Just call me the Retrievian Man

This whole project is nothing (could I have stopped the sentence there?) if not a nostalgia factory. It’s such a driving force in my life that I often find myself navel gazing back at my past in the hopes of forgetting what a dismal state of affairs adult life is. Other times I get nostalgic about times in my adult life, blowing my hypothesis of its dismal state out of the water. Did any of this preamble matter? Was I typing just to kill time? Isn’t that really what this whole project is about? In any case, I went back and listened to a bunch of The Air Bud Pawdcast.

You know what? It’s pretty good. At the very least, it gets pretty good. The first few episodes were understandably “ruff” as we were trying to find our footing. Two nobodies with zero experience making a podcast. As the episodes went on, we found our rhythm, added new segments and began to understand how we could create a better listening experience for anyone who dialled in. We started developing chemistry, creating multi-episode in jokes and o’erleapt previous technical difficulties.

As an entirely “impartial” listener (as if), I’ve actually really enjoyed going back through them. It’s funny, and the one-note joke of “isn’t it crazy that us adults are watching a kids’ film?” has way more elasticity than I’d expected. The kind of ridiculous and meticulous details we pull from the movies are both worth hearing and eerily observant. Neither of us get too high on our own supply (it’s hard to be justifiably uppity from a low status position) and tease one another from a place of love.

Once we brought guests on, the show catapulted. Not in popularity, it was ever an indie darling (is that what we’re calling it?). In quality. Bringing a new subject into the bizarre world of animal based children’s cinema was a treat every single time. Each guest took it slightly differently, some with aplomb and others with a reasonable distaste. They all had varied perspectives and points of interest. The sheer fact that we were no longer in an echo chamber allowed us to really branch out. We built up rapport, sometimes instantly, other times over the course of the episode. Listen to Episode 7 with Degrassi alum Raymond Ablack, for instance. Ray was a real sweet dude and immediately jumped on board.

Maybe I’m just getting listless because it feels like I haven’t made anything substantive in some time. Dumb as it was, the Pawdcast gave me some sense of purpose. I was flexing old muscles with audio work, using skills of analysis to find the oddities in each new Air Bud outing, getting to freely riff with a bunch of funny people. The best part of the whole thing? It’s still there for me to listen back and enjoy.

Even if MeUndies never gave us that sponsorship we kept clamouring for.

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Do you think Grimace is secretly deeply unhappy?

Mostly it feels good to laugh. Sometimes it hurts. Not in an emotionally draining sense, but in a “my cheeks feel like they’ve been pulled into a Clockwork Orange style contraption and was it possible for my eyebrows to feel pain?” sort of manner.

We’re staying with old friends of mine at the moment. Last night was the only evening this week where we were all free. I posited that instead of going out to a bar, we could just grab a few drinks, order take out and chill in the lounge. We did just that. It may well have been my favourite experience we’ve had here so far. It’s easy to forget the depth and breadth of experiences we had together. Never the cool kids, nor were we losers. We floated around in clique limbo long enough that we eventually amassed a cluster of weird mongrels. We were nerds, but not maligned as 80s teen films would have us believe. We did a lot of bizarre stuff, made insane bets and travelled across New Zealand and the world at large.

Last night we sat around the lounge and reminded ourselves how far we’d come. Having lived in big cities across the globe, progressed from our admittedly awkward early twentysomething phases. The world around us had changed and we’d changed with it. Still, we’d somehow not lost sight of who we’d been. Wait, am I writing about us? Or have I somehow transitioned to a longform rendition of J.Lo’s “Jenny from the Block”?

I’m not sure about J.Lo’s history of drunken shenanigans, but we had more than a few. Whether it was minor vandalism, regrettable hook-ups, regrettable relationships or odd experimental phases, we’d done it all with the grace of teens/early twentysomethings. Is this what getting old is all about? Revisiting your greatest hits of fuckups as validation of the notion that you’ve become better people? Will the stories we’re telling now be the same stories we tell for the next 30 years. I hope so, because they’re good ones. We were animals, but at the very least animals who knew some solid tricks.

Years back, while on holiday, we mocked up a loose draft of our own sitcom. “A Shore Thing”, we dubbed it, given most of us were kids from Auckland’s North Shore. It was insane the number of ridiculous scenarios we had that could’ve been self-contained episodes in their own right. So many different partners, whether short or long term. Certain character arcs or narrative feints. Sometimes an actor would leave for a season or two then come back, being audience favourites and all. It was nothing more than a farcical thought experiment, but it really was humbling to look back at how long some of us had been friends. Friendships since kindergarten stretching all the way through university and beyond.

If anything could be more emblamatic of “friends for life”, it’d be the fact that we’re staying gratis with friends in London and that if the tables were turned, we wouldn’t think twice about offering our spare room back in Toronto. I woke up in a comfortable bed and felt fully refreshed. Maybe because of the nine hour sleep. More likely on account of the massive cardiovascular workout of laughing so hard my face felt pain.

No more Ace in the hole.

Ace Ventura re-he-heally has not aged well.

Let me preface this by triple underlining what a massive Ace Ventura fan I was as a kid. After seeing The Mask, I thought Jim Carrey was a literal embodiment of God among men. For a long time in my life I refused to watch anything that either a) wasn’t a cartoon b) didn’t have puppets or c) wasn’t super hero oriented. The fact that I was willing at all to give Ace and his fine feathered friends a go was a big coup for me. While watching, I realised that Ace Ventura was a cartoon, just depicted by a flesh and blood human. I was in. Ace was goofy, talked through his butt and had so many animal friends. He was my kind of dude. I watched Pet Detective, I watched When Nature Calls, I watched an absurd amount of the Pet Detective cartoon on Saturday mornings. Big fan.

Watching at age 31 in 2018, things have changed. Credit where credit is due, Jim Carrey overcommits to an Olympic extent in every single scene. His neck is always protruding, jaw janked in some odd direction. He’s tossing out a silly voice or doing an imitation maybe 80% of his time onscreen. I don’t know how one directs Jim Carrey because it seems like he’s constantly doing bits. I don’t know how one writes for Jim Carrey because all evidence points to him improvising half of his scenes. I feel like the script is mostly exposition and [Jim will insert something funny here]. The whole film is basically a setup of scenarios in which he can do some kind of impression. His brand of physical comedy is still bloody impressive to watch 24 years later. He’s a talented dude, no doubt.

Egads though, the movie is one big clusterfuck of gay panic, transphobia and obnoxious male posturing. Given how much society has shifted, it’s hard to just turn your brain off and let things slide. The most egregious example is of course the central plot revolving around someone transitioning. The punch line in the climactic scene is not only the gay panic induced vomiting by the entire police squad, but the second beat of her promiscuity. Har har. Also for a character as fey as Ace Ventura, they do a remarkable amount of work to try and fit him in a comfortable box for red blooded American males. He’s still a rough and tumble dude who doesn’t think twice about getting into a physical altercation. He can do car stunts, and LOVES sex. There’s even a scene where he takes a blow job from a busty client in lieu of payment, the punchline being a fourth wall breaking “well, could you say no?” or something of the like. I feel like comedy didn’t have to try as hard back in the 90s. They have to put in SO MUCH WORK to make him a “palatable” representation of masculinity. Stuff that as a kid I probably lapped right up. Ace was the coolest.

In 2018, Ace isn’t quite so cool.

You know what else hasn’t aged gracefully? Sixteen Candles. Holy shit does it ever smack of being a film written about a woman by a man. It’s broad strokes of character all the way through, but really it’s more about the central male characters. If Ace Ventura was egregious, Sixteen Candles is a relic. She’s basically lusting over The Coolest Guy in School, who’s a Sensitive Jock type. But he’s with The Hottest Girl In School (we know this, because we get a naked shower scene that shows basically everything). The Geekiest Dude in School is lusting after her. So what’s the resolution? The Geekiest Dude sexually assaults her a bunch of times. She’s like “ugh. You’re not a bad dude, but that was embarrassing”. The resolution? The Coolest Guy just gives The Geekiest Dude The Hottest Girl as if she’s chattel. She’s drunk out of her skull and the Coolest Guy is all “here, thanks for hooking me up with Molly Ringwald, now go fuck my drunk ex-girlfriend in a parking lot or something.” It’s woeful. Times have changed and thank fuck for that.

I wonder how Blazing Saddles plays in 2018…

Nothing adventured, nothing gained.

I was thinking today, what would I do if a wizard popped up out of nowhere and said “Hey Leon, you like pokémon, right? Wanna live in a world of pokémon?”

In this scenario, I’d be transported to an alternate realm where pokémon roamed the land. I don’t need to deep dive into an explanation, right? The conceit rings true? Exploring, capturing and training pokémon, battling at gyms. A life of constant adventure, making friends and memories. Having a stable of pets to grow close with. Intelligent creatures who could learn, grow and evolve.

The caveat, of course (cause next to spells, those are wizards’ favourite things) is that I’d have to leave my existence behind. Friends? Gone. Loved ones? Poof. As if they never were. My girlfriend, the woman I wake up beside every morning? Nada. She’d be back here in this reality. The life I’ve spent years cultivating and crafting for myself? All that hardship and horizontal movement? My bank accounts? Possessions? Kaput. All given to the void so I could travel the land in a Hakuna Matata state of being.

It’s a harder choice than it first seems, because how can we not build attachment to the life we put our heart and soul into. Is love something that can simply be dropped at will? Of course it isn’t. The bonds of a relationship are forged through diligence and perseverance. You earn the people around you by virtue of giving back to them. Think about all that effort, vanished in an instant. Think about your feelings, cursed to still be tethered. Permanently unrequited. With time they’d fade, but imagine losing your everything all at once. Wouldn’t you be reeling?

But on the flipside, you’d get to form whole new attachments. I dropped most everything when I moved from NZ to Canada. Okay, that’s a falsehood of sorts. The internet exists. I still had contact. The fact that I’m useless at maintaining connections over geographical boundaries is a moot point. Others aren’t so dumpy when it comes to keeping in touch. On the other hand, I’d get to constantly see new sights. I’d be lost in a world where hard work could pay off through my devotion to training. I’d have the chance to discover new parts of myself. To really harness the opportunity to put myself out there. Because that’s what this really is. This whole scenario is simply weighing up the call to adventure against the comfort of security and attachment.

Out of the two, which pulls to me more?

Which is to say, I’ve entirely buried the lede. All this preamble and pokémon rhetoric was just a ruse to say that I’ve taken the call to adventure. Sorry fam. I’m auditioning for a friend’s play tomorrow. I think. Maybe. I put my application in awful late (like 15 minutes ago late). My girlfriend is too. We went out to an info night on Tuesday after I nudged her to audition. She’s a terrific performer and it’s been too long since she’s had stage time. I think she’d do a fantastic job and the whole production is right up her alley.

As for me? Going with her to the info night, it sounded like a really fun troupe. I used to adore acting and I’d low key been thinking maybe I’d try out for something small in Toronto eventually. Knowing the friend who’s directing/co-wrote, it’d be a great time. I remember so fondly the times I’d spend in high school or university hanging around with a cast. My social circles were swarming with theatre geeks and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. They’re generally pretty creative, spontaneous folks. Plus most of them are a blast to drink with. I’d be very happy to sacrifice my spare time to re-engage in that kind of environment. I guess we’ll see if I even get an audition before raising any kinds of hopes.

Adventure, I choose you!

This land is your land, this land is Auckland.

I was chatting to someone in a cafe yesterday. As soon as she heard my accent, she asked where I was from. Turns out she did her university education back in Auckland, my home town. We chatted for a while about the city, various locations, etc. I found myself running through the map in my head. Trying to pinpoint exactly where she’d been living, working, etc. It was so vivid. I remembered street names and could visually run through the streets and routes. The more I thought of it, the more I realised: I love Auckland.

It was my home for the better part of 26 years. Auckland has this reputation back in New Zealand. It’s maligned by the rest of the country, but the New Zealand mentality also has this odd Tall Poppy aspect to its patriotism. Even for those who truly love “Godzone”, they can’t help but shit on their home turf a little. Aucklanders probably love Auckland for the most part, but are also quick to tear it to shreds. Whether it’s complaining about traffic, wannabe trendy areas or poor comparison to overseas metropolises, we’re always pretty quick to pile shit atop it.

When I went back to New Zealand last year, it brought back a ton of the things I appreciated about my home. While I held this view, I kind of thought it applied in a wider sense to the country. The more I tumble it through my brain, I understand that a lot of it specifically applies to Auckland. Tāmaki recently placed third on some world liveable city ranking. Of course there’s douchebagginess to it, but something truly underrated about Auckland is how varied the city can be. The downtown core may be a little trashy/clubby. The nightlife is all kinds of mediocre, for the most part. The public transit is laughable at best. On the other hand, it’s a city filled with beaches. There are parks, hikes and bushwalks everywhere. You’ve got metropolitan centres, local communities, suburbia and dumpy commercial malls. The city has been pushing to lift arts and culture to the forefront over the past decade and it’s starting to show. You need a car to get anywhere, but oh the places you can go.

I think even of the area I grew up in: Northcote Point. We lived across the road from a small inlet, connected to a larger beach. There were local shops with a hairdresser, community movie theatre and bistro. Going up the road we could get fish and chips from the takeaways. There was a cafe, a wine shop and a dairy not far off. With bikes we could go even further. Riding down the street we could go and loiter under the bridge. Alternatively, down the hill was a wharf fit for fishing. There was a tunnel leading to another fishing wharf and several parks with great playgrounds were within five to ten minutes’ ride. One of them even had a skate ramp where teens would hang out and smoke. The area nonetheless felt pretty safe, enough that our parents were content to let us run amok.

In the grand scheme of things, Auckland was pretty safe. I don’t think I ever saw anyone carrying a gun. Not even cops. It’s not like everything was rosy all the time, but on an international scale of danger, it’d rank pretty low. Furthermore opportunity was everywhere. Anything we needed was only a suburb or two away. Local schools were pretty decent. I’m certain my views were coloured living on the North Shore, but Northcote was a neat vantage Point.

Skeletons of memories.

I’m starting this by saying that this entry won’t be me at my top of my game. It’s been a long day. I went maybe 6 hours without drinking water and now my brain is all backed up. My phone is stuck on some booting loop and the suggested solutions from the internet aren’t working. It’s 10.30pm and I’ve just eaten dinner. You know what that means, right? LIST TIME.

While I was prepping dinner, the phrase (or combination of two words. Not 100% sure it’s a “phrase”) “Remember When” popped into my head. That’s enough of a writing prompt for me to go go gadget bulletpoint:

  • Remember when buying candy was super exciting? When you’d go to the corner store and they’d have something like pop rocks that came in a little plastic toilet? You’d lose your mind at the novelty of it all, even when it was just sugar at the end of the day. Or that tongue colour changing technology? You’d walk up to some adult and they’d be all “what’s going on you young whipper snappin’ youngin’?” and you’d be all “BLARGH. LOOK AT MY TONGUE” and it’d be blue and you thought they’d be like “WOAH, THIS KID MUST BE PART GIRAFFE” but instead they were like “have you been hitting the jenkum too hard again? I had a storied childhood.
  • Remember when it was totally acceptable for someone’s gender identity to be the butt of a joke? When TV execs thought it’d be hilarious to make a dating show like The Bachelorette then be all whoopsie, she’s trans like that was some hilarious switcheroo instead of reducing someone’s very being into a joke? Then the contestants had the gall to try and sue for psychological damages? Is there a better illustration of gay panic lying around?
  • Remember when you were a kid and your friend’s parents would have one of those rotary telephones sitting in the corner of a room and you’d play with it as if it never had a tacit practical use? Then the parent would be like “well in my day” and you’d be all “your day is past. Hurry up and expire you sack of dry bones so we can inherit the earth.” Then we did inherit the earth and phones hardly have physical buttons let alone some rotating finger trap, yet we still have the audacity to use the word “dial” when we talk about calling someone.
  • Remember when Robbie Williams tore off his skin and we found out he was actually a skeleton in disguise the whole time? That was pretty trippy.
  • Remember when Pokémon hospitalised a bunch of kids in Japan and you were all “holy shit, a cartoon killed people?” but also those monster things look kind of cool. I wonder when this show will make it over to New Zealand?
  • Remember when coffee, alcohol and avocado were gross and now they’re the only things that sustain your boney old bones?
  • Remember when Bone Thugs N Harmony hung out at public transit buildings with Phil Collins and he looked into the camera all staunch? Then he’d loosen up when the chorus came around?
  • Remember when people would use the word “bones” in lieu of a currency? Like “How much for a night in your fine inn?” “three bones, goodsir and I’ll toss in a bowl of soup with a heel of crusty bread”? Me niether, but I’d like to live in that world.
  • Remember when you got your first bra and you were a 30 year old male? Then you went to a drunken art party on a train wearing said bra and drunken people were like “I guess it’s fine to shove fake money into your bra and that bit will never get old” and you sorta adopted a grin and bear it approach and you weren’t so much offended by people’s ownership of your body autonomy as you were that they failed to realise how hack and uninspiring the joke was. Then an all female Van Halen cover band played and that was kinda cool.
  • Remember when your parents got you a subscription to the Delta Airlines kids travel magazine and it had stories/comics with the characters? Plus it’d showcase the kids meals which looked super exciting? Then you got to fly with Delta Air and were super pumped, but it was a mediocre airline and the kids meals fucking sucked and your dreams died with your mortal shell soon to follow?
  • Remember when petrol broke $1/L back in the 90s? Then by the time you had a car you were paying $2.20/L and it cost over $120 to fill your tank?

I had a time. No bones about it.

Should I rename myself NapoLeon?

It’s weird when old memories pop into your head. I was just recounting the “cheese block incident” on some Facebook page. The conceit of the thread was about old stories that you got away with as a kid. Now that we’re (ostensibly) adults, we could tell our parents because none of it matters any more. What would they do? I was a pretty well behaved child. I had no interest in drugs or alcohol for the most part (though teenage binge drinking was a) something I did and b) something they knew about. Not supported, but more of a *sigh* boys will be boys kind of thing). I got good marks and most of my friends were the same. In short, we were nerds. My older brothers were the opposite. They’ve grown into upstanding adults with kids of their own, but it took a while to get there. Nothing that ruined their lives, but they have great stories. Mine are just medium. I was precocious more than anything.

Which is why this following story is more for me than it is for you.

My parents were having a party, as they often did. They’d constantly invite their friends around for big barbecues or dinners. The adults would put on music, drink and chat. They’d bring their kids and we’d have a little cluster of sub-adults. Usually there’d be more kids my older brothers’ ages (7-9 years older), but I’d invite a friend to keep me company. The older kids would usually mess with us. They weren’t cruel, but the games we’d play would usually cast us in the losing role. “Chasies” was a popular one. Kind of a “Hide and Go Seek” variant. The little kids would hide while the big kids counted down. If we were discovered, we’d have to run and avoid tackling. If we whined or cried, they’d tag instead. The unique aspect of “Chasies” is that the little kids were armed. We had a collection of toy weapons (a plastic bat we called “The Magic Bat”, swords, etc) that we could fight back with. If we fought them off again, it would give us space to run away more. I don’t know if we realised what a losing game it was, we’d be caught eventually. Seriously though, we were allowed to wail on the big kids. Given the age difference, our damage potential was limited only by our shrimpy bodies.

This particular night, we weren’t doing well. I had one friend, this fiery little guy with a bright red afro. I got tackled hard at some point and started crying. I sulked and ran off to my room, real worked up. I pulled out one of my dinosaur books and showed my friend these dinosaurs that slammed heads together (Pachycephalosaurus, according to wikipedia). This, I told him, would be our winning tactic. One of the big kids came into the room and I screamed at him to get out. I got my felt pens out and starting writing “Leon’s Private Room” on the door so they’d know. One of my parents caught me and told me to cut it out, that I should know better than drawing on my door. I don’t know how many years it lasted, but for maybe a decade “Leon’s Priv” stood boldly in the centre of my door.

Anyway, where it gets good is that my parents forced us to suck it up, go out and get playing again (I don’t blame them, they wanted to get back to the party). I’d kind of forgotten about my whole Sun Tzu monologue from earlier. My friend hadn’t. I was hidden in a bamboo bush, Magic Bat at the ready, when I heard an older kid shout out in pain. I rushed out of my hiding spot and the game was called off. My friend had headbutted one of the big kids right in the fucking face. A big bruise was on its way. The adults chastised the older kids for riling us up and the game was over for the night. For once, we’d won.

Come to think of it, maybe I missed my calling as a legendary general.