Yer Out

I stumbled into the bathroom this morning, still rubbing dreams out of the corners of my eyes, and pulled the last few sheets of toilet paper off the roll. When I tried to replace it, the holder broke in my hand. This was not a life-changing event but it was neither a great way to start the day. Strike one.

Morning cardio done. Breakfast done. Into the car to hit the farmers’ market. I wanted to buy some gourmet balsamic vinegar. This stuff is top flight–the Cartier of vinegars, golden drops of exotica that transform an ordinary vinaigrette into a full orchestration of the palette. But their usual stand stood empty, forlorn and abandoned. The information lady said they’d been gone for some time. Strike two.

Crestfallen, we headed for our favorite fruit and veggie stand and I discovered that I didn’t have my wallet. Credit cards! Driver’s license! Health insurance cards! A $5 gas coupon! (If you’ve noticed local gas prices sail off into the stratosphere lately, you’ll understand why this is significant.) The mature adult in me knew that the wallet had to be at home somewhere and, if not, all its contents were replaceable, except the gas coupon, but the child in me threw herself onto the bare earth of the market and shrieked at the top of her lungs. Strike three.

Just because it had been that kind of day, once we got home, I stepped on what I thought was a stray bit of lettuce but turned out to be a piece of dead lizard. Irrelevant. We’d already struck out so let’s just call the lizard guts smeared on the bottom of my foot analogous to grass stains on the knees of the uniform of life.

All nausea aside, we had a week’s worth of (mostly) locally grown delights as well as a replacement TP roll holder courtesy of Ace Hardware. And I found my wallet, safe and sound, inside the antique schoolteacher’s desk in the living room.

All in all things worked out for the best. And to be honest, all of this was a somewhat welcome distraction from the larger worries that I try to keep swept into a tidy pile in the corner of my mind. Only occasionally does a breeze sail through the window, sending the bits of cat hair and lava dust and dried up lizard parts swirling through the air. I can handle occasionally.

So allow me to take this opportunity, gentle reader, to wish you an uneventful day, free of strikes of any form, a day that you know where your wallet is, a day free from lizard detritus, a day of belief that the sun will rise tomorrow and the worries of today will grow smaller with each hour that passes, or at least that those worries will stay neatly swept into a manageable pile. May your strikes be few and your piles be small.

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.

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?

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?

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.

The Fridge Fiasco

The description from the realtor said our house was furnished. That worked out very nicely for us, since our Japan furniture and appliances wouldn’t have worked here anyway. We lived on the floor in tiny rooms where we were perfectly comfortable, but a low table with legless chairs and a futon would not have worked here at all.

The house had chairs and tables, beds and sofas. (We’d never had a sofa before, or a bed for that matter!) I think the place may have played AirBnb for a while because the kitchen had a fridge, electric kettle, a microwave and basic utensils. There were towels, both terry and paper, even some laundry soap and half a roll of toilet paper. We were ready to party.

The problem, though, with taking over someone else’s life, is that it doesn’t feel like your own. Even now, I find myself in the garden thinking I’d better get permission before I toss the creepy asparagus-looking plant. It takes me a while to remember that it’s MY creepy asparagus-looking plant and I can rip it to shreds if I want to. Having always been a tenant, it’s hard to get my head around that idea. I’m still torn between frugal me who thinks the stuff here is fine if not very interesting and interesting me who thinks it’s our house and we can do as we please.

Gradually, we’ve started replacing things. First to go were the jiggly single beds in the master bedroom. We are now the proud owners of a king sized bed with space for us all, including the cats. This was never an issue in Tokyo since we slept on the floor. When the cats pushed us out of the futon, we just rolled onto the tatami.

We also had issues with the fridge. It seems that whoever outfitted this house was smitten with Sears because all the appliances are Kenmore. Which is fine. I have no strong feelings about appliance brands.

The Kenmore side by side in the kitchen worked just fine but we didn’t like it. For one thing, I’ve always hated door front ice dispensers, and this one likes to fire ice either over your shoulder or right into your eye. Also, not only does the narrow design make it impossible to put a casserole dish in the fridge–and this is a sin against all things holy–the freezer is too narrow for a pizza box.

So we decided we wanted a French door fridge with a bottom freezer.

We went to Home Depot, picked out the one we wanted, a handsome Samsung with French doors and an internal ice maker, and were informed that it would take between four and ten weeks to arrive. Fair enough.

It did arrive, about six weeks later, along with three burly fellas who wrestled it into the kitchen and the old one into the garage. The fella who appeared to be in charge told us to hang onto the Kenmore. “They don’t make them like that anymore. You’ll be lucky to get five years’ use out of the new one.”

Batter up.

As I was putting our old jars of pickles and mayonnaise into the shiny, new fridge, I noticed that the ‘insulation’ in its shiny, new walls was Styrofoam.

Strike one.

We were pleased with the internal ice maker, glad that we wouldn’t have to put on goggles to get ice anymore, but it didn’t take long for it to assert itself. The ice tray emptied itself into the ice bin. And then it emptied itself again…and again…and again. The lever that was meant to tell it when to stop had gone walk-about, never to be heard from again. So the ice maker just kept making ice and making ice and making ice until the unit filled up and jammed itself.

Strike two.

Soon, ice and then snow (yes snow! in Hawaii!) started to accumulate inside the freezer, the ‘self defrosting freezer’. Soon we discovered that its interpretation of ‘self defrosting’ was to turn itself off and let all the ice and everything else inside melt, leaving behind a small lake and some rather sorry looking blueberries.

Strike three. You’re out.

I contacted Samsung and booked an appointment for repairs. The day came and went. Nothing happened. Then Samsung called and told me to call the repair person directly. I did, and left a message on an answering machine. Days went by. Nothing happened. Samsung called again. I told them about all the nothing that was happening. They offered a refund. I didn’t argue. It took a few more phone calls and several emails but in the end they did refund the cost of the unit.

Just for giggles, we dropped into Sears to see what they might have to say. Sam (not his real name) the Consultative Sales Associate we spoke with, said Kenmore doesn’t make the size we need anymore but he could order a Samsung for us.

“No thanks!” says I. “We have a Samsung now and it’s a hunk of junk.”

Sam shrugged and said, “I work on commission so I shouldn’t tell you this, but they’re all hunks of junk. The insides are all made in the same place. You pay for the brand name on the outside but inside they’re all the same junk. On top of that, they’re all computer controlled–you can’t get one that isn’t–and it’s too humid here for computers. Compound that with salty sea air and volcano dust and they conk out within a couple of years, if you’re lucky to have one last that long.”

To be fair, the fridge works fine despite the Styrofoam and is what we wanted. We just have to make sure the ice bin doesn’t get full. And we keep a small cadre of rags and mops handy. The image of dancing brooms from Fantasia makes it all seems fairly normal. And in the end, we got a new fridge for free, sort of.

So we’ve made peace with our hunk of junk Samsung. Lesson learned? Take the money and run.

Magic

“When I was on the lanai doing my workout this morning, I saw a snail climbing up the trunk of one of our papaya trees. I grabbed the snail stick and knocked it off along with about a dozen others. I’d put out some more snail poison but the renegade roosters think it’s treats and gobble it up.”

I said all of that over breakfast the other day and it struck me that just a couple of years ago, many of those words weren’t even part of my daily vocabulary. I’m still trying to figure out where we fit in our island life, especially as the pandemic forces us to keep our distance from it. This leaves us both with an ongoing feeling of life in limbo, one of Charlie Brown’s kites stuck in a tree, waiting for the winds of fate to work us loose and set us free.

I’ve been thinking about that forced disconnect from reality because of a recent Facebook post about magical realism, which I don’t think really counts as a genre. In my experience, there is plenty of magic in everyday life, just enough to offset the slings and arrows that life is hiding behind her back. It’s a lot like happiness, not something you can pursue but rather something that is already there. You just have to choose to see it, to allow yourself to feel it.

Maybe all of this is part of self-awareness. I am a hetero female; I have never had any doubts on those aspects of me. On the other hand, inside my head, that female is tall and dark. When Lauren Bacall lowered her chin and said, “You know how to whistle, don’t you?” alarm bells went off inside my head. There was an entire world in that line, a world I could never be a part of, a line I could never say. Inside my head, my swanlike neck supports a head of thick, dark hair. My eyelashes are as long as my legs, which cross elegantly at the ankles above narrow feet.

But that’s inside my head. In reality, I am small and cute, a hybrid of plump hobbit and pink baby bunnies cavorting on nursery wallpaper. My outward appearance is a constant betrayal of who I am on the inside. Maybe that’s why I so deeply resent mansplaining, or condescension in any form. Inside my head I am screaming, “Does my blonde hair really justify you treating me like a a child? Does me having to look at up your nostrils when we talk make you superior in some way? Can’t you see how smart I am? Don’t you know that its only by my good grace that I don’t blast you into smithereens with my laser vision?”

I can’t wear makeup without looking like a clown and I can’t reach the dishes on the upper shelf. But I can see the beauty in my own strength and the world I live in. I can marvel at the wild orchids that line our street and the songs the coqui frogs sing every night. I can gasp with awe at the festival of rainbows that appears when we drive high above the clouds on Saddle Road on the way to Kona. I can relive that feeling in the afternoon when the sun hits the crystal suspended in our front window and festoons our walls with hundreds of tiny rainbows. Every day, I can keep falling more and more in love with our pretty house with its pretty garden in the middle of a jungle on a tiny island in the Pacific ocean.

My life is no more charmed than anyone else’s. I just choose to see it that way. Half empty or half full. It’s your choice, too.