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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the slopes of Mount Doom


The day dawned gloriously for the Fellowship of the Tramp. The morning sunlight mixed brightly with the mists rising from Lake Taupo, serving to coat her surface in an enchanted silvery maelstrom.

I had journeyed here, to this scenic lake at the foot of the North Island Volcanic Plateau, with another member of the Fellowship the previous day. Our quest had been in the planning stages for weeks, but now it was finally time to finish what we had set out to do all those months ago.

Not to be taken lightly, our journey was something on a scale I had never before attempted. We were going to scale not one but two mountains on this day, first starting with an ascent up the rocky slopes of Mount Ngauruhoe - known in another time as Orodruin, or Mount Doom. I would soon find out just how fitting a name this last one could be.

After conquering this first task, which was by no means simple, we were then to make our escape from the rugged landscape by trekking across the saddle ridge connecting Ngauruhoe to a neighbouring mountain, named Tongariro. This passage would take us past volcanic craters and sulfurous pools, before finally winding through tussocky hills and the bush before leading to safety on the far side.

Sarah and I made the journey to the lakeside on the previous day, she on her fast mount called “Toyota” and I on my "Mitsubishi". Together we navigated the twisting roads that wound through New Zealand’s dark foothills.

We came upon three of our companions in the township of Bulls as we made our way. Giving Toyota and Mitsubishi a drink and hitching them up outside of a Turkish inn, we stepped inside. On our way in, we passed a sign suggesting that we be ‘Responsi-Bull’ and dispose of our rubbish properly. Clearly, this was a town with a sense of humour, something much-needed in surviving these rugged environs. This was a town I came to like quickly.

Within, we found our friends already seated by the hearth, trying to banish the autumnal chill from their bones. There sat brave Iain, slayer of many a fierce tramp in his time, including the devilish Kilimanjaro. Next to him sat Al – a fellow conqueror of Kilimanjaro – himself a proud and accomplished tramper if ever there was one. Yet he would not be joining us for the last part of our quest, as Al was still nursing a serious injury sustained in a prior journey. Still, his presence served to give us all a sense of hope and his devotion to the Fellowship was beyond question. On my right stood Glen, who like myself was a new addition to this courageous band. New though he was to us, Glen was no stranger to the ways of the outdoors, being a veteran of some of the most daring mountain quests the world had to offer.

Sarah and I took our seats at their table and shared a feast of lamb and potato, washing it all down with a helping of ale. We could not tarry for long, as we still had many miles to go before we reached base camp on the shores of Lake Taupo. Saying our farewells, we all mounted up and resumed our journey.

Many hours later, under a brilliant night sky whose stars were left to shine even brighter in the presence of a new moon, we reached our destination.

As we unpacked our mounts, we were greeted by Chris, whose father was providing us with our much-needed shelter for the weekend endeavour. Although the youngest of the group, Chris was no less game than the rest of us for adventure, and it would be upon the wisdom of experiences such as his that the rest of us would rely in order to make sure we survived our test on the morrow.

Chris’ companion, Ursh, was also already at camp and she had thoughtfully secured provender for our pending assault on the mountains. Inside, the larder was fully stocked with varieties of fish, meat, cheese and vegetables – and more than a few tankard-fulls of ale – to help sustain us in our quest.

Rounding out our Fellowship was Simon, who had come from lands far to the north to join us here on the eve of our quest. He is Sarah’s betrothed and is perhaps the most keen and confident member of the Fellowship. Absent from his vocabulary are such words as ‘can’t’ and ‘impossible’. His sturdy presence would prove invaluable to me on the journey ahead.

At last, the Fellowship was complete!

That night, we regaled each other with tales from prior conquests in order to help pass the time until it was late enough to retire. One particular story that got a hearty laugh from all was the tale of the ‘Fish Slapping Incident’ in the faraway land of Africa. Al cast a spell with his Tome of Supreme Power and took us all back in time to witness said event. There were two members of his party, both nearly too drunk to remain standing, squaring off against each other on a beach somewhere in Africa. One of them was wielding a large, dead fish; the other unfortunate soul was unarmed yet still he seemed eager. At the behest of an unseen moderator, the fish-wielding rogue suddenly grabbed its tail with both hands and slapped his comrade full on the face with the dead fish! Whether this was enough to knock him to the ground or if he merely fell over due to uncontrollable laughter, it was not clear. We were all so amused by the spectacle that Al kindly wove the spell for us another time.

There was a palpable energy in the air and not a hint of fear. Had I truly known what lay ahead of me the next day, I may actually have been apprehensive. But that would only have hurt my efforts, for I needed to be clear-headed the next day, or I would never survive. The Fellowship would crumble if we did not all play our parts!

Even the realization that I had forgotten to pack my Boots of Sturdy Climbing failed to put a dent in the convivial atmosphere, for I was reassured by the veterans of the Fellowship that the lack of even this excellent artifact would not be enough to slow me down.

I drew first watch that night as we all took to our separate bivouacs, and after I was relieved by the next watchman, I immediately fell asleep in a contented and eager frame of mind.

Such a mood was enhanced superbly by the dawn spectacle of the mist-shrouded Lake Taupo, and I knew that today was going to be nothing short of legendary. Perhaps not for my mates in the Fellowship, for such a quest – respectable tho’ it was – was something well within their grasp but one that remained daunting to me, the most inexperienced tramper of the lot.

It was on this morning that I was also introduced to the mysterious, invigorating energies of Elvish Vanilla Creamed Rice. A thick gruel fashioned more for manly appetites, it is a delicacy I find I will be sure to include in all of my future tramping quests. Inexplicably, the women of the Fellowship found this nourishing substance to be rather repulsive, but I shared the view of my fellow lads in that it was like having dessert for breakfast – but a healthy one!

As we mounted up and rode out to the base of the trail that wound its way to Ngauruhoe’s steep aspect, the Fellowship was a mix of emotions. Initial elation at the lack of any clouds in the sky turned to brief shock and horror at the sight of no snowfall atop either Ngauruhoe or Tongariro. The mountaintops were bald, and this would serve to make the ascent up Ngauruhoe slightly more difficult, if not much less scenic. Nonetheless, the Fellowship remained undaunted in the face of these unusual circumstances.

The faint blue outline of hulking Mount Taranaki hovered ominously on the horizon. For today, it would have to remain a jealous (or haughty) observer of our trek, knowing that it would not have a chance to either humiliate us or be conquered by us – for the now.

Almost as soon as the rest of the Fellowship had strapped on their gear and readied for our dual mountainous assault, I was overcome by my constant desire to record everything I see. Immediately I produced one of the many artifacts I had procured for this quest from within my pack. It was the Canon Hi-Resolution Pictograph of Prowess, and it would scant remain untouched for long when in my possession on this day.

The Fellowship, among other things, was founded upon a deep sense of fraternity. This comradeship would be demonstrated time and again upon this day as in this instance, when my mates just laughed off my penchant for compulsively recording events and allowed me to lag behind at times so that I could portray things for posterity.

“Spot the tourist!” said Ursh, mocking me in a friendly manner.

I wielded the powerful artifact several dozen more times before we were to even reach Ngauruhoe. I have enchanted the best of the images it recorded and made them available for permanent viewing at this location. I warn you, friend, that these are potent enchantments. So a strong and fast connection to the magical ethernet that surrounds us will serve you best here, for the images are great in number and rich in detail.

Impressive though the magical recordings are, they simply cannot do justice to the awe-inspiring spectacle of standing before these mountains in person. Even should you choose not to follow in our footsteps and ascend these massive hills on your own one day, they do warrant a closer look beyond what my paltry images can supply. You may contact me through any means of magical scrying device that you may possess should you wish me to escort you to these epic mountains one day in the future.

But back to my tale. Before we reached the point where the trail forked – the lefthand path leading off to Tongariro Crossing and the eventual way out, the righthand path a sharp ascent up the scraggy slopes of Ngauruhoe – we first had to ascend something called the Devil’s Staircase. It was here that I would have my first true test, my friends. Many times over the previous months had I ascended the steep but short hill behind my home, the so-called Cannon Point. But never had I done so with a pack, nor for over a sustained distance and period of time. So it was upon the aptly-named Devil’s Staircase that I first encountered my own mortal limitations.

I was able to make it to the top of this steep climb on my own, which zig-zagged back and forth in front of and above us. Large, awkwardly-shaped boulders jealously guarded the path, forcing us to negotiate it with exacting difficulty. The rest of the Fellowship tackled this first obstacle with fluid ease, yet other questers in groups separate from our own were also attempting this climb on this day. A few amongst them were also with me in lagging behind periodically, stopping to catch our breath and rest our weary legs. More than once on this day would I take advantage of these breaks to unleash the power of the mighty Canon, and I found it to be a good excuse to take a break here and there. It was also at these times that I benefited heavily from the indispensable Water Bottle of Life and various handfuls of empowering Scroggin and Fruits and Nuts of Nourishing Goodness (In Small Bits).

After finally slaying the Devil and his annoying Staircase, we drew up at the base of Ngauruhoe and plotted our assault. While a few passers-by marveled at our prowess in desiring to not only finish off Ngauruhoe but its brother Tongariro on this day, I grew a bit tense about my own ability to handle this feat. Some of those who heard of our quest and shrank from the prospect were younger and fitter than I, and the last thing I wanted to do was prevent the rest of the Fellowship from completing its quest. After voicing my concerns, I was quickly reassured by the rest of the group that I could, in fact, make this climb and still press on to Tongariro afterwards.

Willing in spirit but unsure in body, I proceeded up the slope with the rest of my mates. After advancing about one third of the way up, crab-walking left and right in a maddeningly slow manner, it started to become clear to me that I would not make the summit of Ngauruhoe in my current state.

Not wanting to continue to hold up the rest of the expedition, I volunteered to abandon this trail and wait for them to ascend and return before journeying on to Tongariro. Thankfully, Simon and Iain would have none of it, so Simon offered to carry my pack in order to allow me to better make the ascent.

Not being a prideful sort of person and wanting desperately to climb this mountain, I yielded my pack to Simon and carried on. It took some more encouragement from my mates here and there along the way, and several more stops in order to let my aging frame recuperate, but I finally topped Ngauruhoe.

The final fifty meters of our assault lead us nearly straight up a slippery slope made up of loosely-packed volcanic rock. These jagged fragments were various shades of black and crimson, and had I not been so focused on overcoming my body’s nagging complaints I may have had the chance to enjoy their unique spectacle in greater depth. But they did not even get a taste of the hard-working Canon.

The views from the top of Ngauruhoe’s crater rim far outclassed anything these tiny rocks had to offer in comparison. A smoking vent steamed continuously on another ridge to our left. The yawning crater below us screamed mutely of eruptions long-past. Icicles now dotted the rim of the crater, which bore a large open notch on its northern face where a section of it had fallen away long ago. I could now see for miles and all of us basked in the abundant sunlight. We revelled in our successful completion of this first part of our quest, undoubtedly the most difficult part.

Cliché as it may sound, I had achieved not just a physical summit of this Mount Doom on this day, but also a more personal summit. Overcoming my own mental and physical doubts and being in the presence of such positive and supportive friends proved to be a far more engaging and lasting experience than any such enchanting image that I might capture. This I would take and keep with me always. Though I did not have an enchanted ring of infernal power to toss into the crater, such as those famous young Hobbits had done in this very spot eons ago, I was able to toss a rather large and heavy monkey off of my back and into the pit below. In a manner of speaking, of course, as I could never do such a thing to a real monkey!

The descent back down Ngauruhoe’s face was a treacherous one, often being nothing more than a controlled slide on one’s backside. By the time I reached bottom, I had mastered two new techniques – the Double-Runner Foot Slalom and the Hands-Down Arse Slide – each with varying degrees of success. While I continued to improve as I made my descent, I fear that not once did I look very graceful. I fancied I rather looked like an undead, as if I were some zombie that had crawled out of the crater at the top and come a-shambling down the mountainside. My legs certainly felt as if they were two dead wooden posts – and just as flexible.

The ascent of Ngauruhoe would claim one of our Fellowship, however, as Ursh had sustained many blisters and could not continue. Though she could easily have handled all that Tongariro had to offer, it was a long slog and one she had conquered on many a previous occasion. Since there was no practical reason for Ursh to sally forth and with the largest obstacle in the Fellowship’s path already overcome, she retreated to the main camp. Keen as he was to continue, her partner Chris wisely chose to retire with her, as he too had already mastered these mountains, among many others. If nothing else, they would be able to form an admirable rearguard with Al, who was already remaining behind and bravely protecting the Fellowship’s camp while nursing an injury of his own.

After cresting Tongariro and viewing its alien landscape, we were assaulted by sulfurous odours, which added a new dimension to our quest. Far from overpowering, the stench was enough to remind us that we were truly in God’s country at this point, and that to tarry too long this far from comfortable elements would certainly make even the hardiest of us perish.

Although the clouds began to stubbornlly roll in as soon as we had made Tongariro’s zenith, we were at least not robbed of some stunning views of the turquoise volcanic lakes dotting the landscape. In fact, the clouds steaming past and surrounding us served to add a spooky, other-worldly dimension to this already unique vista.

Not long after climbing the rim of Tongariro did Iain begin his own personal assault on the mountain. He would now run the rest of the way of the quest – of which there remained four-plus hours of hiking to tackle. Although buffeted by my own newfound success on the day, I could not yet hope to achieve the level of fitness currently displayed by the other members of the Fellowship. Perhaps with sustained hard work I could one day also run a part of this trek, but for now my goal remained to do it a second time without having to yield my pack. As the oldest member of our Fellowship, I could easily rest on this as an excuse for my struggles. But instead of choosing to dwell on such a negative perspective, I chose to instead acknowledge the fact that I had still climbed both mountains on my own and also without having ever done anything this difficult, even when I was a younger and healthier adventurer.

Before we could gain the other side of the bush and ultimately the field where our mounts had been secured by Al to await our return, we first had to negotiate the winding track under cover of darkness. Whereas the absence of the moon in the night sky helped to afford excellent views of the Milky Way the previous evening, it now served to make the last leg of the journey all the more treacherous. Fortunately we had included yet another kind of necessary artifact for our quest, some Headlamps of Righteous Illumination. Equipping them thusly to our foreheads, we followed their generous beams of soft emerald light through all of the twists and turns of the encroaching vegetation. Dangerous roots and sudden changes in elevation were not a concern as we made our way through the bush in veteran tramper style.

So as we strolled down the other side of Tongariro and I beheld large rays of sunlight shafting through the clouds and illuminating the valleys below us, I took heart in this fitting sight. In the foreground, another volcanic vent steamed moodily from within the hill to our left. Yet it paled in size and impact when viewed against the awesome landscape below and before us. It served as a fitting metaphor for my experiences with the Fellowship that day: my own personal doubts and inexperience were left fuming in the background amidst a fresh new landscape of possibility and achievement.

One day a new Fellowship will form, and I will be there to partake in yet another quest. My time here in this magical land Down Under has now truly begun to be spent in earnest. I, as your humble explorer, cannot wait to see what is around the next bend and atop the next hill.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Easily amused

Right, well, not to crack wise on the New Zealanders, but they do have a couple of things that I've come across that initially made me snicker. I think they'd make you laugh a bit, too, so I'm going to share those things with you here and see what you think. It's all in good fun, as you know I love this new home I've made for myself Down Under in Wellington! But there's nothing like "taking the piss" every now and then.

I'm sure the Kiwis would think some of our own company names and phrases odd. For example, they find it humorous that I refer to cookies as such, as over here only little kids call cookies 'cookies'. Adults call them 'biscuits', which to me means something buttery and doughy as opposed to something sweet, crisp and peanut butter or chocolate chip flavored. Notice how I'm also not spelling words in this post with u's, either, like 'flavour' or 'humour'. That is a habit I'm still learning to pick up, but given the nature of this post I think I'll stick with my Americanized vocab for the now!

Check this one out:



Ahem. "Throaties"?! Sounds a bit... dirty, doesn't it? Excuse me, did I just stroll down the "XXX" aisle of the supermarket, or am I the only one who sees the comedy in this?


I can just imagine a conversation in the average Kiwi household now:

Mrs. Kiwi: "Darling, I'm feeling a bit of a cough coming on. Can you pop round to the dairy and get me some Throaties?"

Mr. Kiwi: "Oh I'll give ya a throaty all right..."

Mrs. Kiwi: "Pardon?"

Mr. Kiwi: "Nothing, dear. I'm on to it."

Maybe I'm still stuck in an eighth-grade mentality, but I couldn't help but smirk the first time I saw these on the shelf.

The only other one I've got a picture of right now is this one:



Um, you guys do know what a sanitarium is, right? Might not want to choose that as the name of your company, then, if'n you're selling milk and whatnot. I mean, don't get me wrong: we need sanitariums to get people better. It's just that, well, naming food after a place where people are sick and need lots of rest and medical care to get better... You see what I'm sayin'? Not very appetizing.

Soylent Green, anyone? I think you get my point!

I am, of course, just teasing. I am certain that there are several American company names/food items that would raise the eyebrows of more than a few Kiwis (not to mention some of our overly-indulgent portion sizes). So I'll end this post on a good note, although all I'm really doing here is praising McDonald's rather than the Kiwis. But they get props indirectly, at least.

This



is the New Zealand version of our very own Big Mac. Imaginatively called the "Kiwiburger" it is not quite what we know as the Big Mac, but rather is a big cheeseburger with a fried egg and a slice of beetroot on it. For those whose gag reflexes are still intact - I'm with you. I love this burger! It reminds me of a 'Cheese Western', a terribly unhealthy burger from my hometown of Lynchburg that features a greasy cheeseburger topped with sweet relish and a fried egg. It is a direct frontal assault on all of your coronary arteries, and damn does it taste good.

Well this sandwich might be tasty, but my point is how cool I think it is that Mickey D's has created a Kiwi version of the "Big Mac Song" for the New Zealanders, and I'm not sure if you can make out the words in the picture but it goes on about all things unique to the country. I choose not to take the cynical view and see it as a clever grab at Kiwi loyalty by stirring their national pride over an ultimately American creation.

Rather, I see it as a great blending of two very cool cultures and I'm all about staying true to the locals, as for instance they use all New Zealand ingredients in this burger.

I've limited myself to just one of these, as I think that probably ought to be at least a monthly quota if not a quarterly one, these burgers are so loaded. But the Kiwiburger is very tasty and at least it doesn't have a smirk-inducing name like the above two products mentioned in this post!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Spot The Brooksie

OK.

Last week I experienced something that was cruelly embarrassing, something from which I am still recovering. Thankfully, the degree to which I have been afflicted is nowhere near as bad as it was say, oh, about five days ago. Also thankfully, the worst of this occurred over the weekend and I happened to be off, so I needn't have gone out into public but could rather hide my face in shame in the house.

But, of course, I went out anyways.

So let's see if you can pick me out of the line-up below (I sincerely hope you can, by the way) and can then decipher what, exactly, I am going on about.

Here we have Exhibit A, and there's a small clue in this very first photograph:



Can you guess yet what might have been going on?









No? Then try this one on for size:



Rather a handsome fella, ain't he? Yecch. In case you still don't have any idea what is going on, and NO that wasn't me in that photo, here's your final hint:



Whoa! Yeah, I had the 'trout pout' in full effect all right. Sigh. It really was no picnic, let me tell you. Especially when I stopped by work to pick up some of my antihistamines (why I left them there, I'll never know) and who - of all people - should be there but Andrew, one of the other vets. He's very much like my good friend Todd back home, in that he delights in winding me up and making me the victim of many a joke. He's quite good at it, too, so he certainly didn't need the help of my 'collagen' look to give him any more ammunition than he needs.

"We should get a picture of this!" he suggested, grinning.

This all started about a week ago, when I noticed that my lips had taken on a rather... corrugated appearance. I wasn't quite sure what was happening, because they had never looked like that before, but then again nothing hurt and for sure they weren't swollen up like a pair of ruby-red slugs yet, either.

But when I woke up Saturday morning, something wasn't right. Had I been grinding my teeth in my sleep again? Did a malicious bee land on my lips in the night and attempt to sting me to death? Did I get punched in the mouth so hard that I blacked out, only to awaken and look like the poster child for Why Collagen Is Bad For You? As I sat up in bed and beheld myself in the mirror - which is across the room - I could tell even from that distance, with bleary Morning Vision no less, that I had a Category Five embarrassing problem on my hands.

I didn't have a clue why this could be happening, until I texted my friend Sarah, who suggested it might be my lip balm. I've been using this store brand stuff, and after I read her text I went and picked up the tube of stuff I've been using. Lo and behold, there were no less than four chemicals in my cheap version of chapstick, all of them with long and vaguely unsettling names like "0-3`1`-mehtoxy-butaflammy-dehydrato-alcohol" and "tri-disphospho-carcino-butyrate" and so on.

Well, those can't be good for me.

And here I had planned to go into town today, to do my usual routine. Hah! No way in Hell was I going anywhere out in public. Not with these fishy lips, no sirree.

The kicker was that, until Sarah had texted me, I had already been up a few hours and in a panic I had been slathering on the very lip balm that got me into this private hell in the first place! But once she made the suggestion, it all made perfect sense. I had always used a brand of Chapstick back home that had no chemicals or preservatives in it of any kind, just natural stuff. It worked great, too.

So now I had to get to work to get my antihistamines, and thus the comical scene with Andrew. Don't get me wrong - if anybody knows how to laugh at themselves, it's me. Look at what I'm doing with this post here, for crying out loud! So when Andrew and Claire had a laugh at my expense at work, I was able to laugh right along with them. It helped to ease the tension, even though I was a bit dismayed by the fact that they knew right away something was odd about me as soon as I walked through the front door. No chance of being stealthy while looking like a cruelly-morphed CGI version of myself! God, I looked like I was one of the sea creatures in Disney's The Little Mermaid or something.

Anyways, after I got home and popped some pills (and broke out an ice pack), Sarah texted me back and eventually coaxed me into going out that night. Not to a club or anything - that would have been suicidal! She suggested a movie, since 'in the dark nobody can see your trout pout'.

Haha, good one, Sarah. Haha.

Nah, she's a great friend, and I did go out and see Spider-Man 3 with her, and as far as I could tell nobody seemed to notice that my lips looked as if they had been inflated to 30 PSI. The antihistamines had started to work, much to my relief, and the remaining cheap-ass lip balm had long since been binned with all due haste.

Let that be a lesson to all you cheap lip balm users out there, then. Avoid like the plague any of the ones that have any chemicals in them! Use only the natural stuff!

Unless, of course, you are looking for a way to make your lips fuller without spending money on collagen injections. I think I can fish that last tube out of the rubbish for you, if you like.

Haha, get it? Fish it out?

I slay me.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Deluxe Cafe Review (it's in there somewhere, I promise)

Oh no.

I’m playing that game again.

You know, that low-intensity game of chicken you involuntarily play with other people any time you step out amongst pedestrian traffic on a crowded street. It’s a game I play with regularity here in downtown Wellington. Hell, it could be a new Olympic sport, if’n they had an Olympics for banal, non-athletic phenomena such as this game, which has been referred to elsewhere as the ‘Indecisijig’.

I believe that term was first coined by Rich Hall back in the early 80s as one of his many hilarious “sniglets”, or words for things that up until then had no, well, words for what they meant. I forget the exact definition for indecisijig (which, when broken down into its components, combines the words ‘indecision’ and ‘jig’ - neat, huh?) but it describes the scenario where you are walking somewhere and you come across someone walking towards you and they are on the same ‘line’ that you are. In a mutual attempt to give the right of way and/or to try and go around the oncoming fellow walker, you each try and guess which way to go and start to commit to a direction. If you both guess exactly wrong, it leads to a series of aborted side-steps, with your resultant jumpy moves forming into an awkward little dance number. This mutual fake-out results in the wonderful spectacle that is the involuntary maneuver called the 'indecisijig'.

Nobody ever wants to start the indecisijig on their own. If this was consciously attempted, it could no longer be a proper indecisijig by definition; rather, it would be more of a Robot Dance or perhaps even the White Man's Overbite (q.v. When Harry Met Sally). You can try and anticipate the other person's choice of direction, based upon several factors, such as their current trajectory, the look on their face, and whether or not they’re even paying attention to you. The easiest people to predict, in fact, are the ones who seem blithely unaware of the people around them – they don't seem to even notice that there's anyone else on the sidewalk – and so they remain obstinately committed to their chosen path. For them, you just pick right or left and carry on.

It’s when you are headed toward someone who is also aware of them heading towards you that the magic begins. The shuffling starts and inevitably you end up stepping closer to each other in a zig-zag. This heightens the anxiety and one of two things then happens. You can both panic and keep repeating your ill-fated dance until you get right up on each other. Then, both mortally embarrassed at this bilateral invasion of personal space - combined with a failure to successfully and gracefully avoid collision - you both mumble apologies as you awkwardly and painfully twist out of each other’s way like two cars heading opposite ways on a very narrow street, all the while hoping against hope that you don’t inadvertently – gasp! – touch each other.

Or the other thing can happen, and this is usually what I try and do. That is, I stop dead in my tracks, smile and hold out my hands to either side. I’m indicating to the other person, ‘It’s OK, no need to panic. I see what's happening here and I know how this always ends, so now we can stop this absurd little dance.’

For it is absurd, and the embarrassment is heightened by the prospect of putting on this impromptu and never-before-rehearsed little scene for the amusement of the other passers-by, whose own paths are mercifully free of any impending collisions.*

But this indecisijig I’m currently caught up in is happening right in the middle of the crosswalk on Kent Terrace. There are heaps of people going either way and it’s mid-day traffic here in Wellington. The Little Green Walking Man in the crosswalk sign has disappeared, having been swatted away by his nemesis, the ominous Flashing Red Hand. There is no room to either side of me or the girl on the other end of this indecisijig and time is running out on our safe haven here in the middle of the busy asphalt. Cars just off to my left are gunning their engines in anticipation of the light changing in their favor. How they just love to blast off and try to go from zero to sixty in less than two seconds as they hurtle up Kent Terrace, pedestrians be damned.

She jigs to her left, I to my right: Strike one! And so the dance has begun. In time with the perfect rhythm of the indecisijig, we both panic and hop the other way, once again occluding each other's paths. We are now a mere six feet from each other. To either side of us is an impenetrable stream of people. We are the only two caught in this comical struggle to simultaneously yield and obtain right-of-way. Tensions mount.

Damn. We both panic and take that fateful third step, a repeat of the first: me to the right and she to her left, and now we’re nearly upon each other. I wouldn’t mind bumping into her, for she is a young and attractive woman (and no, I wouldn't grope her or anything, you pervs), but she does not seem to share my indifference to our pending close encounter. This potentially intimate rendition of the indecisijig has her face frozen in a study of shy panic, her eyes cast downward and flicking left and right.

Finally, I resolve the crisis by making a small sacrifice. Sure, I’m not even halfway across the street yet and the Flashing Red Hand has been blinking more and more furiously since I first stepped onto the zebra stripes. All it has to do is turn its frozen red glare solid and then the anxious cars to my left will be unleashed upon us all, crosswalk or no.

I stop in my tracks and spread my hands out to the sides, smiling at her. She bounces back once more to her right, then suddenly notices the daylight around me on that side as I have stopped. Without bothering to nod or smile or acknowledge in any way my signal that our dance has ended (my indecisijig partners frequently fail to give me any props for yielding, but that’s OK since neither of us asked for a dance anyways), she shoots on by me to the left. My way is now also clear, except that she’s nearer to her kerb than I am to mine, and my time is up: the evil Red Hand is now no longer Flashing but instead blazing down at me with a baleful, crimson glare. I can hear gearshifts being manipulated off to my left. The neon light in the window of my destination, the Deluxe Café, beckons promisingly yet distressingly far away up ahead and to my right.

As fast as these cars may be able to accelerate, they still have nothing on my ability to perform the indecisijig and still make a clean getaway. With a sly smile I take two quick and long strides... and I am there. Safe on the opposite kerb, the only harm that's been done has been to my ears as an obnoxious boy racer (an oxymoron if ever there was one) speeds by behind me with one of those mufflers that makes his car sound constipated at very loud volumes.

"HhhHhhnnnnnNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNnnnnnnn...." his car complains as it speeds away. Dork.

I’m now safely in the queue for Deluxe, now just a little more practised than I was before at the Indecisijig. If I keep it up, I just may be able to take this act on the road (heh). You know, if they don’t ever come up with a ‘Pedestrian Olympics’, perhaps I can finagle my way onto one of those ‘Dancing with the Stars’ shows, if not as a contestant then at least as a guest choreographer.

I can see it now: “Tonight on Dancing With The Stars, ladies and gentlemen, we have a very special competition planned for you! You will see the contestants square off not in the style of ballroom or salsa or even break dancing, but something new and fresh and vibrant! We’ve flown in a Special Master all the way from New Zealand and for the past fortnight he’s been involved in intensive instruction with all of our dancers! They’ve all frequently complained and even threatened to walk off the set, but they’re under contract so they’re screwed no matter what! Straight from the streets of Wellington, we bring you the latest and coolest trend in urban dance - the Indecisijig!”

Then, cue the crowds of people strolling by on set, the sounds of car engines gunning in the background, the Flashing Red Hand, and our first pair of competitors as they stroll inexorably towards each other from opposite ends of the stage...

These are the thoughts running through my head as I sip on my third mochaccino of the day, this time in Deluxe Cafe. It’s the best mocha by far, as from what I’ve found nobody else in town makes one as good as Deluxe does (especially by this really cute girl there) – and that ain’t an easy task, for all of the coffees I’ve had in Wellington have been nothing short of very good.

Deluxe’s food is exceptional as well, for they feature not only an eclectic variety of things (muffins with olives, tomatoes, feta and corn; tasty filos; great pizzas that are very much Chicago-style; all kinds of baked goods like cupcakes with raspberry icing, Anzac biscuits, cheesecakes; wraps with fish and rice and avocado; all kinds of paninis, etc.) but it’s always flavorful and you can tell they use the best quality ingredients. Even better: they have the best food prices of any café in town.

It doesn’t hurt that they’re right next door to the Embassy Theater, either, which not only has the biggest and best movie screen and sound system in town but also the best theater seats. On more than one occasion I've stopped off at Deluxe to kill some time before then catching a matinée at the Embassy.

I think my favorite thing about Deluxe by far, though, is its people. The crew they’ve got working there is always cool and laid-back and friendly. They have a habit of cutting out a picture from that day’s newspaper and taping it to the top of their tip cup. It’s always an inspired selection and it never fails to crack me up. They’ll usually have somebody’s face cut out and will have drawn in a word balloon and supplied their own text. I remember seeing Dubya's face taped to the top of the cup once, as well as Winston Peters' mug (he's New Zealand's Foreign Minister). There was even once a picture of the current Dalai Lama, and they had him saying something implying that you would achieve infinite wisdom simply by putting a little money in the cup. (No comment on whether or not I contributed on that day.)

Deluxe is also the place that introduced me to the Foxton Fizz, and they also display local art for sale on their walls, so I’m all about supporting anything native to New Zealand. So, as with the Lido Café and their support of the Phoenix line of drinks, Deluxe gets mad props and extra visits from me because of the way they’re keepin’ it real for the Kiwis.

Something else unique to Deluxe that I’ve not encountered quite to this degree anywhere else in Wellington is the broad range of people that choose to patronize it. It reminds me of a place back in the States in Tacoma, called Frisko Freeze, where I’ve been told that even though it’s in a seedy part of town it is widely and unofficially recognized as neutral turf. You can have people of all races, ideologies, and socioeconomic class levels – some of whom, were they not outside standing in line for a Frisko Freeze burger, would be nowhere near each other – queuing up for long lines without conflict. All for a burger. I've read on-line reviews by people who have orchestrated layovers of their flights to be in Tacoma and for long enough for them to nip out for a couple of their unique burgers, they're so good. Clearly, I need to visit this place one day.

Deluxe is quite like Frisko Freeze then in that I’ve seen a wider variety of people dropping by here for a cup of joe than I have at any other coffee joint in town. You've got students, suits, tradesmen and women, retirees, bicyclists, nerdy American bloggers, people on dates, and would probably even have some of the policy wonks from the Beehive (New Zealand's Parliament building) were it not clear on the other side of town from Deluxe.

The guys from the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra even frequent Deluxe as well, playing there Thursday mornings once in a while.

Hmm, the Ukulele Orchestra. Maybe that’s who I’ll book to come with me for when I head to that Dancing With The Stars competition...

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*As an aside, I wonder: Is this what it’s like to be an asteroid? You (the asteroid in question) are hurtling along at monumental speeds, when suddenly you see another planetary fragment zipping right towards you. You then have to do a last-minute shuffle to avoid smashing into each other and sending off a potentially disastrous bit of asteroid shrapnel, which invariably will head towards hapless planet Earth, thus spawning the creation of movies starring Bruce Willis as a commercial drill operator, shepherding a team of elite professional oil drilling cosmonauts into space to save humanity. Including Ben Affleck, no less.

No, of course it doesn’t happen with asteroids. They’re all spinning in the same direction! Duh.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spider-Man 3 in 3-D!

All right, so it wasn't in 3-D. But how many sequels did I grow up with in the 80s that were? There was the Jaws 3 travesty, I remember that one. It seems like there were several more, and all of them equally schlocky, but my increasingly unreliable memory is letting me down yet again on this one. And with the dial-up connection and my current lazy mood, I just can't be bothered to Google the rest. For a while there, it seemed like there was a compulsion with the third movie of a franchise to have it filmed in 3-D. So let me just say that I'm glad this particular third installment was not rendered in three dimensions.

Not that those white cardboard glasses with one red lens and one blue lens aren't cool! No, I really like them, but then I'm a geek so what do I know? No, the 'old school' 3-D glasses to me are way cooler than those bulky, black things you get these days when you go on some of the latest theme park rides, like the "Spider-Man" ride* at Universal's Islands of Adventure down in Orlando, Florida. Also, the newest ride Busch Gardens Williamsburg had (before I left - now they get the Griffon this year *sniff*) was the Curse of DarKastle and it, too, used these 'new age' 3-D glasses. Clearly they were going for 'sturdy' and 'functional' when they invented these, for they conform to your head rather tightly with these long plastic arms that don't so much as cling tightly to your scalp as burrow deeply into the uppermost layer of skin cells. They mat your hair down over this crude trough created in your skull, thus marking you for the rest of your day at the park that you either just rode this particular 3-D ride or you have survived an assassination attempt with some of that garotte wire!

Plus they always seem to be wet with something whenever you pick them up out of the box. Yecch. I just hope it's disinfectant! And they also usually have conspicuous smudges like greasy thumbprints all over the lenses, so even if the staff did thoughtfully disinfect these glasses after someone else used them, they neglected to clean the lenses themselves (kinda important, dontcha think?), leaving you to it. So you sort of clean them yourself and wipe someone else's grubby fingerprints all over your T-shirt and carry on.

But seriously, I know it's hard to believe at this point but I really DO enjoy these 3-D rides! In fact the new-school glasses do a mighty fine job (once you've cleaned off the smudges) of rendering all that you see into a very convincing three-dimensional experience, as I still jump every time the lycanthropic, sinister king of DarKastle swipes at me with his werewolf claws - even though I know it's coming. It's just that I think that 3-D as we currently know it should stay in the realm of the Theme Park Ride and not so much the Big Screen anymore.

And believe it or not, the point of this post was not to go on some rambling tirade about 3-D glasses, but as I started writing it just came out. So thanks for being there for me while I work out these issues with my visual entertainment.

The point of this entry was to give a review of Spider-Man 3 which I've just seen tonight with my friends:

It was good. Go see it.

G'night everybody! Thanks, you've been great! Try the pasta primavera, it's excellent!

Haha, just kidding. I mean to expand upon that a little bit, of course. Sadly the Spider-Man plotlines passed me by as a kid, for I was into other comics and not this one, somehow. And I didn't have my friend Todd with me this time to explain how the movie stacked up versus the many comic book plots that involve our mild-mannered hero in the red bodysuit, so I'll just be giving you the opinion of a movie lover but not necessarily a Spider-Man aficionado.

Spoilers coming! So read on only after you've seen the movie!

First I was pleasantly surprised that May 4th was an international release, so I did not have to wait a month or so for this movie to get here. So that added a little extra buzz for me. Also, I finally got to see previews for some of the other big hits coming out this winter (summer for you Yanks), like Pirates 3: At World's End, Shrek 3, and the Transformers movie. Those all looked great, plus I hear there's a Reno 911! movie coming out soon, so I've got to see that as well.

It was good to see Thomas Haden Church in something again, as I had always liked his Lowell character from the "Wings" TV show of the 80s, although certainly his Sandman character was a far cry from the dimwitted but nice airplane mechanic he played on television. You first got a glimpse of Church's acting chops as a villain in Tombstone back in the early 90s. The only other thing I've seen him in since was Sideways, wherein he was a villain of sorts albeit not one made of radioactive sand that had a penchant for smashing things and knocking over banks.

In addition to introducing new villains, Spider-Man 3 also introduced a new love interest for Peter Parker, one Gwen Stacy. She's played by a total knockout named Bryce Dallas Howard, and it's interesting to note that she was not killed by the Green Goblin in this movie, just like she infamously was in the original storyline in the comics. She even died originally in a fall caused by the Goblin, which happened in this movie, only without the very unfortunate consequences. So who knows what's in store for her character later on?

Finally, and as I expected he would, director Sam Raimi gave a bit more spotlight to that consummate performer, Bruce Campbell. You knew Bruce was going to have yet another cameo in this film (as did Sam's brother, Ted, and Spidey's creator Stan Lee had a line in it, too, I believe), but this time Bruce got more screen time. He stole the show in the middle of the film during a comical restaurant scene involving Peter Parker, his girlfriend MJ and an over-eager cadre of wait-staff. My friend Todd and I are of the opinion that - every year - there should be at least three big-budget movies released with Bruce Campbell in the starring role. Further, we'd like to see Bruce cast as a villain in one of the upcoming Spider-Man installments, but honestly we're just happy to see him in there at all. And as I said, he got more screen time this go around, and the most laughs yet.

For those uninitiated into the ways of Bruce, I refer you to the Evil Dead trilogy of movies, his role as "Brisco County" of the eponymous television series, and certainly his role as Elvis Presley (he's not dead) in the recent Bubba Ho-Tep. If you like those, you should read his first book, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor. It's a great read about him and the Raimi brothers and a few others as they basically made themselves into the Hollywood hotshots they are today. Pretty impressive stuff and, just like Bruce, it's entertaining and funny and all quality.

Right, well this started out as a movie review but quickly morphed into an unintentional rant about 3-D glasses and then ended as a fluff piece about Bruce Campbell. Another post filled with tangents and random asides, but hopefully somewhere in there I've made a point. Pretty standard Brooksie stuff, really!

So in keeping with my erratic writing style, the next time I tune in here I'll be writing my restaurant review of La Bella Italia in Petone, which of course will start out with an aside about my childhood in Lynchburg, Virginia, then veer with startling suddenness into a rant about drink refills in restaurants, then I'll manage to make a few valid points about the restaurant and meal itself, but then quickly I'll wade back into my stream-of-consciousness method of discourse and manage to (try) and tie it all in to current trends in pop culture.

God I love writing this blog!
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*Hey! There really is something involving Spidey that's in 3-D!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Every exit is but an entrance...to...somewhere else."*

Tonight my Drama class resumed, and it was great. The past four weeks I've been working so much I haven't had the usual creative outlets I have become accustomed to, so I've had some pent-up energy. But I did not realize how much I missed being in this class until the first one of the second session tonight.

There are ten of us in the class this time, as opposed to the twelve we had in the previous session, and of the ten that are here, four of us are new. Since it is still a Mixed Abilities class, half of them have a disability of some sort, so the original four who were in the class last time are back again, as well as a new girl named Laura. They are all really into the class and it's been great to be around them and our instructor Kate is excellent at bringing everyone together and keeping us all on our toes. There are three other new girls as well that don't have disabilities, so that makes it an even five and five, and that should make things go more smoothly this time around as last time there was an uneven mix.

Just like last time, we'll mix a little improvisation in with some exploration of some basic elements of acting and even some singing. The other instructor, James, handles the musical side of our classes and fortunately all of us seem pretty uninhibited when it comes to the singing, which to me is significantly harder to do around perfect strangers than even acting itself is! Everyone really got into the class tonight so hopefully they all stick with it, as most of the class did last term. We're still using Shakespeare as the main source of our material, specifically his Comedy, A Midsummer Night's Dream.

And like last time, out of the ten pupils a small number are actual native New Zealanders. This time around we have a girl from Holland in the group, who's here in New Zealand with her boyfriend from Chile. I love how multi-cultural New Zealand is and one of the main reasons I have signed up for classes like this is to meet new and interesting people and, once again, it does not disappoint!

I picked up a good restaurant recommendation tonight, an Italian place in Petone (puh-TOW-knee) called La Bella Italia. It's right on the waterfront, and Petone is actually the first portion of Wellington harbor that was settled by the European colonists in the 19th century. It occupies the northern aspect of the harbor, directly opposite Wellington itself to the south. Apparently the views of Welly from this city across the harbor are not to be missed, and I've become a bit complacent in my routines lately so I will break things up a bit by going here as soon as I possibly can. I still have yet to have any Italian food since coming to New Zealand nearly eleven months (!) ago, and this is a total crime as that's my favorite type of cuisine in general. I'll be sure to review it here, hopefully with pictures, once I make it over there.

So it's time for a little less talk and a lot more action from this blogger, as I can't let myself switch completely from 'Tourist' mode to 'Working Stiff' mode and not do all the exciting things there are to be done here!
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*Quote from an episode of Frasier.