Why screw my courage to this sticky place?

I was thinking about my death row meal today.

In full clarity, I’m not going to death row. Well, I don’t think so. Okay, I haven’t currently done anything to necessitate my execution. Ask me again in a few hours. I feel like my plans are benign enough that I’m unlikely to commit murder, grand larceny or something super vile like jaywalking before bed. It’s not impossible. After a little too much caffeine I stop questioning what I’m capable of doing and start worrying about it instead. Mostly I just get very regular.

I know what my death row meal would be. It’s very specific and I’m quite surprised (I tried a quick search of past entries) that I haven’t mentioned it before. My death row meal would be my mum’s chicken wings and spare ribs.

It’s my favourite meal, hands down. Well, hands in too. It’s very involved. A huge batch of chicken wings and spare ribs in a gorgeously sticky sauce. It’s usually accompanied by rice and sometimes peas. It sounds simple, but it’s so much more than that. Like any tradition worth a damn, there’s ritual. I can’t overstate how much food there is, several kilos of assorted small meats almost dripping off the bone. The sauce is thick and sweet, without the gross mouthfeel of shoddily made teriyaki sauce. It’s the best kind of meal: One where you can get your hands dirty. Across the table are several bowls, some empty and others filled with warm water. Bones bowls and finger bowls. It’s rare to not have hands caked in sauce, and the finger bowls help mitigate the struggle of sticky fingers (besides what you’re able to lick off). The meat is tender, having been grilled with garlic before the sauce was applied. There’s something in the combination of density and softness that’s indescribable for an author of limited skill. Like all the best things, it’s supremely messy, but also intimate. The sauce goes so well over the rice, which soaks it up perfectly. If there are ever peas, they’re a small oasis of greenery in a desert of meat, sugar, soy and rice. You do not leave the table hungry. Very occasionally I’ll dream of this meal, which begs the question: Why don’t I just make it?

It’s not a challenging meal to recreate. As far as I understand, you slather the meat in garlic and grill it in the oven. After it’s well-cooked, you add equal parts brown sugar and soy sauce to an amount of water. You slowly heat it in the microwave, stirring every few minutes. When it’s starting to thicken, you douse the oven meat in this sauce and let it cook. Every once in a while you’ll reapply the sauce with a baster so nothing dries out. At some point you cook rice. That’s basically it. For all I know my mum just got it from a cook book, but it’s (at least in my mind) become her enduring signature dish. Whenever I eat this meal, I think of my family. This meal is love.

I’m an adult, I’ve made more complicated dishes than this. Frankly, I could probably just bung it all in the instant pot and have it ready in under an hour. For some reason though, I don’t. There’s no reason it needs to be bound to a time and place, but for some reason in my head it is. It’s a family meal and I haven’t pulled it out for other means. It makes no earthly sense. I’m resigning this to my impending death because… why again? My friends here are practically family. I think it’s high time I had a dinner party and shared with them the last thing I’d eat before I die.

I just hope that’s not tonight. We don’t have any chicken wings or spare ribs in the freezer.

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Could I be any more of an ideal spokesman?

I rode a bike yesterday!

It was magical. The wind whipping through the phantom locks I had in my experimental hair phases. Engaging my calves pushing uphill. Trying to wrap my head/hands around the odd downward sloping bullhorn style handlebars. An all new familiar experience. Unexpected and thrilling. I used to bike all the time. As a kid, from ages 10-15, I’d bike to school. I buckled my wheel at some stage and kept riding on that wheel for several years. It was so freeing. As a cookie-doughy child, I got to be active and experience the joy of speed. To have that control, to find new hidden routes and side streets. To zip around in charge of my own direction. I’d cover so much ground and see small changes on my day to day route. I tried besting my old times, it was awesome. I never really got the confidence to ride on the road, plus bike lanes virtually didn’t exist yet. So it was always ducking and weaving around pedestrians on the footpath.

Last night a bunch of us went out to Kensington Market for drinks. After chatting and chilling, we piled back to our friend’s place for more relaxed hangabouts. It was a no brainer. We could stay in a bar grabbing expensive drinks, or go back to her plounge and tailor our own vibe. Thing was, all the liquor stores were closed. Not even Wine Rack, the last refuge of desperate drunks, was open. She had a couple of bottles, but it felt like a dick move for us all to deplete her stash. When we arrived, I opted to go and grab some bottles from home. I was just down the hill, after all. With a monthly pass, I could even grab a bus there and back if the times synced. She off-handedly offered her bike. I opened my mouth for polite refusal and thought for a secondHow many years had it been since I’d ridden? Too many. It’d be faster and maybe more fun. The five or six drinks I’d had by then nudged me in the direction of yes and I went for it. I grabbed a helmet and climbed aboard.

Maybe the beers helped. It was just like riding a bike. Sure, the handlebars were more narrow than I was used to. My recovering wrist made things a little less secure. Given that it was almost midnight, nobody was around, so I took the footpath. It was great. I reined in my speeds coming down the hill and made it home in sub five minutes. I parked up front, put together a goody bag of liquor and climbed back on. Was it a fixie? Oh, it totally had gears. they were these odd little toggles that were quite estranged from what I’d grown up with, but they worked. Away I went. Even in my drunken state, the hill was a breeze. I didn’t even need to stand. I guess when you grow up in the land of dormant volcanoes, everywhere else is flatland by comparison. I was back at my mate’s place within 15 minutes.

Every year I think about buying a bike. Every year it gets late into summer and I think well, next year will be the year. It isn’t. Every year. Maybe though, and hear me out here, maybe next year will be the year. Not this year, because my wrists need time to heal. Next year though? It’s perfect. I’m sure it’ll happen. I do get bogged down by the artifice of owning a bike though. I’d need all the accessories; helmet, lock, etc. I’d have to consider lugging the vehicle around or where I was gonna store it. It’d make navigating public clunky at times. It’s that stuff that gets in my head ever year and thwarts plans to get one. Really though, I’m sure it’s not as bad as I think. It’s not an all or nothing conundrum. Just because I have a bike, doesn’t mean I need to use it all the time. I can take it when I want to, when the sun is shining just right. When I’d otherwise walk but want a swifter trip. Maybe if I was picking things up and slung my backpack over my shoulders.

2019, you hear me? Twenty biketeen. It’s coming.

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.

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.