The greatest depression ever

It’s only been in the last month or so that I started to recover from a severe and prolonged depression.

Next stop, Deliciousville. Things are looking up.

It was bad. A preoccupation with death, a constant flow of hateful self-talk, the lost ability to remember, to concentrate, to something else that slips my mind, continued unacknowledged and festering until the miserable condition became familiar, even comfortable.

It was really bad. It was as if one of Hieronymus Boschs demons was taking a six-month-long shit on my medieval tonsure and I liked it so much I massaged it into my scalp thinking it was ok because, hey, it’s organic. I lost interest in all those things that once animated me: reading, socializing and sexing.

Even writing blog-posts with my signature “Take my wife…please” sensibility (as humorous now as it was when it first circulated the Catskills 50 years ago), even those entered the endangered list, although they never went extinct. So my condition wasn’t just bad; it was schlocky.

Things got to such a low state that I fell into a habit more disgusting and pitiable than my obsessive eyebrow-hair plucking and chronically inadequate personal hygiene. I started to watch Star Trek, from the beginning of The Next Generation, to the end of Deep Space Nine.

Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Tourism Board.

Some people might ask, “Simon, what do you have to be depressed about? You live in New Zealand where shoes are optional, where people drive with their eyes closed, and where everyone is in bed by nine because what else are they going to do? Where it’s OK to be a grown adult and still talk in your outdoor voice throughout a live performance of Mary Stuart starring that lady from the second Lord of the Rings movie, true story. What could be so bad?”

Lieutenant Paris (right) reports to Captain Janeway and Commander Tuvok on his recent visit to Meat Plaza.

While it is true that I was feeling like shit before relocating, and that moving from Brooklyn to New Zealand temporarily elevated my mood to its jaunty “I-hate-the-world-and-everything-in-it” baseline, this reprieve did not last long.

So many factors played a part in the plunge I took in New Zealand that I cannot give them justice in one blog entry.

I will, however, mention here one factor contributing to my recent disposition, since it has weighed heavily on my mind: my colleagues at Fairfax Business Group. They are a mean-spirited, bullying lot that picks on me because I’m different, because I talk funny and come from America. They did terrible things to me. They made me watch them eat lunch, and they called me names like “Johnny Argyle” just because I happen to own one or two articles of clothing with that particular pattern.

Technically speaking, Johnny Argyle is a misnomer, since my entire argyle wardrobe consists in a zip-up jumper and a sock I found at the laundromat and took home with me, just in case I needed an extra sock.

I tried to complain about these malicious fiends to the Human Resources director. But I knew the company would have trouble seeing my side of things when I entered the director’s office and she said, “What can I do for you, Jimmy Argyle?”

I was mortified. “It’s not Jimmy,” I screamed. “It’s Johnny. Johnny Argyle.”

Then I screamed some more like I did when I was a little boy, which was exactly like a little girl. Then I ran to the restroom to have myself a good cry and there wasn’t a day that went by during my first six weeks at Fairfax that did not contain some element of wailing and/or gnashing of teeth, which will probably earn me a “needs improvement” on my next performance evaluation.

Of course, I have since reached a mutual sort of respect and understanding with my wonderful colleagues. They love Johnny Argyle. And Johnny Argyle loves them, and doesn’t even mind watching them eat their lunch any more. Mostly.

So, that’s just one example of the many things that have depressed the shit out of me.

But as I say, this subject is far too big to be wrapped up in one blog entry. Which is why I plan to return to this subject in the future, so that you might enjoy my recent, horrifying depression as much as I did.

Gardening is Fun and Easy

No matter how hard I’ve tried not to, I’ve learned a lot about New Zealand since moving here.

If not for Meat Week at the Pak 'n Save, I'd never have learned you could buy it by the liter.

Take gardening, for example. I didn’t know until recently what a popular hobby it is in New Zealand.

Everyone’s doing it. Buying shovels, coming home late at night, digging holes in dark corners and putting something I couldn’t quite make out (but looked quite bulky) in said hole.

Plus, there’s composting. I bet most Kiwis get into gardening just for the compost heaps.

Now, if you grew up in the Bronx, as I did, you’d think gardening was strictly reserved for that guy down the block with his shirt tucked into pleated suit pants pulled up to just under his man-breasts, the guy who always bragged that his was the best homemade wine in the neighborhood and he’d  let you try some if you went down into his basement.

But you’d be wrong: gardening isn’t just for creepy loners who produce consistently bold, complex Cabernet Sauvignons year after year after year despite whatever else the police might say.

Gardening is for everyone.

And as the weather in Auckland plods tepidly into summer, I find the thumbs I’ve been sitting on all year have turned green for whatever reason.

It's impossible to say what's more fun: watering plants, or popping a couple Valium and watering whatever gets in the way. (Photo by Philip-Lorca diCorcia)

It was Jacquie that turned me on to “the scene.” She’d already bought a bunch of flora for the deck, including a young olive tree (pictured).

One day we were reading in the lounge.

“Do you mind if I read some of my gardening magazine out loud?” she said.

“––,” I said.

She started in on an article about mulch. After she finished, she took her watering-can (pictured) and poured it over my face to wake me up. Then she started in on the next article and when she was done with that she took her watering-can and poured it over my face. This must have gone on for two or three hours before she got to a feature that caught my interest. It was about the joys of pulling potatoes out of the earth.

“Wow,” I said.

“I know,” Jacquie said. “Have you ever watched potatoes being dug out of the ground?”

“Once, but unfortunately they had to re-buried right away.”

That’s only partly true.

There was a small courtyard behind the house I grew up in, a cobbled area for us and the neighbors to park our cars.

And there was a narrow plot of dirt back there, hemmed in by thorny roses and an apple tree that produced very sour fruit.

And once in a while, my parents tried to plant vegetables.

And one morning we got a rooster instead. We don’t know where it came from, but it mysteriously vanished a few days later, on what turned out to be what my mother called “Stuffed Capon Night.”

So as far as my experience with gardens is concerned, sometimes it was famine, sometimes it was Meat Week, but I never saw potatoes being dug out of the ground.

Well, that’s all in the past now. And if there’s anything I’ve learned recently it’s that the past is better off in the past.

If you don’t napalm your epidermis with Veet, how can you show off your sexy new top-of-the-line sea-girdle? This old newspaper ad is taped to the window of the sometimes offensive Antique Alley on Dominion Road. The ad offends me for obvious reasons. I mean, as a trichotillomaniac, why singe away your hair when you can pluck?

Another Antique Alley classic. A toby jug shaped like a man holding a toby jug. It's like an infinity mirror for dipshits.

These days, I’m all about helping around our nascent garden, in sort of a hands-off, supervisory role, with a concentration in quality control.

Watering the fern. Jacquie's one of my star waterers.

Only through trial-and-error can you determine which plants thrive on vodka martinis and which plants don't.

The Neighborly Thing to Do

I hate my upstairs neighbor. He thinks he’s so cool. Just because he’s a Morris Dancer. He’s always throwing it in my face. Hitting my face with his ankle bells and handkerchiefs, driving around my face in his 2002 Honda Civic hatchback. Show-off.

His name is Dabney. He’s a defense contractor. Dabney’s job is to toughen-up recruit-training through the pageantry of Morris Dancing.

A New Zealand Special Forces Morris Dancer trains his entire life for this moment. No Morris Dancer would go into battle without his stick and bell-pads.

What a jerk. His whole family is a bunch of jerks. They’re very noisy. His wife Daphne gets her exercise by going up and down the stairs late every night. I wouldn’t mind it so much, but the sound of her hoofs clopping on the wood makes it difficult for me to fall asleep.

Their daughter is loud too. Polly-Anastasia studies music at University, according to some of her mail I’ve been opening. She’s been practicing day and night for a big audition. I’m no Broadway expert, but judging by the sound of Polly’s voice, I think she’s going out for a part in Bronchitis, The Musical. If there is such a thing. Otherwise, it’s probably an adaptation of The Lion King, but instead of Africa, it’s set in the Everglades and features a herd of echolocating manatees.

But the thing I hate most about Dabney is his annoying friendliness. Like, Jacquie and I hadn’t lived in New Zealand for two seconds before he got all up in our shit introducing himself. He even tried to get us to join the local Welsh Choir. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Only 40 percent of the songs are in Welsh.”

Why in hell would we want to do that? In the first place, everyone knows that Welsh is a made-up language. How about I throw a bunch of silverware on the floor and call that a language? Same difference. And secondly, when a friend of one of Jacquie’s friends found out that I was considering taking Dabney up on his offer, she pooh-poohed the idea. She said that people who join choirs were “the biggest douchebags in the world.” That settled it. There was no way that I was going to socialize and be stimulated by a novel experience if that meant incurring the casual disparagement of a complete stranger.

And the more I thought about what the stranger said, the more it made sense. Dabney wasn’t even from Wales. Just what kind of non-Welsh douchebag joins a Welsh choir? Then I realized the answer: a Morris Dancer. That’s who.

Recently, this douchebag gave me one more reason to hate him. One day I came home from shopping for breakfast stuff at the supermarket, my arms filled with potato chips and vodka. There was Dabney, working on one of his Morris Dances. He was so excited, he insisted on teaching me the moves. The routine involved us taking turns hitting each other over the head with aluminum beer trays. I have to admit, I found the experience so pleasurable that I actually started to think of Dabney as a person, and not as a douchebag. I even shook his hand.

Big mistake. Because a few days later, my hand broke out in mysterious, bulbous nodes, which Jacquie identified as “buboes.”

Thanks for the buboes, douchebag.

Well, that just tore me up. You act nice to a guy, indulge his passion for a 15th century dance form, and what does he do? He turns around and literally hands you a medieval plague. This called for immediate action. With the daily clopping, shrieking and jingling coming from upstairs, we had to fight back, fight fire with fire.

“Jacquie, we have to end our moratorium on farting.”

“No. No. You promised.”

This was serious business. A few weeks before, Jacquie and I got into a huge fight. She was angry because I had allowed trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder, to ruin my life. The trichotillomaniac has the irresistible urge to pull out his body hair. Jacquie said that I did it too much and she wanted me to stop. But I said I only plucked my hair as a nervous response to Jacquie’s constant farting. She disagreed but we made a deal. If she could go for 72 hours and fart only in authorized areas, then I would stop plucking my hair out. And by God we did it. The apartment went quiet. Air smelled fresher, food tasted better, and for the first time in six years, I had eyebrows.

Until Dabney gave me buboes.

“I’m sorry, Jacquie. Ending the moratorium is the only way.”

“Does this mean that–”

“I’m afraid it does.”

So I began to pluck and we both farted as much as we could.

As a trichotillomaniac, I managed to pluck right down to my skull, which turned out to be more angular than I thought it was when I had hair.

But it worked. We won in the end. Ater a few weeks of plucking and farting, I went up to Dabney to show him my hairless head. We could hear Jacquie farting in the background. Tears came to our eyes. From the fumes. And Dabney began to cry and apologize for everything.

But I still have the buboes there to remind me of the war I fought, and won, against the Morris Dancing douchebag upstairs.

Sunshine on my buboes makes me happy.

Buboes make ideal features on topographical maps.