Overheard conversation at a Newmarket cafe

Got back to work today and immediately went into catchup mode.

Replying to emails, and sorting piles of press releases and such. And going through the files on my digital recorder.

For my job, I have to record every interview, and transcribe it later to be uses in an article. I do this to make sure that what I’m writing is accurate, especially because, even after three years living in New Zealand, I still can’t make out what these Kiwis are blathering on about half the time. I don’t blame them. It’s my hearing. And maybe my perception. The Kiwi accent, in its extreme, is a tough one to love, like really sour lemonade you mom just made. Anyway, some of my best friends are Kiwis.

Hey, good job buddy!

So, I listened to my digital recorder to determine the files I could delete. One of them was something I had completely forgotten.

Last November, I agreed to meet the country manager of a well-known software company near his office in Newmarket for an interview that would go into an article I was writing.

We decided to have our conversation over coffee at Jones the Grocer on Carlton Gore Road. This place is highly recommended. It was the first cafe in New Zealand that didn’t put ice cream in when I ordered an iced coffee. New Yorkers might think of it as what Dean & Deluca was like in the early mid-90s.

Anyway, of course I get there 20 minutes early. A chronic problem, whenever I remember that I have an appointment, is that I inevitably show up way too early. This comes from being the son of a man whose own father was Basic Training at Fort Dix in the early mid-60s.

Good on you, mate!

So I ordered an ice coffee, found a table, put my stuff down and waited.

That’s when I noticed the two pretentious assholes having a really stupid conversation nearby. They were both dressed in suits and ties. One was extremely large, and obviously uncomfortable in his workaday clothes. He sweated profusely, causing him to take off his wire-rim glasses for periodic de-fogging, while muttering to himself ‘Ok. Ok.’ He kind of reminded me of Sasquatch, or perhaps the ill-favored consequence of a union between Han Solo and Chewbacca’s spinster aunt.

Sasquatch was a kiwi. The other guy was American.

What's wrong with bringing a sidearm to a business lunch?

The American was not as large as the Kiwi, but he was by far the greater misshapen. He had a forehead you could dock a zeppelin next to, and mouse-colored hair, and an extremely long nose situated on his face as if somebody had knocked it off his head, then tried to stick it back on using a cheap glue from the $2 store. The texture, color and pudginess of his skin suggested that he was made of a sack of rotting potatoes.

Anyway, after catching a few moments of their incredible conversation, I decided to record them. Which is exactly the file I found today, and transcribed to post here, to share with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

SASQUATCH: I haven’t read any Salman Rushdie. Should I?

POTATO-HEAD: I never read him because of his popularity. Then I read Satanic Verses, to support my preconceived bias.

SASQUATCH: Ya huh. He’s never appealed to me as something special I’d be interested in. Life of Pi comes across as Salman Rushdie Lite. Based on what I assume Salman Rushdie to be like.

POTATO-HEAD: See, now I have to read Life of Pi to understand what you’re talking about. I’m not in the mood for homework.

SASQUATCH: Eh, don’t bother

POTATO-HEAD: Whew. That’s a relief. I’ll just tell people I did, and hated it….I told you about my non-fiction thesis, in creative writing, right?

SASQUATCH: …average story with a non-sensical twist, which is supposed to be thought provoking, but really doesn’t hold together…

POTATO-HEAD: I made myself read five novels on The New York Times Best Seller List. I wanted to know why these books were so popular. The thesis really sucked.

SASQUATCH: I can’t imagine the books were very satisfying.

POTATO-HEAD: Mitch Albom is a man that needs to be disembowelled before a live studio audience, in a television special broadcast around the world. Like the Miss Universe pageant. Then it should be on continuous loop on every network in the world, for a year. People in the Amazon should be shown footage of this upon first contact with modernity.

SASQUATCH: There’re lots of writers like that. Deepak Chopra, Paulo Coelho…

POTATO-HEAD: Deepak Charlatan.

SASQUATCH:The Alchemist is one of the most tedious things I have ever had the displeasure of reading.

POTATO-HEAD: People say it’s a good thing that people are reading anything these days. Fuck that. I’d rather have a quality 5 percent literacy rate, like they had in the Roman Empire, than to have the 98 percent shit-for-brains mentality that qualifies as “literate” these days. You don’t mind if I use this conversation for a blog post? Or would that be too wanker-ish?

SASQUATCH: I feel bad about the book I’m reading at the moment. It’s terrible. Ambrose-ian hero-worship at its worst. It’s called Dog Company and it’s about the 2nd Ranger Battalion’s assault on Pointe Du Hoc on D-Day.

POTATO-HEAD: D-Day. Sure. From World War II.

SASQUATCH: I love the story. And that is easily my favourite period in history. But he writes like a 12-year-old would about his grandfather. I like the details though. But it’s no Antony Beevor.

POTATO-HEAD: It’s Antony Beevor we’re talking about here.

SASQUATCH: This guy, though. This guy can’t write. I just want the book to be over.

POTATO-HEAD: He’s, it’s thinly veiled hagiography. That’s what it is.

SASQUATCH: I just said that.

POTATO-HEAD: Beevor is a good story teller. Ambrose is much more sepia-toned.

SASQUATCH: This guy. He has interviews and what-not. But no balance, and no perspective. It’s like he’s writing about it with no historical context, that we haven’t had 70 years of contemplation.

POTATO-HEAD: There’s a rush to get a lot of these stories down on paper. This generation is going to disappear soon. It’s like “the world’s oldest civil war widow” kind of thing.

SASQUATCH: They over-look far more interesting aspects though, all the NKVD files that have been closed for decades, the Japanese perspective is still a mystery. I don’t need to hear about another all-american GI or stiff British lip

POTATO-HEAD: Doesn’t matter what you want. You’re not American.

SASQUATCH: The German stories are good too, but mostly they are too embarrassed to talk about….

POTATO-HEAD: Hey, do you know anything about styluses for iPads?

SASQUATCH: I don’t know anything about anything.

POTATO-HEAD: Good. You learned the two most important lessons in life. Never open your mouth. And never rat on your friends.

SASQUATCH: Everybody takes a beating sometimes.

POTATO-HEAD: You know what they say about “Paulie”, they can say the same about your last stint in customer support. “He didn’t like to use the phone.”

SASQUATCH: And every other job I have ever had.

POTATO-HEAD: But for the purposes of your CV, now you have something to say about it. Your role summation could say, “I was like the character Paulie from Goodfellas.” But don’t go into any more detail than that. Save some of the details for your first interview.

SASQUATCH: I could come up with a character for every job..”At Dymocks I was like Nemo from Finding Nemo. At Sky City I was like Hunter S Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

POTATO-HEAD: So, you never answered my question. Would I be a wanker if I posted this conversation on my blog? I wouldn’t use either of our names. I would say that I was in a cafe waiting to meet a source for an interview for work, when I overheard these pretentious assholes talking. Then I would describe the assholes, and pass this off as their conversation as transcribed from my digital recorder.

SASQUATCH: I already said ok. You missed it. Too busy being a pretentious Parnell asshole.

POTATO-HEAD: You say ‘ok’ like it’s a fucking verbal tick. How the fuck am I supposed to know what you’re “OKing” from minute to minute? Oh, god.

SASQUATCH: What, the cream in your latte off or something?

POTATO-HEAD: No. I was just thinking about my idea of posting this conversation as if it were authentic, overheard dialog, when I was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea.

SASQUATCH: Are you sure that’s not your groin playing up?

POTATO-HEAD: Do you have any preferences as to how I should describe your character in this post? I was thinking of basing you on Sasquatch.

SASQUATCH: I was thinking of something more swash-buckling than Sasquatch, a Han Solo type.

POTATO-HEAD: What if you were the breech-birthed love-child of Han Solo and Chewbacca’s bitch of a sister?

SASQUATCH: Home run.

POTATO-HEAD: Well, better get going. It’s going to take me ages to figure out how to format this as dramatic dialogue.

SASQUATCH: I hate WordPress.

Then the guys left. I would have posted the actual file, but I had to make room on my digital recorder.

Catch you next time, buddy.

Bad signs and mixed messages

New Zealand readers may be familiar with the Hobson’s Choice brand.

Well, sir. I’m here to tell you this company loves its meat.

I didn’t know how much so until two weeks ago. It all started when I went to Newmarket to take photos.

This was right after I’d written about a PSA advising New Zealand children to stop in the middle of the road when a speeding car was bearing down on them, instead of running out of the way. At least that’s how I read it.

The ambiguity of the PSA prompted a search for more examples in signs and billboards of that mysterious Kiwi aversion to precise communication.

Newmarket, a shopping district, seemed the perfect locale for the expedition.

The signs were disappointingly concise and informative.

Still, there were one or two things I found worth commenting on. Of course, I used to snack on lead paint chips, so what do I know?

The first thing I spotted on my search was the local outlet of a national shoe chain.

Admittedly, this is ambiguous only as far as it is questionable branding.

I mean, what is so tantalizing about a clinic? It’s so medical. Isn’t a clinic where you go to find out if you should be worried that it burns when you pee and that funny swellings happened to appear in a special place only a few days after you blacked out during your last drinking binge?

(Incidentally, and on a completely unrelated matter, Jacquie, if you’re reading this now, we need to talk. I have a surprise for you. Nothing to be concerned over. Not too much. Yet. But, yeah. We’ll talk.)

Maybe some people find the association of shoes with potentially frightening, painful, or invasive diagnostic procedures a good reason to go into a shoe store.

Personally speaking, after five minutes in any store, a colonoscopy starts to seem like a more pleasant way to spend my time.

But what kind of person reads “Shoe Clinic” and thinks, “If I go there, maybe I’ll get stuck with a long needle or exposed to X-rays. It’s a value-add. They are so getting my money”?

Me, that’s who. Shoe Clinic doesn’t only concede that going to a store is a tedious, uncomfortable experience; it’s saying that’s exactly the experience you can expect when you step inside. I can’t tell you how refreshing I find their honesty. Just like going to a clinic.

Not far from Shoe Clinic, we have tchotchke emporium Texan Art Schools.

When I first came across this store a couple years ago, I assumed there’d be something to do with art inside, like pencils, and drawing pads, and books on Banksy.

Alas, no. Just a lot of Kiwiana, some of it quite chintzy and little of which I’d gift to anyone that I didn’t want to hate me. You’d be surprised how many people fall into that category. Maybe you wouldn’t be surprised. In which case, I’ll probably be shopping at Texan Art Schools for your next birthday.

It is obvious that the owners of this store have never been to Texas. Unless, by putting “Texan” and “School” so close together in one name, they were being ironic. This is the state, after all, that put into office a governor whose policy response to a serious drought was to declare three days of prayer while slashing funds to fire services battling record numbers of wildfires…thanks to the drought. Now that’s smart thinking, and not a way of thinking you can learn in any school. Unless you’re in Texas, apparently.

There were other pictures even less worth talking about than these two, so I went back to my neighborhood, slightly dejected. Which brings me back to Hobson’s Choice. On the way home, I passed one of its trucks making a delivery, and I felt drawn to take this picture.

I wasn’t sure why I was doing it. There was nothing patently interesting about the sign. Hobson’s Choice is a clever enough brand name. And what it is selling is a pretty commonplace staple that I was already sold on years ago. In fact, you might call me a Hobson’s Choice man. It is not unusual to find me lying on my stomach tasting the maple difference out of an open faced sandwich spread before me. Other times, I’ll just lie on my back and have the Hobson’s Choice lowered to my mouth. I’ve handled it with my fingers on occasion, but that can be quite messy, so mostly I pretty much prefer to eat it.

I looked at that picture several times over the next two weeks. There was something attractive, yet odd about it. It inspired my appetite, but there was something revolting there as well and  I couldn’t figure out what that was until I finally showed it to Jacquie.

“Oh my god,” she said. “Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head. She was blushing. She pointed to a particular part of the picture, and the light bulb went off in my head.

“‘Oh my god’ is right,” I said. “That’s a picture of a ham sandwich.”