The Hobbit

Thanksgiving in Mordor

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in America.

I know what some of you in the US are wondering and the answer is ‘no’.  Thanksgiving is not celebrated in New Zealand.

This is for a very obvious reason that shouldn’t need mentioning: New Zealand isn’t thankful for anything.

The mindset here diverges from the Americans’, formed in parallel, colonial histories that intersect from time to time.

Mt. Tongariro erupted this afternoon at about 1:30, sending a plume of ash three or four kilometers into the troposphere. It was a brief and less dramatic explosion than one that occurred in August. There were 100 or so school kids hiking nearby, but I don’t think anyone was hurt. Mt. Tongariro served as the template for Mt. Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. This image was lifted from Dan News (https://twitter.com/dannews).

The Europeans that settled New Zealand were just as unpleasant as those that settled the US. They were both kicked out of some of the same countries, even. And not without good reason. They were all ugly and they smelled like cow manure. But that’s where the similarities end.

Today, not only do Americans smell much better than New Zealanders, but they also come from a much different experience with indigenous people. The English in colonial Massachusetts were treated by the Native Americans to a huge Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmin’s (whatever the fuck that means). Then they all said a prayer, and lived happily ever after together in peace and harmony. Apart from that little misunderstanding over land and small pox-laden blankets. All water under the bridge. Your modern Indian today happily occupies crucial niches in American society, not just as the sporting team logos that grace our helmets, but as the custodians of our favorite vices tax-free.

Of course, the Maori-European experience was not so fortunate. Instead of James Cook and his crew being feted by the Maori in their first encounter, a handful of those European sailors were actually eaten instead. By the handful. (With the leftovers put away in the ice box and used for sandwiches for the kids to take to school).

You’d have to be a saint to show gratitude after traveling seven miles through someone’s intestines, only to be shat in a ditch (on Thanksgiving Day no less.) How is it even possible to turn the other cheek, after it has been braised, and dressed in a delicious mint sauce? Lick the other cheek, is more like it. So, I give Kiwis a pass for not celebrating Thanksgiving.

And I give the Maori a pass, too. I don’t blame them for eating a few poms now and then, back in the day. I do blame them for having eaten the wrong people.

You can’t go back in time and change history. But wouldn’t it be great if Peter Jackson’s ancestors had been eaten?

Better yet, could someone eat Peter Jackson now, tonight, while the authorities, I don’t know, looked the other way?

Peter Jackson and his movies have done great things for New Zealand. I guess. In essence, he accomplished what the US compulsory education system could never achieve. He has alerted Americans to the concept that there is some place that isn’t the United States. That is no minor feat.

But it only goes so far. Before I moved to New Zealand in 2009, there was a bit of a disagreement among my friends and family over where I was actually going, if it did indeed exist. Some said the east coast of Australia. Others said, “that island where they filmed Lost.” An old friend from college asked me if New Zealand was one of the flyover states.

At the airport, there was a suggestion to hold that year’s family Christmas celebration in a place equidistant from New York and New Zealand.

“Like, maybe somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike,” they said.

Clearly, Peter Jackson has a job to finish. And he’s more than willing to take on the task, without complaint. And with the helpful hand of the New Zealand government, which has slavishly tailored tourism promotions into little more than Hobbit-abilia. This essentially makes Peter Jackson the biggest welfare queen in the country. There are also in-flight promotions on Air New Zealand. For at least a year, probably longer, Air New Zealand used a video featuring Richard Simmons in its pre-flight instructions videos. Now, of course, it’s hobbits and dwarves and other Irish folk.

After Peter Jackson decided to milk The Hobbit into a trilogy, after he blackmailed the government into changing labor laws or lose the production to Romania, after the allegations of animals dying by the dozen in hazardous pens, and after the “mysterious cover ups on autopsy reports”, I just think Peter Jackson needs to be eaten. Full stop.

So have yourself some Bath Salts, and sharpen your forks and knives. It’s Thanksgiving.

Editor’s Note: I can’t wait to see The Hobbit.

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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.