Thursday, November 27, 2014

People who help people, and the rest of us

The Irish Rose in Waikiki is surprisingly hard to find at eleven in the morning on a Tuesday. I've only ever gone there on my way home from other bars on payday, when it's very dark, very late, and it seems like a very good idea to eat too many Louisiana hot links with spicy mayonnaise.

"Yeah, I'll eat the street meat from here." ~ Rachel making good decisions.
Mum seems to have been secretly drinking there--with MY friends!--in the years since I left, because like a homing pigeon, she walked us right up to the stairs and into the only bar in Honolulu where it's still acceptable to smoke. The blackout curtains were drawn to keep away the sunlight and the shame, and we were the only women in the place. It was Veterans Day, so Mum bought a round of drinks for a biker gang that came up to the bar after one of their bikes broke down on the street outside.

Dean mixed us his famous bloody marys, which we felt okay ordering because there weren't that many people there on Tuesday morning and he had time to mix specialty cocktails for us. He even brought out his special stash of super-spicy olives, because it was my birthday week and he expresses his affection through alcohol.

For you, my friend.
 Dean and I had worked together at Honolulu Weekly, back when newspapers were still a thing. The Weekly is gone now, as is the magazine I wrote for when I moved to New York. So now, I work at a college and he works in a bar. There's an odd symmetry to our career choices. We're catching the youth at both ends.

He's also going to open a bookstore, the natural habitat of the misanthrope. We came up down a lot of possible names for the store for him, each funnier to us than the last, on account of the bloody marys. We laughed for an embarrassingly long time about "Hard Backs and Soft Covers"--or maybe it was "Hard Covers and Soft Backs." We also liked "Book 'Em, Deano," "Books on Beretania," and "Hana Hou Books," though I think he'd stopped listening to us by then.

I get along with Dean because he's one of the very few friends in my life who, like me, doesn't much like other people. I'm not saying we don't have friends. Dean actually has a very wide social circle, with many people who love him enough to come down to his workplace and tell stories about their worst, sleaziest acts ever done in theme parks. He'll even officiate at your wedding, if you're dying to have the officiant read the most violently misogynistic parts of the Bible during the ceremony.

I myself am moderately popular, especially in Honolulu, where the slower pace of life made it easier to nurture human relationships. But while I like individual people, humanity as a whole kind of freaks me out. I dread meeting new people, and even having people I know over to my home makes me nervous. What if they want to use my toilet? What if they want to spend the night? What if they never leave? 

So I was surprised, on my whirlwind of visits to Honolulu friends and colleagues, to learn how many of my loved ones have careers in health care and social services. Sunday night, I ran into the old president of my college hiking club, who teaches high school science. Monday, we spent several hours visiting with a good friend who does social work in an oncology unit (though she's taking time off for her new baby). Tuesday night, after spending a few hours day-drinking with Dean and then wandering through Ala Moana Mall trying to make bad shopping decisions, we had dinner with a high school friend who's studying nursing. Friday night I met up with college friends, one in nursing and the other busy preserving watersheds with an environmental non-profit. (Mum and my sister had no idea how close they came to being dragged out into the wilderness for a guided hike with him. I love hiking.)
My feet hurt, I'm tired, I'm getting sunburned, can we take a cab?
The BF preserves neighborhoods, my brother-in-law is a drug abuse counselor,  a college friend teaches high school English, another high school friend is a psychologist for troubled teenagers--all these people in my life are Pinky Thompsons, and I can't take a cab home without wondering if I should have the driver drop me off a block away so no one will know where I live.

And then we have Dean, who has alienated every employee at Disneyworld, though they should have known better than to put "Sit On My Face" on the karaoke machine. There's just something about his black and shriveled heart that calls out to my own and reminds me that it's okay to be a private, anti-social asshole.

On Saturday, Mum, my sister and I were drinking at the airport bar, surrounded by our luggage. The vacation was over and it was time to bring back souvenirs and Liliha Bakery coco puffs to our respective partners. My sister looked at our heap o' crap and worried aloud that no one would be able to sit at the table next to ours.

"Fuck em," sneered the person on her way back to New York City. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hawaii Fashion Month, the Hawaii International Film Festival, and why you should probably retire in Florida instead

There's a consensus in New York City that living anywhere else in the world is for suckers. This applies to people from Shanghai, Port-au-Prince, Lagos, Paris, and Pittsburgh--but not, apparently, to me. Hawaii seems to be the one place on Earth that is better than NYC, because New Yorkers never fail to asked me with envy and disbelief what I'm doing here when I could be there.

My reasons for being in New York aren't any different from the other immigrants'. We all come for the excitement, the culture, the jobs, and--if you're in a certain demographic--the opportunity to live on Sesame Street.
Sunday in the Slope.
The difference is that all those other people weren't born in an area that exists in popular imagination as an allegory of Christian Heaven. Hawaii is the place you go to reward yourself for working hard and earning lots of money. A journey there, for a vacation but even more so for a permanent move, takes on these Puritan overtones of morality and virtue: you have labored, and may therefore be blessed with ease, warmth, light, and a complete lack of snakes as far as the eye can see.

(Actually, I read in the Hawaiian Airlines magazine that Hawaii does in fact have a tiny little snake, the Brahminy blind snake, that lives underground, is very shy, and is frequently mistaken for an earthworm. All Brahminy blind snakes in Hawaii are female clones of each other, as they reproduce entirely through parthenogenesis.)

I think people are surprised that I would leave Hawaii because Hawaii is seen as an end unto itself. Why would I go backward through life, choosing to toil in a sinful world, when an accident of birth had already achieved the ultimate goal for me?

Somehow, this is also Sunday in the Slope.
Which is pretty insulting, if you think about it, because it erases the experiences of an entire state of about a million people who are struggling to pay their bills and educate their children, just like in any of the other 49 states. But that's how colonialism works, by dehumanizing the colonized and stripping away their unique identities to replace them with the colonizers' ideas of what they are. In Hawaii's case, the stripping was very thorough. Most of the images you see of Hawaii don't even have people in them. It's just landscapes, or resort scenes with smiling hotel employees.

This kind of talk, by the way, is the reason my mum, my sister, and I could wake up before six every day of our vacation in Honolulu and still not leave the hotel room until eleven. We're all intellectuals and prodigious chatterers, and what with all of our reviewing of the previous days' cultural activities and the rehashing of Hawaiian Airlines magazine articles, there was a lot to dissect each morning.

Our weekend was full of fodder for discussion. On Saturday evening, we attended a runway show at Hawaii's first ever Fashion Month, and on Sunday we attended the closing film of the 34th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival.

The runway shows were sponsored by Hawaiian Airlines and featured designers from the MAMo organization (Maoli Arts Month). We didn't reserve any seats, but we showed up to the Convention Center a little early to cruise the floor and try on clothing at the exhibits, and this being Hawaii, there were plenty of empty seats and gift bags left for us latecomers. We saw a couple lines of wearable fashion.
Here I am wearing some of it, a Wahine Toa dress.
There was also a show of all the Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant uniforms from the company's founding until today. I love to see fashion put into historical context like that, especially if it means we can all remember just how nuts the seventies were:
"This is my professional headband."
A uniquely Hawaiian element to the runway show was the exhibit of native Maoli tattoos. My sister told me that the designs of these tattoos aren't chosen by the subject, but are received by the tattoo artist through trance and prayer. The tattoos are created by dipping sharpened bone tools into ink and pounding the ink into the skin with little wooden hammers. The rhythmic sound made in this process is what gave tattooing its name, ta-tau. A recording of ta-tau was the only soundtrack for the tattoo show, which made for a very powerful viewing experience.

Mum said afterwards that the Maoli tattoos just "felt different" from the tattoos you see on any Brooklyn street corner. "They have mana. You can tell."

Of course, we all agreed that no fashion show would be complete without a viewing of the ridiculously un-wearable. Fortunately, Marques Marzan had us covered. His line looked like costumes for a dystopian sci-fi movie where the remnants of humanity struggle for survival and love on the high seas.

I think I just described the plot of "Waterworld."
So Saturday was a very successful vacation day at the first ever Hawaii Fashion Month, with art, fashion, culture, history, and even a taste of the future. I would recommend this event on Trip Advisor (anything to balance out the nonsensical reviews by people who don't get that part of Hawaii's charm is that it's laid back and a little shabby, and why are you complaining about the bad carpets in a two-star hotel anyway, what did you expect for less than $100 a night?).

Sunday gave us even more to think about. We met up with a newcomer to the islands, someone who had been there only a couple of months and didn't know anything about Hawaii before he moved there except the television show "Hawaii 5.0." We took him to dinner at our favorite Honolulu Chinatown restaurant, the Golden Palace, for authentic Chinese food, and then to the closing film of the Hawaii International Film Festival, for authentic Hawaiian cinema.

The film we saw was a documentary called "Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson." Again, we'd bought our tickets kind of late, but when we showed up there were empty seats waiting for us in the reserved section. None of us knew anything about Pinky Thompson, or the director Ty Sanga, who admitted to finishing it on Hawaiian time, just two nights prior. In fact, the only reason we'd picked that film over say, the short animation showcase, was because it was being screened in the historic Hawaii Theater. Hawaii Theater is a movie palace from 1922 that completed a massive restoration project in 2004. I was fortunate enough to see the first HIFF movie screened there after the completion ("Brokeback Mountain," if you're wondering), though in Hawaii fashion, the sound system still needed a lot of work.

I'm pleased to say the sound system is working great now, and it's still as beautiful inside as ever. There's even a lovely sculpture for my sister and me to giggle at in an immature fashion.

In our defense, C'MON!
The movie was lovely as well, a moving and well-told story about the life of one remarkable individual whose quiet, tireless efforts made the Hawaiian Renaissance possible. Myron "Pinky" Thompson was a World War II veteran and a social worker who dedicated his life to helping the Native Hawaiian people at a time when they were in danger of losing all memory of the past and all hope for the future. He was instrumental in creating the government and private systems of support necessary for the Hawaiians to regain their cultural heritage, as well as providing emotional and spiritual support to the younger generation of Hawaiians who fought for civil rights and to revive traditional practices.

I'd never heard of Pinky Thompson before this, though I'm familiar with his son, Nainoa Thompson, through his work with the Polynesian Voyaging Society. Nor was I aware of the events and upheavals in the Hawaiian community between the annexation of the nation of Hawaii to the United States in 1898 and the launch of the Hokule'a voyaging canoe in 1976.

"What an oddly specific date range." - Herb Kane, artist
I didn't realize how much damage had been done, and how much work was needed by people like Pinky, just to get the Hawaiian Renaissance off the ground. He wasn't doing the exciting work--he drafted bills while his son and their friends were sailing the Pacific--but his story of community activism and justice hard-won is just as thrilling.

I don't know what our newcomer guest got from "Visions in the Dark." There were very few landscapes in it, after all, and unless you read your Hawaiian Airlines magazine on the way over, you probably wouldn't understand any of the references to the Hokule'a, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, or Kamehameha Schools. As a local, I think this is a perfect film for newcomers, as it exposes viewers to the rich, nuanced lives of their new community members.

However, it's a sad fact that many people who fulfill their dreams of moving to Hawaii actually hate it there. They struggle with the same problems immigrants in Hawaii have always struggled with: high cost of living, low employment opportunities, loneliness and a sense of great physical distance from the familiar. All of these problems can be managed, but only if they can engage with the existing community, which many refuse to do.

Trained as they are to think of Hawaii only as paradisiacal landscapes, they have no framework for dealing with the actual people, most of whom are not smiling resort employees. Instead of making an effort to assimilate and appreciate Hawaii for the wonderful, complex place that it is, they struggle harder and harder to make Hawaii into the place they think it should be. You can tell who these people are, because they end up at town hall meetings complaining about the lack of sidewalks in a town that's built on a goddamn hillside with literally no room for sidewalks.
Shall we fill in the cliff on the left, or chip away at the cliff to the right?
My sister doesn't understand why people retire and move to places like Hawaii or Florida. "You spend all these years building a life in your community, and then when you're old you just up and leave it?" I find the concept somewhat baffling myself. If you dream of living somewhere, why don't you go and build an actual life in that place? When I moved to New York, I did it with the intention of not just living in New York, but becoming a New Yorker. This city was going to be my home, not just the place I went to destroy my feet and develop permanent bitch-face to deter wackos from spitting in my mouth.

Geez, why did I come here again?

Of course. I remember.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Triumphant Return to Honolulu

I started this blog after I moved to New York City, primarily as a way for all my friends and family back in Hawaii to keep track of my life without me having to--you know--write letters or talk on the phone with them.
I'm afraid of phones. And strangers, acquaintances, co-workers, and dogs. And the ocean.
Which means that this blog has never been live when I've been in Honolulu! That simply won't do! Honolulu was my first big city love. It's where I rode my first public bus, attended my first poetry slam, saw my first drunk man peeing on a dumpster. Oh, for the fish-and-bakery stink of Chinatown!! The salt-and-sewage stink of the Ala Wai Harbor! The mildewy book stink of the Hawaii State Library!

A fragrant town.
I haven't been back in the six years I've lived in New York because I was afraid if I went back, I desperately want to live there again. Like an ex you can't see again until you don't love them anymore, I just had to keep my distance.

Of course, it didn't work. I was in Honolulu last week with my mum and sister for my birthday and it was as gloriously stinkish and odd as I remembered it, right down to our funky old hotel room with the crooked toilet and the broken cold water tap that turned on no matter which way you spun it. We had a wonderful vacation. We ate in delicious restaurants, attended cultural events, toured places of interest, shopped, visited friends and family, got day-drunk, and avoided the beach. It was a great success.

And there are so many stories! Where to begin?

I took a nonstop flight from JFK to Honolulu that took 11 hours, which gave me enough time to read the in-flight magazine twice AND flip through it backwards once, just to look at the pictures. A lot of my conversations that week began with, "I read in the Hawaiian Airlines magazine that..." When I landed, I called the shuttle van that was supposed to take me to Waikiki and they told me to go to the shuttle pick-up area. I got there, saw a white shuttle van, and asked the driver if I was on his list.

"Where you going?" he asked.

"Hokele Suites on Lewers," I said.

"Get in."

Fifteen minutes later, crawling down Nimitz Highway in rush-hour traffic, my cell phone rings. I can tell from the number that it's the shuttle van I'd actually reserved, no doubt wondering where the hell I was.  The van I was in wasn't my van. I was so embarrassed that I didn't answer, even though they called more than once.

It was way too early to check into the hotel, so I dropped off my bags and went to Waikiki Beach to watch the sunset. Ooo, ahh, pretty-kine and all that. Time to drink. I went to the Irish bar on Lewers, Kelley O'Neills, and listened to some middle-aged hippie with a guitar butcher Creedance Clearwater for a couple of hours while I got drunk-texted my pen pal in New Zealand and watched some dude who looked like Rasputin eat fries.

Mum and Abby got in around nine and I met them in front of the hotel.

"I got on the wrong shuttle!" I shrieked.

"That's why our driver was so grumpy!" they shrieked back.

We're very loud together. We cleared off the balcony of the restaurant we ate at, and the manager gave us a free margarita after Mum made him show her the back staircase. The people in the room next to ours had to turn on their television a couple of times to drown us out that night.

Dang, I'm not even on our first full day of vacay yet! We'll just pop a "to be continued..." on this bad boy. Tune in next time for a description of Hawaii's first ever Fashion Week, the 35th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival, and a thrilling afternoon at the grocery store.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top Five Honolulu Whines

I was in Honolulu last week with my mother and sister to celebrate my birthday. Here is a quick overview of our top five collective vacation whines:

5. I'm tired.

4. My feet hurt.

3. I'm hungry.

2. I'm getting sunburned.

1. Can we take a cab?

There will be a REAL overview of our vacation on the regularly scheduled posting day. In the meantime, enjoy the soundtrack of the Big Island women.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

I don't practice Santeria

An update on the leaky ceiling: it's done leaking. We did spend Tuesday night on the floor of the living room, but only because we couldn't be arsed to move the mattress back into the bedroom after the super stopped the leak. Also, the heat has been on for the last few days and it is glorious. I like to sit on the radiator in the living room and get my bottom all toasty.

Speaking of leaks, my work building needed an emergency water shutdown on Wednesday night, which meant I got an unexpected day off on Thursday. It was like a snow day, but with good weather! I loaded up my iPod with some spooooooky podcasts and spent the day leaf-peeping in Prospect Park.

Prospect Park is a wonderful place. Central Park gets all the press, but I think this is really the crown jewel of the city park system. It's much less crowded and more thickly wooded than Central Park, so there's always a private place to sit and think and worship the gods of the Old World.

I don't claim to know that much about it outside of Sublime songs and flashbacks on "Orange is the New Black," but apparently Prospect Park is the site of neighborhood Santeria rituals. (Not MY neighborhood, I don't think Park Slope can handle anything headier than an Episcopalian egg hunt on Easter Sunday, but the park is big and bordered by many more people than these kale-eating Labradoodle-walkers.) A couple of weeks ago, the BF and I were down by the Boat House and we saw a group of people in a gazebo by a waterfall, singing Hallelujah and waving white flags around. And while they might have just been having a very enthusiastic picnic with REALLY good sandwiches, this Thursday I found an offering of coconuts and limes hidden in a tree hollow on one of the nature trails.

It's either Santeria or the squirrels are getting ambitious.
I'm just glad it was fruit and not ritualistic goat heads, because we live in a mildly upsetting world where goat heads in Prospect Park are a thing. (There are no pictures of them in that link, but the links in the article will lead you to pictures of the Prospect Park goat heads, so you've been warned.)

What a fun end to the month of October! All that's left is my annual Catwoman Halloween costume. I went for a 60s Mod look this year. For 2015, I'm thinking Punk Rock Catwoman--with jeans, and possibly tights under the jeans.

I was so cold.