#juststrangerthings

I’ve lived a life. Most living people have. I’ve met many people in those years I’ve spent alive. Some I’ve been fortunate to keep around me and get to know better. Others have passed through like, well, people who are no longer living. I hope they’re still living though. A few people in particular really livened up the time I spent with them. Some left a hefty impression. In fact, there are a handful I think of on the regular. I wonder what they’ve done with their lives, where they are, who they are now. Let’s meet some. Story time, starting with the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.

Some context. I was a chubby 11 year old at the Takapuna Normal Intermediate School social. If you needed to guess the year, I was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and zip off khakis with at least six pockets (think 90s proto Guy Fieri). One of the most exciting features of the night was a potluck snack table. It was in the music room, around the corner from the school hall. I had a bunch of friends, but I was far from one of the cool kids. The teacher chaperone announced that if we wanted to go to the potluck room, we’d have to ask someone of the opposite gender (I repeat, it was the 90s) to link arms with us and walk there side by side. In short, we needed a date. I was excited about the snacks, but really nervous to ask anyone. I asked three or four girls, who all turned their nose up and said they were taken already. I felt awful, shaken and on the verge of tears.

Then this girl walked up to me. We weren’t super close friends, but I’d always thought she was really smart and cool. “Hey” she said “I don’t know about you, but I really wanna go pig out. I’d be so happy if you’d join me.” She offered her arm. My heart swelled and my smile went full on Julia Roberts. I think it’s the most mature thing I’ve ever seen a kid do. It totally made my night. It’s not like we grew into best friends after that or anything, but I always appreciated what she’d done. I swear I’ve thought about that moment every week for my life thus far. I don’t even remember her full name, but every time I think of it, I’m so hopeful she’s gone on to have a wonderful life.

I was once at McDonalds at around 3am. Some drunk dude was having a riot of a time with the self service kiosk. He figured out that if you ordered a sundae, you could keep adding crushed peanuts for no additional cost. He said his goal was 100 packets. My order came and I really wanted to get the hell out of there. When I last saw him he was up to 53 additional packets. I have no idea what happened, but my sincere wish is that he walked out that door with a sealed box full of peanuts and a sundae as the cherry on top.

When I was in Thailand with friends, we visited a small town called Krabi. We were keen to go out and get buckets. I noticed a sign for a place that was advertising buckets, but they were way over the normal market price. Surprised at the audacity, I popped in and asked what it was that made their buckets so special. The guy behind the counter, a French dude, shrugged. He thought for a second and pulled out a bottle of Sangsom from under the counter. He exclaimed “with my buckets, you do your own pouring.” *It was unanimous, we were in. What followed was a debaucherous night of drinking. The guy, François, had been through hell (largely due to his own idiocy) getting to Krabi.

Three times he hired sex workers, then kept falling asleep and they kept taking large sums of money from his wallet (he’d lost $4000 combined from the three times). He’d injured his leg during his travels, then the bus he was on in Cambodia (they managed to evacuate first) had burned down, taking his baggage with it. He’d gotten in touch with a friend who said he could come manage this bar in Krabi. All he wanted was to hear hip hop from around the world and play bingo with pocket change. The next morning may have been the roughest hangover I’ve had in my life, but it was entirely worth it after the preceding night. Every once in a while I think back to that night and wonder what François is up to now.

Thing is, I must be this person for a bunch of people. I wonder at times what random encounters people have had with me over the years. Is there any chance I treated someone with the kindness that this girl did for me? Am I someone’s mysterious stranger?

Advertisements

A plea for coffee more than anything else.

I went out for dinner with family last night. It was nice and some parts of it have stayed with me. Namely the parts blocking up my digestive tract. We ate a lot of meat. More than that, it was a good chance to catch up and chat extensively. EXTENSIVELY I say. We all got there earlier than our 7pm reservation and left at 10:30pm. Then we did late night ice cream for dessert. I think the only reason we ceased our catching up and extensive chatting was that the ice cream joint was shutting down and my girlfriend needed to use the bathroom.

I’d say shit happens, but I’m gonna need a coffee before anything’s happening in my system.

Anyway, we shot the shit, chewed the fat and talked ourselves to death. It was a great chance to discuss all manner of issues with people at a different stage of life than us, who have experienced the world in a different manner. I don’t want to make it sound like they’re eternal vampires who’ve witnessed the turn of many centuries. They’re not that old, but I’d wager being on the other side of having borderline adult children gives you a different perspective from disillusioned avocado toast munching snake people who’ve abandoned this cesspool of a world in favour of retiring to Never Never Land.

I dunno. I got worked up and ranted a little bit. Not like this is a huge deviation from the norm. At one stage I was asked something about coping mechanisms. In short, if everything seems dark out, how do you lighten up? I thought about it for a while, then went to the domain of thought: the bathroom. I certainly wasn’t doing much else there, the dinner had been lacking in dietary fibre (though overflowing with some manner of moral fibre). I considered it and later reflected. Escapism was my answer. Drinking, eating, watching endless TV shows, deep diving into video games. Many hours of mindless internet perusing. Basically all numbing behaviour. The response to a world in which seems to be circling the drain.

I posited that this kind of mentality had coloured the humour of this generation. I thought back to Generation X and the rise of sarcasm as humour in response to feelings of discontent. I considered this generation’s reliance on memes. Sarcasm, irony, meta narratives where the joke is on larger structures that society enables. Nihilism as common parlance. An understanding that we’re all fucked and if we don’t laugh about it, we’ll have no recourse but to cry. Frankly, we can only cry so much in a day.

I wanna point out that I’m not naive or ignorant enough to steadfastly believe that absolutely everything in the world is on fire. Small victories exist all over the place, it’s frankly just hard to see them through the smoke sometimes. Of course social media and groupthink play a big part in it. Disasters draw more notice than wins. We have rubbernecking on a global scale at a frequency that’s causing whiplash. I’m sure there are amazing scientific discoveries and advancements occurring every day. I’m sure that there’s probably more good in the world than bad. Thing is, you can only walk two steps forward, one step back for so long before you start focusing on how much further ahead you could be.

I mean, didn’t we all think we beat the Nazis over 70 years ago?

Something’s awesome in the state of Denmark.

I was checking Facebook memories this morning as I always do and saw an interesting link pop up. Past me seemed to find it compelling and present me went along for the ride. It was about a 1938 conference called the Évian Conference. Established by the United States, it called together a bunch of countries to tackle the growing Jewish refugee crisis in Europe. I’m not much of a history buff, but I read on.

The most salient point piquing my interest was that Hitler was there too. Before the thrust of his final solution, it was pretty clear that he saw the Jews as little more than meddlesome stray animals. His pull quote was thus: “I can only hope and expect that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals [Jews], will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.” Unfortunately, most countries decided that there wasn’t much they could do about taking in refugees. The US and Britain both took around 30-40K per year for three years. Australia took about 15K and the Dominican Republic took in around 100,000. Canada was conspicuously silent. It’s both mind-blowing and heartbreaking to me to think of the massive loss of life that could’ve been averted. All the suffering that amounted to history’s most infamous genocide.

So there I was at the bus stop getting pretty emotional reading about all this. Holding back tears thinking about how monstrous humanity can be. The ramifications of this huge event still being felt all these years later. Not just the death and suffering, but the callous reduction of human beings to lesser life forms in the eyes of those who rounded them up. It struck a personal note as my own heritage that, while not a massive cultural part of my life, was certainly warped by the Holocaust. Not only harrowed that this could happen in the first place, but that, even with this kind of racial persecution widely considered to be at the foremost of humanity’s atrocities, the resurgence of Nazi mentality exists in these times. How is it possible to hate an entire culture of people enough that you don’t consider their claim to life to be valid? It’s heavy stuff and it burns a hole in my soul to consider that there are obviously people out there who wish it had fully succeeded.

My dark haze was lifted somewhat by learning of the lengths to which Denmark went to in order to get refugees to safety. Apparently 99%, or roughly 7,800 Jews were safely evacuated to the safe haven of neutral ol’ Switzerland. Denmark, at the time, was gripped with a fierce national mentality of a close knit lifestyle. Of treasuring one’s community and neighbours. They took in those who hid, went out of their way to search up anyone who sounded Jewish in the phone book and warn them, offering asylum and passage elsewhere. Officials opposed orders from the Nazi regime and a number of Nazi soldiers stationed locally were encouraged to turn a blind eye. Members of the upper class contributed of their own fortunes to help contribute fare for travel. Locals put themselves at great personal risk to hide and ferry Jews across boarders under the watchful eye of the Nazi regime. Reading all this, the strength of human spirit and courage in the face of adversity was unbelievable. The citizens of Denmark could’ve rolled over like so many, but instead chose to fight for what was right. It gives me hope that, should another inhumane regime rise once more, the world would not stand for it. Not now, or ever again.

But then again disasters and genocides seem to happen every other week and the Western world doesn’t give two shits. Let’s not break a rib trying to blow ourselves here.

It seems like Life and Liberty are at odds.

Honesty time. My true, unfiltered reaction to the Vegas shootings was “aw geez, not again”. Seriously. That’s the appropriate response to a kid getting into the cookie jar. It fits with a dog drinking out of the toilet bowl. It’s wildly inappropriate for a gratuitously armed aged white terrorist killing 50+ people and injuring over 500. I don’t know what your first reaction should be to the worst mass shooting America was ever faced, but I figure at least more than mild surprise.

I do know that “Thoughts and prayers” is also the wrong response. Thoughts and prayers go out to acts of God, to matters that are so far out of our control. Thoughts and prayers are suitable for tragedies we can’t prevent. Thoughts and prayers are for hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. You know, those disasters that aren’t man made. God can’t help curb gun violence in America. If there is a God, he sure as shit didn’t make guns. God most definitely didn’t weave this love affair with armaments into the national consciousness. Save your thoughts and prayers for someone they could help. What America needs is policy and action.

The proliferation of firearms in America is indefensible. There is no reason any individual should require access to semi-automatic weapons. You don’t need a semi-automatic to hunt anything but pedestrians. Why are women seeking to have an abortion put through the ringer, but anyone looking to buy a gun is treated like they’re shopping for a couch? Money, of course, like everything else. Powerful lobbyist groups putting copious amounts of money into the back pockets of politicians in order to protect and serve their ability to keep their product on the market. It’s unbelievable. Their conscience gets in the way when a woman wants to “kill” her unborn foetus, but it’s fine if she has access to handheld weaponry and inconceivable amounts of ammunition. There’s clearly nothing wrong with this picture. What if she needs to defend herself and her family?

It breaks my heart that good people raised in a culture of fear could think that guns are necessary for self defense from… Well… Other people with guns. Really though, much like rape culture, they should be taught not that self defence from guns is necessary, but that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the notion that owning an efficient killing machine is a basic right. Take their guns, take them all. People will cry that their freedom is being taken away, but they live in one of the most heavily surveilled countries in the world. Any real freedom they have is an illusion. Why aren’t they up in arms (pun intended) about that? Because they need their guns to hunt? Why not create specific hunting sites where they can have access to guns for hunting purposes, but they’re expensive and heavily taxed?

Better yet, why not just outlaw gun ownership by men? How many terrorist shootings have been perpetrated by women? I don’t have the stats, but I’m willing to bet it’s pretty near to zero. You know the mantra of one guy ruining it for the rest of them? Well many men have ruined it. People crying out for the loss of their freedoms? What about the loss of freedoms for the victims of gun violence? The freedom to live? To not be at the mercy of a madman with a gun? Also why are people so against gun control while also being steadfastly opposed to universal health care? How many victims of this latest terrorist attack will go bankrupt in hospitals? Some of them probably wished they were dead so as not to leave their family in debt. Tell me there’s nothing fundamentally fucked up about that.

I don’t have all the answers, but neither does God. If these politicians can’t look past the money lining their pockets to find workable solutions, they’re sure as hell not serving their citizens. More will die as they pointlessly look to the sky, wondering what could ever be done.

It’s hard to tread water when Hell has an undertow.

I’ve got nothing to write about right now. It’s not that there’s nothing to write about. I’ve hardly exhausted the world’s supply of topics in four and a half years. I probably exhausted my supply of topics several years back, but I guess I learned a thing or two from WaterWise in Standard Three and Four about treading water. It’s not that nothing’s happening around the globe, because there’s always something going on. The problem is that I know what’s going on and I don’t have the wherewithal to elucidate anything poignant on the subject (wait, that’s what this project is about???? -ed).

I just watched the Vice News Tonight Charlottesville special and it’s sapped at me. It’s horrifying, brutal and as one speaker so adroitly calls it, appalling. To think that this rhetoric has resurfaced in 2017 when we should instead all have robot butlers and makerbots. Watching the linked video filled me with an unfamiliar feeling. Pure rage. I’m not an angry person. My default negative emotion is sadness and the concept of directing hostility towards other people feels bizarre when I could just beat up on myself instead. Seeing these white supremacy scum grossly disregarding the rights and freedoms of others filled me with a white hot fury. Hearing them spout ignorant hate made me tremble with blinding emotion. All kinds of violent fantasies ran through my head in an instant. A desire to cause pain, draw blood, to see them suffer. I’m the opposite of a violent person. That part of my brain is usually reserved for obscure facts about early 90s animation. These people are cartoon villains flushed into reality. Humans are complex, nuanced creatures and they all seem like two dimensional caricatures. My inability to do anything tangible makes me feel helpless. A surge of energy and emotion put to waste. No number of rants could do anything but blow off steam. Others are doing it better.

Outside of that, I don’t know what to talk about. I mentioned WaterWise earlier. WaterWise was pretty great. We were in Standard Three and Four (so around nine to ten years of age). We’d all pack into a bus and travel up to the Birkenhead Wharf to learn about water safety. They’d divide us up by knowledge levels and teach us accordingly. We learned all about sailing conditions, how to react to the sea when it was choppy, safe. We’d do bombs off the jetty. We learned about kayaks and how to kayak safely. We’d get into kayaks and paddle around the marina. They taught us all manner of knots and how to use each of them. We learned sailing in these little Optimist dinghies. First technique, then practical. We’d move the keel, keep the sail taught. We were shown how to duck underneath the boom (and those who didn’t listen suffered the consequences on their own).

Living in New Zealand, water safety was imperative. It’s a small country surrounded on all sides (and in the middle of the two islands) by water. Beaches and lakes are everywhere. My home city is an isthmus (a word that I get no end of joy typing). Summers were spent on the sand, aside creeks or lakes. While it wasn’t common for all families to own boats (definitely a class thing), what kid didn’t boogie board at least? The education system had realised the importance of a safety initiative and had folded it into the curriculum accordingly.

While I hope Charlotteville is the end of it, I’m not that naive. People will continue to hate, to push their desires over the needs and rights of others. I’d thought that history had made a point of openly condemning the Nazi regime, but apparently the message didn’t stick for all. If we’re looking to move forward as a species, we’re gonna need to move forward together. I’m sure humanity is fucked for good, but on the off chance that we’ll survive our own arrogance, we can’t get there by climbing bodies.

If we can though, I sure hope they’re the Nazi ones.

Maybe now’s not the best time to ask What Would Morrissey Do?

Today’s been somewhat of an idyllic Sunday. I got a luxurious lie in while my girlfriend had to get up for work. There she was putting on clothes like a chump while my limbs adventured to all four corners of the bed. She had her head full of pending customer interactions while I swam in the bliss of a day full of potential. I didn’t need to do anything, it was up to me. I knew that at some point I’d get out of bed, but beyond that I was following primal urges.

My first urge thrust me out the door in search of coffee. It was beautifully sunny. One of those not scorching or remotely chilly days. A man was biking down the road with a cart on the front of him. A little girl perched excitedly in their. I smiled. “Good morning” he bellowed. “Good morning” his kid followed. It was cute and borderline idyllic. I carried the smile all the way to my usual coffee spot and my usual baristas smiled back. Great coffee as per usual. As I walked out the door, I saw the same father and child from earlier going past. “Good morning again” called the girl. I did some shopping on the way home, picking up a heap of pork chops on sale.

The rest of my pressure-free day followed swimmingly. I finished a presentation for the office. I went to the park and hung my rings on a swings set. I practiced a bunch of muscle ups, pull ups, horizontal holds and ate shit trying to see how well I could iron cross. The answer was not in the least. I came back home and fixed lunch, washed bedsheets and watched some high level pro tour Magic the Gathering. A friend messaged and asked if I wanted to walk to a park or something. I did. We did. We explored a nice forest path around her house, then stopped in at an ice cream parlour that specialised in cookie sandwiches and home made ice cream. In short, my day was top to bottom ideal.

In Charlottesville, things haven’t been so ideal. I watched yesterday as the news rolled in. A white supremacist rally. Young men claiming oppression, chanting “blood and soil”. Carrying fucking tiki torches (if that isn’t cultural appropriation…) in some approximation of a Klan rally. Nazi flags being openly carried in the streets. Semi-automatic weapons being openly carried in the streets. Naked aggression, physical violence. A 20 year old mindless Nazi sympathiser driving his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19. These people who’ve don’t know what it is to be denigrated and spat on for the colour of their skin, to be seen as a lesser form of humanity, to have suffered discrimination and prejudice by the legal system meant to safeguard them, to die at the hands of those meant to protect and serve them. Calling them “people” is strong language. They’re callous scum who are so concerned with their own agenda that the thought of consideration and equality for others to them actively means oppression.

It worries me that I can’t truly say I’m surprised. No, I didn’t expect these kind of atrocities, this mindless hateful rhetoric to resurface. I’m not, however, surprised that it has. We’re seeing a paradigm that hadn’t disappeared, but had merely sunk beneath the surface. The fact that a demagogue sits in the White House and can’t bring himself to condemn this terrorism in his own country out of fear of alienating his own voter base is an atrocity I’m sure the world will feel for years to come. I know we live in an increasingly interconnected world, but we’re seeing instances of hate speech and othering rhetoric rise day by day. It’s a tragedy that in a world where we could do so much to elevate society, restore the natural world, tend to the needs of the less fortunate, we’re losing time, energy and resources to the words and actions of bigots. Remember the strong police presence at Black Lives Matter rallies? Remember peaceful protesters being shot while the police absolved themselves of blame? “He had a gun” or some other lie used to mask blatant injustice? Well where is the strong police presence now? Now that armed protesters set up camp and are actively harming others? Open carry isn’t enough to provoke violent reprisal when the hands carrying the guns are white, apparently.

It frightens me that I can be complacent while others suffer. That I can go on totally disconnected and unaffected while people fear for their life because of their heritage. As a non-practicing Jew, the world hasn’t forgotten a time where my head would’ve been on the chopping block, irrespective of the person I grew to be. I want to say never again. I want to have the conviction that we as a species have evolved beyond reducing complex and nuanced individuals to skin colour. I want to tell myself that this was an anomaly, that open condemnation on the world stage is enough to shock these idiots that’ve bought into an archaic, harmful mindset into realising the error of their ways.

Please, please let me get what I want. How are any of us meant to enjoy idyllic days if we know that others are dying for their right to exist?

You know something? I used that middle urinal and I felt like a god.

At improv yesterday we were learning about status and our teacher told us something interesting. She said that status is a choice. It’s not something that can be taken from us, it can only be volunteered. She said to imagine status as some kind of liquid within us. We wake up each day with it filled to the brim. Countless interactions throughout the day allow us to tip out or refill that status, depending on our response. When our status is lowered, that’s a choice we’ve made. It went deeper, but let’s keep things pretty simple.

Status exists on two poles; high and low. Those poles each have tiers to them. The highest is happiness, then anger and lastly sadness. Status is also largely a concept that we buy into societally. We’ve decided that attributes such as wealth, power and attractiveness dictate our status. We see those who possess these traits as opinion leaders or somehow more capable than those without. It sucks, but when you think of high status, what image comes to your mind? Is it a tall white dude wearing a nice blue suit getting into his Mercedes? Society is all kinds of biased. It’s sexist, racist, ableist and, well, facist too. It’s systematically drilled into us a certain image of status and over time we’ve chosen to accept that.

I started to think about the way I roam the world and how I exchange status. A lot of the time in public, I aim to be as considerate as possible. This can involve stepping out of the way on the footpath, standing on public transport, making myself as small as I can to let people through. I’m not a tiny person or physically unimposing, but I’m aware of how I could be perceived as thus. I’m conscious that as a dude, I tread upon a mountain of privilege every day and I intentionally try not to take it for granted. I know that if I didn’t go out of my way to consider others, it’d seem like I was any other white dude imposing himself upon the world. That sounds shit in my book, so I try to mitigate it. I try to lower my status to even the playing field. Whether this works, I have no idea. Most people tend to find me pretty non-threatening, so maybe I’m on track.

Our teacher said something else. She said that the difference between confidence and arrogance involves whether or not you ever choose to willingly lower your status. If you refuse to ever yield status, you come off as an asshole. Cocky and unfriendly. People will resent that you seem to put yourself above them. I thought about this and wondered what balance I could strike to raise my status without trampling on others. I often joke about what the world must seem like to a confident person (doing power moves like pissing in the middle urinal of three), but it’s not like I don’t have that option in front of me. Recently I’ve been trying small tricks to see if they’ll help. I’ve been checking my posture more regularly. An upright chest with neutral spine, shoulders back, pelvis tilted forwards. I’ve been trying to smile more often in a fake it till you make it kind of fashion. If I do move aside or let someone through, I do it with a smile. Happiness is a status move, whether intentional or not. I’ve been heeding another lesson learned in improv- that it’s okay to pause before responding. You don’t need to always have an answer right away. Taking a second to consider isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows you’re thinking about the right answer.

Status is a privilege and it’s also a choice. It’s weird to think that I had a say in this all along.

Sounds choice to me.