In what can only be considered the perfect example of a double standard, women are practically wetting themselves at the sight of Channing Tatum and his spunky co-stars dropping trou in the movie Magic Mike. And yet, should a man cock an appreciative eyebrow at a comely lass, he is instantly labelled a boorish pervert.

When I confronted my female Facebook friends about their disgusting behaviour, the answers ran along the lines of “It’s our turn to leer.”

That’s all fine and dandy, but if women are suddenly so desperate to treat men as little more than meat puppets, so eager to demean us for the sake of their depraved fantasies, then the least I can do is give them something to stare at. Which is why I’ve decided to become a male stripper, um, exotic dancer.

I mean, seriously, how hard can it be? I’ve done my research — and by research I mean I’ve watched the trailer for Magic Mike — and have narrowed down the attributes a successful exotic dancer needs to a mere three.

One: The ability to dance. No problem: I’ve been wriggling my booty ever since the Frug was invented. Why, just the other day I was gyrating around the bedroom with a look of pure intensity on my face. The routine featured me hopping on one leg while clutching my other foot with both hands. That particular shimmy may have been the result of a close encounter between a baby toe and a bed post but picture that performed in a thong and suddenly it takes on a whole new context.

Two: Muscular build. According to Gray’s Anatomy (the medical research text, not the TV series), all men possess the same muscles. Some of us just prefer to keep our six-packs wrapped in several layers of protective insulation.

Three: Hairless body. OK, this one could be a bit trickier, especially for those whose body hair most closely resembles a pelt. Once considered a desirable indication of virility, back hair is now somehow considered, well, gross. Apparently 21st century women prefer their men as sleek as an otter. Or as a 10-year-old boy.

But how does one achieve a fur-less body? Lawnmower? Line trimmer? Secateurs? A female acquaintance recommended laser hair removal. A full-body Brazilian, as it were. Maybe I’ve seen Goldfinger one too many times, but just the mental image of a red-hot laser scorching one’s nether lands is enough to cause me to shrink in fear. However, if that’s what it takes to make women salivate, then let the zap-zap-zapping begin.

So there you have it: I’m turning in my journalist’s notebook for a spangled g-string and taking to the stage. Prepare to be astounded.

There is only one small detail I have yet to work out. Magic Mike is set in America, a country which still uses $1 bills, perfect for stuffing into skimpy outfits. But no matter how skilled I am as a dancer, I still may find it tricky to shake my money maker with my stubbies full of gold coins. And then there’s that whole chafing thing to consider.

It will all be worth it, of course, when the women start screaming. Too bad the music will be so loud I won’t be able to hear what they’re yelling.

This column originally appeared in the August 8 edition of the Napier (NZ) Courier.

As thick as a Brick

July 3, 2012

In my family’s archives, there is a short video clip that an enterprising junior member has also posted to their Facebook page. There is no sound but the images clearly show my then-teenage daughter using a cellphone while she leans against my Buick Regal.

The video dates from the mid-’90s. I know this for a fact because the cellphone is bigger than my daughter’s head. In fact, it’s almost bigger than the Buick.

Those phones were called Bricks and you need no imagination whatsoever to understand why. They were massive and they were bulky and you could lose an eye to the fixed antenna and they came in any colour you desired just as long as that colour was grey.

But there were advantages to this i-sore, including the fact you could never misplace them because they were the size of a small dog and when was the last time your dog fell between the couch cushions. Plus you never had to worry about pocket-calling Uruguay because, let’s face it, no way was that monster going to fit in your pocket. They were also simplicity itself when it came to use. On, dial, off. No texting, no internet, no camera. Mainly because those gremlins had yet to be invented.

I miss my Brick and never more so than right now when, if I’ve interpreted the Telecom propaganda correctly, my wee Nokia is about to become obsolete. Something about format change or network change or something or other I have no hope of understanding because I’m not 12 years old.

I only bought the phone in the first place in case of an emergency. Except I already know, should I find myself dangling upside down from the seatbelt in an overturned car in a deep ditch, that will be the precise moment the battery will die.

“Just text me,” people tell me. And my first thought is not “good as gold” but, rather, “I have no idea how to do that” and then “I have no idea where my teeny, tiny phone is”.

I don’t want a new phone. I’ve had the Nokia for five years and have yet to figure out how it works, so why would I want a new one with upgraded features. At one time, such gadgets came with manuals which, being a man, I quickly shoved into a drawer and forgot about. Now those manuals are online, making them easier to ignore but adding an extra layer of technology should I actually have a question along the lines of “How do I turn this darn thing on?”.

Face it, this dog is too old for new tricks. I can barely function in this new hi-tech world of ours. I’ve seen youngsters text while riding a bike; a friend reports he once saw someone with a cellphone in each hand, texting on both of them. I used to think being able to chew gum and walk at the same time was an admirable skill. No more.

So how do these kids do it? How do they know to operate all these contrary contraptions? Do they have more time to figure them out because their lives aren’t taken up with such trivial pursuits as, say, working for a living or paying bills or keeping pirates from selling off the country’s assets? Is there something in the beef hormones that make them more tech-savvy? If I eat more burgers will that make me smarter or just fatter?

My guess is they’re born with the knowledge. I imagine little i-babies, tucked up in the womb, clutching a notebook or an i-Pad or a mobile phone. That’s not kicking, that’s an embryo using a Nintendo Wii.

I imagine an expectant mother receiving a text one evening after dinner and turning to her husband, her eyes wide in disbelief.

“It’s from the baby,” she’ll say, holding up her cellphone to show her partner.

“What’s he want now?”

“He says if I don’t stop eating spicy food, he’s going to pop out in middle of the game and teach us both a lesson.”

That scenario would never have happened in the ’90s, of course. Because there isn’t room inside the uterus for both a baby and a Brick.

A version of this blog posting appeared in the July 4, 2012 Napier (New Zealand) Courier.

I’m guessing the first week of school after the Easter break in New Zealand was a quiet one, what with all the puberty-challenged girls having screamed themselves voiceless during the recent holiday break.

In what can only be described as teen idol overload, the nation’s tweeny population had barely packed away its homemade “I (heart) Reese” posters after the exit of Young Master Mastin when the lads from One Direction dropped by to be worshipped at the altar of estrogen. It was like being invaded by the Huns and Gauls in the same week. Where’s a good Hadrian’s Wall when you need it?

I saw them on the news, those hordes with their eyes blazing from adrenalin overload, their gaping mouths all a-silver with the best braces Daddy’s money can buy, their androgynous bodies quivering with what can only be described as mass hysteria.

What, I wondered, would they do if one of their plastic boys had actually stepped past the beefy security and waded into the crowd? What would their buzzy brains have thought to say? “OMG! LOL! Which Barbie shall we play with today? Oh, and can you help me with my homework? Starting with the correct spelling of ‘zealot’.”

Young females practically wetting themselves in the worship of music godlets is nothing new of course. They did it for Elvis. They did it for The Beatles. They will do it for someone else tomorrow.

I was 10 when A Hard Day’s Night came to the venerable Clova Theatre in Cloverdale, a dusty town known more for hosting one of North America’s largest rodeos than its appreciation of the arts. But the Clova was the closest cinema to my hometown and so one night my father bundled the family off to see the shaggy-haired Fab Four in their first flirtation with the silver screen.

The place was a madhouse, so full that the only empty seats available were in the “crying room,” a closed-in area off to the side where, behind layers of thick glass, mothers could deal to their cranky babies without disturbing the general audience. But even in an area designed to swallow the sounds of squalling bubs, we could hear the hysterical screams issuing from inside the theatre proper.

It was sheer pandemonium, absolute chaos, drowning out the film’s soundtrack and leaving my parents _ more accustomed to the soothing tones of crooners like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como and Nat King Cole _ shaking their heads in bewilderment.

While I will admit to singing along (very badly) at concerts, I have never _ ever _ felt the urge to scream like my hair was on fire.

Maybe it’s a man thing but I tend to save my lungs for events with the potential to forge history. Sporting events, for instance. And by sports I mean, of course, hockey.

 But even then, it’s not simple bellowing, but rather clever witticisms along the lines of “Hit him with your purse, ya wimp!” and “Hey ref, I found your guide dog!”. Loud, yes, but also supremely intelligent, as befits the male of the species.
I have no idea why young girls yelp at young men in mindless, gullible adoration, simply because said lads possess clear complexions, straight teeth and jeans so tight they threaten to cut off the circulation to their boy bits. Because we all know it’s less about pure talent and more about ‘there but for Simon Cowell go I’.

So here I sit, dazed and confused, curious as to why people who neither write their own songs nor play their own instruments manage to whip sweet young misses into whirling dervishes.

 I also can’t help but chuckle at the constant claims of how The Next Cute Thing is en route to becoming “bigger than The Beatles”. Justin Bieber was going to do that. So were the Bay City Rollers. Remember them? Yeah, neither do I.

Reprinted courtesy of the Napier (New Zealand) Courier.

The excitement around the office was palpable.

Another Mission concert! The crowds! The venue! The non-stop drinking! The music! The drinking!

Yes, sadly, it was the actual entertainment that was rated far down the list whenever war stories of past Mission mayhem were rehashed. One fellow employee recalled a pair of inebriated punters who passed out early and missed the entire concert.

My record of having never attended a Mission concert remains intact. Sliding around a grassy slope surrounded by 25,000 drunken louts spewing pre-digested alcohol on each other? Not gonna happen. It would take John and George returning from heaven’s rock’n’roll hall of fame for a Beatles reunion for me to even consider such an outing and even then I may just stay home and wait for the DVD.

 I don’t do live concerts anymore. I grew tired of scrambling for a parking spot, of elbowing my way into the venue, of being surrounded by mouth-breathing cretins, of coming home smelling like a grow op, of lying awake all night with my ears ringing, of doing the zombie shuffle at work after a hard day’s night.

Maybe I just grew old.

Maybe I’ve seen all I need to see. Springsteen: twice. (Best. Concerts. Ever.) Petty learning to fly. The Grateful Dead jamming for five hours straight. The Beach Boys when all three Wilson brothers were still alive.

The Beach Boys, in fact, broke my concert cherry. It was October 1973, the night before I flew to Europe for a six-month jaunt that lasted three weeks (some people say there was a woman to blame). We were crammed into some kind of performance hall at the University of British Columbia. The opening act was an obscure musician touring North America on the back of his first single, a little ditty called Piano Man.

“Billy Joel sucks!” some leather-lunged buffoon hollered from the cheap seats.

Years later, I saw Billy Joel in concert again. This time he was headlining and the crowd cheered his every song, his days of suckage obviously well and truly over.

The novelty of live performance came to an end for me in the ’80s. It was my daughter’s birthday. She was 10, or 11, or 12 or something. One of those ages when she still considered her old man cool. Especially when I bought tickets for her and a couple friends to see the New Kids on the Block at B.C. Place.

This is a venue custom-built for football and, as such, it works very well, what with its huge seating capacity. What the place doesn’t have is decent acoustics. Sound simply disappears into the far reaches of this covered dome, never to be heard again.

Not that it mattered to the thousands of pre-pubescent females in attendance. Their incessant screaming served to drown out whatever noise might have been issuing from the speakers.

I didn’t care about the music or the screams. Neither did the hundreds of other dads I met that afternoon. While Donnie Wahlberg and four nobodies shook their asses and yelped out songs they were four shades of Caucasian too white to own, I wandered through the covered concourse, looking at my watch, watching the other fathers — all of us reduced on that day to little more than chauffeur/chaperone status — and shaking our heads in sympathetic disgust whenever our eyes happened to meet.

It was painful at the time and the memory still haunts me. To paraphrase Rod the Mod himself, that last cut was the deepest.

The good news is that, some 25 years later, my eardrums hardly ever bleed anymore.

I flipped the bird to a lady this morning. I’m not proud of my actions, starting with the fact that I’m way too old to be indulging in such childish gestures.

In my defence, however, I was having rather a bad morning. It had rained during my it’s-still-bloody-dark-out walk and I had yet to have my fifth coffee of the day. Never a good combination.

Plus I felt this particular lady was acting like a total bitch.

The situation began when I dropped Viking Woman off at work. I had my signal on, so everyone knew what I was up to, the car was well clear of the traffic flow, and it was obvious by the fact I was sitting parallel to the road and not pulled into a parking space that I had no intention of doing anything but pausing.

I first spotted the lady when I glanced in my side mirror to ensure I was well and truly out of the driving lane. I could tell by her expression and the way she was yapping to herself that she wasn’t happy. I assumed she wanted the parking spot I was momentarily blocking.

Instead of pulling in behind me and waiting two seconds until I pulled back into traffic, she instead zipped around the corner. Which is where I encountered her, two seconds later, getting out of her parked car. She recognized my vehicle, of course, and carried on with her yapping, this time directed at me as I drove past.

I’ve never claimed to be a lip reader but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t saying “Have a nice day.”

Which is when I lost a bit of self-control and showed her the middle finger of my left hand. She wouldn’t need to be a lip reader either to understand the two words I mouthed right back at her.

I usually don’t give into road rage. Even if someone cuts me off, I rarely engage the horn. I figure if I have time to honk, I have time to brake.

I’m always nervous that two things will happen after I lean on the horn, wave my arms around and run through my entire vocabulary of curse words.

One: The offender and I will end up side-by-side at the next red light.

Two: The offender will be larger and more aggressive than me.

This concern about my personal safety probably dates back to an incident that incurred while I was working for the provincial Ministry of Highways. I was a flag man on this particular day, using my Stop/Go sign to direct traffic around some kind of roadworks.

No one likes to have their hectic/important schedule interrupted by construction, which probably explains why this one particular fellow zoomed right past my Stop sign.

“Asshole!” I yelled at the back of his car as he sped away.

Cue sudden squeal of brakes. Driver’s side door opening. Big glowering guy stomping in my direction.

I had time for three thoughts:

1)      For a guy who was  in such a big hurry, it’s amazing he now has time to deal to me.

2)      I’m almost positive my workmate will intervene. Any minute now. OK, now.

3)      I’m going to die.

Naturally – because that’s how these things work – Mr. Angry Face was taller than me. I’m not sure if my feet actually left the road surface but I know I was at least up on my tippy-toes when he grabbed the front of my safety vest and yanked me into his personal space.

“What did you call me?”

“Nothing,” I lied, momentarily interrupting my prayers.

He gave me one last shake, let go, stomped back to his car.

I straightened my vest, pretended all the other drivers who had actually managed to stop weren’t staring, and looked around for my partner. Turns out he was standing several feet away, well out of harm’s way.

“Where were you?” I asked.

“Watching,” he said.

I still shudder at the thought of how close I came to swallowing my own teeth. Which is why I make a point of never engaging with other drivers.

Unless I haven’t had my fifth coffee of the day.  And the other driver is a woman. And the lane ahead is clear of traffic, allowing me a quick escape.

All that glitters . . .

Pip is 22. She’s blonde and she’s comely and, except for a thin layer of paint and glitter, she’s also pretty much naked.

Welcome to the world of body art. Where bare skin is both  encouraged and celebrated.

Pip – who, just for the record, is also clad in nipple covers and black knickers – is a living canvas for Jakkii Goody, the owner of Fabart, one of only two national face and body art companies in New Zealand. Jakkii is preparing for the January 26-29 New Zealand International Body Painting Competition in Taupo by doing a practice run. Tonight she has covered Pip’s torso with the painted version of an Art Deco-themed flapper dress.

I’ve shown up out to do an interview and take photos and give a pair of local ladies some welcome newspaper coverage.

That the two have teamed up is an example of happenstance: they’d met at an earlier event and just clicked.

Talent met body. Cue the magic.

“You certainly have to consider the anatomy and the body shape of the model you’re working with,” says Jakkii. “The breasts and the hips become a really great feature of body art.”

Pip certainly has the body for body art. I’m doing my best to be discreet but it’s not every day that I am in the same room with a shapely young miss displaying this much skin. Even if it is covered by glitter

Am I embarrassed? Yeah, probably. A little bit.

I’m also shy. Pretty girls, even fully clothed, tie my tongue and my shoelaces. I stumble in their presence because they intimidate me. I am overwhelmed by their beauty. I know: typical man.

“Focus on the eyes,” is a standard mantra for photographers and it was never more truer than tonight.

I ask Pip if she’s cold. She says no, because it’s a warm summer evening.

I ask her about the first time she offered her body up to art. It was at the event where she met Jakkii. Pip and a friend served beer. I ask if sales were brisk. She said yes. I ask if any of her customers tipped her. She says yes.

Pip says she wasn’t embarrassed to be clad in little more than paint.

“I felt like a star,” she says. “Everyone wanted to have photos taken with me. Everyone was looking at me as I walked through the crowd.”

I ask if she knows why they were looking.

She says yes.

We shake hands, I wish Jakkii good luck in the competition and I leave. Later, on the drive home, I replay the encounter in my mind. Did I jabber on too much in an effort to mask my discomfort? Did I take too many photos? Do I have one that will illustrate the story without showing so much skin that it causes some pensioner to choke on her porridge when the paper lands on her breakfast table?

My secret goal has always been to be a fashion photographer, to take photos of beautiful women in interesting settings and poses.

Now I’m reconsidering that goal. Maybe I should stick to writing and leave the camera work to those who are not so easily rattled.

Several years ago, a newspaper photographer told me a story about how a young lady had come into the office to ask him about becoming a model. She followed him into the darkroom (I told you it was years ago) where the fellow was developing photos for the next day’s edition. When he turned away from his chemical trays and back to the woman, she was sitting on the counter, completely naked.

I forget now how his story ended, but I do remember having two reactions:

1) Oh, man, that is so cool.

and

2) Oh, God, I hope that never happens to me.

When you lead a gypsy life, where gaps between employment are often wider than is economically desirable, the idea of exchanging Christmas gifts becomes secondary to, say, mortgage payments or keeping the lights on.

In 2011, however, Viking Woman and I were both blessed with full-time jobs and so decided that a few simple gifts under the artificial tree would not break the bank. I had to keep in mind that she is a Born Again Jenny Craig disciple, while she kept reminding me that my wish list of Toys For Boys would be fulfilled the instant we won the lottery.

Come Christmas morning, however, the presents that were purchased made the desired impression and hardly any at all were mentally tagged for regifting.

But the more I pondered on the items Viking Woman gave me, the more I realised she was sending me coded messages, if only I was astute enough to understand them.

For instance:

The Starbucks coffee? Message: You have a refined and sophisticated palate, even if you are going to slurp back most of this before your eyes are actually open in the morning.

Boutique soap? Message: You are a well-groomed metrosexual with excellent hygiene who needs to stop using my expensive body wash.

Tom Petty CD? Message: You have excellent taste in music and after you’ve inflicted Mr. Petty on me, I’m going to torture you with both of my favourite music genres: country and western.

Lifetime membership to Jenny Craig? Message: You’re a fat bitch.

OK, it’s not like I didn’t see that last one coming. After all, it does take me longer to shave in the morning these days, what with all those extra chins flapping about. And my clothes seem to have shrunk, for reasons I simply cannot explain and so blame the washing machine.

But I have a perfectly good explanation for this sudden growth spurt: It’s not my fault.

In my defence:

I recently spent a week in Las Vegas. Anyone who has been served a meal in the U.S. knows there is enough on that plate to feed an entire African village.

I recently spent two weeks visiting my parents. Mom, knowing I wouldn’t be home for Christmas, trotted out samples of all her baked seasonal goods. Mom, knowing I wasn’t home at Thanksgiving, hauled out the pumpkin pecan pie that had languished in the freezer for two months. One does not, after all, send their first-born back to his wife looking famished.

I know: I put the sick in homesick.

And then I return to the loving arms of Viking Woman just in time for Christmas, which meant an office lunch room filled with chocolate sirens calling me by my first name, like they knew I lacked willpower. It turned out the little bastards were right.

See what I mean: Not. My. Fault.

And so now December is winding down as I belly up to my computer desk and Viking Woman is asking when I will be joining her at the altar of Jenny. Just as soon as the house is emptied of all the junk food we bought for that Christmas Day party you insisted on hosting, I tell her while being careful to smile.

When all the chips and sweets and ice cream and potato salad are safely tucked away (read: stuffed into my pie hole), then I will bare my soul, and my bulging abdomen, to the acolytes at Jenny Craig and begin the long, hard, calorie-less, fat-less, tasteless slog back into my jeans.

It could, however, take me a while to empty the pantry and the fridge. A condemned man would never wolf down his final meal.

While I’m doing all that chewing, I will not be thinking ahead to how svelte I will look once I shed 60 pounds.

What I’ll actually be contemplating is how many days into the programme I will get before I gnaw off my own arm.

The kid beaming out of the photo looks positively ecstatic. The goat he’s clutching, not so much. I’m guessing the animal somehow comprehends the child’s broad smile is in anticipation of a big bowl of goat stew for dinner.

While Christmas shoppers scurry outside the office, I’m sitting at my desk looking at an ad for World Vision. You know the one: “Buy a World Vision Smiles gift this Christmas and help change lives.” The ad copy is accompanied by photos of cute, but obviously needy kids, holding assorted critters ($9 for a chicken and chicken feed!; $20 for a duck!; $40 for a goat!”) as well as some second-tier actor whose face is meant to add a dose of legitimacy.

Donating to the welfare of hungry children is probably a  guaranteed instant deposit in the karma bank but I admit to being wary, having seen too many images of warlords hijacking trucks belonging to assorted humanitarian agencies and then feeding their soldiers while villagers starve .

How do I know my $40 is actually buying a goat, as opposed to ending up in some pirate’s bank account? How do I know the goat is going to that cute kid, as opposed to some fat general?

Who knew gift giving would involve so much thinking?

There was a time Viking Woman and I spent willy-nilly on each other: “Did she just glance at that and smile? Sold!”

Those days are long-gone.

Maybe it’s our small budget and big mortgage. Maybe it’s our small house and even smaller storage space.

Maybe we just have all we really need.

I, for one, cannot think of a single thing I’d like for Christmas. Scratch that: I cannot think of a single thing we can afford that I’d like for Christmas. A new camera? A new computer? Not gonna happen.

Thankfully, we have plenty of memories of Christmases Past, ones when there were presents under the tree as opposed to the dust bunnies who inhabit that space these days.

Viking Woman still enjoys seeing the shock on people’s faces when she relates how, soon after we were married, I gave her a tool belt. And then she laughs and assures her listeners it was one of the best gifts she’s ever received.

She also chortles every time she remembers the expression on my face when I tore open a present from her, only to find a Brooks and Dunn CD.

“Surely this is a mistake,” I said, “because it is you, not I, who is the lone country and western fan in this household.”

“Look again, Mr. Ungrateful,” she said. “That CD contains the song you’ve been singing the last several months.”

“Oh. Right,” I said. “How very thoughtful. Love you!”

We’ve got dozens of such stories about Christmas gifts given and received.

Maybe it’s time for a story about a goat.

If you’re going to whine and bitch about a company so the entire blogosphere can read about it, then it’s only fair to also post said company’s response and resolution.

Readers will recall my Nov. 20 blog which reproduced my letter to Air New Zealand in which I listed all the problems I encountered trying to fly from Vancouver to Auckland, not the least of which was an eight-hour layover in a holding cell terminal at LAX. I was basically venting and never actually expected any kind of action or even reply.

And so imagine my surprise when I received an email answer this week from a fellow named Matt McDonald, sections of which I have pasted in here:

Thank you for your email.

On behalf of Air New Zealand I do apologise for the disruption you experienced when travelling with Air New Zealand from Vancouver to Auckland.

I do appreciate your frustration and understand this must have been very inconvenient. While this flight cancellation was a very unfortunate and uncontrollable incident, Air New Zealand does have direct control over how passengers are accommodated and provided with information regarding alternative travel arrangements. When major disruptions like this occur we may rebook you on available services going via a different route, which may involve an alternative carrier for part of the journey. I do regret this involved additional transit time in Los Angeles.

It is disappointing you had such difficulty receiving information regarding the alternative travel arrangements. I am sorry you were not provided with the correct information when first calling Air New Zealand. The standard of service provided by our contact centre is concerning, especially given the circumstance around your call. Please be assured your correspondence will be passed to our Contact Centre management to review.

We expect our Airport staff to provide regular updates to passengers affected by a disrupted flight as to the new departure times or alternative arrangements made. It is disappointing to read that the level of service you received on this occasion was not of the standard we aim to provide any of our passengers. Customer feedback is an integral part of our review process. I trust therefore that your comments will be recorded and reviewed so that we may be able to better handle future disruptions out of Vancouver.

I am sorry your experience has fallen short of your expectations of Air New Zealand. I trust we will be able to restore your confidence in our service when you next travel with us.

Thank you, Mr. McDonald. Thank you, Air New Zealand. I asked for a simple apology and you have provided that in spades.

I am well and truly impressed.

I make a habit of avoiding trouble. Always have.

I hung out with the neighbourhood kids only until they started being stupid and then I wandered on home. During my first year of high school, I quickly identified the Neanderthals who picked on the short and the pudgy and made studiously stayed out of their orbits.

My home life was more of the same, and I’m sure my parents were eternally grateful. When you have six kids to keep track of, knowing that one of them is reading copies of The Hockey News in the basement must have brought immeasurable peace of mind.

Which brings me to my recent family outing to Las Vegas and the return of Simon to my life.

Those of you who followed my Cook Islands blog (www.backtothebeach.wordpress.com) will remember Simon as one half of the duo I dubbed The Welsh. Simon and his girlfriend, Silent Sam, rented the bungalow one over from mine at Mount View Lodges and for several months we kept each other from becoming too homesick.

Simon and Sam eventually continued their journey – one that would take them to such places as New Zealand, Australia, China and Cambodia – before heading home to Cardiff.

While we remained Facebook friends, I really never expected to see Simon again.

And then he flies into Las Vegas to meet up with me. Heartbroken that his relationship with Sam had ended, he’d hit the road again, this time to America.

The plan was to fly to San Francisco, come see me in Las Vegas, check in with another friend in Atlanta, and then make his way to New York City before heading home.

But planning was never Simon’s (nor Sam’s, for that matter) strong suit and so a chance encounter with the Occupy San Francisco camp put a serious kink in his itinerary.

I have to admit to not fully understanding what, exactly, the assorted Occupy movements were demanding. “Share the wealth” was, I believe, one of the mantras. Personally, I would have gone for “Please help me find a job so I, too, can accumulate wealth,” but that’s just me.

But Simon is 28 and an impressionable young lad – as opposed to me, now far too old for revolution – and so the Occupy SF people fascinated him. Which is why he wanted to visit the Occupy Las Vegas location. With me.

Which is how I – Mr. Avoid Confrontation At All Cost Lest It Lead To Trouble – ended up at the camp.

Did that make me party to the demonstration? Hardly. Considering there were maybe 10 people present, and they all pretty much ignored me, I was consigned to the role of curious bystander.

Simon was right into it, as I suspected he might be. Plus, he had stories to share about the San Francisco movement. While he chatted, I hovered on the edges, trying not to look bored or, worse yet, content with my lot in life.

A policeman drove in at one point and, after eyeballing me as I snapped his photo, he drove away again, satisfied his services weren’t required. There was talk about conspiracy theories, how someone was spreading Chinese whispers about militia members infiltrating the ranks and wreaking havoc.

There were tents and signs and food and portable toilets – even a rudimentary antenna to provide access to the Internet. For the most part, people simply wandered about. No angry slogans, no pumping fists, no anarchy.

Simon and I parted ways soon after.

I went back to my family, to laugh loudly and eat too much and stare too long into the bright lights of commercialism.

Simon went back to San Francisco where he was beaten by the police and tear-gassed and only avoided being arrested by sheer luck and good timing.

He never did make it to Atlanta. He arrived in New York City mere hours before his flight departed for Cardiff and so never did mingle with the Occupy Wall Street people who initiated the entire protest.

He’s back in Wales now, looking at his photos, reviewing his video. He has a million stories to tell. Some day, if the universe is kind, he and I will sit down once more over coffee and he will tell them all to me.

If the universe is even kinder, Silent Sam will join us. She won’t say anything but, if only for a couple of hours, The Welsh and I will be reunited and life will feel right again.