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.

Someone spiked The Masquer-ade.

I swear I’ve played four video games in my life. Maybe this is what growing old is, but I’m quite sure my existence has become a perpetual motion machine of constantly rediscovering the same four games in a cycle. Pokémon, Magic the Gathering: Shandalar, Diablo 2 and my most recent nostalgic pitfall (it’s not Pitfall), Vampire the Masquerade – Bloodlines.

I discovered the game way back in 2004 as a precocious little 17 year old. It was love at first bite (have mercy). Based on some tabletop RPG I’d never heard of, Vampire the Masquerade was about a cluster of vampire clans in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles. In this world, vampires walk among us without our knowledge. It’s like sexy Harry Potter or something. The clans all have differing worldviews, but utmost is the idea of upholding The Masquerade, or keeping humans in the dark as to their existence. There are the aristocratic Ventrue, who look down on the others and get sick from drinking low status blood. The Gangrel are closest to their animalistic nature and can transform into wild beasts. The Toreador are artistic and mildly fey, masters of seduction. The Brujah are anti-authoritarian brawlers. The Malkavian have been driven insane by their curse and gained bizarre true-sight. So yeah, it’s just Harry Potter.

Why then was the game so good? Atmosphere. The world was immersive and comprehensive. You drifted through the downtrodden and walked amongst high society. The environments were fucking cool. Scattered throughout LA you moved through the Santa Monica boardwalks, downtown LA, Chinatown and Hollywood. The characters were well formed with great dialogue. It was funny and snappy, filled with clever references. It was contemporary and versatile. One quest had you sneaking about town seeking information on a cruel snuff tape. In another you had to stay in a graveyard policing zombies for the night. Or retrieving a locket from a creepy as shit haunted house. How would you navigate the game? As a master conversationalist? Seducing your way into completing quests? Pure brute force? Sneaking about the shadows? Trading in information? Hacking? Lockpicking? Intimidation?

The game was also buggy as shit. Troika, the studio tasked with bringing this game to market, were rushed. It uses the (then revolutionary) Halflife 2 engine, but to a much less impressive effect. By the time the game was released, it was riddled with issues. Graphical errors and glitches, looping incorrect sfx. At a few points the game would outright crash unless you edited the console. It became a cult hit, but sank commercially. Troika folded (RIP). The fanbase lived on. Yesterday I discovered that the most recent patch for the game was released a month ago.

To put this in perspective, this game is so good that people are still working on it 14 years later.

The patches fix broken elements of the game. A bunch of code was left in that never got finished. Character aspects, quests, weapons, a multiplayer mode. It’s a bummer to consider what this game could’ve been if Troika had been given the time to perfect it. As it stands, the community has done a pretty great job. They’ve done solid enough work that I’m diving back in, as I do every few years, to a game I love so much. I spent a few hours last night getting reacquainted and honestly I could spend the whole weekend doing nothing else.

That’s what you call undying love.

Ad-Just my type.

I lately feel like I’ve lost the ability to type and furthered my ability to typo. Why? Because I made seven typos in that first sentence. I’m not shitting you (and I swear it was by no means intentional). My fingers have recently become leaden and clumsy like a golem trying to tango. I wish it weren’t so, but I’ve clearly inherited a voracious brain disease and it’s chowing down on all my synapses. Sure, I never actually learned to touch type and that could be a large part of this whole mess. Maybe I’m just getting lazy and assuming my fingers will get to where they need to be without actually visualising the keyboard. Or perhaps I’ve gotten reliant on my phone’s swype functionality. Whatever it is, if you’ve been wondering why my entries have been shorter lately, it could be because I’ve used the backspace key more than any one letter.

When I was a kid I thought the “spacebar” sounded cooler than any other key. Escape was a close second. I had no idea what that little cluster of Insert to Page Down did. The F keys occasionally got used in games, but beyond that I was clueless. There’s no moral to this story or hidden parable. I just thought it was cute to mention.

I could probably fill a week with little “when I was a kid” anecdotes. Let’s put my money (a sliver of it) where my mouth is and see if I can do one entry.

When I was a kid I split more than one pair of pants by farting. I don’t know if I had a propensity for bending over and flexing the butt fabric as much as possible. Maybe I just lucked out. For sure though, I’d push those little seams as far as they could go and toot my way through. This wasn’t sabotage. I was mortified. It was quite possibly even psychologically damaging. Perhaps that’s why I started wearing almost exclusively track pants on my lower half.

When I was a kid I’d find toy adverts exciting beyond all else. Even toys I had no interest in. I just got excited seeing the child actors getting excited and that made me want to join in. Perhaps I was super empathic or something. In the event that I did get something advertised on TV there was this whole “monkey see” aspect. I’d repeat the action I saw onscreen. Then I’d usually become oddly disillusioned when I wasn’t having as much fun as the kids in the ad did. I remember interrupting an adult discussion of ads that deserved to win at the annual Fair Go ad awards. I told the adults in no uncertain terms that the Power Rangers toy ad was a shoe in, because it showcased the full line of toys and which looked fun to play with. What else could an ad possibly do? I mean, it’d worked on me, for one.

When I was a kid my Nana used to make the coolest jelly. It’d be three colours in layers, then have little bits of banana in there. As an adult I’ve thought about that jelly on a weekly basis, but I don’t think I’ve ever completed the simple steps of a) looking up a recipe or b) following through on that recipe. My Nana never had the internet and I’ve never had a good excuse.

When I was a kid I’d develop crushes on actresses and cartoon characters all the time. Cameron Diaz in The Mask, the Pink Ranger in the aforementioned Power Rangers. Lola Bunny for obvious reasons. Nala from The Lion King for less obvious (though I think I identified with Simba because… actually I don’t know. Maybe there was something in my brain about my name meaning “lion” and having some illusory kinship because of it?) reasons. Thing was, I’m pretty sure there was nothing sexual about it. I was immensely sexually naive as a child, but hyper-romantic. I fell in love with girls from school every second day from the slightest gesture. They lent me a pencil? SOUL MATES FO LYFE, YO. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do with that notion. I think I kind of liked the idea of kissing/being kissed. Holding hands with a girl was basically a tacit marriage contract. The concept of sharing something secret that existed only between myself and a girl inhabited this forbidden space walled off by shame and self-loathing. Of course they wouldn’t like me back, but a guy could dream, right? To be clear, this all kicked in around age six. I was a fast learner.

When I was a kid I never got my pen licence. My handwriting was abhorrent and I often had to stay after class to finish lines. I guess the educational system thought that rote learning could fix my aesthetic inability. I guess they were wrong. At some stage I wrote tiny letters and decided it looked neater, so from then on I made my handwriting tiny. To be clear, it was still borderline indecipherable. The habit, however, stuck. By the time I was in university, I’d be writing these dense essays that weren’t merely crammed full of polysyllabic words, but in joined letters with minuscule letters. I’m surprised I ever got a passing grade.

Maybe constant typos are my fingers’ way of getting nostalgic.

Wandering aloud.

Yesterday’s Magic post made me a little nostalgic. Looking at origin stories is some high quality navel gazing. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I don’t know if I’m entirely done with the topic. Instead of rehashing my experiences playing the game, I’d like to pull back the curtains and take a greater look at the environment in which I flourished. I’m sure you think you know where this is going, right? I’m gonna veer into either a) a wonderfully supportive group of youngsters who bolstered one another into good sportsmanship or b) overcoming adversity and discovering my own self worth through rising above it.

How about c) I played in a hovel surrounded by constant weirdness and barely legal business activity?

Vagabond Takapuna. Neither of those words should mean much of anything to most people. For my teenage years, they were the entirety of my Sundays. Vagabond Takapuna was a small hobby shop located in the bustling heart of the Takapuna Village. When I say bustling I mean a cluster of dilapidated foreclosed storefronts. I think back in the 80s it was well regarded as a boutique shopping experience. I’d say it was our safe haven, but I hesitate to use the word “safe” anywhere near to Vagabonds. The area was filthy and spottily maintained. There was rubbish everywhere. The homeless dudes were entirely harmless, though you’d often find an empty bottle or two of methylated spirits lying on the ground. For us, however, it was paradise.

The store owner was a character unto himself. Dodgy Dave, we called him. An entrepreneur through and through. He bought the place in his first year out of high school on what I think was a small loan. He was all of 18 years old. For some time he couldn’t afford a phone line, so he’d siphon one from the hairdresser upstairs for outgoing calls. He didn’t play any of the games, but Dave had a knack for sniffing out a trend. He was a dealer by any other word. He was one of the few small stores around that not only sold Warhammer, D&D and Magic products, but provided play space. Best of all, there was a ne’er used courtyard with tables and chairs that doubled as an outdoor play zone in the summer. If it rained we’d just play on the dirty old village floors upstairs. At least they were covered. We made do.

Dave did alright for himself, especially as a young small business owner. The game that put him on the map, however, was Pokémon. He sunk everything he had into the Pokémon TCG and it made him a household name in the surrounding areas. A vibrant playground arose from the phenomenon and the Vagabond family grew. I don’t know why parents felt safe leaving their kids there. Hell, I’m not sure why my parents thought it was a positive environment for an 11 year old, but things worked out. Despite how dire everything looked, I never heard of anything happening to a single child. We took care of our own. With a bit more money coming in, Dave hired a couple of guys to run the store while he pursued a business degree. Oh, and bought a Porsche. I think he was still in his early 20s. Vagabond bubbled along happily, with its constant crowd of misfits and weirdos.

As the years passed, Dave would rarely come into the store. If he did, it’d usually be to brag about some kind of business venture he’d discovered. I still remember clear as day this one time he walked in with an ear to ear grin. “Hey guys” he said “you’re looking at a soon-to-be millionaire.” We figured it was Dave just talking shit, but we listened anyway. “There’s this new show in Japan, it’s massive. Nobody here knows about it yet. It’s about this card game, like Magic, but here’s the thing: You can buy the cards in real life. I’m already set to become Auckland’s prime distributor. I feel like getting a boat!”

As always, Dave was right. Turns out Yu-Gi-Oh was a smash hit.

With all the cash, Vagabond moved away from the Takapuna Village and into a high end strip shopping area. It was bigger. Cleaner. It had a dedicated phone line. The atmosphere was brighter too. Things were great. Dave bought his boat. He opened a downtown location. We saw less of Dave as the years went by, but he’d pop in periodically. He kept the stores, but began investing in property. I think at some stage he was sourcing medical supplies for in demand nations. Interesting guy.

So that’s the backdrop for my formative years as a burgeoning geek. Nothing fancy, but a lot of substance. You know what? I’m glad for all the grit. Despite how it sounds, there really was something special about the place. The community was as patchwork as the environs, but you know what? It was ours.

Now the players? Well there are some stories there…