Saturday, February 24, 2007

Like a Siren It Promises Everything New

Make fun of me all you want, but you must admit I am a bit of a pioneer. To prove it, I will give you a few examples.

Back in '67, our family moved from Rochester, New York to Tucson, Arizona. Most people think it was our father who got this going, but who do you think was behind him, like a mosquito in his ear?....Me.

Of course, my motivation was based on the fact that the city had just experienced a violent race riot and things were looking pretty scary. My goal was personal safety, but so what. We moved to Tucson, didn't we?

Then there was that topless bar debacle. Ok, so it lost a lot of money and was a total idiotic idea...but today topless bars rule in Tucson. Nobody said being a trailblazer is all candy and roses. Sometimes it's bikers riding their Hogs on your dance floor and pouring themselves free drinks while you are hiding under the desk in the office.

Getting out of America and moving to New Zealand? Of course, Kimberly was a big influence on taking this bold move...but, again...Pathfinders. Someday soon, people will be clamoring to get over here. This will happen after the terrorists figure out how to cross our well fortified borders with some sort of dirty bomb headed for L.A.

And we can witness it all from our little bungalow here in Nelson.....Pioneers.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that I would be one of the first to get my hands on the new Windows operating system, VISTA. Fer Christ's sake, we used to live in Vista! How prophetic is that? Here is how this went down.

I was in a computer store with a large sign on my forehead that said, "I need to spend some money". Here was this package for the new Windows Vista - $399NZ. But there was another one just the same for "academic use" for $199. Hey! I sez to myself..I'm a teacher, I can save a couple hundred here.

Bought it, took it home, installed it. I'm a friggin' scout, I am.

Then the trouble started.

After a 2 hour upgrade, a lot of the programs that were just dandy with Windows XP, didn't want to go to work. Plus, the computer speed was cut down a whole lot. It took forever just to turn it on. I immediately wished I wasn't a teacher with a discount.After fooling around for a day or two most things were running fairly well, but it still was very slow and annoying.

Come to find out that VISTA uses most of the memory in the computer. For it to work, you need at least twice as much as we had. So... back to the computer store... bought memory ($230NZ), everything is fine again on the old Oregon Trail.

VISTA is a nice looking system and someday, like topless bars, it will be popular. But my advice is to wait until you buy a new computer to get it.

You can thank me now.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Yes, It Sure Has Been A Long Hard Climb

I once heard it said that if you run, jog, lift weights or swim, you will likely extend life by 5 years. The only problem is that you spend all those years running, jogging, lifting and swimming.

So what have you really gained?

These Kiwis are sort of like that. They are all interested in keeping fit. Everybody has a bike, kayak, they run, hike, climb, swim, compete. If I let one more 70 year old woman whizz past me on a trail while I am resting on a bench...I'm gonna say something! Dammit.

But the most painful and torturous of all New Zealand physical endeavors is Tramping.

Tramping is like hiking but in the same way that dining at a fine restaurant is like munching on something salty that you find under your car seat.

But I was elected to accompany Kimberly on our first tramping adventure, so I had to make the best of it because that's just the kind of guy I am.

There were 5 of us and the deal was that we would stumble through the bush, wade through streams, cross swinging bridges, climb up to a high place where there would be a hut. The hut sleeps 2. The rest would sleep outside or use their imagination. It was also going to be raining.

We made a tea break stop at Marge's farm. Marge is a cool 73 yr. old granny type who gave us great snacks and coffee and a break from the rain. She's involved in some dairy situation where there are 750 cows. I found out that they like to be milked twice a day, but they could get used to once. Marge agreed with me that brown cows gave chocolate milk. I admitted that I had never touched a cow, unless it was carved up and on a plate.

She also makes her own butter, cream, cheese, bread and lays her own eggs, but she can only do one a day. Very self-sufficient. She still helps milk the cows every morning just to stay fit.

See, I told you.

It was raining so hard that we changed the plan to a different tramp where there would be no rain, no big streams and a hut built for 8 with fresh water and a long drop. Music to my ears...Yahoooo! I asked about Internet access, but there wasn't even dial up.

Earlier, I packed my rucksack with what turned out to be twice as much as was needed. The other girls, also nurses, packed the food and "stoves". *(Note to self - always tramp with 3 nurses.. and a handful of Vicodan)

The hike began after a 3 hour drive through Lewis Pass heading into the Southern Alps. We loaded up like Sherpas and started out on the Nina Track. Round trip would take 2 days and cover 13 km.

It started fairly fun and easy but soon turned ugly and painful. There were sand flies when we stopped to rest. There was mud on the trail. There were countless streams to ford. Early on, I tried to balance on rocks to cross, but soon I plodded right through like a golden retriever. My socks and shoes were soaked. The path was quite non-maintained, with roots as steps and branches to grab for pulling yourself up. My pack seemed to get heavier with each pace. And for some reason, my pants kept falling down as I forget to wear a belt. If I had tramped the first time we came to New Zealand, we'd probably be living in Vista, Ca. today.

The path was marked with these orange triangles. After 3 hours, I was ready for the hut, even if Hitler was the architect and it looked like the bunks at Auschwitz. But every time I lifted my gaze from the ground, all I saw was more friggin' orange triangles. Jan, our leader said we had about 30 minutes left. I figured that I could collapse under a log and rest for 30 minutes and then we'd be there. But I guess she meant 30 minutes more of tramping.

I am told that during that final half hour I whined, bitched and moaned like a little girl. I won't deny it. My story is that all that mud and jungle gave me flashbacks of the 'Nam.

We did finally get there and the hut was pretty nice. There were 3 other people there. One of them was a girl named Nina, oddly enough. The bunks had nice mattresses, the food was excellent, good company and talk.

Shirley snored all night. It was so loud that Phil and Jan went out to sleep on the porch where they were snuffled by possum. In the morning, Kimberly was happy to use the long drop. I decided to just hold it in.

We dressed and packed and headed back to the vehicles. Basically another 4 hours going the other way. It was easier climbing down.

Kimberly brought out the Scroggin and we feasted all the way. Scroggin is a New Zealand version of trail mix, or Gorp. Each letter stands for an ingredient.

Scroggin: sultanas chocolate raisins orange peel (candied) ginger (crystallised)

glucose (barley sugars or the like) imagination nuts (any kind, roasted is OK but not salted

As much as I grumbled and hated the first day, when we finally got back to the car, all of us were pretty tired, but had a feeling of doing something challenging. Kimberly and I agreed we would do it again, but maybe a a wee bit shorter time getting to the hut.

By the time we finally arrived home and got all cleaned up and used the bathroom, I for one, sure felt as fit as I'd been since the 'Nam.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Crickets and Cicadas Sing a Rare and Different Tune

When we finally returned to Nelson, it was the middle of summer. All over town was the sound of Cicadas. They were climbing over the trees and telephone poles. They eat the foliage and drop their exoskeletons all over the place. It looks like popcorn on the floor of a movie theatre after a cartoon show.

So we're sitting out in the yard, enjoying a cuppa, when who should show up but our friends, Phil and Shirley. Phil and I had a secret goal for this visit that involved the Internet. Shirley is a user but still has dial up. She is the only person in the entire country of New Zealand to not have broadband. She has it figured that for her, it is the right plan. Reminds me of how Rick thinks he has the proper cell phone plan.

By the way, Shirley is a huge fan of the color purple (who isn't?). Her car, clothes, mailbox, purple. Phil is a house painter and has told me how difficult it was for him to paint his lovely little kitchen in a deep purple color.

Anyway, we were going to convince her to switch to high speed connection. But before we knew it, Shirley switched topics to tramping, which is like hiking, but with much more trudging and carrying stuff on your back. She does this a lot.

Before I knew what was happening, Shirley invited Kimberly to go off into the mountains for a few days, and she was all for the idea. Next, Kimberly started inviting Phil and I to come along. I resisted...they insisted..we took some sort of a vote, and I lost 51-49. I always lose these things by the same margin.

I don't mind a small saunter through the forest, but several days? Schlepping a backpack that would make a Marine cringe? Sleeping in a hut in the middle of nowhere? Dealing with sand flies and mosquitoes? But I lost the vote and said I would go.

The next morning, Phil brought over a couple of tramping packs for us to borrow.

Kimberly took the purple one.

We went, we came out alive. The next post in a few days will tell you all about how this bright idea went down. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Thought You Was the Cool Fool, and Never Would Do No Wrong

All stories follow pretty much the same recipe. There are 3 acts, the beginning, middle, and end. The first act is long and we meet the important characters. Act two develops the conflicts and the 3rd act solves those problems.

Goodbye, close the book, leave the theatre.

This last month, I have been shown by life's cruel mirror that I have entered the final act. With the passing of a parent, my 60th birthday, and the birth of a grandchild, there is no denying it.

All I need to do now is break a hip.

When I was a teenager, for some reason, I thought I was "cool". This was very important to me and my buddies. We even formed a small group called the Cools Club of America (CCA). Not Rochester, N.Y. mind you, but America! Of course, the population was a lot less in those days.

I was Vice-President. I still carry my membership card after 45 years.

My best friend, Howard Diamond, was President, although I don't recall voting. There were 5 or 6 of us, even that is debatable at this point. We would drive around, stuffed into a Ford Falcon attracting babes.

We even had a theme song -
"If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife".
It was sung by a one hit wonder group called Kid Creole and the Coconuts. We would blast it out of the car radio. This was even before 8 track tapes and Ipods. We just kept driving and hoped it would come on.

One guy is now a twice divorced, unemployed, wasted drunk; another lives in his daughter's basement. The President is up in Alaska, married to a full blooded Yupik native American.

I somehow broke the rule of the Coconuts.
Nevertheless, looking back, I don't think we were ever cool. James Dean was cool. And he was already dead. I don't know what was playing on his radio when he crashed, but I doubt it was King Creole and the Coconuts.

This guy has the good sense to exit the drama in the second act and leave everyone else choking on their popcorn and demanding their money back.
The CCA? We are now a bunch of grey headed grandparents. A jumble of sixtyish Sephardic Hebrews wandering around looking for the promised land where the cool Jews dwell.
Mirrors don't lie and sometimes the truth hurts.
All the years combine
They melt into a dream.