Monday, December 21, 2009

Maybe I'll settle down. Maybe I'll just leave town.

So, Christmas alone in New Zealand. This will actually be my first Christmas completely alone.

Last year, I went camping with my partner... and hundreds of other people. (The relationship ended abruptly thereafter, due in no small part to the aforementioned camping and my disdain for same.)

The year before, I had just arrived in New Zealand to follow my heart after another broken soul and the holidays were a blur of 'meeting the folks' and settling into a new country.

All of the years preceding were spent with one of my own families - either the one I was given by birth or the 'urban families' I made for myself in Baltimore and then Palau. I've got no urban family here in New Zealand. At least not yet.

I'm prepared for the worst. Tears. Self pity. Whining. I hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks to technology heretofore unavailable to me, I will try to video-conference in to my bio-family's Christmas do as they hold that most hallowed of holiday events: the back-stabbing frenzy of gift exchange known as Chinese Christmas. Why it has such a potentially racially offensive moniker has never been satisfactorily explained to me. One can only guess. I blame my grandmother.

Still, it is fun and I am looking forward to being a part of it. Even if the technology fails me (touch wood) I've got an agent to act on my behalf. She is five foot three (and a half!) of pure temerity and meanness. I should know, she raised me. She promises to be ruthless and I plan to hold her to that.

But because I live on the other side of the world in tomorrow-land, that doesn't get me through Christmas day.

I have been invited to a Christmas orphans collection of expats on the day (aptly named Chrimbo?), but I can't decide whether that sad gathering will be more or less pathetic than sitting home alone. Probably less, but only because of the wine.

I've recently decided to go, if only to introduce them to my signature recipe for au gratin potatoes. Hint: it's the bechamel sauce that makes it art. Because why have something that's totally fattening, when you can make something that is incrediby fattening? This year, I'll be piloting a gluten free version, which means that finally it really will be my recipe, instead of the one I cribbed off my mother and called my own. I will also be introducing New Zealand to the 'poinsettia' - a cocktail of champagne and cranberry juice. Only they don't know what poinsettias are here, so I had to rename it the 'pohutukawa' (the Kiwi version of a Christmas tree with bright red blooms).

I have decided to take the accompanying New Years Eve ennui off the table by travelling during that period. I will be embarking on a road trip up to Poor Knights island in Northland to do some diving. The drive is about eleven hours and the Kiwis keep telling me that is the longest drive ever. Having made the trek from Atlanta to Dallas year after year in the back of a Chevy Citation, I kind of scoff at them. I'm actually breaking the trip into two days, a move I'm sure my father would have called 'soft'.

Poor Knights is a marine reserve that Jacques Cousteau reckons (reckoned, anyway, before he took a dirt nap) is one of the top ten dive sites in the world. I've been diving in Palau, so I'll be the judge of that. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Since I've got a new (to me) convertible, I'm looking forward to the drive almost as much as the diving. I plan to stop in pretty much every small town that strikes my fancy. On the way, there are towns with comically large gum boots, towns built entirely of corrugated tin, towns with glo-worms and towns with geysers. I think that is absolutely fantastic. Especially the gum boot. I'm hoping to be able to climb inside.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It was almost Christmas time... there I stood in another line

A cynic's views on Bob Carlisle's Christmas 'classic' Christmas Shoes:

1. My mother was sick when I was a little girl and, by all accounts, I was never dirty from head to toe.* Look, kid, I know you're going through a rough time, but there's no excuse for poor hygiene.

2. I don't think Jesus cares if your mom shows up barefoot. Really. He spent a lot of time barefoot. He understands. Besides, wouldn't that money be better spent on, you know, soap?

3. Where the hell is your Dad? What are you doing wandering around Wal*Mart in ripped up clothes? I'm calling CFS.

4. Also, no offence kid, but could you hurry up? Everybody's got somewhere to be tonight.

I'm so going to hell. Just so you don't think I'm totally heartless, I will admit that I weep like a wee child everytime the little kids start singing. I'm a sucker for little kids singing. I bet when he performs it live, they all come out in little robes and do sign language.


*I did get sent back to my Mom spouting racist epithets, but that's a story for another day...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Wellington... the beauracracy, the suits and the briefcases along Lambton Quay

So, recently I was having a debate about handicapped toilets and, in particular, whether one is required to avoid using the handicapped toilet if one is not disabled. Now, there seems to be a consensus that, if a line is present, obviously you yield to the disabled person to use the handicapped toilet.

The stickier issue is when no one else is around. Do you go ahead and bask in the roomy interior of the handicapped stall? What if a disabled person were to come in while you were 'engaged'?

Some people would feel so awkward on exiting the stall into an otherwise empty restroom only to find a disabled person waiting that they avoid the handicapped stall entirely. I am of a different opinion which, put succinctly, is this: unless your disability is that you cannot hold it, I'm allowed to use that stall.

This begs another question - what if your disability is that you cannot hold it? Shouldn't there be provision for you? Just like there are handicapped parking spaces for those who require larger spaces or closer access, shouldn't there also be a stall reserved for those who require quicker access?

Of course, this would require some sort of certification, because people cannot be trusted to use the honour system. Which means that you would have to go to some bureaucrat and explain your inability to hold it in order to be certified eligible to use the 'quick access' stall. And you'd probably need proof of some sort. This is likely to be undesirable for most. Still, you could give physicians the authority to issue such certifications, which means that a person needing one could obtain it in a slightly more comfortable environment.

Even so, like a handicapped parking pass, an individual so certified would need some sort of documentation to display in order to take advantage of the 'quick access' stall. It could be a badge or a card or a sticker or a certificate. But you would still have to show people. Which led me to the inevitable conclusion that the only way for this system to work means that an individual so afflicted would have to regularly show complete strangers some sort of identification that basically says, 'Hi. I pee myself.'

This is likely to be a less than palatable solution.

You know, people ask me what I do all the time. And when I tell them I'm a policy adviser, half of them know exactly what that means (this being Wellington, after all) and the other half give me a blank smile that tells me inside they're thinking, 'policy what now?'

I've decided when I get the latter reaction in the future, I'm going to relay this story. Because, really, that's all policy is anyway. Somebody has an idea and then hands it off to someone like me to scope it out, look at all the possibilities, evaluate the likely outcomes, identify risks and benefits and, ultimately, decide whether the idea is dumb or not.

The 'I pee myself' badge, I have decided, is a dumb idea. Or, in policy speak, 'not a preferred option'.