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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A post that's shore to please

These pictures are certainly not the best ones I have taken so far, partly due to the fact that it wasn't as sunny as usual. Another reason I was robbed on these pictures is that the first time I did the walk along the waterfront, they had lots of chalk art on the sidewalk by the water. Unfortunately, it was a day on which I had left the camera at home and of course on the day in question when I did have said camera, it was a bit overcast, really windy and cold outside, and the sidewalk chalk had long since been washed away.

That just means I'll have to bring my camera along everywhere I go, so I don't miss out on future opportunities to show you the best stuff I can find here in New Zealand! Hopefully you'll enjoy these photos anyways, and as with everything else they just cannot do justice to actually making the trek around Wellington's harbour on foot yourself.

So, along with taking in a concert by the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, stopping for coffees at both the Jimmy and Deluxe Cafe, taking a stroll along the Red Rocks, and hitting some of the best night life spots in town, you can expect a half a day or so walking along the flash Wellington waterfront as part of your itinerary when you come to visit me here. Not all in one day, of course!

For those playing along at home, these photos can connect in a way with the ones I had posted about the Mount Victoria overlook, as this waterfront walk is the first portion of what you'd see before you strolled up (steeply) into the hills between the Miramar peninsula and Wellington proper. It's as close a virtual tour of my fair city that you will get without actually visiting here.

And there's more to come! In May I am planning a trip to do the Tongariro Crossing with some friends and that experience will certainly blow away any of the smaller tramps I've taken thus far. Hopefully the pictures I take will follow suit. At the end of May I'm also going to drive down the south island's west coast, stopping off at Punakaiki to see the fabled 'Pancake Rocks', one of many awesome sights to be found down there. There's a few other things I'd like to see and do there as well, but we'll see how the money holds up and anyways got to have a few surprises for you! Also, sorry to be getting so crazy with all the links to other pages, so please don't feel obligated to follow them. But if you're a curious bugger like me they're a good place to go to get an idea of what the hell I am writing about.

In other news I've made friends with some of the neighbours, as I've been invited over for tea a couple of times. So it's nice to be meeting even more people, and through one set of neighbours I've met another American! One neighbour is a firearms instructor for the police academy and he works with a fellow yank named Johnathan, who's been here for just over three years and was in the U. S. Army back home before coming over here. It was great to talk to someone else who's started life anew in New Zealand but began in the States, and it's the first such American I've met since Charles and Shannon way back in August, down at Doubtful Sound. Also met a British chap named Nick who works with Johnathan and my neighbour Nevan at the police academy, so it's nice as always to extend that circle of friends.

We watched Casino Royale, the latest James Bond installment (verdict - the new Bond is cool, the movie dragged a bit but overall a thumbs-up); and the latter half of the double feature was that 2003 remake of the original S.W.A.T., called S.W.A.T. Neat, huh? Yeah, they should never have remade it. Samuel L. Jackson was cool (when is he not?) but the rest of it was very forgettable. See here for my earlier review of Casino Royale, but it's really more of an exposition on timing bathroom breaks when going to the movies than it is a movie review.

Well, now you're up to speed on all things Brooksie. I'm working the next two out of three weekends, and even though tomorrow is a holiday here Down Under (it's Anzac Day, commemorating their contributions to both World Wars) I have no big plans for that other than relaxing at home. So there won't be much event-wise to keep you abreast of, but certainly anything good that comes up I'll be posting about it!

In the meantime, feel free to offer any comments, concerns, requests, donations (hah), should you feel so motivated.


Monday, April 23, 2007

Coffee at Ernesto's

So I pushed into this little coffee box on Cuba Street called Ernesto's. The joint was humming but there were a few seats still available up against the wall. The lighting was low, with but a few candles high up on the walls, creating an intimate and gloomy kind of feel. This was just how I like a place to be, so I felt right at home.

It was the middle of the day so it was too early yet to hit the sauce, though for later there certainly was a tall glass of bourbon with my name on it at a gin mill across town. I'd been ankling the city all day, trying to pin down this hood for the murder of Lady Flagstaff's husband. The creep must have holed himself up somewhere pretty good, as suddenly nobody seemed to have heard of him so all his known associates were pretty well clammed up.

Right away the gals behind the counter smiled at me, and before I spied my seat in a booth over in the corner I couldn't help but notice the cleavage on these dames. Trust me, I'm usually a discrete kind of guy and I don't go ogling at all the broads like some mugs do. But they were bustin' out all over the place and, after all, I am a man. With a pulse. So sue me, I looked at the goods on display.

As I folded my coat and hung it up with my hat beside the booth, one of the gals came over to greet me.

"Hiya, hon, what can I get for ya today?" said a dainty little brunette, with eyes that sparkled like a pair of black opals.

"Gimme a double shot of espresso, love, neat. I don't want any of that sissy milk or sugar stuff in there. In fact, bring me two."

Her perfectly-plucked eyebrows raised as she jotted down my order on her pad. As she replaced the pencil in her hair, which was tied into a neat bun on top of her head, she let out a low whistle. "Workin' overtime today, huh sweetheart? Well you take it easy out there, and I'll have your coffees back toot sweet."

"Thanks, doll."

I looked around the joint and everything seemed to be on the up-and-up. This place was no dive, although the owner was obviously going for a run-down, inner-city Cuba sort of look with the place. Here there was a faux bullet hole in the wall, which had I not had the unfortunate familiarity that I do with guns and bullets and what they can do to a sheet of drywall (let alone a guy's mug), I might have been lead to believe it was caused by a real slug. Besides, this didn't look like the type of joint where some bozo would come in and start squirting metal, unlike some of the dives over on my side of town.

Which reminded me, I needed to start looking for a new place to bunk. The action on my street was getting kind of hot and I needed to lay low for a while. This private investigation business was starting to make me more enemies than it was dough, and I needed a little cush for my upcoming vacation. That is, if I ever knew how to take one.

Anyways, I looked at the pictures of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro on the wall, as well as the usual assortment of artifacts one might find in a cafe in downtown Havana, and decided I liked the place. The owner, a big number hulking behind the counter, had a friendly sort of mug and I certainly approved of the broads he had running the joint. The customers he had were the usual sort of suspects for an uptown place like this, and some of them seemed like the type that had high-class problems that would need a guy like me to fix. They didn't seem too short on the cabbage - or stingy with it, based on how much wine some of them were ordering - and I could always use a little extra scratch to help pay the bills.

The waitress returned with the java and put them down on the table before me. I handed her a double sawbuck and told her to keep the joe coming until that ran out.

Smiling, she tucked the bill away and winked at me, then moved on to clean some tables.

I knocked back the first cup in one go, and felt the bitter jolt of that bracing brew. "Ahh..." I said, my face locked in a temporary grimace.

That's when I saw her.

As soon as she walked through the door, I knew this looker was trouble. She had skin like alabaster and raven-dark hair. Her light brown eyes had a deceptively easy cast to them that proved to be hypnotic. I know this because as she cased the room slowly, she settled those peepers on me and gave me a knowing little smile.

She glided across the room towards my booth, and as she got closer I had to slug my second cup of joe back in order to be able to deal with an up-close encounter with this beautiful babe. And dishy as this kitten was, it wasn't until she spoke that I realized just how enchanting she could be.

"Are you the guy they call 'Brooksie'?" she asked in a dulcet, rich voice that so seduced me I must have looked like some goon who had just gotten socked in the jaw, it dropped so far.

I was going to need more coffee.

The on-the-ball waitress appeared at my side as if she had read my mind, or at least seen the look plastered all over my button. She quickly put three more shots of espresso down on the table, and this snapped me out of my reverie.

As I looked up at her, jaw still hanging open, the gal winked at me and said, "It's all right, hon, you're still covered for those and I thought you needed a little something to shake you up." She then turned to my mysterious new guest and asked her if she'd like anything to drink.

"I'll have a mocha, please," spoke the beautiful little twist, who I suddenly noticed was still standing.

I quickly stood upright and motioned to the chair across from me. "Where are my manners, Miss...?"

"Egan," she replied, as she shrugged out of a shawl that was nearly as black as her own raven locks and slid gracefully into her chair. I couldn't help noticing the fine set of gams on this classy broad as she crossed them in front of me. "Susan Egan," she went on. "I'm in a bit of a jam and word on the street says you're the guy to help get me out of it."

"Susan Egan... hey wait a minute, I heard of you. You're that broad from Spirited Away, aren't you? You were the voice of Lin."

Then she smiled at me. It was so electrifying, I thought the joint was gonna lose power. I swear, the lights flickered once or twice, her smile was so high-wattage.

"Yes, that was me, but I've been in lots of other things. I'm surprised that's how you know me." She paused thoughtfully. Then, "Especially, well, a guy like you. What are you doing watching Japanese animated films?"

"Whaddya mean, 'a guy like you'?" I flared.

She flashed that smile again. "What I mean is, shouldn't you be out tailing suspects and tightening the screws on the hoodlums, like all the other private dicks out there? I'm not sure I could use a guy like you after all..."

"Hold on there, sister," I said, putting a hand up. "I got plenty of hobbies. That's my business. You got some skid rogue who's a wrong number? Need help with some palooka who's tryin' to grease you? Then I'm your man. You wanna talk hobbies, well, you're tootin' the wrong ringer."

"Hey, you brought it up," she said with a smirk. "You wearin' iron?"

I snorted. "Course I am, sweetheart. I'm not afraid to heat things up a bit. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm no hatchetman, so you don't need to worry about me shootin' things up everywhere I go. What's the job?"

She pushed a large brown envelope across the table at me. As I slid the empty coffee mugs out of the way, I tore open the top of the envelope with one finger and pulled out a bunch of black and whites. They were all pictures of her car, a nice old heap that had been restored. It was practically glowing, the wax job was so good, and it would have fetched a lot of lettuce for her on the open market were it not for one glaring defect: a wide, jagged swath of scratched paint down the passenger side of the vehicle.

"Nasty gash there," I stated.

Her eyes seemed to go from a soothing brown to a darker, flashier green. They were boring straight into me. "It is, yes. I hear he's been hitting all the boilers on my side of town, and I aim to put a stop to his clowning around."

"Ah, it's probably just some daisy with too much time on his hands. When I find the guy, you want me to rough him up a little?"

She sighed heavily. "God, no, don't put anybody in the meat wagon. I'm not interested in having the coppers all over me. Just get them to agree to pay for the repairs, that's all I want. And find out why they did it." She thought for a second. "Okay, so if you have to lean on them a little bit to make sure they don't do this again, then do it - but I don't wanna know about it. Savvy?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm wise to ya. It's duck soup," I said. "Now I need to tell you my payment policy. I-"

She jerked a quick look over her shoulder to the counter then looked back at me again. She had me pinned to the spot with those spellbinding hazel eyes of hers. "How about I buy you one of those muffins over there for starters, sweetcakes?"

There was that toothy grin again, all white and flashy and dazzling.

"So you do know my payment policy, then. Yeah, that muffin is fine," I said. "For starters."

And let me say this now: If crime-fighting involves a few perks along the way like these muffins they got at Ernesto's, then yours truly is going to be one well-fed and well-motivated gumshoe for a long time. The guy who runs that joint sure knows how to whip up a good muffin. And with broads like Ms. Egan seeking out my business, well now that's a clientele I think I could learn to live with.

I finished my last coffee, put on my coat and hat, and excused myself from the table.

"Ms. Egan."

"Good day to you, detective," she replied. Then, with another brilliant smile: "Brooksie."

I must've been red as a tomato when I settled up my tab with the waitress, because she was grinning at me too.

I let her keep the change, then turned once again to Ms. Egan. "I'll be in touch when I sort this joker out. In the meantime you just lay low and let me do all the spitting."

I left her there, sipping her mocha in the booth, and strolled back outside into the real world. The rain had started to fall, so I hiked up my mack around my ears and tipped my hat a bit lower. Somewhere out there was a goon with a crowbar, some giggle juice and too much free time on his hands.

I knew I'd catch him, sure as I knew there was a bottle of hooch waiting for me at Rick's Place at 5 o'clock. Quittin' time. My favorite time of day.

This hard-boiled post brought to you in the spirit of every Raymond Chandler novel I ever read. Yeah, so I ginned the story up a bit. They don't actually carry notepads and pencils around Ernesto's but they do come and take your order, if you're too lazy to order at the counter, you bums. And maybe I did meet the ravishing Susan Egan, and maybe I didn't.
What's it to ya?!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Words Fail Me

As I'm sure everyone is aware back home of the travesty that occurred in Blacksburg, I don't need to write some harangue about the whole dire situation. It is dreadful enough whenever something like this occurs, but to have had it happen at an alma mater makes it even more distressing. Blacksburg is such a wonderful town and Virginia Tech such a great school, it is beyond horrifying to imagine that something like this could have occurred there.

I'm not sure what the solution to this growing problem is in America, I only know that it is multi-factorial. I truly hope that what ultimately comes from this is a better understanding of why this happened and how it can be prevented in the future.

My heart goes out to the families of all the kids involved, and there are just so many. God bless the families and most of all the innocents who were so thoughtlessly taken away from them. May they rest in peace.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I am an alien

I don't take tea I drink Coke my dear
I say 'y'all' and drive on the right
And you can hear it in my accent when I talk
I'm an American in New Zealand

See me walking down Courtenay Place
Nike Shox on my feet
Smiling at everyone I meet
I'm an American in New Zealand

I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien
I'm an American in New Zealand...*

You might think that since I moved away from the States that I might have some sort of problem with it. That, just like many Americans who moved north into Canada after Dubya was re-elected, I threw up my hands in political disgust and decided to bolt the country. I mean, I didn't just move to Canada - I changed hemispheres.

But no, my friends. I had plenty of other reasons for moving to New Zealand, as opposed to moving away from America. There wasn't anything that drove me away. In fact, one thing I discovered soon after moving here was just how patriotic I feel about America. It was a bit of a surprise to me, and I guess I was being naive in not expecting to find myself in a foreign country and feeling a bit wistful about my homeland.

There were several little things here and there initially that made me feel all nostalgic for the Red, White and Blue. Mainly these were the sporadic anti-American sentiments I'd encounter in the newspaper or hear on talk radio. But come on - people who write letters to the editor and who call into talk shows are, by definition, not the shiniest coins in the fountain! So their remarks would often be dismissed as ill-informed or just plain rude. I don't mean to give the impression that I've landed in a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, but neither do the Kiwis fawn over us. That's a good thing. That being said, most of them would much rather have us help define the political and social climate for the rest of the world than a nation like China. So we've got that going for us.

There are certainly valid criticisms of the United States, and New Zealanders in general are very perceptive and pragmatic with their world view. So I give a lot of respect to their general opinion for they are quite well-informed and often have world views similar to my own. But I'm getting off-topic here. This ain't no political blog. I'm not Wonkette.

What really got me all teary-eyed one night a few weeks back was while I was watching my favorite sitcom of all time, 3rd Rock From The Sun. There was an episode where it opened with the Solomons at a football game, and the crowd was asked to rise for the singing of the national anthem. Being from another planet and still learning our Earth (and American) customs, they had no clue what the national anthem was or what it was about. So they stood up and faked it at first, then as the anthem went on and the singing and emotions swelled - as they do towards the end of "Star Spangled Banner" - the aliens were so caught up in it that after it was finished Harry yelled, "One more time!"

I had not heard the anthem sung since I'd been in New Zealand, for obvious reasons, so it really caught me off guard. I was laughing at the aliens' child-like reaction to our national anthem but at the same time I was overcome by national pride and not a little homesickness. I almost cried! But I didn't, because that wouldn't be manly. I wasn't watching Brian's Song or anything.

After the emotion subsided I thought it was ironic how, here on this show are actual real, fake TV space aliens, in a new country and reacting in this manner to this cultural phenomenon. And now here I was, an alien myself (although not from outer space, as far as you know) in a foreign country, getting all excited over my own national anthem. It reminded me just how much I do love the United States, and I really do not think that as an American you can truly appreciate how great we have things there - until you move away.

And it's not like I moved into the third world or anything. I'm not swatting flies away from raw meat and picking grubs out of my hair, so you could hardly say I'm roughing it. But it is enough to leave home and not experience certain things unique to it for a while, and then suddenly encounter them again and realize just how much you love it. It was pretty cool.

Yeah, I guess you had to be there.
*From the excellent Sting song, "Englishman in New York".

Thursday, April 05, 2007

World of Warcraft*

Out on the road today, I saw a Warcraft marquee on the sidewalk
A little voice inside my head said,
"Don't look back. You can never look back."

I thought I knew what fun was
What did I know?
Those days are gone forever
I should just let 'em go but -

I can log in
My undead level 60 rogue
I got that flash new mount and
A high ranking, baby
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong
After the World of Warcraft has gone

A Geek Boy's Angst

One dark victory about my move here to New Zealand has been the (forced) cure of my addiction to MMORPGs. Specifically, I haven’t logged into the World of Warcraft (hereinafter shortened to 'WoW') in almost a full year, something that would have at one point astounded me.

Let me explain.

No, there is too much - let me sum up.

MMORPG is an acronym for Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Game and I’ve been hopelessly addicted to these things since the mid-90's. Until 2005, I was addicted to a text-only RPG called Ancient Anguish. I’ve always had a predilection for the text games, because I’ve always felt that your own imagination is far superior to any graphics and sound that can be created by some vitamin-deficient codehead who's squirreled away in a cube somewhere.

Don’t get me wrong – the online RPGs of today have excellent graphics and playability, and my nigh-fanatical devotion to WoW is evidence of just how much of a time-suck they can be. But it took me a very long time to abandon the text format for graphics. In a clumsy metaphor, I equate the superiority of text-based games over graphics-based ones to how the book is always better than the movie, and for the same reason: nothing beats a good imagination. Words conjure up images and experiences in your head that are intensely personal, giving you a sense of ownership over the story. The words are burned into your consciousness, almost becoming a genuine memory themselves. So to then try and put the text into three dimensions will by definition almost certainly result in a flawed product, when held against the boundless limits of your own creativity.

But I’m getting off-topic here, and probably on purpose. You see, it’s rather distressing for me to know that today, on this very day, on a shelf not one hundred yards from where I sit, is the huge, long-awaited expansion for the WoW game. It’s called the Burning Crusade, and it could not be more aptly named. (Think ‘burning desire’ to buy it and play it. Yeah, I'm so clever. Shaddap.)

WoW combines thousands (perhaps millions by now) of players from all over the world onto one of dozens (hundreds?) of servers, and together you explore this humongous fantasy world - sometimes together, but often against each other. It’s notoriously addictive. Blizzard, the company that designed and created WoW, has a lovely tongue-in-cheek sense of humor about everything, yet it’s all couched in an artfully designed game that shows true respect to the fantasy genre.

Evil geniuses have set up the game so you want to keep coming back for more, but surprisingly a large part of its appeal (to me, at least) is the social aspect of it. Sure, I love computer games as much as the next geek, especially RPGs. But what really keeps you hooked up to this particular RPG is the social interface.

For example, a critical ingredient of being able to successfully explore and defeat the biggest and best areas of the game is teamwork. Sometimes this breeds some edgy personalities and quick tempers, but it really is quite satisfying to conquer some insanely difficult boss with 20 or 40 of your best mates on there. And then you just want to do it over again tomorrow night, so you can have another crack at getting that piece of epic gear.

Starting to see what I mean? No? Well good on ya then, for you shall never know the gut-twisting anguish that I now feel.

You see, I have moved all the way across the planet to live in arguably the most physically stunning piece of global real estate there is: New Zealand. I have yet to embark upon any of the eight Great Walks here, let alone explore most of the parks around my immediate living space. So how can I justify spending hundreds of hours of my free time playing a computer game?

That's easy: I can’t. And won’t.

Until they invent the 48-hour Earth day and until we humans learn to get by on two hours of sleep within that 48-hour day, I’m afraid I’ll just have to continue to make the harrowing choice I’ve now made. I'll gladly suffer the 'slings and arrows', the pangs I get whenever I come across a Warcraft banner or reference. I've even met a Kiwi who plays the game more than I ever did, but still I resist the temptation!

But I do miss my many friends there, like Hayz and Wakunan and Akaioushi, to name but a few (these are their character names, by the way). Several other players I knew were from Australia and Canada, as they weren't all Americans. I will probably eventually buy the expansion and get back on the game, but only to keep in touch with these friends. I can never get back into the serious pursuit of faux accomplishment that a game like this provides. As much fun as I had playing it, in the end it only nurtured an addiction to a game that ultimately rewards you with nothing but the lack of a real social life.

And what a waste of a journey that would be – to move to New Zealand, only to get lost in the world of Warcraft once again. Those days are gone forever, indeed!


*sung to the tune of "Boys of Summer" by Don Henley. It's one of my most favourite songs of all time. Sorry bout this, Don!