"Is this the place?" says a man in the street, as I stand gazing up at the specified building. He has picked me as a Group 3 Covid-19 vaccine candidate: a woman of a certain age, looking bewildered. Off we go up escalators, following our noses.
Eventually, a sign. We're screened, then registered. Another man wanders in. He doesn't have an appointment. He wants a vaccine. "You need to book online," he's told. "I've tried," he wails. I got my invitation by email, out of the blue. Luck of the draw, I guess.
By the time I've registered, my vaccine buddy has taken his seat alone in the waiting area – there's no queue - and is busy stripping off all his clothes from the waist up. Over-preparing, surely, unless he knows something I don't.
What is the pandemic etiquette for approaching a half-naked near stranger at a vaccination centre? Should I sit beside him? Should I leave a seat between and risk causing offence by implying there's something peculiar about the clothes business? I sit beside him. He is adjusting his layers, he explains, so he can roll up a sleeve for his jab. Fair enough. I mention that my partner had to wait for an hour. No way he'd do that, he declares. He'd be off. He seems mildly resentful about the whole thing. Still, here he is.
Soon a nice lady calls me in, makes sure I know what I'm doing – do any of us, really, sailing these uncharted seas? – and praises me for my top with the loose sleeve. "It's my go-to vaccination jersey," I blurt idiotically.
As she delivers the jab she tap-taps around the needle site with her fingertips. Tricking the body so it doesn't over-react or something. My arm will be considerably less sore than my partner's, who didn't get the taps, so who knows?
Yes, I'm nervous. It's a new vaccine. Nothing is risk-free. But there is a certain sense of history. And it feels like a small act of defiance. Some of the great minds – well, minds – of my times have gone down conspiracy-theory rabbit holes. Take Naomi Wolf, former feminist icon for her 1990 bestseller, The Beauty Myth. I had a tetchy interview with her about her snappily titled 2012 book, Vagina: A New Biography, in which Wolf reclaims her rightful orgasmic pyrotechnics after a glitch in her sexual matrix, and writes, "To understand the vagina properly is to realise that it is not only coextensive with the female brain but is also part of the female soul." I may have been a little sceptical about some it. She may have hung up on me.
Now Twitter has hung up on her, suspending her account after claims she was spreading vaccine disinformation. Sample Wolf tweet reproduced in the Times: "Unvaccinated people continue to report feeling ill when in enclosed rooms for a length of time with vaccinated people." Before Covid she was on about chemtrails.
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There's plenty to legitimately critique about responses to the pandemic. Why go the full, exhausting, dangerous Covid-truther route? It seems to be about a desperation to maintain unbridled individual freedom – a myth at the best of times – when the going gets tough. Reading the remorseless output of the anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-science brigade can feel like re-living that period in your teenager's development when they liked to headbang to Rage Against the Machine's lyric, "F*** you, I won't do what you tell me." Most people grow up or there would be no such thing as society.
Life before a lot of modern vaccines wasn't so flash. I got it all - chickenpox, mumps, scarlet fever. A little friend across the road got measles, developed encephalitis, and never fully recovered.
As I left the vaccination centre, I felt a little woozy. I felt lucky. But anyone who seriously thinks we are where we are in Aotearoa, precarious though it is, entirely by chance might consider why so many other countries, big, small, rich, poor, have had such inexplicably rotten luck. No one made any of the people at the vaccination centre that day turn up. They just looked at the world we're in, weighed the odds and decided to give it their best shot.
Next week: Steve Braunias