leah mc­fall

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - THE GRILL -

God love the op­ti­mism of th­ese young peo­ple, un­afraid of ghosts or un­der-em­ploy­ment about to be­gin pu­n­ish­ing job in­ter­views.

Last week I was briefly held hostage in Trenery. Of all the places! How mid­dle-aged can you get? Look, I’m not say­ing I’ve never shopped there. If ever I need a sen­si­ble high-necked jumper, or my wardrobe runs dan­ger­ously short of camel, cream or oat­meal sta­ples, Trenery is where I’d go. It’s just I’d pre­fer to go there as a free agent, not forced in­side by a warm press of hu­man­ity.

Yes! It was Cap­ping Day in Wellington! Good grief, I’ve never seen so many well-dressed Boomer-ad­ja­cent par­ents surg­ing the pave­ments (the sil­ver-haired cool dads in straight jeans and tan leather Ox­fords, the mums glit­ter­ing in state­ment neck­laces), hur­ry­ing in par­al­lel with the grad­u­ates, who were march­ing along the length of Lambton Quay.

It was six-deep on my side of the street; I’d picked the wrong day to shop for tights.

“Not a good idea,” panted an­other wild-eyed pedes­trian on the cor­ner of Lambton and Panama as we tried to breast our way up­stream. I knew when I was licked so I ducked into the shop where, af­ter a few min­utes, I knew when I was bored. (I can now tell you what’s sea­sonal for mid­dle-aged women of means this com­ing win­ter: sex­less­ness, the same as it was last year.)

I knew it was safe to re­turn out­side when the brass band marched past, play­ing a tubu­lar ver­sion of Ghost­busters. God love the op­ti­mism of th­ese young peo­ple, un­afraid of ghosts or un­der-em­ploy­ment, about to be­gin their first pu­n­ish­ing rounds of job in­ter­views, psy­cho­me­t­ric test­ing and cor­po­rate haz­ing (a lot of pho­to­copy­ing and mock­ing up Pow­erPoint slides for pre­sen­ta­tions other, more se­nior peo­ple will give).

I wanted plum tights – too curve­ball for Trenery – so I dashed over the road to Farm­ers. Not a bunch had re­ally changed about me since my grad­u­a­tion, aged 23. My hair was a prob­lem then and my hair is a prob­lem now. I was sur­prised back then that I couldn’t get a job I en­joyed; I’m sur­prised I’ve a job I en­joy now.

I wish I could re­mem­ber what­ever farewell speech we were given that year. Some grad­u­a­tion ad­dresses pass into leg­end (Barack Obama: “Fight for your seat at the ta­ble. Bet­ter yet, fight for a seat at the head of the ta­ble”). Oth­ers fade into the fog, and I guess ours was one of them. What could they have told me that I would have ab­sorbed, though? The only cer­tain thing about my fu­ture was that I’d make mis­takes.

I don’t know why, but the rest of my week pro­gressed in a dream­like state of re­mem­ber­ing the past and half- ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the present. That af­ter­noon I vol­un­teered to help in my son’s gym class – lit­tle knots of 5-year-olds step­ping gin­gerly, heel-to-toe, along a chalked line.

“That’s right! Look at me, not down! Imag­ine you’re bal­anced on a wire, high up in a cir­cus tent,” I urged them. Here was a lit­tle girl, her arms out­stretched, a Big Top danc­ing in her eyes, daz­zled by her own imag­i­na­tion. Here was a grudg­ing lit­tle boy, re­fus­ing the ex­er­cise and scuff­ing out the chalk with his toes. Were they re­ally go­ing to grow up and change?

The next day I was drows­ing on an evening flight. The flight at­ten­dant passed my row (“Tea? Cof­fee? Fudge?”) and I felt my­self de­tach­ing and float­ing away, his voice get­ting fainter and smaller (“Fudge? Fudge?”) as he re­ceded into dis­tant rows.

Fudge? Fudge? Was I truly liv­ing my full po­ten­tial or, as he seemed to sug­gest, only fudg­ing it? Why did I still have no author­ity in my voice? Had I peaked in­tel­lec­tu­ally? What about sex­u­ally? What ex­actly was my tax code? Were those age spots on the back of my hands or, as I liked to tell my chil­dren, the places where the sun had kissed me?

Ear­lier, I’d had drinks with three of my favourite peo­ple – two friends my age, and a gor­geous Mil­len­nial.

“She has so much ini­tia­tive,” one friend mar­velled, in­di­cat­ing the younger wo­man. “And look at her colour­ing.” We gazed at her pale skin, glossy hair and Na­tional Vel­vet eyes.

“Come on, guys,” she said, shift­ing in her seat as the three of us, the Witches of East­wick, en­cir­cled her. We started to cackle as we re­alised how we were be­hav­ing. “Your youth!” hooted Ness. “We want to suck it from you,” I shouted, and col­lapsed into snorts. Who could be­lieve that the three of us were sup­pos­edly in charge, our gen­er­a­tion now rep­re­sented as Prime Min­is­ters, Big Four part­ners, par­ents of chil­dren, mort­gagees, own­ers of pod cof­feemak­ers and car­bon-fi­bre road bikes and life in­sur­ance? I still felt 23, al­though the con­sen­sus seems to be that I no longer looked it.

“Flight at­ten­dants, pre­pare the cabin for land­ing,” said a voice, and I felt my­self fall through a cloud.

“Come on, guys,” said the Mil­len­nial, shift­ing in her seat as we, the Witches of East­wick, en­cir­cled her. We started to cackle.

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