Parnell

Sunshine and rubbish

Parnell gets the best light of anywhere in Auckland.

Situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure, Parnell today is considered one of the city’s oldest suburbs situated on a ridge with a north-western exposure. This combination of ridge-sitting and northwestern-facing-ness joins together to form the most unique blending anyone could ask for in a neighborhood.

Pinko-Commie-bastard Samuel Duncan Parnell was the first newcomer to acknowledge that “Parnell is chocka sunshine”.

Geyser Parnell at corner of Garfield Street

It’s a lot more fun walking in Parnell than in most other neighborhoods here, which tend to be huge stretches of dull, suburban landscapes, better to drive through than to walk.

The pedestrian-scale streets, bestride with both residential and commercial properties make you really believe that Auckland is a city, after all.

Parnell does a New Yorker’s heart good, especially the rubbish. Nothing is more urban-ish than trash. And nothing helps to create a better sense of neighborhood than picking through your neighbor’s garbage. We always did that growing up. Where else do you think we got all our furniture? (The old black-and-white set we found never worked, but we always got a kick out of the rat that was trapped behind the screen).

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It’s easy just to say, ‘hello’ to someone in passing on the way to work. But when you take the trouble to find out about somebody first, you turn a casual greeting into a powerful community building moment. In fact, just the other day, I was able to let the woman in Apartment 6 know that I was “there for her” when we saw each other in the laundry room.

“How are you going?” she said.

A lot better than you,” I told her. “Thank god for the morning-after pill, eh?”

Jacquie later explained to me that the reason why the woman in Apartment 6 ran off crying was probably because she felt embarrassed and vulnerable that I had been so prying as to look through her rubbish. I hastened to point out that, technically speaking, it wasn’t really “her rubbish” once it was in the rubbish bin, and that if she didn’t want the neighborhood nosing in her business, she shouldn’t have left her morning-after pill packaging lying around in the third bag from the top mixed in with some the remains of a Chinese take-away and a whole lot of used kitty litter.

If that’s how it’s going to be, then I won’t be doing much community building anymore. As Jesus said, a community builder is never welcome on his own block.

The trash problem isn’t always found in the rubbish bin, I’m afraid. As the New Zealand Herald reported two weeks ago, there was a bag of rubbish found on the street in Parnell. That was right outside our house. One morning, I went out there and it was right in the middle of the road, obviously tossed from the driver’s side of a moving car.

Stubborn as I am, I decided to give neighborhood-building one more chance. Against my better judgement, and feeling taken for granted, I decided to remove the litter.

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It was one of those plastic grocery bags, and from a distance, it seemed to be the remains of a meal from a Subway sandwich shop.

It turned out to be much more than that. It was a window into the mysterious Parnell folkways. Inside the bag with the Subway wrapper were also an empty can of Red Bull, a plastic baggy filled with the remains of a crystalline substance, and the crème de la crème, a used condom. All of which spilled through a previously undetected hole, and onto the road, splashing at my feet as I picked it up off the ground.

Needless to say, my community spirit began to flag. On the bright side, I found a used condom, and what a fascinating find it turned out to be. Through scientific methodology and analysis, one can determine what the typical date of a Parnell-couple consists of.

The single Subway sandwich wrapper is indicative of the sophistication and refined taste that Parnell is known for. What it also tells us is that the couple either shared a sandwich, or more likely, one part of the couple ate the sandwich while the other one was forced to watch. Washed down with a Red Bull, followed by the snorting and/or smoking of the crystalline substance, it was promising to be a very romantic evening, which is obviously where the condom comes in. Finally, the hole in the plastic bag, chucked out of the driver’s side window, was probably due to being dropped while at a high speed, a sure sign that the driver had an important engagement to attend to after dropping his or her partner off somewhere (presumably while the car was at a rest).

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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.

Getting away from it all

Parnell has a lot of travel agencies.

Sancho, STA, Flight Centre, and my favorite chain, House of Travel. It’s kind of a cute name for a travel agency.

It makes you think of drinking cheap wine in the open doorway of a freight car. The contradictory pair of “house” with “travel” must be what they call Kiwi Humor. It has to be. What is a “house of travel”, except maybe a caboose, a recreational vehicle or a snail. Talk about your narrow market focus.

In fact I can’t think of anyone in this day and age of speedy travel through an advanced transportation infrastructure who would even dream of going by snail.

They’re going by plane, naturally. And because of that, the travel agencies are going after their money.

There’s a poster hanging in every one of the agencies’ windows, beckoning one to hurry up and visit Europe. Why? Do they think I’m going to make an impulse purchase of an expensive holiday in Venice? I’m lucky when I can afford to top-up my bus pass.

The weird thing about the agencies competing for your custom is they all use the exact same picture poster. They just print different messages, tailored to their intended customers.

Here’s the first example.

If you’re having trouble reading the material, don’t worry.  I enhanced the photo. Now it’s legible.

The competitors are obviously competing for different parts of the market.

When it comes to catering to customer preferences–coach, deluxe, holiday tours–this next agency knows exactly what it’s doing

Down the road, there’s this clever twist which is advertising two destinations, in a quite subtle way.

Finally, we all know that Venice is sinking. And the last agency is using that fear to entice their customers.

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.

 

The car park at the centre of consciousness

There is, apparently, a significant shortage in Auckland of technically qualified, dexterous and competent people who will happily—and at a reasonable price—singe, pluck, pick, rip, rub, thread, and otherwise deprive you of that atavistic expression of our Cro-Magnon pedigree, excessive amounts of bodily hair. They’re calling it the biggest Depilatory crisis since the Muldoon years.

You would think Parnell might have been spared this shortage. What with our streets so quaint and narrow that our SUVs sometimes get stuck on something, such as the odd pram with an infant inside. (Incidentally, happy mother’s day everyone). What with our expensive lattes, and French farmers markets, and a fancy restaurant that makes risotto with a tomato-based paste, a recipe that Wattie’s will make billions selling out of a can, if they haven’t done so already. What with all Parnell’s expendable income, surely it could attract the best and brightest in the robust depilatory services sector. Not so. Not even in Parnell.

Shangri La Apartments on Gladstone Road. An “iconic art-deco building in one of Parnell’s top locations”, according to real estate company, Bayleys. There was an apartment for sale here that was snatched up instantly at auction. It looked nice, but I can’t imagine living in a Shangri La without a decent hair reomovalist.

I blame the brain-drain. For those of you not living here, the brain-drain, as the name suggests, is the phenomenon in which smart, talented New Zealanders entering the workforce discover that they can get paid a lot better for the same job anywhere else but here, but usually in Australia. I was a big fan of the brain-drain, until recently. Brain-drain has ensured my job security by making me look a lot better to my employers than I actually am. But now that I’m suffering from the down side of brain drain, I’m not so happy.

The art of brain-drain. Ceramic statues from what seems to be called the “Everything Must Go” store, filled with Italianate tchotchkes, on Parnell Road.

A glazed horse head makes an attractive conversation piece.

In the depilatory sector, gifted technicians have fled to pull and pluck in foreign places. And overseas. What we are left with is a cadre of practitioners not so much concerned with excess hair removal and trimming, as it is with selling unnecessary products.

I didn’t realize things had gotten so bad until Jacquie went to Forme last week for an emergency eyebrow wax-and-dye. Normally, she has a girl back in Mt. Eden to do this. But as she was on vacation, Jacquie had no choice. She describes her experience here:

There were two people there when I came in and they both came around from behind the counter. They both had a different product they wanted to sell me. One was a dye and the other was a failed glaucoma medication that has the unexpected side effect of making your eyelashes grow really long. I had turned up in a ratty old sweatshirt and a baseball cap and I thought, “you think I’m the kind of person who buys that shit?” The one with the failed glaucoma medication shoved her face in mine and said, “Look, I have done it”.  Her lashes were pretty long. They looked like a bunch of spiders. I can’t believe that people actually use this. But the gross thing was I DID buy something. It was the only way i could get out of there. A few days later they left a voice mail for me saying, “How are your eyelashes doing?” The only reason I went there as because my normal one was away.

I feel her pain. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to pluck your excess hair. I just wouldn’t go to a salon to do it. There’s nothing that a good pair of fingernails and a quick flick of the wrist can’t solve on the depilatory front. Sure, my method leaves me looking like the victim of an industrial accident, but at least it was free. At the same time, as I was starting to say, I sympathize with Jacquie. Things couldn’t possibly get worse in the developed world.

A BASEMENT LIFE  MOTHER’S DAY QUICK TIP: Now, I know Forme offers gift certificates for procedures such as waxing and such. People might be tempted to treat their mothers to a Forme spa session. But can I make a suggestion? It’s my experience that mothers are touched by home-made things on Mothers Day. So, instead of getting your mom a gift certificate, offer to pluck her excess body hair yourself with your fingernails. She’ll think it’s adorable, and quickly say yes.

So if we don’t have a decent hair plucker, what is there in Parnell?

It might surprise you, but the centre for consciousness is located right around the corner from us. See?

How to find your centre

Frankly, I don’t understand how an enterprise that specializes in consciousness can stay in business. Who wants to have anything to do with consciousness. At best, I’m more interested in what happens at the margins of consciousness. Unconsciousness can also be pleasing. Still, it’s nice to know that if I ever do take an interest in consciousness, there’s plenty of parking available. See?

The car par at the centre of consciousness.

Incidentally, and stop me if I’ve said this before, but what do cars need a park for? Because they don’t get enough fresh air? What, do they run around and toss frisbees at one another and have a picnic? Do they climb the monkey bars and shit? Do they drink beers out of brown paper bags? I don’t really see in the picture above the “park” aspect to what Americans refer to as a “parking lot”. Maybe after all the people leave, it turns into a theme park with rides and simulators and stuff. Maybe that’s the Park part that we never get to see. Maybe there’s a simulator that give cars the chance to feel what it’s like to drive a car. The technology is there.

But if you’re going to leave your car anywhere by itself, make sure it’s not at the Parnell Rose Garden car park. Apparently, what Parnell has are a lot of smash and grabs, at least according to this warning:

If you need a sign to tell you not to leave a bag marked “$” in your car, the sign isn’t going to help you at all anyway. Indeed, I scoffed when I saw this ridiculous warning. Then I noticed that some guy who had his feet, hands and head chopped off running away with Jacquie’s money bag. So, I definitely learned my lesson.

This was on the same day Jacquie and I passed the Parnell Baths on our way to the Hobson’s Bay Mangrove walk where you’re not supposed to let your dog off the leash but everyone does.

Anyway, the Parnell Baths looked pretty cool off-season when they were empty.

Just imagine how they’ll look when the summer comes back again:

Written with Jacquie Matthews.

And now the conclusion to Flight to Alcázar

Everyone in America knows Jacquie is gaseously challenged.

That didn’t bother me when we started dating. I mean, the asthma attacks, the burning eyes, the emergency room visits, and the flash fires, I could deal with all that. I just kept telling myself that some day I would be dead and it would all be over, and that made it all ok.

Besides, you have to put things in perspective. We lived in Greenpoint, a convenient few blocks away from New York City’s largest aggregation of excrement, the Newtown Creek Waste Treatment Facility, famous for its egg-like “digester tanks,” known to the locals as the Shit Tits.

Now how much more noxious, I used to ask myself, could Jacquie’s effluvium possibly be stacked up against those four giant Shit Tits?

A little, but that’s not the point. The point is, I held my nose and, because I wasn’t busy that Saturday, got hitched up to my special lady.

It didn’t take long, however, for the true dimensions of Jacquie’s intestinal character to manifest. One day, we were late heading to a friend’s party. As we rushed toward the turnstiles to catch an arriving subway train, Jacquie dropped her Metrocard. I got a little impatient.

“We’re going to miss the train,” I said.

“Don’t rush me,” she said. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m rushed.”

“If we’re late it’s your fault.”

She grit her teeth, snarled, and her irises turned yellow. From the sulfur. “I warned you,” she said. “I am Blastula.”

I was scared. I won’t lie. I watched Blastula bend to pick up her Metrocard. The resulting pressure in her abdominal cavity must have been too much. It squeezed out a fart that rocketed her over the turnstile and into the waiting subway train just before the doors closed behind her. The irony is, she got to the party on time, and I was late. But what I saw that day was something I never wanted to see again. Blastula is someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley unless you have a match and you want to see a fireworks show.

So when Jacquie told me a few weeks back that we were being evicted thanks to Blastula, I didn’t want to believe her. I didn’t want Blastula back in my life, in our life. Ruining everything. If it were Blastula, we surely would be evicted, no question. But if it were something else, maybe I could convince our landlord to let us stay. So I waited for my flight to Auckland, thinking of possible alternative reasons for our landlord’s displeasure.

To be honest, Jacquie and I haven’t been the best of neighbors. Since we lived in Mt. Eden, property values have bottomed out, and we are not welcome in most shops. Because of the sulfur.

So, maybe if it were something else, some particular episode, we could apologize and make things right. I remembered:

1. The Girl Guide Episode

It was a cold, rainy afternoon, a typical summer day in New Zealand. There’s a knock at the door, and I open it and standing there are these 10-, 11-year-old girls that to my recollection looked a lot like the one in this police sketch:

I stifled my desire to scream in terror, fearing that it would only make matters worse to agitate the Girl Guides.

“Would you like to support the Girl Guides by buying some biscuits?” the leader said.

I thought the only way to get rid of these meth addicts would be to buy a couple of boxes. And thinking that the “Girl Guide” “biscuits” would be just like a Girl Scout cookies–you know, edible–I thought, everyone wins. But mostly me because I’d have a delicious cookie, and I would longer live in fear.

So I bought two boxes and sampled one of these “biscuits”.

“Oh, my god,” I said. I spat out half an uneaten cookie. “Girls, come back here a minute. Where did you make these cookies? In pottery class? I think you need to give me my money back.”

They were flummoxed, but I was able to get my money back when Jacquie threatened to fart near them.

2. The pet ducks episode

One day Jacquie wanted a pet duck.

She wouldn’t be dissuaded.

“I always had a duck growing up,” she said. “It had its own duck pond, but it liked to swim with us in the people pool and she and the hen used to clutch their eggs together and they were inseparable. We all had ducks growing up.”

So we went to Pet Stop, New Zealand’s one stop shop for all your pet needs.

“Oh, no, Jacquie, we’re too late.”

“I want a pet duck,” she said.

Her irises turned yellow. So we bought all the pet ducks that were hanging the shop window, plus a nice plastic pool for them to swim in.

Then we came home and let the ducks go free on the lawn we shared with our neighbors and their two young children who liked to play on that lawn.

But the ducks seemed unresponsive, and pretty soon, we lost interest in them, but our neighbors kept giving us looks, because every time they passed our door, Jacquie was passing gas.

3. The newspaper headline episode

One day I was sitting on the front step reading the local free newspapers, when Matt, the neighbor-husband came home from work.

“Simon, I’ve been meaning to ask what you planned to do with these, um, ducks you’ve left on the lawn.”

“Our pet ducks?”

“Pets?”

“Yes, well, they’re not much for pets now, ever since the rats got to them. Oh, there’s one now.”

“Yes, well, um.”

“You think we should take them to the vet? They look like they might have rabies.”

Matt was speechless, probably out of respect for our poor ducks, which at that very moment were being attacked by another wave of rats.

“Hey,” I said. “Cheer up. Check out this terrible headline.”

Matt read the headline. “What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s a lie. How in the world can lepers touch anything?”

“You’re a dick.”

Just then, there was an extended, muffled rumbling from within our flat.

****

So, the Girl Guides hated us, our neighbors hated us, and the lepers hated us. Not to be redundant.

And remembering all those episodes, I knew there would be no pleading. Blastula, I realized, was involved in every situation.

When I returned home, Jacquie was in high spirits.

“I’ve already found us an apartment, in Parnell.”

The highest concentration of wankers in New Zealand.

“You’ll love it,” Jacquie said. “It’s got a washing machine, and it’s in a historic deco building. Called Alcázar. Like in Spain. See?”

Cute.

Come back soon for the exciting epilogue to this incredibly stupid blog post.

Escape to Alcázar

First the bad news.

Thanks to properties unique to Jacquie’s physiology, we’ve been evicted from an apartment for the second time in eight months.

They’re running us out of Mt. Eden, but good.

Now we have to go through that tiresome packing process all over again.

And what’s worse, you have to read about it.

See, it’s not just the big stuff, the furniture and the books and all that that’s the problem.

There’s also the dozens of boxes of clothes to shift, another dozen for shoes. Plus a small plastic bag for my things.

But there’s a silver lining around here somewhere. It’s this: we’re moving to a neighborhood known for its quaint wankerliness, to a building called Alcázar, in the mysterious land of Parnell.

Strangely enough, I haven’t seen the new place yet. But Jacquie assures me it looks something like this:

It all started in February, while I was on an overnight trip to Wellington.

That would be this nation’s capital (for those abroad that can’t be bothered with Google Maps).

It’s a compact place with heart, and a half-million people or so at the bottom of the North Island.

It’s got lively streets, scaled to pedestrian traffic, and art and theater, and a McDonald’s that stays open sometimes past 11.

In short, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Wellington and if you’re ever down that way, my recommendation of can’t miss things you need to are this:

And this:

And this:

As superior a city to Auckland as these photos prove Wellington to be, don’t let that mislead you. It wasn’t all beer and skittles for me. There was work to be done. The company had flown me down to moderate a breakfast event, which required standing at a lectern before dozens of business executives.

Obviously, I had to look sharp and perform at my best. So the morning after I got into town, I woke up early, tossed on a t-shirt with only one mustard stain, and made my way over to City Gallery Wellington, only to realize halfway there that I had forgotten my pants.

So I went back home, put on a pair of good pants, brought along an extra pair, because you can never be too careful.

Anyway, and in all seriousness, City Gallery is a really great event venue. I liked it a lot, and will definitely revisit next time down. The foyer was the perfect size for the audience we expected, and large, imposing pieces by artist Rohan Wealleans, who was part of a group show of New Zealand sculptors, provided a pleasantly surprising backdrop.

The discussion started after breakfast, with the panelists doing all the heavy lifting while I played Tetris on my Smartphone, interjecting every now and again with something like, “Fascinating. I just beat my old high score”, through the microphone. So we all did our part, and the discussion moved along splendidly, until out of nowhere my phone rings, and I see that it’s Jacquie.

“Ah, shit,” I said to the audience, holding up the phone. “My wife. Gotta take it. You know how it is. I’d never hear the end of it. Yap, yap, yap. Guys, you know what I’m talking, right?”

I said hello to Jacquie.

“Are you sitting?” Jacquie said. I could tell she was upset.

“Ot-nay ight-ray ow-nay, know what I mean? Sort of in the middle of something here.”

“We’re getting kicked out of the flat,” she said.

“What for?”

“Oh, no reason.”

“That’s odd.”

“Yeah, it is. It’s odd. Incidentally, and apropos of nothing, complaints have been made, you know, around the neighborhood about certain smells and sounds, you know, emanating from somewhere in the vicinity of my ass.”

“Oh, no, Jacquie,” I said. “Not again. We have to leave because of your constant farting?”

“I swear, it’s not me,” Jacquie said.

“Come on. Who else but you?”

“It’s Blastula,” she said. “Blastula’s back. And she means business.”

To be continued…

 

Be a pal and tune in again soon for the exciting conclusion of Escape to Alcázar.

Most Ill-Favored Nation Status

When it comes to beauty, Kiwis must be graded on a curve.

I know this statement is hard to take, but I have every reason to believe it’s true because of the high regard I hold for my own opinion.

Thus it is with a heavy heart and a generous dose of self-satisfaction that I hereby grant New Zealand “most ill-favored nation” status.

Kiwis, please don’t be upset. Look on the bright side. At least you’re not British.

In fact, if anyone is responsible for causing offense in this post it’s obviously the British.

The British spent hundreds of years dumping their most wretched citizens on distant shores. Scientists say this explains why Australians, for example, are so difficult to look at.

And historians agree that the British established their empire mostly out of a painful awareness of their own horse-like countenances. The unfortunate teeth, the flaring nostrils of an endless schnoz, the galloping around on all fours and the immitigable desire for salt-lick. Of course you’re thinking, “But that’s just Prince Charles. Surely there are good-looking Brits?”

Yes, there are. Now that the wretches have been sent away, the best-looking Brits, like Amy Winehouse, finally have a chance to stand out, (assuming they can stand at all.)

New Zealand’s membership in the Commonwealth obviously means it was not exempt from Britain’s off-loading scheme. The ill-favored were dispatched here beginning in the 1830s and 1840s. The worst of these were sequestered in a “wanker colony” called Parnell, today considered Auckland’s most thriving community of ill-favored wankers.

A window in Parnell. A window on Parnell.

For the rest of New Zealand, Britain’s plan took an unexpected turn. Former Brits improved themselves through such local circumstances as miscegenation with the Maori, the introduction and application of toothpaste and dental floss, and a switch from British cooking to actual food.

So, chin up, Kiwis. You’re not as bad looking as you think you are.

Unless you’re my neighbors, the Von Trolls. Thanks to a mix of Australian, New Zealand and British blood, the Von Trolls are ill-favored par excellence. They seem engaged in a kind of genetic “race to the bottom” in terms of looks, intelligence and personality.

The Von Trolls recently tried to ingratiate themselves to human beings by getting into the spirit of Halloween. They bought candy and decorated their porch with fake cob webs. To add to the illusion that their house was an authentic portal to hell, they had young Polly-Anastasia do her voice exercises on the front steps. As a music major (with a minor in Manatee Vocalization so she’ll have, you know, something to fall back on) Polly-Anastasia was able to scare the shit out of every living creature in the South Pacific.

It was this disturbance that had Jacquie run out of the house.

“What’s that terrible sound?” she said.

“Relax,” said Dabney Von Troll. “It’s for Halloween.”

“Oh, I see,” Jacquie said. She turned to Polly-Anastasia. “I should have guessed. What a wonderful mask your daughter has on. So grotesque. Rubbery, yet lifelike. What are you supposed to be? Let me guess: deranged mule?”

“I’m not wearing a mask,” Polly-Anastasia said.

“Oh,” Jacquie said, “well, that’s ok. It’s still a great costume. Your parents must be proud.”

Maybe, Jacquie, maybe. But remember, she’s being graded on a curve.