31 December 2008

Winter Wonderland

Christmas 2008 was epic. And I mean epic in the true sense of the word, not like how snowboarders and ultimate frisbee players use it. The holiday kicked off on 14 December when my mother, father, and younger brother Peter flew in to Vancouver from Dunedin. Twenty-odd hours on a plane didn't seem to affect them because they were eager to partake in all the outings and sightseeing that I'd planned: shopping in Gastown and Chinatown, an evening at the botanical garden to see the light festival, strolls through Stanley park, a day at the aquarium, and snow shoeing on Cypress Mountain. In short, lots and lots of walking.

While they were only visiting for a week, I managed to capture a few highlights before we all flew to Kansas. Enjoy.

05 December 2008

To Do, or Not to Do. That's Not Really a Question.

I really should be working. Not that it's anywhere near office hours, nor am I even in the office, but I should still be working. There is so much on my proverbial plate that I'm running out of room for all the proverbs. Usually, I'd have a good excuse to procrastinate, and that good excuse is named Ami. "Oh, Ami's home. I can't work on this website anymore;" or "Whoops, accidentally met Ami at a bar, guess I'll have to put off the laundry;" or "Ami! Let's dance!"

However, I can't blame Ami because Ami is in New York. She flew out yesterday to surprise Holly and Scot who would have just arrived a few hours before her. They are on a long-overdue holiday and will be flying to Vancouver early next year to stay with us. The whole surprise operation was very Secret Squirrel. She told a few of her friends here in BC, but other than that it was hush-hush. It become increasingly difficult the closer she got to flying out, though. By the time she left for the airport I thought she was going to wet herself. Maybe she did for all I know. Hell, I did.

But back to my predicament--I should be working. Instead of blaming Ami, or the fact that we were entertaining guests (we just had a fantastic week with Ty and Dharlia), I'm just going to have to face the fact that I would rather be goofing around. Not that the work is boring, mind you. It's not. I got a paid gig writing for a web design blog and I'm gathering more clients through my new freelance business. There's a lot of good, solid work to be done. I just don't want to do it.

So while Ami is in New York, I'll be updating you on what's been happening these past few weeks. Aren't you lucky.

Not right now, though. I'd rather do something else.

12 November 2008

Autumn Update

Autumn is on its last leg in Vancouver. Everyone complains about the gray skies and dampness, but Ami and I have been enjoying it. Seriously. While others mumble and curse the frumpy weather, we smile at the fact the rain isn't coming in sideways. I'm in awe some days that our rain boots and umbrellas actually work. Unlike Wellington (or Limerick, or Wichita), you can go for a stroll in the rain and be confident that the only part of your body that will get wet is your feet (assuming you have an umbrella).

I've also been making large pots of soup for dinner--tonight was chunky potato, and it was so good I danced around the kitchen. We'll kick our boots off in the hallway, sit down for hot soup or chili, enjoy a bottle of wine or a few beers (or both), and get cozy in our little attic apartment.

Work is going well, too, although Ami's been pulling extra hours lately. She worked today (a holiday) and helped out at one of the stores on Sunday. She's tired when she gets home, but she'll be well compensated for it. Nood is giving her an extra day's holiday on 2 January, plus she'll be paid double for working on Sunday. Not bad. She also brought home a cool pot from Nood for all my soup-making needs.

I'm finishing up my work with Trader. I've been building the CSS/HTML layouts for their new real estate site. It was supposed to end three months ago, but they've kept me on until mid December. To be honest, I'll be happy when it's over. I've also been working on a new project with my friend Phil. He's works as a writer, but the boy has a very good eye for design. He's designed--and I've built--a new website for our freelance hub, Taft Media Design Group. Have a look. Tell me if anything sucks.

Winter may be long, wet, and cold, but with the number of friends and family members we'll be entertaining over the next few months, it'll be spring before we know it.

We look forward to seeing you all.

27 October 2008

From Wichita to Denver

I only had one cryptic email from Drew telling me how to get to his house. Normally, I would ask for clarification; something simple, like directions, maybe. But this is Drew, and clarity does not become him. "Take a bus downtown and get a beer at 'The Hornet.' I will find you."

This is Drew's way of asking me to stay with him for a couple of days.

Slipping into my role as 21st century Odysseus, I took this as my call to adventure. I found the bus, found the bar, and ordered a couple of pints. Here, I waited. There were a couple of free papers in a news box outside, so I grabbed a copy of "The Onion" and giggled through the articles with my glasses of Guinness.

One hour later and I hear sirens. In a large city, hearing sirens is unremarkable. But these sirens sounded like they were right outside the bar. I looked up to see an ambulance screech into the curb. Two men jump out and run inside the bar where I'm halfway through my third beer. It's all an act of observation until they rush over to me and grab me by the shoulders. "We got him! Go!"

This is how Drew picks me up.

I rode in the back of the ambulance (Drew's "office") for only 10 minutes, but it was long enough. When he dropped me off at his house off Lower Broadway I got to meet his girlfriend, Chrissy, and his friend, Dave. Both would be my accomplices in the revelry that would soon follow.

More to come . . .

22 October 2008

Wichita and the Suepers

I met Phil Sueper when I was ten years old. We started 3rd grade together and became immediate best friends. On July 15 2002, I boarded a flight to Ireland, telling Phil I'd see him "in about a year." Six years and seven countries later, I landed at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport. Phil was there to pick me up.

The trip from my new home in Vancouver to Wichita was one made primarily to see my best friend. We didn't plan anything--no trips, no nights out, and no "welcome back" parties. We sat around his house surfing the net, grabbing coffees, and telling stories of success and stupidity. It was like no time had passed.

I also got to experience Phil's gorgeous (and frighteningly intelligent) children. We played Wii sports, wee sports, hide-and-go-seek, and Trav's favorite game "where's Jamie's wallet?" This was way better than his other idea for a game: do passports float?

I'm flying to Denver in a few minutes, but I wanted to say thanks to Phil and his lovely family for letting me stay for the week. See you in about a year, buddy.

05 October 2008


On the first of October 1977, I was putting my mother and father (but mostly my mother) through tremendous agony. Thirty-one years later and not much has changed.

To say my mother is timid would be like claiming Rambo is eloquent and precise. Her yearning for adventure and her nimble way around obstacles taught me a lot about value. Namely, that it's subjective. While I admire folks who can force their way to victory, obliterating confrontation, I tend to favor those who know when a fight just isn't worth it. So I would like to thank my mother for teaching me how to say "screw it."

My father, on the other hand, couldn't be more different if he were a piece of furniture (for which he's been mistaken on more than one occasion). His calm, calculated demeanonor not only saved me hours of math homework, but also saved himself hundreds of dollars of broken machinery. You see, dad's the kind of guy who reads the instructions. I, on the other hand, tended to force things into place and if they didn't go, I'd smash them with the nearest blunt object. For example, instead of letting me tear the air and oil filter from the old Chevy, he calmly showed me the correct way to use tools. So I would like to thank my father for teaching me how to "unscrew it."

Thanks mom and dad; if it weren't for all your screwing, I wouldn't be here.

11 September 2008

Camping on Saltspring Island

Our friends Anne and Ben invited us to go camping with them on Saltspring Island. They are, for lack of a better term, our besties in Vancouver. I first met Anne when she came to visit us in Wellington last year, and it was she who welcomed us to BC by giving us her spare room until we found an apartment. Anne and her partner Ben are also the proud owners of a 2008 human female named Chloe. So I suppose we went camping with Anne and Ben and Chloe.

But this is not a story about Anne and Ben and Chloe.

Ami was particularly excited to camp on the island because of the lack of bears. This was before she learned that bears often swam over to the boat docks. In fact, a man was mauled just yesterday. This would be the third time we narrowly missed being attacked by bears. And by "narrowly missed" I mean "we camped in an area where weeks later a bear was sighted." Close call, that one.

But this is not a story about bears.

The ferry to the islands left from Tsawassen port, southwest of Vancouver. It took just under an hour to cross the Straight of Georgia, weave through the narrows of Mayne Island and Parker Island, and come to rest at the dock between two spits of land where Long Harbor Road comes to a dramatic end. Once off the ferry, Ben drove to the camp site on the southern coast near Beaver Point.

The rest is normal camping fare.

We took turns cooking: Ami and I made green Thai curry; Anne and Ben whipped up some awesome burritos. In various areas around the campgrounds, there were communal fire pits. We joined one on the first night--when there were still dozens of holiday makers staying on the long weekend--and on the second we made our own.

In between bouts of eating (because when you're camping, that's how you measure time) we hiked the length of the small island. There was an historic farm near our campsite, plenty of secluded beaches, and more wildlife than I expected. Once, the forest cleared and we saw that we walked near a small, still lagoon. Grass the color of lion's fur grabbed at our knees. All around us there buzzed dozens of giant dragonflies. They would zoom, hover, and chase each other and seemed to take no notice of us. Indeed, as we walked back into the woods I glanced back to see them continue their confounding aerobatics just as they had done before we got there, and as they would keep doing long after we were gone.

There were coffee breaks, brief swims, constellation spotting (that one? That's Sessimadarian. And over there? I think that's Orion's nose.), and even a bottle of champagne. Anne and Ben will be returning to New Zealand soon. We're very happy to have shared this brief moment with them.

View more pictures of the trip here.

26 August 2008

Blessings From the Great North American Hamburger

Yesterday, we (Ami, Jess, Jimmy K, Nicole, and I) went out for hamburgers. It was as much for an evening meal as it was a reward. Reward for what, you ask? Well, for one thing Ami and I started a new budget this month, and while I could fill whole megabytes worth of blog space with details, I'll just tell you it's forced us to reduce many of our favorite luxuries to a minimum (vodka, shoes, records) while completely culling other luxuries (lettuce, blankets, electricity). Furthermore, Ami has enjoyed a successful month at work, and I've been training for a marathon. All in all, we deserved a reward; a reward that came in the form of 1/3 lb of organic beef, sauerkraut, onions, cheddar cheese, and bacon.

Glory--oh, meaty fist from heaven. Oh, blessed beef chunk, how cradled between the loving, toasted hands of sesame'd bun. What god or goddess do we thank for this juicy grilled glob? Vicious hunger: be vanquished by this mighty meat of valor!

And it was so.

08 August 2008

Camping at Greendrop Lake

Hike time: 3 hours from the road

Climb: 365 meters

Wildlife: Bears x 1 (heard, not seen), Hummingbirds x 2, Marmot x 1, Chipmunks x 50, Ducks x (aw, who cares about ducks)

Injuries: Ami got a splinter that, five days later, I'm still hearing about

Have a look at the photos.

02 August 2008

Zombies Are Dead. Long Live Zombies!

I love zombies. Well, I love zombie stories. Loving real zombies, even in a Platonic manner, would inevitably lead to heart break (and head break, and leg break, and intestine break). And while the books and graphic novels are arguably more entertaining than the movies (I still think the Dawn of the Dead remake and the 28 * Later movies are the best to date, regardless of the "zombies don't run" arguments), I will always grab a zombie flick when we go to the video store, much to Ami's annoyance. But even Ami has to agree that my zombie outfit for Halloween last year was top notch--complete with blood-squirting severed arm (red silly string can wrapped in a shredded dish glove).

So when I find people playing with the genre, it fills me with glee. Here are two videos I've found over the past couple of weeks. One is Zombies reading Haiku poetry whilst in the background carnage unfolds. The other is Zombie puppets singing Dust in the Wind. I'm still giggling.

Zombies reading Haiku

Zombie Puppets Sing Dust in the Wind

01 August 2008

When God Doesn't Want You to Go Camping . . .

. . . she destroys the roads.

This weekend, Ami and I were planning to go hiking and camping in Garibaldi lakes, about an hour north of Vancouver. We bought a new tent, new sleeping rolls, new bags; Ami bought new boots--we were set. The weather was going to be perfect: warm and sunny. It was a three-day weekend.

And then the mountain collapses. Typical.

The Sea-to-Sky Highway (aka hwy 99) is the fastest road north from Vancouver. There is another way, but it detours one hour east, and three hours north; thus turning a 1.5 hour drive into a 4 hour drive.

The miracle is that nobody was hurt. Nobody. On a road that just one day previous was backed up with 40,000 people going to an outdoor festival, 24 hours later there simply happened to be nobody around. When 16,000 cubic meters of rock crushed the road and piled up 10 meters, there was one bus carrying one passenger that was hit with one rock.

So today and tomorrow we'll be revising our plans and looking for a new place to break in our camping gear.

27 July 2008

Fireworks, As in Everybody Loves

I love fireworks. I understand this is like saying "I love oxygen" because the number of people who don't love fireworks could cram in Phil's old Suzuki. Still, I love them. I love the anticipation leading up to the event: the common awareness that something is about to happen. I love that we all know exactly what is going to happen, yet we still mark our spots on the lawn with giant blankets in order to see it better. And, of course, I love watching explosions.

23 July 2008

Leopard v. Crocodile

A few weeks back my good pal Phil posted a bit of a noodler. Specifically, who would win in a fight between a 70lb young puma and . . . you? The context of Phil's post was a historical series of conversations between he and our colleague and friend, Clint. Besides being Phil's office mate, Clint also happened to be to the only member of the Wichita clan to work with me in Ireland. Clint and I had many conversations similar to the one Phil writes about.

The most troubling aspect of such conversations was their hypothetical nature. He and I would sit in the Netg Ireland lunch room and argue for hours (no joke) while drinking awful, awful instant coffee: baboon vs eagle; alligator vs. shark; baboon vs shark; baboon vs drunk baboon. You see the pattern. Nothing was ever resolved, and we would walk back to our desks with a blood/caffeine level so high it should be illegal.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a video that will shake things up even more than instant Irish. This video--a series of photographs, actually--depicts a leopard attacking a crocodile. Normally, the inverse happens: a young, Christian-minded leopard is strolling the edge of the watering hole and pondering how he can make a difference in the world when SNAP out of the murky depths jumps an evil croc, dragging the poor cat to his death.

Well, not this time.

19 July 2008

This is the Law

Every dog owner in Vancouver is required, by law, to provide their pets with regular enemas. This sign is proof.

17 July 2008

Mt. Seymour

It's been a week now since Ami and I hiked Mt. Seymour, but the stillness of its snowy trails still haunts me. What we thought was going to be a leisurely meander through the forest ended up a slippery slog around the mountain's cross-country ski trails. To say we were "unprepared" would be like saying The Incredible Hulk can be "a little feisty". To our credit, we managed to bring a couple extra layers--including polyprops. This, of course, is Ami's doing. If it were up to me, we would have found ourselves with snow up to our Speedos.

So with snow pack between knee- and waist-height, we tried to step lightly. Careful as we were, Ami and both misjudged the thickness of the ice and plunged a leg into a rushing stream of snow melt. While I was wearing hiking boots, Ami's feet were protected only by light running shoes. I pointed this out many times along the way, to which she retorted with a list of my many personal flaws, sprinkled with the most colorful expletives.

Yet all the cursing and falling-through-ice-into-rushing-streams was soon forgotten when we reached our goal: the semi-frozen Goldie Lake. (mind you, we didn't know it was semi-frozen until we arried). There, we stood between evergreen trunks hugged by deep spring snow, looked up and saw fantails darting through branches. The only sound was their song and the distant stream, which from where we stood sounded like light applause. Although we were only 30 minutes outside of Vancouver, civilization was the farthest thing from our minds.

Check out more photos of Mt. Seymour.

12 July 2008

Harrison Hot Springs

It was Ami's idea to rent a car and drive to Harrison Hot Springs. I wanted to go camping. However, Ami patiently pointed out that we had neither a tent nor camping accessories. "Therefore," she concluded, "it makes more sense to rent a car, take a day trip, and be back home in the evening." I quickly rebutted that doing things that make sense does not come naturally to me. End the end, she got her way. We would day-trip to Harrison on Saturday, then drive to Mt. Seymour on Sunday.

In New Zealand, if you say "hot springs" it elicits images of bubbling hot pools of sulfur-scented water surrounded by forests of giant ferns. Well, either that or Rotorua. Either way, it's much more romantic than Harrison Hot Springs--or hot spring, since there was only one, and it was enclosed in concrete. The surrounding resorts pumped its water into their luxury baths, making the actual spring little more than a warm-ish pond.

Yet that tiny little body of water retained a quality I can only describe as dignity. One hundred meters away from the closest hotel, "the source" was pretty well ignored. Ami and I walked out to it on our way further into the bush. The rain was coming, so we didn't spend too long in one place. With the spring's calm water steaming on as it had (and will) for centuries, we disappeared into the old-growth forest and became, as far as we were concerned, the only people on earth.

View more photos of Harrison.

09 July 2008

Foolishness and Frivolity

In what could be the most trying months of my brother's life, emails and tweets of late have been written in a somber tone. We are concerned; we are serious. Yet more than anything, we desperately need some dim-witted jackass to make us laugh. I'm taking it upon myself to provide that touch of foolishness and frivolity because being a dim-witted jackass comes surprisingly easy.

Since arriving in Vancouver in late March, Ami and I have spent most of our time strolling the city streets, enjoying live music, and buying semi-expensive footwear. In short, we've been a couple of Townies. Fridays are spent with new-found friends at new-found pubs (not to be confused with Newfoundland friends or pubs), and Saturdays' afternoons are whiled away at the beach trying to remember where we went the night before, and why someone named Barnabus is pxt-ing us photos of his chihuahua wearing pajamas. We decided we needed to 1.) change our phone number and 2.) get out of town for awhile.

For anything and everything travel-related, Ami does most of the planning. She may ask my input once or twice, but she handles 90% of it herself. This may be because whenever asked I usually holler from the other room, "hold on a minute. I just need to run this dungeon with my guild." So last weekend, Ami planned for us two day-trip excursions into the wilds of British Columbia: Harrison Hot Springs and Mt.Seymour Provincial Park.

To Be Continued . . .

05 July 2008

O Canada Day

Ami Mitchell celebrates Canada Day
Tuesday, 1 July, was Canada day.

And while Americans celebrate their violent independence with the three Bs (Beer, BBQ, and Blowing shit up), Canadians commemorate becoming an autonomous collective in that great Canadian tradition: the line up. Nothing intrigues Canadians more than waiting their turn. From the busiest bar, to the loneliest hot dog stand--Canada is a queuing nation. So, as visitors to this fine country, Ami and I partook in the many line-ups Vancouver had to offer.

In the morning, we walked down to Granville Island, a peninsular knob that pokes into an estuary known as False Creek (all of this is in the middle of the city, mind you. I don't want anyone getting the wrong idea when I mention "island." In fact, if you were there, you wouldn't know you were on an island. In fact, you'd probably remark, "Oh, what a nice series of shops and cafes. And,oh--a boat!"). This area was host to many a line-up on Canada Day. We started with the pancake breakfast.

Okay, we skipped the pancake breakfast because we couldn't get out of bed. But just assume there was a massive line-up.

As we strolled along the old brick roads, we ooh'd and aah'd at the various queues on offer. The most popular culminated in either pastries or face paint (if children where involved, these often became one in the same). However, we only partook in the coffee line-up and the lunch line-up, though both made us feel very much a part of the culture.

Later in the afternoon, we found an open patch of grass by the beach (after waiting our turn, of course), and basked in both the Vancouver sunshine and the rare occasion that there was Vancouver sunshine.

Ironically, celebrating Canada's patient bid for independence made me miss the good 'ol 4th of July. Not so much the fireworks and "Explosive Summer Sale Events of the Year" as the people. Strolling back to the apartment, I caught sight of dozens of BBQs and house parties: good people just having a beer and not thinking much about anything other than what to put on their hamburger. Canada Day--like Independence Day--is little more than a bank holiday unless you have a bunch of friends to help you celebrate it.

So here's wishing all my Yankee mates a happy 4th. Miss you all. Now go set something on fire like a good American!

For a few more pictures, view the Canada Day album

21 June 2008

Itinerary for my good friend Nick who is going to Ireland.

Day 1: You're landing in Belfast. I'll consider this a white day because I've never been to Belfast. People tell me it's lovely, but since I've never seen it, I am going to argue that it doesn't really exist. Let's just get you out of there as soon as possible.

Day 1.5: Phew. That was close. Let's head to the west coast. You'll definitely want to start with Donegal. The Irish pronounce it as though it were two words, "Dunny Gall," and it receives the highest annual rainfall on the island. Considering this is Ireland, that pretty much makes Donegal the ocean. You may want to poke around Donegal castle, sample fresh mussels at a restaurant near the quay, or stroll the cobblestone streets lined with shops offering the best wool in Ireland. When you're done being a sissy tourist, you will want to find a pub. Any pub will do because Donegal pubs are the most likely to suddenly become venues for traditional music. You will be enjoying a quiet pint of the black stuff, listening to the chatter and laughter, when suddenly there's music. Fiddles, banjos, and an assortment of Irish instruments: the things just appear from under tables, behind booths, from the nether regions of woolly trousers. You won't leave until the sun rises.

Day 2: But the sun WILL rise, and we're off South to Galway, but on the way you'll make a pit stop in Sligo. William Butler Yeats is buried near here. It probably won't mean much to you, but I always visited his grave before leaving Sligo. And since I'm making the itinerary, you're stopping here, too. Like it or lump it. Eventually, you'll get to Galway. I think it's about a three or four hour drive from Donegal even though it's only 100 kms away. You will understand when you drive it.

Day 2.5: Galway forever struck me as a tourist town, but it's still lovely. Don't stay too long. We've got a lot of driving to do. When you leave Galway, head south, and take N67, the coast road toward Ennis. Follow the signs to the Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare near Doolin.

Day 2.75: Well, there they are. Cliffs. Neat, huh? All right. Off you go to the pub! Doolin's pub has remarkable seafood chowder. And beer. But that goes without saying.

Day 3: Holy crap! Day three, already? Quick, get in the car! It's only an hour to Cork. Go, man, go!

Day 3.13: In all of Ireland, Cork was easily my favorite city. It is a bigger, more populous version of the little towns. Not grimy and gray like Dublin, but not so small that you can meet everyone at the supermarket. Plus, Cork has the best weather.

Day 3.5: If you have any time, drive south to Cobh (pronounced "cove") or farther south to Clonakilty. In fact, drive to Clonakilty for breakfast and get the black pudding. This little town is famous for it. Kinda the Tuatapere of Ireland, but with more places to get drunk.

Okay, I realize this isn't so much an itinerary as it is a list of places I like. You're pretty much guaranteed a good time no matter where you go, though. Have fun, buddy!

14 June 2008

Something Silly for Friday

I'm afraid of number 4. Which one gives you the heebee jeebees?

12 June 2008

Concentration, or the Lack Thereof

I have always been easily distracted. From an early age, I remember feeling like everything was more interesting than what I was already doing. For example, one December in my early childhood, I was microwaving cheese--cheese and bread, to be precise (I loved melted cheese sandwiches when I was a kid: how the spongy white bread turned to rubber, the processed cheese oozing with every bite). My attention shifted from what I was doing pretty much right after I pressed "start" on the microwave.

Older, and still distracted, I have the luxury of blaming coffee for my infinitesimal attention span. Sometimes, I go so far as to drink too much coffee so that I have the jitters to prove that I've had too much coffee. Then, when someone looks over my shoulder and sees that I have a dozen different program windows open on my computer, I can just point to my half-empty cup and say, "Yeah, that's my ninth."

The problem is, no matter how much or how little I consume, my focus remains the same. Three pots of coffee? ADHD. No coffee for a week? ADHD. Imagine, if you will, a consistent, steady ship cruising calm seas. Now imagine that ship captained by monkeys in electric underpants. That is my concentration.

Back to the melting cheese story. Do you know what pulled me away from watching Wonderbread and Velveeta fuse into an as-yet-undiscovered chemical compound? The corner. Yep. The corner. I walked into the den, squeezed behind a big blue chair in the corner, and peeked over the top for no other reason than to see what it was like from there.

I was about to go outside and put sand in my pockets when I heard my mother screaming from the kitchen. That's how I usually knew my lunch was done.

11 June 2008

For the Betterment of the Blogosphere

A few weeks ago, I got back in regular touch with Phil (if Phil and I were characters in The O.C. or Spongebob Squarepants, he and I would be referred to as BFFs. Actually, if he and I were in Spongebob Squarepants, we'd be referred to as Jillie-Jelly and Poodle Pants). Since then, he's embraced the internet-o-sphere with great fervor: starting a hilarious and insightful blog, twittering, as well as sharing his life via Facebook.

Also recently, my little brother, source of wonderment and woolly knits, decided to post his thoughts on the internet in the form of one of those new-fangled weblogs.

Two great thinkers, two funny writers, both adding another level of joy to the universe that is the world wide web.

07 June 2008

Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad

Today is the 40th wedding anniversary of Karen and Darrell Love, heretofore affectionately referred to as "my mother and "dude". 40 years ago they wed and began the greatest, most rewarding task of their lives: creating me.

Before that they were simple folk. My mother worked in the mail room of the Wichita Eagle Beacon, sorting out the checks from the envelopes that obviously contained cash, which found their way to the nether regions of her capacious bra. Dude toiled 9 hours a day in the Tawanda Mannequin Works, shaving raised creases off the plastic thighs of all big-and-tall dummies. It was Kansas. Life was plain, but it was good.

Good, that is, until he came to town one muggy, August evening; the blight of Sedgwick County: Chancho de Salsa.

Chancho de Salsa ruled the Wichita underworld with an iron wrist. He would have ruled with an iron fist, but he was born without hands--a deformity he was very sensitive about. He worked his way up the crime ring by telling people he was a skilled street fighter, and that he defeated anyone who got in his way until one day he was jumped by a dozen men who successfully relieved him of his appendages. The truth is that fighting--at least "fist" fighting--would have been very painful for Chancho, as his wrists were overly sensitive. So sensitive that the slightest breeze tickling his stumps would cause his knees to buckle and tears to stream uncontrollably down his cheeks. If you knew this fact, it would explain the mittens. But since most men were too terrified to ask, those knitted adornments on the wrists of Chancho de Salsa remained one of The Windy City's unsolved mysteries.

Chancho also had an eye for one Miss Teen Wichita; the Maiden of McComas; the lovely, Karen Gail Smith.

Late that summer, Karen started receiving Mysterious packages at work (Mysterious Industries was the company de Salsa used as a front to disguise his criminal dealings. They were Sedgwick County's second largest supplier of ball bearings and hair pins, but they also distributed cheese doodles to Wichita's north side. An odd combination, hence the name "Mysterious" industries. They used to be called "Ball Hair Doodles Inc" until de Salsa took over). Knowing their origin, and because she had her eye on someone else, Karen refused to accept the boxes of ball bearings, hair clips, and cheese doodles that were sent to woo her. This angered de Salsa, and he shook his mittened wrist nubs at heaven, vowing to destroy the man who had won the heart of Miss Teen Wichita.

Luckily, Dude was oblivious to the spectacle going on around him. He would whistle his little tune as he scraped piles of thigh plastic day after day. It was menial labor, so Dude would busy his mind with subjects that interested him, like time travel and knots. One afternoon, he got so distracted by his thoughts that he'd shaved the whole left leg off one of the mannequins. To cover his mistake, he shaved the right leg down to match and told his manager they had been sent a short person's mannequin by mistake. Reginald Hharrr, the manager of the mannequin factory and Dude's boss, wasn't so displeased about the midget mannequin that Dude had created as he was concerned about the massive pile of shaved plastic on the shop floor. Since shaved plastic was a key ingredient in cheese doodles, there was only one option: sell the stuff to Mysterious Industries. Reginald instructed Dude to sweep the plastic into a bag and deliver it to Mysterious Industries, a task Dude happily--and somewhat ignorantly--accepted.

But Chancho de Salsa was waiting. He knew Dude's job. He knew Dude's tendency to daydream. He knew everything about Dude, and he knew Dude would be arriving soon with a bag full of mannequin thigh plastic. Chancho de Salsa winced as he slid the knitted mittens onto his wrists--even woolen fibers irritated his sensitive stumps.

Dude arrived in the late afternoon, fighting the gusty winds as he gripped the plastic-filled bag. At Mysterious Industries, most of the employees had already gone home for the evening, so it was de Salsa alone who waited. Watching Dude walk naively up to the front door, de Salsa grinned. His only wish being the ability to wring his hands in diabolical anticipation. When Dude reached for the door, de Salsa bounded out.

"Ah ha!" Chancho de Salsa shouted, leaping wrist-mittens-first at Dude, "I have you now, Dude! You will never have Miss Teen Wichita! She's mine!"

The attack came so suddenly and startled Dude so severely, that he jumped backwards with fright, launching the bag of plastic shavings into the air and knocking the mittens from de Salsa's arms. Dude shouted his most forceful cuss word, "Gosh dang it!"

What happened next was never fully known. The bag of mannequin thigh shavings hung in the summer air like only a bag of mannequin thigh shavings can: briefly, before being ripped open by a severe gust of wind. That same gust blew the millions of sharp, plastic pieces into the face of de Salsa, and more importantly, onto his un-mittened wrist lumps.

The shrieks, it was said, could be heard as far away as the Flint Hills. And the pain that caused the shrieks drove Chancho de Salsa mad.

Later, the mayor came to the mannequin factory to award Dude with the keys to the city for ridding the town of the evil Chancho de Salsa. Dude smiled humbly, looked at Miss Teen Wichita, and uttered these famous words:

"Well I'll be . . . for heaven's sake."

Happy anniversary, mom and dad: hero and heroine of my own world, daring little fiction that it is.

06 June 2008

I Can Has a Couch?

Three weeks ago, Ami and I ordered a couch. Wait, let's go back a little farther. Six weeks ago, Ami and I moved in to our new apartment on West 1st. Our voices echoed off the bare walls as we walked from one empty room to the next. We had a bed, but little else. Considering we had just moved to Vancouver, Canada from Wellington, New Zealand, the lack of furniture of any kind should be understandable. Luckily, a friend of a friend gave us a futon and some dishes, or else we would have been eating take out on the carpet for weeks. So began our hunt for a couch.

Back in Welly, we had two gorgeous love seats. Ami's memory is a bit clouded, though, because she says "Meh, I didn't like them that much." She's lying; she loved them. Dark brown leather, classic square shape, hand-made in Wellington--just lovely. Needless to say finding something comparable in Vancouver was going to take more than a trip to Ikea (a place that, I've decided, is a portal to hell).

We shopped around for three weeks before finding exactly what we were looking for: dark gray upholstery, again the classic square body, hand-made in Vancouver, and with a chaise. I've never been so excited about a couch. I liked it so much I dreamed that the Jamie of 7 years ago suddenly appeared and kicked me square in the nuts. The store owner, Kareem, told me they would deliver it in three weeks.

Three weeks later (yesterday) I'm waiting outside the venerable Croatian Villa for the delivery van. What do you know, but he's right on time? Bang-on 5:00. Ben, a waifish boy of 23 years, springs out of the back of the graffiti-embellished van. Together, we begin to move the couch. First the cushions, and finally the 7-foot long base.

We soon learn a little something about the architects responsible for my apartment building, the Croatian Villa--they were all right-handed. How do we know this? Because they must have drawn the building plans with their left hands. Observe:

The back door only opens half way, meaning we must first move the couch into the hall, then shut the door to move it back through the hallway to the stairs (elevator? no such luck). At the door to the stairs we hit our first impasse: at no angle with the couch fit through. How did we get it through the back door but not this door? Because the door to the stairs is narrower. We flip, shuffle, lean, squirm, shove, curse, drop, lift, rotate, and curse some more. Nothing. Let's try the front entrance, I tell Ben. It means walking up one extra flight of stairs, but we don't have much of a choice.

I meet him at the front door. We get through the hallway to the stairs, tilt it perpendicular to the floor, pull the bottom through the door--so far so good--and I, on the inside of the hall to the stairs, begin to flip my side up so that it will stand. Impasse number 2: it won't stand. How did it stand in one hallway but not the other? Because the ceilings are different heights. Brilliant.

The couch never made it. In the end, we had to send it back to its maker. But not after trying to pull it up through the balcony door, three storeys off the ground. . . well, we considered it, anyway.

So, couch-less, we will host Molly (little sis) and JF for the next four days. The futon that once took pride of place in the lounge will become their bed. I foresee much time spend outside the apartment--hoping the weather holds out.

02 June 2008

Here Be Falcons

I noticed something odd on the way to work the other day (Well, I notice something odd on my way to work EVERY day, but that's because I take public transport . . . in Canada. . . on the west coast--seriously, if I get to the office without seeing a.) lap dogs in knitted jumpers, b.) ice skates, or c.) blatant drug deals, then it's probably Saturday, in which case I'll probably see something odd as I travel back home). Walking down the steps as I exited the Sky Train station in Burnaby, a woman was standing on the platform with a hawk on her arm. It was trained, obviously, and she was wearing a high-vis vest and falconer's gloves, so it didn't seem to be an accident (although I don't really know how a woman could "accidentally" wear a giant bird of prey on her wrist). Naturally, this piqued my curiosity.

In my head, she was part of an elaborate scheme by city planners to rid Vancouver of pigeons. In my head, she was merely one of a number of falconers who would soon be patrolling areas all over the city. In my head, the sky would soon be full of hawks and eagles instead of pigeons--those disease-ridden, rats of the air. In my head she was French . . . I'll just leave that one alone. But since "what happens in my head" and "what is real" are rarely even remotely similar, I decided to strike up a conversation with Hawk Lady.

It turns out she was part of an elaborate scheme by the city planners to rid Vancouver [Sky Train stations] of pigeons. She was one of many falconers working in the city, and I would no doubt be seeing many, many more raptors "patrolling" the skies. All this rattled off speedily in a bouncy, French accent.

Well I'll be damned.

Imagination, meet Reality. You've never met, but it turns out you have a few things in common, after all.

28 May 2008


On Saturday, Ami and I went to see The Presets. Since this is not Duck & Cover, I won't go into a full music review. Just know it was a dance gig: loud, thumping, sweaty. Having been to our fair share of clubs, we scrambled up the stairs to the top floor where we could gaze down at the pandemonium that is the Plaza at full capacity. Also, from that vantage point we could also indulge ourselves in a game of fashion police, which is decidedly more fun in Vancouver than it was in Wellington because of Vancouverites' remarkable tendency to wear Lycra.

Normally, gigs of this ilk kick off at 10pm and go until 1 or 2 in the morning. But this one was different. With a start time of 7pm, this was going to be the earliest show I had been to since turning 18.

When we got to the Plaza on lower Granville, the sun was beaming. We both mumbled back and forth how we'd rather be at the beach than walking into a dark dance pavilion. The upside of the early gig was that it was still light when we spilled out at 10. I ducked out first, skipping out on the last song due to the fact that I couldn't really hear anymore anyway. Although daylight still pinged the windows of Yaletown's apartment towers, Vancouver's night life was going full tilt. I sat on the curb waiting for Ami and observed: bunny-eared hen parties moved in gaggles, security guards paired up with police and strolled along the sidewalks like nervous lovers, strippers climbed out of white limos and disappeared into windowless clubs.

I refused offers of LSD, ecstasy, sex, cocaine, gay sex, and a few joints before Ami and Jess came out of The Plaza--I had been sitting there for all of five minutes.

I would like to say it was downhill from there, that we fell into a spiral of debauchery. I'd like to say I can't remember what happened next. But I do. We went to an after party in a small warehouse on the outskirts of town. Well, we stood in line for an after party on the outskirts of town . . . okay, we walked up to the line. We quickly scurried away when we realized everyone was between the age of 14 and 16. Ami leans to me and whispers loudly, "This is creeeeeepy!"

Luckily, Jess knows Vancouver. "There's a DJ at the Audio Engineering school," she says as she waves for us to follow her to her car. The only problem is that there were six of us by this time, and we'd all arrived in different taxis. Jess's car is a VW Golf. It was a tight fit.

Because the police were out in force that night, the drive to the next party involved a lot of sudden turns down back alleys, a lot of ducking down to make it look like we weren't sitting on each other's laps, and quite a lot of swearing. When we finally arrived, I got out of the car with a noticeable limp; noticeable because I was limping on both legs. Ami had been on my lap in the front seat, so one leg lost circulations, and the other . . . well, just know that I had my keys in my back pocket.

The party appeared to be in a small theater that had all the seats removed. On screen, some art-school crap flashed epilepsy-inducing , and in front of that some very good DJs mixed some very un-danceable tracks. Ami and I stuck around for about an hour, but finally left from sheer boredom. We felt bad because a.) we wanted to hang out with Jess, and b.) we'd paid $15 to get in (more than tickets to The Presets cost), and c.) we weren't tired.

Outside, the night was warm. We meandered down 2nd Street for awhile before hailing a taxi. Once home I sipped Spanish wine and waited for the sun to rise.

23 May 2008

Seattle, Take Two

Last weekend was, by definition, a long one. So we celebrated that great Canadian holiday (Victoria Day) by driving to America. Our friends Pete and Nic live there with their less-than-one-year-old boy, Harper, and we hadn't seen them since Holly's wedding. We spent the weekend shopping, driving, playing with Harper, driving, and looking for a place to park. Don't get me wrong: we had fun, but the fun was had with friends, and not particularly with Seattle. For being a haven for all things hipster and cool, the city itself is a pain in the ass.

Remember, though, that I'm not from Seattle. I've spent a grand total of 20 days there, so I probably just don't know where to go. The fact remains, though, that to get anywhere, you need to drive: the market downtown, Alki Beach, Ballard, Capitol Hill--none are within walking distance of each other. We spent almost as much money on parking as we did on gas.

That being said, we had a great time. Dakin cooked amazing hamburgers for us on Sunday night, and we managed to find some wonderful little shops. On the drive home, we stopped for pizza just outside Bellingham. And after that Ami got her first Wal-Mart experience. I showed her that, indeed, they do sell firearms there. Yet after a small debate, we bought tennis racquets instead.

At the border (need I remind you how they make me feel), I was worried about all the shopping we'd done. You're supposed to declare anything over a certain amount ($50, I think), and we'd spent about $500. The rules are to hand over the receipts, and pay some taxes. However, viewing this as a ridiculous restriction, I decided to flout it, and ripped off all the price tags, threw away receipts, and stuffed as much as I could in my suitcase (amazing how small you can squish pillows).

The border guard asks me when we drive up, "did you do any shopping?" I answer with a straight face, "Yes. . . we bought tennis racquets at Wal Mart." She giggled and waved me through. You see? I didn't even have to lie.

So why do I get the feeling that one day it will all catch up with me and manifest as one gimonstrous, epic fail.

Check out the pictures from our trip.

17 May 2008

Bike Streets and Sky Trains

Photo: my bike, in all it's orange glory

The sun is out again, which is always cause for celebration in this part of the world, and considering the fact it's Friday, I decided to ride my bike to work. This in itself is not blog worthy--I've ridden my bike to work for many jobs, in many countries (except Ireland because that way lies madness). This difference is two-fold: bike streets and sky trains.

Cycle lanes on a road I've seen, but Vancouver is the first city where I've experienced streets marked as cycle streets (expect photo documentation soon). There are even maps available that show all the bike streets from a bird's eye view. Ami is using such a map as I type to navigate to her office on 7 millionth street. I, however, work in Burnaby, a suburb so far away it might as well be a different city. Biking all the way from our apartment to my office would be like biking from downtown Wichita to Andover, or from Te Papa to Titahi Bay for the Kiwi contingent. Fortunately, Vancouver has something available to neither Wichita nor Wellington: a sky train.

::pause for OOOs and AAAs::

I won't delve into the local commentary on the relative benefits vs. the flaws of the service (no matter where you go in the world, someone is going to whine about something) because the sky train suits me nicely. I ride half the distance, jump on the train with my bike, and am whisked away: flying above the suburbs like Aladdin on his carpet, were Aladdin's carpet a 2-ton electric train with a maple leaf stuck to the side.

My bike is an old, standard cruiser that sat in a little Korean man's garage for 30 years. I'm quite confident that I'm the second person to ride it in its life. With its "safety" orange paint job, I'm like a giant road cone hooning down the street, which is good because people tend to stop for orange. I'll by flying downhill, blowing through intersections while cars screech to a halt. Even if they're not even on the same street, they'll slow down if they see me out of the corner of their eye.

"Why are you stopping, honey?" She'll ask.

"I saw something." He'll reply.

"Saw what?"

"Dunno, but it was orange."

04 May 2008

Of Visas and Border Control, pt. 2

If you've been following me on Twitter at all (on the left side bar), you'll already know how this story ends. Despite my pessimism, everything went smoothly at the US/Canada border. Well, everything but my rental car, which over heated when I was in line to re-enter Canada. Not a good first impression.

Some of you have been asking why I needed to travel to the border at all. The answer lies in the nature of the NAFTA work visa. Without delving too deeply into immigration law (with which I've becoming very familiar over the past six years), citizens of NAFTA countries are provided a fast-track, short-term work visa to other NAFTA countries, assuming, of course, they meet certain criteria. The best part about this visa is you just bring your paperwork to any point of entry, and they process your visa right there. Presto. In contrast, my New Zealand working visa took six months; permanent residency (counting all three application attempts) took two years. So, the option to apply for, have processed, and receive permit AND be home in tome for tea was refreshing.

Still, I was nervous.

Those who know me well (I'm looking at you P. David Sueper) know my penchant for bending the rules. My plight for a Canadian work visa was no exception. Again, I don't want to bore you with details, so let's just say I didn't exactly meet the visa requirements. To work as a web designer, I needed a science or design degree. My degree is in English. In order to obtain the visa, I would need to show my college transcripts and a letter from my prospective employer. The letter would list the sort of work I would do, so the border guard would make sure I was qualified to do it. No amount of As in "20th Century American Women Poets" was going to convince Mr. Mountie that I could write HTML. The choice was made for me: I was going to have to lie.

Or was I?

Due to the public nature of this blog, I'm not going to explain exactly what transpired, but know this: I obtained my permit legally and without bending any rules whatsoever. . . Of course I did.

01 May 2008

Of Visas and Border Control, pt. 1

I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but the frustration of unemployment is beginning to creep up my pant leg. While there have been a few bites on short-term website updates, I lack a proper, 40-hour/week gig. So when a local recruitment firm offered to sponsor my work permit, I believed I was in the clear.

They sent me to interview with www.trader.ca to help them re-brand and develop a new website, and of course I sailed through the interview and was best buds with the IT manager before leaving. When can you start, he said. Just as soon as my university transcripts arrive, I reply.

You see, in order to get the NAFTA temporary work visa (which, once all is said and done, is a very handy option to an ordinary work visa--and I know a thing or two about visas), I need an offer of employment, and either a copy of my degree or a copy of my university transcripts. Yet it is the latter that I've had so much trouble obtaining. The first two times I requested them (!!), they just seemed to disappear. Poof. No record once they left Wichita. So now, take three, I've paid $30 to FedEx overnight the damn things to the recruitment firm directly. Imagine my frustration when I rang them this morning to grab the tracking number, only to have the lovely receptionist at Newman registrar tell me there is a problem.

Registrar: Oh, you forgot to supply me with a phone number.
Me: You didn't tell me that you needed me to supply you with a phone number.
Registrar: Well, FedEx won't deliver to Canada unless there's a number.
Me: So you haven't sent the transcripts yet?
Registrar: No.
Me: ::audible sigh::
Registrar: And you didn't even give us the name of the company we're sending it to!
Me: What?
Registrar: There's no company name on the address that you faxed us.
Me: "Aquent."
Registrar: Excuse me?
Me: A-Q-U-E-N-T. Aquent. That's the name of the company.
Registrar: Oh, THAT's the company! We thought it was the lady's job title.
Me: No, her title is "Account Manager," like it says on the fax.
Registrar: Well, you still should have given us a number.

It actually went on like that for a bit. You think you have everything in order, but you forgot to factor in that you're dealing with Kansas.

I've given this post a "part one" because part two (and maybe three) will involve interaction with border security, which has yet to happen. And you know how I feel about border crossings.

25 April 2008

Snowboarding on Mt. Whistler

Last year, Ami and I didn't go snowboarding at all. We had become a bit tired of driving four hours (Wellington to Ohakune), then paying accommodation and lift passes for what always turned out to be below-average snow. Furthermore, the weather up on Whakapapa/Turoa was changeable at best. While it might be sunny driving in to town, by the time we parked and got up the lift, the weather would have changed. Once, we spent an afternoon snowboarding in the rain after a storm moved in on what was earlier a perfect day.

Needless to say, we were eager for some good snow, and we heard Canada had it in spades. So we booked a night at a Whistler hotel for a weekend of snowboarding.

Yet the locals didn't share our enthusiasm. They told us it had all melted, there wasn't much left, and what was left was going fast. We decided to chance it and go anyway. Regardless of how bad it was, at least we were getting out of the city. Besides, we told ourselves, we were used to New Zealand snow (read: ice) so we weren't expecting much.

What we got was some of the best riding I've ever experienced.

Whistler village boasts access to two separate mountains: Blackcomb and Whistler. There are gondolas for both right from the middle of the village (I geeked out about this all day), so we could ride down from the top of Whistler (20 minutes--my legs still ache), grab a coffee, then go up a new mountain. Fun!

Now, I spent most of the time either on my ass or cartwheeling through the air, but it was still rad. Check out some of the photos on my Facebook page.

14 April 2008

Ami Works in the Nood

Each day for the past two weeks, Ami and I have been applying for jobs. Ami would send out her resume and samples of her design work to various places, and I would ask my World of Warcraft guild if they knew anybody who might hire a web developer. So each of us worked diligently in our own way. To my surprise, Ami's way bore fruit much faster than mine. Go figure.

A couple days ago, Ami's friends Ty and Dharlia came to stay in our little shoe box apartment (we haven't moved in to the Croatian Villa yet). They day they drove up in their Dodge Ram Get Away van, Ami had an interview with a company called Nood, a retail shop that's a little like Ikea meets Urban Outfitters. Oh, and it's a New Zealand company (Ami later told me that the guy who interviewed her looked exactly like our friend Brent from Invercargill. If you know Brent, this should make you smile). So the fun-filled day we had with Ty and Dharlia was also filled with mild anxiety because Ami really, really liked the company and was excited about the sort of design work she might be doing there. We were driving up 10th street when Ami's phone rang. It was Nood. She could have the job if she wanted it.

The sun was just coming out.

We celebrated with gooey cinnamon rolls and coffee. Go Ami!

07 April 2008

Jamie and Ami Get an Apartment

Ami and I have been searching for an apartment for a few days. Actually, we've been flat out flat hunting ever since we got here, with varying results. Apartment prices have ranged from $900/month to $2,000/month depending on amenities and location. Our favorite areas have been downtown and an area just outside downtown called Kitsilano. Sounds poncy, but it's kinda cool in its kitsch. Case in point: our apartment.

The name on the building, written in cursive at an upward angle and in shimmering gold, is "Croatian Villa." Inside the foyer you find exactly what you would expect from a building with the words "Croatian Villa" written in gold cursive on the front glass door. Imagine if David Lynch and Stephen King got really stoned and went to Vegas to buy furniture. That's kinda what the inside of the building looks like. Our apartment, however, is amazing.

We're on the third floor and are treated with spectacular mountain views, thanks to wrap-around windows and a sliding glass door that leads to a patio. Seriously--the photos don't do it justice. When we took the photo, it was overcast, so the houses across the street stand out. Yet when you're there, you barely notice them. And you'll be here, right? You're coming to visit, right? Right?

Anyway, here are some photos:



06 April 2008

Who Can I Blame for My Vice?

Traveling makes me nervous. Or at least traveling makes me nervous anywhere where border security is involved. For this, I blame the Jews. Well, one Jew: the guy who grilled me for two hours before letting me into Israel.

But that was years ago. Now, I'm leaving Seattle and heading back to Vancouver where I'll remain on visitor status, which I can extend indefinitely. But since I can't work in Canada, I have to search for web design contracts in Seattle. Needless to say, I'll be doing a lot of border crossing over the coming months. For you readers who haven't seen me in a while, or for those won't see me for even longer, when we do finally meet just look for the guy with the boy-ish good looks and a head of gray hair because this shit is killing me.

The worst part about my reaction to border-laden traveling is my tendency to go from health nut to heavy smoker in an instant. For this, I blame the French. Well, one French: the girl who begged me to visit her in Paris when I was living in Ireland, then told me to go away when I got there (I'm paraphrasing and condensing a bit, but that's the gist). This happened to coincide with the incident involving the Israeli customs official, as when aforementioned Frenchie gave me the boot I decided I'd buy a ticket to Israel to visit my brother. So there I am, dejected, unable to speak the language, and sitting in a tiny room in a large Parisian airport while gun-toting security guards rifle through my suitcase, causing me to miss my flight. When I was finally shunted through, exhausted (30 hours with no sleep) bags checked, metal detector satisfied, I found myself in a lounge surrounded by signs. Not mystical signs, but little red ones that said, to my dismay, “No Smoking.” Sleep deprived, tongue-tied, and clutching a box of Lucky Strikes, I roamed the dark halls looking for a hidden corner where I might indulge in my intermittent vice. What I found was a group of Hasidim Jews, black-clad and curly haired, chain smoking beneath a plastic sticker that grumbled, “Ne Fumez Pas.”

I ask quietly, “We can smoke here?”

One answers with a puff and a shrug, “They give us no choice.”

I've never wanted to hug a man so badly in my life. Instead I sat next to him, lit up, and watched the lights through the rain-pebbled windows.

But this isn't France. And this isn't Israel. This is Amtrak, and there is no smoking on Amtrak, yet the border looms. If you suddenly find me knocking on your door, cigarette in mouth and bags in hand, blame Canada.

04 April 2008

13 Coins (Seattle, WA)

Dakin's friend Des invited us over for karaoke, so we packed up a few bottles of wine and caught a Yellow Cab to the other side of Seattle. I'm not a huge karaoke fan, but I remembered playing SingStar in Invercargill a few years go, so I thought I'd go along—maybe I'd just drink some beer, smile politely as folks belted out Elton or Aerosmith. Honestly, I'm terrified of karaoke. But since I couldn't very well just sit at Dakin's apartment moping, I decided to go. When I got there I was surprised to find a massive karaoke machine in the basement. This was not Sing Star; this was the real thing.

A funny thing happens to one's inhibitions after a few wines. It's a well-documented phenomenon known as Complete Ass Syndrome, and we were all sufferers (which makes things like karaoke easier). Some of us were tone deaf, and others didn't know even know the tunes being sung (guilty), but Des was not disturbed: she brought everyone percussion instruments, and more wine was poured. After singing an inspired version of Bon Jovi's “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” I happened to look at my watch. 3:00am. And nobody showed any signs of slowing.

And this is when things got weird.

Head spinning with Spanish wine and Billy Joel, the four of us (Dakin, Heather, Chris, and I) decide it's a good idea to get some food before going home. Heather, our sober driver, was just as keen as the rest of us. A few local dives were mentioned, and then Chris shouted, “13 Coins!” Since I had a desperate need to fit in, and I had no idea what he meant, I, too, shouted “13 Coins!” Peer pressure took over from there, and before long we were pulling in to a darkened, half-empty parking lot.

13 Coins was being described to me using words like “Seattle icon” and “local treasure.” Phrases that so often hide latent meanings, like “death trap” or “sloppy dive” or, in this case, “hooker lounge.” I'd like to say that I walked in expecting Denny's. I'd like to say I was surprised when I passed through the massive glass doors, but I was fully prepped by my companions before we got out of the car.

The booths are studded leather and stretch to the ceiling, muffling our laughter and hollering. Even though the diner was at capacity (we had to wait 20mins to get a table—at 3:30am), we felt like we had a private booth in a quiet corner, which I suppose is the point, considering the clientèle. Women walked by wearing next to nothing, all sporting the prostitute's shoe of choice: patent heels, the higher the better. Some were escorting clients, others were mingling with the regulars.

We watched this parade while munching club sandwiches and sipping Seattle's finest ice water.

31 March 2008

Home, Quote Unquote

There is a magnolia tree behind this house that has yet to bloom. Inside, Dakin sleeps on the couch, and the dishwasher murmurs its whirring repititions. America snoozes, in parts, and I am for the first time in years witness to the slumber. I am remembering things I was unaware I'd forgotten.

This morning there was banging. The neighbors upstairs were rushing around to leave their apartment, but they were being about as subtle as polka. Granted, I was hungover. The previous night (and the night before, for that matter) were spent drinking pinot noir and PBR with Dakin and his Seattle friends (note: please ask me personally about the folks he introduced me to). Needless to say, the stomping did not do much for my crummy disposition.

Six years have passed since I was in America.

But some back story: I took the Amtrak from Vancouver to Seattle two days ago, and I'm just now recovering from reverse culture shock. It's taken three nights of booze and smokes and three nights of new news and a few new "hey yous." A few crazy bitches and too many scumbags. I've gone from jet lag to sleeping bag, from footpath to sidewalk; rubbish to trash can; trolly to shopping cart; fag to ciggy. When I passed through immigration to board the train, I told my Odyssey story to the clerk who replied unfazed: "Welcome home. Glad you have you back. First car on the left."

I was reintroduced to the States and it was like picking up an old, sick habit and finding you really enjoyed it. The moon is rising over the houses next to me. Two blocks away a couple is laughing, and I suddenly realize I've been missing America's turbulence:

We are junkies at the airport. Smoking. Drinking. Standing and weaving. We are on the verge of being detained, the knowledge of our incarceration barely registering: our audience will not tolerate weakness. We have no class. We are not the English, their dignity clinging like names to their disparate tongues. We are neither France nor Spain with histories as dynasties and families like feuds. We are not the sore of sequestered nations (call it what you like, there are among us the conquered) but rather the festering wound in mid regen. We are the major chord. We are the Lazy R but we are in Russia. We are the terror and the terrorist. We are fat. We are Jewish. We are Indians among Indians. We are racist and ignorant. We are brilliant and the definition of compassion. We are drunk on Sunday afternoons and we are in love with the idea that we might just live forever. We might beat this one after all. We are the furious and terrifying notion of perpetual energy. We are the chilling notion that when the wine wears off, we might just keep going. Breakfast, anyone?

I love us.

The tree behind this house will bloom, but not tonight. Tonight is for the toast. And tonight the toast is to recollection, may it remain.

Hello friends, it's good to see you again.

28 March 2008

Some Things I Will Miss About Wellington

New Zealand had been home since 2003. And while my first years were spent in the deep south town of Invercargill, Wellington has been the scene of my fondest southern hemisphere memories. From ducking into cozy Cuba St. clubs, to rubbing elbows with the suits on lower Lambton Quay near Parliament. So before I flew out on 26 March, I snapped a few pics of some things I will miss about Wellington.

Waiting for the train at Plimmerton Station

Only rarely did I get the chance to catch the train here (my regular spot was Porirua/Titahi Bay, being that it was where I actually lived). The beach is 20 meters away and the old surrounding architecture feels welcoming.

This part of this street

I had a contract with a government department that was on the other side of this street, and I for the whole year I pause here as I walked across. I really can't explain why, but it just struck me.

Paranoid pedestrians, and the reckless drivers who make them so

A pedestrian is hit by a car in Wellington more than once a week. About a year ago the city council pushed out a huge "don't be a bloody moron" advertising campaign that made pedestrians out to be little more than wandering cattle. At first I was a little upset, being a pedestrian myself and observing boy racers hooning around town. Yet after witnessing a few of these accidents first hand, though, I really can't say who's at fault.

Trisha's Pies

My good friend Nick introduced my to Trisha's Pies. I will forever be in his debt. (X-large winter vegetable pie pictured here)

Emerson's range of organic beers

Goes down lovely with a pie from Trisha's

The Chinese busker who plays the Morin Khur

He was without-a-doubt my favorite busker in Wellington. I always carried a few dollars in my pocket in the chance I might see him--and on my last day in town, luck had it that he was playing in the tunnel to the train station. Amazing how hey plays on the wall too, eh? Now THAT'S talent.

Seeing the word "New Zealand/Aotearoa" in signage

Kinda like that one part of that one street (mentioned above), I can't describe why I like seeing this, but I really do.

Agapanthas at Wellington Central Station

The trains may not have run on time, but they sure did look pretty sitting there.

03 March 2008

Moving to Canada

St. Moritz, 1928 Olympic Winter Games

Remaining in one place for too long causes a sort of anxiety, a fidgitiness akin to drinking too much coffee. So six months ago, Ami and I decided we wanted to travel again, narrowing down our choices to Australia, Canada, and Bolivia. Considering Australia and New Zealand aren't that culturally different, and that Bolivia is a wee bit unstable at the moment, Canada stood out like a snowman at the beach. So Ami applied for and promptly received her work permit, being that she's a Kiwi. It's much more difficult for Americans to get work permits in Canada than it is for New Zealanders (actually, it's difficult for Americans to get work permits anywhere, let alone the Great White North), so it will be a challenge finding work for me once we get there. "There" being Vancouver, BC.

Let me just take a moment to mention how easy the preparation has been because of Ami. Her organizational skills are astounding. Within days of buying our tickets (which she arranged), she'd made a calendar with all the important days outlined: who was visiting, when we needed to cancel this service, when we needed or arrange storage, by when we needed tenants in our Titahi Bay home. . . all I had to do was pick up heavy objects and put them back down again at her command. Compared to the chaos that was leaving for Ireland, and then leaving again for New Zealand, leaving for Canada has been as easy as breathing.

But we haven't left yet. Ami and I fly out of Wellington at 6pm on 26 March, to arrive in Vancouver at 1pm on 26 March (I know--kinda messes with your head, dun it?). We just have a few more days of goodbyes, and then we're off.

For my friends and family in North America, I can't wait to see you.