Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The hub cap of kindness

Tomorrow is Random Acts of Kindness Day so i will expect some Random Acts.

i have sort of done some. i pick up hitch hikers. My daughter as a child spent some interesting travelling hours with the hungover and the troubled. She got to hear some great stories. It was more entertaining than the umpteenth rendition of 'Green grow the rushes oh', or even 'Bohemian Rhapsody' (and we do a mean 'Bohemian Rhapsody', a la Wayne's World).

On the day my father died i picked up the most amazing young man. i was driving to be with my father as he died and it was one of many sad trips. This young man was a philosophy graduate of the best kind. We had that terribly intense, two-souls-meeting conversation you have only with people you know you will never see again. He said to me that he knew hardly anyone he could speak with about such things, and i agreed, as we segued sweetly from ethics to metaphysics and elsewhere.

And then one fine and rosty morning i was driving to work on a busy road. A strange young man started gesticulating to me from his car in the lane beside me. He seemed to want me to pull over. i did. He got out of his performance car. He was fairly wildly pierced and tattoed, and wore a hoodie and a beanie. He wuld have been banned from shopping malls in the UK, for sure. The other notable thing about him was that he was deaf. And the other notable thing was a huge warm grin. He showed me with gestures that my hub cap had come off, and indicated that he would go and retrieve it for me. He roared away in his performane car. i waited in the frost, wondering. He came back, with my rather battered hub cap, and put it on for me, and left.

i was moved, by the genuinely Random Act, of course, and by his unlikely presentation. He defied prejudice on several levels. Great stuff.

The Hub Cap of Kindness hangs in my car port. It fell off again soon after, due to one of many confrontations with gutters. It is a good reminder not to be afraid, not to judge, to thank the guy with the big grin.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

In the fridge are books.

Here in Christchurch post EQ's the arts have suffered hugely. The major venues have been destroyed and now events are held in obscure places, often school halls. i particularly mourn the loss of the School of Music, which was housed in the beautiful old convent close next to the Catholic Cathedral. There were wood panelled rooms and tiny mysterious cupboards and corridors that led to tiny mysterious staircases.

Gap filler is a disparate group of artists who have made their own venues. They started in the gaps made by buildings that has been pulled down in the central city. After the big February quake, they moved into the suburbs. They began with concerts and movies held on the wall of the Mitre 10 hardware store in Beckenham. They showed some very cool political docos. Then they used cleared rubble sites for art exhibitions, small installations and poetry readings. My favourite is the cleared site of the old Herbal Dispensary. In the middle of the wasteland is a random fridge, and in the fridge are books. It is a free book exchange; the idea is to leave a book that inspired you, and take one. It's always full and the books do change. The next project is pianos. Pianos salvaged from the School of Music are being painted bright colours and left in odd places around the city, for people to play whenever they feel like it. There is another project where 'post cards' are placed in crevices or nooks around the city - just little notes with messages to be found by strangers.

These are all very low impact, participatory events. They are never particularly well attended but they show the arts are alive here, and there is a change of vibe from the highbrow Art Experience to something anyone can get involved in. Theyr'e great. Find them on Facebook.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Extra virgin snow

Snow redux.

Different this time around - a vicious and very fast southerly wind coming straight from Antarctica, blowing half a gale and making the snow land on sharp and scary angles. This time around the weather was grim and purposeful, and there wasn't the festive feel of last time. No snowboarding on the street and very little traffic. Business closed down and stores ran out of bread in the first hail storm on Sunday. There was sleet and hail and thunder and lightning.

i was on my days off from work and stayed home. i read Alain de Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work. i like de Botton's massively prolix writing style in part because of his preturnaturally convoluted and adjectivally-heavy sentence structures; they involve purely gratuitous grammar (and abundant bracketed phrases), and one sentence often is long enough to take up a whole paragraph, or even half a typed page, and yet his writing remains attractive and frequently even beguiling or informative.

The sullen day, suffering already from low self esteem, gave up on itself at about 3 in the afternoon and surrendered to a long and chilly evening. i cleaned the house a bit and made casserole mostly to use the oven. It was so cold food cooled on plates even before we started on it, and our hands cooled our mugs of tea.

Today was cloudy and there was more snow and sleet. It is crunchy and delicious to walk in the pure snow. There is so little traffic of any sort there are whole expanses of extra virgin snow. Love it.

Last snowfall three weeks ago was fun and adventurous. After it, there was sunshine. Everybody played! Even us. We played a game we invented, called Legolas, named after Tolkien's elf. The idea was to walk on the snow and leave no footprints. Tigger the tiny Elven-dog was best at it. He could walk on the iced up snow and leave nothing at all. Except little yellow piss holes.*

This grim and purposeful snow has knocked around Christchurch's economy and delayed EQ recovery. It is tough in EQ damaged homes. People can't go to work and lose money. This looks like it will go on for days. When the sunshine comes again i suspect we will just be relieved.

Meanwhile, every night i thank God for my house, and i thank my house for being strong and keeping me safe and dry. Unassuming little thing, a meagre kitset job from 1939, weatheroard and with only two bedrooms and no garage, i am becoming genuine fond of it. Once again, so lucky.

i hear that Elven-piss tastes sweet to Men and Dwarves. It is what they give you for wine at Rivendell. Elves are shits really.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The mysterious ways of Dog

A while ago, in a probably somewhat lowered state of consciousness, i took to watching Dog the Bounty Hunter on late night TV. i became briefly hooked on it.

Each episode starts with metal-type music playing, and Dog swaggers towards the camera surrounded by fire, for some reason. He wears black leather and the memory of being somewhat younger and thinner. He has long blond hair in a mullet and cool black shades. He is followed by his wife Beth. Well, actually he is followed by Beth's stunning rack, which is then followed at a respectful distance by Beth. Beth also swaggers a bit and wears a lot of black. She is also, God knows why, surrounded by fire. Then come the various offsiders - sons and nephews and so on, all kitted out nicely like low rent rock stars and packing heat. And all inexplicably surrounded by fire.

The episode gets under way. There is always an early scene where the team discuss the lowlife perp they are about to chase, and they write the details on a white board in the best board room style. At this point the men wear tight black pants and wife beaters. Then they Get Dressed, putting on their cool jackets and strapping on their weapons, always shown in closeup because then you get to take them extra serious like.

What follows is sort of chaotic and one of the reasons i took to watching was the sense of barely controlled mayhem. i am very used to barely controlled mayhem, after all.

One episode involves a young woman who wants to dob in her scummy criminal boyfriend. Beth and daughter Li'l Lisa work with her. They support her to Do the Right Thing. The young woman tips off Dog and his team, who all pack some more heat and go looking for the scummy criminal boyfriend in a hotel. Queue a peculiarly Keystone Cops scene where Dog and co are going up in the lift, only to discover the SCB has gone down in the other one. A raucous race to the bottom of the building ensues. The SCB escapes and is intercepted by Li'l Lisa (Rock ON, girl!), who attacks him and delays him until the guys get there. The SCB is then bundled into a car where for his pains he gets a lecture from Dog about the error of his ways.

My favourite ep is a surprising anthropological one which is a subtle commentary on the USA's multicultural society. (Or soemthing). Dog and his team are after a Samoan perp. They enter, of all things, a Samoan ghetto. Made me feel right at home and slightly wistful actually, the sunshine, the state houses, the extended families with the fine mats on the floor and the photos of relatives crowding the damp walls.* So there they are, Dog and his team, busting the home of the Samoan perp, and they fling open the door and there's this bunch of slightly stunned Samoans, and Dog comes over all culturally sensitve. Aloha! he proclaims. Aargh! i slap my forehead. What a superb TV moment. However, blithe igonorance and rough compassion win the day and the Samoans give up their perp, who gets the usual lecture from Dog about, you got it, the error of his ways.

As a programme, Dog the Bounty Hunter has the usual bald mix of pruriance and crude moralising. Despite the lecuring, Dog and Co are in it for the money after all. i am unsure why i got into it, except that Dog is a sympathetic character with his misspent youth and his gloriously Westie family. It all feels recognisable here in En Zed. i also recognise the scenarios, having done slightly similar work. You go out there, you have a job to do, you are never sure how it is going to go, there is an element of danger, there are so many variables and you have to keep control of your bit of it or really bad shit can happen. Moreover, with Dog you get a view of an America not usually seen, not the shiny evil fictional criminal world of Law and Order, say, but real people doing their messed up best in crap circumstances. You can almost smell the cheap junk food and sweat and cats and baby sick smells that make up Western urban poverty. Reminds me of home.

Dog's name is actually Dwayne by the way. Outstanding!

* Yes, i know these are American Samoans and in New Zealand/Aotearoa wde have what used to be called Western Samoans, but the feel is the same, for a southern Palagi like me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Up with the snow set

The Sunday before last, it snowed. We get snow occasionally here, and sometimes it even settles a bit and the schools are closed and there is excitement because the whole town has a Snow Day.

This snow was way out there. Great flakes landed on the window four floors up. It began to settle on the narrowest surfaces. By morning it was five inches deep, and the coldest day here since records began. It covered the liquefaction and did the whole winter wonderland thing. Neighbours stumped through the mess to visit and swap stories. My daughter and her partner, who was wildly pumped up and wanting a mission, visited and brought me snow chains so i could go to work. i was intrepid! i drove to work with the chains on. Not many of us made it to work, mostly those with 4x4's. i gloated about my chains. i was up with the snow set! Not like one of my workmates who drove all the way to work in his Ford Festiva. A Ford Festiva! Good grief. i did so much better, i had chains. On the way home, in the middle of the night, i paid for my hubris. The chain broke, and wrapped itself around behind the wheel. i called the AA. It was not the first case of broken chains the AA guy had seen that night.

Days later the snow lingered. It half froze and iced over several times. On my street corner, young men built a snow ramp and snow boarded up it. It was their science project. It took all day and was at least seven feet tall. In the middle of the night when i went to work they had it lit with car headlights and a videocamera trained on it. Someone would board up it. Then they would rake it and spade it and look after it. Fifteen minutes later someone else would have a go. It was dead serious fun. Young men at their most focused, using the same sets of neurons that translated the Bible into Klingon.

Now there are clumps of blackened snow in shady areas. The snow mixed with liquefaction and gravel, and car emissions. But we are 10 days after it began and we still have snow!