Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Duct tape'll fix it...

Living in New York is, paradoxically, like living in a tiny village. You can walk pretty much anywhere, and pretty much everything you need is within walking distance. For a 16 month old freshly qualified perambulator who much prefers "wokking" to being strapped into his stroller, this quasi-village life is a bonus: it's three blocks from home to the supermarket, and super-toddler walks all the way. I get disapproving glances from those Manhattanites who prefer their toddlers firmly strapped down and unable to use their legs until the age of four or so, but we antipodeans enjoy the exercise. Each quick trip to the supermarket turns into an hour-long adventure, particularly if you spend a good twenty minutes running up and down the long wheelchair ramp, two buildings down. It's the navigational highlight of 112th St for the under two set.

The downside of this compact village life is that it's possible to go for weeks without getting out of the neighbourhood -– as I believe I managed over the last two weeks. Not quite true, come to think of it. I did spend two hours of precious paid babysitting time on Tuesday walking down to the nearest mega-bookstore at 83rd St and browsing aimlessly as I used to do before the bambino came along to monopolise my every waking moment. One of the books I happily scoped out was the new US paperback version of Mil Millington's novel "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About," loosely based on his legendary website of the same name. It's not just compulsively readable, but also (with a film version forthcoming) compulsory reading for anyone wondering how to monetize their otherwise charity-status blog.

Anyway, now we're back down to mere yellow alert status, which means braving the subway again, getting out and about a bit more, and finding other things to do with all that duct tape we were hotly urged to invest in a couple of weeks ago. (By the way, it transpires that the manufacturer who dominates half of the duct-tape market is a major Republican donor...funny that). So I patriotically used up the tail end of our roll of duct tape by doing a little engineering work on a wooden railway bridge, to the satisfaction of the youngest member of the household. And we got back on the subway today, to take back the city after a couple of weeks of not venturing much further than about ten blocks.

Today's expedition was to the venerable Museum of Natural History. We started out in the newest wing, the Rose Center for Earth and Space, with its large-scale model of the cosmos. Opened only a couple of years ago, the Rose Center is fabulous when seen from the outside at night: a glowing glass cube containing a spherical planetarium and several giant hanging planets (although not Pluto, much to the disgust of fans of the smallest orb). The building is not quite as dramatic from the inside on a rainy day, but still cosmic in its own way. Our toddler was particularly entranced by the dangling planets, or as he referred to them in a lusty bellow that drew the attention of most of the other visitors to the museum, "Big balls! Beeg beeeg balls!"

We ended up in the hall of African mammals, a gloomy space by contrast, with its crepuscular shadows and faded but creepily engaging dioramas of stuffed, beady-eyed animals posed for eternity against painted backdrops of the savannah. It's all very Philip K. Dick, a sort of mausoleum for a post-animal world -- an impression that was only enhanced by my misreading of the caption for the family of taxidermized elephants that formed the maudlin centrepiece of the room. Under the feet of the little baby elephant, a dimly lit sign appeared to say, rather grimly, "Last African Elephants." They were, it transpired, merely East African Elephants, but the melancholic mood lingered.

Speaking of which, oh dear, the Americas' Cup. So this is how it feels to be on the other end of a 5-0 trouncing. See, the trouble with sport is that it is, by definition, a zero-sum game. I suppose if you're philosophically inclined, you can take some comfort in the thought that your vicarious misery is somewhere else balanced by somebody else's vicarious delight. But is it, in this case? Are the citizens of Switzerland dancing in the streets, waving their red and white socks and shredding chocolate wrappers into glittering confetti for a ticker-tape parade through downtown Geneva?

Somehow I doubt it, and that is probably a large part of the pain that many New Zealanders (I'm assured) are feeling. It's like a custody dispute over a beloved pet; we were always in it for love, goes the argument, but they just want it for the cold callous principle of the thing. "But your honour, they won't love the cup like we did. They won't polish it, fondle it, stay up late and worry about it sitting all lonely in its glass case, design T-shirts around it, name menu items after it, toy lovingly with its little jug-eared handles and call it pet names..."

I do secretly love this madly personalized aspect of our national character (or what passes for national character, or what people are informed, by their "mirror mirror on the wall" media, constitutes their national character), even though in this case the fantasy was about feeling intimately linked to what is, in the end, a rich man's folly. Impossibly expensive boats crewed by hunky young men, zipping up and down the harbour like so many sporty triremes rowed by serried ranks of slaves and urged on by toga-clad tyrannical potentates...at what benefit to the average citizen? It's hard to know from this distance whether the economic wake of the racing has trickled down any further than the champagne flutes of the chortling crowds frequenting the over-priced and attitudinous Viaduct cafes. I guess, too, that bread and circuses are always handy when the world's falling apart, although that was probably just an accident of timing.

Still, from the feel of it, the emotional investment was profound and fairly widespread. It's just so New Zealand to want to take things that personally, to be persuaded get in behind, to sign up, to sing along. The flipside of this massive overcapitalization in one social stock is familiar to anyone who, say, bought into the dotcom bubble. There we all are, psychically dismasted en masse by the sight of that willowy national phallic symbol snapping at the root and flopping around tragically before being gruesomely amputated by hacksaw (and, ouch, without anaesthesia) in a sad final gasp of hardcore pioneer do-it-yourselfism. Oh, the agony. Oh, the hubris. And oh, the timely, painful warning to put not your long-term faith in highly portable trophies, nor run your flag of pride up a frangible, wind-whipped pole.