Sunday, June 7, 2009



Slick *owns* this casino.

It belongs to him.

He knows everyone passing through the Eden Lounge, points each out, and throws them his chin as they cross the floor.

He jumps up from his table, one foot snaps out, and kick-turns spinning himself full circle. In time with the beat. Immediately darting across the dance floor, down the steps, and out the bar with a Manhattan rush-hour shuffle, thin black flip-top phone to his head all the while.

An exit worthy his stature.

If anyone was looking.


Early 70's, tall and slender, suit and tie tailored to his lean frame. Appropriate to the decor. Grey hair slicked back to the base of his neck, a pair of cheap sunglasses resting on on his crown. Making eyes at the young ladies. Like he could own them too.

Makes a circuit of the room, open phone still in hand, pressed to his temple except for the rare moment he pulls it down to shake it chest level, Moroccan style.

There's no one on the line.


His wife, brickhouse portly, a light blue frock, tiny white floral print, draped over a perfect egg-shape, shares his table though he never manages a seat for a thirty second stretch.

During one such absence.

Suddenly she springs to her feet, and throws down The Twist with a spry grace, shimmying a slow circle in the same spot he dances every time he passes.

Unabashedly, unashamedly.

This is *her* song.

What were the chances the band would cover Chubby Checker tonight?

The tune ends and she returns to her seat, not to stir again.

He's out of view the entire time.

Like it never happened.


The night carries on.


Spotting him across the room, bachelorette in a pink T-shirt points back, shoulder dipping, head and hip jutting to the side. She throws a double-handle fishing rod in his direction, cranking the wheel to the rhythm of the music.

Hooks him on the second cast.

And he's back on the dance floor.


From Cross Country USA 2009

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Vacation

End of Summer

Growing up, there were two places we'd go for vacation every year.

Either a week at my Aunt and Uncle's beach house in Cape May, or a long weekend in Room #10 at the Kismet Motel, run by my grand-aunt in Wildwood, New Jersey.

3rd street, in the middle of nowhere.

Or 6th and Surf, just blocks from the Boardwalk.


Wildwood had the rides going for it.

The Spooky Shack and Gold Rush were my favourites when very young - a haunted house and a Wild West themed indoor roller-coaster. Afterwards quarter-powered light guns would make cans fly on steel wires, lamps tip back, and an animatronic piano player belt out some ragtime if you hit the right bullseye.

There were dollar games of chance where you all but guaranteed to lose your attempt to win the big stuffed animal. Automatic BB guns with the site off and just not enough ammo to completely shoot out that paper star. Basketball games with the hoops barely big enough for the balls to fit through, and positioned at a height and depth awkward to anyone who ever practised on a real court. Bushel bins you lobbed softballs into, but were angled just right so they always bounced back out. And so on.

They were known to pay insiders to walk up and down the boardwalk with those animals, pointing anyone who asked where they won it to their stand.

Curley's Fries on Morey Pier. Always and still the best boardwalk french fries anywhere in the world.

Wildwood, NJ

In later years, after "loop rides" were fair game there was nothing to top the Sea Serpent. Pulling you backward up the incline, never certain quite when it would finally release you, hands in the air, then freefall down, up, over, around and over again then through a third loop before the wheels locked into grooves, starting up another incline, slowly ticking up track by track before releasing you to do it all over again. This time backwards.

Seventeen times in a row on a ticketless wrist band one weekend before labour day, when the boardwalk would close for the winter. Best seat was in the back. You started the highest on the first downward fall. Falling backward didn't pull on your gut the same.

Thinking about it now, the perfect rollercoaster.


But Cape May was still the best.


Wildwood was fun to go.

Cape May was fun to stay.


Walking the Rocks
There were guys walking the beach with coolers on the backs or freezers on wheels. You could recline in your beach chair on lay on a towel spread over the hot sand and they'd come right up and sell you a Chocolate Chipwich. If you were unlucky, there were only Vanilla left.

Up at the Snack Bar were beach fries to drown in ketchup. The trick was to wash sand off your hands and keep them clean so you didn't get any in the food.

Seagulls would dive and fight for any leftovers.


Someone would get buried every year.

We'd usually argue over who it got to be.


Coloured buckets filled with sand and saltwater were for drippy castles.

Dip your hand in and grab a fistful. Pull it out before it got too wet and runny. Let blotches drip from between your fingers as you hold it over the walls or towers, the sand drying into pebbles when they hit.


Dig a mote until you hit water.


The Beach House

Afterward, the house had an outdoor shower.

That was cool.

We'd call first dibs on the way back from the beach.

The wood was green and kind of slimy under our feet and you didn't want to touch anything you didn't have to - you might get splinters and who know what that black stuff was growing on the walls.

The water was impossible to get right, always too hot or not nearly enough.

But it'd feel so good washing off all that sand. Feeling fresh after a day in the sun. Waking up after the drowsy heat. Tea Cooler from Swiss Farms waiting with ice cubes. First one to play Kaboom! on the Atari.


Most nights we'd eat in.

Tomato "gravy" over homemade pasta noodles.

Nanny's recipe.


There were old, rusty bicycles in the shed out back.

My favourite was the three-speed. Kind of blue and tarnished aluminium. Skinny tires. My bike at home did curb jumps better but it was only one-speed.


The dirt road would end after a couple houses if you turned left out of the driveway. Just gave way to trees. They hadn't built that part yet.

Second street went all the way to the 7-11, what seemed like kid-miles away. From there you were halfway to the beach but we weren't allowed to go that far until later.

We could still get Slushys on our own. And Bubble Tape. And Caramellos. Whichamacallits. Bonkers.


Sunlight and Low Surf
What made Cape May special was the sense of the place. Like stepping back into the past. Seeing what the world was like before you were born.

Famous for its Victorian architecture, it carried an aristocratic air.

The jewel of the Jersey Shore.

The clear, wave-worn stones on the beach called Cape May Diamonds.

For us kids, this special place, the Beach House, carried implications we responded to but were never really aware of.

Going away mean packing a bag. We couldn't bring all our stuff, just a weeks' worth. Only the best things, the small ones, the most important.

Always a book or two. There'd be nothing but time to fill.

Travel games for the car. Connect Four and Checkers.

A favourite toy. Something new to play with that summer.


The Wicker Shop was the only other store around reachable without crossing a major road.

We almost never bought anything there.

But loved to explore.

Filled furniture and decorations - all of it border by, covered with, or made entirely from wickercraft. The isles were strange and wonderful to wander.

Nothing was very expensive, to a kid maybe but not in the grand sense. All of it meant for decorating vacation homes. Providing a rustic yet tasteful look while helping to fill that empty corner of the room.

The intricate patterns, weaving criss-crossing back and forth, the smell in the air like autumn leaves and straw.

It was part of the nightly ritual, after dinner but before dark, my sister and my older cousin, sipping frozen drinks through straws shaped like spoons, on our way back to the house.


The Pilot House

Once per trip we'd eat out.

Usually the Pilot House.

"They do good burgers."

We'd walk the outdoor mall after.

Hit the Fudge Kitchen, the one with free samples outside and whole boxes of orange salt-water taffy.

The antique store had a suit of armour outside.

The kite store sold "Rangs" boomerangs and Aerobies that could loft through air three backyards away, and further in an open field.

The sunglass shop had a camel painted on its sign.

Miniature golf.

I can still taste the caramel corn.


Arcade at Dusk

Evenings we'd venture out to the concrete promenade along the sand, depositing our saved-up allowances one quarter at a time into video games in the arcade and earning tickets to exchange for useless junk by playing skeeball and slot machines.

Spyhunter had the best theme music but Paperboy had those awesome handlebars. Rastan could be re-played for hours and nothing beat that flame sword that shot fireballs.

50 was really hard to get, and if you missed, only ended up with ten. Better go for the 30 and if you miss take the twenty.

Cherry on the first reel means your money back and another spin. Two and you were rolling. Impossible to get three BARs. A plastic cup filled with green and gold plastic tokens.


At the end of the week, what it had all been leading up to.

The Rides.



By the time I was twelve we stopped staying in Wildwood altogether. My grand-aunt was on in years and the upkeep too hard for her. I doubt the Kismet still exists - a ten-room motel is hard to turn a profit.

Around the same time Cape May ended too.

My uncle, for whom charismatic was the ultimate understatement, passed away. Heart attack, jogging. Suddenly. Young.

A shock to the whole family. I don't think we ever went back to the beach house after that, and it was quickly sold.


The Jersey Shore

We would continue visiting the Jersey shore every summer for the next few years, though now in Ocean City, the suburbia-by-the-sea.

There was a boardwalk there too, and while it did have rides and arcades, it was nothing like Wildwood. None of these looked dangerous - or fun. Stuff for kids.

A dry town.



I first came to New Zealand just a month after 9/11, when sympathy for America was at its height, and if the dot-com boom was already past its high-water mark, the realization hadn't hit the general public.

We were in the right, and strong.

By 2003 as I was on my way to becoming firmly established "down under and to the right" and seeking residency.

The world had changed.

America had some explaining to do.

War was being declared in Iraq, and the perspective from foreign soil was in sharp contract to news feeds from domestic media. It started off an unpopular war everywhere but in the United States.

I was travelling at the time, in transit back to NZ, taking advantage of a layover in Fiji (easy to arrange for just an extra fifty bucks). It gave me a unique opportunity to talk to people from all over the world, during a moment of international controversy and consequence.

I asked them what they thought about America, and about the war.


Kava Stands

Over bowls of kava, upstairs at the Suva farmer's market, I had a long conversation with the owner of one of the stands, and his family who were constantly coming and going. He shared the same perspective as a lot of the other Fijians. Might meant right. America was powerful, and needed to use that power to strike at its enemies. He spoke well of the country and its declared intentions.

Europeans were quite the opposite. Many couldn't understand our arrogance and failed to make the distinction between the choices of a government versus the personal convictions of individuals.

It wasn't an easy time to travel as an American. Strangers were less welcoming than they might have been after catching the accent. I found myself having to defend my country's reputation.

Most frequently I had to explain a worldview which focused primarily and dangerously inward, as though the rest of the world simply didn't exist.


Over time I came back with my answer.



In the United States, having one week's vacation per year is not uncommon. If you had been at your job for some time, you might have earned two. Three was nearly unheard of.

"You must be a teacher, right?"

Five business days. Perhaps ten "days off" total, but that might include sick days.

New Zealand at the time had a legal minimum of 15 business days per year (recently raised to 20), for any job, for every person. That didn't include public holidays, and often sick days would be given in addition. In Europe four weeks was common, and in some countries, six.


Relaxing on a Bench
This shapes the way people travel.

The pressures of the workplace and daily routine are difficult to escape. When faced with so little, you need that time to unwind and share quality moments with your children. And of course the budget is always limited.

You don't want to spend half your time and savings travelling some place far away. Its just not practical or attractive.

The is often true of the people you know, your family and especially your friends. Most of them will fit into the same bracket as you in the "prescription plan" for life. They're about the same age as you, and the same is true of their children and your children. There's probably not a significant difference in household income. You tend to think and maybe act the same, or at least play down and look beyond such differences.

So you tend to take your vacation at the same places.

At the same time.

Year after year.


Wooden Deck and Chairs
From Philadelphians, the Jersey Shore extends south from Atlantic City to Cape May, at the end of the peninsula.

Each beach community targets and serves specific groups of people.

Atlantic City looks long past its prime. Weekend visitors come for gambling and a bar scene. Run down houses and a crime rate. The days which inspired the street names for Monopoly to be taken from here are gone.

Ocean City, Sea Isle, and similar for family-safe fun with each to suit different social and economic situations.

Avalon and Stone Harbor for the rich and the preppy college crowd.

Cape May for old money and the retired.

Wildwood now perhaps a bit more low-brow, a step down from earlier days. Frequented by late high-schoolers who were too young to get into the bars but won't stop trying. And of course for-the-night visits by families from the neighboring beaches out for a night on the Boardwalk.


Vacation in America is often a social experience.

Beaches are a place by the sea to see and be seen.

Travel is to the familiar, one knows what the expect and how much to pay.


Raging Waters
From the perspective of the child, this is hardly a problem. You know where you want to go for vacation. You can't wait to go on your favorite ride, or to the water slides. Maybe you'll see that kid again you met last year. They were cool.

You love going down the shore.

That bike will still be waiting in the shed. Maybe you'll go further on it this year. Maybe all the way to the outdoor mall.

I wonder what new games have come out. I bet this year I'll win enough tokens for more than a back scratcher.

Better get some new books for the car ride. Two hours in a car is such a long time!

I hope I find some good sea shells. Some sandollars if I'm lucky.

Maybe they'll let us get hermit crabs again.

I think I'll ride a upside-down ride this year. I think I'm ready and I must be tall enough by now.

I call the outside shower first.


Family Vacations
However, the end result means travel abroad becomes rare.

Its too hard, or too expensive. They might not speak English. You're not assured the same level of comfort you desire and have come to expect.

You don't want hard. You want easy. You want to relax. You want to forget you have to be back at work next week, without a break for another year. You want your kids to remember this trip. You want to remember your kids at this age.

So you never go.


The problem with America's centricity and overly domestic focus is contributed to by lack of vacation days because for the vast majority of Americans their ability to travel becomes limited and they end up with insufficient connection to the rest of the world.

When they hear about an event or catastrophe happening in some foreign country there's no relation. There's nothing personal about it.

They've never been there. No one they know has ever been there. No one those people know have either. And none of that mob ever likely will.

Politics are not something they want to think about, at the end of a long day, as they put on the evening news and settle back onto the couch. They've finished with work, took care of dinner, took care of the kids, took care of what they needed to do for one more day.


The president wants to declare war somewhere?

In Iraq again?

What's that he just said about 9/11?

...well, Good.

We didn't finish down there the last time anyway.

We already knew Saddam Hussein is a bad guy, why's he still in charge anyway?

More commercials already.

Well, just three more days of this and its the weekend.

I'll have to mow the lawn after Little League in the morning, and maybe I should lay down fresh mulch this year.

Then nine more weeks and its vacation.

We'll get the same place in Ocean City hopefully. I don't want to have to search around and that one was pretty cheap for being so close to the water. Just three blocks.

Better start saving for a night on the Wildwood Boardwalk.

Under the Wildwood Boardwalk


There's more to it than that of course, and the way America now looks at the world (and is looked at by the rest of the world) is finally starting to change. The way we get our news and communicate continue to evolve.

One might like to think we've even learned a few lessons.

But if we start to slip again, now you too know the solution.

Don't be afraid to join the movement.

We all need more vacation days.

Sunset Left of Shipwreck

Friday, August 22, 2008


MoonlightI had it all worked out.

He was sitting at the table, but wouldn't see me as I slipped out the front door.

I called out the cat's name as an excuse. He would think the sound of the door opening just was me letting it in. The lights in my room were turned out, like I was already asleep. I'm never disturbed. By the time I came back they'd have all done the same.

The timing would be perfect.

No one would ever know.


Lorenzo was already waiting when I got outside. Crouched in the shadows. Punk.

He didn't ask where we were going. Just liked to prowl.

I wouldn't have had an answer anyway. Just needed to get out.


We ended up at the park.

It closed at dusk, by now past midnight.

Had to be careful walking down the path, leaves crunching loudly underfoot.

The sound was loud clapping, best not to alert the houses overlooking from on top the hill.


Found a staircase in the shadow of the street lamps, a place to sit.

Just needed to clear my head, get some perspective.


Lorenzo went into the brush.


I haven't been a teenager in a decade, but I still like the feeling of sneaking out.

Lorenzo's not a punk, he's a cat.

...well, actually he is a punk, but he's also a cat.


The father-figure is actually a father, but only recently so.


Street LampI've spent the last two months sharing a house in El Cerrito, California, on the suburban outskirts of San Francisco's East Bay area, with Adam, Margaret, Frankie, and ... well, Lorenzo.

Adam I've worked with on various projects back in New Zealand, though not always directly. Margaret of course I met through him. Frankie I met fairly recently, as she too is fairly recent – just six months old.


How does that work, a bachelor living with a young family - and especially a six month old baby? Actually its kind of cool. Yes there's crying and yes that gets old, but then its not really my problem to deal with and can just as easily chuck on headphones. And I did have a six week old baby on the boat for three days this past New Years after all.

On the flip side, I think she's days (at most one week) from starting to crawl. She's got most of it worked out, and can push herself backwards, but hasn't quite got the mechanics worked out right. First steps and first words may be the joy of new parents, but crawling is the first moment of independent movement. Only recently she learned to how to hold herself sitting upright. Soon she'll be able to explore the world under her own control. For the first time she'll be able to choose her own directions.

Its an interesting peak into a life experience which I have little intention of encountering myself for a long time to come (I rather enjoy choosing my own directions too, thank you very much).

I will say this, when I walk into the room, she's always all smiles and long stares. If I could only master that same skill with the slightly older variety I'd be set.


Lorzenzo I met the night I moved in.


The plan kind of came together all at once.

AlcatrazI passed through the States at the end of Spring, coinciding with changes happening at work. Interest was shifting focus to the US, and there were some potential opportunities in San Francisco.

The timing was great, with winter approaching New Zealand, and the location ideal. San Francisco had long been for me (as many before me), the “destination” for any “true” cross-country road trip. I can tell a story from every visit I've made there, and I'm not the only one.

I didn't need convincing.


Gonna leave the pain behind
Gonna leave the fools in line
Gonna take the magic potion
Gettin' in an old black car
Gonna take a ride so far
To the land of sun tan lotion
Gonna take it state by state
Til I hit the golden gate
Get my feet wet in the ocean

-- Neil Young, "Big Time"


Adam and Co. were on their way back to Toronto. They had delayed their trip until the timing was right with Frankie, and spending the time chasing down old friends and drumming up new projects made sense for him too.

The GrottoFortunately for me I could rely on such far more organized individuals to find and arrange the accommodation, and fortunately for us all they did a great job. The house belongs to a “Professor of Rhetoric” at the University and has the “light reading” lining shelves throughout to prove it. She teaches her native French, and the kitchen is likewise lined with her cookbooks. That's where they are now, visiting her family with their son. They needed to return in time for classes to start, and in the same timeframe “the Adam's family” needed to finish their journey home, so timing was ideal.

After all, they too have a cat in waiting.

Which brings me to Lorzeno.


Eugene '08 USA TrialsI arrived a few days early.

I wanted to catch my cousin at her Olympic trial in Eugene, Oregon on the Fourth of July.

I was able to meet the owners and get the full tour, pair of stapled, single-spaced typewriter-font-printed sheets of instructions on the house, and the keys to the city before hoping in a rental car and cruising North the next morning.


He slinked in when the sun came down, after I had eaten and cleaned up and settled into staring at a screen.

I fed him once and we were fast friends.


Haight AshburyIts not the first time I've lived with a cat, though it remains a novel experience.

I never spent time with cats when I was growing up – I'm allergic. Back then highly so; I remember staggering circles around my house in second grade, sneezing repeatedly after spending an afternoon with my neighbours' Siamese.


But there was a cat at “the Flat” back West in Auckland, later two kittens, and neither was a big deal. The kittens were actually quite cool, though not mine.

I had grown up around dogs. I knew lots of dogs. I got to know their personalities.

Spending time with cats is like being seven years old again.


Inside VesuvioIts been a pleasure living this lifestyle these past couple months.

However, Monday marks our last day, this coming our last weekend.


North Beach Jazz FestivalI've met some of Adam's friends, he's met some of mine.

Its amazing how many more people happen to be passing through San Francisco, compared to Auckland. I caught up with Jono and Anna, who's company and hospitality I'd last seen and enjoyed in London, and was happy to have a chance to return. Besides, playing tour guide gives me an excuse to see all the fun places in the city through their eyes.

Fisherman's WharfIt was actually a bit of a chance encounter. In what can be only considered the second most useful service Facebook has ever provided (the first being the creation of a fan club for “Wawa” - the most under-appreciated institution on the Eastern seaboard), I caught Anna's mention of their upcoming visit

Two nights later we're all cracking up at the Sea Lions on Fisherman's Wharf.


The neighbourhood is decent. We're at the top of an unforgiving hill, but its a nice view in exchange.

Bicycle PathA bicycle bought on the cheap made short work of the daily climb, and brought Berkeley within easy reach. A little rusty and a little out of tune, it was absolutely perfect. Back home we would have called it a “shore bike,” the kind left at someone's beach house over the winter, strictly for summer riding. A little sand in the gears was part of the charm.

Berkeley CampusThat didn't make it any nicer when it got stolen, but at least it was a (relatively) inexpensive “wake up call,” reminding me I'm not in New Zealand any longer. It was locked and in a well lit location, but the lock worth even less than the bicycle, and that made all the difference. So it goes.


There have been a series of trips, each following business.

Philadelphia from the Sky at DawnA trip to Philadelphia was extended into the weekend and realized a kayak trip long planned with Colin, and of course a visit with Katie, the kids, and the rest of his family.

Bethany Beach Kayak TripMy old college buddy had his folks' place in Bethany Beach, Delaware. There's a series of canals which run behind the development, eventually opening out into one of area's many bays, complete with a handful of old kayaks which get shared between the various neighbours. We used to doodle around back there over the years, never for more than an hour or so, just something to pass the time. Invariably at some point someone would mention how, if one rowed long enough, one could eventually reach the open ocean - always thrown out casually, just a "what if" or "wouldn't that be cool" kind of comment.

It only took six hours round trip (about 16 miles), the hardest bit fighting against the current where the inlet meets the sea, but was a brilliant day and a great way to spend some time, which always seems in such short supply these days.

Wild Ponies on Assateague IslandThe next day we visited Assateague Island (just over the border in Maryland, a national park known for the wild horses that live there and roam about freely). I hadn't been there in years and was for the little ones their first time, so also a really nice day.


Last week I was in Los Angeles, chasing the tail of the SIGGRAPH conference. All of the latest graphics technology and techniques are put on display, from graduate and PhD work to movie houses to multinational corporations and all points in between.

Some highlights:

Entrance to SIGGRAPH Inside

Heat Detection Sphere

Ziptie Sculpture Disney Artist


Ameoba MusicTwo nights ago I was when I "snuck out."

I really did call out Lorenzo's name as I slipped through the door.

He really did appear, as though he'd been waiting.

And he really did follow me through the park, which was a surprise. I didn't think cats went for walks. He explored while I took a break from code and made the time to look back and appreciate the moment.

But we've got this connection, see? We're both “outdoor cats.”

I have learned that much, some cats live in the house and some only show up for meals.


Be RevolutionaryIt helps we both keep the same, fluid, tending-towards-late hours.

It helps that when he wants to escape I'm the one around to let him out.

But I think it helps most I can see the space he needs to keep about himself, to understand, and to share that reflex.


I frequently wind up at the end of the night with the phone near enough the pillow to reach. Its a habit left over from my Support days, but also my alarm clock and at some point I'm going to need to turn the damn thing off.

That does mean however I have a camera at hand each morning when I find he's crashed out against my legs.

Seven years old again.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the very thing the internet was invented for, displaying pictures of cats:

Curled Up Sofa

Crashed Upside Down


Sunday is our last night.

I have the loosest of plans and no return ticket.

Tomorrow Radiohead and Beck are playing in the park.

A visit to my cousin in San Diego has been threatened (in both directions - “You know I'm going to have to.” “You better!”)

The “experience” of a hostel in the Mission or the Tenderloin is tempting.

A trip home is in the works, and a shot at the Century loop on what will be my tenth MS 150.

A new place is lined up in a couple week's time, but until then that chaos is freedom.

Definitely an outdoor cat.

The Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco, CA

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lynx3 Motion Detection

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Eulogy for Pop-pop

My GrandfatherPop-pop was my hero.

I say "Pop-pop" because that's the only name I've ever known him by. But I call him my hero, because of all the people I've met in all my life, the one more than any other, whom I can point to and say, "Wow. I would love to be just like him someday." - that's Pop-pop.

People who knew him would see him and say, "Gus, how do you do it? You're into your nineties, but you've got more pep and vigor than plenty of people a quarter century your junior. What's your secret?"

I knew. He told me. He told everyone he met. Many times.

"Be happy... every, every day."

MachinistWhen I think of the my grandfather, some of my favourite memories start with exploring his basement as a very young child. The cellar of a machinist, its walls were lined with shelves of strange tools and objects, filled with furniture being repaired, jars of nuts and bolts, and all sorts of wonderful things to discover.

I remember the clubhouse he and my father built from scratch in our backyard, which we played in for years as children.

I remember the catapult he built, which I used for my seventh grade physics class at Springton Lake. That was after my cousin Susan had used it for her... seventh grade physics class at Springton Lake. Just before my sister Dana... used it for her seventh grade physics class at Springton Lake. Last I heard it was bouncing around between the neighborhood kids. I wouldn't be surprised if someone handed it in again this year.

I remember after I was able to drive, spending summer days mowing his lawn. The lawn would only take half an hour, but I'd spend the next three at his kitchen table, listening to stories of the old days. How he ended up with his tattoo - instead of the one he wanted. His first job at a barbershop. How my grandmother quit her job two weeks after they got married, and about a burnt meatloaf.

Weightlifting DaysI remember him taking off his jacket, getting out on that dance floor, and radiating pure joy at his 90th birthday party.

And Pop-pop was smooth. He could get a hug and a kiss from any girl in the room and make her feel twice as good as him for giving it.

But most of all I remember his smile, and the laugh, which we saw and heard so often.

I tell these stories because sharing them makes me feel good. So if any of you find yourself having a hard time today, getting a bit caught up, or are feeling down, come and find me. Tell me your stories. The ones you remember about him, or the ones he might have told you. We'll both end up feeling better.

The only thing truly sad about today is how much he would have wanted to be here. To see you all, the people who touched his life, and whose lives he touched.

But he wouldn't have wanted anyone to be sad today. He would have wanted everyone to be happy... every, every day.

Be Happy... Every, Every Day

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Backstage at Korn

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Life at the End of the Pier

The married couple makes it to the gate before me.


Life at the End of the PierHe steps in front to swipe the gate, opening it for his wife. He looks up to see me, and I notice the same kind of calculation pass behind his eyes as clerks get when I buy beer with my groceries. "Do I card him or let him go? "Do I hold the gate or make him swipe himself in?"

Its a fair question. Its well after dark and there's an issue of security. Maybe I don't belong here. I might have timed my approach to sneak in. I could disappear down a finger and break in to steal somebody's property. If he has a swipe he must have a berth and it might be his own boat next time someone slips past. After a half second delay a decision is reached. He returns my hello and opts for a compromise by handing me the door instead of holding it open.

They're both dressed like they're out for a fine meal, and probably just ate at the Lobster Club here at the marina. I'm wearing an old jumper and have just shifted my clothes into the dryer. They want to enjoy their evening promenade out on the water. I want to blitz past and attend to the other half dozen chores I need to wrap up before driving back to Auckland. Of course I can no more rudely brush past than they could have slammed the gate shut in my face.

I'm a fast walker when I've got somewhere to go, and have to keep stopping to give them a comfortable lead as we cover the block-and-a-half walk from the water's edge to the end of the pier where I'm berthed. Having hoped they'd duck into one of the first couple launched that line either side, it becomes apparent as we run out of boats that they're walking all the way to the end too. They aren't going to visit a boat at all.

Starboard Porthole at Tauranga Bridge MarinaBut wait. Of course not. Its a gorgeous night. A bit of a breeze is blowing, but the sky is clear and the air carries no chill, despite the season. I pardon myself as I duck around the corner and we exchange glances as I step onto deck. They smile as they realise I was behind them the whole time. I smile as it dawns on me their idea of a scenic stroll is just the walkway to my front door. Moments like this help to remind. Its too easy to take for granted sometimes, this life at the end of the pier.

Its been some eight months since I started "living aboard" and already quite an experience, though less of the kind originally hoped for. Engine problems and dodgy mechanics laid me up in Gisborne for the majority, leaving me homeless and living at hostels and couch-surfing just to stay available for work. That much turned around by help from Ian, the previous owner, who pitched in physically and financially to see things put right.

The same period has seen off the last of the friends I made during my first two and three years living in New Zealand, and many more of the ones I've made since. They've all moved away to try their own hands at life abroad. Its been a trying time, fortunately made smoother by new players stepping onto the stage.

Departing GisborneSummer may have faded but so have the feelings of frustration and being taken advantage of. The heaviest weights were left behind when the last sun set on that city.

In the end, the passage around East Cape was no real challenge, just a pleasurable cruise through calm waters and a clear horizon for the duration. Brani, a work associate, answered the call when the right timing and circumstance managaged to come together. We flew out on a Friday and picked up groceries and alcohol for the trip. A few bits and bobs from the hardware store later all of the last-minute handy work was complete, and we set off.

We started making good time right away and by nightfall were in good spirits, the lights of Gisborne long since past to the southwest. Suddenly the glow from same the red warning light basked the cockpit, once again staring at me like an angry bloodshot eye. This time I just flicked the circuit back on, checked the oil level down below, and verified the batteries all looked good because I knew the alternator wouldn't have been charging through the isolator while the switch was off. The defining moment everything going wrong Halloween night became the moment I earned a sense of accomplishment from being properly prepared with knowledge of the vessel.

Dolphin CloseupDawn broke the next morning as we approached East Cape itself, and we were greeted by scores of dolphins, perhaps three or four full pods, who dove around and between all three hulls of the boat for an entire hour in the morning light. It was a spectacular way to greet the day, and became the highlight of the trip.

Into the Bay of PlentyThe rest of the day passed with ease. A light wind carried us along and we waved at a handful of small yachts fishing just beyond the mouth of Hicks Bay. With cell phone coverage blocked by the mountain slopes in the distance, there was nothing to do but unwind and relax. The sun shone bright and warm, pure t-shirt and shorts weather as we passed into the Bay of Plenty.

Red StreamAs the second day underway came to a close the BBQ was fired up and a feast was made of the two Teriyaki steaks in the fridge. There was the thinnest sliver of moon in the sky, leaving the horizon once again dark on all sides. The water was soon full of phosphorescence, tiny specks of green light shining in the water as the hull passed over them. Lazily watching them pass below the trampolines complemented the morning's dolphins like matching bookends.

First Light Sunrise at White Island

In the Light White Star

Finally ArrivedThe third day dawned behind White Island, an active volcano. The light lit the horizon in brilliant yellow, orange, and red strokes of colour, as though the island was errupting at that very moment. It wasn't long before Mount Maunganui appeared on the horizon and we could just make out parachutists gliding on top the thermals that rise from its peak.

Entering the channel which led to the Marina was a bit nerve-wracking, as the trip to that point had gone so perfectly well and this was the only questionable part of the journey. There's a dangerous rip making it only possible to enter or leave the port on a slack tide - exactly at high or low tide. As it was approaching 5pm on a Sunday, every boatie out on the water on this gorgeous day was trying to make it back in at the same time. Otherwise they'd be stuck until the next change of tide at 11 o'clock at night.

Having gone from the only vessel for hours in any direction to being thrust into this heavy traffic required a bit of adjustment. We eventually arrived at the marina without incident and radioed in for a guide to lead us to the new berth as I had never seen it in person. With a little help from a fellow who would soon be making his own way back towards Napier, Triple Vision was soon secured, leaving Brani enough time to catch the last bus to Auckland.

To the victor goes the spoilsI was to stay aboard for an extra couple days, cleaning everything and seeing to paperwork for the marina. I had another reason too. Many months prior, in the midst of all the trouble and turmoil happening in Gisborne, I had promised myself a nice meal after I had made the passage. Nothing would fill the craving like a Venison Stone Grill from a favourite downtown restaurant. I had already showered while waiting for tide, and after three days at sea stepped onto land clean and ready for town. What a brilliant way to travel.