Tuesday, July 31, 2007

THE WINTER OF MY DISCONTENT

First off, I must preface the following entry with the declaration that I have been having an absolutely amazing time since I arrived in New Zealand last November. I have had more fun more consistently than I have had in many years. I am fully aware of how lucky I have been and continue to be. In a world full of poverty, war, disease, famine and oppression, I have had it incredibly good. Compared to your average blind Afghani orphan, mine is an incredibly privileged existence and I have absolutely no business complaining about anything. But this is my blog where I do what I want at no cost to anyone, so I’ll bitch ‘til the cows come home if I so choose.

Since I arrived in Queenstown nearly four months ago, I have encountered obstacle after fucking obstacle that has made life Goddamn frustrating. Not Darfur refugee frustrating, but frustrating. The Kiwi Dollar has gotten very strong, so my American money isn’t going as far as it was just a few months ago (not good when you’re living in the most expensive part of New Zealand). Queenstown is a tourist town with a steady influx of adventure seekers from around the world. From far and wide, people come for the skiing, snowboarding, bungee jumping, skydiving, legalized prostitution, jet boating, and hang gliding. A few blog entries back, I bemoaned the lack of bartending jobs, which forced me to pick grapes for the better part of a month in order to survive in some level of comfort. At every bar that I attempted to drop off my CV (that’s what the rest of the world calls a résumé), I was told that they weren’t hiring and that I should “come back in June.” Well, June came and went without me getting a single shift as a bartender. Soon I realized why. All those people who told me to come back in June should have added “and be a mildly attractive female, no experience necessary.” I was at a pool hall with some friends recently and asked the chick behind the bar for a Bacardi and soda. I got Bacardi Black and tonic water. I was tempted to see the manager and say, “I know she’s kind of cute, but she doesn’t have a clue what she’s doing and I need a job. Wanna hook a brother up?” Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

By the way, I have been lucky enough to try some Cuban rum. Holy shit, is that stuff good! Once Castro croaks, we really need to lift that embargo!

The only job I could get was waiting tables at a restaurant. I am pretty sure that my boss, an Australian, hired me solely because I am American. He told me “I love working with Americans because you guys understand service.” I wanted to correct him and say that we don’t understand service - we understand tips. New Zealand and Australia are non-tipping societies. There is no incentive for service industry people to put extra effort into their jobs, so your average waiter or bartender will give you pretty much the same standard of courtesy as a McDonald’s employee. Say what you will about America’s many flaws, but Goddamn it, we know how to run a restaurant. The host or hostess will seat you, the waiter or waitress will provide you with food, the bartender will fix your drink, and the busboy will clean up and reset your table when you are done, and you tip them accordingly. In New Zealand, the waiter or waitress will single-handedly host you, take your drink order, make your drink, take your food order, deal with the asshole chefs (why are chefs such dicks?), bring you your food, clean up after you, set the table for the next customer, and not expect a tip. Waiting tables in New Zealand sucks. Not only does it suck, but they are cutting back on my hours so I will have to get another job fast. GRRRRRRRRR!!!! I miss bartending!

A few weeks back, there was what New Zealanders call a massive winter storm. It was windy, the mountains were coated with snow, and about an inch or two accumulated on the ground in Queenstown. Chaos ensued. The local airport shut down for three days, something that hadn’t happened in decades. Snow tires are nonexistent around here, so drivers are required to put chains on their wheels when the white flakes start falling. This tore the roads to shit. Visitors to town had no idea about the chain requirements, so tons of them were pulled over and ticketed. They also couldn’t drive up to the mountains, so the ski fields shut down. This must be the only ski town in the world that shuts down when it snows. Since all the skiers were stuck in town, pretty much all they could do was hit the bars and get stupid. They did. There were record numbers of burglaries, vandalism, and public urinations. Yay, Queenstown!After the weather cleared up, Julia, my former flatmate from Paris, convinced me to try snowboarding. She assured me that since I know how to ski and liked surfing, that snowboarding would be no problem and that I would have lots of fun (I needed some). Never trust a French woman. I spent four hours falling, falling, and then falling some more. And I wasn’t falling on nice soft powder. It was rock fucking hard snow packed like concrete on the lamest bunny slopes imaginable. Back when I first learned to ski, I used to fall all the time. The difference was, back then, I was 11 and weighed about half as much as I do now. On several occasions I wondered if my pelvis had shattered. It hadn’t, but it still fucking hurt. Also, like Derek Zoolander, I am physically incapable of turning left. Think I’ll stick to skiing from now on.

I finally got out of Chateau Ugo. Thankfully, I never had to go to a hostel. Some wonderful new friends let me crash on their couch for 2½ weeks (!) while I searched for a new place. I almost wish I didn’t find my new place, because that couch was awesome. I had the whole living room and kitchen to myself, complete with fireplace, DVD player, broadband internet, X-Box 360 and a dishwasher. They even trusted me with their car! And rent free! I offered to buy them firewood and pay a share of the bills, but they refused. They were all fun to hang out with, too. I love them!

My new place is a cabin in a holiday park. I share it with a guy named Theo from the Philippines. He works days and I work nights, so I barely ever see him. I have a room with a full sized bed all to myself, thank God. There is no phone line, laundry, or internet, but we’ll survive. Miraculously, there is also no electric bill, so we can leave the heaters on day and night. You have no idea how much you’ll miss central heating until it’s gone.

Sadly, just before I moved in, I got a nasty sinus infection. I had no idea that my body could produce such vast amounts of day-glow green snot. Seriously, I could have bottled all the shit coming out of my nose and sold it as an industrial lubricant. It forced me to call in sick to work, something I haven’t done in years, just when I need hours the most. It also killed my three days off, each of which was spent at home with a stack of tissues, a Peter Jackson biography, and reruns of Tyra Banks’ talk show on the only channel with decent reception. A fine woman, that Tyra. I called the nice folks who let me crash at their house. It seems that half of them have caught my disease. That made me feel even worse. I am the fucking Outbreak Monkey.
So, my new mission is to find yet another new job since the restaurant is now only giving me two shifts a week. Those shifts will be five hours long at the most, and that just ain’t gonna cut it, even for survival money. Back in middle school, I enjoyed wood shop. The sconce and clock I put together still adorn the walls of my parents’ house. In high school, I eschewed wood shop for music and photography classes. Now I realize what an incredibly stupid decision that was. Had I advanced my carpentry skills, I could now be making $24 an hour in New Zealand. There is a shortage of skilled laborers in this country (tons of young Kiwi guys take off for Australia and elsewhere), and construction sites are crawling with well-paid foreigners whose only qualification is that they have some knowledge of woodworking. Why did I have to be all artistic and crap?!

So, dear readers, I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves. For those of you in the warmer parts of the Southern Hemisphere (Australia, Thailand, Argentina), enjoy the “winter.” For those of you in the God Ole Northern Hemisphere, enjoy the summertime and send me some warm vibes. In return, I promise to smuggle some Havana Club rum home for you. I’ll mix you the Mojito of your dreams. And go see “Knocked Up.” It’s funny.

3 comments:

JudgeHolden said...

Lovin' it dude. And so damn true about American restaurants! We do know how to run these places better than anyone. Also, what is the security like at Kiwi banks? Mayhaps you could rob one? Get some cash that way? What's the worst New Zealanders would do to you? Put you on a work release program picking grapes? I think banks are the answer.

Jeff said...

Wow that really sucks about waiting tables in NZ. Do you get paid crappy like waiters in the U.S? You still got some great photos Mike and I definitely think I'm gonna need some of that Cuban Rum. So bring me back a bottle!

Tamar is about ten days or so from busting this kid out so if you get a chance to call--try the first week of September.

Take it easy Mikey!!

Flip said...

Mike, you should move to Cambridge, become embittered, and change your name to John Stone.

By the way, how did you not take to snowboarding? I mean, I'm no Alberto Tomba when it comes to skiing, but I've done pretty well as a snowboarder, and I learned long before I tried surfing. Maybe you should just get hammered before you try it; you know, stay loose.

Speaking of which, stay loose.