24 December 2006
Funny, Jamie thinks, that so many of the Northern Hemisphere traditions are still held on to in the South Pacific. Take house lights for example. The multi-coloured, flashing spots bordering roof rims and window panes that, in Kansas anyway, are a warm sight in the long, cold nights, are out of place in a country where it's light until 10:00 and sees the sun rise at 5:00. Who besides late night revellers even lays eyes upon them? House lights are just one example of Christmas's place as a winter festival. On the darkest days of winter (for it falls very near the solstice), societies need a celebration to lift their spirits and bring each other physically and mentally closer together. A sort of half way point where a great deal of bother is made over heavy foods, spiced wine, and lots and lots of light. Christmas has surprisingly little to do with Christian tradition. Rather, it has a great deal vested in human bonding.
So why cling to roasts and layered casseroles in a region where it's 90 degrees Fahrenheit on a regular basis? For those in the North, imagine sitting down to baked ham, turkey, hot-cross buns, fruitcake, biscuits, chocolates, and heady red wine in the middle of July. Sorta makes you itch, doesn't it?
Slowly, however, it seems subsequent generations are shuffling off the coils of tradition and setting into motion an altered, more appropriate ceremony. Tradition is rooted in necessity; lose the necessity, and tradition is set afloat. How long it can keep its head above water is anybody's guess.
22 December 2006
New Zealanders report on rugby and cricket with the same voracity as Americans report on gridiron and baseball. This us understandable as the former, although darkly understood in the States, are popular internationally. However, on the same page one may find articles on cross-country adventure/endurance racing, bicycling (both track racing and the Tour of Southland--New Zealand's answer to the Tour de France), netball, sailing, and numerous foot races (triathalons, mountain runs, etc). For Jamie, reading about sport has never been so enlightening.
20 December 2006
What is revenge? As an emotion it can overshadow everything: fear, rejection, love--all are eclipsed. Revenge sets the mind alight, and all else is consumed. But why do we feel it at all?
Did it once serve a purpose? Was it beneficial? Life abhors wasted energy, and if there is one thing revenge consumes, it's energy. Leading to what? Retaliation. A specific action. Besides abhorring energy, life also tends toward homeostasis, the evenness of things. Revenge is retaliation against dissenters among the group. Revenge drives the body to act, to retaliate against the dissension. Retaliation leads to less dissension, which leads to a calmer group--homeostasis of small societies.
It had a purpose, once. These days it's all but wasted effort. Personal revenge does little more than quench the raw emotion. The greater societal benefits are lost as the boundaries of the proverbial group expand, growing ever wider until revenge itself becomes the norm, and we retaliate only by staying calm.
So can revenge in contemporary societies still be realized? Well, access to the internet helps.
19 December 2006
15 December 2006
Jamie once referred to home as "what we sacrifice." It made sense at the time--he spent 24 years growing up in Wichita, his family always near. Then one year everyone left. One sister went to Newton, one to Australia (then Canada); one brother moved to California, the other to New Zealand with his parents. Jamie flew to Ireland. And there, in a land of poets, of people so rooted to a place that generations of New Yorkers still call it the homeland, Jamie reflected on what it meant to go home.
There are the obvious cliches: a hung hat, the heart; a place you go where they can't turn you away. There are the traditionalists who, like the Irish or the pagans of ancient Rome, are tied to a region as large as a continent or as particular as one's own neighbourhood. Yet there are only two constants when referring to "home": 1. You know when you are there, and 2. You will, eventually, leave.
The first point is rather vague. It's like determining art from not art. One might describe home as a "sense of belonging," but elaborate--what is a sense of belonging? How does one know when one belongs? And then how does one quantify a sense of this? Furthermore, that sensation is different depending on to whom you're talking. A Congolese refugee may not have the same attitudes toward home as a young girl who suffered abuse there. In both of these cases the individuals were forced to sacrifice their homes--the former being physically removed, and the latter stripped of home's general warmth and comfort before she had a chance to experience it.
But we all leave home--everyone, everywhere--eventually. Whether by force or by choice, we will leave it. Home becomes a sacrifice we share, individually if not collectively. It could be likened to the womb: where we are protected; where we are important. Returning home, be it a physical structure or among a group, is in some way returning to a manifestation of maternal care: like when you were six years old and were scared of the dark, you ran to mother--your first home, your only home.
12 December 2006
Some days you have life cornered. You're eating lunch with friends on a sunny afternoon, sipping beer and watching the world shuffle about. Things are simple. Everything makes sense.
Then a man walks accross the street pushing a pram carrying a dwarf with a ghetto blaster on his lap, and life gives you a reality wedgie--stuff's happening. Wake up.
11 December 2006
- What's an agent?
- Is tic-tac-toe solved?
- Why are so few games released for acorns?
- What's this Information Theory thing?
- How many pictures will fit in my memory?
- What should I worry about when buying from a lowest-cost online dealer?
- Where can I get beer?
- What's all this about Cloves?
- What is a troll?
- How and with what do I polish leather?
- How can I protect my ideas?
- I'm new, what should I do now?
06 December 2006
They shine at 35, a veritable summer solstice of bone mass. After which point they decline, wither into dusk and the impending winter. Bones are not built to last. And it doesn't help that the very DNA that creates them also breaks them down. Unlike Rilke's angels who "serenely disdain to annihilate us," a chemical in our DNA decimates without hesitation. Year after year, we wear the scars (wrinkles, poor eyesight) as our body slowly eats itself. Without this chemical, however, could bones forever support us?
A forensic anthropologist can identify your age, sex, and (sometimes) your race just by observing signature bones. American Indians carry a unique gene that produces an extra ridge on the tongue-side of some of their teeth; hip bones of adult women are wider and have a more pronounced curve around the ishio pubis. Osteoporosis, polio, bad diet: all can be gleaned from as little as a mandible. If our living faces are televisions broadcasting our interpretation of the world right now, then our bones are time capsules: calcified sponges of facts into which we encode messages--indicators of who we were and how we lived--for the future. Not quite as quick or Wellsian as sending yourself a decade-delayed email, but enough to say "I was an 18-year-old, American Indian woman"; "I survived another trepanning"; "I drank too much Coke." Bones mumble on to whomever listens until, patiently, they turn to stone; their voices reduced: eerie truths whispered among the clamour of flesh. They linger like picture frames sold on the side of the road: the painting gone, the skeleton appears naked and new, catching the light like teeth petrified and smiling.
04 December 2006
One thing is for sure, it would make a good riddle--some stone-toothed whisper from the Sphinx; perhaps chanted in the Oracle's low tones--or a crumb of Zen wisdom dizzying in its circular logic. It makes us human and makes us anything.
In literary circles one finds it dressed up in the guise of Personal Narrative: the stories inside which we frame our existence. We imagine ourselves as forgiving, understanding, attractive. pathetic, thin, fat, tough, happy. We go further and weave a glistening web spun from spools of history, religion, and family. We say, "I am Scottish. We're from the highlands" even when home is America's Great Plains. In this case we are imagining our lives in the context of a whole, where the group in question is family as far down the tree as we can climb with certainty. Understandable when familial links are easily found. More difficult for those orphaned at birth, refugees--those for whom even the concept of home is wholly alien.
Everyone uses it but nobody uses it the same.
In his book The Culture of Make Believe, author Derrick Jensen provides a framework for the notion that Society is little more than a collective imagination, and that the current Western ideals of relationships, crime, and salary expectations are desperately reinforced by other elements of the same culture: television, movies, and print media. As participants in the body, we imagine ourselves fleshing out this skeleton. We emulate the actions of actors and aspire to hang on a model's arm. How we fit ourselves in, on the other hand, is unique to the individual. "Hate" and "love" are spoken freely in reference to a person whom we have never met, and probably never will--except in the context of personal imagination. You hate Julia Roberts. You love Penelope Cruz. You (probably) don't know either, but you can see both women's faces when you read their names. But what about Urmila Matondkar or Mallika Sherawat? As far as you're concerned, they don't exist; and as far as they're concerned, neither do you.
We need it to create our world, but the world would be there without it.
In any given day one can expect the existence of one or more of the following: puppy-shaped clouds, a first kiss, you stole the remote, rainbows, reindeer, Rainer Maria Rilke's Duino Elegies; you can bet somewhere there is some sex, or at least the thought of it. And then earth moves, I remembered the song she used to sing me to sleep, a dream involving cattle, flying pigs, queueing up for tickets, dragons in the kitchen, a hailstorm of heaven-sent scimitars, I'm sure she'll call, I'll never make it, I was there all along, you lied, you never meant it, what did I say?, what is it we were talking about?
Imagine a world without it--a good riddle.
03 December 2006
30 November 2006
At the last minute, however, he decided against it. Not that he was chickening out, he just realised he knew of a better, more secret, more subversive place to hide the files. So he deleted the folder he'd just made, and was surprised to see a confirmation message pop up. "Are you sure you want to delete this folder and all its contents?" It asked.
"Strange," Jamie thought. "I didn't put anything in the folder. Must be a standard message." And just as he lifted his index finger from the mouse, releasing the left-click and with it the "Yes" button, he caught a brief glimpse of the folder highlighted on the screen: RootDAV.
RootDAV is the agency's server; the Intranet; the Portal. It is the hub of all intra-office affairs. Home of phone numbers and funding procedures, profiles and application forms. And Jamie had just deleted it.
It was 4:45pm. Much of the IT staff had left for the day. He looked over his shoulder to check if anyone had seen what just happened. But since Jamie sat in front of a window, the gesture was no more than thoughtless reaction. He decided to try opening a few pages in the broswer. The error message that flashed before him was so unlike any he'd ever seen, it actually frightened him. This was not a "page not found," or "try opening this file again." Before him were the words, "This Server is not responding. Please contact the Webmaster for support." The word "Webmaster" was a hyperlink, and therein was some assurance. Jamie pointed his mouse to click the link but stopped.
"Shit. I'M the Webmaster."
It was now 4:48pm. Jamie received three successive emails: Can't download . . . can't log on . . . Intranet seems to be down.
4:49: the phone rings. Jamie quietly reassures the gentleman that everything is normal. "Just a routine fix. It'll be back up in no time."
"Who was that?" Liam asked, looking over the top of his monitor at Jamie.
"Oh, nobody. Hey, will you open the portal home page for me?" Jamie asked.
"Sure." There was a brief pause. " . . . wait . . . no. I can't."
"Damn." Jamie said.
"Um . . . what'd you do?" Liam asked slowly.
"Remember the Intranet?"
"What do you mean 'remember?'" Liam was more serious now.
"Well, I sorta deleted it."
"You deleted the server?"
"Shhh! For Christ's sake! Do you want people to find out?!" Immediately after he said it, he realised how ridiculous it was. But something inside him told Jamie to stay calm because something else inside him--and Liam--was trying to get out: panic. So both of them sat and looked at the error message for a few more minutes as if it was going to reveal some deeper message.
"You know HR processes everyone's salary on the portal?" Liam asked without moving.
"No kidding? That's dumb. Cause I just crashed it." Jamie replied honestly. "When do they do that?"
"Oh. What time?"
"5pm." Liam answered.
it was 4:55. And then Liam and Jamie were struck with the same thought at the same time. But before they could go get drunk, the had to fix the server.
"Damnit. What's the quickest, dirtiest way to fix this?" Jamie was impatient. A quality he inherited from his mother.
"Well, I guess we could just reboot it, but there's no guarantee it will all be in order. Plus, the whole server will be down for 5 minutes while it restarts." Liam explained.
"Liam," Jamie said patiently, "the server is GONE! What's 5 minutes?"
"Oh yeah. Good point. Shall we?"
"Let's." It struck Jamie how nonchalont the two of them were behaving considering nobody in the organisation was going to get paid, and blame would fall on both of them. Liam and Jamie spent the next 5 minutes on Job Search websites. Jamie was just about to submit his resume when he saw Liam thrust his arms into the air.
"It's up!' It's up!"
"Sweet," Jamie said. "Let's go to the pub before people figure out what happened." Jamie grabbed his bag and was out the door. Bringing down an entire government network is thirsty business.
29 November 2006
28 November 2006
27 November 2006
26 November 2006
Sure, the Internet is real. One may verify its real-ness by the simple process of reading this blog. However booking tickets, downloading music, and reading a blog are all interactions. You perform these actions not so much in the Internet as with it. The Internet facilitates your needs; it gives you what you want. But is it truly there? And what do we mean when we use the term "the Internet?"
The phrases "it's on the Internet," "go to the [Internet] site," and "use the [Inter]net" are all so common they've been abbreviated and lingo-ed a dozen times over in the past five years alone. We talk about it as a place to go, as a thing to use, and as a spectacle--something to see. It is entertainment. It is business. But reduced to its most bland, the Internet is invented space: a dimension of data pinging between nodes. More like the human brain than the nether reaches of the universe, the Internet can easily cease to be. Cut off blood supply to a person's brain, and that person is no longer. Likewise, switch off the power, and the Internet dies in a blink. No swan song or last breath, no sputter--gone, like it was never there to begin with. Its only ghosts haunting in the form of old advertisements and technology mags.
The Internet is both dreadfully important and delightfully fragile. It could also be used as an example of a spontaneous exercise in evolution: we haven't been taught how to use it, but we are using it anyway. We seem to understand that it can never break, per se; it can only be shaped.
So the Internet doesn't exist, but it could cease to exist. It's crucial, but we could live without it. It can be altered beyond recognition, but remain the same. One thing is almost certain: it is just beginning. Are we not like Dr. Frankenstein with his newly moulded--but lifeless--creature? The words we hesitate to speak are waiting. We need merely click the hyperlink: "by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open . . ."
24 November 2006
In 80s leotards and day-glo paint buzzing in the black light, three middle-aged women strut onto stage to the buzzing pulse of synth rock beats. From the beginning, everything promises mayhem. One of the 'Chicks' fingers a few keyboard keys and swivels a dial. The crowd surges, eager for noise; for distortion; for something destructive.
They are all disappointed.
In the late 90s, Chicks on Speed spat in the face of grunge, post-punk, and anything else that tried to define itself as the new 'rock.' With a distinct middle finger erected toward radio, these three junked out performers did not so much as produce melodies as they did destroy them. In the days of chickie crooners The Cranberries and Hole, when Chicks on Speed screamed, hard-lunged, "we don't play guitars" over dirty, ripped-off computer riffs they meant to say, "we don't have to do this the way you think we should. Up yours." But, of course, in those days they were out of their heads.
The new, sober Chicks stand before me like models of soccer moms or third-grade teachers. Their bones are brittle; their muscles stiff. Instead of freaky gyrations about warm leather, they appear concerned about the moral future of college students. Their latest set includes songs with refrains "Fashion! It's very hard!" and "My Space, your space; whose space is it?" (an obvious attack on the 'theft' incurred via downloading music. And let's face it, if you're not FOR downloading music, your either a dinosaur or a goddamn cop so get with the programme). These hackneyed ballads to hippie happiness turn previous rebellions to jell-o. Some dykes need to ease up on politics and just get on with it. Seriously, we get the point. Girl-power is all good, but for shit's sake chill on the leso porn. In the new millenium, it appears Chicks on Speed are losing their identity while trying to compete with Peaches.
Even their early songs did little to entice the eager 20-something crowd--most stood breath-heavy and sweaty, waiting for something to dance to. One could backstep from the stage, past the sound engineer struggling to stay awake, to the back and on to the outside to get a better show. A regular night on Wellington's Cuba street--punks, bums, and gangs--played to the audience on Indigo's balcony. Only the fading pulse of a desperate attempt to stay current filtered through the glass doors. Tired, but mostly bored, the crowd smoked cigarettes and downed VBs. There was inspiration somewhere, and they'd wait for it.
23 November 2006
21 November 2006
And that's assuming you want it black. Screaming to chill milk is another story.
20 November 2006
"If you want to get on this flight," she said sternly, "you'll have to buy another ticket--right now. We take Visa."
"All I have is a Check Card from back home."
"Well, it's cash then. 450 Euros."
Livid, Jamie dug his heels in for an argument. He opened his mouth to let the torrent of insults and accusations free. Weeks of pent up mental and sexual frustration was about to hit this woman with more stink and ferocity than a storm of hormonal baboons.
But like a drop of rain on a window, his mind suddenly changed direction. Where a second ago he would have been delighted to scream and pound the desk, he now had a vivid image of his brother standing at the airport waiting for him. And he did something he hadn't done for a long time: he acted.
Precisely how he acted may differ depending on who witnessed his mad dash across the airport to the nearest ATM. Sidestepping passengers and hurdling numbers piles of baggage, only one thing crossed his mind as he sprinted: "This place had goddamn better take Irish plastic."
Discovering the ATM actually gave him money was the first positive experience he'd had in days. He was uplifted.
Getting stalled at a security check for so long he missed his flight anyway pretty much dropped him right back to where he'd been.
A young man approached him.
"I'm sorry this is taking so long, and I apologise that you've missed your flight. Can I get you something?" He asked. Jamie could tell this was routine courtesy, and that the man was not so fussed about making him miss his flight.
"Yes, thank you. I'll have a tea. Earl Grey. With milk." Sympathy tea. He couldn't stand the thought of it.
When his bags finally cleared security, he was ushered through to wait in boarding. His tea sat untouched beside his chair.
What he failed to realise--or they failed to tell him--was that once in boarding, there's no going back. No trip to the bar. No sandwiches. No--and this was the worst part--smoking. Jamie circled the small, donut-shaped room two or three times looking for a dark corner, a hidden room where he could puff a sneaky Lucky Strike. There was nothing. Until his third lap.
He smelled smoke. There WAS a dark corner. Smoked seemed to hover, emanating from nowhere. He walked closer, closer, and he was almost on top of them before he saw that it was not a dark corner after all: four Hasidic Jews properly dressed sat cross-legged smoking nonchalantly. Above them was a bold, red sign that read Défense de fumer. Jamie gestured to it and asked one of the men, "It's okay to smoke here?"
One answered with a half-interested shrug, "No, but they give us no choice?" It was as if rules, were they not agreed upon, did not apply. And since they were given no alternative, these men were forced to create it. Jamie smiled.
"Can I borrow your lighter?" He asked politely.
And so he spend his last hours in Paris sandwiched between black-clad Jews in a dark corner of an airport. They talked to him in English, told him places to visit, but were generally silent. They smoked for close to an hour beneath the "no smoking" sign serenely defiant.
The time it takes that which is foreign to overwhelm you is time you spend enduring. You will be heartbroken and lonely. You will be broke. You will spend your last dollar on a ticket you've already purchased. You will be rejected. You will be scrutinised. But if you can find common ground with someone during any of this--even if it is just for the length of a cigarette--the perspective will keep you company.
In Tel Aviv John and Sara waited. Jamie's flight arrived at 5:00am. and when he arrived, they sped to Jerusalem. To Jamie, jostling in the back seat of a speeding Fiat, it felt like his getaway car.
They ended up on Sara's rooftop watching the sunrise and drinking cup after cup of thick, black coffee.
19 November 2006
18 November 2006
At the El Al terminal in Paris's Charles de Galle airport, Jamie handed his e-ticket to the customer service agent. She looked at his ticket, looked at him, and immediately picked up the phone. She had encountered passengers who had booked flights through www.lastminute.com before, and they were always suspect. From French sympathisers of Palestine trying to smuggle any number of things, to the American students coming to protest a conflict they didn't understand, they all booked at the last minute trying to sneak in under the radar. But she knew about that trick, and she wasn't going to let this one through. She looked at his clothes and figured he must be French. While the phone rang, she thought about what she would tell the agent at Last Minute Flights. "I'll say we didn't get the ticket. He'll have to buy another ticket. They never buy another ticket. But I'll have to sound convincing." The receptionist on the other end picked up, and the charade began.
Jamie listened to the El Al agent speaking in French. No matter how many times he heard it, he couldn't make out a single word. "Hell," he thought, "she could be insulting me in any number of ways, and I wouldn't even know it." His mind began to wander. He tried to calculate what time it would be when he landed in Tel Aviv. He looked at his watch. His flight was scheduled to leave in about an hour. As long as everything went smoothly from now on, he'd arrive on time and surprise his brother.
The El Al agent hung up the phone and sighed. It appeared to Jamie everything was in order. He suddenly felt good; he was regaining confidence. "I think I'll try out a bit of French," he thought. "I won't be here very long anyway." She handed the e-ticket back to him.
"Pas de problem?" He said in his best accent.
"Non, non--beaucoup de problem . . ." And that was as far as his understanding took him. She commenced to talk very quickly, emphasising particular words and pointing every so often at his e-ticket. His eyes began to glass over, and he suddenly felt very tired. She would have said just as much had she simpy opened her mouth and emitted a constant, low drone. Any grain of confidence Jamie had gathered before had just been lost in her sandstorm of French. He exhaled loudly, and decided it was time to interrupt.
"Yeah, sorry, I don't really speak French."
"Oh," she replied, a little off guard. "Well, there's a very big problem. You don't have a ticket."
16 November 2006
This was his map.
The "ample time" Jamie had allotted himself to change from train to bus was fast disappearing. The 30 minutes he spent spelunking the Paris metro was proving costly as he frantically looked for the 300ft baguette his map told him was in front of him--right where the blue and yellow roads meet to create a green intersection. He was almost a kilometre from the station now. Flanking him on both sides were tall, brick houses who's tops were obscured by ancient sycamore and poplar. He looked at his map and figured he was probably on one of the blue roads. "This is useless," he puffed. Irritated and tired, he threw the map in the nearest waste bin. It was the smartest decision he'd made all day.
"Sorry, are you looking for the bus to the airport?" He head a voice with an English accent say. He turned around and saw a middle aged woman carrying a paper bag of groceries.
"Yeah. Yeah, actually I am. How did you know?" Was it written all over him?
"It's written on your hand." She replied. "The bus is just down this road, then take your first left. But you'd better hurry."
"Thank you. Thanks. Really." Jamie turned and jogged as best he could. Sure enough, around the corner was one, lone bus. He checked with the driver to ensure it was the right bus, and between Jamie's broken French and the driver's broken English, they reached an agreement: Yes, this was a bus. Jamie decided to take the woman's word for it. It was too late to reconsider, anyway. But it wasn't until the bus pulled away and finally headed in the correct direction did Jamie relax. In half an hour he would be at the airport, and a short time later on a plane to Israel. He closed his eyes and let a easy wave of relief pass over him. He could do the airport. Airports were easy.
Of course they were--unless you're traveling to a country at war.
15 November 2006
The station in Paris is a connecting point between the city's subway services, the RER and the Metro, and it's national train network. From the outside, its tall, embellished windows and 19th-century stone architecture purports an air of elegance. Inside it is a labyrinth of escalators, stairs, and tunnels. Quite logically, information is regularly read over the PA and directions flash in yellow and red across a myriad of digital screens. Getting in and out is meant to be a non-issue. Unless you don't speak French.
After 30 minutes of wrong turns, backtracking, following those who looked like they knew where they were going, "vouslez vous"-ing passers by, and finally just heading "up" as much as possible, Jamie emerged from the bowels of the station and into its main foyer. He looked for the nearest exit--it didn't matter where it led, he just wanted out--and stepped, alone, into the middle of Paris.
On this day, the city held no charm. He was not looking at the Eiffel Tower for its beauty and significance; he was using it to navigate. He did not see the kiosks as quaint tokens of gay Paris; he wanted water, and they had it. Stone-faced, he watched tourists snapping photos. A group of American high schoolers boarded a bus nearby. He listened to their effervescent laughter and ohmygods. They were pointing at the Arc de Triomphe on one horizon, at Sacre Cour on the other, and at Notre Dame nestled beside the Seine. For them this was iconic Paris--the Paris--and they would never forget these views. Jamie saw only a city--something he had to get through.
Like many things in life and love, the bus was not where Jamie first looked.
14 November 2006
The sleek, white train slid quietly into the station--a far cry from the hunkering metal slugs churtling along the tracks back in Ireland. Jamie heaved his backpack onto the train and looked over his shoulder. Juliette was there. After eluding him for nearly three weeks, she stood before him sleepy eyed, but awake. She smiled and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "what did you expect?" Jamie returned her gesture with a tight-chinned face--it came naturally, and when he made it he realised it was a face his father would make before saying to him, "you did the best you could with what you had."
Jamie slid away with the train, leaving her and Angers behind him. He leaned his head against the seat and tried to sleep--rest was something he had ignored for many days. Little did he know how precious that nap was.
Things were about to get much, much worse.
13 November 2006
When the kettle had boiled, he poured the water over his teabag and quickly lost track of his thoughts. When the mind wanders, the body reverts to automation, like a mechanical arm on Toyota's assembly line, doing only what is programmed. His hands set the kettle back on its base, opened the refrigerator, grabbed the one-litre carton of skim milk, and carefully added it to the tea. But he was conscious of nothing. Jamie's eyes went cotton, and his face relaxed. In his cup, the milk, the water, and the tea twisted against themselves and each other until there was no difference.
Jamie drank tea toward the end of his one-year stay in Ireland, a habit he picked up from his closest Irish friend, Aidan. "Earl Grey, heavy on the cow," he would say in a turn of phrase that was characteristic of his quick-wit and effortless vigilance. Jamie was often struck by how easily he peppered his speech with metaphor. Once, at the pub, Aidan took a drink, tilted his head back and said, "Jaysus, I feel like an ant in a beehive." Jamie was speechless. Or at Aidan's flat, catching bubbles in his kitchen, when he suddenly stopped and let the soapy things drift with the words, "One day you reach a point where you just have to accept that you're never going to be an astronaut."
And when Jamie left--"Oh the price of leaving, the cost of coming home."
When He flew from Ireland to chase a girl around Western France, he was still drinking tea. Indeed, it gave him more satisfaction (and attention) than the object of his flight. The French, he soon learned, never surrender; they simply draw you deeper into their den. He worked very hard to become so very lost, and in the dark of his own tent on the shore of Isle de Ray he found illumination in words written about tea: "Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things."
12 November 2006
"You can visit your memories and be there again. And then, in a flash, be back to now. We do not so much get older," she says, "as we merely get farther."
Jamie finishes his coffee and turns his attention to the band. While he agrees with her philosophy on time and aging, all he can think of is how he wishes he had learned to play the guitar.
09 November 2006
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 3:00pm sharp. Jamie and Liam waltzed in at five past. As they approached the entrance, a voice announced over the PA, "the last two are coming in."
There they stood. Two-hundred eyes focused directly on them--one-hundred of which, twenty minutes later, would no longer be employed. The two of them stood frozen in so many gazes. Liam raised the large drinking straw to his lips and took a long slurp.
"Bubbleshakes were a bad idea," Jamie said.
08 November 2006
"You just have to live in the moment." She replies. How zen, Jamie thinks.
And he is right. One of the core tenets of Buddhism is to focus on now and only now. All the cliches of meditation come in here: paying attention to your breath, to the tension in your muscles--all are exercises meant to remind the practitioner, "you are distracted; focus." Taoism, too, instructs people that there is nothing outside this noisy, incomprehensibly complicated moment.
Jamie walks down a dark alley of pedestrian stairs linking The Terrace to Lambton Quay. He crosses the street and notices the wind pause as he passes the parliament building. He turns right at the next light, walks past the university book store and stops just before the descent into the subway leading to the train station (note: a subway being an underground sidewalk). The flax are in bloom, and the tuis are well aware. In a small garden, flax flaunt their yellow blossoms. A tui flaps into them and, clinging to the stalks, pokes its beak into each delicate flute. Is feathers catch errant sunlight like cops, turning it all back. Jamie is struck by the pale green beneath the bird's neck; the deep sea indigo of its crown. He slowly moves his hand to his pocket to reach his camera when suddenly three more tuis crash into the flax. Their heads bobbing, one begins its signature song.
Jamie decides to forget about the camera. Sometimes, you just have to be there.
07 November 2006
But that was yesterday. Today is the Melbourne Cup, so Australia and New Zealand promptly brush aside world politics to focus on more the more pressing issue of what horse to bet on. The favourite is a horse from Ireland named Yeats. Besides being number one in the world, it also has the status of being the first horse whose name was fitting, if not poignant. The other contenders include Poprock, from Japan, Mandela, from New Zealand, and Headturner, from Australia. There are more, of course, but the only one on Jamie's mind is Yeats.
"I'm off to the TAB," he says to Kate, the Web team leader, as he throws on his rain jacket. Although the race is in Melbourne, it is broadcast as a prime-time event in New Zealand.
"Better hurry," she says without looking up from her computer, "Race starts in 20 minutes. Who's your pick?"
"Yeats." Jamie replies, and he only knew there was a horse named Yeats because an hour ago someone asked him for $2.00 to go into an office sweepstakes. When he saw the Irish poet's name on the list, he figured this was as good a time as any to begin a gambling habit.
Outside, rain drizzled onto the city streets making cars sound louder and people walk faster. Many of the pubs in the city centre has betting tables inside them, and he walked into the first one displaying the blue TAB sign in its window. He had withdrawn $40 from the ATM on his way down, and he reached for his wallet as he approached the table.
"I'd like to put--" but he was cut off mid sentence.
"You gotta fill out a form, mate." The man said in a gruff, irritated tone. He pointed to a pile of orange and white cards. Jamie picked one up and stepped aside to let others make their bets. The betting form was completely foreign to him, and the longer he looked at it, the stranger it became. There were boxes at the top that numbered to 20, denomination and percentage boxes. and a series of columns and arrows that may could have brought Douglas Adams back to life by their sheer absurdity.
After a few minutes, Jamie realised his brain had stopped trying to figure the race form out. It was instead thinking about how nice it would be to learn a musical instrument. Jamie looked at the clock. The race began in less than five minutes. He turned to the man standing at his right who had just ordered a pint of lager.
"Hey, can you give me a hand with this?" He asked, trying to sound less than pathetic, but not succeeding very well.
"Just ask Joe, there." He pointed to the man behind the table; the man who had told him to get a race form in the first place.
"Ah, thanks." Jamie didn't feel like approaching Joe again, so he approached a group of younger guys for help.
"Na, mate. No use. Race is gonna start. It'd take too long." One of them said. Jamie felt a pang of defeat. At this point, he was sure Yeats was going to win--or at least place. The $40 in his pocket felt heavy and wilted, a limp version of what it could be. He looked over to Joe behind the betting table. He was waving people away. It was too late.
Jamie smiled politely, and headed for the door. The bar was hot, and he was still in his jacket. He could feel beads of sweat gathering on the tip of his nose. He stepped outside, and the cool spring air was instant relief. There were a group of men smoking by the door. One of them was bemoaning the fact he hadn't arrived in time to place a bet. And then Jamie had an idea.
"Who's your horse?" Jamie asked.
"Poprock I've got an inside tip." Right, Jamie thought. Just like all the rest.
"Wanna bet? I'll put $40 on Yeats coming in ahead of your horse." Jamie said, feeling he had nothing to lose, but not completely understanding that, in fact, he had exactly $40 to lose.
"Deal. $40 to the winner." They shook. There were witnesses. And everyone piled inside to watch the race play out on the television.
The horses pounded and so did Jamie's chest--Yeats was in front. Very, very in front. And then something funny happened. Yeats slowed down, or at least it seemed to Jamie he did. A group of four horses were closing the gap--5 metres, 3 metres. Jamie finally heard the announcer's voice say the name "Poprock," and Jamie noticed the horse chasing Yeats. And in seconds it was the horse Yeats was chasing. Then there were two horses ahead of Yeats--he was a gonner. Jamie recalled the epitaph on the Irish poet's grave: Cast a cold Eye/On life/On death/Horseman, pass by. Before long, Jamie realised he had just thrown away his money.
Or had he?
He was standing at the back of the crowd, and all in the crowd had their backs to him. He glanced at the race on the TV. It would be over in seconds. Run, he though. Run.
But he couldn't move. A moment later, the race was over, and people were either howling with glee or cursing their luck. He tapped his betting partner on the shoulder, and held out the money.
"Oh, mate, I thought you were kidding. Nah, keep your money. I've been to every other TAB in town placing the same bet, I just didn't make it to this one. Sweet Jesus, mate. I'm loaded! Wanna drink?"
Jamie thought, what a stupid question.
06 November 2006
04 November 2006
Then one Friday as he hopped off the 7:48 from the bay, the sign before him stopped him dead: Last day of kiosk--closing tomorrow. He was not only disappointed, he felt insulted. He walked to the counter to pay for his paper and spoke to the older Maori woman for the first time.
"What's with the sign?" he asked.
"Closing down for ever." She said with the signature punctuated lilt of the Maori accent. "That New World is going in, and they don't like competition."
Jamie looked to his right, and couldn't believe he hadn't noticed the sign before. It had been there months proclaiming the site of the next in the line of New World chain grocery stores. He dropped his change on the counter.
"Dickheads." He said firmly, and she laughed.
"Yeah, it's pretty stink, eh?"
Jamie walked away and turned to see it once more. A wave of passengers pumped by like a surge of blood into the veins of the city, but he stood motionless, clotting the flow, hoping he might give the beast a heart attack.
03 November 2006
Jamie couldn't remember how they got onto the topic of milk bottles, but he was intrigued. In America, the process of home-delivered milk died long before Jamie was born. But many people in New Zealand--people much younger than Jamie--remember exchanging empties and looking forward to the brightly coloured bottle tops that arrived as Christmas neared. There are people in the North Island in their late teens who remember watching a man walk to the door carrying a crate of milk bottles--and they knew his name. The last glass-bottle milk delivery didn't happen in New Zealand until 1997.
Peter continues the story: how they could barely keep up with demand, how they were sure they'd sparked their careers, how it all worked so perfectly. And then it all died somewhat prematurely--stricken, as if by stroke or a cancer.
"The company that pressed the ads on the glass went bust." He took a drink from his beer. "They were the only ones who could; only ones in the country."
That was it. That was the end. The business that, so many years ago, appeared endless and bright shrunk to a singularity and finally disappeared.
"What a great time." Peter says suddenly, and Jamie is startled by his grin. Here was a life--a business, true, but a life nonetheless--that ended by way of unforeseen events, but Peter appeared to blame nobody. What was once endless and bright, although dimmed, still glowed, faintly, in his memory. And he could remember whenever he wanted. He could go back whenever he wanted. He could hold the glass in his hand whenever he wanted. It will always die, and it will never die.
02 November 2006
If Jamie were a hippopotamus, he'd be almost dead (average lifespan 30 years).
If Jamie were a mouse, he'd have been dead before he knew it (average lifespan 2 years).
If Jamie were a wolf, he would live in a pack, eat meat, snarl, and be dead by now (average lifespan 10 years).
If Jamie were a fox, chicks would dig him (even feminist chicks), but not now. Because he'd be dead (average lifespan 9 years).
But Jamie's a guy. Just a guy (average lifespan 75 years).
The law of averages, however, is not always to be trusted. People have lived to be as old as 122.
Foxes have lived to age 14.
Wolves can creep along until they're 18.
Mice have been known to skitter into walls until the ripe old age of 4.
Hippopotomi have been known to be hungry for 49 years.
Black bears? Just ask one.
Turtles can live to be 125.
And the Quahog (deep sea clam) can live for up to 220 years.
And there is no TV under the sea.
01 November 2006
"It's hardly the same beach, eh?" He says to himself, referring to days before when 80km winds and 3-metre swells pounded the bay. He puts his hands behind his head and watches a man jog past. He smiles, happy that he didn't believe in exercise.
Jamie jogs past the cars on the beach and looks south across the water. On clear evenings like this he can clearly see the south island. He thinks about his mother and father living down in Invercargill with his two brothers. If it weren't for them, he thought, he never would have made it this far.
Filled with a sudden burst of pride-spiked gratitude, he bursts into a sprint. The south's silhouette looks calmly on.
Yet there are some moments when the fright is more than a tingle up the spine. There some moments when you cannot chuckle away the thought of running for your life. There are some moments when you are terrified not because of the unknown, but because you are face to face with something wholly unnatural; something, that should not be there.
If you are lucky (and if your mental faculties are relatively stable) your mind will bury it, and it will be a faint pigment staining your otherwise glossy memory: a repression kept from your consciousness for the sake of your sanity. However, it is difficult to repress the same memory twice. Sometimes, the lucky become the haunted.
Ever since he was young, Jamie had experienced what his mother called a healthy fear of the dark. She explained to him once while busily mashing potatoes that "all people have a slight fear of the dark. It's evolutionary. It's what kept our species alive for tens of thousands of years." She continued, adding milk and spices, "The dark is a dangerous place. It's safer not to be alone."
Such advice did little to quell Jamie's anxiety. For years, Jamie felt his throat close up when he so much as walked past a dark room. He wouldn't enter. Not if it was dark, and never if he was alone. He also never turned the light off in the basement before he was upstairs. At his house growing up, there was a switch at the bottom of the stairs, and one at the top. Once when called up for dinner, he accidentally flicked the bottom switch as he walked by. It was an unconscious act, and it happened so quickly that were he to stop and turn it back on he would have to reverse his momentum. He would have to walk back into the darkness. Alone.
He ran like he was running for his life, taking three stairs in a stride. He was on his hands and knees by the time he reached the top. But even then he didn't turn around. He dared not.
Into his adult life, Jamie regularly avoided dark rooms, but by this time the act of doing so was not in the forefront of his mind. It was a reaction as natural as moving your hand off a hot stove or jumping when someone shouts "boo!" He had forgotten why he was afraid. One night, though, when he lived a long way from home, he was reminded.
* * *
Jamie lived in Ireland between 2002 and 2003. A land of ghost stories and haunted castles, Ireland produces a textbook fright, something Jamie found amusing. The sensation of being frightened was as quick and enjoyable as a loud sneeze. You jump, your blood, as if electrified, suddenly surges in all directions. Then it's over. And you look around for someone to laugh with.
Terror, on the other hand--true terror--is the cunning theft of your breath. And when you look around, you are alone. The is nobody. There is only the dark.
In summer, Jamie was helping friends for a week as they replanted a garden in the Abbey outside Limerick. It was hard labour, consisting mainly of clearing invasive weeds and burning them in great piles. The work started early, but ended by 3:00. Everyone would gather at a nearby cabin, share a few beers, and putter away the rest of the day. Many drove back to Limerick, but Jamie and a couple, Aidan and Mary, would stay.
One evening, when everyone had gone, the three of them sat outside the cabin drinking large bottles of Tiger beer, their chairs tilted back to rest against the wall. Aidan and Mary decided to go for a walk, but Jamie stayed behind, content to finish his beer--and perhaps another cigarette.
Some time passed, and Jamie leaned his head back and closed his eyes. But as he was just about to shut them, a figure appeared near the bracken by the far end of the drive. Jamie slowly opened one lid. The sun had almost completely set. In the long shadows of the glen, there stood a tall, black shape. Jamie opened his other eye. The figure was some distance away. It didn't move. It just stood there. Jamie squinted, thinking maybe it was a shadow, or just his mind playing tricks. And just when he thought he'd figured it out, it moved--fast, and directly toward him. In seconds, Jamie could see it more clearly. But what was there to see? It was just black: A cape, a hood, and then nothing. It advanced at an unnatural pace--flew, even--until it was upon Jamie, surrounding him; isolating him; stealing his breath. He sucked in, but he couldn't exhale. And as he gasped, he knew where he'd seen it before: it was in every closet, every dark basement corner, every empty room.
And then it was gone.
Jamie breathed out, panting heavily. His beer pooled at his feet, half of a damp cigarette in the puddle. Aidan and Mary were heading up the driveway. When they asked what happened, Jamie replied simply, "I sneezed."
That night he slept with the light on.
The next morning, as they left with the shovels for work, Jamie looked back at the cabin--at the darkness inside--and picked up his pace. It's never too old to be afraid of the dark.
30 October 2006
Very soon, though, he will discover not only that he already is, but also that he has been for a long time.
29 October 2006
27 October 2006
26 October 2006
Being a Customs Agent for American Border Security was an arduous task, as Leroy had become well aware. One had to be on the lookout for any number of contraband items hidden in ever-more-creative ways. Just last week he found a sheet of LSD tucked into the pages of a economics text book (he thanked his keen detective skills for that one. For one, the package was from Great Britain. He didn't know much about the British except that America fought a war against them, and if they were an enemy of democracy once, then, well--"a leopard can't change its spots," he once told his apprentice, Jolene). But the package he now had before him was puzzling. He decided to start with the package's place of origin.
The return address was from New Zealand. Leroy had never heard of New Zealand, but he didn't like the looks of it on paper. That is, he didn't trust the letter "Z." It looked suspicious.
"What you got there, Leroy?" Jolene called from the break room. She was half-way through her Big Mac. Leroy had already finished both of his and was now working through his super-sized fries.
"Somethin' from New Zealand, Jo" he replied. He overemphasized the "Z" so that Jolene might pick up its sinister undertones, but it did little more than tickle his nose hairs.
"You thinkin' it's drugs?" Jolene shouted, spitting flakes of sesame bun as she chewed.
"I don't know, but I don't like the looks of that 'Z'." He said, shaking his head. Jolene knew about Leroy's hunches when it came to the alphabet. His first rule of thumb was to think of the states. If there isn't a state that begins with that letter, then that's a mark against it. He continued, "You know any states that begin with 'Z', Jo?"
"No, but 'Texas' got an 'X' in it." Jolene felt proud of herself.
"Yeah," Leroy replied, "But if there's one thing I know it's that an 'X' ain't a 'Z.' Besides, 'Texas' begins with 'T,' and 'T' ain't 'Z' either, even though they sound alike a little."
"Guess you got a point." Jolene took a long swig from her Diet Coke.
"I'm gonna need to investigate deeper," Leroy said as he tore the package open. The yellow-topped container of Vegemite fell to the table. Jolene came over to look.
"What is it? Hairspray?" Jolene asked.
"Don't think so. I don't see a spray button." Leroy stuck his finger in his ear. He found this helped him when he was trying to think. "It says here 'Vegemite.' It could be some kind of vegetable." He felt he was making progress. The finger-in-the-ear was doing the trick.
"Well, if it's vegetables, then we can't let 'em in into America. That's 'gainst the law." Jolene remarked with conviction.
"I know, Jo, but this stuff is brown. And vegetables are either green or red."
"Or orange," Jo added.
"Or orange," Leroy agreed.
"I said red," Leroy was really going to have to concentrate. He pushed his finger deeper into his ear. "I think I've got it," he said with a smile. "What else do you know that's brown?"
"Hmmm," Jolene picked the food from her teeth while she thought about it. "boats . . . dogs . . . shoes, sometimes . . . a turd . . . lakes. That's it, a lake!"
"Now Jo, you ever heard of someone sending a lake in the mail?" Leroy asked. Jolene had to admit that she hadn't . . . yet. "No, Jo this is much worse. This brown jar is a terrorist!"
Jolene let out a gasp of horror and was so taken aback she slightly wet herself.
"It's quite obvious now that I put it together: the letter 'Z', the color brown like the color of Osama bin Laden." Leroy said.
"Osama bin Laden," Jolene repeated, softer and to herself.
"Yep. Someone has sent us a jar or terror, a threat to America and democracy . . . "
"And freedom," Jolene interrupted.
"I was getting to that, Jo. You always just butt in." Leroy snapped.
"It's okay. Anyway, who ever sent this jar of terror didn't count on us getting our hands on it, did they, Jo?" Leroy dropped the Vegemite into a plastic baggie.
"No they didn't, Leroy."
"I'm gonna send out a notice so this kind of thing never makes into our fair country. We'll show those terrorists a thing of two, won't we Jo?"
"God bless America."
25 October 2006
Jamie's favourite walk begins with a hike up the impossibly steep Bolton St. At the top are Wellington's Botanical Gardens, a terraced maze of lance wood and ferns. From there, he crosses three unique Wellington districts: the corporate offices of The Terrace, the mainstream shopping of Lambton Quay, and Cuba Street's trendy coffee shops. Finally, the harbour opens up before him. On clear days like these, he can see as far as the snow-capped Rimutakas. There he slows his pace, but never completely stops. Lunch-time joggers bounce past, and a group of school children experience roller blades for the first time. A slight breeze, mere remnant of the weeks' storms, nudges Jamie's back. It seems to urge him forward, but he is in no hurry. Taking his time, he finally returns to his office an hour and a half later.
The two other members of the Web team, Kate and Liam, are gone from their desks. Jamie figures they've gone for walks as well. However, when he logs back in to his computer, an Outlook reminder is there to greet him: Site Redesign Meeting: 30 minutes overdue. Within seconds, excuses are zipping through his head. None of them sound credible enough to use, though. He sits back in his chair and folds his arms behind his head. Sunlight is still singing through the window, and Jamie begins to relax.
"Why should I go?" He asks himself. "I'm already half an hour late. Besides, the last meeting was 2 hours long, and all I did was sneak glances at that girl's tits. . . on second thought, perhaps I should go." Jamie weighs up staying put with walking into a meeting 30 minutes late. As a contractor, he really didn't need to attend any meetings. And why should he make an excuse? "I'll just be straight up. I'll just tell Kate that I went for a walk and didn't get back in time. I am a free bird, and I will not be tied down! I don't need to be at this stupid meeting anyway." Jamie had firmly made his decision when his phone buzzed with a text message. It was from Kate, the Web team leader.
"Hey! Meeting N Rm 139. Wot, u n tha toilet or smthng?? :-)" Jamie takes a deep breath and replies.
23 October 2006
On Sunday, Jamie, Ami and their new flatmate Chrissy decided to go into the city for Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights. Up to that point, they had done little more than sit around the house, read, and play video games. The mere act of getting out and moving around was inviting.
When they walked in, the aroma of cooking nearly knocked Jamie back. The halls were crammed with stalls selling curries, bajis, and mango lassis of all kinds. Not a empty space was left.
"I'm going to get some baji. You girls want anything?" Jamie asked.
"Just a drink, thanks." Ami replied as she maneuvered though the crowd.
The line moved quickly. When he reached the stall, he pointed at one of the heated dishes.
"Baji please. One." He pulled out his money and handed it to the man.
"Oh, I do love baji." He heard a voice behind him say. Jamie turned around.
"Yeah, they're my favourite, too." Jamie smiled politely.
"You can't have Diwali without baji, I always say." The man was was dressed in a bright yellow robe embellished with sequins. He looked to Jamie like a stereotype of India. He must be a performer, Jamie thought. There had been a few earlier juggling and spinning bits of carpet on sticks.
"Oh." Jamie didn't know how to reply. He had never experienced Diwali before, but he was liking it so far.
"My soul has known Diwali many, many times." The man smiled. Jamie wondered if he was actually in line for food because he didn't seem anxious to get to the front. For that matter, Jamie wondered what was taking his food so long. There were only 5 dishes of food, but 8 men seemed to be operating the stall.
"Are you a Hindu?" Jamie asked.
"Oh yes, yes." The man smiled and looked slightly past Jamie.
"I've always been fascinated by the Hindu religion." Fascinated, Jamie knew, was an exaggeration. Mildly interested would have been a more appropriate description. "But I just don't understand the whole reincarnation thing."
"It's very simple," the man answered, "If you suffer in this life, your next life you will benefit."
"Sir, your baji." Jamie turned around to see a man holding a white, styrofoam container. Jamie took the baji, said goodbye to the man, and walked away.
Suffer and benefit. Pay and receive. It reminded Jamie of an article he'd read by Stephen Hawking. He was writing about quantum entanglement, the phenomenon whereby a particle traveling from point A to B doesn't just take one path, it takes all possible paths. When a photon travels from the lamp to your eye, he wrote, it moves in a straight line, but it also dances about in twists and swirls, travels to Jupiter and back, and ricochets off the Great Wall of China. And so, he postulates, why not us? Just as the photon travels in every direction at once, so too must the history of the universe. We've done everything before. We've made all these decisions, just as we've made all possible varieties of the same decision.
Jamie finishes his baji. A group of older woman are performing a traditional dance. According to Hawking, he's been here before--an infinite number of times. Surely, he thinks, that can't be.
Later that evening, Jamie checks his email. His father had written him concerning a blog entry Jamie had written where he troubles with his decision to start web development--wondering if it was all a bit too late. The email began, "Do you know how old I was when I first started coding?" Jamie had no idea. He read on.
I'll give you a few hints: we had been back from Australia for one year, I'd been the Coordinator for Columbia College's Evening Studies program in Wichita for a year, and Grandpa Smith convinced the manager of the Scientific Computing group at Beech that I would be a good employee, even though I would need training in computing. Libby wasn't yet one. It was early in 1976 and I was 29.
Are the choices we make in life really our own? Have we made them before? Are we somehow following a trail that's invisible except for in the right light, like the shimmering footprint of a snail? Jamie didn't know. But he felt reassured after reading his father's email--like (this time) he was doing something right.
21 October 2006
Jamie stands in his backyard. It is night, and he has just brought a load of wood up from the shed. Before he walks inside, he looks up and watches the clouds rush past a full moon. The speed at which they fly so amazes Jamie, the he nearly forgets about the wind. It is blowing a severe gale.
"Holy shit," Jamie says out loud as a gust literally pushes him a step forward. Wind, he thinks to himself, must be the most uncomfortable thing in the world--it is impossible to be suave in the wind.
He glances up at the moon again and is suddenly struck with a question: how did astronauts poop in space? While the scenario tickles him at first, he becomes slightly obsessed with the idea and goes back inside.
"Ami!" He shouts. "How did astronauts do a poo?"
Normally, this would be a strange question. Why would Jamie's girlfriend know about the bowel movements of astronauts? As it turns out, Ami has been reading Moon Dust, by Andrew Smith. The book is a series of interviews with the surviving Americans who walked on the moon. So asking her about space poos was not so dumb.
"What?!" Ami shouted from the bathroom. She was taking a shower and hated it when Jamie interrupted with inane questions. "I hope he didn't say what I think he said," Ami thought.
"Astronauts. How did they poop?" Jamie asked again, more quietly this time as he was closer to Ami. In fact, he was practically in the shower with her. The mist floated onto his jacket forming droplets that began to pool and pull the dirt to the floor.
"Jamie, you're tracking mud all over the bathroom. Get out." The shampoo was thick in Ami's hair and reminded Jamie of meringue on a lemon pie. He was momentarily distracted, but remembered his question.
"I'm not leaving until you tell me about astronaut poop." He said firmly. Ami recognised this tone of voice. He was being stubborn simply for the sake of being stubborn.
"Astronauts," she sighed while rinsing the shampoo from her hair, "first got completely naked. They took off their suits, their boots, their helmets--everything until they were floating around in their birthday suits. Then they held a bag to their bums, and pooped into it as best they could." She squirted a handful of conditioner into her hand and began rubbing it into her hair.
Jamie began to imagine the subtle difficulties of pooping in space. The whole no gravity thing would be a trick, he though. An image appeared vividly in his mind of Buzz Aldrin, buck naked, trying to catch a great big turd in a bag while bumping into Neil and the others. He's weightless, the bag's weightless--the poop, of course, would be weightless, too. The whole endeavor required being very comfortable with each other in and out of their underwear.
It’s impossible to be suave while pooping in space.
20 October 2006
Lachlan stood in the doorway amassing a mental arsenal of passages from the Watchtower. Confrontation made him nervous. He was much happier when people shouted, cursed him, called him a bloody lunatic, and slammed the door in his face. He could deal with rejection. Heck, he thought, it's what the Watchtower society is founded on. But the prospect of a debate made his hands turn clammy. He often thought how ironic it was he fell in with the Jehovahs when all he wanted was to be left with his thoughts, alone in his head where he was the narrator, and the story was always straight.
Jamie, however, was a little entertained. Jehovahs had never visited him before, and quite frankly he was beginning to feel a bit ignored. One's first visit by a Jehovah's witness was a milestone, Jamie reckoned; a point of reference for jokes, anecdotes, and cartoons. Since Jamie's visit already comprises of not one but two witnesses (and one who farted), he felt he was being well compensated for years of neglect. He also regretted his earlier reaction to slam the door. Why did he want to shut them out? He didn't even know them.
"The Watchtower Society accepts all kinds of people," Lachlan began, proud of his first move.
"Why?" Jamie shot back, resorting, he knew, to sandbox tactics. He could go on like this for hours, but he wouldn't.
"Because we want to help people who are suffering." Lachlan said.
"What makes you think I'm suffering?" Jamie replied.
"If you are ignoring God, it is because Satan is distracting you. Satan and his demons cause great misery." Lachlan looked as concerned as possible. The sun beat down on the two men. Chris shifted his weight from one foot to the other. His feet were getting hot, and he was looking forward to leaving.
"Satan? I've actually been reading a bit about Satan." Jamie leaned against the side of the house, getting comfortable. Where he stood on the porch was shaded, and he could see the men getting uncomfortable in the sun. He smiled.
"Oh . . . Oh, you have?" Lachlan was suddenly faced with the thought that this man was one of the aggressive atheists he'd heard about during meetings.
"Yeah. A great book. The Origin of Satan, by Elaine Pagels. She chronicles how the idea of Satan, and with it the concept of an eternal struggle between good and evil, changes throughout the Bible." Jamie's heart raced a bit. He, too, felt that he was getting himself into a very long conversation. For a moment he thought about cutting it off and going back inside. He had things to do. There was a pile of dishes in the sink he had been avoiding. Hmmm, Jamie thought, dishes or Jehovah's Witnesses. He turned around and closed the front door, and resumed leaning. After all, it was a beautiful day.
"I see. She talks about Satan's rebellion against God, and how God cast him out of heaven." Lachlan replied, nodding.
"Not exactly. Well, she mentions it, but points out how that particular story comes much, much later. Originally, there were the 'satan,' small 's'. These guys were part of God's angelic entourage and still answered to God. They were adversaries who God sent down to challenge people, to purposefully obstruct their path."
Lachlan drew a breath to speak, but was cut off.
"In fact," Jamie continued, "The word 'satan', or at least its root, literally means 'one who opposes.' And the Greek equivalent, 'diabolos,' simply means 'one who throws something across one's path.'" Jamie was beaming. It helped that he had just read those pages the day before, and they were still fresh in his mind.
"I think you'll find," Chris interrupted, "that Satan and his demons try to confuse God's message." He handed Jamie a copy of Watchtower magazine. "We have weekly meetings, and we'd love you to come along. Have a great day." Chris turned around and walked away. When he reached the footpath, he removed his coat and breathed deeply.
"Yeah, but--Satan's just an idea," Jamie said, getting defensive. He was raising his voice. "People used the idea of Satan to demonize others, but not just any others, others closest to them. It, er he, uh, it--it was an intimate enemy, Satan. It was people closest to us, not some magical demon from another world." Jamie flung his hands wildly, trying to grasp the concepts flying through his mind.
Lachlan smiled politely. While it was not like Chris to walk away like that, he was glad it happened. He said, "We would love to talk to you in the group. Have a nice day," and left.
" . . . but the idea was complicated later on. Hebrews started using the term to describe members of their group they didn't agree with . . . " Jamie was talking to himself now. " . . . and early Christians did the same thing later on when Jesus was executed. Because they couldn't bear the idea of losing. I mean, there was a war going on and this guy was supposed to save them, but he didn't . . . so they rewrote the whole thing, made it this cosmic battle so that Jesus could still be the saviour. They made it up. They made the whole thing up. And now look at it. The most popular religion in the world. Pervasive. Ubiquitous. Completely taken out of context. How did it get so damn complicated?"
Jamie walked back inside. He had dishes to do. That, he thought, was simple enough.
19 October 2006
One quiet Saturday in Titahi Bay, the doorbell rang. When Jamie answered he saw two men in beige trench coats. The one closest to the door was older, Caucasian, and wore a calm expression on his face. The man behind him was Asian--perhaps Korean, Jamie thought, trying to be more specific--and held his hands behind his back. First, Jamie thought they were detectives (he had rung the police the day before about a break-in to his garage), for that reason he opened the door. Before the door was fully ajar he noticed the man in front held a brightly coloured pamphlet, the word "Watchtower" printed in bold, yellow letters across the top. At that moment, he wished he hadn't left the couch.
Dammit, Jamie thought, clenching his teeth. "Jehovah's witnesses." And like all conflict situations, a fight or flight response was triggered--it was flight. Jamie figured he had time to slam the door and hide before they got a word in. But it was too late--there had been eye contact. It would be rude to close the door now, he thought. And Jamie was nothing if not polite.
"Good morning," spoke the man in front, a broad grin stretching his face and pushing wrinkles that went all the way to his ears.
"Afternoon." Jamie corrected.
"We've come to tell you the Good News," said the Korean.
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"That Jesus is risen, and he died for your sins," replied the man in front.
"Oh. I thought you were going to say you really were detectives," Jamie mumbled.
The men began their speech. It was one Chris practiced regularly, and he thought about why he joined the Church each time he recited it.
Having Korean parents who immigrated to New Zealand when he was still in the womb, Chris found blending in difficult. Although he grew up going to Kiwi schools and spoke with a thick Northland accent, his appearance always marked him as a foreigner. No amount of rugby or yardies could change that. Further, his mother and father never tried to integrate into the New Zealand culture, rather they kept a distinctly "Korean" home. When he met Lachlan, Chris was struggling with his identity. After a few meetings, Chris found that, among the Jehovah's Witnesses, he didn't need to be Kiwi or Korean; he could just be Chris. The overwhelming sense of acceptance was something he felt he needed to share with the rest of the world. And every once in awhile, somebody listened.
"I don't want to hear this," Jamie interrupted. "I grew up Catholic." The men at the door smiled and nodded. The sky started clearing, and the sun shone on Titahi Bay. Chris and Lachlan, still in their trench coats, began to cook.
"Are you still a Catholic? Many Catholics have joined our Church," Lachlan said, small beads of sweat appeared on the surface of his nose, but he hesitated to wipe them away. Never look nervous, his mentor had always told him.
"No. No, I'm not still a Catholic." Jamie answered with a smirk. "I'm an atheist."
At this, Lachlan twitched suddenly and let out a raucous fart. Chris pretended not to notice, hoping their audience wouldn't pay any attention. Lachlan, on the other hand, was so distracted that he didn't even realise what he'd done. He was gearing up for what was likely to be a lengthy debate. Atheists, he'd come to learn, almost always debate. "Shameless, smarmy heathen," he thought, all the time managing to retain a smile. "This young man has set down a challenge," thought Lachlan. "It's up to me to make the first move."
A mangled pile of lines, on the other hand, is complicated.
17 October 2006
Jamie's desk sat next to a north-facing window, the afternoon heat accelerating his drowsiness as he intermittently lost focus. He looked out and up into the blue sky, then back down into the corner and at his heavy, hooded black coat that hung on the clothes tree. It made him hot just seeing it. Although he was still wearing a knitted sweater over his shirt and tie, he hesitated to remove it. He'd chosen to wear a particular shirt because it went with a particular tie, and with the v-neck jumper over it, the ensemble was just cracking good. However, another reason he'd chosen the shirt he did was because it could only be worn underneath a sweater. Months ago he'd ripped the pocket, and it folded over like a dog-eared page. "I can't walk around with a ripped up shirt--I'll look like a hobo," he mumbled to himself as the urge to remove the sweater nagged at him and at almost the same time he sat bolt upright and looked around.
"Who said that? Was that me?" The sound of the voice was close enough that it could have been him, but the words didn't seem to Jamie like anything that would come out of his mouth. It sounded more like something his dad would have said scolding him for dressing in ripped jeans and dirty flannels during the early 90s (his father would tell him he looked grungy; Jamie would reply, "Thank you--that's the point").
Jamie quickly wriggled out of the sweater and tossed it by his desk. He wasn't going to be scolded by his own self. But as soon as he'd taken it off, he heard the words he was so painfully trying to avoid.
"Hey, you know your shirt's ripped?"
"Yes. Yes I do. Thank you." He replied, tight-lipped. He loathed being told something he already knew, especially when it involved a flaw or a problem he was working on. Moments later he will think of a slew of witty responses. But for now, he was happy just to be comfortable.
The day passed at the pace of the passing clouds. The usually purpose-driven crowds that pushed like cells through the city's arteries slowed with the easing weather. A construction crew repairing a footpath took a longer smoke break. Cafe chairs tilted back with patrons easing into the better weather. Two university students sipped an early handle of pilsner and talked about the day.
"I love that smell--the fresh, after-storm scent and the sea and the . . . I don't know, it's all mixed in. I can't describe it without resorting to metaphor."
"I know what you mean," the other replied, "it's a high-pitched scent."
"A high-pitched scent. Yes. Exactly."
The harbor's surface, disturbed only by passing ferries, shimmered, reflecting the sky as well as the city's lightness.