Water bills, friendship and anxiety. Steve Braunias is put on the spot, for the sake of the nation.
The lady from the Department of Statistics was lurking by my front door the other day. "I've been expecting you," I said. The department had sent a letter. It was really very interesting. It said that I was among the chosen few who had been selected to tell the department a vast amount of personal information in order to form a better understanding of our great nation. It said that a representative would be visiting. It said that I was bound by law to answer all their questions.
The lady from the Department of Statistics wanted to know when I would be available. "Tomorrow at six," I suggested. She said that would be okay. She said that it would take a long time. I said that I was a busy man, very busy indeed, but I understood that it was a legal obligation to submit to her interrogation, and in any case I wanted to help, was really very keen to make a meaningful contribution to an accurate portrait of our great nation.
The lady from the Department of Statistics turned up at six on the dot. She phoned a minute or two after the dot; I hadn't heard her knocking on the door, had in fact entirely forgotten the appointment, and was really very unprepared for visitors. "I'll be down in a second," I said, and then I changed out of my pyjamas, brushed my teeth, turned on the lights, put away the dishes, put on the kettle, straightened the magazines on the dining room table, and went downstairs in the name of our great nation.
The lady from the Department of Statistics set up her gear on the really very tidy dining room table. The cat jumped up on it. He'd wrapped himself around her feet when she was lurking by my front door the previous day, and wanted to renew their friendship. It was getting dark outside. The falling light outside the windows had a quality of despair, gloom, death; all over our great nation, in farmhouses and apartments and cottages and mansions, families were sitting down for dinner. I made tea for two.
The lady from the Department of Statistics got right down to it and asked a number of questions about my personal finances. I scurried off to find this bank statement and that rates notice. There were several inquiries about my water bill. It was really very high. I thought: should I lie? I felt guilty as hell about my excessive water use during the hot summer months but lying about it would be even more of a betrayal of our great nation. I looked out the window at the moonlight on my Bestway 4m X 2m swimming pool that I put up in November, and decided to tell the truth.
The lady from the Department of Statistics asked a lot of questions about anxiety. I sailed through all of those like a champ. I hate anxious people. But then she asked about friendships, including the question, "How often do you have dinner with friends?" Great question, actually; you can measure our great nation by its quality of friendship. I thought of New Zealanders regularly chowing down with each other in a spirit of camaraderie and suddenly felt really very lonely. I wanted to say: I took my girlfriend out for dinner twice last week in Wellington, does that count? But I ticked "Not often," and brooded on lost friendships.
The lady from the Department of Statistics asked a lot of questions about my daughter's anxiety. I sailed her though all of those like the champ she is but I thought of all the little kids across our great nation who are bullied, afraid, damaged, hurt, lost, abused, wanting to die, wanting to kill, wanting to disappear, really very anxious, and found the questions heartbreaking.
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The lady from the Department of Statistics asked more and more questions, pried and snooped and dragged it all out of me; I saw the data of my life pass before my eyes. Her relentless questionnaire was so exhausting, a really very intense experience. I went into it blithely and finished it wrung out. But I felt good that I'd played my part and acted like a good, law-abiding person. I gave honest answers. I laid it on the line. I couldn't see the big picture but I knew it was out there – an accumulation of facts and figures about the state of things in New Zealand, our great nation.
Next week: Diana Wichtel