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.

Hope

We had to fly to Honolulu on Tuesday.

It seems odd to write that.

We had to fly to Honolulu.

In my experience, most people rather want to fly to Honolulu. But it’s true. We had to. The Big Island’s small population cannot support the range of medicine one might wish for, so we had to fly to Honolulu to see an ear specialist.

If I had ever had illusions of an exotic island-hopping lifestyle, the trip squashed them pretty flat. In addition to the usual travel arrangements, I got a special dispensation from the Ministry of the Plague to be exempted from Covid testing and/or quarantine, with the understanding that we would go directly to the appointment and come directly back home, which was fine by us. We had to go. We didn’t want to, and a thoroughly putrid lunch at the food court across from the medical center sent us hightailing our way back to the airport, begging to be put on an earlier flight back to Hilo

The news from the doctor was all good. He was not fazed in the least by Rochi’s history or current symptoms. In fact, he said, “When these things happen…”

…and I fell out of my chair.

When these things happen…

After Rochi had had an endless series of ear infections starting in the spring of 2019, and because of the absurd situation with health insurance in the US, we had gone back to Japan last fall to seek treatment. Health insurance was granted without question and he received treatment from supposedly the best doctors in the best hospitals. But one after the other, they scratched their butts and said, “Gee. I’ve never seen this before. Let me pump you full of drugs and see what happens.”

As it turns out, that was the right thing to do. When these things happen, the only treatment available is antibiotics and steroids, which he received in abundance. And in time, they worked. The inflammation and infection both passed, leaving his body 40 pounds under weight and his head full of glitches and quirks. If he wasn’t so gosh darned stubborn, we wouldn’t be here, now, napping under a pile of sympathetic cats. But after months of treatment, in and out of three different hospitals, not one doctor ever gave us a clear diagnosis. All we ever got was a lot of sympathetic nodding accompanied by butt scratching in three part harmony.

When these things happen… The Honolulu doctor didn’t try to give it a name, but he also didn’t act like he’d just this moment started medical school and didn’t yet know the difference between a stethoscope and an enema bag.

When these things happen… The tender skin in the outer ear can get dry and then bacteria can get through, especially the kind that thrives here in the jungle. It makes its way to the inner ear and then hops an express train for points further inside the skull. The doctor gave us a steroid ointment, saying Rochi should apply a tiny amount to the external ear if it ever feels itchy and that should solve the problem. Also, he said that when these things happen, they rarely recur so there is very little likelihood that it will ever happen again.

Golly.

So if he had moisturized his ears, none of this would have happened? I am by nature wary of easy answers, but if dry skin was the culprit that led to so much misery, I wonder what that might say about Covid. If a butterfly in Harare hadn’t flapped its wings, or little Johnny Slobsky hadn’t dropped a Snickers wrapper at the corner of Main and Elm, or the whales had migrated east instead of south, or I had decided to have ravioli instead of lasagna, would Covid never have happened? Would the world be a different place? A better place?

I have no answers for unanswerable questions. Instead, I will leave you with this: Wash behind your ears, not inside them.

And this: Never give up hope, but don’t expect too much.

Tread gently into the new year, dear reader. Keep your heart and mind open to possibilities. Sometimes we have to, but if we’re lucky, more often we want to.

Epiphany

I’ve got this bottle of fancy shampoo. Generally I use baby shampoo or just bar soap. Either one gets the job done with a minimum of fanfare, but there was a promotion on Amazon. For a limited time, this status-enhancing, life-affirming bottle could be mine for less than $5. The stuff got rave reviews, so I ordered it.

The magical day finally arrived. I got into the shower and washed my hair, expecting to emerge taller, richer and better adjusted. What happened, though, was my hair felt like a Brillo pad and I got an awful case the itches.

But I was raised to believe that it’s wrong to waste something that still has some use left in it. So the bottle sat on the shelf in my shower. Now and then enough time goes by that I forget how awful the stuff is and I use it again. And then I remember why the bottle is still full.

Last night, I was in the shower and it hit me that while it is wrong to be wasteful, a thing is only useful if someone is getting some use from it. And that wasn’t happening with my magic bottle.

I had fought the good fight, given it a year. It was time to admit defeat.

Or was it? Maybe I should try to remember that my life is pretty good as it is. I get a great deal of satisfaction from yoga and cooking and working in the garden. And if baby shampoo is good enough for babies, it ought to be good enough for me.

Lessons learned: Life is pretty good as it is. And people get paid to write good reviews on Amazon.

Erection

A modest bow of acknowledgement and gratitude to Jonelle Patrick

One Tuesday evening in November long ago, probably in 1988 but maybe it was 1992, I walked into a classroom to teach English. It was a night class. The students were mostly male, salaried workers in rumpled suits with laundry bags of exhaustion hanging under their eyes.

I smiled my perkiest smile and said, “Today is a special day in the United States. Does anyone know why?”

Heads were scratched and air was sucked and finally one brave fellow, striped necktie askew, looked up at me.

“You have an erection?”

Fighting the urge to look down to make sure, I walked to the chalkboard and wrote the word, spelled correctly, and hoped the issue would tuck its tail under its chin and fade into the ugly carpet.

And now, so many years later, on another Tuesday in November, decades and oceans away, I can only hope the current reign of terror will tuck its tail under its chin and make its way into the carpet.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen. Judging by the past four years, the current nightmare is unlikely to die a noble death or even attempt a scrap of dignity. With luck, the will of the people will capture it in a net and toss it out the window, ignorance, arrogance, bigotry and all, and it will get sucked into the annals of history, never to rear its ugly head again.

Let sanity reign.

Critters

Lately, it’s been very hard to put pen to paper, so to speak, or should I say fingers to keyboard? This blog tends to be either silly or slightly philosophical, but there’s a lot less silliness going around these days and it’s hard to come to any grand conclusions about Life, The Universe and Everything (42!) when we’re all living life suspended just inches above limbo.

But today I feel the need to share. This morning, I went out onto the lanai as usual to do my daily workout. (Pahla B Fitness on Youtube. She’s my current exercise guru). I grabbed my handy broom to sweep away the night’s accumulation of lava dust and a little green lizard fell at my feet. Maybe it had been clinging to the ceiling or nestled in the bristles of the broom. It looked at me, slightly abashed. I bade it good morning and it went on its way.

A while later, I was pulling weeds in the back garden when I found a snail, a big oozy snail making a slimy trail toward our tomatoes. As much as I would like to honor all creatures, snails in Hawaii sometimes carry rat lungworm disease. It’s rare but hideous; to date I don’t personally know anybody who has contracted Covid but I do know someone who got rat lungworm. He recovered eventually but both he and his family went through agony before he got there. So I picked up the nasty thing in my gloved hand and dropped it into a bucket of heavily salted water which we keep under the deck just for that purpose. So long, buddy. Don’t take any wooden nickels.

A while later, I reached under a purple-flowering bush by the deck, intending to yank out a tuft of unwanted grass, when a brownish stone suddenly leapt toward my face. It took a moment for me to register that it was a frog, not an adorable thumbnail-sized coqui frog whose song lulls me to sleep but an ugly lumpy frog the size of my fist. I dropped my trowel as I squealed like a little girl and ran for the safety of the house. All three cats were watching me from the window, judging me for my cowardice. I’ll never live this one down.

A gang of marauding roosters has been terrorizing the bug community in our garden for weeks. They’re quite handsome, really, and look rather adorable when they root around in the dust under the mountain apple tree. Their cock-a-doodles are not as invasive as one might think, just another set of voices in the natural cacophony that serenades us every day. And they’re welcome to the bugs.

That’s pretty much the long and short of the critter situation. But I am hard put to draw any sort of conclusion. Lizard, snail, frog, rooster. I have made peace with my onetime terror of lizards. I am at a leery standoff with the snails and frogs. If I were a witch I might use them to cook up a brew that would cause our neighbor’s noisy TV to implode. Sadly, I am not a witch.

Perhaps in time the world will get back to some semblance of normal. In the meantime, I guess the best I can do is appreciate what nature has to offer and accept this limbo existence with patience and grace. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams…and critters…it is still a beautiful world.

Census and Noncensus

My grandpa was a statistician, a Tabulation Expert, who worked for the census department. He was a clever man. I remember sliding around in the smooth leather back seat of his boat sized Cadillac inhaling the smoke from his Kools while puzzling out math problems or trying to name all the states that start with the letter M.

Professor Google cites several publications featuring his name, mostly having to do with Univac. Family lore says he was instrumental in purchasing F.O.S.D.I.C., one of the first computers used by the US government, affectionately known as Fearless Fosdick. It was twice the size of my bedroom and probably only had a fraction of the power of the Texas Instruments calculator I used in high school trigonometry, but still an important stone in the foundation of the coming technological revolution. I found a picture of it on the census website; I’m pretty sure the person operating it isn’t grandpa.

FOSDIC

So when an ad for census enumerators popped up on my computer last fall, I applied. I thought it would be fun, or at least interesting. I’m a big fan of new experiences, particularly unexpected ones. And one of the things I love about Hawaii is the broad variety of its people. I looked forward to meeting some of them and maybe seeing how they live.

Because of Covid, all training was done online. It provided useful information on how to enumerate large apartment buildings (there are none anywhere near here) and advised me to watch out for moose when I’m driving. (I kid you not.) Then there was a 3.5 hour conference call where a group of us listened to a guy reading instructions from a script and not knowing the answers to any of our questions. I never said a word; instead I used the time for Messenger chat and did my nails. But when that was done, I was an official enumerator armed with a laminated picture ID and government issue iphone.

enumerator badge
The enumerator badges were way cooler in 1910, I could have raided a saloon or led a posse with one of these.

I headed out on my first day with a positive attitude and a sense of anticipation. My very first case had already been visited several times. The case file said the people were belligerent, anti-government screamers. I don’t know if this was meant to be trial by fire or just the indifference of Big Brother. Either way, I sat in the car staring at the house for a long time, searching for the confidence to knock on the door. When I finally did, nobody was home but there was a dog whining piteously behind the door. The profound misery in its voice stayed with me for the rest of the day.

Most people fill in their census forms without any prodding. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the people who hadn’t done that didn’t want to be counted. I had been trained to explain how the census is good for all of us and that their personal information would be treated with absolute confidentiality, both by me and by the department. But I didn’t feel good about telling people to trust a government that is not to be trusted, at least not in the current climate, maybe not ever.

Only one person was flat out hostile. Several were rude. A couple of times I saw shadowy faces behind twitching curtains but nobody came to the door; those people deserved to have their solitude respected. Many of the places I visited appeared empty, overgrown and forlorn, but that didn’t necessarily mean nobody lived there; I was obliged to knock anyway, sometimes stepping gingerly over weeds and broken glass. Dogs barked. Bugs bit. Neighbors eyed me suspiciously. I drove down rutted, unpaved roads past rusting cars and found myself praying that certain addresses wouldn’t pop up in my list. More and more, I realized I was drawing too much on my shallow well of courage, trying not to admit how scared I was and how much the job was costing me.

I could have lied, said that I had visited places I hadn’t, but like so many others, I didn’t want to go down that road.

My final case on my fourth day was a friendly fellow who told me a bit about the neighborhood, its drug problems and psychoses and other woes, then he looked me in the eye and said with gentle concern, “You shouldn’t be doing this job. It’s too dangerous.” And I realized he was right. I would say 99% of the people I talked to were good folks, mostly not really understanding what the census is or why it matters, but the other 1% was the variable I couldn’t justify. With genuine sadness in my heart and a little disappointment in myself, I contacted my supervisor and resigned, saying I didn’t have the stamina to fulfill the 20 hour weekly minimum. Kudos to her that she didn’t argue.

My grand career as a government employee lasted a whopping four days but at least I tried. I think grandpa would have given me credit for that.

 

grampa

Skin Deep

I’ve gotten used to lizards keeping me company while I do yoga out on the lanai despite my onetime herpetophobia. They are a fact of life in Hawaii. I figured I’d have to make peace with them if I want to live here. And so I did. This morning a particularly aggressive one took a stroll across my yoga mat. I realized his pointy snout was drawing him toward my cup of papaya juice. I know from seeing their little faces leering down at me from the papaya trees that it’s a favorite. So I shooed him away and put my cup on the table, safely out of reach of pointed tongues.

But the other day, I was doing my usual morning yoga, reveling in the sunshine and fresh, clear air, when I noticed a lizard had attached herself to one of the wooden uprights on the deck. Following my movements, she arched her long spine, stretched her chin past her knee toward her foot and then started chewing on her toes.

I can’t do that. But I felt oddly flattered.

I went back to my practice, stretching and toning and finding four dimensional balance, listening to the gentle birdsong in the background, feeling the breeze on my skin, its heat equatorial with an undertone of cool.

Then I noticed lady lizard’s skin was turning pale. Fascinated, I gave up all pretense of downward dog, forgot about chattarunga, and stared, gape-mouthed, as she shrugged her narrow shoulders and removed her face.

yoga lizard

Ah. Molting. I hadn’t realized lizards do that. And as I digested that idea, I started to wonder why I’d never seen any discarded lizard suits draped over the lower branches of the potocarpus hedge.

She was quick to answer that question as I watched her slowly eat said skin. She opened her eyes wide in a “yummy” gesture and grinned at me, a wisp of papery epidermis dangling from her lower lip until, with a quick whip of her narrow tongue, she licked it off.

As I sat enthralled, Dear Abby popped into my head.

Dear Abby

Granted, my little friend was taking this concept rather literally, but the idea has been going through my head. I realized that we had not lived here quite long enough for life to become normal when we returned to Japan where we had lived for so long that it felt normal even though it wasn’t. And then, at long last, we came back here, where things were no longer the normal we hadn’t ever gotten used to in the first place.

I would like for our life here to be part of who we will become, or better yet, who we are becoming. I feel pretty sure it will, assuming a lot of things it is not safe to assume. I’ve always enjoyed the unpredictability of life, the tantalizing spice of the unknowable. But under all of that, it feels like we’re living on a veneer of thin ice, ice that shouldn’t exist in a tropical setting. It wouldn’t take much to upset the papaya cart and leave all of us climbing out of our skin.

Still, despite our worries and fears, when the evening sunset casts its pink glow across the pineapple patch and the purple-red leaves of the ti trees, there’s a sense of magic in the air. While the world is toddling its way into an uncertain future, I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be. 

Me pineapple