The obligatory Christmas e-mail

1. Jingle Bells

Christmas is in the air.

As I step-off the public access elevator at Whitcoulls on my walk home, there are reminders of it everywhere I go.

Special Christmas items advertise themselves in large font on signs of black, red, and white, and the songs being played on the shop's speaker system speak of good cheer and this wonderful holiday season. My empathy immediately reaches-out to those working in retail, who have to listen to Christmas songs being played over and over, and I begin to wonder about the mental-health impact of these songs.

It's not too different from the work I have just left. The Christmas decorations are hanging from the ceilings, wrapped around coat racks and pillars, and large synthetic trees stand tall on tables not used normally. The smell of tinsel permeates my senses, and while we don't have a building-wide speaker system playing carols all-day long, we do have a macarena doll-thing by our floor's Christmas tree. A good nudge can set it off, to which it responds by singing a verse from the macarena, twice. The first time someone bumped into it, it was quite amusing and got laughs all-round.

The second time it put a smile on my face. The third time somebody dropped something too hard on the table and set it off again, I just sighed.

By the 8th iteration, I was ready to break something.

Walking from the elevator to the street exit with one of my workmates, I happen to spot someone who fits the profile of someone else I know: blonde hair tied into a single ponytail, wearing a baby blue jacket with a single red stripe orbiting it just under the shoulders, flanked by white stripes on either side, and a similarly coloured bag about to burst from being overstuffed with too many things, saying goodbye to the staff (co-workers?) as she leaves the store.

One should know that not long after my eyes began to go short-sighted, I learned to recognize people by other visual cues: their clothes, their hair, the way they walk, and yes, their silhouette. It isn't a sure-fire system, but it works pretty well when discerning the girls. As for the guys, it doesn't help that every guy I know shops at Hallensteins.

"Sheree?" I say in a way that conveys I'm feeling only 50% certain of my guess.

She turns to where she heard the voice, and upon seeing her face my guess was affirmed.

"Eeeeehhhmmm!" she replies in her normal cheerful way, making it seem as if what is printed on my birth certificate has several more soft E's than there should be. "Hug!" And she crosses the short distance between us in a sort of arms-outstretched charge.

Not that I would call the result a hug. It was more of a semi-surprise collision between 2 entities. Ever seen those ads where 2 cars collide and the one that is travelling slower is the worse for wear? I felt like that car.

When I regained consciousness, I had enough sense to hug her back. When the air returned to my lungs, I turned to the guy who was walking with me.

"Gerard, this is Sheree. She's the friend of mine who works here, who I regularly visit."

Gerard makes a brief hello, and Sheree just beams in his direction.

Soon afterwards, both Sheree and I are heading towards some sort of public transport port; her a bus stop, me the train station. The lovely spring/summer rain continues to pour while we take a cautious walk underneath the not-so-well-sheltered walkway of Lambton Quay. We talk about the usual things normally reserved for our Friday encounters.

Sheree takes an umbrella from her bag, and the bag refuses to deflate even a little. She opens the umbrella, and, given her height and the way she's holding it, the ends of the umbrella frame hover dangerously close to my right eye. I take the umbrella from her and hold it above us both. The act could be seen to have been a gentleman-like gesture, but I was also concerned about losing my eye.

After a bit more walking and talking, my nose picks-up on something. Something familiar. Food. A favourite of mine. You gotta be kidding me.

"Sheree, did you have a pie recently?"

"Huh? How can you tell? I'm chewing gum!"

Her breath wasn't what gave her away. That aroma clung to her like the incriminating evidence that it was and I homed-in on it because... well... I am kinda hungry.

2. New New World

With Sheree having found her bus stop, and me now at the train station, I walk into the new New World Metro, recently opened and now assimilating a large portion of the Wellington Railway Station.

Compared with other supermarkets, the New World Metro 'Railway' (as they like to call themselves) is quite possibly the epitome of convenience. Located at a central hub of activity during normal working days, as well as during any event that happens to be at the Wellington Stadium nearby, this supermarket is at the center of it all.

With Matthew now working there, my understanding of it's usefulness is somewhat different.

Matthew works in the wine department, which happens to be visible by the entrance of New World that I walk by on the way to work or home. Just by turning my head I can let my person-profiling ability pick him out in the crowd, without even deviating from my normal walking path. A tall guy in a black New World uniform, coupled with his ginger coloured hair, makes it rather easy to locate him. If I don't find anybody that fits that description, then I can keep walking on.

Now that's convenience.

Having been transferred to this New World, he's slightly more pleased with it's location than the one he last worked at.

This one puts him in a strategic location not too far from his friends; each of us is within a 15 minute walk from his work.

Upon entering New World, I start thinking that I should've picked a different day to come in. Now my nose and stomach are alert to all other sorts of aromas, and it doesn't help my hunger one bit. What my eyes were seeing however, left me a little more in awe: a modern presentation of the usual stocked items lets you know that you're walking in a slightly different sort of supermarket, while the usual shine and polish from the glass and steel seems to make everything just a little bit brighter than usual. I looked to my shoes and, as the floor marred my reflection, I was impressed that I had a reflection at all. If my old saying of "bright, shiny, and new" ever had an entry and illustration in a dictionary, this place would describe it's intent perfectly.

I make my way towards where I saw Matthew. I find him standing beside several prepared samples of red wine sourced from Hawkes Bay vineyards. I know this because whenever a customer came-up to him and asked what was what, he managed to let them know everything that the bottle said, but in a more concise way, within 5 seconds. He repeated his well-rehearsed knowledge several times. At least he didn't annoy like the macarena doll.

We didn't get to talk about much, but he did mention his plan for an Uncle Chang's get-together this coming weekend.

I looked forward to it, and I wondered if with Matthew's new found wine powers, he would be like the guy in the New World ads. In the wine ad, the guy brings an entire box of wine to a small dinner party, and upon being told of what they'll be eating, he selects the right wine for the occassion. I imagine my ginger-haired friend coming to Uncle Chang's with a selection of wines...

"We're gonna be having the sweet & sour pork, lemon chicken, sichuan beef, and shrimp fried rice." says someone at the table.

"Ah." says Matthew in a smug yet intelligent manner.

He doesn't take long to search through the box and pick-out a bottle. Now, holding that bottle in one hand, he uses the other to stroke the stubble of his beard and quickly comes to the conclusion that this is the right wine for the job - a perfect fit for the meal ahead - and nods his head in acknowledgement.

In that imaginary world, I don't think Lego blocks could have fit together any better.

3. Spring flu = teh suck

The trains are late, again.

Now that I'm standing still, symptoms from the flu I've been recovering from have had the chance to catch-up to me. And I'm still hungry. I should've solved that problem, considering I just walked through a supermarket. Good old conservative Em.

I look around me to see if anybody else looks remotely sick; nobody. The train station is filled with homeward bound commuters, eagerly watching the signs as, one-by-one, they announce the next departure. Each person anticipating their own train. Each person in a much healthier condition than myself.

Surely I can't be the only sick person in this station? It is a dauting prospect, but pessimism is a common symptom whenever I feel ill. They say misery loves company, and I think I just learned of the sort of company it likes to keep.

The sky is once again an uninteresting shade of gray, and the wind wasn't strong, just slightly gusty, slightly annoying. I caught myself being surprised at how well the weather matches my current mood. It reminds me of other times when I thought it was my own happiness that parted the clouds and let the sun shine through, or when my own misery caused the blue to suddenly disappear from the sky. ie: when I thought my own emotions controlled the weather.

One such time was one of my birthdays, I think I was 7. I was crying, I don't know what for. At that age, I could have literally been crying over spilled milk. The sky was also shedding tears, and I never thought that it could be crying with me. That was, until I stopped. I guess the spill had finally been mopped-up, and when it had, the rain stopped too, and almost immediately did the clouds make way to shine golden rays of contentment from a 7-year old.

My thought-process makes the next logical leap in subject: to my own birthday, just a few weeks ago...

4. Happy birthday - past

It was the morning of my 23rd birthday. Nothing special about that milestone: I can already vote, see any-rated movies, drink (haven't been making the most of that), drive (definitely haven't been taking advantage of that), and get passed whatever other restrictions that this country's laws have put on it's citizens. I can officially start calling myself old.

I turn-on my phone and am quickly greeted by a couple of text messages from none other than Tranz Metro. I'm convinced there's some conspiracy at that company where they know it's my birthday and decide to trash a few of their own trains this time every year just as an excuse to send me their usual banter about how this service has been delayed, cancelled, derailed, or all of the above. It's been that way since I've turned 21, when they sent me 4 messages. And last year, just 1. They've never actually use the words 'happy birthday', but it's the thought that counts.

First order of the day was to get to Victoria University today to wish someone else happy birthday: Michelle. Although she won't turn 23 until the next day, I've always liked the prospect of being able to share a birthday with someone. In all the years of knowing her, I've treated her with a sort of favouritism because of this simple fact. I guess the idea of being born in temporal proximity to someone has me develop some sort of kinship towards that someone; that no matter what changes in each of us, we'll still have this one thing in common.

Once in the city, I begin the all-too-familiar walk towards university. Having not done it for months, my legs can still take me there without giving it too much thought. The only difference now is that The Terrace seems a bit longer and steeper than I remember. It must have been a warm day too, because as I approached university I started to regret having worn my black sleeve top. It's one of my more favoured pieces of clothing, as thin and comfortable as 4-ply tissue paper, but still warm enough to make me question why I didn't bring something cooler for the day. I guess this country's temperamental weather patterns have taught me to expect the worst, even to my own discomfort.

I finally get to university and make a bee-line towards an arrangement of couches at the Cotton building. I drop onto one of the couches, welcoming them as they cushion and ease my fall, finally ending-up in a very lax and comfortable seating position.

Well, no time to just sit around, I tell myself; I'll be meeting Michelle soon. So I take from my bag a birthday card, still new and empty, awaiting whatever personalized birthday wishes one would write in them. I get my pen out and hold it just above the card as I started to think about what I was going to write.

Finding the proper words to convey my intentions has always been a chore for me. I consciously tell myself to form my sentences before speaking, to avoid 'ums' and 'ahs'. It's as if most of the conversations in my life have had me preparing for some public speech in the not too distant future. But the speech never comes, and the result of all this extra thinking has me responding slower than most people, making them think I'm either retarded, or actually enjoy the awkward silences.

Several long minutes later, I've written my message, and have texted Michelle, letting her know I'm here. She texts me back, telling me to wait for her at the overbridge. I pack everything back into my bag and head for the overbridge, suddenly realizing how few people there are at university today. The last week of the 2nd semester doesn't exactly draw the crowds: only the dedicated students, and those here on a birthday mission.

My meeting with Michelle goes very well. She talks about her current study/work, what she has done in the passed year, and what she intends to do in future years.

"So when this is all done," I say, "will you finally get your own couch where you get people to lie down, ask them how they feel, and charge extravagent prices for an hour of your time?"

I watched her face slowly transform into a stern look of disapproval with every word in that last sentence. Whereas I was absolutely beaming.

"That's a horrible, horrible stereotype Em!" she responds.

It wouldn't be an encounter with Michelle without at least 1 insult flying.

And somewhere in amongst our conversation, I also take my turn to talk about myself, past, present and future: about how full-time work for the last year has turned-out, etc. I also tell her about this long e-mail I wrote to friends overseas, and how I tried to imitate the narrative style of the authors whose books I keep borrowing from the library.

"Maybe you should become a writer instead Em?" she says. "You could wear your glasses, have a pen in one hand, and drown yourself in alcohol or drugs until a creative thought comes out of your brain?"


"That's a horrible, horrible stereotype Michelle!" I quickly say.

It wouldn't be an encounter with Michelle without someone getting even.

Overall, it was just usual conversation stuff. The sort of things that friends would tell eachother when they happen across eachother on the street. But because we can measure the gap between our encouters in fractions of a year, the usual stuff is all we ever have time for. It makes me miss previous years when Michelle wasn't such a rarity, when the lecture schedule was easy-going, and the assignments almost non-consequential.

It's the kind of wishful thinking that makes people want to invent time machines. I wonder if H. G. Wells was thinking the same thing when he wrote his story.

5. 4 interesting things about me

Home, finally, after the longer-than-usual journey.

After changing out of my work clothes, I prepared myself a basic dinner of macaroni cheese, with little bacon bits in it and very little diced parsley sprinkled on top, just to add another colour to the food. When that was all over and my stomach had stopped complaining (couldn't do anything about the latent sickness though), I sat down in front of my computer to see if any new e-mails have come in.

Having weeded-out the spam from the rest of it, I noticed my inbox is full of these '4 things about me' e-mails. The first one is from Nigel who, even though he may not have started it all, is the first to have sent that e-mail around. Followed closely by Melissa, and then several other people. My favourite probably had to be Gow's one, where he didn't even answer the questions, but said something else along the lines of 'WAINIUOMATA BITCHES!' In amongst everyone's answers, I noticed this little bit in Melissa's one:

H) Four friends I think will respond:

1. Campbell

2. Em (but it will be an artistic masterpiece)

3. Janelle

4. Lydia

Artistic masterpiece? Even so, it is about time I wrote again. 2 months is a long gap.

I click on the 'write new e-mail ' button, and before I can begin the obligatory Christmas e-mail, a new text message causes my phone to vibrate violently on the desk.

The 6:30 btwn Wgtn & Parapar is running up to 30 min lte due 2 Operational reasons...

Somewhere in this city, somebody is having a birthday.