The one where I go road trippin’

Thursday 21st November – Issue #17

Shades with Michael J. Gray

Kia ora koutou,

It’s been a minute and I have a bit to share. I suppose that’s what happens when you procrastinate. It’s a little like leaving dishes on the bench telling yourself you will get to them later. The dishes keep on piling up until you’ve got an empty cupboard. So you scrub a single dirty plate but after you’re done with it, the plate ends up alongside that same pile of dishes and you’re back in the same position as before. Ergo, the dishes-stacked-bench is this newsletter I’ve been opening and closing for many weeks. Look, I admit it’s not the best metaphor.

On Thursday 24th October, I was all hyped for my “birthday weekend” but sometime after 10pm Bubble woke up wheezing heavily and began seal coughing. Since we both have asthma we were pretty certain he would develop it at some stage so when it was clear he wasn’t getting any better I called an ambulance. As the operator told me to stay on the phone I paced nervously around the house following Michelle as she comforted Bubble. His hysterics only made it harder for him to breathe. Of course, I felt immediately guilty for calling for help as it might not end up being a big deal. And then I felt guilty again for not immediately snapping into action. That is kind of a problem, you imagine emergency services are just for that one scenario in your head, like a guy with his leg crushed by a fallen tree. But human bodies are fragile and incidents don’t have to be so immediately obvious to be deadly.

Two amazing paramedics came inside and calmly assessed the situation. As they couldn’t get accurate readings on our wriggly Bubble, Michelle took the ambulance with them down to the hospital. I followed behind quickly gathering up an abundance of clothing and supplies in case we needed to stay the night. We found out pretty quickly it was croup, an illness only babies get, which closes up the airways. Soon, Bubble was administered with a strong oral steroid that would last a week.

Of course, the emergency room is organised on a priority basis. And for some reason, that particular Thursday was a rough one. Two police officers stood guard in the waiting room. We could also hear yelps from another room where some poor guy needed a tetanus shot after having his pants cut off. Bubble was mostly settled and even went to sleep for a spell but then he woke up and complained. Loudly. When we were finally assessed the doctor said they treat croup aggressively as it can get really nasty and then we were released.

Last Labour Day marked my birthday, as it so often is every few years. A day off for me and a whole lot of others? Not a bad deal. Of course, that would be doing the union movement a disservice. Union members fought for the 8-hour workday and Labour Day is in recognition of that.

October 28th also marks the signing of He Wakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga (The Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand) in 1835, a good five years before Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi). This weekend also marked the second year of commemorating the New Zealand Wars. I am honoured to share my birthday with these commemorations.

A few weeks later, for some ridiculous reason (flight prices) Michelle and I drove to Auckland for the U2 concert and back again the next day. It was rough, with no AC and a mean sun beating down on us, we were essentially strapped into a travelling oven. Thankfully, Bubble stayed at home with his Grandpa. There were some nice stretches of road, sure, but once we hit Hamilton it was all downhill from there. I aimed to play every U2 album on the trip, forgetting that a) the remastered versions were full of b-sides and live material and b) the internet can only reach so far on open roads.

The Joshua Tree album not only has the imagery of wild America but it sounds it as well. Who needs Joshua Tree National Park when you have the Desert road nestled between towering snow-capped mountains? There was also a nice winding stretch past Turangi along the left of Lake Taupo that matched the tracks of Joshua Tree as we sailed past flowering bright yellow gorse. Who knows where you might end up when Google Maps sends you down the back roads.

The Joshua Tree was always my favourite U2 album but their latest two albums may have taken that spot. And I’m guessing many of the people going to this particular U2 concert hadn’t listened to the new stuff judging from the entire stadium singing along to the hits to it only feeling like the two of us. I’ve heard many a time from folks and how they only like U2’s old stuff but I don’t feel the same way. They’ve changed, sure, but so have I.

The concert was everything I could have hoped for and more. Of course, U2 made their One Tree Hill dedication to Greg Carroll, the Māori roadie who volunteered his services to the band when they toured New Zealand for the first time. In 1986 he died in a motorcycle accident in Dublin. There were a few instances where U2 were throwing our nation’s culture and history right back to us on their enormous screen. I see what you’re doing band and it may have been a little cringe from four white men but I still fell hook, line and sinker.

From the New Zealand poems that lit up the screen before the concert had even begun, to probably my favourite U2 song, Ultraviolet (Light My Way), showcasing influential women including Sophia Hinerangi, tour guide of the Pink and White Terraces, and Pania Newton, campaigner for preserving the land at Ihumātao to the final rendition of One dedicated to the victims of the Mosque shootings in Christchurch. I couldn’t hold it in and I found myself more sobbing than singing as the names of the victims killed appeared one by one until the screen was full. Just so many names. Like the vigil at the Wellington Basin in March, we were still a nation in mourning.

Previously On Shades

Local Elections

Wayne Guppy took mayor again in Upper Hutt for the seventh time running since 2001. The other two candidates were Angela McLeod and Steve Taylor, who combined had more votes than Guppy. This is where I think STV voting (as seen in Dunedin) could help change things up. If people who wanted a new mayor put Angela first and Steve second, or vice versa, instead of getting a split vote like under First Past the Post, we would’ve elected a mayor that the consensus was in favour of. Same goes for the council and could encourage fresh voices at the table.

Then again, people could have put Guppy second and we’d have the same result but I think that would be unlikely. Anyhow, to switch to STV voting in Upper Hutt we would have to gain enough momentum from the council and the general public to initiate a referendum. Vote for how we vote? Seems like a roundabout way of doing things but such is the price of democracy.

What You Can Do Right Now

  • Headlands: New Stories of Anxiety, edited by Naomi Arnold is a collection of 19 short essays by people from around Aotearoa New Zealand. David Jacobs and Miryam Jacobi is going to produce these stories into short films in 2020. Having anxiety myself, I resonated with these stories and I’m very excited to see how this new film project will turn out. Each story will be interpreted by an emerging filmmaker. Contributor, Sarah Lin Wilson, writes about the project and working with Julie Zhu to adapt her story. Because of my slackness, you can no longer support this project on Boosted but you can follow their Facebook page for updates.
     
  • Colin Craig continues to attack Rachel MacGregor, even after a high court ruling. You can donate directly to Rachel’s defence fund, both to support Rachel and to let the wider community know that even millionaires cannot sexually harass people unopposed. 
     
  • Early childhood teachers are running a campaign for pay parity with other teachers. Michelle works in ECE and it’s devastating to see how privatisation has eroded the working conditions and pay of early childhood teachers who don’t work in government-funded kindergartens. Sign up here to add your voice.
     
  • Voting is a human right and that right was stripped away from prisoners in 2010. People still deserve dignity even as we lock them away out of sight and out of mind. Sign the petition here.
    UPDATE: The current government is aiming to change back the Electoral Amendment Bill so prisoners with less than three years can vote in our elections. This ban on voting rights was found by our High Court, Supreme Court and Waitangi Tribunal as a breach of our Bill of Rights.
     
  • The New Zealand Police are currently trialling patrols of armed police under the guise of protection after the mosque terror attacks. The police already disproportionately target and use more force against Māori and Pasefika. You only have to look to America to see how Black people have been shot and killed at the hands of police to know this is a bad idea. Sign the petition here.

Reviews

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

Vince Gilligan is back at the helm, in this post-Breaking Bad story, six years later, but this film takes place immediately after the events of the season finale as Jesse Pinkman hightails it out of a neo-nazi camp after being held prisoner.

While we still have Better Call Saul as a prequel to Breaking Bad, telling the Saul Goodman story (with some glimpses of after the series), El Camino flicks between past and present as Jesse reckons with everything that’s happened to him. While there’s certainly some fan service with cameos and nods to the series, El Camino stays true to sticking with Jesse’s story.

While the marketing had me imagining Jesse hightailing it to Mexico in the El Camino, coming out of the film I was surprised at how we basically never left Alberquerque. It felt like a two-hour Breaking Bad episode and that’s not a bad thing. As Jesse handles being on the run and finding a way out, new issues arise in that same methodical Breaking Bad fashion, culminating in an ending for Jesse that is more satisfying than the series finale. This two-hour film finally gives the time for Jesse to deal with everything. It’s the perfect epilogue.

El Camino also released the same day as the announcement of the death of acclaimed actor, Robert Forster. He plays a small but crucial role but with that same level of dependable calm that will sorely be missed.

Jojo Rabbit

All hail Taika Waititi. Note, I did not say heil. Yes, he plays an amusing Hitler in this comedy or ‘anti-hate satire’ but he also adapted and directed this too. I enjoyed my time here as we follow Jojo, a wannabe Nazi as he learns that maybe, just maybe, being a Nazi is bad.


Midsommar

From Ari Aster, writer/director of the terrifying Hereditary. His artistic style is ever-present even while swapping a dark house In Utah for this blindingly bright backdrop of a Swedish commune. Aster is said to have written this after a breakup and it shows. The horror is elevated by the fact this couple is on the brink of collapse. 

All Consuming Content

  • A sad tale on the collapse of an author’s relationship with her brother as he drifts into the world of the alt-right
     
  • Last time I talked about Card of Darkness through Apple Arcade. Creator, Zach Gage, talks about the design on his podcastThe Spelunky Showlike. It’s worth a listen if you’re interested in game design. Adam Saltsman talks about creating another Apple Arcade launch title, Overland. I want to like Overland but I keep stumbling over the touch controls, which is strange because it is a turn-based strategy game.
     
  • For some reason, I decided over 100 Apple Arcade games weren’t enough hand-held goodness for me so I went and bought myself a Nintendo Switch Lite. It had been on my mind for a while but I threw myself a pity party on my last day after changing positions and not getting so much as a farewell. It also helped that I had overpaid my student loan and was about to receive a refund.

    I’d been hearing for a while now how the Switch has become a thriving platform for indie games. Since the arrival of our firstborn, gaming has been harder to manage. I still buy the games of course, but then don’t put in the time that they deserve. Some games are only compatible with my ageing Windows PC in the guest room and I can’t really lock myself away anymore. Then there’s my Macbook Air which can only play some less intensive games and which I also have to hook up an external hard drive and controller.

    The Switch bypasses all of that with the screen built right into the controller and games can be suspended and picked up immediately at any time later, even on the train. Of course, getting a new platform means I’ve started buying games I’ve already purchased previously. And of course, that means I can enjoy platform exclusive Nintendo titles like the remake of Link’s Awakening and Super Mario Odyssey.

    But my first indie purchase was the much talked about and memed, Untitled Goose Game. It’s an adventure game in the classic videogame sense of the genre, where you must navigate an environment solving a bunch of esoteric puzzles, but in this instance, you control an unruly goose and your tasks serve only to annoy the townsfolk of a rural English village. Such tasks include swapping a boy’s glasses and stealing a man’s slippers and getting them wet. It’s great fun to become an annoying character for a change.
     
  • Undone – an Amazon Prime original produced in the animated rotoscope style of A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life. It’s a time unravelling adventure.
     
  • Watchmen – I’ll follow Damon Lindelof anywhere and so far this outing does not disappoint in this sequel/remix to the graphic novel.
     
  • His Dark Materials – After the disappointing realisation they wouldn’t continue with the films after The Golden Compass, I was delighted to return to this world of daemons and armoured polar bears. It’s too early to tell if this is a good adaptation but heck, at this point I’ll watch anything Pullman related.

 If you enjoyed this newsletter, wait a few weeks and then maybe a few more.

*lowers purple Bono shades*

Michael