Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Silence of the Man

John Mayer cruised with me in my car this afternoon, crooning his Say What You Need To Say, and as I shifted into fifth gear, I cranked him up and joined in. The chorus repeats dozens of times and with John’s smooth set of pipes, the song, coupled with my rolling tires, accelerated me into a state of highway hypnosis.

There we were on the H-1 singing our duet, when I caught myself thinking I should have written the song first. Ever since I could formulate a word on my lips, it’s been my life’s motto, and those who really know me know that I rarely ever bite my tongue, even when silence seems the safer choice.

John Mayer would probably agree with me that silence has its time and place. I love silence so much that I actually schedule it into my busy life. It’s a necessity when you do what I do for a living. But when applied to human communication, silence usually proves itself the wimp. I have gone so far as to use silence as a weapon, which can wound a person far more deeply than a set of spoken words, but I’ve found the byproduct leaves me unsettled and unsatisfied. It’s like a sentence without a period

Don’t get me wrong. I do exercise caution, to such an extent that my favorite English teacher in high school used to call me a “cautious Bohemian.” I didn’t even know what that meant, didn’t really care either, but I get it now, and she was right. I’m unconventional enough, but not stupid.

So when it comes to the social ebb and flow of human communication, I lean on the windy side of care. I speak as I please, welcoming a keen verbal volley with anyone willing to play with me. People who get easily riled up over heated issues amuse me far more than they frustrate me. I’ll jump in wholeheartedly if the topic matters enough, or if I think I can illuminate an unseen facet, but don’t expect me to get all hot headed if there’s a disagreement. I’m a tame debater, unless of course you catch me on a bad day (especially if hormones are involved), and if I know I’m 100% right about the topic at hand, then look out below—I’m going to deal it out straight.

I’m not impetuous though, especially with weighty subject matter—like politics or religion. I have learned more about my own convictions when I listen constructively to the differing viewpoints of others. If the discussion turns into a verbal manslaughter, then (and only then), do I bite my tongue—but not clean off. I’ll usually change the subject by saying something along the lines of, “Hmmm, I wonder what Hannibal Lecter would have to say about all this?” It’s hilarious to observe the reactions—from quizzical laughter to an in-depth discourse on how Anthony Hopkins did way too good a job in that cannibalistic role.

The traffic slowed to a creeping crawl as John and I sang, You better know that in the end, It's better to say too much, than never to say what you need to say again. So what if the guy in the car next to me is watching me sing my way through bumper-to-bumper madness. Downshift, baby. Say what you need to say…

Monday, September 28, 2009

For the Love of Words

William Safire packed up his pen and left us this past weekend. His passing will leave a gaping hole in the fabric of fine writing.

Every quarter, I dish out 32 words for my students to devour. It starts on the floor with sheets of butcher paper, colored pens and pencils, and an outpouring of adolescent ingenuity. These are not mere words that will be memorized and dumped after a multiple-choice test. No, these 32 words become a part of the daily vernacular, in class and out.

The posters, made in groups of three, never cease to impress me. I post them all over the classroom walls and refer to them often, and by the end of each quarter, most students have adopted their own pet words and go to great measures to work them into their teen lingo.

This quarter's favorite word? Palpable. I've heard it used at its best-- Mrs. Tenney's irritation is palpable when we don't shut up, and at its worst--Man, that fart was so palpable!

In honor of Word Master William Safire, I'm posting a few of this quarters' best vocab posters:

and my personal favorite:

First quarter ends this Friday. I'm brewing up a new batch of words for second quarter's word feast...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

To Kill a Cock-a-Roach

I slipped into a deep, blissful sleep last night, the kind that guarantees grandiose dreams of riding bareback on a polar bear through a chocolate forest—until somewhere around three in the morning I awoke to a Friday-the-13th mega-freak scream coming from the bathroom. While my always on-duty spouse investigated, a surge of intense perfume bombarded my bedroom, which at first made me question if I was actually awake.

Apparently my little guy Noah, while making a middle-of-the-night potty run, was attacked by a B-52, dive-bombing cock-a-roach (that’s how we say it here, cock-a-roach), and in his groggy state of bladder-relieving horror, he armed himself with my most revered bottle of perfume. He could have, should have, used the can of Scrubbing Bubbles and shot the six-legged terrorist with a blast of foaming fury, but no—he chose Burberry London, leaving not only the bathroom, but the entire house smelling of its aromatic aftermath.

Before being finished off by the size-12 rubbah slippah, the roach lay there dying on the bathroom floor, backstroking in a pool of Burberry.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What the Flush?

I’ll never forget the first time I encountered an automatic toilet flusher. My friend and I entered the bathroom at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, completely unwarned. When I stood up to button my jeans, the toilet did the unthinkable and flushed itself. I leapt off the floor, landing a half-twist to face the conspicuous bowl. In the stall next to me, my friend’s toilet flushed, and I heard a shrill “Oh!” Then, because she’s 100% vision-impaired, she shouted, “Hey, who flushed my toilet?”

“Must be the same person who flushed mine,” I answered, knocking on her door to alert her.

Her door flew open and there she was looking befuddled. We went to wash our hands and discovered the shiny new faucets had no handles. The woman next to me waved her hand in front of the spigot, and miraculous water poured forth. I showed this to my 100% vision-impaired friend, and she liked it so much that she washed and rewashed.

We laughed it off as I proposed my theory that the mall must have a guy sitting in a dark room with monitors that show when to push the flush buttons. Scratching his hairy belly, he just sits there all day with a bag of chips and a beer, waiting for the innocent potty people to stand up. “Say cheese, sucker,” he says then pushes his little red button. My friend added that it must be Toilet Man’s wife who does the hand washing.

That was at least ten years ago, and now at the new (3 year old) campus where I teach, we have an impressive LEED certified, fully “green” faculty bathroom, designed to conserve water and keep our environment from going down the proverbial toilet. Yes, the toilet has an automatic flusher, but this is no ordinary deal. This faculty flusher behaves overzealously every time you sit down, flushing upon any movement whatsoever. So if the potty person wants to read something, he better not turn the page. It’s so annoying that I resorted to using Post-it notes to cover up the sensor until I was good and ready. Little did I know that doing this would trip up the system, resulting in an endless series of flushes, hence depleting the Honolulu Board of Water Supply’s supply.

It’s enough to send me to the outhouse, where, knowing my luck, there’ll be an automatic bidet ready, willing, and able.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Angel in the Infield

Don’t ask me how this happened, but as an undergraduate at the University of Hawaii back in 1994, I wound up writing for the on-campus OPELE Foundation, an organization designed to recognize and empower the African-American community. My work revolved around the quarterly newsletter, where I mostly edited drafts of student interviews and current-events articles. Grant proposals were not my kuliana/forte, but I gave at it when needed.

Being half-Mediterranean, I’d never seen myself as entirely white, but in the OPELE office, I was hands-down the whitest person there. I did, however, enjoy the spirit of inclusion. I never felt like the unpicked player on the softball team. Sure there were inquiries. Was I Chuck’s girlfriend? No. Was I radical left-winger who wanted to immerse myself in racially heated issues? No. Was I a wanna-be Sweet Honey In The Rock gospel singer? Sort of. But in all honesty, I think I was just there to chunk off some tuition debt via work-study.

The perks that came along with the job abounded. I rubbed shoulders with Maya Angelou at her divinely appointed visitation, along with Sweet Honey in the Rock, at Andrew’s Amphitheater. I sat in on a down-and-dirty lecture given by Walter Dean Myers. But the zenith of my OPELE career involved coordinating a weeklong humdinger—fully loaded with inspirational readings and live entertainment. The culminating soiree at the Campus Center ballroom strutted a line of noteworthy guests including Anita Pointer, Hiawatha Hemphill, Sonya Wiley, and (gasp!) Danny Glover.

Aside from all the pre-event phone calls and red-tape paper trailing, my primary duty was to whip up the evening program and handcraft the written introduction for Mr. Glover, which after several hundred revisions, I had finally felt satisfied to hand over to one of my most-admired actors.

That’s when the hard drive crashed.

I lost everything before I had a chance to save it on one of those early 90’s floppy disc thingies. The event was two days away and I was curling into the thumb-sucking fetal position underneath the carcass of yet another crashed PC.

I rewrote the program and the introduction, and on the eve of Mr. Glover’s arrival, it was brought to our attention that we needed to provide his transportation from the airport to the campus. With our budget maxed, we had to think fast, and after calling several pricey limo services and upscale taxi companies, I found the solution living under my own roof: my very own, built-in police escort. Much to his delight, my HPD spouse became Danny Glover’s personal chauffeur.

The evening was a raving success. I savored my brief but meaningful moments with Danny. His warm laugh and sincere eyes made a lasting impression. The after-party, held at Ralph Lauren, gave me ample time to hob-nob with the others since Danny left early with his (and my) HPD escort to a hotel suite in Waikiki.

Tucked away somewhere in a box of college memorabilia is my OPELE program with Danny’s handwritten words of inspiration and encouragement.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Autumn, Schmautumn!

Tonight is the last night of summer, which means absolutely nothing here in the land of eternal sunshine. It's 11:36, the moon's thin silver sliver hangs low in the sky, and a sweaty heat creeps around my leather chair as my hair clings to the back of my perspiring neck. Forget the idiom that warrants women as not sweating but rather glowing--here it's pure, last-night-of-summer sweat. Sure, it's tropical, but it's thirty minutes before Fall and nothing is falling, except for maybe a few transplanted shower trees from India, a beautiful sight, nonetheless.

No, I won't be buying a new sweater anytime soon, but it's the last night of summer and the pikake flower, cousin of the night-blooming jasmine, wafts heavy through my window and settles here with me in this quiet, waxing crescent of nightfall.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Groovy Kind Of Job

Francis Ford Coppola’s 3-D Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson, made its debut at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Anaheim exactly twenty-three years ago yesterday, on September 18, 1986.

Amongst a team of privileged Disney employees, I was scheduled in to work a special 8-hour shift at the brand new, but not quite ready to open Star-Trader gift shop in Tomorrowland. Closed to the general public for this by-invitation-only event, the park would be inundated with celebrities and bigwigs a-plenty.

Bedecked in brand new red and gray (ugly and uncomfortable) costumes that made us look more like starchy outer-space flight attendants than merchandise vendors, my co-workers and I stood around during an official briefing on the protocol we were to strictly follow during this high-security, media-absorbed event. Our countertops were to remain spotless at all times, fully stocked with Captain EO everything, and as I had already learned from the extensive new-hire training/brainwashing I received two years prior, we would not be allowed to ask celebrities for autographs, nor would we be allowed to take pictures of, or with, anyone. In other words, we were expected to dehumanize ourselves and become a seamless part of Walt’s wild world of utopia.

Prior to this event, I’d had only one celebrity encounter to boast about, and it was one worth boasting about because it involved one of my favorite musicians and a pair of Minnie Mouse socks. It was a slow day at the park, and I was bored stiff, working in the Character Shop (soon to be transformed into the Star Trader). I had rearranged the souvenir bins, wiped and re-wiped the counters, and was about to go on break when an ordinary man with a proper British accent approached my register, asking if I could ring him up. He handed me a small pair of Minnie Mouse socks and his American Express card. I rang it up, bagged it then swiped his card through the credit machine. When I lifted the carbon sheet to check the hard copy of the draft, I saw the name Phil Collins. With my back facing him, I began to shake. I tried to take a deep breath to no avail. My mouth went dry as I turned to have him sign for his purchase. I stared at him while he signed away, and when he finished, I fumbled with the papers and tore off the top copy and handed it to him. “May I have my card back?” he asked me with an adorable smile. My insides melted as I pictured him singing “Take Me Home” in a private concert in the stock room. I handed him the card and wanted to say something normal, like “Have a nice day.” Instead, I said, “Um, thank you, Mr. Collins,” and giggled freakishly. He smiled again and walked away. I locked up my register, tempted first to rub the carbon signature on a paper but didn’t want to risk my job or something worse…

So as the Captain EO party started to roll, the celebrities began to surface in my shop. Sylvester Stallone and his Nordic blonde girlfriend/wife strolled by first. Then came Whoopi Goldberg, Nell Carter, and Cheryl Ladd. No one purchased anything for the longest time, until a woman who looked familiar approached my register to buy something. She was friendly and we chatted long enough for me to figure out she was Jo Anne Worley. I used to watch her on Laugh-In and Hollywood Squares. After Jo Anne came Chris Evert-Lloyd. Again, I don’t remember what she bought, but I do remember running her Visa through and checking to confirm that it was indeed her.
Like Joanne, Chris was very nice, too. She said she was excited to be there, and I told her I was excited to be there as well. It was all very surreal, and as the night wore on, I saw more famous people, including George Lucas, Francis Ford-Coppola, and (I think) Nicholas Cage. I didn’t see Michael Jackson though because I took my dinner break at the wrong time.

When I drove home that night, I remember being grateful for having such a cool job, but wishing I could have seen Mr. Collins again so I could say something more meaningful to him, but that would have been against all odds, right?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ring of Fire

Tonight my son Ryan took me on a "date" to the quaint Kumu Kahua Theatre in the heart of Downtown Honolulu to see The Statehood Project, a live performance with six actors dishing out 18 mini-dramas, each centered around the installment of Hawaii as the 50th state. The U. S. territory was admitted to the Union on August 21, 1959, and this year marks the 50th anniversary of this heated and controversy-ridden event.

Each of the 18 performances offered cutting-edge talent, coupled with raw, mid-Pacific ingenuity. My favorite of them, "Ballad of the Oldest Goat on Kaho'olawe," left me shivering in my seat after the line, "A bomb has no soul." It resonated between me and my almost-all-grown-up boy, and both of us sighed with the rest of the tiny audience in this tiny but sold-out theater when the monologue ended with, "Hawaii cannot attract tourists without Hawaiians."

Our island chain sits dead-center in the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by what geologists call the ring of fire. It's a vulnerable place to live, and over the past 20 years, I occasionally get inundated with these disturbing "what if..." thoughts:

What if the ring of fire explodes at the same time? What if the whole state gets covered by a mega-death tsunami? What if Hawaii loses its statehood and North Korea comes a-knocking? But worst of all: What if my first-born son only brought me, his literary mom, to the theater because he has a two-page expository paper to write up about the production, and he knew I'd be there taking notes?

Monday, September 14, 2009


When I first saw the movie Ghost in 1990, I had been married for three years to a man who can fashion a piece of clay on a wheel into whatever he sets out to create. Bowls, mugs, vases, and my favorite: teapots. The process mind-boggled me. How he could take a lump of earth and slab it onto a wheel, add some water, and within minutes have something that will have a meaningful existence. I asked him once or twice to show me how he does it, but my feudal attempts only produced lop-sided, wobbling disasters that I redeemed in the name of abstract sculpture. Porcelain pinch-pots became my forte, but they cowered on the drying shelf next to his masterpieces.

Success at the wheel has something to do with consistency and balanced pressure--something that I have zero ability to do. Nothing about my personality is consistent, and the most balance I've ever experienced was on a gymnastics beam. Symetricality, which I'm sure is not a real word, does not exist in my topsy-turvy world.

So obviously, when I saw Patrick Swayze behind Demi Moore, guiding her clay-covered hands, I felt a surge of renewed hope. Perhaps I could learn this way, I thought while sitting next to my personal potter. We may have been holding hands in the theater, I can't remember, but for whatever reason, I let the idea run away. Maybe it's due to intimidation (he is a cop, after all), or maybe it's just my lack of patience; either way, I have remained the observer, or at best, the glazer.

Patrick Swayze has moved on today. He danced a good dance and stayed married to the same woman for 34 years. I was never a huge fan of Swayze's films, but he could dance, and a fine-dancing man deserves admiration.

I'm thinking it's a good time to buy a fresh bag of porcelain and gets some hands-on instruction. Here's to you, Patrick...

Friday, September 11, 2009

11 seconds

It was 4:15 in the morning when I got out of bed, bleary-eyed, and stood in front of the t.v. My husband said something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center tower. I strained to focus on the images in front of me, and it soon registered that something unthinkable was happening.

My then eleven year-old son Ryan was on the north shore at sixth-grade camp while my other son Noah, eleven months old, slept away soundly in the still-dark morning. I didn't sit down until I saw the second plane crash into the other tower. That's when the numbness kicked in. It was hard to think, and while yes, I was thousands of miles away from ground zero, I was 100% there.

I could smell it, feel it, taste it, and when I saw the footage of a woman falling to her death after jumping from somewhere high above the inferno, I closed my eyes and held my breath as I recalled my physics professor eight years prior challenging us to apply Galileo's rate of acceleration equation to figure out how long it takes for an object to hit the ground after being dropped from a specific height. I figured in my head that it must have taken about eleven seconds to fall from a 110-story building.

Eleven seconds. It doesn't seem like a very long time until you actually put yourself there in a smoke-laden office with the realization that there would be no chance of rescue and then start the clock as you live out the eleven-second decent. It's an eternity, and what has haunted me over the past eight years is what each of those who jumped must have thought about during those final eleven seconds. I've even stopped in my tracks a few times and tried to imagine what I would think about during my last eleven seconds. My kids. My dog. The unforgivable dirty dishes. The impact. The phone call I should have returned to a friend, but didn't.

Go ahead and time it.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The 50th State

A good friend of mine who used to live here in Hawaii is in town for a week. With her is her daughter, grand daughter, friend, and friend's daughter. We brainstormed a bunch of ideas to figure out where to hang on Labor Day and wound up doing the Honolulu Zoo for the little one's sake (and mine), then on to Waikiki Beach, where we baked and swam for a good two or so hours.

At some point in our conversation, we were talking about the places visitors should avoid. Here's my take:

1. Starbucks--I'm not a coffee drinker, but I suggest Mocha Java at Ward Centre or Honolulu Coffee Company (locations at Ala Moana Shopping Center, 3rd floor; Moana Hotel in Waikiki; Sheraton Hotel in Waikiki; or Bishop Square in Downtown Honolulu at Bishop and King Street). These coffee shops are locally owned and operated and have much better Konas.

2. Walmart--yes, they sell cheap Hawaiian souvenirs, but come on, it's WALMART. Instead, plan a trip to the Aloha Stadium on a Saturday or Wednesday and buy from local vendors, many of which sell unique wares not to be found even in tourist-laden Waikiki.

3. Neiman Marcus--just don't go there.

4. Tanning salons--hello.

5. Taco Bell, McDonalds, Jack-n-the-Box, Burger King, Pizza Hut, et al--instead try Zippy's, Hawaii's own locally established fast-food joint. Against my local grain, I will recommend California Pizza Kitchen at Kahala Mall only because my son works there. Otherwise I'd say, "pass" on this place as well because we're in Hawaii, not California. Thank God!

There are plenty of other great places to visit here in the Aloha state. One of my favorites: Ice Palace in Aiea. It's the only bona fide ice skating rink in the state, a place to go when you really want to put on a sweater and mittens and show off some blade action. You can even see your breath when you exhale!

Friday, September 4, 2009

...and then there was the time I

baked corn-on-the-cob. I was tired. Brutally exhausted from cramming the night before for a Wines and Foods of the World exam (I was majoring in travel careers at the time with high hopes of landing an airline job).

I buttered up the first ear of raw corn, sprinkled it with cayenne pepper, and tore off a sheet of aluminum foil. It was then that I remembered the last time I had made corn, how I had blistered my fingers trying to insert those plastic corn holders, the ones that look like miniature cobs, into a steaming hot ear. The blisters were so bad that I was unable to play the piano for two weeks. No, I would not let that happen again.

After rummaging through the utensil drawer, I found the plastic holders. I needed eight but could only find seven. So one ear would only have one holder, which would have to suffice. In a premeditated act of near brilliance, I proceeded to plug the holders into their respective ears. I then securely wrapped each cob in foil and placed the four shiny subjects into my 400-degree, preheated oven.

My date, whom I later married, arrived hungry after a soccer game. He sat down by me on the couch and showed me his newest injuries. His back was sore, so I was about to offer a massage when he perked up his head, deer-like, and said he smelled smoke. I smelled it too--a toxic smoke, like burning rubber. That's when the black billowing puffs appeared out of the four corners of the oven.

With the swiftness of an L. A. firefighter, I dashed to the oven and opened it. I had recently learned in my air-safety class all the ways to extinguish various types of fires, but when I saw the black smoke barraging the kitchen, I couldn't conclude which type of extinguisher was designed to put out plastic corn holders. Seeing there was no actual fire, I turned off the oven, turned on the kitchen fan, opened the windows and doors, then peered inside at the charred remains. My date, whom I later married, remained nonplussed.

After the smoke cleared, I assessed the damage. Oozing out of each foil-wrapped ear were globs of yellowish-black melted plastic. Hopeful that the actual corn had survived, I grabbed--bare-handed--one of the cobs, reburning the same fingers from the last corn-cooking catastrophe. Remembering that my date, whom I later married, didn't like women who swore, I took a deep breath, looked at him from across the kitchen, and said, "Shucks!"

Perhaps due to the psychological ramifications of this disaster, what I don't remember now is what we actually ate that night. Or if we eat at all.