Wholesome activities

Jacquie wanted to go see her young nephews play soccer.

I’m still wondering how she roped me in. If I were a parent and my eight-year-old tried to drag me out of bed on my day off, just to stand on a cold, dank field for three hours while she tried to get her spasmodic neuromuscular issues under control, I’d tell her to fuck off. How boring. Then I’d stick a bag of Doritos in her hands, and go back to sleep. After all, I don’t hate kids. I just don’t want to have anything to do with them.

Parents are by no means immune to such thoughts. Don’t be fooled. The square community just doesn’t like to advertise the contempt they hold for most of their children’s activities. They think it would make them seem like bad parents. But it’s quite the opposite.

A conscientious mother or father should gladly provide their children with a healthy dose of reality. Would it really hurt a boy much if his mom said something besides “good job” every time he accidentally came in contact with a ball roughly 65% his mass and volume? That’s not an accomplishment. Kids accidentally bump into things all the time, but you don’t hear parents scream “good job” when that happens, do you? Why is soccer so special? If you put a bunch of kids on a field with a ball, chances are one of their feet will touch the ball, eventually.  So, just once, it would have been nice to hear a soccer mom scream something like, “well done, honey, statistically speaking,” while continuously looking at her watch.

As I said, I’m not sure how Jacquie roped me into getting up at 7 a.m.—an ungodly hour even on a work day—simply to watch other people’s children play soccer. It is annoying to get up early on a Saturday. But to to so with the express purpose of enduring two of life’s most tedious horrors, sports and children? It buggered belief. I sat in the car during 25 minute drive to Huapai when my life went so wrong.

We found the Norwest United AFC soccer club playing field, in spite of my sister-in-law’s best efforts. This is not a slam on her in particular. Kiwis generally hate giving or receiving directions. Whenever someone at work asks me where I sit, and I don’t want to see them, I tell them my desk is in the northwest corner of the building. That usually does the trick. By the time it takes them to figure out which way north is, they’ve given up on ever seeing me in person, and send me an email instead.

New Zealanders hate road maps. They prefer GPS devices instead. I’ve always found GPS devices rather distracting. The one that I used last year couldn’t articulate Maori place names. A text-to-speech feature unable to pronounce a country’s other official language is pretty useless. And besides, if want driving directions barked at me in an incomprehensible accent, I already have Jacquie in the passenger seat.

As we walked across the field in the rosy-fingered dawn, I tried to come up with a way to cut short this excursion. The only thing I came up with was to act like those obnoxious parents that used to watch my teammates in little league when i was a kid. But I didn’t have any hard alcohol with me, so I wasn’t sure if I could do it authentically. I didn’t want to cause confusion. I just wanted to get kicked off the playing field.

We were introduced around to some of the parents. They were warm and friendly and happy to see one another. Even the league appeared to be institutionally structured around parental involvement beyond sideline booster-ism. They took turns supplying fruit, coaching and acting as referees. After the games, they talked about what the kids did right, regardless of the score, and they recognized MVPs from both teams, awarded on merit, with a touch of democracy. Everyone would probably get one eventually. This is not to suggest they sacrificed the nature of the game to sportsmanship or a liberal’s idea of what’s fair. It’s just that it allowed the children to contend, without the uglier side of competitiveness always in your face, which is how I remember little league to be.

Needless to say, I was genuinely surprised. I was actually pleased to be there. But this was deceptive. They had lulled me into a false sense of warmth for human society

You see, the field was separated by a rise into two parts, with the younger children playing in the lower fields. When it came time for the older kids to play, we all moved. But as we moved, we saw a woman and her son ahead of us on the ridge line. She stooped over the boy, pulled down his pants, and right there in front of more than 100 people—including women and children—the boy proceeded to urinate. The ironic thing about it was they were 20 feet away from a toilet. Nobody seemed to mind. And if that all weren’t bad enough, when the boy was done pissing, his mother gave his penis a couple of shakes to get rid of the little drips that are often left behind under such circumstances.

The whole thing was quite distasteful. And patently unfair. What do you think would happen if it were me up there with my pants down, with Jacquie giving my penis “a little shake”? We’d never hear the end of it. We’d probably even be the lead story on the nightly news. But this mom is allowed to hose down the field with her son’s urine? I’m sorry, but double-standards sour me on people. When I saw that lady again a little while later, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “shit, I’m glad we’re not the sole survivors of a zombie holocaust”.

This came to mind because Jacquie and I had just finished watching the second season of The Walking Dead, largely because the writers hadn’t quite worn out its novelty by the end of season one. But almost right from the start of the second season, they do everything in their power to every single character completely unlikable.

I told Jacquie that if being on the soccer field that morning resembled in a zombie apocalypse, I would have no part of it. I would definitely kill myself. Who wants to live in a world where your choices are zombies, or a group of speechifying geeks and rednecks. As Jacquie says, we’d be more likely to die from boredom than a zombie bite. The problem with season 2 is that the writers have ramrodded cookie-cutter dramatic domesticity into an apocalyptic context. But the characters’ motivation just occasionally ties together with the zombie premise. They more often than not grapple with mundane conflicts—extramarital affairs, unwanted pregnancies, inter-racial dating—in mundane ways. The characters are prone to orating moral positions, leaving aside all consideration of zombies. It’s only when the narrative requires a boost to the next plot point that the characters motivation connects with zombies.

In the end, I don’t want to condemn a good thing because of one urinating apple. All in all, these folks were nice-enough. And it was good to know my usual cynicism can be countered from time-to-time. So, to all those people who were at the soccer games that Saturday morning, I would gladly survive a Zombie holocaust with you. Just don’t piss near me.

New Zealand outdoor advertisement, getting it right

The last post didn’t really do it for me.

But the Oreo incident in the States that I wrote about got me to thinking about how New Zealand organizations appeal to their audiences. How do they do their marketing?

A brief walk from Parnell to downtown Auckland gives us a clear indication. When it comes to public display advertising, Kiwis need to prime their A-Game.

I mean, take a look at this advertisement for a new, reality television show called The Block.

Sorry for the lousy exposure, but I think it’s clear enough. TV3 made a huge error in judgment. The models featured in this billboard strongly suggest that the network is targeting the highly desirable, 18-to-32-year-old, douchebag market segment. I mean, if that’s not who they’re banking on to attract advertisers, then they’ve got me confused. You just have to look closely to understand what I’m talking about.

Clearly, these people are operating at a social, if not a cognitive, deficit. The woman above wants to re-enact a scene from the movie, Misery, with the man on the right. But she’s swinging her mallet in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, the guy isn’t even playing along. He’s too busy congratulating himself for taking a shit in a 1920’s-era tennis outfit. We’re all proud of you, bro.

But just because the models look like they come from Douchebag Central, that doesn’t mean the people on the show or the people watching it are also douchebags. So I decided to do a little digging. The Blockis New Zealand’s hot DIY programme. The network bought a few do-ups in a row somewhere, and selected a corresponding number of couples to fix up the houses. I guess the ones that do the best work win something.

I don’t really know, since I grew completely bored reading about it. But I was on the programme’s Website long enough to see this picture.

Speaking as a douchebag myself, this just doesn’t resonate with me. I’m left to wonder who it is they’re aiming for, and what kind of people so enthusiastically look forward to eight hours of strenuous labor in a toxic atmosphere of mold, dust and asbestos? The guy on the left is clapping his hands, without realizing the irony that at some point he will accidentally cut one of them off with a radial saw.

And what about the guy on the right? What kind of person wears jogging clothes to a construction site, complete with gym shorts and black socks? A douchebag, yes. But not my kind of douchebag.

This all could be the network’s spin on Tom Sawyer getting everyone else to paint the fence. Maybe people are supposed to see how positively giddy the models in the billboard ad are, and say to themselves, “Hey, having a rusted nail drive up your jogging shoe, through your foot looks like a fuckload of fun. Let me get down to Warehouse and buy some caulking right away.”

The network is not as clever as that.

Which is to say, in Auckland’s outdoor advertising ecosystem, TV3 is not alone.

This one, from ANZ Bank, commands another busy approach to the motorways, but from the direction of the CBD, on Beach Road.

It celebrates the bank’s sponsorship of the New Zealand Olympic team competing in London at the end of the month.

I’ve passed it many times over the last few months, and it has always troubled me as unpleasant and insensitive.

Does ANZ really want its brand to be associated with lumps in people’s throats? I hate to break it to them, but not every lump in a person’s throat is a good thing, necessarily. Most lumps in people’s throats, in fact, have serious health implications that need to be addressed immediately by a doctor. These can range from a chicken bone, to someone’s index finger poking around, to an unfortunate incident with a Tic Tac.

It’s hard to imagine what ANZ is thinking. Do they really want to risk having people say things like “I have a benign throat polyp thanks to the friendly folks at ANZ.” We seem to have moved far beyond the day when they gave you a toaster for starting an account.

ANZ’s sloganeering isn’t that far off, though. They just need to tweak the ad to appeal to their core customers. These are the kind of people with second mortgages and retirement funds, the ones that are truly engaged with banks in general. Considering that target demographic, it’d be much more affective if the poster read “Proud sponsor of the goiter on your neck”.

The next one is a slightly different species. It alerts us to the existence of a bar somewhere in the drab and depressing residential/commercial complex on Beach Road, the Waldorf on Scene Apartments.

I’m really not sure which feeling this mildly psychotic display is intended to evoke. Perhaps boredom. Perhaps something a little more kinetic and exciting, like discomfort or hangover.

In the end, this feels like the place you take your spouse to reveal your gambling addiction, and that you have 24 hours to pay off the loan shark or you’re going to end up in Auckland Harbor. At least that’s the only time I’d take Jacquie there.

Finally, there’s this next one, hanging on the railroad trestle obverse to The Block promotion.

KiwiRail wants you to know that it’s transforming the way we move freight over land in this country. This isn’t your grandfather’s locomotive. We’re talking high-tech efficiency, here. So, congratulations, New Zealand, you finally have a train engine powerful enough to poke its way through a sheet of paper.

Because I grew up in a hovel

Sometimes I think about what movies my life most resembles.

Selection depends on circumstance.

For example, if I have to eat dinner with Jacquie and her relatives, or if an airplane were to crash into my head, those days would be like Alien and Die Hard, respectively.

There are plenty of other parallels, though, ranging from the obvious to the oblique. When I floss my teeth, of course I’m going to see myself as Dustin Hoffman doing the interrogation scene with Lawrence Olivier in Marathon Man.

But when Jacquie comes home after a difficult, endless day helping Auckland’s mentally ill community, it’s hard to say. Life then seems like a mystifying pastiche of Tina Turner’s segment in Tommy and any adaptation of Jane Eyre, take your pick. Imagine the daughter of a Victorian parvenu, in a mini-dress, overindulging on some ‘queer’ mushrooms she’d found in a cow patty, winding up eight hours later in an asylum, signing over her dad’s estate to the warden, and you’ll get the visuals. Jacquie often comes home in a foul mood, and goes straight over to open the windows because “there are bad airs” in the lounge.

So analogy by film is that handy way I chart my progress toward perfection as a human being, and away from being like Adam Sandler.

This comes easiest, most days, if I compare my life to Star Wars. It’s not just because the original epic bore witness to the final, historic transformation of cinema from theater-based entertainment to brand-based enterprise, but mostly because people tend to mistake me for Harrison Ford.

True, the comparison may strain the credulity of skeptics. Never mind the fact that, like Han Solo, I too have a pet companion that is furry and adventurous and enjoys licking his own rectum. It’s just too difficult for those die-hard fans out there to imagine Han Solo as a nasally, early middle-aged, trade magazine editor whose greatest thrill is to sleep past 8:30 on a Saturday morning. The parallel goes much deeper than that. The women in both our lives condescend to us as their social inferiors.

This manifests in my case whenever Jacquie perceives disorder in our small apartment. There is a constant battle here between tidiness and clutter and somehow I’m always on the wrong team. No matter what I do or don’t do, no matter how dirty or clean the place is, Jacquie always greets me with the same chiding statement.

“I know you grew up in a hovel in the Bronx,” it begins, “but you really need to [insert maintenance request here].”

It irks me that Jacquie uses the Bronx against me. Like she’s the frigging duchess of Kent.

I tell her, “Honey, you’re a Westie. I’m lucky the car isn’t up on cinderblocks in the driveway and I don’t have two kids, one that looks mysteriously like the milkman and another that displays virtuosity on the banjo, but can’t wipe the drool his face.”

What’s really going on? Self promotion

I have to confess that the preceding was not much more than a set-up with punch lines to a couple of jokes which weren’t even funny to begin with.

While some aspects of the back story, such as how I measure my life against my favorite movies, are indeed factual, the narrative as a whole isn’t “really true”.

This disclaimer seems important in this age of dimming. Last week, a Discovery Channel programme drew attention to the network as the fraudulent purveyor of ignorance that it is. This is the cable channel in the US that pretends to take an interest in science, then airs programmes about UFOs and Noah’s Ark. It recently aired a program called Mermaids: The Body Found. Apparently, the channel’s documentary-style “science fiction” was so indistinguishable from its “science”-style documentaries, that the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration felt it necessary to issue a statement to clarify that there is no evidence for the existence of mermaids.

It’s always fun to have a laugh, followed by a long sob, at American ignorance and the Americans that profit therefrom.

Like two weeks ago when Oreo Cookies launched its marketing campaign in honor of gay pride. The campaign featured a speculative cookie made from a dozen layers of colored lard corresponding to the rainbow colors of the gay pride flag.

This, of course, drew the ire of cultural conservatives who decided to “vote with their feet” away from Facebook, where the campaign appeared.

Their reaction stood in stark contrast to the majority’s enthusiasm and support for this blatant, if sensible and correct, marketing overture.

In the minority were those outraged and alarmed by “yet another liberal company destroying our religious values and teaching immorality”. What kind of people feel morally threatened by a cookie? They seem mystified and alarmed that the reality of nature, biology and civil justice has thoroughly encroached on the territory formerly held by the literature and institutions of their Neolithic reckoning. The salt of the Earth. You know. Morons.

They promised on Facebook never to buy an Oreo cookie again. But I don’t buy that. I imagine these are not the kind of people to pass up on corn syrup. I was so irritated and amused by their hollow protests that I decided to “like” the Oreo cookie Facebook page. I held out this olive branch, a “family safe joke that everyone will love: What’s dark and round and full of cream?”

Ok, I have to confess again that the only reason I mentioned the ignorance and Oreo things is because, once again, I wanted to tell more jokes I thought of recently.

So, for real. To make up for the bad jokes, I’m going to close this post with a couple amusing videos.

First, something that actually happened in Auckland

Last week, I went to pick up some takeaways from a new Thai restaurant that opened a block from us.

Soon after I got there, the most hilarious thing happened.

Actually, the funny part comes after this video ends. Basically what happens is a woman comes in after me to put in an order.

When she’s finished ordering, the cashier looks up happily at her.

“Will there be anything else, sir?” the cashier says.

The customer looks puzzled, unsure how to respond.

“No, that will be all,” she finally says.

The cashier smiled and nodded.

“That will be $14.95, sir,” he said.

Which is kind of like something that happened to me and Jacquie on our honeymoon.

And finally, something that happened in San Diego

Lastly, on July 4, there was a malfunction at the Big Bay Boom fireworks show in San Diego.

All the fireworks went off at once. Which I think wasn’t a bad thing. And neither do the hosts of the Young Turks who comment about it here.

What I like more than their commentary is the closed caption from the video. YouTube seems to be Beta Testing some kind of automatic captioning software. But the results aren’t very clear. In fact the translation of the above clip reads more like YouTube has come up with a Concrete Poet application:

right but i will say this
i would have preferred that
as opposed to what I saw last night
at the fireworks show humming different
and sometimes quicker is better um…
interested five no i don’t know
cartoon violence you’ve seen them all
after like after like two minutes I’m like
often alum got I’ve seen this fire
and that’s what I was just another analogy pioneer
that pilots i think is the greatest fireworks as in a long time
part number one i’m so tired of the fifty minute fireworks are you all there
is another log all that what’s going on
that one spread by god and i got it i’ve
seen a for forty two years trade
this indulgence as i a lot
second of all
it looks like a real war
no fireworks that was like you don’t
know but like you to take this they
would get your revolution etcetera
facebook woolworth’s was this already
and there are a lot of stand that looks
like rack urself
rikki that this kind of bats
and all that story the same time
of totally be was a but added that a
civil that was my favorite fireworks and
as long as I remember
once the last time they were prescribed
by next i’d find it highly presitgious
student for like two minutes
you get over it because it’s the same
thing over and over again
stays up but i will say this and just a
little concerned about your obsession
with like how it looks like more of that
so we are
i don’t have a baptism character
now and i like him a look at a bad asses
on l.a. latest like something out of you
see every movement wants security fucked
up lisa
little concern now

Sorry. I know this blog post was rather disorderly. But you can forgive me. I grew up in a hovel in the Bronx.


This is a special time for a special lady and the entire world is sitting up and taking notice, like a well-meaning but half-witted poodle.

It’s Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, and in New Zealand, everybody gets a three-day-weekend, as we also happen to be commemorating the monarch’s 86th birthday. Everybody wins. I get to sleep late, England gets to enjoy the illusion of its own significance, and the Queen gets to look back on another year of opulent sloth.

If I’m coming off as harsh, it’s only because I’m jealous. Most unemployed, inbred, octogenarian people with dumb accents spend their birthdays like any other day. By spitting tobacco juice out of their toothless gobs onto the heads of the grandchildren eating dirt in front of the porch and don’t even notice anyway. Oh, no. Not the Queen. That’s not her scene. No, Queen Elizabeth gets something special. A thousand-vessel flotilla up the Thames, including a waka.

I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t understand the royal prerogative. In America, we don’t have a person who inherits the mantle of statehood by dint of genetic composition; who earns, simply from having been born, the deference of a nation, and the power to rule it supremely, for life. In America, anybody can be a douchebag.

And most of us are. It is no glowing, jingoistic hyperbole, but a simple, historic fact the Declaration of Independence civilly GUARANTEES an individual’s inalienable right to being a douchebag, specifically in the pursuit of happiness. America has come through with flying colours, as far as I’m concerned, in the protection of THIS, OUR PREMIER among several DOUCHEBAG FREEDOMS. From slavery, to the Vietnam War, to American Idol, what happiness could be greater than the joy we take in the suffering of others? That’s why America rebelled in the first place: why should the Royal Family have all the Schadenfreude?

New Zealand never broke with the mother country the way America did. So it’s easy to understand why some Kiwis look to the throne with Britannic pride. She’s still Queen Regnant here, albeit more figurehead than executive, and the visit she made to New Zealand 60 years ago still makes the odd person stop in the middle of the street and break out in tears remembering the occasion. In fact, I had an experience the other day when I found this strange rock in the alley by our flat.

One of our neighbors told us that it was a coprolite. I was suddenly excited by my discovery. It touched my imagination. What ancient creature could possibly have generated this fossilized piece of crap? The neighbor, however, explained that it was not from any dinosaur, but it was from 1953, when the Queen paid a royal visit to the region, shitting everywhere she went, including New Zealand.

According to my neighbor, Elizabeth had tried to hold it in for as long as possible, so as not to have to use a toilet that someone else might have used. But two months is a long time, even for a royal sphincter. Also, Elizabeth was constantly being fed. And though she spat into a napkin as much of the food as she could without anyone seeing, it was obvious to her staff that she must evacuate her royal person, or die. Or die trying. They conferred, and seeing the royal doctor’s wisdom, she decided to shit as soon as she landed in Auckland. Her one caveat was that she still refused to sit on strange toilets, and when given the choice of having a new toilet manufactured for the occasion, or shit standing up, the queen chose the latter.

Whenever Elizabeth stopped to address a crowd, she would take that opportunity to shit and be adored by her subjects at the same time. My neighbor said some observant Aucklanders noticed and collected them as souvenirs of the royal visit.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “But how in the world did the Queen’s shit get fossilized in 60 years?”

My neighbor seemed perplexed.

“What do you mean ‘fossilised'” he said. “It came out that way.”

Still, Elizabeth’s reign is impressive. She’s spent more time doing nothing than any other monarch in British History, besides her great, great grandmother, Victoria, who celebrated her60th year of indolence in 1897. Considering this historic achievement, I think now’s a good time to write about my recent trip to Martha’s Backyard.

The last time I visited this emporium of American brands was a little more than two years ago, before it moved to Harvey Norman Plaza.

If you haven’t been there since the relocation, the new spot is a vast improvement. In the first place, it’s bigger, with wider aisles to accommodate the ample American ass. There are far more products in stock, apparently more staff who pay attention to inventory, and generally a superior, easier shopping experience than the last place. Best of all, it occupies a dominant corner of a soulless, suburban shopping center, with plenty of parking, which should satisfy many Americans’ nostalgia for the Old Country.

Actually, I got to Martha’s Backyard a little early the Saturday I went, so it was helpful to have a few other shops nearby to visit. I bought a rain jacket from a store where everything is made out of rubber, except the rubbers.

The day I went, I bought two jars of Vlasic pickles (Kiwis look at you funny when you mention savory pickles), a box of Cheerios, a box of Triscuits, some Mexican hot sauce, and something else, all of which I mixed into a bowl and dipped in a fat-fryer.

I didn’t get any Pop Tarts, but there is something at Martha’s Backyard for everybody. Even if you’re not from America. The day I went, I heard quite a few Kiwi accents talking about how they remembered this or that thing from when they’d visited the States. But even those who’ve never left New Zealand can find something in New Zealand to like.

There’s even an aisle that I think Bishop Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church might be interested in.

Now that I look at these pictures again and think about the significance of the Diamond Jubilee, I’m compelled to make an observation.

The queen might have been big here 60 years ago, but with America’s cultural domination, political influence, and bullying of the local judiciary, as illustrated by the Megaupload case, I have just one thing to say to Her Majesty on behalf of America. Hands off, lady. New Zealand’s our bitch now.