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.

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.

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?