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.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Star Wars 7

I’ve never talked about a movie on my blog before, and I don’t really know why I chose to start now, but fuck it, I write about what I want.
I guess by now every man and his dog has seen The Force Awakens, and every man and his dog has written, told, or otherwise foisted his and his dog’s opinions upon you. So, if you’re sick of hearing about it, maybe click away now. If you never clicked on the link to this in the first place, I don’t need to tell you that this sentence is useless.
First things first, I enjoyed the movie. I like the riot squad trooper, and the anti-lightsabre weapon was a great idea. The new characters are good, and BB-8 was done very well. The pacing was good, it’s good(ish) to see a strong female lead (more on that later), the action was solid, and there are some great nostalgia moments, even for someone like me, who’s not a full on Wars Head. (Full disclosure, I like Wars, but I’m a Trekkie at heart.) I don’t regret seeing the movie, at all, and I was excited to see that opening text roll. But, I guess what I do feel is disappointment. This movie could have been so much more than it was, and in the end it just ended up being A New Hope 2.0.

Here are key gripes (in no particular order):
  1. Kylo Ren isn’t scary. He’s an emo douchebag. And it’s not just because I’m much older now than I was when I first encountered Vader. That dude was scary. Ren is just some guy who ceased being scary once his (unnecessary) helmet comes off. He possessed none of the cool and calm Vader did, and it doesn’t help either that he gets his ass kicked quite easily. And even his officers cuss him out. Vader would have force choked that dude in the first five minutes. I feel like an opportunity was missed. It would have been fun to see a bad guy who was almost unstoppable. Who they good guys encounter and get their asses kicked by, and they only manage to escape because of luck, or the planet breaking up, or Han nobly sacrificing himself. So the movie ends with this threat hanging over everything, the characters not only reeling from a loss, but wondering how the hell they’ll stop this guy. The way it ended leaves me without any real anticipation for part eight. I guess that’s another gripe, but it can stay within this entry.
  2. Rey is too good at everything. I tend to agree with Max Landis on this, and I think that to fail to hold female characters to the same standards as male ones would be more sexist than otherwise. She’s an interesting character, but the vague idea of her waiting for someone to return is never really fleshed out, and she is inexplicably good at staff fighting, fixing ships, piloting, and somehow defeating a Sith-in-training. The last one especially made things feel contrived, and cheap.
  3. Finn's change of heart comes out of nowhere. It would have been nice to have some backstory to this. This is out of left field, but I would have loved to have seen a story line where the resistance have somehow been exploiting a weakness in the way Stormtroopers are made; they tamper with the mix, as it were, and the troopers start rebelling, in greater and greater numbers. Anyway, Finn’s moments of conscience are well acted, and I like his story arc, but his change of heart comes from nowhere, because we don’t see him before that moment.
  4. Captain Phasma isn’t scary. Similarly to Ren, this character seems to be building towards a fearsome moment, and then really fails to deliver. All she does is, what, get thrown down a trash compacter?
  5. Luke just leaving. Ok, this one is minor, and can be explained but his character, but if you fuck up majorly, why not stay around and try to fix it, Luke? How is running off to the other side of the galaxy going to help?
  6. The Order's lack of proper security protocols. Finn is able to escape from a star destroyer fairly easily (well, easy-ish), by just saying he wants to move the prisoner. Wouldn’t there be checks in place for that kind of thing? I suppose you could say the Empire (sorry, the First Order) believed its soldiers to be completely loyal, but it’s not as if no-one has ever put on a Stormtrooper suit before to fool others. Oh, and they take out the destroyer’s guns fairly easily, no? Also, why would a tie fighter have a parachute? Aren’t they designed for use in space? I guess it conceivable for it to have one, but wouldn’t the crashed fighter have been really easy to track down?
  7. Point number seven is really a bunch of points around the repeated themes and actions which occur during the movie. Deep breath, here we go. (a) The Death Star 3.0. Really? Hasn’t this been done to death. Oh, this time it’s a planet? Great, so different. It even has one weak spot, just for convenience. (b) Next is the First Order, which is really just the Empire reset. The same toys, for the most part, the same boring agenda. (c) The mysterious evil leader, too, some old, pale, decrepit guy. I get that the dark side burns up your body and so on, but couldn’t they have mixed it up a little? Supreme Leader Smoke is boring, and he, too, isn’t very scary. Ok, I keep saying that. I guess my assumption is that the bad guys should be scary. I’m sticking to it. Also, I'm tempted to say that movies are escapism, and we have enough of old white dudes being the bad guy in real life. Hey, I can say that, because I'm white. (d)  Keeping it in the family. Again, I know this is a key thing in Wars, and sensitivity to the Force (I won’t use the m-word) is passed down from parents, but couldn’t we get away from the family dynamic for a while? Surprise, this time it’s the son who’s evil. Great. (e) Important intelligence secreted in a droid. Where have I seen this before?
Ok, so I just wrote a lot (bitched a lot) about the film, despite the fact that I said I enjoyed it. As I say, I just feel like the opportunity for change was there, and the same paths have been trodden, which doesn’t lend itself to exciting storytelling. I know that, no matter what happened, no matter what the movie as like, the weight of expectation and of legacy means it would be hard pressed to be fresh, innovative, and new while staying true to its predecessors and keeping hard core fans happy. I also know the difficulty of making movies, creating stories, creating any art that people will see. And so to that end I understand that it might not be fair for me to be so harsh in my judgements. But a Death Star again? Really?
p.s. when writing this I discovered MS Word has lightsabre in its dictionary. Just thought I’d let ya’ll know that.