Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Batman vs Superman

Of course, SPOILERS follow.

Ok, so, here goes my second film review. Having seen the film twice now, I feel I am ready to work my way through it. Perhaps I should do this for any film I review, since at the second viewing I often find myself more relaxed and able to take everything in. In any case, before I get into it, I want to make a statement: if you know me, you know I am far more of a Batman fan than a Superman one. I won’t go to deeply into the reasons here; suffice it to say that I just feel that Superman is often not an interesting character. So, this may have coloured my impressions slightly.

I’ll start with some objections to the film that I have read, and then talk about some of the things that I liked.

One of the common ones, and my least favourite, is that the film isn’t funny enough. I knew going in that it was going to be a more serious film than other contemporary super hero blockbusters, influenced by the style Nolan became famous for in his trilogy. I am okay with this. I think that Batman as a character lends himself well to that world, and doesn’t need to be played for laughs. I’m prepared to sink into the seedy underbelly of Gotham. After all, it’s why Batman exists. Superman, on the other hand: I can see why Superfans are less loving of the darker take on the Man of Steel, but I think it’s a logical one to take if the ‘realism’ of what would happen in a world containing such men is to be explored. That’s what DC set out to do, and it makes for a lot of thoughtful cinema.

(NB: if it’s humour you want, the Lego Batman film, due out next year, looks like it could be just the ticket. And don’t mention the Suicide Squad reshoots. Grrr.)

Another objection, which I have touched on above, is that the film is not a true representation of the characters. While the Batman in the film is very close to some of the interpretations in comic form that I have read, I can see that, again, Superman is less so. However, I don’t think the way that they have gone about interpreting the character is inauthentic. The examination of the pair again comes from a desire to explore the way that having these events, powers, and abilities play out in ‘real life’ would affect the men and women involved. And of course, the characters themselves are always evolving, always there to be reimagined and reworked. In this sense, I feel that the movie does a good job.

Kevin Smith commented that the movie had no heart, later saying that the heart was to be found in the viewer of the movie. Now, when it comes to comics and movies, Kevin knows his shit, but it’s hard to define heart in an objective way. I think perhaps he meant that the movie didn’t pull you in, in an emotional sense, didn’t really connect you to the characters. I am not so sure about this. I have never really felt connected to Superman, but I felt for him in this film, in the sense that emotionally and mentally, he is a normal man, but the expectations on him are so large because of his physical powers. Even when he tries to do the right thing, he is criticised. And he has to control himself every day, all the time, while subject to taunts and vitriol, because the slightest flash of anger could kill.

I also understood Bruce Wayne’s point of view, his sense of fatigue after years of fighting crime, losing friends, seeing good men go bad; he sees a new threat, so immensely dangerous and powerful, and he is compelled to act. His anger, his motivation, is understandable, and so is the fact that by the end of the film, he sees Clark Kent for what he is: a man struggling with the responsibility he’s been given. The friendship and understanding between these two men is at the core of the Justice League, which of course this movie leads into.

I’ll comment on the JL tie-ins here, because I know some people felt they were shoehorned, that the movie was trying too hard, packing too much in. That the footage of the other characters was little more than an advert. I disagree with this. I think the tie in to the LexCorp research is logical, and fits with what we saw of Lex Luthor. It was a nice little teaser to the stand-alone movies. Admittedly, DC has been forced to play catch up when it comes to the JL movies, but I feel like as long as they focus on the core of their characters without worrying too much about what Marvel are doing, they’ll do a good job.

The Knightmare sequence, which it has been suggested may be a timeboom rather than a dream, I thought was excellent. The action was good and visually, it worked. It tied in with Bruce’s fears about Superman, while hinting at worse things to come. Sure, if it hadn’t been in the movie, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the storyline, but I like the aesthetic and the foreshadowing of bigger, badder things to come.

In terms of the acting, Henry Cavill was solid, and I really liked Eisenberg’s turn as Lex Luthor. Amy Adams made me like Lois Lane more than I usually do, and Jeremy Irons might just be my favourite Alfred so far. Gal Gadot was excellent as Wonder Woman (and as Diana Prince); she managed to convey the confidence and cool of a woman who’s seen it all and then some, showing determination and even amusement in the fight with Doomsday. It’s good to see a strong female superhero.

Now, I was one of those who bitched and whined when I heard about the decision to cast Affleck as Batman, and I have to say, I was wrong. After thinking about it, post rant, I realised I’d been wrong before, about Bale, about Ledger, and so I scaled back the nerd rage and decided to give the man a chance. And he didn’t disappoint. I really like the way he captured the anger and intensity of a Batman who’s right in the grey area between hero and desperado. I liked the batsuit, too, and the way he moved when wearing it.

Doomsday as a character is not really worth saying much about. He is a gigantic monster, a foil for the big three to rally against. He served his purpose well enough, roaring and spitting lightning. As for the death of Supes: I get that it was needed, I get that it shows the true nature of the threat, it ties in to the comic, and it provides a focal point for the rallying of the Justice League. At the same time, it was hard to feel too sad, because we all know he’s coming back. However, perhaps the manner of his return will be important in a future movie. Let’s wait and see.

One thing I didn’t like about the film was trailer fatigue. We saw way too much in the trailers, and there weren’t too many surprises held back. There weren’t many wow moments. This is a shame. It would have been a good idea to keep Doomsday or even Wonder Woman a secret; as it was, there weren’t many moments when I went ‘whoa’, or ‘that was totally unexpected and cool’. The bomb in the wheelchair was perhaps the biggest one.

I was also worried about seeing Batman’s origin again, but it tied in well with the later connection to Martha Kent, and the thing that made Bruce see Clark as a man. I think this made sense in the context of the development of the relationship between the two, which I have touched on already.

The action sequences were good. The movie was Batman-heavy in that regard, which is a plus in my book. The Batmobile chase scene was exciting and inventive, and even addressed a key weakness of the car raised in The Dark Knight. The warehouse scene was excellent, without a doubt one of the best Batman action sequences seen on film, and the type of thing I love. The ruthlessness and brutality of Batman, along with his innovative and relentless fighting style, were fantastic. The battle between the heroes and Doomsday was good, as much as for seeing Wonder Woman in action as for anything else. Batman diving around trying to avoid being squashed was also kind of funny. The title bout was good, quite well done given the ultimate problem of any fight between the two, but I did feel it could have been more grandiose. Maybe I was expecting it to be too much like The Dark Knight Returns, which is a great comic, and a definite inspiration, but not the sum total of what the movie was aiming to be.

So, overall, how do I rate this film? It’s hard to know how well it will stand up over time, but I can see myself watching it again once every few years. I wasn’t blown away, but I did enjoy it, and I like the action, the aesthetics, and the way it sets up for things to come. Therefore, I give it a 7 out of 10.


Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Great Flag Debate


Today the results of the New Zealand flag referendum were released, and we’ve opted to stay with the current flag, for the time being at least. I say ‘we’, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t permitted to vote. I applied to vote, but I’ve been living out of the country for too long for my opinion to be valid, it seems. Not long enough to avoid being chased for debt, but long enough not to be allowed to have a say in this important matter. But that’s another story.
In any case, the flag remains the same. Had I been able to vote, I would have chosen – well, you’ll see my thoughts if you keep reading, which I assume is why you’re here.
The arguments for and against changing the flag (at least the ones I heard) were as below, along with a few other relevant points:
  1. It looks like a beach towel. I never really liked this argument, and honestly it could be applied equally to either flag. As you can put literally any image on a beach towel, I found this to be a pointless thing to say.
  2. Our flag looks too much like Australia’s flag. True, although depending on how you define it, ours has been around longer, so maybe theirs is the one that should change. I find it strange, though, that we should consider such an important thing as changing the flag in relation to how we are perceived by others. What I mean is, why does it matter if our flag looks like Australia’s? Any self-respecting kiwi should have learned to identify the flag in their youth, and outsiders are going to compare us to Australia no matter how our flags look.
  3. We want the flag to be individual. Again, our flag isn’t ‘unique’ enough. I don’t really get the obsession with being different from everyone else. Poland and Monaco have basically the same flag, and you don’t see them getting bent out of shape about it. Just google ‘flags that look similar’ to find other examples.
  4. John’s Key’s personal crusade: let’s face it, he wanted to change the flag, so he could be known as the man who changed the flag. It would distract so well from all the terrible decisions he’d made while in office, and leave him some kind of legacy beyond hair pulling. As has been pointed out, though, the money could have been better spent. I’m not against spending money on issues like these when the time is right, but the time was not right, and Key failed (or refused) to see that.
  5. The Silver Fern: let’s put the silver fern on the flag. Another aspect championed by Mr Key, to the extent that most of the shortlisted designs had the fern on them. I get that most of us love the All Blacks, but they (and other sporting teams) don’t represent the interests of the entire country. We’re about more than sport. And I get that the fern is a plant which doesn’t grow anywhere else, but so is rangiora.
  6. Getting rid of the Union Jack: New Zealanders are fiercely independent, and despite that fact that we’re still part of the Commonwealth, and have to have our laws signed off by a Governor General, many of us dislike being thought of as a British colony. I don’t think that this historical (and current) connection is a bad thing, and I don’t think it can be erased simply by changing the flag. That kind of change must come in law, and an alteration to our national ensign is a bit like papering over a deeper crack. To my mind, the removal of the Union Jack would be more appropriate when NZ finally becomes a republic and/or leaves the influence of the Queen behind. This takes me to my next point.
  7. The timing was wrong. For me, as I said, the flag change should happen when NZ becomes truly independent (which I believe is inevitable). Countries change their flags after moments of great turmoil and upheaval. South Africa changed theirs to help the country move past the horrors of apartheid. Rwanda changed theirs after the 1994 genocide. Were we supposed to change ours because we didn’t like the way it looked?
  8. I think at the root of the flag argument is the fact that New Zealand is a young country, still struggling with its own identity, still trying to define itself and be represented on the world stage. But that’s also why I think we should wait to change the flag. We don’t appear to know ourselves well enough yet to be able to devise a meaningful flag. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, just that we’ve yet to fully define our own path, set our own agenda, even integrate our own peoples. We can’t even decide to call ourselves all New Zealanders without reference to whether we’re Maori or non-Maori. It’s no bad thing to wait until we are more unified and collected as a people to decide on our national symbols.
  9. Let’s be honest, many of us didn’t take it seriously. Laser Kiwi, anyone?
  10. World Wars, and all that. One of the most common comments I saw was that somebody’s grandfather fought and/or died for the flag. I have to say, while I understand people’s feelings of respect and honour towards those who went to war for us, let’s be honest, they didn’t do it for the flag. They did it for the people they loved, the country they loved, or out of a sense of duty. In fact, a lot of men still considered themselves to be a part of Britain, and went to fight for her unhesitatingly during the first and second world wars. So it’s hard to say that they were thinking of the national colours rather than their wives and families when they stepped on to foreign soil with rifles in their hands. Of course, I don’t really know what they were thinking, but I know what I would have thought if it were me. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to those men to want to have a flag which represents our national identity; that freedom of expression is one of the very things they fought for.

To sum up, my principal objection to the flag change was that the timing was wrong. The flag should be changed when the country becomes fully its own, and when we have a better idea of who we are as a people. I also think it was a costly exercise, started for the wrong reasons. I have no doubt that the flag will change one day, and I have no objection to this. But we’re stuck with old four-starred Jack for now, and I’m just fine with that.

Monday, 14 March 2016

A brief sojourn, in South America

Rio

The sky outside the windows is red fire, nature elemental, obscured only by the curve of a man’s head as he reclines his seat. I massage the small of my back and shift in my seat, trying to ease the pressure on my tailbone. Outside and to the right, the clouds cover expanses of green, part momentarily, and close again.
The day is warm and close. I step into a cab without haggling, and watch the world go by. The driver never indicates, part one of the strange thing they call ‘culture’ here. Outside, the world is derelict; half-built or half-maintained, buildings fall apart before they are obscured by partitions erected at the side of the highway. A graffito declares ‘Rio 450 anos corruptos politicos’. Others are drawings underneath flyovers, in impossible places. As we slow, men sell popcorn strung around their necks. The police sit with their red lights on, and watch the traffic.
Mercifully, I am allowed to check in early, instead of spending hours nervously carting my bag of beautiful possessions around an unfamiliar city. I shower, cold water only, and snooze, unable to get the AC working.
I ask directions to the beach, which is easy to find. In the midday sun I walk as slowly as possible, limping from shade to shade. The beach bars offer more shade, food which has the same names as food I know, but different consistencies. I eat, and drink, and watch the waves crash in and out. I pay and leave, a big tip? Who knows? I walk, new jandals cutting slightly. In the sand leading down to the sun chairs they have laid hose pipe with small holes, which keeps the sand wet and cool enough to tread.
Along the waterfront people ride bikes and jog, which is hard to believe in this heat. Half the men I see disdain shirts. Old men and women are turned brown with the sun, crinkly, dried out like fruit, or maybe tough and protected. Other people are at work, hauling carts or shifting produce. I want one of those drinks which is basically just a cut open coconut, but I don’t order one. I wander back to the hotel and wash the sand off my feet.

Rio is beautiful in that European way, with grand vistas and mountains, while much of the pavement is dilapidated and smells of piss.
My friends are here. Instead of taking a cab, I decide to walk. It’s half an hour, but the night is warm and I like to walk. I stroll (see: power walk) along the Copacabana, under shady trees and past shady characters. I am accosted by a whore; she asks for a light and then rubs herself against me unceremoniously. Rebuffed, she asks if I’m gay. I tell her I have a girlfriend, the lie covering the truth: I don’t feel like risking HIV or a mugging.
I arrive at the hotel unscathed, embrace my friends, receive candy. We go up to the roof, drink caipirinhas, and survey the beach at night. The world is beautiful, from up here.

The next day I visit giant stone Jesus, along with thousands of others. He stares down across the city with either benevolence or indifference. The holes in his hands are fake: they don’t go all the way through. I wonder how big a cross would have been needed to crucify a giant stone Jesus.
The tour van stops outside the Maracana in the baking heat. I buy water which would be cheap in London but is expensive here. The guy knows what he’s doing. There’s a statue of a famous footballer holding the World Cup aloft but not looking thrilled about it. In front of the statue a man poses in a Brazil shirt, taking money from people for pictures of him with a football. I snap one of the statue without him, and go to stand in the shade.

We drive past people in the street; a young boy mimes shooting an old man in the face, the old man looks both horrified and disgusted. He steps forward.
We pass on, around the lagoon, where people jog in the afternoon heat, without breaking a sweat. I retreat to the hotel and apply more sunscreen, make my way to the roof, and sloth about in the pool. From there I can see a mountain, in the deep curve of which, if I stand on tip toes, I can see over to Jesus, guarding the city.
Later, I message my friends and we have drinks and catch cabs up to Pão de Açúcar. My friends fall asleep in the back, well-travelled as they are. The mountain is at its grandest when you cannot see it; perched atop the hill we ignore the visitor centre and take handfuls of photos. I know in my heart they’ll always be a pale imitation of the sights which flood into my eyes, and the happiness I feel here, with my friends around me. Tomorrow, I will fly from the little airport; we see the planes bank hard and sweep in to land, and then we get in the capsule and head back down to the ground.

Porto Alegre

I fly in and cruise to the hotel, find an exquisite room with patio doors which aren’t supposed to open but do, and take snaps of the view. My friends and I go up to the pool and dick around; the water is warm and waist high.
We head out for dinner, walking in the evening heat to a local mall. On the way in, we see a castle surrounded by a massive ball pit. The question is raised: can we play? The answer is yes. We take our jandals off and pile in. We tackle each other, dive around, throw balls, and generally act like happy idiots. I feel dirty, exhilarated, and tired all at the same time.
Dinner is excellent: meat and slabs of melted cheese, and beer to wash it down. I ask how to say toothpick in Portuguese.

The big day arrives. We dress for the wedding, and the boys and I head down for a gathering of men tying ties. There’s tapas and whisky, and joie de vivre. David had brought presents from Australia, for the groom: a digeridoo, a boomerang, a stuffed koala.
We jump in cabs and head to the venue, a beautiful deck overlooking the river, blue skies and a mild breeze. The ceremony is lovely, and even though we don’t speak the language, we get choked up when Alex and Carol say their vows.
The reception is amazing. There’s great food, dancing, and plenty of booze. My friends and I dance like maniacs, and don’t feel ashamed. The waiters top drinks up with skill and timing, fuelling the carnival atmosphere. Samba dancers and musicians arrive, ramping up the tempo even further. Ties and high heels are discarded, as are inhibitions. We donate money and receive pieces of the groom’s tie; we throw the bride and groom into the air, almost recklessly. People are happy and friendly.
Later in the evening, there are cigars and whisky, and quiet conversation. Six hours have flown past, more quickly than I could have imagined. We head back to the hotel, and drink another drink, before heading to bed.

The day after is blissfully lazy. We invited to the bride’s father’s house for drinks, conversation, and some of the best barbecue you have ever tasted. Salted beef, and pork with crackling. Even the potato salad is amazing. We chat and sit in the shade, made to feel so welcome and so at ease.

Buenos Aires

I arrive in the middle of the day and leave my luggage at the desk, too tired to worry about taking my laptop and passport with me. I saunter down sun-baked streets, in search of a reputable ATM and adventure.
The Plaza de Mayo is covered in sun, and some tourists. There are banners and political graffiti around, and I feel safe, but edgy. There’s a famous monument, and a church. I stop in for a rest and some cool air. If there were candles, I would have lit one for my mother, but there are not. I wander the city, blend in; people hand me flyers for things I can’t read. I walk up to another large monument, find a café, and have lunch.
Later, after I have been able to check in and drop my bags, I wander the city some more, and have dinner; the café is charming in an unassuming way, and I watch football teams whose names I don’t know while I eat. The game is frenetic; I sip cold beer and eat slowly. Well, slowly by my standards.

The next day I ask how to use the tube and ride it to the zoo. The place is almost deserted; it’s a weekday and cold by their standards (18 degrees). I finally see elephants after years of trying (well, intermittently trying), and they are beautiful, if bored.
I visit the Cementerio de Recoleta, which is amazing in a sad way. Some of the tombs are majestic, others unkempt. As I pass one by, I am sure I can see the white of a skull in a broken coffin. I wander around, taking photographs, and leave again soon, tired of thinking about death.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city; it’s European, with Spanish, Italian, French, even English influences on the architecture. The grid system reminds me in places of New York, which can only be a favourable comparison. I feel more comfortable here, given that my small amount of Spanish is much better than my small amount of Portuguese.

Praia de Pipa

I awaken at 3am and take a cab to the airport, flying to Natal airport via Rio. The time passes quickly enough, and soon I arrive. Noah and Helen have waited several hours for me, drinking and playing cards, so we can take the hour and a half cab ride together. For this, I am extremely grateful.
We arrive late, and miss the sunset. Our friends have been chilling and drinking all day; I’d expect nothing less. We have a drink and walk back across rickety planks, back to the pousada to drop off our bags and take an evening swim. I practice my diving and my floating. Life is as good as it’s ever been in that moment.
The pousada is quiet and lovely, with a beach view to break your heart. At night, I talk with Lisa and David, and sip red wine.

The next day is stormy and wet, but still warm. We muck about, wander into the town, past restaurants and shops full of beer, sunscreen, and jandals. We find a restaurant nestled back from the road, amid a cooling cover of trees, and we eat. The food is fantastic, like everything here.
That evening, two of us leave. I bid them farewell, sit back down with a lump in my throat, sip vodka and coke. The rest of us chat, and tell stories.

In the morning I eat breakfast, cooked personally by Vera, the pousada’s owner. She also makes fresh smoothies every day, with berries from a tree in her garden. I laze about in the hammock, and then we wander down to the beach. The ocean is choppy, but so warm; I cannot help but jump in. It’s been far too long since I was in the ocean.
We sit about under umbrellas, and take pictures of sand crabs scuttling out of holes in the sand. Time passes slowly and quickly at the same time. We leave the beach and go riding quadbikes, an idea I am nervous about at first but quickly learn to love. The drive is thrilling, the scenery almost too much to take in. We pass rafts ferrying cars across a river, local kids playing football. It would be fun to join in, if time permitted, and if they wouldn’t put us to shame.
I head back to the pousada to relax for a while and change. Vera tells me, I am not alone. I will always remember her saying it. We converse in broken English, and I go up to spend an hour snoozing in my hammock. I decide I need a hammock, when I get around to buying a house.
Dinner that night is excellent, topped off by a game of poker using improvised chips: acorns, matches, and pinecones. I am terrible at poker, and always will be.

Noah and Helen leave the next morning, and it’s another day at the beach for Alex, Carol and I, and more swimming. Or, more being smashed around by waves. I get sunburn, but what the hell. Time does that thing is does once more, swimming away out of reach. We head out later for dinner, and talk about learning languages and having ambition. The cause of all suffering, is desire.


The next day is the last. We eat breakfast and take a ride to the airport. If I had my way, I’d have been two hours early; instead I trust the locals and we arrive in perfect time. I hug my friends, and head inside to catch my flight home. I think about the trip: one of the best I’ve ever had, and over far too soon.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Snap shots of New York City - Part III

Times Square

A man dressed as Spiderman looks at his phone, wanders, looks at his phone. Maybe he really is Spiderman, waiting for people to save. Spidey-sense: we have an app for that.

Behind me an old man sits, black skin contrasting a long white beard. He has a blue beanie and a straw coming out of his mouth. He sits comfortably, leaned back, one leg over the other. A plastic bag and a disposable cup of coffee rest on the table in front of him. The tables here are red and made of steel.

There are more people dressed up here, running around. Minions, Hulk, Predator. I can’t figure out what the hell they’re doing. Lure the kids in, then Predator jumps out to scare them? That would be entertaining. The air is chilly but easily tolerable, the breeze light. My back hurts so I sit some more, look at my watch. In my left back pocket is a bunch of change I’ll give away.

Further behind me a Latino man in a black hoodie and blue baseball cap sits, a bag between his feet, a phone sideways in his hands. He leans on the table, taps the buttons. A cord snakes up to his ears.

A family use a selfie stick, a white-haired lady and probably her son; neon is the backdrop, but that’s true almost anywhere you look here. The square wears a false skin, made of light.

Two cops wander by, discussing the time in the loud way New Yorkers talk. One hangs his hat from his belt. I look at my watch as they stand, confidently, kings of the city. There are a lot of them. I am a Londoner. I am a New Zealander disguised as a Londoner. I am a New Zealander disguised as a Londoner disguised as a New Yorker. I want to be everything. Well, not everything.

A guy dressed as Elmo walks by on my right. His Elmo laugh is creepy.

In the middle of Times Square is a US Armed Forces recruiting station, with Old Glory brightly-lit on the side. That, and the barrage of flashing advertisements, endless unceasing, are all you need to know about Times Square. That, and the people, so many of them dressed up; so many of them cops. I think about going into Starbucks. Maybe later.

The floats don’t get down this way until gone nine o’clock. I could’ve slept in. The guide said arrive at seven am for a good spot. I said, you must be ’avin’ a bubble.

I don’t talk to the pigeons, not yet. I sit up and rub my back. I wonder if the ihop is open today.

People talk in that way that’s normal here. it’s hard to come to New York and then complain about American accents. My phone tells me the word of the day is gormandize. It couldn’t be more appropriate.

The Rail Line Diner, Part Two

At the table across from me they discuss politics: the evils of Donald Trump, the blatant racism of Fox News. He wears a red hoodie, and has a beard. He talks of ideological differences. He scratches his face and declares: ‘If Trump wins I’m moving to Canada.’ I can’t hear what she says. They refuse more coffee, and leave.


There’s a ball game on TV. Philadelphia – Detroit. Tempting to stay and watch, even. But the TVs face the opposite direction to the tables. The food is good – as usual it’s a lot. I control myself – a little. The waitress is friendly, attentive. She drops off the cheque. ‘Happy holidays. Spend it with your family. Have a few drinks but don’t get drunk.’ I smile. Maybe I will.

Central Park

Central Park is unseasonably busy, due to the unseasonably warm weather (there’s still ice skating though). I buy a hot dog from a vendor. As I wait, the vendor gives a man some ice, free of charge, for his son who bumped his head. I walk past the rocks and the water, and find a seat. I think about reading my book.

A guy plays guitar, and sings. Wild Horses, All Along the Watchtower, Stairway to Heaven. His voice is gritty, his beard long, and he is happy. He collects tips in a suitcase with water bottles atop. In my back pocket, my change digs into my butt.

If I lived in New York, I’d miss all the grass. Sure, it has grass, but most of it is caged.

People take pictures and throw bread to the ducks (even though it’s bad for them), and then take pictures of the ducks. I have jumped on the picture wagon. I have five or six of Central Park, which I’ll put on my computer and never look at again. I really should rename the images so they make sense when I’m older, but aint nobody got time for that.

Selfie sticks. Whatever happened to holding the camera? They must be a city invention. Do we mistrust all strangers, or are we alone so much? Is this progress?

If I lived in New York I would walk its streets for hours.

The player stops playing. On the bench next to me, girls discuss… something. Look at pictures of cats, make dinner plans. I find them attractive and repulsive at the same time. Is it my fault? I look at my watch.

People feed squirrels. I guess that’s a novelty. I was glad to see black ones at the zoo, so it’s one more life experience in the bag, I guess. The squirrel runs behind the bench. The girls comment on it, then ignore it. Or is that me? Beside me, a toddler shushes herself and points at the squirrel. (My friend’s dog is fine with people, but barks at toddlers. What does that mean?) The girls out down empty ice tea cups. One wears mittens and light brown boots, and waits to catch me looking at her. She is the prettier one and probably used to it. The other one wears jeans and a short brown coat. They get up and walk off. I think that I might not be cool, but at least I don’t wear mittens.

A girl with a hat slashed with dark green flowers walks past; her hair matches the hat, and you can’t help but see it. She pretends to hat attention. She talks to her friends in a voice at once fast and slow. The guitar man still isn’t playing, but there’s some kind of brass instrument from somewhere. The green girl and her friends walk on up the slope; she seems a little self-conscious about her weight, the way she moves (I can tell). But, it might be my assumption; the way she’s dressed, it’s perfect for autumn weather.

More photos of ducks and scenery, with expensive cameras. A heavy man in a grey and black tracksuit sits down next to me. I hope he doesn’t want to talk. I am getting hungry, so I decide to leave. I head towards 59th Street, but it will be another hour before I eat.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Snap shots of New York City - Part II

Malibu Diner

I think the man who serves me is the owner of the place, if such a thing is likely. Or has worked here so long he feels he has shares. Soft-spoken (for a New Yorker), polite, well-dressed, confident. He moves with the ease of years, the face of a man who has seen the seasons tick by messy (and hasn’t let it break him). His maroon shirt is smooth and spotless, his tie straight.

At the counter a man sits; there is a high ledge for feet so when I look at him, it looks like he’s squatting. He talks into a cellphone, promises details tomorrow. The phone is an older model; so are his shoes.

A group of men bustle in, count themselves, walk past me to a table for six. They wear puffy coats and baseball caps for teams from other cities. The girl at the cashier’s station is slim, her hair dark, pulled up in a bun. Her leggings are black with roses all over, or some kind of flower. She’s good at her job, but it’s not a hard job. The hardest part is the politeness, and the hours of standing. But she is used to it.

I have no idea how the diner got its name. Nothing about it screams Malibu, and the décor is more like something from the eighties, white and brown and blue and grey. Still, it works. I feel like the place has been around for a while, and that’s no insult in a town like this. Though the menu needs Ramsay-ing.

The Rail Line Diner

A guy wearing an olive-green beanie in an already-warm diner looks up at me suspiciously as I enter. I wonder if he’s a regular. Or is it the brand new Yankees hat? Depending on the situation I am either frightened or determined to be known as a tourist.

The waitress saves me money by pointing out a special. I then blow the extra money on extra food I didn’t need. She gives me a look, like I know I didn’t need it, and she knows I know. Whatever, it’s all money for you, love. If I lived in New York I would die of a heart attack by age forty.

The coffee cup is square on the outside and round in the middle. I’ve not seen anything like it, which is unusual in a mug. The cashier and the waiter converse en español. I like this diner - more than the others. It’s great. But they don’t have home fries so I went with waffle fries (or do they? I was too English to ask). I wonder about the name, the Rail Line, but don’t ask about that either. I wonder when I’ll need to find an ATM. Tomorrow, at this rate.

The waitress offers me more coffee when my cup is still two-thirds full. If I lived in New York I would drink coffee 24/7.

A man comes in pushing one of those walkers that is also a chair, eyes my breakfast derisively, removes something from the walker, sits down. He, too, wears a beanie inside. It’s a Mets beanie. Maybe that was the reason for the look. But they don’t have the same kill-each-other rivalry over sports, here. That’s reserved for religion and skin colour.

The waitress addressed him warmly, asks if he wants the usual, which he does.

The man eats fast and then he’s gone. His cough was wet and raspy. I’m glad I only heard it once.

39th Street

I’m walking off lunch, up towards 42nd Street. A man in a turban approaches me, spouts psychic statements, Barnum statements. Apparently I have a lucky face. What about the rest of me?, I wonder. He has white hairs embedded in a long black beard. He does a trick with numbers and colours. He asks me questions, hands me little trinkets and pieces of paper. Asks me about my mother. I don’t want to talk about my mother with this man. I walk away. He drops the things I handed back to him.

Uptown A Express

Four young black men get on. I can tell from their behaviour they’re about to put on a show. One of them speaks in a soft voice. Asks me if I’m a cop. I wonder if I really look like a cop. I consider telling the kid that the old myth about cops having to tell you if you ask them is b.s. Then I figure maybe it was a trick to make me feel happy, get change. I was planning on giving them change anyway. The show is good in close quarters, even if the speakers cut out a few times, or an old lady thought she nearly got kicked in the face.

The local A takes a long time to come and when it comes, it’s an express, so I change for the 1. The platform stinks but the font is beautiful. I ride the 1 two stops. A homeless man sleeps across the seats, a duvet but no shoes. Another man bops his head to music I cannot hear. I write this standing up.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Sarah

Last week I attended a session of the Natural Born Storytellers. This is a night run by a friend of mine, where people get up and tell stories from their lives, based around the theme for that meeting. It’s funny, poignant, and sometimes crude, in equal measure. The theme for the evening this time was Failed Attempts. I didn’t tell a story that evening, but one did spring to mind and, as I feel my stories are better told (or at least I am better at telling them) through the written word, I had the idea to tell mine here.
This story is about a girl. Her name was Sarah, as you’ve probably already guessed, and she was beautiful. That was all I really knew about her, but, with the surely of youth, I was certain I was in love. Let me set the scene.
The year was 1997, and I was obsessed with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, which I had seen recently. My head was full of ideas of love and romance, and I was desperate to be in love, if not actually kill myself in some kind of modern-day tragedy. I was in the early-to-mid stages of college in New Zealand, which, if you don’t know, runs from roughly age thirteen to age eighteen. I also had the joy of going to an all-boys Catholic school, which, on top of natural shyness, tells you all you need to know about my (in)ability to negotiate relationships with the fairer sex, a fact I lament to this day.
The scene was set relatively easily. With three girls’ schools and one mixed school in the area, my school mates and I weren’t lacking in choice of girls to idolise. My friends and I would usually walk down to the mall after school, to hang out for an hour or so before heading home. This is where I first saw her.
She was beautiful, of course. Long blonde hair, pretty eyes. All the usual ingredients. Sarah lived in the same suburb as me, a cosy little hamlet known as Naenae, which in Maori means mosquito, owing to the previously-swampy nature of the place. So, I’d see her when I rode the bus home. Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some kind of teenage stalker; I didn’t follow her home or anything like that, but maybe I did once or twice deliberately catch the same bus as she did.
Then, for a long time, nothing happened. I’d see her on the bus, my heart would race, and that was it. For the longest time I couldn’t even approach the thought of speaking to her. A friend of mine knew a friend of hers, and I did send her a fairly cringe worthy note from a secret admirer, full of poetry and admiration, but that was as far as it went.
Months passed. I sweated, I imagined, I thought of what the hell I could say, running it over in my head a hundred times. Then, the day came. Now, Sarah lived further on the bus route then I did, so when I boarded the bus that day, I had to ask for the extra section on my ticket. I recall the driver joking that I couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra distance home, and as he spoke, suddenly in my head everyone on the bus knew my plan. This did not help with my nervousness.
I took a seat near the back, and I waited. The bus journey took about twenty minutes, I suppose, but that day it felt much longer. Ok, so it was longer, what with the extra section and all, but it felt like hours longer. The bus pulled over at a stop, and she got off. So did I.
The next part is strange, like some kind of waking dream, and to this day I still have trouble believing that nervous boy had the courage to do what he did. Sarah crossed the road, and so did I. I walked up to her, and I asked her out. I can’t recall the exact words; I’m sure they started with ‘I was wondering’, and ended with ‘go out sometime,’ and perhaps that’s all there was to it.
Sarah, bless her, let me down easy. She told me she’d just got back together with her boyfriend. I thanked her, and walked away. Whether there was a boyfriend or not, I don’t know, but I’ll always be grateful for the way she handled her reply.
I walked home. I felt an odd sense of lightness, of freedom. On the way home, I met my friend in the park behind his house. When he saw me, I told him I’d finally done it. He thought she’d said yes, I seemed so elated, but really, I think it was just the exhilaration from actually having made myself do something which I found so phenomenally scary. I was high and low at the same time. It’s not a feeling I’ve ever had again; at least, not with the same intensity.
And that was that. Well, except for a few years later, when I was working in a supermarket bakery, looking particularly unglamorous in my apron and hat. I must have been home from University for the holidays, working my summer job. I was packing bread, when I saw someone approach the counter. Sarah. I could tell from the look on her face, she knew who I was. She ordered something, cream buns maybe, and I ducked behind the counter and bagged them up, heart beating a little faster. I stood up again and gave the package to her. She smiled, and thanked me, and I smiled back.

That’s it, that’s the end of the story. Whatever happened to Sarah after that, I don’t know. Perhaps I don’t want to know. I like to keep her in my mind as the sweet girl that she was, and also as a reminder to myself that, although things didn’t turn out the way I wanted, I can be the type of man who talks to beautiful girls, the kind of man who takes risks. After all, the riskier the road, the greater the profit. And finally, wherever she is, I hope Sarah is happy.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Snap shots of New York City - Part I

Union Square

Across from me, a youth in dark blue glasses and a woolly hat, his hands in his pockets. He lazes back against the bench as only the young do. By his feet rests a backpack.

The street sweeper pulls along a gray bucket. She wears dark blue gloves, against the cold and the dirt this time of year. Using an old-fashioned broom she sweeps the leaves from behind the benches, with what one might call practiced skill, with a patience born of knowing that no matter how many times she does so, there will always be more leaves tomorrow.

‘It’s cold,’ the boy exclaims.
‘It’s cold?’ his father replies. ‘It is cold, yeah.’
He mumbles something else as they are gone.

A squirrel darts across the way.
A sparrow hops, cautious, lest it be crushed.
I glance at my watch. The foot traffic increases.

A child in a blue jacket, painted like the night sky, a bright orange ‘waist coat’ over it (did she pick her own outfit?) is reprimanded by her mother, and lets out a wail. It lasts for a few seconds. Her mother turns to face her; seeing the mood her mother is in, the child is quiet instantly.

A man walks by with seven dogs on leashes – assorted sizes, breeds, and colours. The only other thing you need to know about this man is that he wears a ‘fanny pack’.

In the distance there are sirens, but that is always the case.

The bushes behind me rustle. A squirrel waits, then hops away, disappointed, already targeting another occupied bench. I glance at my watch.

The only thing more colourful than the kid’s headphones are his trainers, is his backpack.

I am happy it is not colder, or I would have stayed in the ihop longer. Not that it’s a horrible place, but after a while they begin to look at you.

Washington Square

I’m walking into the square, looking for a place to sit, to kill time.
‘Chess player? Chess game?’ the old man asks. gesturing to the board. One of those inset in a stone table, like you see in films.
‘No thank you,’ I reply, even though I play and have plenty of time. It’s the big city question in my brain, what’s the catch?, combined with natural shyness.
Perhaps the man just wants someone to talk to. Perhaps I will be him, one day. Even as I sit and write this, I still have time, to go back, to play a while. Talk a while. But I won’t.

The sun is out. To my right a woman sits in front of a pram. Staring, fixated. She can’t take her eyes off it. Her phone, that is. I put on my sunglasses.

To my left, a couple speaks quietly. They’re a good-looking couple. There are sirens in the distance, but what else is new? She is blonde, long hair, dark sunglasses; his hair is dark, thick now but not so much as it was. They both wear dark colours, except for white shoes. From where I am, they seem to speak in grunts.

I look at my phone, to hell with the roaming costs. When I look back, she is lying across his chest, his arm around her, face closed against the sun. Like an oil painting, pretty but uncomfortable. A nugget of green sparkles on a finger. When I look back once more the sunglasses are back, the stance of quiet coldness has resumed. Her fingernails are painted black, or dark blue.

I think again, about going to play chess. My stomach heaves. Still a while to go before lunch. The couple beside me get up and walk away. I hear them talking in a language I don’t understand.

The thing I like about New York is you can wear sunglasses all year round.

As I leave the park men talk loudly, curse, wave their arms. Discuss beatings as if they were currency, but in this case the giver profits. A man offers smoke in a low voice. I shake my head and keep walking. Not in NYC, I think. People lean towards me as I walk. People say bless you without breaking stride.


Cities should be a little bit grimy. There are a lot more crazy people here, and here, if you fall, you’re on your own.