Boys Will Be Boys

We were driving home from doing some errands today and noticing the Halloween decorations that are going up around the neighborhood. Rochi asked me,

Do people eat the enormous pumpkins they use to make Jack o’ Lanterns?

Well…

…sez I…

We always did. Food never got wasted at our house. We’d scrape off the part that got scorched black from the candle and have mashed pumpkin–which I always hated–or maybe pumpkin pie. But some people don’t eat them. A lot of them get smashed by teenaged boys with baseball bats.

And I was reminded of the old Far Side cartoon where a T. Rex is marking his calendar.

Kill something and eat it.

Smash something and make a mess.

A bazillion millennia later, things haven’t changed much.

Caste

Months and months ago, some friends were discussing the book Caste. In my continuing KonMari frame of mind, I didn’t want to buy it and don’t own a Kindle, so I got onto the Hawaii Public Library website and put my name on a list. I think I was number 457.

Yesterday I got an email saying the library had a copy for me and they would fine me a dollar (an entire dollar!) if I didn’t get my tail up there post haste. For a minute I was stumped. It had been such a long time since I’d wanted the book that I didn’t recognize the title. But given the Covid world we live in, I was up for an adventure. And the journey would give me an excuse to drop by Island Naturals (the cool kids call it ‘The Natch’) and top up my cardamom and wild rice supplies.

The usually jovial fellow who works the check-out desk was instead looking morose as he held vigil at the entrance. ‘I need to see your vaccination card,’ he said.

‘Golly!’ says I.

‘Governor Ige has mandated that everyone has to show their cards to enter public facilities,’ said Jovial.

I had it with me, of course. All those decades that I lived in Japan, I was required to carry my foreign registration card at all times so I’m familiar with the concept. But it surprised me that I had morphed from being a suspicious foreigner to being a suspicious book borrower.

As I was leaving, a woman was just getting out of her car in the parking lot. Jovial turned pale behind his mask and said, ‘This could be trouble.’

Golly. I don’t know if she was a demanding reader or a local nutball or a militant anti-vaxxer. I’m not even sure there’s much of a difference among the three, and to be honest, I was much more interested in topping up my some lemon balm stash so I wished Jovial luck and skedaddled.

Once back to the peace and safety of my pretty little house, I sat looking at the cover of the book and wondered, not for the first time, about the way today is going to shape tomorrow. In one sense, we’re all in a big, leaky boat together, sharing a common enemy and trying to hold it together while we wait for some sort of rescue and release.

On the other hand, we’re also going through a continuation of what the Cheetoh wanted so desperately: division and suspicion, opposing camps entrenched in their own beliefs to the point that being right is much, much more important than being safe or even being alive.

But if I’m to believe what I read in the papers, we’re developing a division, a system of castes in a sense. The Blue States are pretty much vaccinated. The Red States are experiencing higher rates of infection and illness, overflowing hospitals, overworked health care workers. As long as those states keep insisting they’re right, I can’t see anything but a dark and ominous future ahead.

So we find ourselves facing a deep division of profound significance that goes way beyond I’m-right-you’re wrong. It seems to me that the only way to move forward is to abolish this caste system and pull together. But how can we do that without someone wallowing in rightness and someone else having to accept wrongness? There should be some sensible way to come to terms without having to cut the baby in half.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

The Purloined Mayo

I have heard that while men can be quite capable in many ways, it has been scientifically proven that the man who can find the mayonnaise in the fridge has not yet been born, so I decided to do an experiment while I was making lunch. I was feeling a bit twiggy, having had oral surgery last week and not yet able to eat normal food, so while I was making some dull soup for me, he had requested a sandwich. Maybe that tweaked my spite nerve.

“Rochi, could you get me some green onions from the garden?”

Success! OK, he’s listening. My hopes kindled.

“Could you get the mayo for me, please?” I asked, with as much innocence as I could muster.

“Japanese or American?” he asked. My hopes rose.

“It’s your sandwich, so your choice,” I said, rather diplomatically.

And then I waited. And waited.

He searched high.

He searched low.

But nary a jar of mayonnaise, oriental or occidental, could he procure.

With renewed faith in science, I reached for the fateful jar, cleverly hidden in plain sight in the door of the fridge, where it has been kept since time immemorial.

I promise not to gloat.

Well, maybe a little.

I’m not Edna

I had to call Macy’s customer service the other day. When I was finally connected to a living, breathing human, she said, “My name is Edna. How may I help you?”

I said, “Seriously? Is your name really Edna?”

You see, I had both of my Pfizer vaccines at the Edith Kanakaole Tennis Stadium in Hilo. It was a mass vaccination event, called a Pod. The first day, there was music playing and a jolly atmosphere. (This is Hawaii, after all.) The announcements said that 5000 jabees were expected, so we should get lost ASAP after our 15 minutes of recovery time, please and thank you.

The second time, after I danced to my designated folding chair to the pulsing beat of some classic Michael Jackson, the announcement said we should make good use of our recovery time by texting our un-vaccinated friends because they had extra vaccines and didn’t want to waste them.

The people I wanted to text are mostly in Japan and don’t have access to vaccines. My elation and sense of relief at being done with the jabbing business and–hopefully–having earned a degree of protection and safety within an unpredictable and threatening world, flitted away through the open roof of the stadium along with several colorful birds and the tenuous hopes of a generation.

Still, I was done. And I was alone, a rare experience these days. So I drove myself and the Bandaid on my arm to the mall and bought myself some underpants. I was feeling so pleased that I let the salesclerk talk me into applying for a Macy’s card, which came with a tantalizing 25% discount. At that point, I was practically bubbling over, so I went to housewares and bought a couple of really great frying pans to keep my new undies company on the back seat of the car as I drove home.

A week or so later, my new Macy’s card arrived in the mail with the wrong name on it, hence my call to dear Edna, who sorted out the business and promised to send Eda, not Edna, a new card.

I am wondering, though, how this happened. Macy’s offered Edna-who-doesn’t-exist a generous $1200 credit line right on the spot as she stood by the jewelry counter clutching her wonderfully soft cotton undies. But how did Edna come into existence in the first place, using Eda’s address and social security number? Not-Edna is perplexed, but also a little comforted. Big Brother doesn’t always get it right.

So if you’re looking for some extra soft cotton undies, or some really great frying pans or a generous credit limit, drop by Macy’s and tell them Edna sent you. They seem to be fond of that name.

Smoke Out

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Eight years ago today, April 19, 2021, I took my last puff on a cigarette. That’s eight full years, or ninety-six months or two thousand nine hundred and twenty days, give or take a leap year or two, where I have not taken even a single puff.

Over those eight years, my life has turned upside down and inside out.

I have seen my own weakness and done–or not done–things I am not proud of, dusty spiderwebs in the corners of the attic of my heart and mind.

I have felt pain both physical and mental that might have eaten holes in Superman’s cape.

I have felt happiness so overwhelming that the flitting butterflies in my stomach put on boxing gloves and tried to knock each other silly.

And I have found depths of strength and resilience inside myself that had been lost in the dead letter office of my soul for decades.

Throughout all of those joys and challenges, there is one thing I have know and have never doubted: smoking would not have made any of it easier. Even though the Nicotine Monster still raises his ugly head from time to time, he no longer has any power over me.

This, gentle reader, is a very good thing to know.

Witness

As much as I believe in the power of gratitude to bring happiness and well-being, it’s sometimes hard to find things to be grateful for as the pandemic drags its weary heels into yet another month of stagnation and isolation. But once in a while there is a shining beacon of light that brings me joy.

Case in point: In yesterday’s mail there was a plain, white envelope addressed to our Ohana (family). The return address was a PO box. I was intrigued but figured it was just another doctor bill in disguise.

I opened the envelope to discover a letter, hand written on pretty Hawaiian paper, with an invitation to join a Jehovah’s Witness Easter Zoom event ‘that will be attended by millions of people earthwide.’

I won’t go into how offensive I find that given the current state of the earth’s health, on so many levels and in so many ways.

But instead of focusing on resentment and self-righteousness, I broke into paroxysms of giggles, realizing that the sweetly smiling ladies dressed in their Sunday best can not knock on my door to bring me ‘good news’ because of Covid. And for that I am profoundly grateful.

Covid Fatigue

I’m noticing a growing trend among pretty much everyone I know. We’re all tired of this, tired of being stuck at home, tired of having no place to go, tired of seeing the same faces, tired of feeling like we’re stuck on the great Limbo Treadmill, plugging along and getting nowhere. It doesn’t matter how much we love our homes and the faces that surround us. We’ve seen them, all day, every day, seemingly since the dawn of time.

My number one focus is still Rochi and how we can cope with his ongoing recovery, which seems to defy medical explanation. We’ve seen specialist after specialist–neurologist, audiologist, ophthalmologist, otologist–and they all say the same thing: there’s nothing physically wrong with him. There’s no superfood or magic pill. He just needs time to recover, and that could take weeks…or days…or years. We just don’t know.

So while I am preoccupied with all of that, we are still living in the midst of a pandemic. When all of this started, Rochi was already sick, hospitalized, skinny as a pair of chopsticks. In that context, the disease seemed irrelevant to me. “What care I for plagues and fools when I’m alone in Tokyo, worried and scared and not allowed even to see my friends?”

In time, he started getting better, or more accurately, we decided the hospital was doing more harm than good and we sprung him. In time, we made our way back home, home to our pretty house and our furry family and our comfortable bed and a spacious kitchen where I can focus on producing healthful food.

That focus has been intense, so intense that I forget the rest of the world is out there, attempting to cope just like we are. But the disjointed surreality of it all is still with me, most of all when we go out. We pull into a parking lot and suddenly we are surrounded by masked strangers. I can’t shake a moment of panic; Americans only wear masks when they rob banks, or so my psyche believes. It’s a gut reaction and I can’t shake it. My common sense jumps in soon enough and explains to my quivering heart that masks are a good thing, but until that happens, the petrified child inside curls up in a corner and sobs. “This just can’t be. This isn’t how the world works. Too many things have changed too fast. I can’t catch up.” The treadmill keeps running and I can’t get off.

I dream strange dreams of things that have never happened, of going places I have never been and doing things I would never do. I dreamed that I went to the VFW in Nanawale for the Friday night fish fry.

But it wasn’t a dream. I did that yesterday. And it made me really happy. It’s not just supporting the VFW, although I do. And it’s not just that the fish is really good, although it is. And it was drive-through, everyone masked, whereas it used to be seated, indoors or out. But most of all, we got to go somewhere we hadn’t been in over a year and got to speak to some people we hadn’t met before, even if it was only for a moment. even if our unspoken communication was gestures and smiling eyes over masked noses and mouths. Driving back home in a car filled with the smell of fried fish, I felt grateful and tired and happy and sad.

What do you call it when your real life is so surreal that your dreams seem normal by comparison? And where is the danged ‘off’ switch on this contraption?

Topsy Turvy

I had an awful dream this morning. I was driving around London. I have never driven in London. I have never driven in the UK or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.

It was night, raining, of course. My BFF Nora was in the passenger seat. Each time I hit the brakes, the car went faster. As I got more and more worried, Nora calmly told me to pull over so we could figure out what was wrong. I tried a couple of times but the car wouldn’t slow down. We finally skidded to a stop, going sideways through a chain link fence. The driver’s side of the car was damaged but I couldn’t see how much. A man came to my window and started mansplaining what would and wouldn’t be covered by insurance.

A woman ran toward the car from the stairwell entrance to a mall saying that Rochi had been hit while working his security guard job. I ran to the building and found him lying on the floor in front of an elevator. He was only partly conscious and had some yellow bruises on his skin. I tried to ask what had happened and then I woke up.

I can pick through my real-life concerns and make sense of a lot of this. A few weeks ago, I backed into a parking space at Target. I braked gently to a stop but the car kept moving. I kept pushing harder on the brake pedal, until I realized the big red pickup truck in the next space was backing out, creating the illusion that we were moving. I don’t scare easily but that was a moment of gut-wrenching panic. I don’t trust me as a driver; I don’t trust anyone else either, not when it comes to driving.

Insurance worries are most likely familiar to all Americans and come from having to function in a system I don’t understand, trying to take in an awful lot of information that mostly doesn’t make sense. The source of worries about Rochi’s health is obvious enough. But why were we in London? Why was Rochi working as a security guard? What did he get hit by? And since when is Nora the calm one?

Maybe all of this is just a reflection of the disjointed limbo-life we have been living for so long. When things in real life don’t make any sense, why would they make sense in dreamland?

21 in 21

I’m not superstitious about numbers or their significance. I believe that the only significance of 666 is that it comes after 665. But I am a fan of symmetry, so when my friend Alison came up with the idea of 21 in 21, I liked it. (She later discovered that someone else had already come up with the idea but you can’t copyright numbers so they can just bug off.)

With Alison’s kind permission, I sent out enquiries about what people might want from 2021. World peace and an end to Covid are givens and I’m pleased to report that nobody suggested either. I’m equally glad that nobody asked for magic beans, although if you happen to have any, I’ll send you my address.

Mostly what people wanted was to find the best in ourselves and the world around us. The past four years seemed an endless infestation of termites gnawing at the foundations of society, Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty nestled in asbestos-lined jackets, sharing a hemlock cocktail and nibbling on lead paint.

Yesterday the clouds parted. Today, the birds sing a little louder and the flowers bloom a little brighter. The earth’s gravity seems just a little weaker and the stars just a little closer. I think a lot of people are feeling the same thing. So here is a collection of 21 thoughts for 2021, published on the 21st. Food for thought, a snack or a feast. It’s up to you.

1) Spend some time outdoors every day, no matter what the weather. If you’re somewhere really cold, a couple of seconds are enough.

2) Enjoy art. Any kind, any way: draw a picture, write a poem, dance in your underwear at a museum…online.

3) Learn how to fix the drip in your shower or fold an origami crane or make a cheese soufflé. The University of Youtube is open 24/7.

4) Move toward sustainable clothing: natural fibers, organic/fair trade items. Find ways to use fewer plastics. Consider the difference between wanting something and needing it.

5) Do a mindfulness activity or add meditation to your routine. Count to ten. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

6) Check in with a friend/family to say hello at least once a week. Reconnect with old friends. Write a letter on paper; use a stamp.

7) Think of something, or three things, or a hundred things you are grateful for each day. Write them down.

8) Keep a journal. Use multi-colored pens and stickers.

9) Do something fun every day. Give yourself some goof off time every week. Set boundaries so you have time for yourself. Laugh out loud. Find your happy place.

10) Work on that ‘hard thing’ for an hour, every week. Or 15 minutes; use a timer.

11) Drink more water. Eat more vegetables. Taste something you’ve never tasted.

12) Follow through on good intentions; the best opportunities may only come once. Brownie points are worth more than you realize.

13) Look in the mirror and say, “Today is going to be a good day.” Look for the silver lining.

14) Read a book you’ve always wanted to read. Suggestions offered included War and Peace, Animal Farm, Les Miserables, Chronicles of Narnia, A Tale of Two Cities, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Three Musketeers, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick.
   *If anybody succeeds, let me know!

15) Volunteer. Pick up trash. Help someone who can’t help themselves. Offer to wash the dishes. Your time is yours to give.

16) Be kind. Smile at people. Give compliments. Try to mean them.

17) Ten minutes tidy: spend 10 minutes a day doing something to connect yourself with your home and with yourself. Refold your socks. Clean out a drawer. Dust around the door frames. Make your bed. Put away the laundry.

18) Go someplace you’ve never been, even if it’s in your imagination. Be curious.

19) Practice compassionate listening, but not just listening to others. Listen to your own heart. Acknowledge when you do right or wrong. Look for the best in yourself. Forgive yourself for the worst.

20) Give in to the joy of spontaneity.

21) Let yourself be you.

Got anything to add? Let me know. I’d be happy to add updates although the management reserves the right to edit, delete or ignore with no explanation given. It’s my blog. I make the rules. XXXOOO

You go, girl

I don’t remember The Cheeto’s inauguration. I had other things on my mind around January 20th in 2017. I was about to check into the hospital for a surgery I dreaded but was trying to face with the stoicism I thought it deserved. I was determined not to let either the disease itself or the effects it would have on my body become the definition of who I was, who I am. It was something to be dealt with, woven into the patchwork of all the fabric that makes me who I am.

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was walk into that operating room. It was huge, filled with frightening machines, all reaching their spindly metal arms toward me, trying to nip off pieces of me. I had to walk to the table as if it was something I wanted to do. I sat, wiggled out of my slippers and lay down. The room was buzzing with nurses and doctors but nobody even looked up. I remember hearing someone asking permission to remove my socks but I couldn’t see who it was. I had never been so frightened in my life. Every tingling nerve screamed for me to get up, run away, but I forced myself to lie still.

Afterward, the food was horrible, the doctors disinterested. I had tubes coming out of me at awkward angles. I tried to be cool but a couple of days later, the tears started to flow, slowly at first but then a brook and then a stream and then a great gushing river as I heaved wounded animal sobs. Doctors and nurses rushed in. I pulled the blanket over my head and tried to hide, thinking, “For God’s sake, leave me alone! Just let me do this.”

One of the doctors asked if I’d like to see the hospital psychiatrist. “Sure,” I choked, thinking that might make them go away. It did.

By the time the shrink showed up, I had gotten myself together. I’d sobbed out all the tension and frustration and pure rage that I’d been carrying around for months. To his credit, it didn’t take him long to figure that out. I don’t remember what we talked about except that he asked me if I thought The Cheeto would get assassinated.

I looked at him for a long time, trying to understand why he would ask me that, searching for a stronger word than ‘irrelevant’ but not finding one.

“I’m sure someone will try,” was all I could come up with. I wanted to laugh but it wasn’t really funny. I didn’t want to admit how much I liked the idea.

All of this came tumbling back to me just now, when I read an article in the Washington Post about Kamala, who will be sworn in tomorrow, America’s first black, Asian, female Vice President. She brings so much with her, so much that the White House has never seen. She has such potential for good, from putting free tampons in schools to closing the gender pay gap to giving mothers the leg up they need and deserve. And her husband is Jewish. It feels like someone took aim at the celestial dart board and shot three darts right into the bullseye. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Huzzah!

I have extraordinary hope for the future, after the year we’ve just survived personally to the anguish the entire world is trying to cope with, to the unfathomable 70 million Americans who still saw fit to vote for The Cheeto.

All I can think is, “You go, girl,” first and foremost to Kamala, but also to me and to you and to all women everywhere. You go, girl.