How to Cheer Yourself Up

You know what’s hilarious? All the sad buggers. People who live in the richest countries in the history of the world; with cheap food and free porn; where syphillis, typhoid and rat plagues are no longer the usual ways to die; with endless entertainment and all kinds of science fiction awesomeness happening every day … and whine about it.


Except right now I’m one of them.

A lot of this comes with the seasons. Wellington, New Zealand, is shifting from its golden, glorious summer into a place you wouldn’t exile Mussolini. The winds start howling up from Antarctica. The days become 37 minutes long. Rugby season kicks into gear, and beer-fed savages roam the streets.


Plus, of course, the Earth either is doomed to fall into a black hole or isn’t doomed to fall into a black hole. Some days I’m not sure which sounds better.

This dark black cloud thing was fun for a while (you can start great conversations on the PlayStation Network), but then it got boring. Being cynical usually does, strangely enough. So I signed up as an amateur gelotologist (I can’t believe there’s actually a name for it), consulted friends, self-help books and Chuck Norris, then tried six highly recommended things for getting a laugh.

Enter the Temple of Your Body
There are those who would argue for good eating, exercise, perhaps a little resistance weight training. Measured portions of dopamine, serotonin, leafy vegetables and avocado. Maybe, even, following Lara Crigger’s excellent research, a regimen of prescription smart drugs tailor-made for my emotional and intellectual needs.

But that’s simply not who you’re dealing with. Before this writing gig I used to work in government communications, at the meeting point of spin doctoring and bureaucracy. I didn’t get through crisis management and deadline madness on rabbit food and pushups. Everyone knows muscle tone’s a myth anyway.

No, it’s cheese, toast, coffee and vodka for this baby. Besides, climbing a 90-year-old crane ship tower was my workout for the decade.

Wheel in the next one. And it better be better.

Watch the Glory of the World
In 20 minutes of serotonin surfing on Youtube I found:

It’s funny, a whole stream of little cackles, but there’s something desperately fleeting about these videos. Next week, certainly by next month, everything I’m seeing will be forgotten like dust. It’s like going to the theater and knowing every actor onstage will be shot after the curtain call.

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It does put a damper on the brain chemical surge. Think of that poor Star Wars kid, forgotten, abandoned and grotesque, just like Mark Hamill or MC Hammer.


Enjoy a Laugh with Old Friends
These old friends being British comedy and Sierra adventure games. The Two Ronnies and Space Quest 3: Pirates of Pestulon. Do they hold up? Like a good cheese toastie with vodka they do.

Ronnie Barker was the round one. Ronnie Corbett was the midget. Every Friday night we’d all have fish and chips and watch two hours of Ronnie Barker dressed as a woman; Ronnie Corbett sitting in his little chair with his feet off the ground; both the Ronnies taking the piss out of cop shows or news broadcasts; and then the big musical number. Ronnie Barker’d do his dirty seaside postcard bit or his quick shots:

In a packed program tonight we will be talking to an out-of-work contortionist who says he can no longer make ends meet.

The toilets at a local police station have been stolen. Police say they have nothing to go on.

A new publishing venture was announced today. The Stock Breeders Gazette and Playboy magazine are to get together to produce the Farmer Sutra.

Arnold Crump, a 6 feet 9 inches, ham-fisted, hairy drunk with a short temper, bad breath, acne, dandruff and fleas, was named by Scotland Yard today as Britain’s most unwanted man.

Dad used to laugh and Mum used to cackle. The Ronnies were a two-man waltz in which you knew every step. You knew Corbett would head off on a tangent about inflatable balloons or water slides. You knew Barker had something like “Don’t just crit there siticizing” up his sleeve. And at the end of every show, so perfect and rhythmic you could shout along with it, they’d stare right at the camera and close:

Corbett: So it’s “Goodnight” from me.
Barker: And it’s “Goodnight” from him.
Both: Goodnight!

That same rhythm’s there (for me, at least) in Space Quest 3, the 1989 adventure game from Sierra. You’re Roger Wilco, hapless interstellar janitor, stranded on a garbage freighter after an encounter with evil galactic overlord Sludge Vohaul in Space Quest 2. You wander around, pick up ship parts, get off the freighter. Then you’ve got The Terminator, Arnold the Annihilator, after you. You hide out at a burger-shaped space station grease joint, play astro-chicken arcade games and break into the offices of ScumSoft software development, where a skinny young nerd is holding computer game inventors in slavery.

I know damn near every inch of Space Quest 3. Every bad joke, cheesy puzzle and 16-color pixel blob. Playing through it again is like re-reading Enid Blyton: The familiarity is a warm blanket, one that smells of farts and childhood. It doesn’t so much cheer me up as regresses me about 20 years. I laugh at every joke, just like at the Ronnies on DVD. Is anything more pleasant than getting away from all the novelty, all the new stuff, the vast torrent of banal originality that the world now has to offer?

Then I actually remember my childhood. Nap’s over.


Blow Stuff Up
A beach near the Wellington shoreline. A liquid petroleum gas tank. A projectile weapon that I’m not going to discuss in print.

Damn thing went up so loudly the penguins in Antarctica would’ve ducked and covered. But I wasn’t watching properly; it’s hard to take in something like that on the first go. Looking back, some part of my mind was thinking, “No problem, there’s always the saved game film.”

There’s always another go round.

So I missed it. And the beach was cold and the sand was sludgy. Once you’ve had pixels and playback and respawns, real world explosions just aren’t as much fun anymore.

Take Refuge in Patriotism
In my case, by listening to the Flight of the Conchords.

Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement came out of Wellington six years ago with a two-man comedy act. They hit the Edinburgh Fringe festival, then BBC Radio, HBO and Letterman. In 2008 they won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album. They are thus the first New Zealanders to be recognized as funny since Sir Edmund Hillary did a set with Dean Martin at the Copa.

A few days after the Grammy thing, the Conchords came back to Wellington for a show at Aro Video. Aro Video’s up the road from me, near a good fish and chips shop. It’s the size of your living room, if your living room is very small and manky. Everyone in Wellington rents their art house films from them, and the guys behind the counter have that nervous twitch in their eye that says they watch French cinema. They’ll let you have Combien tu M’aimes for an extra day if you agree with them about Monica Bellucci.

So it’s Wednesday morning, Brett and Jemaine are all set up in one corner, there’s room for about six other people in the actual store, and they’ve put speakers out in the street so the rest of Aro can hear them. Some German band sings a thank-you song amid the cheering and backslapping.

This is how we roll with our heroes down near Antarctica. It’s all very cozy and completely useless for my purposes, because of course I’m insanely jealous. The Conchords are the same age as me, little bastards. Where’s my Grammy? Where’s my adoring crowd?

New Zealanders should be unseen and in a herd. Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are clearly lesbians or communists or something of that sort. I dream about splitting their heads open and gnawing their brains to gain their knowledge.

Stay away from me, you sheepfuckers. I am in the mood for trepanation.

Embrace the Spirit of the Internet
I called Warren Ellis an Essex asshole, whined to Major Nelson about Xbox Live, told Yahtzee Croshaw he’s a noob who’s lost it and wrote a patronizing essay about Ubuntu Linux on Slashdot.

No one answered, and it didn’t quite feel right. This internet citizen thing is tough. Though maybe I just don’t do anonymity well. It was also why being a faceless bureaucrat never stuck.


But I think Warren Ellis may have sent flesh-eating robotic penguins after me. This experiment has become dangerous and at this point it there is still no result.

Go and Visit Your Old Job
So I took a break from it all. Called up an old friend from my former workplace, headed into central Wellington to catch up.

Finally found what I was looking for.

The halls of a government department are zombie halls. They are purgatory up close and tax coded. I don’t exist here anymore; there is no trace or suggestion that I ever did. But the whole place gives off a silent, grateful vibration of my annihilation, sort of like the aura of recently departed Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The same things are happening that have always happened. Management is up; people are down. We’re under a slow attack from the other teams and departments. Legislation is political and regulation is difficult. We can’t communicate or cooperate. There’s always a good reason not to do something.

The coffee is stale and my friend’s smile is thinner and more frustrated every time I see her. She’s thinking about Fiji for a week, but probably can’t get away. She asks if there are any good movies or books out recently, but probably won’t get around to them.

I walk back through Wellington near dusk and feel it. Ten thousand six hundred and thirty seven days have brought me to this: I’m no longer a bureaucrat and the world is all out there waiting.

The belly laugh comes out like Krakatoa.

Colin Rowsell laughs at your insolence. Tell him what cheers you up on [email protected].

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