"All sorts of entertaining" - Elizabeth Seckman

"Michael and his pals make me wish I lived in Adelaide" - Cherdo

"If I had a daughter, I'd send her to Australia to meet him (and marry him)" - Robyn Alana Engel

"An Australian version of me. Only younger. And Talented. And better looking. Okay, nothing like me." - Al Penwasser

"Whom must I fuck or pay to get a quotation at the top of your blog post?" - Janie Junebug

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 30: This Takes a Sudden Turn

After 30 weeks of this challenge, I'm really starting to run out of ideas. Everything I can come up with I've either done before, isn't that exciting or requires time I don't currently have (my friend's bugging me to go skydiving with him and I still haven't used that voucher for the GROB flight). So on Sunday I found myself searching for something to do - something to fill in this week until I can knock over some of the things I've got planned for the future. You know what the best idea is that I could come up with? Walking home from work.

Ok, there's a little more to it than that. This particular day I was working in Melrose Park - a suburb on the exact opposite side of the city to where I live. The plan would be to walk basically the width of Adelaide in one go, a trip that would span almost 20km and take up four hours. I could take my camera and see what great shots I'd get along the way. I could take detours through parks or into buildings I find interesting. It might even turn into one of those stories you hear about people who have tried ridiculous stunts and then come out of it enlightened and with an overarching lesson learned. Or it could just be a four-hour walk. We'd see.

I emptied out my backpack to make it lighter and make room for a change of clothes. I could only take the stuff I would need. Let's see... I don't need most of these notebooks... I'll keep my headphones, I could listen to some music on the way. And I'll keep my portable charger, because I might just be playing with my phone the whole time. Can't afford to have it go flat on me.

Deodorant? Definitely stays. Old Game Boy Advance? How embarrassing, who still plays a Game Boy Advance? (Alright, I do). A harmonica? Well, I guess you'll never know when you need a harmonica. The harmonica stayed.

I went downstairs where Mum was finishing up breakfast.
'Hey Mum, are you able to drive me to work today?'
'I plan to walk home from there tonight.'
'But that's on the other side of the city!'
'That's the point!'
'Didn't you already do something like that with Dimi?'
'I, um...' She was right. A few years ago I was watching a preseason footy game with one of my best mates Dimi, and we decided to walk back to his house from the game. That was a trip from West Lakes to Burnside - a trip even longer than the one I was planning and certainly more exciting since there was a second person.

'Is there something else you can do? Can you take a class in something?'
'I thought of that. But I'm not sure what class I can take just once on a Sunday night at such short notice.'
'What other nights are you free?'
'Just Tuesday. And the week starts on Wednesday, so it has to be done before then.'
'Come and do Zumba with me!'

I stared at her. I could tell she was serious. She had an excited glint in her eye at the thought of spending some quality time with the son she never sees. Could I really bring myself to do a Zumba class? With my mother? I guess this is why I started this challenge...

'Alright. I'll do a Zumba class with you.'
'Yay!!!' she clapped. It's 7:30 on Tuesday. Get excited!'

It was a rush to get there on time. I had to catch the bus home from Fresh to get changed and head over to a mysterious church in Leabrook. I was stuck to find something to wear. My footy umpiring training top was in the wash. So were the shorts I use for training and for game day. I had to go hamper fishing to grab my shorts and I grabbed a random white shirt and ran out the door in a panic.

I met Mum at the church, where there were three cars in the carpark.
'Do people actually turn up?' I asked.
'Yeah, they always turn up right at the start time. Let's go in.'
'Hang on, just let me tie my shoes. I didn't think I had time for that.'

Inside the church, there were a few very good-looking girls getting ready and a raised stage with a Zumba poster on it. It said "Welcome to Zumba Tone, with dance instructor Charli." and there was a model on the poster who was mid-jump with her hair flying elegantly in all directions. Charli. What an appropriate name. It sounds bubbly. New-agey. Very Zumba. I took a look around and I was shocked to discover that the model on the poster was Charli. She was there at the bottom of the stage doing some stretches.

I put my bag down and took up a space in the middle of the floor.
'You have to pay,' said Mum.
'Oh right, drag me along on then hook me with a few at the last minute? Typical.'
'It's just twelve bucks, you'll get over it.'

I went up to Charli and gave her my money.
'You're a new face, have you done Zumba before?' she asked.
'Nope. First time.'
'Okay, well you have to grab a pair of these shake weights. You'll need them later. These ones are the heavy ones. These are a bit lighter. Lighter again and these are a nice, easy light one.'
'Which one would you suggest for a first timer?'
She sized me up and handed me the heaviest ones.
'I bet you can handle these,' she said with a wink.

I smiled and went back to my spot and the class began. Now, because I couldn't take any photos during the class, I decided to recreate some of the moves for you when I got home. These were some of the positions I found myself in throughout the night.

It took me a second to adjust to each movement and occasionally I would get it completely wrong. I would turn around and face the back of the room and realize everyone else was staring at me, facing the right way. Twice, Charli had to call out "other way!" from the stage as I stepped and clapped in a different direction to everyone else. But by the time the warmup and the first exercise were done, I had it downpat. I didn't want to crawl into a hole and die from embarrassment.

Then, of course, things got harder. The next exercise involved twerking. Have you ever seen a guy twerk? It's not pretty. And the shimmying? I was back to being deathly embarrassed.

I was surprised to find myself working up a sweat. I didn't think I'd be working too hard. But then... Shit went down. A new song started and half the people at the class got down on the floor while the rest of them stood. I didn't know what to do, but Charli locked eyes with me and pointed to the ground. The people on the ground were holding themselves in a push-up position and jogging on the spot. I started trying to do it... And it burned like Haydes.

I finished the first set and got up with a startled look on my face. Charli grinned and kept leading the dance. Down for another set and it was getting no easier. I was puffing and going red, and the people in my immediate vicinity were starting to look over. By the time I got to the third set, Charli had jumped off the stage and come down to join me.
'That's it! Push it! Now double time!!' And she doubled her speed. I swore and tried to speed up, but I couldn't get my legs back fast enough to do it properly, so I almost ended up doing a somersault.

The song finished and I collapsed in a heap. Charli congratulated me and returned to the stage. From there we got out some mats and did some floor exercises. But after that last one, I was stuffed. Each rotation of my leg made me grimace and every side push-up made me burn.

Finally, we cooled down with some sit-ups. But I was gone. When we were told to lift our legs up in the air and keep doing them, I tried it for ten seconds and then collapsed. I rested for a while, then I thought "No, I'm not going to let this beat me." I lifted up my legs again, tried one sit-up and collapsed. Not going to happen.

We all finished up and Charli came around to give me a high five. Mum looked over impressed.
'Man, you worked hard.'
'Did I? I was just doing the exercises.'
'Yeah, but you were doing them harder than everyone else. That's why she came over and joined you.'
'Well I, um... I try.'

I tried to get up and fell straight back down again. Others came up to say hi, including the one other male in the building. They welcomed me and asked me if I would be back.

Good question. I don't know if I'll be back for another Zumba class... But I bet I could go for some private lessons with Charli.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 29: Avcon

I was doing some work at Fresh 92.7 when I heard this ad come on over the radio:

"Introducing Avcon. Adelaide's premier anime and video game convention. Featuring special guest appearances by some of the biggest names in the business, including Chris Avellone, Cherami Leigh and Jon St John. July 18-20, Adelaide Convention Centre."

*Gasp* 'Avcon's in town?' I said to the girl on the front desk. 'I can't believe I haven't been there before!'
'I didn't know you were into that stuff.'
'Are you kidding? Chris Avallone's going to be there! Cherami Leigh's amazing! Jon St John!'

So I started texting around to see who would join me on this exciting venture. First up was Jerida.

'I can't, my first performance is on Saturday. You do remember I'm performing in The Sound of Music don't you?'
'Um... Of course.' I replied.

Next was Mitchell.
'Prob not man, too expensive.'
'But Chris Avallone's going to be there! And so's Cherami Leigh and Jon St John!'
'Michael, I'll give you $100 if you can tell me who any of those people are.'
'They... work in anime.'
'Have you ever watched an anime in your life?'
'I've watched a lot of Pokemon. Bit of Dragonball Z...'
'What about Dragonball?'
'I said that!'
'No, you said Dragonball Z... Never mind.'
'What if I paid half your ticket?'
'No deal, man.'

So I was already running short on options. I didn't know who else of my friends was into anime. I decided to give my sister Christina a go.
'Hey, do you want to go to Avcon?'
'I've never watched an anime in my life.'
'Pfft. Noob...'

I was getting desperate. If Christina wasn't keen, who would be? But then in came my saving grace...
'Is that half-price ticket still on the table?' It was Mitch.
'Alright I'll go. That blunt puppy-dog expression in your text made me feel guilty.'
'Great to hear! Just to let you know, I'm unavailable Friday and I'm working until 5 on both Saturday and Sunday. We'll have to go after that.'
'You mean after those panellists and most of the events have wrapped up?'
'I'm sure we'll find something.'

So I bought the tickets and we met up at the Convention Centre. I'd decided that if I was going to do this for the first time, I had to do it right - and that meant going in costume. I had the perfect idea. A costume that could be slapped together in no time, but looked exactly like what it was meant to look like. Plus, it had the added bonus of being normal enough that I could just wear it out to town later if I wanted. I found Mitch...

'Why are you wearing sunglasses?' He said. 'And why does one lens have a red dot on it?'
'Can't you tell? I'm the Terminator!'
'Dude, that is not the Terminator.'
'Yes it is!'
'Well for a start, the Terminator didn't wear jeans, he wore leather pants. He also wore a black t-shirt under his leather jacket, not white. And I'm pretty darn sure he didn't wear brand new New Balance runners.'

A quick Google image search on my phone told me he was right. I sulkily took my sunglasses off and tucked them in my bag, reverting back to mediocre civilian life. Then we walked in.

The first place we went was the video game area. It was an enormous room full of all sorts of games on every non-portable console you could think of. In one corner there was a sectioned-off area where some spectators were watching the finals of a video game tournament. There were commentators on the stage, wearing headsets and announcing the action, but they didn't seem to really know what they were doing. Their contribution consisted of occasional awkward comments like "That's gonna hurt," and "Looks like he's on the ropes now."

We looked around for a video game that looked interesting and was available. The first one we settled on was one of those Street-Fighter type games that looked like it had been put through a rigorous steroid program. Of all the playable characters in the game, all the males had arms bigger than torsos and broad-swords the size of small cars. All the females wore the most revealing clothes I'd seen yet from a video game. We played a few rounds of that, trying to figure out what the game was. Our best guess was Soul Calibre. Mitchell won every fight.

Are we right? Was it Soul Calibur?

Next, we found an Xbox with an electric guitar plugged into it. A proper one. I'd never seen that before. I can play a few chords, but I don't think I'm good enough to ace a video game of it. We cycled through the songs until I found one I liked. Ooh, House of the Rising Sun! That's my favourite song to play on guitar! I should be awesome at this, right?

What the...

As you can see by my face, I was not right. The screen had the most confusing set-up I'd ever seen, with strings and boards and bricks flying everywhere. I failed miserably. Mitch had a go at (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, one of the easier rock songs to play. It was in watching him that I started to pick up was was going on. The strings were in reverse order, with the high-noted string on the top of the screen and the low-noted string on the bottom. The board moving towards us from the distance was the fretboard with the top of the board on the left hand side. The bricks were the markers that told you when to pluck the string. I had a go at Satisfaction after him and did MUCH better. I hit like 90% of the notes. And then I turned to Mitch and gave him a quick smile as if to say "You're not better at EVERYTHING, are you?"

But Mitch was gone. He'd moved on to this intriguing anime drum game. It was just a single bongo drum with big plastic sticks the size of fritzes. The screen had this amazingly sickly super-happy-fun-time look to it. We would choose a song and this sunny little bongo with legs would jump out and go "Yay!" During the song, you simply had to hit the middle or the edge of the bongo depending on where it told you to and if you got enough hits you passed. The little bongo dude would either burst into sunshine and cheer, or sit under a storm cloud and sulk. It was the most adorable animated thing I'd seen since Pocoyo.

That was enough video gaming for now. Time to check out what else was going on. There was a quiz night which had just started somewhere else in the building. We made it or goal to find it.

We made our way into a corridor that seemed deserted save for the odd person here and there. We weren't sure we were in the right spot, but we kept pushing. We eventually came across two staff members who were standing in a room which was set up to take long lines. There was a lot of that rope mazing you see at banks and airports. We approached the staff members to ask directions, but we could see that they'd had a very tough weekend and were clearly at the end of their ropes.

'Excuse me, is it too late to join in on the quiz night?'
'Oh, look, I don't know,' Said one of them.
'Do you know what time it started?'
She huffed and checked her guidebook. '7:30.'
'Where abouts?'
'Look, I don't know, just follow this corridor and you should find it.'
'Ok... Thanks for your help...'

We followed it around and turned a corner before finding ourselves in an auditorium full of many hundreds of people and a huge stage. How the noise of this place hadn't bled out beyond the doors is a mystery to me. But we'd found the spot. We looked around for a registration booth, but couldn't find one, so we decided to join another table. Preferably one that was already going so badly that us joining them wouldn't make it any worse. The questions we heard as we were looking for the registration booth were atrocious.

"Who's the protagonist of the Space Quest series?"
"In Minecraft, which two ingredients are needed to make a clock?"
"In Duke Nukem Forever, what does Duke Nukem say directly after he kills the Cycloid Emperor?"

Neither of us had an absolute clue. So we decided we'd better join a crap team and just have a laugh. Ah, these guys looked like good candidates...

There were four people at this table. One of them was a weedy-looking boy with a loud voice who was complaining about every question they asked. A second guy was sitting to his left, quietly watching the stage and not saying much. A girl to the boy's right wasn't even paying attention, she was just looking into a pocket-mirror applying more makeup. And a girl to her right had a pen in one hand and her head in the other. She was writing down whatever the first boy shouted at her to write with a look of disinterest. They let us join them and the six of us sat there dumbstruck as more and more ridiculous questions were asked.

"Who did the voice of Aichi Sendou in Cardfight Vanguard?"
"What was the name of the series of episodes from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya that were exactly the same but with a few details changed in each one?"

This was ridiculous. I'd never even heard of half of these things. Then came a question that was music to my ears -

"How many Dragonballs can one collect in Dragonball Z?"

I knew that one!

'Seven! It's seven! Write down seven!' I yelled, surely alerting any table that somehow didn't already know.

Next, they showed a series of videos and asked a question about each video. The questions were ridiculously hard, such as "What was the date on the white board behind the male character?" And "How many times did the teddy bear kick the blue-shirted character in the balls?" Again, there was one question I knew the answer to: There was a video of the Swedish Chef from The Muppets. He was throwing pancakes up in the air and shooting them with a musket. There was a shelf behind him with a bit of china sitting on it. And just on a hunch I counted how many plates were sitting on it. Sure enough, the question was "How many plates were sitting on the shelf behind the chef?"
My response was a bit more subdued this time. 'There's nine,' I mumbled to the scribe.
After that segment, there was a break and we took the opportunity to look elsewhere.

On the other side of the building there was a so-called "rave" happening. It was a licensed area, so only over-18s could enter. I was apprehensive - you may already know how much I hate clubbing. But I went to the club anyway, just to check it out.

It was... weird. A whole bunch of people in costume standing around a dance floor while stereophonic video game music played. A DJ was chilling up the front, just quietly concentrating on his equipment. Not much going on, but I imagine that if anyone had brought extacy into the building, they would have had an absolute ball. We surveyed the scene for a bit, shook our heads and walked out.

We decided we'd seen enough. We wanted to go back to the video game section and keep playing there. I noticed that Point Blank was free - An amazing PlayStation One shooting arcade game that I love.

'Ooh, let's play Point Blank!' I cheered.
'What's Point Blank?'
'It's a shooting game. Players compete to hit all sorts of targets. It's great, I've got it at home.'
'So you paid $70 to play a game you've already got?'
'Shut up and pick up a gun.'

I kicked his ass on that one. Not surprising, seeing as I owned the game and he didn't. A couple of games in he sighed and said 'What else is there to play here?'

Bad Boys 3. Tighter... and Whiter.

From the competition corner, I heard the words "Our next game is Crash Team Racing!" I nearly choked on my tongue. Crash Team Racing??? I love that game!! I don't think there's a single game I'm better at in the world. I sure hope I can register to compete...

We went up to the game area and found a staff member.
'Excuse me, can anyone register at this point?'
'No, sorry. This is the Ultimate Video Game Championship. It's been going all day with different games.'
'And they made Crash Team Racing one of the Ultimate Games? Respect...'
I was sad that I couldn't compete, but I enjoyed watching the battle and quietly believing I could be better.

The final thing we did for the night was to play Titanfall online. We each went to a console each and started playing. It took me a while to figure out how to get into one of those giant robot things. And when I did I got blown out of it pretty quickly. I was blown apart, shot and trampled over and over again as I suffered the age-old curse of noobism. I struggled in this Hell until a staff member came over and said
'Are you playing online? We rather you play over the LAN connection if that's okay.'
'Yeah sure... How do I do that?'

He took the controller off me and expertly played with the settings. I got back on the game...

And encountered the sweet relief of players who were more at my skill level.  The first game I didn't even die once, although my score wasn't very high because I only killed computer-generated soldiers, not human players. At one point I tried to change my Gamer Tag to something a little funnier, but it wouldn't let me.

What's wrong with that?

So that was it for Saturday night's entertainment. Mitch told me to look at the Avcon guide tomorrow morning before work to see what was on in the evening so we didn't end up wandering around aimlessly. I looked for a bit, then I had to text Mitch.

'Yeah, looks like there's not much on in the evening tomorrow. Do you want to just play video games the rest of the night?'

We turned up at 5:30 just in time to see that in the Competition Corner, they were having the final battle of their Pokemon X & Y tournament. I used to be a gun at Pokemon, but that was back when it was just the first and second generations. Now Mitch is the Pokemon gun and he's far better at it than I could ever hope to be. As we watched the battle, he explained to me how certain moves on particular Pokemon achieved such and such results. After it was done, we decided that rather than than get straight to the video games, we'd keep taking a look around. There was meant to be a cosplay competition finishing up somewhere, maybe we could watch the end of that.

We found a place that could have been it. There were some serious characters lining up on the wall with people taking photos of them. These must have been the finalists.

But as they dispersed, it became clear that the competition was over.
'So wait,' I said. 'What are we in line for?'
'The annual auction,' said a passing staff member.
'What time does it start?'
'Seven o'clock.'

I looked at my watch. It was 6:15. No way was I going to stand in line for 45 minutes waiting for the auction to start.
'Come, on, let's get to the video games.'

We got to the video game section again, and were horrified to discover they were packing it up.
Point Blank!
The LAN section!
Happy Drum Drum! (Is that what it was called?)
All gone!

I buried my head in my hands and said
'Why?! Why must this always happen to me?'
'So what next, line up for the auction?' said Mitch.
'Ah, let's look around a bit more first. I saw a sign for a place selling "Goku Burgers", I want to check that out.'
'Um, Mike... I think that's it over there.' He pointed to a room that came off of the video game section. The place was deserted and the lights were off, but there was a sign above it clearly saying "The Maid Diner".
'Well, maybe that's not it. Let's keep looking.'
'I dunno Mike...'

We walked around the building in what was clearly a wild goose chase until I finally gave up and we went to rejoin the line for the auction.

...The line that now filled the room and had no end in sight.
'Man, I'm glad we gave up those ace positions in line to walk around for 20 minutes,' said Mitch.
'Ah, shut up. Let's just sit here and wait until they all go in.'

So we sat on a sofa and played risk on my phone until the line started moving and they all filed in. When everyone was in, the auctioneer bounded on stage.

Would you know what I meant if I said he was a jock-nerd? The type of person who's into very nerdy stuff like anime and Warcraft, but who's also good looking and confident? That was this guy. He swaggered on stage in his skinny-jeans, volleys and "let's party" shirt and tie and had the whole crowd eating out of his hands from the word go.

He facilitated the items as they cycled through. There were signed convention passes, Indie games and plush toys. People paid RIDICULOUS money for that stuff. A set of passes to this year's convention signed by each of the special guests sparked a bidding war which was won by a plump girl in a Peppa Pig outfit. What did she pay for it? Eleven... Hundred... Dollars. We're in a recession, people!

The showpiece item for the night was a full, working suit of armour retailed at $1300. They started the bidding at $800... And didn't get much interest. Looks like everyone was all bidded out over those pieces of plastic on a string.

When the bidding hit $1050, it looked like the bidding was going to end there - until a tall bearded man dressed like a dwarf from Lord of the Rings came onto the stage and grabbed the microphone. He went on a rand, shouting in a ye-olde Brittish accent,
'This isn't just a cardboard cutout to stick into your room and forget about! This suit can be taken into battle! The sword can split a man's head! And with the Dark Lord Abbott running our country, this will soon become a crucial piece of equipment! And you people will only pay a thousand dollars??? For shame, you people!' And with that he handed the microphone back to the host and exited the stage to huge applause.

The host regained himself.
'Okay, so with that in mind, do we have any more bids? Anyone? Do I hear eleven-hundred? Going once... going twice... going three times... sold. For Ten-hundred-and-fifty dollars.

So much for that.

The Angry Goblin.
The closing ceremony consisted of some people from other anime and gaming conventions across the country giving a talk about their upcoming events and then a cool sketch where they brought an old fashioned turn-based battle game to life and acted it out It had great humour and ended with an audience member pressing the "skip" button to avoid battling the main boss. After that, the audience filed out and wearily went home. I enjoyed my time there, even if I did feel out of my depth. But there was one thing during the whole weekend that DIDN'T make an appearance...

Monday, 21 July 2014

Art Versus the Artist

Rolf Harris recently got sentenced over a string of sexual offences that spanned pretty much his whole career. He'll be going to jail for around five years, his Order of the British Empire and Officer of Australia status has been revoked and he's been removed from the ARIA Hall of fame and the Fellowship of BAFTA.

Now those last two interested me. Harris was a very sick man who deserved to go to jail. But what bearing does it have on his status as an artist? Do his evil ways in any way cancel out his talent as an artist? I can guarantee you that as long as you and I are alive, songs like Jake the Peg and Tie Me Kangaroo Down will never be played without jeers from whoever's in the room. Harris won't even be remembered as an artist any more. He'll just be the creep we used to let entertain our kids.

The same can be said of Woody Allen. I know plenty of people who baulk at the sound of his name. This is a conversation I've had with a person in the past...
'Urgh, Woody Allen's a creep.'
'Yeah I know. Manhattan's a good movie though...'
'What? No, that's disgusting!'
'Because he married his step-daughter!'

So the question comes up again - can the artist be separated from their art? Allen cheated on the girl he was dating with her adopted daughter and eventually married her. Does that suddenly make his movies awful? In the case above (and the majority of other cases), I think that a person believes that liking the artist's work in some way means that they approve of the artist's actions. And maybe that's true. But look at it this way - take the greatest movies of all time: Star Wars. The Godfather. Titanic. What if it turned out that James Cameron was a sex offender? Would all of Titanic's Oscars be taken away? Would the world suddenly decide that it wasn't the best film of the year? Wasn't the best directed? Didn't have the best costumes?

You might be reading this screaming "YES!!! ISN'T IT OBVIOUS? THEY DON'T DESERVE TO BE REWARDED FOR THAT!!!" Well, that's up to you. There's of course no right or wrong here. I choose to view a person's art separately from who that person is.

But wait, let's throw a spanner in the works. Not long ago I was introduced to the song Chandelier, by Sia. It was during her performance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she had her back to the cameras and a girl recreated the interpretive dance from the music video. I thought it was an okay song... But then I heard about Sia's addiction to alcohol and painkillers. I heard about how the scars she's developed from her party lifestyle has left her not wanting to show her face to the public. I read the lyrics of the song and discovered how it was about the shame she felt after a night of drinking. In my eyes, the song became much, much better.

So how can I say that artist and art are separate? If Sia's lifestyle has influenced my opinion of her song so much, how can I overlook Woody Allen's perceived transgressions and enjoy a film like Midnight in Paris?

Maybe it's that these artists' dark sides don't actually appear in the work. But there's no way to be sure of that. Who knows what Rolf Harris was really thinking about when he wrote the song Two Little Boys. I think it's still a beautiful song, but one could understand a person disagreeing.

Probably the most incriminating thing for me is that I like the song Blurred Lines. Of course I don't agree with the message - I think Robin Thicke deserved his divorce. I just think it sounds bloody good. Is that allowed? Are you allowed to like the song and not like the video clip? I've had conversations with people who assert that no, you can't just enjoy one or the other. The clip is tied so closely to the song that to like the song is to condone the rest of it.

I'd appreciate your input in the comments section. Is it okay to laugh at Mike Tyson's movie cameos or buy Adolf Hitler's paintings? What other examples are there? Am I being hypocritical by ignoring the bad and taking in the good?  When is it okay and not okay to separate art from the artist? Can it even be done?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 28: Counting My Steps

On weekends I work in Harvey Norman demonstrating LG TVs to customers. Last Saturday I was chatting to the guy that demonstrates the Sony TVs and he mentioned that he's downloaded a pedometer app on his phone. I thought that was a cool idea, so I decided to do it myself. I downloaded the app he was using to my phone and then put it in my pocket and forgot about it. Three hours later I checked it to see just how hard I'd been working.

109 steps? In three hours? How's that possible, that's less than a step a minute! The Sony rep smiled and pulled out his phone.
'I'm on four-digits now. But whatever, I'm not bragging.'

I bristled at his bragging and stalked off. That's when I decided what my new thing would be for this week. I'd find a pedometer that works, keep it in my pocket for a week and see how many steps I can take in an average 7-day period. It would be interesting to know how active I actually am.

So first I had to download the right app. I searched for "pedometer" on Google Play on came up with three more good-looking options. The first was called Noom Walk. It was a basic app with just a counter and nothing else. That would prove different with the others. The second one was called Runtastic. In addition to a step counter, Runtastic gave me a speed, distance travelled and length of workout. Then the third one. It was called Map My Walk. I realised it didn't actually have a step counter, but you could turn on the phone's GPS and get it to track your route. I like that idea, I thought it would be cool to get to the end of the day and see where I've been as I went from home to work to my other commitments. I decided to try them all. I had a double shift coming up on Monday handing out Lindt chocolate. I'd be walking around and around for nine hours straight - a perfect opportunity to see which one I wanted to use.

I woke up Monday morning and get out my phone to set things up. Noom Walk was easy enough, it didn't have any settings to play with. Runtastic asked me how long my stride was and how fast my maximum speed would be. This is stuff I neither know nor care about. Moving on. I took a look at Map My Walk and noticed that I could pick the type of workout I could do. How cool! Let's see...walking... running... cycling...cheerleading... gardening... musical instrument... intimacy? What do they mean by int-

SEXUAL ACTIVITY??? How on Earth would they measure that?? My pants would be on the floor while I'm- um... Never mind.

I finished my prep and set about my day. My battery went flat half way through, but I'd seen enough to make things clearer. The Noom Walk seemed the most accurate. It was time to start the new week and see how my travels went...

Not a good start. My phone dodgy phone charger stopped charging my phone at about 30% last night. I had to keep it plugged into the wall when I wasn't moving. And with the GPS running and a couple of different apps using it, it didn't get far. The phone went flat half way through my first shift. I put it on charge again in the staff room and tried not to move much. And again in the car on the way to my second shift. No good. It went flat again late in the second shift as well. I decided that tracking my movements wasn't a good option. I turned off the GPS and just stuck with the pedometer.

Luckily I wasn't moving around as much today. I had to set up a table and stand around that, so there wasn't nearly as much walking. In fact, I was quite bored that day.

Steps: 9696
Distance: Who knows??
Total: 9696

On Thursdays I help out on the admin desk of my local radio station Fresh 92.7. As such, I'm sitting down all day. Now that's not to say that I wasn't working hard. The station just finished a fundraising promotion and we have literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of new station subscribers to enter into our database. All the helpers that come in immediately sit down to attack the massive pile of papers that's been placed there. So I made it my mission to get through as many as possible. I hunched myself over the keyboard, not breaking concentration for anything. Afterwards, I posted on our group's Facebook page that I managed to enter 118 subscribers for the afternoon with a record of 41 in one hour. Beat that everyone.

I would usually have training for footy umpiring on Thursday nights, but it's school holidays at the moment, so it's not on. It's a shame, I really like having a reason to train - I can't motivate myself to work out without one. However, I'm not sure how wise it would have been to have my phone in my pocket while doing shuttle-runs.

Steps: 4541
Total: 14 237

Back to work again, and it was another double shift. Because I was no longer using the GPS, my battery lasted the whole day. So I got a more accurate readout.

I finished at 7 o'clock and rushed to Jason's house for a late dinner. He's going away to Europe and Asia for four months and we were having some goodbye drinks for him. I had pizza that night. I can't describe to you how weird that is for me. I don't think I'd had pizza in 18 months. I'm going to have to take a lot of steps tomorrow to work that off...

Steps: 10 701
Total: 24 938

I was back at work demonstrating TVs, but this time at JB HiFi in Melrose Park. It's a much quieter store, and it's also July, which means that retail is quiet following the End of Financial Year sales. So I didn't have much to do that day. I spent the day joking with the salespeople and gazing at the movies they had on the TVs. I had a debate with one of the sales people over weather in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Obi Wan Kanobi cuts off his one good arm as well as his legs or just the legs. He picked up a remote and pointed it at the TV it was playing on and rewound to the part in question. We decided the results were inconclusive, but I still think he lost his arm too.

In the evening I watched Thor with Jerida and my family, so not much movement there. I took the opportunity to put my phone on charge.

Steps: 6311
Total: 31 249

I started to think that maybe the Noom app was starting to undersell me, so I tried turning on the Runtastic app as well. I turned it on and went downstairs, took a look at it and it said 109. That's a bit too far in the other direction. I turned it back off again.

Maybe the fact that everyone was watching Port Adelaide play was the reason work was so horrendously long and quiet today. I could practically watch the whole game on one of the TVs at the store. Not much walking going on. It was made even worse by the fact that I'd woken up at five in the morning from the cold, so by the time I got home and collapsed into a chair, I didn't move much more that night. I watched another movie - this time it was a weird niche movie starring Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin and it was about birdwatching. It was called The Big Year, look it up.

Steps: 4796
Total: 36 045

Back to doing grocery store food sampling. I tell you, the boring days are starting to frustrate me. I walked around my area, bounced up and down on the spot and drummed on the demo table for four straight hours. It was only a single shift for once, so I found I had the afternoon free. I played a bit of drums on Guitar Hero and realised that with my phone in my pocket and my foot operating the kick pedal, my results may have become a bit skewed. Oh well, stomping is kind of like stepping...

Steps: 7521
Total: 43 566

On the final day of my week of step-counting, I had breakfast at the O'Connell St Bakery with Sarah and Kelsey. I ate a pie and a fruit salad, which is a LOT less than what I normally have. But then after that I went to Fresh 92.7 to start writing the news for that afternoon. I was there from about midday to 6pm, and sitting down practically the whole time. Not a good way to finish off the week. So for the last two hours of my night, I played some more Guitar Hero-drums. I finished the week playing Hotel California - and kicking ass at it - but I screwed up the end when my Dad came out of his room with perfect timing and said
'Michael! I need to get some sleep!'
It distracted me just enough to miss the last four notes and I thought it was a fitting way to end a pretty uneventful week.

Steps: 5799
Total: 49 365

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 27: My First Paid Gig

Ok this one's pushing it a bit. I had my first paid stand up comedy gig on Wednesday. I've certainly done stand up before - I've been doing it on and off for about three years. And it's not even the first time I've received money for a gig. Back in March I put on my own show with my friend Rusty, to which all my friends and family came. Most were quite impressed. We walked away from it a few hundred dollars richer. So let's just say this is the first time someone's actually given me money to perform at their show. And it was a room I'd never performed in either. The room was the Chiaro Bar on Waymouth St. I'd been told there was a big dinner booking on that night, so there'd be a larger crowd there than usual.

I headed straight there after work. I'd warned the guy who runs the room (his name was Taylor) that I might be late, so he put me on in the second half. I would have arrived on time if I weren't so obsessed with finding a free park. I found the bar with 20 minutes to spare and saw my friend Mark getting out of his car right in front of the building. Even without searching, I knew he'd gotten incredibly lucky. I wouldn't be able to find a park that easily. I drove around that four-block area dozens of times looking for free spots, sizing up the length and legality of available spaces. Eventually I gave up and went to a paid park, wandering into the bar 20 minutes after the show started.

Ivan Aristeguieta was performing at the time. He's close to being Adelaide's best comedian and he's someone I consider to be kind of an early mentor. We don't talk as much any more, but I always like seeing him perform because he's an example of how to get the fundamentals of stand up right. The room was kind of swanky with bright-coloured spotlights around the place and a bluish wash over the rest of it. The seats were kind of split in half with the right hand side facing the stage and the left side taken up by a long table at which the dinner party was happening. They seemed to be paying attention to the comedy, which is rare for a setup like that, but then again it was Ivan, so I'm not surprised.

Ivan finished performing and the crowd went on its mid-show break. I sat with Mark, Ivan and a couple of other comedians thinking over my new material while the others chatted around me. I was going with 90% new stuff, which I'm not sure is a good idea when it's a new room and you're getting paid for the first time. The break finished and everyone went back to their seats, but as we sat down, something seemed wrong. Very wrong. Why was the room so much emptier?

Turned out the dinner party - more than half of the crowd - had left and there was about 15 people left. What jerks! (the dinner people, not the people remaining). The first performer for the bracket went up and did his thing to some chuckles around the room, almost as if they were being polite. Then it was my turn. I got up from my seat and stepped onto the rickety stage and faced the expectant audience...

I did alright. I got chuckles like the last guy, but they seemed a bit less forced. I felt comfortable like I hadn't felt since the Fringe. Afterwards, I went up to Taylor and proudly received my payment - a crisp five dollars. Hey, don't laugh. It was for only five minutes work. That's 60 bucks an hour! I slipped that note into my jacket pocket and left to go home.

On the way back to the car, I noticed a lot of drunk people around. That's right, it was Wednesday - interestingly a pretty popular day outside of the weekend for clubbers and the like. I was intercepted on the way back to the car by a drunk aboriginal who asked me for money.

'Well, it just so happens I have five dollars right here,' I said as I took the money back out of my pocket. I was glad to be rid of it if it meant he didn't mug me. He ran off with it excitedly like he'd just found Blackbeard's treasure and I made it back to my car in one piece. But as I paid for my parking, it occurred to me - all added up, my first ever paid gig had made a loss.

Friday, 4 July 2014

New Experience Challenge Week 26: Combining Two Previous Adventures

In week 13 this year, I wrote about seeing a football game at the beautiful and newly redeveloped Adelaide Oval. In week 19, I talked about becoming a footy umpire. This week, at the half-way point of the year, I combined the two into a really awesome day out.

At half time of every AFL match, they bring out a bunch of little-leaguers (mostly around 7 years old) to play their own scratch-match. It's part of a program called Auskick which promotes the game to new generations of fans. Our panel was offered the chance to umpire the Auskick games for the Showdown on the weekend. Only six of us were actually offered a spot and I happened to be one of them. I was so eager to go that I took the day off of work to do it.

We had to meet outside the ground at 2 o'clock on Sunday. It took me a while to find the spot, because there was no signage or anything as promised. But eventually I got there and waited with the other umpires and all the kids that I assumed would be playing. A jolly old man by the name of Doug came out and gave us tickets to get in. We were to give the tickets to a man at the side gate who tore off the barcodes and let us in.
'Now make sure you've got everything sorted,' he said as we went in. 'Because once we're in, we won't be able to get back out.'

Seemed legit. We went inside and found our seats. Our very... very... VERY high seats. In fact, we were as high up and as far back from the ground as you could be. The officials on the field looked like ants. You'd think a multi-billion dollar corporation would be able to spring for slightly better seats. But then again, you don't make a billion dollars without cutting a few costs here and there.

However, the position of the seats did help for one thing. My friend Kelsey works at Adelaide Oval and I needed to meet up with him. I'd left my beloved Boston Redsox cap in his car on Friday and he told me to come to his kiosk during the first quarter to collect it. Kelsey's kiosk was in the Eastern Stand, level five. I was in the Southern Stand on level five, so that was convenient. All I had to do was walk around a couple of hundred meters and I was there. The game started and I left my seat to make the trip. I walked anticlockwise around the ground, wondering how I'd know when I'd reached the eastern stand. I got my answer soon enough. I ran into a steel wall which blocked my progress completely. I could see what must have been the Eastern Stand through a window and a bridge leading to it from the fourth floor. How useless is that?

So I headed off to the staircase to head down a floor. But when I got there, I found there was no way to get to the actual hallway. Only more stairs leading down. I had to keep searching for a way to get to level four. I headed back up to the top and looked for more stairs. I found a couple of escalators carrying steady streams of people up onto the fifth floor. I didn't find any that were going down.

"What is this labyrinth??!!" I thought frustratedly as I moved further away from my intended destination. At long last I came to a lift. A lift! That will get me where I need to go! I joined the crowd of people waiting to get into the same lift and waited. It took three minutes. I don't know why it took that long, but it did. And by the time it did come, the waiting crowd was so big we couldn't all fit in anyway. I missed the cut and had to wait another three minutes. When I finally got in, the operator said
'Are you all going to the ground floor?'
Murmurs of approval from the group before I piped up.
'I'm going to the fourth.'

She looked at me suspiciously in my umpire's top, leather jacket, jeans and incredibly worn out sandshoes and said
'Are you going to the function?'
I had no idea what she was talking about, but there was no way I was going to mention to a crowded elevator about the elusive bridge that I may or may not have imagined.
'No, I'm uh... meeting a friend there,' I said feebly.
She nodded and pressed the button. A few seconds later I walked out...

To an empty glass room that was completely different to the floor I just came from. To my left I could see the tennis courts outside the stadium. To my right were some glass doors that clearly led to the function room. I saw two staff members talking outside the room, so I decided to ask them for help.
'Hey guys, could you tell me how to get to the Eastern Stand?'
'You'll have to go down to the ground floor and get a passout. You won't be able to get there through here.'
'So I have to go back to the elevator?'

'Um, ok...' I didn't want to face that lady again. There were two elevators there, so I stood there a sec and said "please be the other one, please be the other one" under my breath a couple of times before pressing the button. The lift came almost immediately this time and of course, there was the suspicious lady, staring at me to come in.
'He wasn't there, so I might go down to the ground floor,' I mumbled. She didn't say anything, just pressed the button and moved on.

The ground floor was buzzing with thousands of people. I made my way to the main entrance and joined the cue of people waiting to get out. When I got to the front, there was a guy handing out cards that would let people who had already entered go out without rescanning their ticket. I thought I'd better make absolutely sure...
'If I take one of these, will I be able to use it to get into the Eastern Stand?'
'Yeah I suppose. Only if you have your actual ticket as well.

My ticket? The one I left in my bag? The one that's currently sitting hundreds of meters above my head?
This was infuriating. I caught the inexplicably one-way escalator back up to level five, made my way back to my seat and grabbed my ticket out of my bag. But just as I began to head off again, I realised that the barcode was missing. Doug's voice came into my ears -

"Once we're in, we won't be able to get back out."

That's it, I quit. I sat back down in a huff and waited for Doug to come and collect us. He came just before quarter time and took us into a restricted area where there were change rooms and lockers everywhere. Finally we reached our room. There were six chairs with an orange rubber football on each. We took up a football and got changed into our umpiring gear.

'Ok Daniel, you'll be taking the oval in front of the Gavin Wanganeen Stand. Jason will have the senior game on the western side. Peter gets the one on the east. Casey and Stewart get the two on the south end. Michael, you've got the oval on the end of the members' stand. Any questions?'
'Um yeah, where's the members' stan-'
'Ok, so you'll each take your players and lead them out to your oval. It'll be you, the players, then the goal umpires at the rear. I'll come and collect you when it's time to go.'

I shrugged and picked up the football that was on my chair, going out with the rest of the boys to explore whatever backstage areas we were allowed to explore. Myself, Peter, Casey and Daniel found an opening that led out to the ground and we hung out in there - trying to see as much of the game as we could, but keeping our distance lest we be seen. We were there for 10 minutes before a staff member there turned around and said
'Do you want to watch the game? Watch it somewhere else.'

We stared at each other wondering if he was serious or if he actually had any authority. We decided he didn't and kept watching. It took another five minutes for a second person to get up from his seat and say
'Alright Rob, get these kids out of here. Otherwise I'm going to have them arrested.'

Ok, he definitely didn't have the authority for that. But we left nonetheless. We moved on to the next room where all the little Auskickers were getting ready. 80 excited little kids running around in singlets and underwear while a small group of parents in goal umpire's uniforms tried to get them organised. When they were finally ready they were split into four groups - one in each corner of the room - and Doug came in and assigned an umpire to each group. I went into my corner to meet the goal umpires. They were two parents named Mark and Natalie who were about as sure of what they were doing as I was. The coach of the teams came up and introduced himself.

'I'm Phil. These are the kids from the Kadina Auskick centre. We've already sorted it out, the black team is going to kick that way,' (he pointed) 'and the red team is going to kick that way,' (opposite direction). Good, I'm glad someone knew what was happening, because no one else in my group seemed to.
'Just one question...'
'How far are the kids allowed to run with the ball?'
Oh ok, that's my area.
'Ten meters, have a bounce and then another ten meters.'
'Oh I see. Because we just let the kids do what they want.'
Well that's always a good thing to teach children.

It was nearing half time. Our group was standing there wondering what to do. Ok myself, Phil and the parents were standing there. The kids (now dressed at least) were climbing all over the couch, table and each other. I saw the coach of one of the other groups taking his kids through a drill, so I turned to Natalie and said
'Should we do what they're doing?'
'Go for it,' she said and stepped back for me.

Back in high school, the word "drill" made as all sigh heavily with exasperation. We didn't care about running from cone to cone, we just wanted to get into teams and play whatever sport we could. So I was surprised at the response I got when I turned around and shouted
'Ok, who wants to do drills?'
They all cheered "Yeah!" and got into a group around me.
'Alright, line up over here. I'll handpass you the ball, pass it back to me and go to the back of the line. No, what are you... further back, I can't move! Back up guys! Back up back up back up back up back up back up... There! Ok here we go!'

I started passing the ball to each player throughout the line. Some of them were just adorable. There was a little boy with glasses who always had his mouth open like he wasn't quite sure what was happening, a little girl with a blonde ponytail who had the biggest grin, and a chubby boy who was taller than the rest, but had this look on his face as if to say "Are we friends now?"

At long last Doug came back into the room and told us it was showtime.
'Daniel, you'll be leading your group out first, Michael second, Casey third and Stewart fourth. Enter the ground in a single file with the umpire in front, the players and then the goal umpires, and the next umpire following behind. Let's go!'

We all lined up in a very packed-in formation, such was everyone's eagerness to to out on the ground. The half-time siren went and we waited for Doug's go-ahead while people on the field set up the oval. I still wasn't entirely sure where to go when I got out there, but I had an idea. There were two senior games which I assumed were being played in the middle of the ground, and I was sure the four other games were being played in each corner. I knew I had to turn left once I got out to the ground and that Daniel's was further out from our entry point than I was. But that was all the information I had. I pictured playing a makeshift game of follow the leader with the kids as I ran out onto the field and covered the the whole place looking for my oval.
"Here it is! No wait, it's over there! Wait, double back! We had it before!"

It turned out alright in the end though. We ran out in front of the 50 000-strong crowd and I did a quick scan of the options to my left. There were two sets of goal posts quite close to each other, but one had a matching set further away, so I guessed that was it. We got to the middle of the oval, Natalie and Mark went to their ends and the players all stood around me waiting for me to throw the ball up.

'Spread out, guys!' I said. They didn't move. 'Come on, spread out!' Eventually they got the idea and started to move out.
'Ok, who are our rucks?' I said. They all stared at me blankly. Sigh...
'Ok you two, do you want to be rucks?' The kids I pointed at stepped forward obligingly and when I saw that others had already gotten started, I quickly got our game going.

In games where the players are that young, we don't keep score. The rules are worked out so that all we're doing at that age is introducing them to a game they'll hopefully be involved with for the rest of their lives. No need for winners or losers or awards or sanctions just yet. The kids here just grabbed the ball and kicked it in the right direction, often not quite connecting with the ball properly. Every now and then, the ball would tumble through the goalposts and we'd haphazardly bring it back into the middle to throw it up again. For the first few minutes I tried to umpire it like a normal game. I called one player to dispose of the ball three times before blowing my whistle and awarding a free kick against him for running too far. I apologised to him and eased the ball out of his hands while he looked at me dumbstruck. At that moment that I realised that there was absolutely nothing official or serious about this game. It was purely for fun and to give these kids from the country a great experience. So I put the whistle away and just ran beside the players while they played. I even mucked around with them, once pretending to throw the ball up just to see the kids' eyes dart up.

We only had 20 minutes, which was just too short for me. I looked up to see the other ovals being packed up already, so I had to stop the game so we could go back inside. We got into single file again and walked back into our change room, where the kids immediately stripped back down to their singlets and jocks. Before they disappeared too far, Mark spoke up.

'Alright everyone, say thanks to Michael!'
'Thank you Michael!' They all chanted together.
'My pleasure,' I said and myself and the other umpires left to watch the rest of the game.

Two more things I should mention. It started drizzling down with rain just as we got back to our undercover seats, so we were lucky to avoid that. Also, despite leading at half time, Port Adelaide went down to the Crows to record their first ever loss at Adelaide Oval and lose top spot on the ladder. Not a good end to the day.

The view from our seats.

That was my game.

A photo appeared in the Yorke Peninsula Country Times.

They left a fruit box on each of our seats as a thanks.
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