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Saturday, July 29, 2006

To boldly go where no man has gone before ...

Here's one other interesting thing I've seen over here in New Zealand. When I got to Picton, I had some time to kill before they were boarding the ferry, so I parked in town and walked around. Each town here is set up the same way, with a 'Town Centre' where there's always parking on the street, lots of shops and cafes, and always a public toilet. And these public toilets must be a source of pride for the Kiwis, for they're the best I've seen anywhere. OK, OK, not to wax poetic about a silly little thing like a bathroom, but it really is pretty unique.

First of all, you push a button and if the bathroom isn't occupado, a door slides open and lets you in. Once inside, you push another button, and then - and I am not making this up - the door actually makes the 'door-shutting sound' from the original Star Trek as it slides shut. A friendly disembodied voice then welcomes you to the toilet and tells you that you have ten minutes before the 'session' ends and the doors will automatically open. Yikes! I only needed a minute or so anyways, but I can just imagine the surprise of someone not heeding that warning, only to have the doors suddenly slide open, exposing them to the public strolling by as they sit on the throne.

Anyways, then a muzak version of Burt Bacharach's "What The World Needs Now Is Love" comes over the loudspeaker, making for a very pleasant experience. Everything in there's automated, so there's no touching of handles for the germaphobics, although you do have to push that green button again to be let out of the toilet. I suppose if you were particuarly afraid of germs, you could just stand there and wait for the 10 minutes to be up. Maybe then you could at least see what song comes on next.

But once I pushed the button to get back out, the music stopped, and the voice came back on again and thanked me for using the public facilities.

If you're looking for the hallmark of civilized society, I suppose nothing serves better than a talking public toilet with a sense of humor!

First trip to Welly - ramblings


Lucky for me I think I was able to salvage the whole journey this weekend in Wellington. I've spent the past couple of weeks working a few relief shifts, but didn't really like the idea of being a full-time relief vet over here in NZ. I really like it best when I'm part of a team and I can stay in one place with one staff and have more control over my cases. So, nice as it was to be able to fill up my calendar with relief dates, I was hoping I could nail down this job opportunity here in Welly this weekend. Thanks to Paddy for setting me up with the interview, because without her I would probably not have gotten this job.

So, now I have a job in a better practice with a very reasonable boss and better pay, and in the one city I really wanted to live in the whole time I was planning this trip. Wellington is really cool, for a bunch of reasons.

Geographically, it's at the very southern tip of the north island, so it's right in the middle of the whole country and is a pretty good jumping-off point for wherever you want to go. It's a beautiful harbor city with lots of culture. Lots of good clubs and restaurants, with an active theater circuit. There's a great museum called Te Papa that's always got interesting and world-class exhibitions. Great sightseeing around the city and lots of good outdoor stuff within a day's drive of here.

I'm very lucky once again, and I really feel like I've saved the whole trip because for a while there I was feeling like I had to go home. Things could be a lot worse, of course, as I really do miss the States and all my friends and family there. But I've sacrificed a lot and put a ton of time and effort into this adventure and I haven't even really begun. Even if I hadn't landed this job, there are others out there, but I really don't think I could have done any better than this.

Now I'll be working in Upper Hutt, a small town about 25 minutes north of Wellington. I start on August 21st. My boss is letting me stay at a small, very nice flat next to their house for the first 3 months, at a very decent rate I might add. This will give me time to find a place I can afford AND that will allow cats, and from what I gather it's not too easy to find places to stay in the Wellington area so I'll need all the time I can get. It's getting so that packing up and moving are becoming a part of everyday life for me, but hey at this point I'm like a pro! It's also far easier to pick up and move when you haven't had time to put down roots, as they say.

The drive up here from the south island was pretty, as for about a third of the way I had the Pacific Ocean right outside my driver's side window. Then I hit wine country with all its rolling hills and vineyards, before I got to Picton, a small town at the northern tip of the south island. Here, I put my car (and myself, duh) on a ferry that goes across Cook Strait. It's about a 3-4 hour trip but they've got food and drink on there and the seats are really comfortable, plus the views are great. Sometimes, they can have 15 foot swells on the water and they'll still make the ferry ride over, but thank God I didn't have to endure any of that! Yet.

While in Welly I got to see the massive Lord of the Rings exhibit at Te Papa, which is a good thing too because it's gone for good after August 20th. I chatted with two of the 'curators' for the LOTR exhibit, Lou and Kathryn, for a while about the movie. We also discussed Peter Jackson and his film company. Lou and Kathryn were really nice and had some good stories about the filmmaking. They mentioned how Peter still has a house out on Miramar, a suburb peninsula of Wellington, and also how Viggo Mortensen and Elijah Wood had gone in on a house together (possibly with Orlando Bloom, can't remember now) in Wellington somewhere so they could visit whenever they wanted. Kathryn said that when Viggo visits he is very affable and approachable by everyone, and I obviously don't know Viggo but I can see that about him. She also said he doesn't get mobbed in Wellington as much as he might somewhere back in the States, as the Kiwis tend not to get all 'fussed' about things like that.

When I first got into town, I was getting in after the check-in desk had closed at my motel. So they left me my room key in a little lockbox outside the office and I let myself in. I think it must have been me and about 40 elderly ladies staying at the motel all weekend, for when I got there and started to move my bags into my room from my car, they all arrived en masse. They must have all been out to dinner or something and were now coming back to their rooms, and there were so many of them they had to make way for me and my huge suitcase as I came down the stairs.

They were pretty funny and very polite, but damn... why couldn't they have all been 30ish and single?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Serendipity

There I was, in Christchurch, exploring the city and passing the time until the rugby match later on in the evening. I was hanging around cathedral square, and there was a free public concert with a pretty good acoustic band. It was a pretty nice day outside and while there was still some daylight left I wanted to walk through one of the central parks and take a few pictures by the Avon River.

While waiting at the corner for the signal to cross, I noticed a younger woman and an older woman staring at me. I smiled at them and said hello, and they then asked me if I was from around here. I noticed right away they had North American accents and I laughed and said that no, I wasn't and I was actually from Virginia, in the States.

I asked them which state they were from, and they said they were actually from Canada. This happens to me a lot when I meet Canadian people. I swear they don't talk like Bob and Doug McKenzie all the time. It happens to me in reverse, too, and several times I've had Kiwis try to guess where I'm from and usually they guess Canada first.

Anyways, they were a mother and daughter touring New Zealand and they needed to find something called an i-Site, which is a tourist info center they have in nearly every town and city throughout the country. I told them it was back up in cathedral square and that they couldn't miss it. They thanked me and went on their way.

A few minutes after this, I realized I had forgotten my camera, so I went back to the parking garage to get it out of the car. On my way back down to the park I went through cathedral square again and ran into the same mother and daughter. I asked them if they had found the place yet and they laughed and said they didn't even make it to the square yet, as they kept going into all of the shops. So we said our goodbyes again and I went on to the park.

After about an hour or so I left the park and went to The Bard, a nice pub in downtown Christchurch where I usually watch the rugby matches ('footies'). I was meeting Danie and Rita there later, but they were still not due in yet for another one or two hours. So I went in to the pub, ordered some food, and went to an open table.

As I was hanging my coat on the back of the chair, I looked up and saw the same mother and daughter sitting at the table next to me! I laughed and said something stupid like "We've got to stop meeting like this!" and they invited me to sit down with them.

Heather and Jill, mother and daughter, were in New Zealand for a couple of weeks as Jill was on her way to Australia for a year of study. Seems she had just won a prestigious scholarship in international politics that had something like only eight openings, and she not only won one of those she got the only full scholarship available. They had flown in to Wellington a few days before, took the ferry across, and drove down the whole western side of the south island, around the bottom, and all the way up the east again until they got to here in Christchurch. They had this one last night in town before they flew out to Australia in the morning. They were going to take the cable car up to the top of the hill overlooking both the city and the ocean later on and were just getting a bite to eat before they left.

It was really great talking to them both, they were from Vancouver Island and it sounds very much like New Zealand. Heather said if I ever made it up that way to look her up and she gave me her card. Turns out she's a principal at a gifted school up there. I also got Jill's email address and I look forward to keeping in touch with her as she really is an interesting girl.

They finished their food and said their goodbyes as they headed off for the cable car. I took a seat at the bar and had a little more time to kill before Danie and Rita showed up. I was sitting next to a guy named Brian, who was a regular at this pub, but only recently. Seems he used to frequent another pub in town, called Warner's, but he had a little row with the pub's owner. Apparently the owner has anger management issues and didn't like how friendly Brian was with the owner's wife, even though they were old friends and they would only occasionally eat dinner together, and even then in full view of the owner and the rest of the bar. Still, not wanting to cause trouble, Brian left Warner's and started coming to the Bard instead.

Brian was divorced like me, but he also had two grown sons who still lived in New Zealand. His ex-wife was cheating on him and once he discovered this he filed for divorce. I felt bad for the guy as this was a pretty tough thing for anyone to take, but he seems to be doing all right. His sons are both successful, one of whom just had a daughter, and Brian also has a ten year old Boxer dog that keeps him company. Brian also was an active playwright and poet, and had acted in quite a few plays around Christchurch over the years. The city is considered the theatrical hub of the country and he knew very much about it. I told him I had done a little acting and writing in the past, and he encouraged me to start going to writing workshops.

Maybe I'll give it a go, but I wonder if, as a writer, I'm turning out to be a pretty good veterinarian.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Number 8 Wire

There is a saying in New Zealand, 'number 8 wire', and it refers to a sort of overall philosophy that Kiwis have about life in general. It refers specifically to a type of wire used for making fences, and the number 8 means what diameter the wire is. It is a pretty versatile bit of wire as it was used by the earliest settlers of NZ as not only fencing material, but also to fix things and keep them together. To settle this land and prepare it for farming, the English who came over here in the 19th century had to not only have a lot of initiative but had to also be pretty creative and able to adapt to sudden changes and difficult circumstances.

So now, when you hear someone mention number 8 wire, they are referring to a sort of mentality wherein you make the most and best of the situation you're in by improvising and innovating. Sure, there might be a particular right way to do something but it's not always the best or only way, and number 8 wire allows you to come up with other solutions.

I mention this because I really admire this sort of attitude. Kind of a Macgyver-like approach to everyday life. Nothing is going to keep them down and they'll always overcome, even though it means getting a little dirty in the process.

It's a little alarming in the field of veterinary medicine sometimes, though, as coming from America I am obsessed with sterile technique when it comes to surgery. Over here, there's a pretty casual view taken towards sterility, but the amazing thing is that so far in my limited amount of experience here it doesn't seem to matter too much.

Hell, they've been practicing this way for decades without me and they're doing just fine, thank you very much. The quality of medicine and surgery and the knowledge base in general over here in NZ are certainly equal to that in the United States, but it was kind of a shock the first time I saw someone doing surgery with no mask, no gown, and having staff with none of those things or any gloves leaning right over the surgery field. It was a bit funny as they had a hard and fast rule about keeping the surgery door closed at all times, to keep it sterile, yet when it comes to actual surgery time they forego mask and gown and even gloves at times.

Hey, it's not a complaint, just an observation, and it's one illustration of the number 8 wire philosophy at work - sometimes just getting by with the minimum is good enough.

Now here are some things I really like about being a vet in New Zealand: they don't declaw cats over here, they all practice excellent pain relief protocols, and they often get newer drugs on the market faster than we do in the States.

Plus, they get to go to Australia for their continuing education!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Man what a great country

Since I've left my job and am lining up other work (read: I'm unemployed), I've had a bit of time to do some cool things around here.

The other night, Danie and I headed up to Christchurch to catch the rugby match between New Zealand's All Blacks and South Africa's Springboks. On the way up, as we pulled into the outskirts of town, we got behind what's known as a 'party bus'. Apparently, you can rent these buses on the weekends that are fully stocked with alcohol and they drive you on an extended pub crawl all night long. They start around 8 o'clock and bring you to your first pub. The bus stays at each 'stop' for about half an hour before everybody gets back on the bus and then it takes them to the next pub where they bowl in, have a few drinks, meet a few people, then continue the migration. Sometimes more people join the bus as the night goes on, sometimes others 'defect' and hang out at a certain pub if they really like it there. You can catch up with the bus later, and you can even bring your own booze onto the bus. Think this would ever fly in the States? I think it'd be massively popular, but forget about it because of the liability issues.

Danie said, "Mate, if you ever get invited to go on a party bus, go."

"No need to tell me twice!"

Anyways, this was going to be my second rugby match, and I was pretty much an instant fan after seeing the first game. The game is very similar to American football. Just try and imagine guys constantly running the option play. Some key differences are that they can decide to just haul off and kick the ball to some other part of the field if they want, and one trick is to drop the ball and kick it forward into the end zone, and then outrun your tacklers and leap onto the ball in the end zone to score.

Another key difference is these guys don't wear pads and tackle at least as hard as in American football - plus, if you aren't lying on the ground just right, you are free to be raked by the other players' cleats. No flying yellow flags for 'roughing the passer' here!

Anwyays, we went to a bar called the Holy Grail in Christchurch, sort of the home bar for the city's own rugby team, sponsored by a beer company called Tui. The tui is a native New Zealand bird that feeds on nectar and has a bright orange color, but so far as I know they don't actually use the birds or nectar in any way to make the beer - which is quite good, by the way.

A woman named Krista and a guy named Dan joined us at our table and we hung out with them for the game. Since we all got there so early, the Tui girls that were there (think Hooter's girls) and they were handing out free hats to everyone in the bar. It's a fisherman's hat that's fuzzy and orange, and for that night at least it was very cool to be seen in one, for they only had so many hats to give out and before long everyone in the bar wanted your hat. Nobody offered anything good enough in trade for it, so I kept mine. Whether or not I'll wear it again in public remains to be seen, though ...

Before the game, there is the singing of each country's national anthem. In New Zealand's case, they sing the anthem both in native Maori tongue and then in English. These Kiwis are very patriotic, as everyone in that bar was not only singing the anthem but loudly. Reminded me of being at a baseball game back home, it was cool.

Well, the All Blacks won and soon after the game was over we headed out to some of the other clubs along the strip in Christchurch. I felt bad because I can't drink and Danie was driving so he couldn't drink either, so it was rather a sober night but we still had a good time.

We ended up at this all-night pub called Southern Blues, in which the age range of the crowd is from 25 to 75. It's a really weird mix of people, but they've always got good music and there's certainly lots going on there.

This one really smashed guy stumbled up to us, after making a pass at a girl and being turned down. We talked a bit of rugby and he kept eyeballing every woman with a pulse in the bar.

Danie, ever the instigator, pointed to a girl at a nearby table and said to the guy, "What about her?"

The guy looks her over as he staggers in place and says, "Yeah, she's pretty cute."

"Well go talk to her then!" Danie says.

But the guy became distracted by his empty beer and bought a couple more, and then Danie resumed his arm-twisting. The guy looked up at me and I told him to go for it, she's a hottie, and so he shambled on over.

As he was talking to her, the girl looked back at us and Danie made signs at her indicating how smashed the guy was. She clearly wasn't interested in him and soon after he staggered on to his next conquest.

Not long after that, Danie made his way over to the girl and tried to strike up a conversation but he was back before I could finish taking a sip of my drink.

Pretty much done with the bar scene, but not wanting to go home yet, we headed on over to this sushi place that was open until like one o'clock in the morning. Danie had never tried sushi or sashimi before the other week, when I got him to try some. Now the guy can't get enough of the stuff! As good as it is in general, I still haven't found a place in NZ that makes it half as good as my favorite place back home, Soya.

But then again, they don't have professional rugby or Tui beer back home either, and there is something to be said for that.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Meh

Well, the new job isn't working out so well. Among other things, it's just not what I expected and although I'll allow I knew I'd have to be making some compromises, this job requires more compromise than I can handle.

Put another way, I feel like I can get paid a little better and get treated more fairly at another hospital here in New Zealand. Lucky for me, there are plenty of vet jobs to be had, and I am in touch with a woman named Paddy Currall who's helping me already in lining up new work.

I don't want to air my dirty laundry here on this blog, so even though this is obviously a major event (I'll likely have to move and have to deal with immigration, among other things), suffice to say it's just not working out at my first post here and I'm going to do my best to salvage the situation.

More details to follow as they emerge. Film at 11. I'll keep you posted. Etc etc.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

BLACKED OUT

So went the headline of the local rag, the Ashburton Guardian, one afternoon. You see, the night previous, at around 8:30 or so, the power suddenly winked out. Danie and I were watching the telly and shooting the breeze when the power went. It's cold as hell right now down here, so we had both heaters going as well, so at first we thought a fuse might have blown.

Well a quick look out the window made it obvious that at least the rest of the neighborhood had been affected. We hung around for a few minutes, found a couple of flashlights and waited to see if it was coming back on. It clearly wasn't, so we hit the road.

Ashburton isn't all that big, really. It's 3 main suburbs with a central town district. Not a whole lot happens here. It's just this side of what you might call a 'one stoplight town'. It's kind of nice to be here, after living in the sprawl that is Newport News for so many years. So we're driving around, and the only lights we see are the emergency back-up lights at the hospital and the headlights of other bored and curious Ashburton drivers.

I was halfway hoping that at least the Subway or Pizza Hut still had power, since I hadn't eaten yet, but they were blacked out too. In about fifteen minutes we had seen all there was (or wasn't) to be seen in Ashburton and so we headed back home.

With nothing else to do we just sat there in the dark, trading stories. He told me of a time in Africa when he and some friends had gone camping somewhere in Zimbabwe. They were Australian friends of his and they had never been to Africa before. Well, out in the bush at night with nothing but starlight and a dying campfire, these guys were getting pretty spooked by the sounds of the jungle. There is some sort of animal called a bush gorilla or something, that is about the size of a cat but it has this really loud, sudden and obnoxious hooting noise it makes, and it only makes it at night of course. These little gorillas are attracted by light and noise, so naturally they lurk just outside of the range of sight and without warning will start calling out to each other in a booming fashion.

When the guys heard these they were getting pretty shitty, as Danie put it, meaning getting scared and angry at the same time. He was just laughing at the guys the whole time and explained what they were. Now these guys wanted to go have a look for them, maybe shoo them away, so they grabbed some long sticks and set out into the bush with their flashlights.

Unfortunately for one of the guys, he came across one of these gorillas and shone (shined) his light right in its eyes. It was a juvenile gorilla, and being arboreal creatures they live much of their lives in trees and at that young age are still eagerly learning how to climb. So this guy, with his big stick held out in front of him in a defensive manner, pokes it right towards the little gorilla to scare it off.

Well that backfired because the gorilla immediately grabs onto the branch and starts climbing up it towards the guy, hooting all the way. To the gorilla, this was just practice! Needless to say, the guy dropped the stick straight away and ran back to the safety of camp and Danie couldn't stop laughing.

Danie told me another Africa story, wherein he and some guys had been out hiking and camping (can't remember what part of the continent they were in) and they had several dogs with them. They awoke one morning to the far-off sounds of the dogs barking. Something had startled them so off they ran into the bush.

Danie and the guys knew something was going on, so they struck camp and headed out after the dogs to see what had riled them up. They hiked off the trail through underbrush and forest, and every now and then they'd get a glimpse of the dogs barking at something in the woods, then they'd give chase and bolt after whatever it was. Finally, the guys came across a huge boulder in their path, that was sort of split down the middle.

The dogs had been somewhere beyond this rock as they could hear them barking still, but suddenly their barking turned to yips and they could hear the dogs running through the brush straight back towards them.

Danie knew they had finally found something and pissed it off, but he had no idea what was coming after them.

In a flash, the dogs leapt through the split in the boulder and took off past Danie and his mates back the way they had come. Right on their heels a huge boar emerged from the other side of the rock and went charging at the guys.

Danie and one other guy scrambled up one half of the split boulder, out of the way of the boar, but the other guy decided to try and outrun the boar and he took off into the woods back towards camp and their jeep.

The boar went after the guy and would have caught him, but luckily since the dogs had been chasing it for a while before it got pissed off, the boar became tired and soon gave up. Soon after, the guy came back with the car and rescued Danie and the other guy from the boulder and they got out of there.

About this time, the lights suddenly came back on, and it was around 10:30. So we had only lost power for a total of two hours, which isn't so bad, yet if you go by the huge headline in the next day's paper - BLACKED OUT had been written so big it was the entire front page - you'd think we were still without power at that point. Like I said, though, not much happens in Ashburton.

I really like this little town, though, and people here are really down to earth and they all remember your name. It's got all you need to get by, although I sure am glad Christchurch is only an hour away. Unlike Ashburton, it doesn't shut down at 6:00 every night and, even if you lose power in your part of town, there's likely a Subway open in a nearby suburb.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

B.L.A.T.

So imagine my embarassment when, while trying to eat my BLAT, I made the plate clatter loudly and scatter chips everywhere.

Let me start at the beginning.

This morning I bowled into the same coffee shop I went into last weekend. The same one where I bought my food and drink for my drive out to Akaroa. The same one where I tipped that cute waitress and she got all flustered.

OK. So I went back in today, armed with the Christchurch (herein and forever after referred to as "Chch") paper and time to kill. That cute waitress is there again. Sweet. This time, I order in: a hot chocolate and then I look up on their menu and I have to move fast. There is already someone standing behind me on line and I hate to make people wait.

The woman behind the counter had already asked if I wanted my hot chocolate in a 'bowl', and for a brief minute I panicked into thinking she thought I had ordered something else. Since when did hot chocolate come in a bowl? I was stumped. Then I guessed it’s yet another term the Kiwis use for things that we yanks know and love but call something else. So, I said yes to a bowl of hot chocolate please, and hoped I knew what I was doing.

I still had to make my lunch selection, and I spied something called a BLAT on the menu. It was closest to what I recognized as far as sandwiches went and I didn’t really recognize any of the other sandwich names, so I went with it. I finished my order with no worries, although it's amazing that even though I speak the language I can have such a hard time even ordering lunch!

Before I continue, there’s one thing you need to know about New Zealand. When you order food here, it is going to come with chips. Lots of them. I half expect that even things on the dessert menu show up on your table with a side of chips. The chips aren't usually listed in the menu descriptions, either. Chips are what we call french fries, and they're great over here.

I didn’t read the whole description of the BLAT (which it turns out is bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato – the avocado being a nice surprise). The sandwich arrived a few minutes later and it was a real whopper. The sandwich itself was huge – a thick slab of bread, lathered with mayonnaise, topped with plump slices of cooked ham, lettuce, tomato and slabs of avocado. I’ll get back to the sandwich and the whole range of problems it represented in a minute, but there was something else: The sandwich was nested on a large bed of chips, of which there were so many they were overflowing the edge of the plate! The cute waitress did exceptionally well just navigating her way to my table without so much as spilling a chip. They were so precariously poised that any attempts to manipulate the gigantic sandwich would undoubtedly end in spilling some chips over the edge of the plate and onto the table. Definitely not something I wanted to do in this crowded cafe, seated in full view of said lovely waitress.

As I pondered my meal, which was uncomfortably larger than I had been expecting or wanting – what would the cute gal think of my prodigious appetite? – I realized after some initial careful inspection that this was not just an open-faced sandwich. The piece of bread was just that – a solitary large piece of bread. There was no easy way to split it and put in the BLAT, making it a proper sandwich. I had to somehow eat this behemoth without upsetting the unstable bedding of chips AND fit all 4 elements of the BLAT into my mouth with bread without seeming like a pig.

Well, I tried gently carving bits of ham and tomato and even bread with the fork and knife, but only succeeded in slamming one end of the plate into the table, sending chips flying and the plate clattering. Red-faced, I dare not look up but knew I had made myself a spectacle. Undaunted, I picked up the scattered chips and put them back onto the fringes of the plate. I had my very own bottle of ketchup (called tomato sauce down here), so I figured the only way to ever have the sandwich in non-caveman fashion was to clear some space on the plate. That meant the chips had to go first. The chips down here are all lovely, they’re very crisp and tasty, better by far than the fast food joints provide back home. But… they’re also fattening and very filling, and weren’t what I had intended to order at all. The sandwich alone was more than enough to fill me up, but if I were to try and eat it as it was I may as well have started oinking to complete the picture.

Anyways, I managed to clear enough space for a proper ‘carving area’, but still fumbled with the fork and knife and never truly got a bite of BLAT and bread all at once. But the food was very tasty - it's an excellent cafe - and I managed the rest of the meal without any further spillage. Incidentally, the hot chocolate did come in a cup, although it was large and bowl-shaped.

I’m still pretty sure I didn’t eat the sandwich properly. Something tells me most Kiwis would just go for it and pick the whole thing up and start taking gargantuan bites out of it, falling chips be damned. But, there was no way I was risking that kind of tactic with that cute waitress present. It would be kind of hard to strike up conversation in the future with a serious face, knowing she had seen me singlehandedly down that BLAT monstrosity without so much as looking at a utensil.

Next time, I'm ordering the fish. Which, as it should, will invariably come with chips.