Unicorns

Yesterday was one of those days, not awful, just kind of hard, the sort of day you can handle but would really prefer not to, like flossing your teeth. Afterwards, you’re glad you did but wouldn’t ever choose to do it again, all the while knowing you will have to.

It started off with a drive into Hilo in pouring rain, Puna style. It pours, it stops, it drizzles, it pours again. I was a little old lady hunch over the steering wheel, desperately searching for the road in front of us. My right wrist developed battle fatigue from turning the wipers on and off so many times.

Safe but already tired, we arrived in town and began chipping away at our list of chores.

  • Hearing test – check
  • Buy a sandwich – check
  • Stock up on soy milk – check
  • Eat sandwich in eye doctor’s parking lot – check
  • Eye doctor appointment – check
  • Haircut (Finally! We were both starting to look like old mops.) – check

At last we returned to the peace and quiet of home. As I gave myself a mental pat on the back for getting everything done, I noticed that the lights on Leo’s unicorn headset were blinking.

I had a moment of panic. We hear such awful stories about zombie meth heads in this area, breaking into people’s homes and doing awful things. Had someone broken in and (gasp!) left Leo’s lights blinking? I took a quick look around but nothing else seemed to be amiss. So I plucked the headset off Leo’s fuzzy head and switched the lights off. But they kept on blinking. I switched again and again, my wonder and frustration building as sinister shadows reached for my toes from under the bed and ominous music welled up in the background.

What…how…why…huh?

In desperation, I pulled the cover off the battery case and discovered that one of the batteries had corroded and fused itself to its neighbor. I suppose this closed a circuit–or summoned a ghost–and Leo’s lights were merrily blinking their way toward dead battery heaven. I grabbed my trusty pliers, plucked the offending batteries from their nest. The lights calmed; the music faded; the sinister fingers shriveled and receded to the region of dust bunnies and lost tissues under the bed. I returned Leo to the top of the hat rack, unicorn headset bereft of batteries. He didn’t seem to mind.

My heart was still aflutter when we discovered a box by the front door. Inside there was a nest of soft green tissue and when I pulled it away, a serene white unicorn looked up at me and winked.

The rain stopped, the clouds parted and all the stresses of the day melted into that soft gaze, a gentle reminder that we have to do whatever we have to do, but whether or not it troubles us is a matter of choice.

Thank you, Pa. You made my day…and week…and month…maybe even the whole year.

When life gives you lemons

The lemon trees in the back yard produce lemons as plump and juicy as grapefruits, their flesh nearly as sweet as oranges. The scent of their flowers warp speeds me to a land where merry-go-round horses are hand carved from solid wood and all have glass eyes and they’re always open and rides are free. Yeah, they’re that good.

One of our two trees was a graft. The lower part, the Meyer lemon, struggles valiantly against gravity as its magnificent offspring drag its slender branches toward the earth. The upper portion, though, was something else, something that grew straight and true, reaching toward the sky but vehemently refusing to bud. It stood armed with nasty thorns, each over an inch long, a biological nose-thumbing, if you will.

Needless to say, its snotty attitude left us unimpressed. Armed with our superior position on the food chain and a small hand saw, Rochi removed the offending menace. But in the process of being tossed into the jungle, the black-hearted knave saw an opening for revenge and plunged one of its thorns into Rochi’s thumb. We put some ice on it and tried to push aside the stories we’d heard about the plethora of bacteria and bugs and snails and rats and other threats great and small that lurk in the guise of paradise.

By the next morning, the thumb had swelled up to the size of Mauna Kea and a worrisome pink line was meandering along the inside of his arm toward his elbow. I consulted Dr. Google, who had nothing good to say about the situation, so we hopped into the car and headed for urgent care, where the doctor likewise had nothing good to say and told us to go to the hospital. We detoured back home for breakfast and coffee and I packed some PB and J sandwiches (I wasn’t a Girl Scout for nothing) and off we went.

In the interest of accuracy, it wasn’t peanut butter. It was cashew butter, made from raw organic cashews that I had roasted and ground myself. Cashew butter is peanut butter that has been sent to finishing school and now makes all other nut butters look like cheap knock-offs from China.

The Nut Butter Revue

The ER doc prescribed masses of antibiotics and that was an end to it. Feeling relieved but in need of a little pampering, I suggested that we treat ourselves to cheeseburgers but Rochi suggested it was well past 2:00 and too late for a heavy lunch.

“OK,” sez I. “Point well taken. How about we eat the PB&J in the car and then share a hot fudge sundae?”

So that’s what we did. And it was magnificent.

Tiger, Tiger

A new year has come, a new beginning, or just another Saturday, depending on your perspective. The clocks will keep on ticking, moving forward, oblivious to the way we label the days. Mother Earth doubtless has little regard for the insignificant significance we place on time.

In our little corner of the universe, we had made a plan to stock up on groceries in Hilo the same day as our last medical appointment of the year, then hunker down and stay home, safe in our nest, protected by the orchids and lemons in the garden, until the new year had passed, until the hoopla was over.

It was a good plan. At midnight on the 31st, the fireworks erupted. Rochi slept soundly through it all, the quilt tucked up under his chin. I listened to bangs and pops and rat-a-tats for what felt like a long time, then fell asleep to the the scent of gunpowder drifting in through the windows.

On the 3rd, we ventured into Pahoa–some would call it a town but it’s barely a village–to test the waters and do some chores. There had been no apocalypse that we could discern. In fact, things looked as they usually do. Barefoot, gray-headed hippies lounged on the uneven boarded sidewalks flanking the main street. At the bank, there was no line. I greeted my favorite teller, exchanging pleasantries across the plastic barrier. I discovered both lemon balm and chamomile on the shelves at Island Naturals, a major coup. And Long’s had finally gotten Heineken light back in stock.

Back at home, we were pleased, maybe a bit smug, feeling like we’d won something unexpected. In reality, we’d merely dipped our toes into the watery edge of the coming year and found the temperature pleasant.

We continue our residence in limbo, along with the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, waiting, wondering, worrying where and when and how we may end up. Within the context of the pandemic, the outside world continues to be full of doom and despair. People still have to face unbearable physical and emotional challenges. My stomach churns when I think of the state of our political system. Mother Earth herself is under threat, seemingly from a different direction every day.

And yet the sun rises over the trees at the rear of our garden. The birds wake up and share news of their dreams and the flowers nod greetings as they dance on the breeze. I want to say all is well with the world even though I know that it’s not, but the idea of a perfect world is appealing all the same.

A very wise friend once said to me that it’s best not to have any expectations because then you can’t be disappointed. That’s how I plan to move ahead through whatever lies in front of my feet. I will keep myself open to the good, the beautiful, the kind and the gentle and welcome it into my heart and home. At the same time, I will acknowledge the bad, the ugly, the nasty and the harsh, but invite it to take a flying leap into a boiling volcano.

Greetings, Year of the Tiger. Let’s see if we can’t keep peace with each other.

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?