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.
After a mere seventeen months and a rather impressive stack of paperwork, Rochi finally got his green card. We were disappointed to find that it isn’t actually green, but let’s not quibble. The little card represents freedom for both of us. I no longer have to nag him to behave himself and he can get into as much trouble as he likes; I have the option to bail him out or let him stew. Either way he probably won’t get deported.
We had to go to Honolulu for his final interview, something neither of us wanted to do. It seems to me that the process should be more perfunctory for people who have been married as long as we have, but America is the Land of One Size Fits All Legislation (unless you’re very wealthy) so we both adopted a “Sir, yes, sir!” attitude toward the whole thing.
Two things I learned:
Judging by the limited bits of news I see, the official policy of the Tangerine-tinted Buffoon and His Propaganda Machine is that all foreigners including toddlers are highly suspect and America hates anyone who wasn’t born here unless she has very large breasts. But as it turns out, the official stance and the reality are different. The officer who did the interview was perfectly civil. Rochi didn’t have to sing God Bless America and I didn’t have to swear to what brand of toothpaste we use. The officer even showed some interest in us personally, which leads to the second thing I learned.
Japan has taken on some sort of mythical, mystical status here. Again and again, baffled faces have asked why we left Japan to move to Puna. My equally baffled answer has been that Tokyo is noisy and crowded and smelly; Puna is paradise. The immigration officer, of Okinawan descent by the way, went one step further, asking why we chose Puna instead of the razzle-dazzle of Honolulu. We both snorted, respectfully, saying, “Why not just stay in Tokyo? Last night, we went to sleep listening to Honolulu traffic. In Puna, we sleep to a chorus of coqui frogs. We were at the center of everything for years and years and both avoided the razzle-dazzle. Puna is exactly where we want to be.” I don’t think we convinced her, but if she drew the conclusion that we’re both a bit batty, she’s probably right.
I have developed a theory about the Hawaiian attitude toward Japan. In the late 19th century, waves of Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii to work the sugar cane fields. They thought they would make good money they could send back to their dirt poor families, eventually returning home themselves. The reality was that the guys were put to back-breaking labor for which they were paid pennies. But mostly they stayed, married and propagated, harboring memories of Japan as a sacred homeland where all men are equal and mice never raid the rice bin. Japan hovers just past the horizon, the gleaming ideal of all that is just and good. The bad things that happen here never happen in Japan. This is classic Japanese willful naivete, a cultural characteristic that hasn’t changed much to this day.
Vestiges of Japanese culture remain, mostly in food. By far the best supermarket in Hilo is KTA, started by a Japanese couple in 1916. It’s the best because it has a wide variety of food, American junk, of course, but also Asian and European and Hawaiian and almost any Japanese thing you could want, although it sometimes has a Hawaiian twist. They have kamaboko (steamed fish paste), for example, but it comes in a surreal shade of pink. (There are also sureally-colored hot dogs. Both make me a bit nervous.) There’s a nice selection of expensive European-style gourmet cheeses and meats in the deli section but in the dairy section, they have processed cheese and cheddar–only cheddar. This is just like KTA’s Tokyo counterparts, where most stores have processed cheese and Gouda–only Gouda. There’s also a Safeway in Hilo but it only offers bland Americana.
(I have discovered that Safeway has $5 Fridays. I was warned to stay away because of the terrible crowds. But being ornery, I had to see for myself, and when I did, I nearly wet myself with giggles. If that’s crowded, I’ll eat my flip-flops. Anyone who thinks $5 Fridays at Safeway are crowded has never been to a Tokyo supermarket in the final days leading up to the New Year holidays, when normally polite and gentle Japanese people turn into shopping maniacs foaming at the mouth as they fight over the last package of sweet beans or fossilized fish eggs. But I digress.)
I met a nice lady who works at Bank of Hawaii. I would guess she’s in her mid 60’s. She has a Japanese name but told me she’d never been to Japan and was very excited about her upcoming first visit. I returned to the bank a few months later and asked how the trip had gone. She sighed, disappointment written all over her face. “There was a lot of walking,” she said. I felt really sorry for her. Imagine the expectations she’d built up in her head, possibly based on stories heard at her grandmother’s knee, compared to the reality of modern Japan. A friend once said to me, “If you don’t have any expectations, you can’t be disappointed.” Wise words.
The long and short of all this rambling is that Rochi is finally legal. Ironically, this means he can visit Japan if he wants to, but he doesn’t want to and neither do I. Nor do we want to go back to Honolulu. Nor do we want to go anywhere, really. It’s just so darned nice here.
Not so very long ago, a lot of shopping was done at home. The shopper would pore through the many pages of the Sears catalog, which was bigger than the local phone book and offered pretty much anything you could want. At one point they were even selling little girls.
In good time, the Wells Fargo wagon would rumble down the street laden with wooden crates full of hopes and dreams and cotton underwear.
We were still doing this when I was a kid. The Sears catalog was a wonderland. It was such fun looking at the pictures, dreaming of things we’d never order and making fun of the models and their goofy poses. “Yes, I’m standing here in my underwear, but I’m not looking at the camera, so it doesn’t count.”
On the growing list of things that no longer exist goes a stack of dusty catalogs; even the words ‘catalog shopping’ have been retired. All these years since Ma Ingalls turned to Sears mail order for her shoe button hooks, I turn to Amazon for everything I can’t find in Hilo. I sit in front of my computer instead of in an easy chair with a catalog cradled in my lap, but the result is the same. The squat mail delivery van, the brown UPS truck, sometimes even Lord Fedex himself–they all drop by my house bringing me hopes and dreams and cotton underwear. And if I squint my eyes and really concentrate, I can just barely hear the clip-clop of hoof beats fading into the distance.
Or maybe that’s just someone knocking together a couple of coconut shells. That’s much more likely around here.
It seems a little crazy to drive seven miles just to buy lettuce, but the Nanawale Community Center Bodacious Farmers’ Market only happens on Sundays so that’s the only time we can buy hydroponic greens from the gentle fellow with the toothless grin and thick beard who always gives us an extra bunch or two.
As the crow flies, Nanawale and it’s neighbor Leilani are much closer than seven miles. Fortunately, there aren’t any crows around here, just a couple of sleepy tanuki.
Nothing happened today. Or rather, I did nothing today. Or rather, I didn’t do the stuff I usually do, which means starting the day with yoga or power walking. It was late–the bird concerto had already ended–and I was feeling a little out of kilter. So I spent some time on the stretch pole, something that bring balance, centering and calm.
Yesterday had tired me out. Rochi’s work permit finally came last week and that meant we had to go to Social Security and get him a number. That all went well enough except that I handed over the documents and the man behind the glass said they already had his application. Very odd. He spent some time fiddling his keyboard and then wrote the number on a Post It. Perhaps the same fairies who guided my tax return through the Japanese postal system (long story) had followed us to Hawaii. At any rate, that was weird and those thing always leave me feeling a little discombobulated.
Then we finally made a decision about the generator but realized we couldn’t bring it home. The store people would help us load it, but even if the weight didn’t send Six to Honda heaven, we wouldn’t be able to get it out of the car when we got home. So we paid for it and left it at Will Call to be called for once our beefy neighbor gets back from Kona.
So I thought it might be wise to lay low today. I made a turkey and bacon sandwich for lunch and then the mail came. Lo and behold, Rochi’s social security card arrived along with a summons to immigration for the interview where we try to convince them we really have been married for 30 years. I’m not worried about that; we can annoy each other very convincingly, but it will mean a trip to Honolulu. We’d both rather sleep on a cactus than do that, but 1) it should be the last step in making Rochi legal and 2) it will be so very nice to come home again.
I booked our flights and found a decent looking Airbnb then walked down the street to feed our neighbor’s cat and now we’re settled into leftover chicken adobo with avocado sashimi along with salad and a bit of brie.
Today was a very nice day, or at least it started that way. I had nothing urgent on the docket so I got up slowly then spent an hour working out on the lanai. I had cottage cheese with nectarine for breakfast and then did a crossword puzzle, a clever one with a a clever theme that made me feel clever when I figured it out. There’s nothing quite like a dash of smugness before I’ve finished my coffee. After a bit of editing work, I did some online shopping, most of which was pleasurable, but I did spend over an hour fretting over generators.
One snag to life in paradise, I’ve discovered, is that we are offered the same prices as Mainlanders and shipping is still free with Amazon Prime, but if I order something large or heavy, I am asked to pay a ‘local delivery’ fee, which means the surcharge for flying the thing to the island. (Apparently ‘shipping’ has nothing to do with ships and ‘delivery’ has nothing to do with delivering.) I have found these fees to be upwards of 200% of the cost of the item. This is a little annoying but we live pretty squarely in the middle of nowhere and hurricane season approaches. If the power goes out, we could be stuck but good. Gone are the days of the family happily huddling over a Scrabble board eating beans from a can by candlelight. It is a scientific fact that the 21st century human will quickly turn into butterscotch pudding if deprived of electricity for too long, so I accepted that I should at least attempt to buy a generator.
Given my loathing of power tools, I would rather eat Spam with Gummy Bears while walking barefoot on Legos than buy a generator. On the other hand, the thought of a freezer full of rotting food brings back the memory of The Rotten Chicken https://mouseintokyo.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/rotten-chicken/ and we really don’t want to go there again. It took months to get that smell out of my nose.
I did my homework, learned how many watts it would take to keep the essentials running, which of the chugging monsters would produce enough power without shattering either my eardrums or my bank account. I started with Amazon but soon despaired of ‘local delivery’, so I ventured over to Home Depot only to run into the same roadblock. In desperation, I turned to Walmart but, alas, it was the same. So here I am, tired, a little grumpy, generatorless and with the smell of rotten chicken in my nose again.
The construction elves have been hard at work on the new shopping oasis outside of town.* Even so, Pahoa still has vestiges of a cowboy town, aging traces of its sugarcane past. The main street that runs through town has a section of dilapidated wooden sidewalk flanking false front businesses: a couple of restaurants, arts and craft shops, a tattoo parlor, of course. On the outskirts of town, there are abandoned outbuildings lurking among the vines. The heads of rusting machinery watch over the parking lot at Ace Hardware, a local version of dinosaurs unable to find a passage back to the past. All of this lends the town a certain charm, a sense of permanence among an ever-changing population, at the same time an awkward, pimple-faced teenager and a doddering fool.
In 1955, Pahoa was almost destroyed by a fire. Right in the middle of town was a tofu factory that had a wood-fired furnace. The owner usually banked his fires before he went home, but that night, the fire got out of control. It burned all the way to the main alley. Luckily, a papaya farmer who had water loaded on the back of his truck saw what happened and extinguished the fire, saving Pahoa from destruction.
There’s a strong hippie/alternative lifestyle vibe here. I’m pretty sure that many of the folks who were at Woodstock in 1969–and are still alive–landed in this area. It is not uncommon to see bodies adorned with tie-dye and fringe and grey ponytails and beards framing wizened faces at the local market.
All of this lends the town an alluring charm, a sense of permanence within an ever-changing population, at the same time an awkward, pimple-faced teenager and a doddering fool. But with the new mall going in, we have a slight pall of doom hanging over us. Passing through town today, I saw a couple of businesses preparing to close. Signs in front of the development say there will be a Pizza Hut and a MacDonald’s, both places I vow never to enter, but there will also be a Goodwill and a Banzos falafel, both reasons for good cheer. They’ve installed traffic lights between the turnoff for Long’s and the entrance to the mall, just past the traffic circle. This will either prove to be a feat of fine engineering or a monumental disaster.
The development was originally supposed to open at the end of last year, but the lava decided that was a bad idea. We shall see how Madame Pele feels about all of this. As always, she gets the final say-so.
*Disclaimer: To be fair, I’m taking some liberty with the word ‘town’. The population of Pahoa is only 945 souls, so technically it’s a village. When people say they’re going to ‘town’ they mean Hilo (pop. 43,263), which is about half an hour from here, home to the airport, Walmart and Target and several supermarkets. We go there to shop and then, quick as we can, escape back to paradise.
Being of extremely limited intelligence, I fell for an ad and ordered some supplements that are supposed to get your body into ketosis and keep it there, happily burning fat while the deluded user sits on the sofa eating potato chips and watching Frasier reruns. I wasn’t expecting magic, especially since I don’t eat keto, but the ad was a promo and the supplements only cost $10 so I figured it was no big loss if they turned out to be sugar pills.
The supplements came promptly and I took them but all they did was give me bed sweats. I did some research and found that they were basically useless–sugar pills in party dresses who’ve been stood up by their dates. Apparently, with the current popularity of keto, scams like that are cropping up by the dozens. So I tossed the pills and thought that was the end of it.
Then I discovered that they’d charged me $150 in addition to the initial $10. There was no explanation; they just charged it to my card. Thoroughly annoyed and feeling more than a little violated, I wrote to them saying that I hadn’t ordered anything else and demanded a full refund. They wrote back saying that their website clearly stated I had to cancel within 30 days or be charged the full value of the supplements.
Golly. $150 for sugar pills? That must be some mighty fine sugar. And it hadn’t yet been 30 days.
I wrote them again saying there was no mention of cancellation on the website and none in either of their confirmation emails. I repeated my demand for a full refund and told them I would be contacting the FTC, BBB and Consumer Affairs. (I don’t even know what Consumer Affairs is but it sounded good.) I figured it was a lost cause but worth a shot.
The next day they sent me emails saying that they’d made the refund and today I confirmed with my bank that I’d received the money.
And now I’m flummoxed. It’s like I dropped my wallet on a crowded street and went back an hour later to find it still there with all the money still inside it. I am starting to understand the origin of the term ‘dumb luck’.
Lessons learned: -There’s no shortcut to weight loss. -No matter how much weight I do lose, I’m never going to look like the girl in the bikini. -Never respond to an ad that has grammar and spelling mistakes in it.
In yet another testament to my feeble-mindedness, I ordered some Chinese earwax removing candles.
They arrived minus instructions so I asked Mr. Google how to use them and he told me not to. More trash, but at least this time it was only $1. And the return address on the package is Dushanbe, Tadjikistan. Consulting Mr. Google again, I learned that Dushanbe (known as Stalinabad during the Soviet era) means Monday and the city got that name because a popular market used to be held there on Mondays. How delightful!
If I hadn’t ordered the useless earwax candles, I never would have thought of looking up Tajikistan and I never would have learned about Dushanbe. My life is now that much richer.