chance the area will see another eruption within fifty years. But what do scientists know?

Actually, I believe them for once, and I’ll tell you why. The other day, Jacquie and I decided to clear our heads after a very stimulating and dramatic Christmas celebration with her family. After about three martinis, we thought it would be a good idea to take a walk up our favorite (wink, wink) “extinct” volcano, Mount Eden, upon whose western slope we reside. Mount Eden (Maungawhau, the ‘Mountain of the Whau tree in Māori) rises 643 feet above sea level, making it the highest point known to man. The view was so nice, we decided to take some photographs of the Central Business District, a few kilometers to the north.

As any fool can see from the three above photographs taken moments apart, Auckland’s Central Business District is moving away from Mount Eden at an alarming rate. It was a good thing Jacquie and I spotted the danger and an even better thing that we were drunk at the time otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to find the courage to warn everyone of the calamity New Zealand faced. We had to get the word out to the public. Luckily, and by coincidence, everyone in New Zealand happened to be there already, gathered at the top of the mountain for the country’s annual group photo.

We were on the opposite side of the cone, so we had to shout at the top of our lungs. “Hey, over here,” Jacquie screamed.

“Hey,” someone screeched in return. “How are you going?”

“Oh, not so good, eh,” Jacquie bellowed. “And it’s probably going to get worse.”

“You reckon?” the stranger stammered.

“I do reckon,” Jacquie said.

“Is that Jacquie, by the way?” the stranger said. “Jacquie, is that you mate?”

The stranger, funnily enough, turned out to be an old friend of Jacquie’s from “uni”  (short for “University”). They screamed pleasantly across the volcanic cone for about eight minutes before they realized that though they were pleased to see each other after so many years, they just didn’t have much in common any more, and so the conversation came to an abrupt and awkward halt.

“Anyway, it was good to see you,” Jacquie said.

Just then, somebody else screamed in terror, for he too realized that he had gone to Uni with Jacquie, and what at first seemed to be the End of the World eventually turned into an impromptu Uni reunion; indeed, a veritable re-uni-union, which dragged on and on into hours of awkward silence. Similarly, the danger of death by violent tectonic upheaval turned into an almost certain death by boredom.

The whole experience made me wonder. What could we who live in the Auckland Volcanic Field do to save ourselves in the event that a new volcano exploded and so many people had to get out of the area in a hurry? How would we save ourselves? Luckily, the Auckland City Council has developed an evacuation plan.