Sunday, December 28, 2008

Years From Now

When they speak of the great Honolulu black-out, I can say I was there. The table lamp blinked three times; the television went off and on three times and in half a heart beat, I’d pulled the power cord off my laptop, isolating it from any electrical surge. Then the panic came: I was in trouble; I’d short-circuited the whole apartment. Oh, no! A quick look outside where only half the corridor lights were on. Oh, no, I shorted the whole building. A glance out the lanai (porch). Oh, no, I shorted out the whole city, what the hell did I do? Such is the nature of hubris.

And because I’d seen, a few weeks back, A Quantum of Solace, I was assailed with images of a land-sea-air assault on the island of Oahu because the president-elect was somewhere therein. Was that lightning I saw or an EMP bomb knocking everything out? I thought of the P-e-OTUS house ringed by kamaina Marines with fixed bayonets and fully cocked assault rifles, ready to defend everything and everyone, their ears practically sprouting antennae, eyes bulging at the sudden dark.

Were this the case, help for insignificant me would take a long time. I was stuck on the 25th floor, with no water and no way to cook food. My hyperventilating mind was already calculating how many bed sheets tied end-to-end it would take to reach the ground floor when the resident/owner of the apartment showed up, along with the resident/owner of the apartment next door. There was an emergency generator, it seemed, and one elevator was working. Thus were my hopes of doing a Die Hard escape from a high rise thwarted! Hmmp!

Actually, it has been an easy two weeks in Hawaii where I forgot my birthday and, had it not been for a Sports Authority gift card, I would’ve forgotten Christmas as well. Time just flows differently on an island; it seems to gather in shallow pools and eddy there, bringing forth random images, so that events transpire at the very instant of one’s remembering.

While lining up for kona coffee ($1.95 per 8-ounce Styrofoam cup) at the central kiosk of the food court of the Ala Moana Center, I suffered a mild fugue. Like palimpsest, the image of the food court at the Ali Mall in Quezon City, Philippines, seeped through the environs; surely, that must have been the ancestor of all food courts in the world. Then, the guy behind me said to his companion that the line was too long and they should go to Starbucks. I’d barely managed two sips of the burnt coffee at Starbucks the previous day. An outraged “haole!” nearly escaped my lips and instantly, the face of this Hawaiian guy rose in my mind, telling me that haole, used for Caucasians, actually meant salmon-bottom.

It had taken me weeks to work out why the “natives” would focus on that particular anatomical part. If you’re puzzled, link it with the missionary position that you’ll realize just what kind of past time must have occupied Captain Cook’s “marines.” Eh!

But not to cavil since I took my first half-way decent photo here in Hawaii, with my new used Nikon D-70. This one’s for my friend Agnes, who frightened me with a challenge to a photo exhibit the day I told her I got the Nikon. And since I took this one on Christmas Day, I gave it the title “Walking On Water.”

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tyranny of Small Things

Posting from Honolulu, Hawaii, where I am at the moment. I’d made my zigzag way here from the East Coast, while under siege by things so very small it seemed incredible they could make one’s life totally miserable.

My cell phone died; no one could say why – and in lieu of spending another $60 for a new phone, I decided to try some old chargers in the house. After two hours, I had gathered 13 chargers, five cell phones, three CD burners, one old laptop, one old desktop CPU, 4 gallon-pails of paint half-full, a quarter-full, a third full; a thousand nails, 500 screws; three sets of Allen screwdrivers.

I had to call someone to ask in a piteous voice: “why do I have a million bed sheets?” And a thousand towels, a sackful of unmatched socks, gloves and squashed hats; a carton of photos of people I can’t identify, another carton of me in places I can’t recall. Also six left flip-flops (the rights seemed to have walked off), three mop sticks without mops, 32 plant clay pots, vacuum accessories to a long gone vacuum cleaner. I fled and left the house in total disarray.

Somehow, these small things had managed to convince me they would come in handy some day, that I would have an urgent need for plastic nametags given at a hundred conferences whose historic significance escapes me now. Or for hundreds of rolled up posters, whose causes have long perished. What I couldn’t find were the really significant small things, like the poster signed by the Dalai Lama. Drat, it was a souvenir of a huge moment of ignorance when, not knowing he was, like the Pope, to be addressed as Your Holiness, I kept chattering at and calling him Mr. Lama.

Like invasion troops, small things move in and occupy space. They hitch a ride with guests, ostensibly for a visit and never leave. Here’s a plaque of miniaturized Moro weapons (who brought this here?), teddy bears of all sizes, ashtrays of crystal, glass, copper, porcelain… each time a friend quits, she brings her ashtrays to the last hold-out smoker (that’s me). Along with jars full of matches. What will I do with them?

My residence has been colonized – which is likely why I spend six weeks out of nine on the road, in evasive action. I’m trying not to get sucked into the atmosphere small things create – that crazy smallness and meanness. Last time I was home, two acquaintances suddenly started yelling at each other over a missing Corelle plate. When I said the plate only cost $2, one friend snapped: “No, it’s $5!” Worth a friendship, I supposed.

Later, I asked why she’d picked a fight with other, considering how much help she’d obtained from this one friend. Her reply: “Just because she’s helped me doesn’t mean she can ‘under’ me…” Said in half-Tagalog, this was difficult to translate. But it was a warning, I should get out before the small and mean get me.

As I pondered – rather weak and weary – whether to dispose of the occupation forces, they got me. I was suddenly made aware that a certain acquaintance was going around warning people about me because I was, in her words, “a creative writer.” Irritated, I told the message-bearer: “Spoken by a woman without accomplishments and even less talent.” For which I felt bad afterwards. Some small truths must never be articulated, because they can loom large in the summing up of lives.

Hence, I flee – crossing the continental US, and half of the Pacific Ocean, lugging with me many, many small things. The young man in the next seat says “you look sad; are you missing someone?” No, I tell him; traveling is no longer fun. He nods sagely, completely misunderstanding my meaning. Never mind; it’s a small thing and he smells nice.

It’s no longer physically fun. I have to lug an IPod, a laptop, a Nikon, a photo-lens, a smaller camera, digital tape recorder, a cell phone, a hotspot detector, and – good lord – all the batteries, chargers, connectors, USBs, earbuds, accessories, etc., that will keep them useful. I used to travel with simply a pen and a notebook, plus three books to amuse myself! Now, I pay the airline $15 to carry a tiny suitcase of my clothes while I carry everything else in a padded vertical laptop bag which took forever to find. It’s anchored by a strap around my right shoulder, its weight resting on my hip, ensuring that in my oldest old age, I will need a rotor cuff, hip and knee replacement.

The depressing thought must have been visible on my face. The young man in the next seat asks: “would you like to read a book?” Depends, I reply, I read very strange books. “I have a thousand,” he says and hands me an e-book reader. “Read whatever your heart desires.” Ay! A thousand books in such a small thing. A very small thing. -- #