Saturday, July 25, 2009

Queenstown and Midgets

John the Robert has been busy. One 3/4 time job, three other part time jobs, playing in an old man cover band, a business trip to Australia, six months of house hunting to finally find our dream home only to then go on to meetings with three different banks to secure a mortgage and then wait for a dipshit named Dave to get around to doing a valuation so the banks believe that we didn't get ripped off. The blog has suffered, and I apologize to my 9 followers. Hope y'all found something else to read on the internet.

Last weekend I was in Queenstown for a wee (little/short) winter holiday with the in-laws.

Skiing is a bitch. Not only does one have to balance on one leg at a time, changing legs quickly in time with the gradient of the hill, but you also have to contend with the weather.

Saturday morning I woke up early to get to the Remarkables, an incredibly beautiful series of mountains that has managed to produced an incredibly shitty skifield. There was hardly any snow - not that John the Robert the Texan is qualified to opine about snow, but suffice it to say that everyone I was with bitched about the quality of the snow. Whatever - my lasting memory of that Saturday will forever be the wind that kicked up around 11 that morning. Gust. Zephyr. Howl. Gale force. Hurricane strength. Blow. Category 5. Fucking strong wind. I can't ski worth a damn (I've been on the green slopes for the last three years) but at one point last Saturday, my skis were facing down the mountain, and I didn't move - the wind was that strong. Snow swirled around to produce what experienced skiers term a whiteout. My father-in-law Steve calls it skiing by braille. I would go along with that, but apparently Steve has more feeling in his boots that I do, because the bumps on the ground did nothing for my sense of direction. Fortunately, in skiing, all roads lead to the same place - the bottom.

To make a long story short, Saturday's skiing was awful. The "snow" was basically one very large sheet of ice. The weather was awful, the wind was painful, and I got back to home base by 3 pm. We went into Queenstown proper Saturday night, found a pub full of Australians, and watched the All Blacks beat the Wallabies. Sweet as.

THE duality of skiing came through on Monday. (Sunday was a day off.) We went up to Coronet Peak, home of the New Zealand ski team and shitloads of Australian tourists. Conditions were perfect. Blue skies, no wind, the most amazing views (you can always judge a skiers' ability by how much he or she comments on the beauty of the mountains - people who can actually ski don't even notice), and plenty of space for an upper-beginner Texan skier to practice his turns. I went up the 2 person chair lift 15 times. I struck up a conversation with the person next to me each time. I talked to a young Danish girl (too bad I never visited Denmark when I was single - be. still. my. beating. ...), a French woman who complained about how houses in New Zealand are not isolated (she wanted to say insulated, but I just let it go), a Japanese lady whose English was better than 99% of the Japanese people I teach, a fat dude from Ireland (the lift was tilted about 20 degrees to his side - and I'm not exactly small. This guy was the Stay Puff Marshmellow Man on skis.), ten Australians of various descriptions, and one Kiwi. Granted, it was a Monday, so perhaps my results were somewhat skewed by the fact that New Zealand school holidays had just ended the previous Friday, but I was pretty suprised that only 1 out of 15 people using that lift actually lived in New Zealand.

Moral of the story. Queenstown is great. The Remarkables sucks. Coronet Peak is a great skifield for all levels. Danish chicks are hot. John the Robert can go down the blue trails, but it takes forever and he looks like he took the short bus up the mountain.

Totally unrelated but somewhat humorous aside. I bought a baseball glove last week off Trade Me, the New Zealand version of ebay. I met some guys at the bar from a local softball club, and they invited me down to their practice (called "training" in Kiwi English). The Trade Me seller said that his glove was in perfect condition but was just too big for his hand. It was only $10, so I bought it, thinking that a big glove would be great for softball. I go to his house to pick up the glove, knock on his door, and the guy turns out to be a fucking midget. Dwarf. Little person. Extra from Willow. Hobbit. The glove is fine, about the size of a second baseman's glove, but probably too small to play softball with. I've got no problems with little people, but I do think a dwarf that says a baseball glove is too big for him should perhaps also let it be known that he's four feet tall. But that's just me.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Five Record Reviews for the Price of One Post

2009 has been a bumper year for new records by my musical heroes. Had someone told me that in the first five months of the year I'd be listening to new albums from Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, and Bob FREAKING Dylan, I would have been frothing at the ears in anticipation. Unfortunately, the actual results have been mixed. No, that's wrong. It's not mixed if pretty much all those new records are crap save for one. So the results aren't really mixed; they are, for lack of a better term, confused.

Springsteen's Working on a Dream is by the far the best of the bunch. I have to admit that I find it hard to believe that Bruce had never written a song called Working on a Dream before this one. The title song itself is pretty much a distillation of Bruce at his Bruce-est, doing what he does, singing about work and/or dreams, while the E Street Band inhabit every available space with a Spector-esque wall of sound, filled with keyboards, organs, acoustic guitar strumming, droning baritone saxes, and even a bit of the old glockenspiel for the outro. I'm on to it - take a three chord wonder with a chorus repeated over and over and layer the sound like a Black Forest Cherry Cake with extra icing. Just in case that sounds like a criticism, realize that I love me some Schwarz-walder-kirsch-torte, and no amount of icing could ever be too much. The album overall isn't as good as 2007's Magic, but it doesn't need to be that good to still be a damn good record and proof that Bruce Springsteen is still very much in control of his gift.

(Someone remind me to write up my thoughts on Queen of the Supermarket - I still can't decide if it's the most ridiculous thing Bruce has ever released, or just a bad song, or a stroke of genius that I just don't quite get.)

Neil Young, on the other hand, has about as much quality control and product consistency as the lunch ladies at my high school cafeteria. Sometimes those nachos were crispy and delicious with the perfect cheese to jalapeno to corn chip ratio, but the next day you got a bowl of gooey ooze that tasted and looked like baby food. And so it is with Neil Young's output. Promoting the latest broadside, Fork in the Road, our local/national (in NZ local and national is pretty much the same thing) classic rock radio station said that if anyone other than Neil Young drove across American in a battery powered "heavy metal Continental" and recorded an album about it it would be f**king gay. They were pretty much correct, other than the "except Neil Young" fine print. The album is terrible. Somehow Neil actually sings, with a straight face apparently, lines like, "The awesome power of electricity/Stored for you in a giant battery" and "running low on the people's fuel/riding around in something really cool." Worse, he refers to himself as the Motorhead Messiah. Really.

The death of Stooges guitarist and Iggy Pop sparring partner Ron Asheton puts to bed any hope of a better Stooges reunion album than 2006's The Weirdness. That record was crap, but it was fairly harmless as anyone who would have listened to it already had classics like the self titled debut and Fun House. And fortunately the shows the Stooges played over the last several years convinced anyone who saw them that a, Ron Asheton was a ground breaking guitar hero who never got his due, and b, Iggy Pop is still a human pogo stick, that is, if pogo sticks had great abs. Iggy Pop's Preliminaires opens with the mourning Stooge reciting French poetry. In French. Over a moody bass line with congas in one ear and a vibrato heavy keyboard drone in the other. Jesus, the sax solo just came on. You have got to be freaking kidding me. About as far of a cry from Now I Wanna Be Your Dog as you could ever cringe over. But having said that, I am a pure sucker for Iggy's baritone with some soft and mellow production ("Fucking Alone" off American Caesar is a forgotten classic). The music press has given him a ton of shit for his lyrics over the last several records, and Iggy is certainly no Dylan, but "You can convince the world/That you're some kind of superstar/ When an asshole is what you are" is pretty bad even for a guy whose last album included the line "Baby take a look at me/ My dick is turning into a tree." Bottom Line: Iggy Pop and smooth jazz, in any language, is gonna be an acquired taste. This one might take awhile, if I ever get around to listening to it again.

Elvis Costello has put out a country record called Secret, Profane, and Sugarcane. It's not an embarrassment or anything, but other people do country a hell of a lot better. Not many do rock better than Elvis Costello & the Attractions/Imposters, so one wonders why Costello can't be satisfied being one of rock's best singers and songwriters, period. Dude, you really don't have to put out country records or duet albums with Burt Bacharach or do gigs with Allen Tussaint. Buth then again, I guess if I could shit out albums as good as Momofuku in a week, I might start looking for other challenges as well.

And finally, Bob Dylan should really get his own post. But who am I to critique his Bobness? He can do whatever he wants, and usually does, and lately (as in about the last 12 years or so), Dylan's late career output has only added to his already insurmountable legend. Together Through Life proves once again that Dylan listens to a lot of really old music. I thought I was bad for thinking London Calling was the last true classic by a young-at-the-time-band ever recorded (when I was 4), but Dylan acts like Elvis was the end of music. Bob has basically mined folk, blues, and country for workouts that his frankly shit-hot band could probably play in their sleep. So, yeah, the playing is great, the Dylan croak is just a tad worse than on the last record, but this one is just kind of there. I've still not sat down and listened to the whole thing in headphones to take it all in, and I suppose I should before deciding what I really think about it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Still a Barman . . .

SO . . .

I walked into the bar last Friday with every intention of it being for the last time. I slipped into my way-too-small uniform shirt (it doesn't even button - I have to wear a black T shirt underneath and turn the official garb into a vest) and found Dickface (see below) in his office.

I said hello and he didn't move a muscle apart from the few he was already using to type up an email. So I reiterated my greetings, "Hi Dickface, how are you."

"Okay, mate. Okay," he finally replied without looking up.

To make a long story short, I told Dickface that, although he may not realize it, he is a dickface because he embarrassed me in front of customers. He tried to act like I couldn't take a joke. I corrected him, pointing out that I can take plenty of jokes (a steady stream of accusations of homosexuality courtesy of one uncle comes to mind) but, as in the case of my uncle, it is crucial that you establish some kind of relationship with me before you start shooting your mouth off, especially in front of other people. Dickface is a dickface because he didn't speak to me at all for 3 months, and then suddenly felt like he could have his comedic way with me when it suited him.

He seemed to be pretty shell shocked, which reminded me of the last time this kind of thing happened to me here in NZ, that is, the last time I spoke honestly with a work superior. I somewhat (errr, VERY) directly told a previous manager at the telephone company (see first post of this blog) that I didn't understand what she wanted me to do and was getting tired of her passive aggressive bullshit. From that day forward, she was nothing but super nice to me, going out of her way to offer me doughnuts (doughnuts : office :: cigarettes: prison) or ask me what I thought about various conundrums, such as how to deal with rude customers or how to respond to the company plan to move the entire team to the Philippines. It was weird. One minute, I was persona non grata, the next I was a valued member of the inner circle, getting loads of face time with the boss. And the only difference was that I made a bit of a fuss.

And so it was with Dickface. He claimed that he had never been accused of such rudeness ever before, but it was obvious that he knew what I was talking about. "Mate, sometimes I get here at 8 in the morning, and I guess I just don't always think to say hello to the people here." Besides the fact I too go to work at 8 in the morning, albeit for a different job, I did mention that it is certainly no excuse for being a dickface. It ain't that hard to say hello, or to just smile.

So for the rest of last Friday's bar shift, Dickface talked to me about future opportunities, said I could probably do some other work at other places, and said that he wanted to include me in some brainstorming sessions about where to take the bar.

I certainly couldn't quit at that point. I even hung out with some of the regulars after my shift ended.

And it turns out one of the regulars is a builder, and knows all about redoing bathrooms. And I've been house hunting. The builder says he can sort me out with bathrooms, kitchens, etc . . . If he can't do the job, he knows the people who can.

So yes, the unsolicited advice I got from Julia after the last post was spot on. Christchurch is a small town - it's about time I start figuring out how to use that to my advantage.

But I'm still kind of stuck. Not sure if the Kiwis like this American directness or not. Ask them, and most Kiwis say they don't like it. But whenever I have actually done it - whenever I have taken the gloves off and simply told people exactly how I felt and what I wanted, the response has been generally positive.

I suppose it's all part of the work in progress that is settling in on this small island far from everywhere else. We'll see where it goes . . . .

Friday, May 29, 2009

A Barman No Longer

My very brief career as a Barman in New Zealand is about to come to an end. My happy hour shift starts in about an hour, and I've decided it will be my last one.

I took the two-shifts-a-week job pretty much for the hell of it in the first place. I didn't really need the money, although every little bit extra certainly helps. But it turns out that bars and the people who work in them are not that much different in New Zealand from anywhere else.

The manager is the worst type of human - the kind of guy who was the coolest, nicest dude ever when we first met, but once I started working for him, he didn't speak to me for about 3 months. No hello. No goodbyes. He didn't even look at me. I've come to find out that it is nothing personal, as he pretty much treats everyone like shit.

Dickface suddenly started being real nice a couple of weeks ago after he very seriously stuck his foot in his mouth at me. I won't go into any details, but suffice it to say that he really pissed me off and I let him know it. The fact that he is now suddenly saying, "Hello" and "How ya goin' mate" in the Kiwi way makes it all even worse. So to hell with him. I don't want to see him anymore, and I am over the bar work. Sometimes it is actually kind of fun, but most of the time it's pure drudgery.

And someone needs to teach these people how to drink. My God. There is a reason we put ice in cocktails - no ice means that the drink is watered down and doesn't taste like anything. People in Christchurch seem to think that ice in a gin and tonic robs you of tonic water.

I can't decide if I should go out in the proverbial blaze of glory (see the first post on this blog) and tell Dickface what I think of him, or if I should just finish my shift and go home, never to be seen again. The red-blooded Texan side of me that was partially raised by a gun-toting, liberal bashing, 300 pound uncle who went nuts at waitresses in Denny's if his pork chop was overcooked wants to make sure Dickface knows not to fuck with bald Texans ever again. It would be kind of fun to tell him off and, if nothing else, just embarrass the crap out of the guy in front of the other employees who can't stand him. But on the other hand, the mature adult hiding somewhere inside me knows I'll probably just reinforce everyone's already negative stereotypes of most Americans.

But what the hell . . . it's been a long time since I've truly and completely burned a bridge. Might be time to light one up . . .

We'll see what happens . . .

Don't you hate ellipses . . . how lazy is that . . . either form a complete thought, or come up with another way to indicate incompleteness . . .

This blogger sucks . . .

Friday, May 8, 2009

Arabs and Meat

I'm coming up on my one year anniversary of life in New Zealand, so I suppose I should do a bit of a recap. I can't be bothered at the moment, so I'll write that up tomorrow.

Some Saudi guys my wife and I know invited us over for dinner the other night. A fairly dreary Wednesday evening that followed an 11 hour/4 different jobs day turned into a completely surreal gastronomic bizarre of nearly unrivaled proportions.

One of the Saudi guys is a chef. He and his buddies are in NZ to study English. They decided last week to buy a sheep, so they contacted a farmer, agreed upon a price, and drove out to the farm. They agreed to pick out the sheep, and even physically, uh, gathered, the sheep, running around the farm chasing the most attractive victim. Apparently the sheep pretty much acted like I would if I saw five hungry Arabs running after me, which it to say that it hauled ass and did everything in its power to prevent the jihad. It lost. Saudis 1, that sheep 0.

After about 20 minutes the chef (who by the way looks exactly like Lou Reed circa 1978) pinned the sheep down long enough for everyone to grab a hoof and transport it back to the farmer for halal slaughtering. Lou Reed had never killed and quartered a sheep before, so he was given the honours. It took him a good hour, which everyone else found to be hilarious. Blood and fleece filled the air as they all dreamed of how the dead ball of fluff would be turned into a week's worth of dinners.

Our invitation was for Wednesday; as far as I know the guys had been eating the mutton for the previous four days. We hadn't brought the customary bottle of wine, making sure not to offend Islamic sensibilities. It turns out we had nothing to worry about. Fortunately, Lou Reed and the gang have adopted a when-in-New Zealand-attitude to drinking alcohol, so as soon as I sat down I had a beer in one hand and a tequila shot in the other, with the salt and lime on the table right in front of me. I am all about the when-in-someone's house-drink-whatever-they-give-me attitude toward social drinking, so off we went. For guys who aren't supposed to drink, they have pretty good taste in beer, providing a seemingly endless supply of Speight's Summit (a "pure" golden lager that is pretty much the best beer made by NZ's biggest beer company).

Saudis eat very late. By the time we finally sat down at the table it was almost 10 pm, and I was bloody starving, even after a few beers and an appetizer of dates and Arabic coffee (which tastes nothing like coffee, doesn't look like coffee, and doesn't even have any caffeine, but I was assured that it is actually coffee. Whatever.).

Lou Reed sat down along with a dude who's name is pronounced like Knife (spelled differently, but it's more fun to just call him "knife" so that's what I'll do), a guy wearing a large coat made of the fur of many, many rabbits (rabbits, if they could talk, would refer to this guy as "Hitler"), and a very, very happy man who came to New Zealand with his wife and young son (so we'll call him Family Guy). A tall, skinny guy called Abdullah (and yes the others do have real names that I know but I don't want anyone getting their hands cut off on account of my blog . . . ), in whose apartment we were eating, was the waiter. He absolutely refused to sit down to eat until everyone else was done. He wouldn't even sit down anywhere. He brought water, coffee, beer, bread, rice, or whatever anyone wanted. Dude was literally a waiter in his own house. He even folded his hands behind him like a waiter would.

Abdullah the Waiter placed three huge ceramic dishes in the middle of the table. On my right was the mutton, huge chunks of meat on large, curved bones that would have been my vegan youngest brother's worst nightmare. I didn't even care if it was gonna taste good - I remembered my friend Ben saying once that even if a piece of meat didn't taste all that good, the thought that somewhere a vegan hippie was upset about it made the whole meat-eating enterprise worthwhile. But once I grabbed onto a sheep rib and stuck my face into some seriously tender meat, I realized I didn't have anything to worry about. Rabbit Hitler said it was okay to eat with my hands, so I grabbed a gone and got down to business. Mutton doesn't have the greatest of reputations as meat goes, but I suppose if the Arab Lou Reed chucked damn near anything into an Arab pressure-cooker for long enough, added enough garlic and spices, and allowed me to eat it off the bone cave-man style, I'd be pretty satisfied. This was not "mutton dressed as lamb" (the Kiwi version of the Texas expression "all hat and no cattle"). It was mutton that was proud to be what it was. This was meat that was meant to be eaten outdoors by men seated in a circle around a fire, naked, speaking in grunts as they reminisced over the morning conquest of Atila and/or the Huns. Meat that filled me with enough manliness to wear pink for the rest of this year, or to put down every toilet seat I see. I'm still blissing out over this meat, and this all happened about two weeks ago.

[Disclaimer: I don't have anything against hippies or vegans. I do have something against white people with dreadlocks, and there are shitloads of white people with dreadlocks in New Zealand - I'll never get used to it, and I always assume they are either hippies, vegans, or both. It's just not right. Anyway, I imagined that the angry vegan hippie who would have been horrified at all the meat I was about to consume was the guy I met at a pub quiz night who was a, very white, and b, had a perfectly trimmed accountant/mortgage broker style beard, and c, had dreadlocks down to his ass. Dork.]

The dish in the middle of the table was filled with sauteed vegetables and the tenderest chicken wings I've ever had.. Family Guy challenged Knife and I to a contest to see who could produced the cleanest chicken bones after one bite. I think we tied. The meat fell off the bone and melted in my mouth as soon as the wing hit my tongue.

The dish on the left was filled with rice, which Abdullah the Waiter insisted on scooping onto my plate every time I got anywhere near finishing the rice that was already on my plate. We also had some pitas to scoop any remaining meat or veggie remnants up.

And I think there was a salad at one point.

Rabbit Hitler pointed out again and again that I couldn't stop eating. "In my country, ....." I've learned to be weary when an Arab begins a sentence with this seemingly innocent cultural entreaty. What comes next could be anything from a defense of polygamy to why Hitler (the German one, not the rabbit guy) is a great hero. In this case, though, the "in my country" phrase led to nothing but pure gluttony. According to Rabbit Hitler, Family Guy, Knife, Lou Reed, and Abdullah the Waiter, to refuse food was something akin to pissing on the Koran. So I kept on eating. And when the cinnamon schnapps came out for dessert, I went for it in the name of cultural understanding. And even though I was really full and had to get up early the next day, I couldn't help but have another beer or two as we all sat in the living room watching the Daily Show. They didn't understand it, but laughed anyway.

If only they knew Jon Stewart is a Jew . . .

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Watching Kiwis Drink

There was an ad in the weekend employment section of The Press back in November of last year looking for a resident funny person to work in a bar. I sent off a funny (haha) email, detailing my complete lack of skills, disdain for soccer, and love of New Zealand beer. I guess it turned out to be a fairly effective cover letter, because three months later, I started working at the bar.

My first shift was 27 February (Kiwis do the date backwards like that for the Americans reading this), which, for those scoring at home, was two days after Fat Tuesday, or one day after Ash Wednesday, or one day into John the Robert's forty day exercise as a teetotaler. I wasn't going to drink a single drop until Easter, and, with a few very minor exceptions (I had a beer at the Who concert, I sampled my first homemade beer once it was ready, and I took one for the team and had a glass of wine [Marlborough Savignon Blanc - hints of cut grass and citrus] with my mother-in-law on her birthday - all worthy exceptions in my version of Lent) I have been on the wagon.

What better time to start working happy hours at a local in Papanui? I don't generally hang out with drunks unless I'm drunk myself, at which point I'm not really hanging out with drunks, I'm just hanging out. And getting drunk. With other people.

So I thought this would work out really well. I would pour beers for three or four hours every Thursday and Friday and it wouldn't bother me a bit because I wasn't drinking anyway. I would calmly sip on some ice water or maybe even some lemonade (what Americans call "Sprite" is called "lemonade" here). And for the first few weeks, it really didn't bother me. I was actually starting to have a pretty good time, with a few exceptions . . .

DIGRESSION: Every country, or maybe even every city or neighborhood, has its own drinking customs, and apparently most people here in Christchurch, or at least the ones that go to my bar (not that it's mine, but you know what I mean - the bar I'm working for) think that

1. local drinking customs are obvious
2. anyone who deviates from local drinking customs is a retard
3. a barman with an American accent who serves a drink with a straw is gay

This bar has a pretty happening happy hour. Something about $3 wine and tap beer helps. 95% of what we sell is beer and wine, so there isn't much I can do to fuck up. Make sure the glass is reasonably cold, or at least not hot, leave 1 cm of head in case of beer or fill the wine glass to the letters (the name of the bar is printed on the wine glasses). But for that 5% that wants a Rum and Coke or a Gin and Tonic, GOD HELP YOU.

Where I come from, you order a gin and tonic, and the bartender makes you a gin and tonic. Period. The customer might request a slice of lime instead of lemon, but basically you defer to the bartender's skill and hope for the best. Here, whatever I do is met with scorn. I pick up a short glass, and I get yelled at to put in a tall glass. I pick up a tall glass, and get a little chuckle as the customer looks at me like I'm Rain Man and says, "it usually comes in a shooooort glaaaaass." I put ice in the glass, and the bank lady (invariably it's bank ladies that order gin and tonics) says it's too much ice. No ice in the glass and she wants more ice. Would you like lemon? "Of course I want lemon!" Would you like lemon? "Hello no! Give me lime!" I start stirring the drink with a little straw. Would you like the straw? "Yeah - and you can give it to me with a facking umbrella - why don't you put a bloody cherry in it as well ya fackin' Yank and put the straw in this beer mug" (this last bit was actually bank lady's boyfriend). I think he was being sarcastic. Anyway, lesson learned. Use a straw to stir the drink behind the bar and toss the straw before serving it. Ask if customer wants a tall or short glass, or even better, hold up one of each. Do not criticize customer for ordering RTDs, even though it has got to be the dumbest thing in the world to order a ready made Bourbon and Coke in a bottle while you are in a fucking bar talking to a bartender whose job is to mix drinks! (END OF DIGRESSION)

95% of the customers, especially the regulars, have been really cool, although our conversation rarely gets past a variation of "How ya doing/how ya goin." But it really doesn't take much to make me like people. Just a simple smile and a "how's it" while I pour the beer puts me on their side. Some people, sometimes fortunately and sometimes not, do feel the need to have a chat.

In the latter category was a female regular who somehow found it necessary to share that her ultimate sexual fantasy involved dressing her boyfriend up in Klu Klux Klan robes. She asked if there was a Klan supply store in my hometown. I told her I didn't know. Her boyfriend was standing right next to her, wearing Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse sponsored Nascar gear, and smiling from ear to ear as she detailed what she would do with a white pointy hat.

As for the theory that working in a bar during a period of enforced dryness would be easy, it hasn't exactly worked out. I haven't actually tried the beer at the bar yet (they serve their own boutique brews), but it sure as hell looks good, and truth be told I can't wait to try it. I have never wanted a beer more in my life than the second I clock off and walk out of that bar. Every molecule in my body wants to change shirts and walk right back inside and order an ice cold lager, nicely, with a big smile and a "how's it going." I wouldn't even blink if I got a straw.

But I haven't yet broken down yet. Maybe that's because we've moved Fish and Chips night from Sunday to Friday. Once happy hour is over, I drive to the best fish and chippy in town, pick up my order, go home, and completely forget that beer even exists.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Cry Me a Tasman

New Zealand is a small country. Area wise NZ is about the size of Colorado, and its population is less than that of John the Robert's native habitat, that cesspool of humanity and humidity known as Greater Houston.

So perhaps New Zealanders can be forgiven for having "little country" syndrome, the same way I have come to forgive 5 foot nothing Jason McClain for being a dick in high school. (Life as a short, red headed atheist who was the world's biggest Misfits fan at an all boys Catholic school in Texas must have been rough.)

But the reaction to this Australian expat's blog has taken the traditional Kiwi inferiority complex to new levels, damn near equating New Zealand itself with the personality cult status afforded Kim Jong Il or Fidel Castro, if only Dear Leader/El Jefe were a small flightless bird or a silver fern.

Here's what all the fuss is about. An Australian couple (from Tasmania of all places) moved to Auckland and started a blog a few months ago about their experience as Australians living in New Zealand. While literally thousands of Kiwis move to Australia every year and just about every Kiwi is either related to or at least knows someone who has made the move, Australians aren't exactly clamouring for flights further south. Nor do Australians know much about New Zealand - several Australian friends I knew in Japan were surprised that New Zealand had its own currency or that it's capital city was Wellington.

The need for a blog detailing life in NZ for the few Australians thinking about living here seems clear.

But then someone told the thin-skinned Kiwis that this couple didn't like New Zealand beer (Auckland beer probably does suck, but the beer down here in ChCh is gooooooood) and thought that Rotorua stunk (it does). And this "story" about the bloggers who "hate" New Zealand ended up in the papers and was even the top of the hour topic of conversation on the breakfast news show this morning.

I suppose I'm not really surprised. Three days after the New Zealand election, there was a front page story in the Press (Christchurch local rag) "reporting" that a columnist from the Age (Aussie paper) thought Kiwis made a huge mistake by electing John Key over incumbent Helen Clark. A few months later a German television network ran a story about street racers in Christchurch bothering tourists, which duly landed on the FRONT PAGE of the Press.

And in today's Press, the story at the bottom of the front page compares the drop in hotel prices in uber-hip Queenstown to the plunge in prices in Mumbai and Reyjkavik. The audacity to compare our supposed troubles in attracting tourists to the tragedy in Mumbai and financial chaos of Iceland, while shocking, is yet further proof of this innate and irrational defensiveness that Kiwis harbour.

Relax. New Zealand is beautiful, and it is a great place to live.

Christchurch is the most livable city in the world. I can walk to work in 20 minutes. I saw Steve Earle play one of the best shows I've ever seen in a state of the art theatre that was halfway to work (that's ten minutes for the mathematically challenged). The skifields are a 90 minute drive, and the beach is 15 minutes on the bus, or 45 on the bike. We've got flower shows coming out our yin-yangs, international buskers, a world class rugby stadium, a kick ass library with very comfortable chairs and every magazine known to man (Downbeat anyone?), and enough Thai food to keep Thailand going should global warming wipe it off the map.

We love it here. I'm not leaving. But I'm not going to Rotorua either.

And I'm still allowed to bitch.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Who at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland

Drummer Keith Moon has been dead for 30 years, and bassist John Entwistle succumbed after the coolest rock star death of them all (cocaine and prostitute induced heart attack at 58!). The other half of the Who have a combined age of 128. The writer (Pete Townshend, 63) continues to deliver backhanded compliments to the singer (Roger Daltrey, 65) along the lines of, "Roger is the best interpretor of my work," and outright put downs such as, "Keith Moon was a genius, John was a genius, I certainly approached genius, and Roger was just a singer." Pete and Roger put out a Who record back in 2006, Endless Wire, with cover art straight out of 1984, but with keyboard riffs and guitar motifs directly plagiarized from the own earlier work. ( And yes I've spent the last two and a half years trying to decide if I like it. I still don't know. Apparently David Fricke from Rolling Stone did. So did virtually every other rock journalist, even though Daltrey's voice sounds shot and Townshend's lyrics at times border on ridiculous. Some bands, you just can't criticize.)

In an earlier post you can read about my justification for spending a fair amount of coin on the 2009 version of The Who. I'd never seen them before, and there is something about being in the presence of true honest to goodness rock and royalty that gets me every time, making me willing to spend absurd amounts of money to see absurdly rich people play absurdly good music. Still, I had my doubts, especially about Daltrey's pipes and how anyone could stand in for the greatest bass player of the rock era; suffice it to say I had low-ish expectations.

I know now that having low expectations ahead of seeing The Who is like walking into the movie theatre thinking that The Godfather might suck, or holding your nose as you gingerly inch that filet mingon to your mouth, or putting off a trip to New Zealand because there are other mountains closer.

What the hell was I thinking? From the punk rock blue print that is the opening chords of I Can't Explain to Daltrey's scream at the end of Won't Get Fooled Again (he can still do it!) to the sheer beauty of an utterly stunning Behind Blue Eyes, Townshend and Daltrey (along with honorouble mention Zac Starkey for pounding the living shit out of his drums) brought the goods. And we loved it.

Was it perfect? From a technical standpoint, not at all. Although I'm sure he's played it approximately 7000 times by now, Townshend managed to forget where he was in I Can't Explain, going into the lead break after the first verse while the rest of the band fired up verse two. His amp shat itself during the 5:15/Love Reign O'er Me Quadrophenia nod. His riffage during the Tommy montage in the encore could have been tighter. Roger still tries to fling his mic around, but he pretty much stayed in one spot the whole show, and he still seems to uncomfortably defer to Pete (are these guys ever gonna just like each other?) in terms of most if not all stage banter.

A more important question - did it rock? Oh yes, my friends, it rocked, Townshend rocked, the crowd rocked, even the bus ride on the way out to the stadium rocked (courtesy of a very drunk Maori dude singing 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover over and over again - I'm not sure if he realizes that Paul Simon was not in The Who).

Townshend wound up his trademark windmill throughout, attacking his shiny red Fender Strat with gusto and force. Perhaps most importantly, he genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself. I've always wondered how much a performer like Pete Townshend can get up for yet another gig at a random stadium on the other side of the world from everything, but he appeared sincere when he thanked the crowd for coming out "in such difficult times" and if he is getting sick of playing Who Are You and Baba O'Riley, he certainly didn't let on.

And what of Daltrey's voice? His singing on the Endless Wire album sounded strained; on virtually the entire album he is just barely able to hit the notes he's reaching for. Apparently this was done on purpose, because with the exception of some minor vamping on Won't Get Fooled Again, Roger's voice sounded the way I imagine it did the last time The Who played New Zealand 41 years ago.

After an encore of a short Tommy medley, which concluded with the beautiful harmonies of Listening to You, the support players left the stage. Townshend finger-picked an acoustic while Daltrey sang Tea and Theatre, a fitting and touching tribute to Moon and Entwistle. The amazine journey was complete.

Setlist: I Can't Explain, The Seeker, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, Fragments, Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes, Sister Disco, Baba O'Riley, Eminence Front, 5.15, Love Reign O'er Me, You Better You Bet, My Generation, Won't Get Fooled Again, Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, Sparks, See Me Feel Me, Tea And Theatre

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Four Years

High School: Four Years
University: Four Years
Olympic Training Period: Four Years
Time Between World Cups: Four Years
How Long I Spent Trying to Appreciate Leonard Cohen Records Before I Gave Up: Eight Years
How Long My Last Band in Japan Lasted: Four Years
How Long My First Band in NZ Lasted: Four Months
Number of Work Days in a Week with One National Holiday: Four Days
Minimum Paid Holiday as Mandated by NZ Government: Four Weeks
Length of US Civil War: Four Years
Length of World War I: Four Years
Length of World War II (US involvement): Four Years (give or take a few months)
How Long I've Been Married: FOUR YEARS

David Bowie may have sung, "We've got FIVE YEARS/ that's all we got" but it just seemed like five years to him because during the Ziggy Stardust period he was trying to be gay and refused most solid food. The magic number is clearly four, and the fact that Sarah and I have survived the first four years is reason for serious celebration.

We went out for some seriously ***** (that's pronounced "five star") Italian food last night. You may have heard that I don't do restaurant reviews, and I'm not about to start now, but there was a quattro formaggi pizza with walnuts, a bruschetta composed of manuka honey and pears, and, as the menu said, The Best Ever Lasagna, which, were it my restaurant, would be renamed the Best Ever Lasagna Because It Comes With a Shitload of Meat. As I sliced the lasagna, meat poured out from between the layers of pasta like ice cream on a half melted Mississippi Mud when bitten. It was so good that I didn't even have anything to drink, for fear that adding anything further to the taste orgy would so desensitize my tongue that my own penne-and- tomato-sauce-with-$6-bottle-of-South-African-Cab-Sav would never suffice again.

In keeping with the celebration of FOUR, I've decided that the anniversary will last for four days. Thursday was Italian food, Friday was staying at home and watching Springsteen on the Daily Show (we would have done that anyway . . .) but it all picks up again on Saturday because we are flying to Auckland.

To see The Who. From the 12th row.

And yes, I know that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are half the original band and that their combined age is 128 (no shit), but as Pete has said, they are very lucky that the guy who wrote all the songs and the guy who sang them are the two left standing. Fair enough I suppose. And besides, we and about 50,000 other people saw the Beatles play a show in the Tokyo Dome a few years ago with one original member, and that dude was definitely sporting man cans (abnormally large male breasts) at that point. The Japanese did have the decency to advertise that event as a "Paul McCartney" concert, but you know what I mean . . .

And the four day celebration of the four year anniversary concludes Sunday with a lie in at the Rydges Hotel in central Auckland where we shall gather another six months worth of mini soaps (perfect for the gym) before returning to Christchurch and eating the best fish and chips in Australasia, no screw it, the best fish and chips in the Pacific Rim (I find it hard to believe that there's a place in either Chile or Oregon that can compete with our guy down the road).

1040 Takeaways at, uh, 1040 Colombo Street for those of you in ChCh, is absolutely the best fish and chip shop in town. The double burger with cheese will melt the heart of anyone (and I now you're out there) opposed to the basic premise of ever ordering a burger in a fish and chip shop on the basis of keeping some order in the universe. To hell with order in the universe. It's time to embrace chaos, and order the fucking burger. It's really good.

I'll let you know how it all goes. Hope everyone else has a good weekend.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Punk Rock Rosetta Stone

I often stay up late at night searching for that mythical musical bridge that must have existed between the so-called prepunk of the MC5 and Stooges in Detroit and the full blown, fully leaded punk rock played by the Ramones and Dead Boys in New York.

I had been pretty satisfied that the New York Dolls were that bridge - image wise at least, as the Dolls look and sound was an esophagus burning nightcap made of the androgyny and pure bloody weirdness of Iggy Pop, mixed with a dash of Mick Taylor era Stones, shaken with some accidental death in a bathtub (poor Billy Murcia - perhaps the saddest rock star death of them all), and served with a floater of soon to be Sex Pistols manager Malcom McLaren dressing up the band in red leather commie outfits. How punk rock is that?

Very punk rock indeed is the correct answer, but the problem with this "New York Dolls as the sonic bridge between the Stooges and the Ramones" theory is that the Dolls' music sounds just like the Stones (and no, that does NOT mean they sound like Aerosmith). Don't get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this sound. Tis a sound other bands would do well to emulate, if only they could. Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders worshipped the spoons that Keef used to melt his smack, so much so that Thunders threw the cat amongst the pigeons by becoming a heroin addict before he became famous, never a good idea.

As righeous as those two original Dolls albums are (and the third record that the last two surviving members put out in 2007 is pretty damn good too), this Stones-ish sound the Dolls played is decidedly un-punk, or at least that's what my old pal Tim would say. And if Tim doesn't think it's punk, then it's not punk. Dude.

So what is a punk rock historian to do?!?! Thank God for articles like this.

I've never actually heard this band Death (never even heard of them - I'm embarassed), and I'm not about to fork over $800 but for a single, but the idea that three black dudes from Detroit could have saved rock and roll from disco is just so damn cool I think I'll just have to go with it, songs unheard.

So there you go. Death is now in my "Top 10 Most Influential Bands of the Punk Rock Era That No One Listens To Anymore." The actual list shall be forthcoming.

And speaking of influential bands that no one listens to anymore, I saw John Doe, the bassist/singer from L.A. punk band X, play an acoustic set at a jazz lounge in Christchurch last week. The X songs sounded great, especially The New World, which he of course dedicated to the new administration among hopes that he can sing The New World four years from now after we have seen an actual New World. Whatever, it's a great song, always has been, always will be, and hearing Doe play it solo acoustic Woody Guthrie style was neat-o.

John Doe's new songs all have that familiar thing he does with his voice where he gives us a rising vibrato at the end of each verse before a punchy chorus of lots of syllables in not a lot of time. I swear John Doe does this on damn near every song he plays, and it's great, it's his thing, just like Bono's hoo hoo's and Springsteen's rebuttals of "Mister" and Kris Kristofferson dropping the word "freedom" into every song he writes. So let me be clear that I have no problem with John Doe doing his elongated-end-of-verse-vibrato-thing-followed-by-punchy-chorus. I am cool with it. But when an honest to goodness punk rock legend introduces a new song by commenting about the mountains near his house or how much he misses his daughter (while cradling an acoustic guitar), you know you better be ready to cringe.

And cringe we did. But no worries, John, you still rock. Just don't write any more songs about mountains, daughters, or California.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Dancing Kitten

See below for why my kitten is special, and why this is all new to me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

This Guy REALLY likes Slayer

I like Slayer and all, but damn . . .

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

That Dress is No Longer Fancy

Living in different places is great. There are new experiences to be had at every turn, or at least that's what I keep telling myself. The truth is that I'm starting to wonder if my curmudgeonly tendencies have gone from "occasional" to "permanent feature of John the Robert's personality." My patience for eccentricity for its own sake is starting to wane.

Emo bands that cover Dylan songs, especially this Dylan song, should lose whichever hand they use to apply makeup.

I've been living in New Zealand for nigh on 10 months now, and I am bloody sick of costume/fancy dress parties/events. The Rugby Sevens weekend in Wellington has turned into a 30,000 strong costume theme frat party. The dudes unironically, yet cheekily dress like the Village People, and the chicks dress like nurses, if every nurse in the world wore fishnet and had DSL's. It's stupid, it makes a mockery of the sport (which might not actually be much of a sport anyway to be fair - rugby sevens is like the 6 man American football they play in West Texas high schools too small to play real football), the blowhards in the stands don't even watch the games, and it's just wrong on all levels.

Today is Wednesday, March 11. There is absolutely nothing special about today (other than my sister's birthday, but she lives 19 time zones to the left). Thus, there is NO REASON for a guy dressed as BATMAN to walk past my kitchen window at 6 o'clock this evening while I'm cooking. But there was and he did and "Holy Fancy Dress Party" that dude showed up to wherever he was going dressed as Batman and is probably getting laid via a fat chick who went to the party as a pirate.

I declare a moratorium on fancy dress events in this country. Enough is enough. We have Halloween in America so we can keep this shit to a minimum. Once a year people. Not every Friday when you and a bunch of coworkers put on pirate and cop outfits and rent a 1960s model school bus to drive your drunk ass around from one about-to-go-out-of-business-pub to another, rocking out to classic, uh, Kiwi tunes such as Country Roads and Sweet Home Alabama. And not at sporting events, even if the sport in question is, uh, questionable.

Stop it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

No Songs Like That

I've never written a record review. I have spoken approximately 2,587 record reviews, and that's just if we count what I said to my former colleague in Japan, Mike, the only person I know who can tell you all about Kind of Blue and Astral Weeks but still has the time and inclination to get into Slayer in his mid 30s.

You may have heard that a new U2 album was released this week, the group's 12th. As with most music snobs of my generation if they are being honest, U2 was the first band I obsessed over, listening to Boy through The Joshua Tree and virtually nothing else for most of 1987. That being said, I am by no means a U2 fanboy. I found the 90s albums intolerable and can now go literally years without listening to the 1980s high water mark of inspirational-wet-dream-pretension that was the Unforgettable Fire (it's last spin on the ipod was on a bike ride in Japan in October 2007, and while, yes, it may be a bit over the top, it is still a great record).

2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind was the return of that classic U2 sound - Adam Clayton thumped the same bass line he'd been thumping since War, the Edge jingled and jangled and kept the batteries in that delay pedal fresh, Larry Mullen tapped out military patterns on his snare while Bono sang songs with names like When I Look at the World and Peace on Earth. I loved it. And I even liked the much criticized 2004 follow up, the unfortunately named How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (certainly in the top 5 "badly titled good records," somewhere among R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi Fi and Jefferson Airplane's Surrealistic Pillow). That record even has a song called Yahweh, for Christ's sake. No wonder so many people (my friend Mike notable among them) wish upon a star for Bono to meet up with a flesh eating virus that attacks his vocal chords but leaves the rest of him to writhe in unrelenting agony.

So what's the deal with No Line on the Horizon? The haters will hate it. The level of animosity - no, that's not quite right. Allow me to start again. The vitriolic malice, spite, and revulsion the anti-Bono crowd has for his pretension, rock star hypocrisy, and politician's smirk will only be amped after they get a whiff of lines like "every generation gets a chance to change the world," and "the shitty world sometimes produces a rose" (I swear a grown man who writes songs profesionally actually sang that line on this album) on song titles such as Cedars of Lebanon. I can hear Mike now. "Dude. They have got to be joking. Cedars of fucking Lebanon! Have they no shame!" And I would put my head down in shame as Mike would fantasize about all the cool ways in which Bono and/or the rest of the band could be dismembered, buried alive, or at least water boarded.

And for those of us who grew up on U2? You're gonna buy it anyway, but here are my two cents. The Edge is starting to plagiarize himself - the Walk On riff seems to come up again and again (but then again Clayton has been playing that bass line for 25 years and no one complains). The first signs of wear and tear are apparent in Bono's voice (check out the squeaks in the upper registers that he just can't quite hit full tilt in I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight). The much maligned Get on Your Boots is not nearly as bad as it's been made out by some and seems to work well as a lead single, as if that even matter anymore in this age of download-whatever-song-you-want.

The biggest revelation to me, and I admit I may very well be making a mountain out of a mole hill here, is that Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois have come away with songwriting credits on 7 of the 11 songs here. Think about that for a second. Imagine Bob Dylan sharing credit with Lanois on Oh Mercy or Time Out of Mind. Yes, the layered sound that is Eno's hallmark is all over this album, not that it is necessarily a good thing (and Lanois's triple serving of reverb is all over Time Out of Mind - sure as hell doesn't mean that his Bobness needed a writing partner). How to Dismantle a Band By Coming Up with a Stupid Ass Title for a Good Record was a good record for those 3 minute bursts of postpunk guitar rock (All Because of You, Vertigo) that hadn't seen the light of day on a U2 record since Electric Co off Boy.

And that is the biggest weakness of No Line on the Horizon. For all their faults (and even I'll admit they have many), U2 does stadium rock like no one else. They can actually ROCK. The Edge can make the hair stand up on the back of the neck of that dork in the cardigan sweater in the back row of the upper prom of a Japanese all purpose convention hall with that jingle jangle thing he does. But on this album, it just doesn't work. Yes, Clayton gives us that bass line and Bono sings high pitched hoo-hoo's and the Edge plays with lots of effects pedals and Mullen sounds like he's playing halftime at the Army-Navy game. On the best U2 records, the four members of the band do these things they do, and it results in unmatchable if not overblown epics like Bad, Where the Streets Have No Name, and City of Blinding Lights or at least rockers like A Day Without Me and Desire. No Line on the Horizon has No Songs Like That.

Methinks I should stick with speaking my record reviews. That was hard.

The Kitten

Growing up in an animal free home, I never understood people who cried when their pets died. I figured you would just get another cat. Or more goldfish. Or God forbid, another dog. I don't like dogs. Never have and probably never will. My uncle would say that my fear of dogs is just another manifestation of my latent homosexuality. The truth is that I fear dogs because one bit me when I was four. And they stink and shit in inconvenient places and make noise and are generally unbearable.

My wife Sarah grew up with cats, or to be exact, a cat. The same cat lived in the house on Highcliff for 17 years, and passed away mercifully at the vet's office, the victim of that procedure delicately known as "being put down." Curiosity didn't kill that cat, the vet did. Never mind that Colours lived to the human age of 80 and was blind, lame and generally useless; her death was a traumatic event for nearly everyone in the family, even my mother-in-law who loved to affect an imaginary hatred for Sarah's beloved pet. Sarah has always looked forward to getting another cat - we weren't allowed to have pets in either the shoebox apartment we called home in Japan for the last eight years or in the palatial two bedroom in which we now reside in Christchurch.

I have been a pet owner for a week. A quick call to the landlady, a sob story about a blind, lame, and recently deceased cat, an upcoming birthday, and some creative gift giving resulted in a small bundle of tortoise shell and white coloured fur sharing/invading/overtaking my living space. We named the kitten Kirin, after the best beer in Japan.

So this kitten playfulness is all new to me, and yes, she is hilarious. From the near suicidal leaps from the sofa onto the coffee table to the running start to climb up the back of Sarah's right leg to express displeasure at Sarah's decision to wash dishes to the way she goes apeshit with a box of tissues, Kirin is excellent value. This kitten is equal parts pro wrestler (the back of the dining table chair is her top turnbuckle), gymnast, sloth (sleeps 16 hours a day) , kangaroo (she loves hopping on her back feet), and retarded ballerina.

And I don't want to hear that every other kitten does the same thing. "All kittens are playful," my coworkers say. "Kitten love jumping, they love tissues, and they absolutely love to climb on you," says another cat owning friend. I DON'T CARE! Please just let me think that my kitten does double back flips from a wet coaster onto a piece of plastic just because she wants to impress me. Period.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Strawberry Fare

I can't stand restaurant reviews. I don't have much time for cookbooks either, or cooking shows for that matter. I'm a big Anthony Bourdain fan, but mostly as a travel writer and memoirist who happens to be really into food. For the most part, food writing is pretentious drivel, one attempt after another to out-"scrumptious" or out-"salivate" a competing review.

So this is not a restaurant review. It is a story about a somewhat legendary Christchurch eatery that gave me a mild case of food poisoning.

Problem number one - the name, Strawberry Fare. It reminds of those silly 70s band names that put three completely unrelated words together, like Grand Funk Railroad or Three Dog Night. If Strawberry Fare, why not Apple Ticket, or Grape Season Pass?

I had duck. My wife had groper. She won. Hers was a beautiful layer of oily (in a good way) fish on a block of perfectly formed mashed potatoes. My duck was cooked reasonably well, its tenderness evidenced by the way it slid off the bone with one slight poke of my fork. The problem, and I realize this is not Strawberry Fare's fault, was that the dish tasted just like the preserved duck-in-a-bag I ate twice on a 36 hour train journey across China. The food choices on that train were instant noodles and duck-in-a-bag. An entire duck. In a bag. Vacuum packed, yes, but a bag still. I will no longer order duck. Ever. Again.

At Strawberry Fare we were seated at a window table; as soon as the duck touched my tongue I half expected the window to start moving. It's a wonder it didn't.

The menu at Strawberry Fare has one page of mains, and two pages of desserts. I don't generally order dessert in restaurants, as I strongly believe the perfect dessert time to be between one and half and two hours after the evening meal is complete. But Strawberry Fare is known for dessert, so much so that at least half the diners on this particular Tuesday (Fat Tuesday in fact), were there solely for dessert. My wife got some raspberry oriented chocolate cake plate, and I ordered the Ultimate Chocolate Dessert, described as something along the lines of shitloads of chocolate ultimately served on a large plate made of chocolate, to be eaten with a chocolate fork.

All of this I washed down with a bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir.

I've been sick ever since (it's now Friday). I don't know if I contracted some kind of food poisoning per se, but perhaps one can poison oneself with an inappropriate combination of food and drink. The wine swirling around with the duck and all that chocolate, not to mention the appetizer of fresh bread and 12 year old balsamic vinegar, resulted in a chemistry experiment that I wish had taken place in a beaker instead of my stomach.

Is any of this the restaurant's fault? Probably not. But the fact remains that Stawberry Fare's very well prepared duck conjured up memories of licking glutinous duck jelly off my fingertips in the middle of China. Then the ultimate glutton's dessert mixed with some red wine (that I brought from home!) that kicked off my self flush response, and in hindsight my wife's main tasted a hell of a lot better than mine.

So, my apologies to the chef, but I'll never go back. To hell with that place.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Maiden Christchurch

"Scream for me, Christchurch," belted Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson and enthusiastically if not predictably, Christchurch screamed. That it was the first time Dickinson had ever uttered his trademark exultation in the South Island was not lost on this recent immigrant to New Zealand. Having seen Iron Maiden play in what was once an American basketball arena but is now a Pentecostal church (don't ask), the Nippon Buddhokan (yes, that Buddhokan of Cheap Trick and Bob Dylan live albums), and a state of the art performance hall in Yokohama, I had to wonder: Could the galloping beast of a Maiden show possibly translate to the concrete barn that is Christchurch's Westpac Arena?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer with a question: How could I have ever doubted the masters of arena rock, the high point of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (yes, a rather old wave at this point), on a tour promoting the first third of their 30 year career?

We got the oft-played Maiden classics that everyone expected to hear - Two Minutes to Midnight, Number of the Beast, Run to the Hills, The Trooper; along with a couple of very well received surprises - The Phantom of the Opera, Children of the Damned; and one really long song, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. Heavy metal's best bass player (yes, like saying "world's sexiest conjoined twin" or "Invercargill Beauty Queen" except that he really is that good) Steve Harris and drummer Nicko McBrain kept the gallop steady while NWOBHM guitar heroes Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, along with relative newcomer Jannick Gers (he's been in the band since 1990) soloed, harmonied, and power chorded their way through two hours of the best that the metal genre has to offer.

And so it is too that Iron Maiden's Christchurch debut (there can't possibly be that many places that Maiden debuts anymore) coincides with yet another twinge of newfound Kiwiana for John the Robert. "Scream for me, Christchurch" might just go down with the first time I ever saw a haka. Whenever I do actually see a haka, that is.

Set List:

Aces High, Wrathchild, Two Minutes to Midnight, Children of the Damned, Phantom of the Opera, The Trooper, Wasted Years, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Powerslave, Run to the Hills, Fear of the Dark, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Iron Maiden ; Encore - Number of the Best, The Evil That Men Do, Sanctuary

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Last Day on the Job

As the economic clusterfuck of unemployment, falling property values, crashing interest rates, doom and gloom, and labour market "liquidity" (the economy is soup and our jobs are chickpeas that have been boiled too long) all intersect to create this most global of recessions, it seems a good time to ruminate on perhaps one of the clearest markers of change in life - The Last Day on the Job. Appropriately enough, I write this while at "work" on the "last day" of the "job" I have been doing for that past eight months.

Yes, I too am a victim of the financial shitstorm. Now I don't really believe that for a second, but I am sure as hell going to spin in that way on my resume! I've been a temping at the phone company, New Zealand's largest employer, for about 7-8 months, and had pretty much no chance of getting a permanent job (reasons forthcoming in a separate post which will summarize a cultural and linguistic, uh, misunderstanding). A couple of weeks ago, my team had a deep and meaningful meeting with our boss, the boss's boss, and the boss's boss's boss. One could cut a doughnut out of the anticipation in the air (just like Shaggy and Scooby Doo did with fog) as we (or at least I) had never before spoken to the boss cubed (boss to the third power? grandmother boss? or should it be great-grandmother boss?) In what was honestly a professional although slightly condescending presentation, the boss (to the first power) told us that the outsourcing project to the Philippines is ongoing and our team is likely to be moved. Boss #3 reminded us of our "ownership" over our own careers, and calmly suggested that right about now is the time to investigate one's options. So I did, or continued to do so; I hadn't stopped looking for a job ever since landing in New Zealand 8 months ago. But instead of applying for jobs I had no hope in hell of getting (drama teacher at prestigious girls' college, travelling Lotto salesman, plant operator at orange juice factory, life skills tutor in a freaking PRISON), I started to take things more seriously and applied for jobs I was actually qualified to do, which in my case are teaching English and fronting a rock and roll band without hair.

I start teaching tomorrow.

By my calculations, today marks the 15th time I've had a last day on the job. Of the 15, I only remember five, and that includes today. And yes, they are the last four jobs I've had, plus one I had during my teenage years at the British Market, a wee store in the Rice University Village (cozy outdoor mall type area in Houston) where I worked with partner in crime and BFF Ashley (who, despite being someone's BFF and being named Ashley, is a dude). This last day on the job was memorable only for its "going out in a blaze of glory" denoument - as a rather fat woman nervously fired Ashley and I for confusing shifts and leaving the store unattended the previous Sunday, I told her to "suck my ass" as we left the back room. Suffice it to say that burning bridges wasn't something I was all too worried about in those days.

My last day at Jishukan School (two years of my professional life wasted on spoiled rich Japanese kids) was typically anti-climactic, but I do vividly remember the chairman of the English department, a Mr. Suzuki (nicknamed Lizard King because of his resemblance to Jim Morrison) coming over to me and apologizing for how bad the third year students had been. It was the first time he had spoken to me in months. Lizard King, like most of the teachers at Jishukan, avoided Mike (the other white man at the school) and I like the plague. I'll never forget saying, "Happy New Year," only to have the Lizard stare back at me to respond, "It's too late." This was on my first day back at school after the New Year holiday, on January 12.

The longest job I ever had, a six year stint at a language school in Japan, ended sometime in March 2006, but I have no recollection of the last day at all. My in-laws were visiting at the time, and I all I can remember is the excitement of starting the new job at Jishukan (I hadn't met the Lizard yet). I was a history teacher for two years back in Houston, but don't even remember the last semester, much less the last day. I worked in my university's writing lab for three years or so, and I don't work there currently, so clearly there was a last day, but I'll be damned if I can remember any of it, and likewise with the job at the pizza parlour, the art gallery, the library, and the office supply deliveries.

Moral of the story? The last day of the job is textbook positive psychology. We don't remember the last day on the job because the last day on the job is the really the first day of whatever comes next. Our memories of the last day are intrinsically intertwined with what came next, even if the "next" was a period of unemployed, self loathing, self-medicated promiscuity (or at least attempted promiscuity). So ask me a year from now, and I won't remember a thing about my last day at the phone company.

Unless I tell the lady in the next cubicle to suck my ass.