Rain. Depending on where you are right now, and where you’ve been in the past, rain will conjure up images, memories, and even emotions.
If you are from a farming background, you may recall friends and family members losing everything because of rain or the lack thereof at exactly the best or worst moment it could have arrived. If you are fan of old musicals, the thought of rain might cause you to start humming a catchy tune to the annoyance and even possibly fear of those in your vicinity (especially if you currently or have ever worked for the Post Office). If your conscious mind is nourished from the fount of hard-hitting and personally-relevant information from things like CBS Evening news, rain may cause you to immediately begin visualizing mud slides, floods, and prematurely interrupted baseball games.
Of course, these terrible events are then counter-balanced by the joyous opportunity, presented through the same medium, to save these seasonally-drowned waifs for mere pennies a day, but that doesn’t lessen the emotional impact of warm snow.
There is definitely something psychologically significant about rain. It seems that too much of it, and its precursor, clouds, can have an adverse affect on the human condition. It is no surprise that both US-based DisneyPlaces are located in states with unfair and almost shameful amounts of sunshine. It is also no surprise that Seattle is (or at least was, before Al Gore’s dire and thought-proving warnings came true and the internal combustion engine caused El Nino) the suicide capital of America, as well as the birthplace of that most uplifting of musical stylings, Grunge. The silver lining, it seems, often dangles from the end of a rope, awaits at the bottom of a bridge plunge, or dozes off into permanent oblivion by not paying heed to the advice available from one’s doctor or pharmacist. And all because it rained too much.
The total number of sunny days is one of the more subtle things which differentiates two of my favorite places: Texas, and New Zealand. I did not say “The US and New Zealand”, because that would be too broad of a generalization to be valid. I do like all of New Zealand, but I don’t like most of “The US”. I do, however, like most of Texas, which is promoted by its tourist industry as “A whole other country” (sic). And Texas is culturally (and meteorologically, for the purpose of this article) closer to being a single nation than America is. It is certainly easier to maintain one’s personal comfortable cultural interaction patterns in Dallas and Mesquite than it is between, say, San Francisco and Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Anywhere in Texas, I can talk about rodeo or carry my antique war souvenir in a shoulder holster without getting a sideways glance or a pompous chuckle (or a trip to the People’s Conformance Center). In contrast, I feel equally uncomfortable in both San Francisco and anywhere near the United States’ east coast. They give me different flavors of The Creeps, but they’re still in the same phylum. New Zealand has some of that taste as well, but only in its major cities. Auckland can feel a bit like, oh I don’t know, Vermont in summer, with its “We’re terribly busy being civilized. What do you want here, Yankee?” attitude, but I do like it, almost as much as I like the heart of Texas: Austin (which always feels to me like Saturday night with drunk friends).
I guess Austin and Auckland are two of my favorite places, as far as cities go. With the exception of starting with the same letter, they are about as different as nice cities can be.
Austin and Auckland are both quite diverse and metropolitan, supporting a wide range of cultures, sub-cultures, and things cultured in a petri dish, so boredom during people-watching and generic human intercourse doesn’t really occur in either locale. Austin does have a very upbeat, cheery, almost annoyingly self-generated hip-ness to it, and this contrasts with Auckland, which seems to constantly be in auditions for Farthest European City, and competing for the fastest mimic of bad EU and USA laws and standards (Jerry Springer, of all the syndicated options under God’s heaven, is now imported to New Zealand shores along with such things as HIV and bad acid). This is virtually the opposite of any Texan’s attitude towards himself and his home state, which could basically be summarized as a bumper sticker: “Only God Can Make a Texan”. So pride vs. envy is one of several divergences. There are others.
Rainfall, for example. Austin averages about a pint of rain per year, where Auckland’s monthly rainfall during its winter is something like 8.6 on the I-Hope-Somebody-Is-Friends-With-Noah scale. And, non-coincidentally, the area of New Zealand surrounding Auckland has the highest teen suicide rate in the Commonwealth (and several other arbitrary national groupings as well).
Some people assert that the reason for Auckland’s maudlin and demonstrably mortal teenage population has to do more with the culture than the precipitation level. They say that, because New Zealand suffers from an over-abundance of government attention to, funding of, and involvement in virtually everything, and a general cultural tendency to punish success via “Tall Poppy Syndrome” (the clichï¿½ which describes the beheading of those individuals which dare exceed the collective average), that the successful kids become disheartened, and the unsuccessful ones just plain give up any hope of ever becoming useful and turn destructive both inwardly and outwardly.
They say that if there is no freedom to take those chances which can result in ultimate failure, then the thrill of success is deadened. Even the hope of winning is replaced by a lazy contentment with losing out to a comfortable below-average (but still within the majority) fate. Only the degree of failure is in question. And as that bar grows lower and lower, eventually those subjected unrelentingly to it subconsciously collapse and conclude that they might as well quit Big Time Right Now rather than continuing to lose over several more years. If you have seen either The Piano, or Once Were Warriors, you have seen the cinematic expression of this dreary local depression. Even the politicians are personal failures, not even buoyed with the glint of personal greed in their eyes, but driven by an aggression-free aspiration to be at the front of the cattle car.
These same people say this may be partly due to how New Zealand society began, and not just how it has been decayingï¿½excuse me, “Becoming More Caring”, over the last few decades. It was effectively populated by the British government offering free land and money and relocation facilities to a cross-section of fiercely loyalist UK society. The colony population was hand-picked to be as vanilla and bland as the majority of the Empire, and the only thing that the individuals themselves had to supply was a willingness to accept their free stuff, and then possibly engage the local semi-indigenous population in trade or occasional armed unpleasantries.
The consequences of founding a nation with this rather calculated and gray colonization population have been somewhat overturned by the immigrants who have arrived during the last 50 years. These immigrants are usually Tall Poppies (except the seemingly endless stream of translocated trade unionists from the UK: May the Lord bless and keep them all, quickly), and tend to stand out like a male construction worker at a Tupperware party. In a society which values egalitarianism (may the Lord bless and keep that also) above all else, it can be a difficult environ to meld with and succeed within. Fortunately for these newer Zealanders, though, they have already overcome incredible odds in order to to run the multi-faceted gauntlet of both long-distance immigration and the herd of sub-failures (bureaucrats) waiting to greet them as they got off the plane/train/auto-gyro and challenge their individual (gasp) validity. They, more often than not, ascend the guarded and too-little-used ladder of individual pride and productivity to become Longhorns amongst the sheep.
Very rarely does one read about immigrants from other western or Asian countries whose children, being given a new life in a new land fully equipped with digital TV and penicillin, decide to take a bath with a toaster because life is “unfair”. And I don’t seem to recall hearing about Texas having one of the highest rates of do-it-yourself do-yourself-in incidents. There’s got to be an explanation.
It must be the weather.
Some might conclude that Dick Freely is an expatriate Texan living in New Zealand.
(This piece was published in Laissez Faire City Times 5/7/01. Republished by permission of Dick Freely.)