Monday, January 31, 2011

The morning after

     Sometimes I can tell when things are working, sometimes not, but it doesn’t always show until the next day. Some mornings I should think about getting a real job. Painting poorly happens when I accidently channel a movie star who decided late in life to become a painter or it could be what I ate or what someone said or what I thought they said. Imaginary mental drama is endlessly distracting. My stomach shouting, “GIVE THIS NONSENSE UP RIGHT NOW AND GO MAKE ME A SANDWICH” is another problem. If paint tasted good I would eat it, after all it does look like cake frosting.

     I whined to a friend about how hard reflections are to paint and she asked, “Why bother when most people can’t tell the difference?” She was offering solace because she’s kind, but I didn’t know how to answer because it hadn't occurred to me to just make it up. It takes time and lots of layers to trick the eye into believing a flat surface has dimension. The technical term is chiaroscuro, but I’ll skip a long explanation. It’s work to see things because our brains are lazy. We think chair and our brains give us the flash card picture of a chair. Ask anyone to draw a chair, the dog’s dinner or whatever and it will be pretty close to the flash card picture. An exact color is exasperatingly hard to remember. Most people can’t pick Coke red out of ten samples. Dottie, in one way you’re right, most people probably don't know, but I still think it's important, like telling the truth. Or I could just rob a liquor store and call it a day.   
     Robert Irwin wrote a book called “Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees”. Cryptic, but he’s an artist. Naming something is the brain’s way of building a short cut. Our eyes see a lot more than our brains are willing to file. Sketching and taking photos help to remember. On my way to dinner with friends I just had to get a picture of a duck on a lawn. I crawled up to the duck, got the perfect shot and walked back elated; until my friend pointed out that the front of my white shirt was heavily smeared with green duck shit. Sadly my book title is closer to “Seeing is Forgetting to Look Where you Are”.
     Certain moments, the light on a petal, a reflection, a close encounter with wildlife stun me and I hope to pass that on, even if it escapes me when I crawl through shit. It wouldn’t hurt to loosen up though, someday I want to try drawing with a paint ball gun.
     Some mornings I look at what I did the night before and I could just lay back, smoke the sultry cigarette and feel completely satisfied. Other mornings I want to slink out of bed and hope no one ever knows what I have done.


Friday, January 21, 2011

Tropical mattress

      Waikiki is twenty minutes by plane and then an hour by bus from Molokai, but light years in ways that are both enlivening and infuriating. That’s why I go. It’s as anonymous as a twelve step meeting, more crowded than a feed lot, terribly loud and just plain stimulating. It’s also the very best place to go to get away from nature.  The ocean feels like a public pool and the beach looks like a Rubens painting with pool toys. There is one of everybody laid out roasting in the sun. Fat Canadians, as white as unbaked pies, sprawl on beach mats. Their smiles betraying complete relief for time stolen from shoveling snow back home. Those are my people and I just love being there. For some unexplained reason nobody seems bothered by the square miles of exposed skin in various iterations of aging on that one weird little stretch of sand.
       My legs were sore from the Kalaupapa hike, so sore I didn’t want to spend the next three nights climbing the rickety ladder to the top bunk in the hostel. The women’s dorm was full, except for the bunk I was never getting in. The unassuming young man who showed me the creaky sleeping arrangements tried to be helpful. He suggested I find someone to trade with. No one was in the room at the time and all the boogie boards were checked out. I knew from experience no one would give up their bottom bunk unless I caught them on video selling drugs. Back at the front desk the kind elderly gentleman understood my plight. He too had to get up during the night. He searched the computer for an empty bottom bunk and came up with one in a men’s dorm. That was okay with me as long as the boys were not all hurling banana daiquiris at the same time. Waikiki can do things like that to unseasoned young tourists and hostels are full of them.  
     The bunk beds were made of two by fours hung with tatty little curtains for privacy that was clearly imagined and, I kid you not, plastic mattresses. While I understand it is easier to clean daiquiri vomit off plastic, come on, even bed bugs don’t want to inhabit them. But I had complained already, on the verge of possibly real tears to get this coveted lower bunk and could not rail further. I took my stack of well worn sheets, made my bed and lay on it. Instantly my back started to tingle. I got up and put my beach towel under the sheet. It blocked the sweat producing power of plastic in the balmy tropics just long enough to fall asleep. Until the guy sleeping above me got up to pee. The bunk swayed and banged the wall as he swung down the ladder. It must have been late since the disco next door had shut off the thumping music and booted the drunks to the street where they held loud conversations in boozy slurs. Coming to consciousness sucked. I knew what had happened and just didn’t want to face it. The worn sheet had wrapped itself around my ankles, the beach towel and pillow had slipped off the bed and my face was glued to the plastic mattress with a thin slime of drool and sweat. Face down on a plate of mashed potatoes would have been more comfortable.
    The next night I woke up because I could not understand what I was hearing. It filled the room and confused me. Five men snored in near harmony like a highly unconventional acapella group and there was testosterone in the timber. It was a long tedious stretch before I drifted off again. The third morning I woke myself up talking in my sleep. I dreamt I wore 1970’s Jane Fonda leggings to the beach and when I realized how stupid I looked (in the leggings not sweating on a plastic mattress) I started yelling NO, NO, NO. I can only imagine what my tortured moans sounded like, burbling in sweat, behind my tapa print curtain to the men in the other bunks. I don’t think I’ll stay there again. I’m not sure I can stay there again.  

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walking to Kalaupapa

     Alternately, mules haul tourists down then back up the pali trail. They don’t seem unhappy about it, but I’d still rather walk even though going down is hard on the knees and up turns calves and thighs to quivering jelly. Or it did mine, I can’t speak for the mules. There’s also a small airstrip, but the hour or so hiking down the trail impresses the mind with the true distance between Kalaupapa and the rest of the world. As the elevation drops and the small quiet town gradually comes into focus there is a sense of going back in time, a reversal of history that cannot be measured in miles, vertical feet or number of switchbacks. The sign at the bottom will tell you all that, but it might be better not to know. There’s a photo postcard of the cliff face showing the switchbacks. I kept it for a long time hoping to hike the trail one day. I didn’t know it would actually take several more postcards to show the whole trail and the walk to town.
      Stepping over the sea cliff threshold to begin the descent the mesmerizing expanse of sapphire ocean is merely a base jump away. The first residents of Kalaupapa peninsula, the Hawaiians, built extensive rock walls (lo’i) and stone platforms (heiau), a shadow of villages now gone. When Hansen’s disease (leprosy) arrived in Hawaii the next wave of residents arrived involuntarily. People showing evidence of the disease were rounded up, loaded on ships and tossed overboard near shore to literally sink or swim. Initially little was done to for the sick and dying, beyond the free boat ride. If a person made it ashore they soon found they had landed in a version of Lord of the Flies. But where there is human suffering there are people with equal capacity for compassion who are willing to serve. In Kalaupapa the first people to answer the call were the family and partners of the sick and priests and nuns of the Catholic Church.  The history of Kalaupapa is a line on a pendulum that swung from the apex of overwhelming suffering to the epitome of selfless dedication. Both extremes require time to contemplate and comprehend. Kalaupapa gives anyone who can find their way there by foot, beast or plane the opportunity to understand the trials faced by the early survivors, a chance to sense the isolation and time to marvel at some mighty fine scenery along the way.
      I was able to spend the day in Kalaupapa because a friend sponsored my visit. I wasn’t restricted to the tour bus with regular stops and limited time, although the tour is very good. That was my first trip. Kalaupapa is a National Park, but with highly limited access because Hansen’s disease survivors still live in the sleepy town. I’ve done some paintings of Kalaupapa and St Damien (hanging at the Molokai Airport) and I’d like to do some more.  
     We joined a birthday party for one of the residents. Over cake and ice cream a group of National Park employees (how is it they all so young, fit and good looking?), Nuns (with incredibly serene faces), Hawaiians singing and playing ukuleles (no gathering in Hawaii would be the same without song), residents who survived Hansen’s disease (becoming fewer by the year), archeologists, painters, stone masons and the workers who keep the town going sat around tables in one of the town meeting halls. The outpost with time worn roots in horror still draws an eclectic group of people together to marvel at the mystery of life. Birthday cake hit the spot too.     
     I was taken to the top of the lighthouse for photographs of a heiau built in the shape of a dog. The stairs up the inside of the concrete tower made the pali hike not seem quite so steep, but I still panted like an obscene phone caller while climbing the switchbacks at the end of the day. My friend, about to turn 60, shouted words of encouragement to keep moving as the daylight faded. She stopped to wait (too often) as I lagged behind. When we reached the top, wringing wet with sweat, she said, “Auntie that was fun, but let’s not hug okay?” 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


     It’s coming down like mountain lions and wild dogs. The wind also kicked up, pitching patio furniture like, well, plastic chairs. Tropical rain is warm, unless you've lived here for awhile, then anything dipping below 70 degrees is chilly. I saw kids a few days ago in ski jackets so it must be freezing, for here anyway. The snow is deep on top of Mauna Kea. If it starts snowing on Molokai there will be cause for concern since Mauna Kea’s snow line is half way closer to heaven.
     A month ago Molokai looked like Arizona, but the rain has changed that.  Grass is taking over the landscape faster than mold on a shower curtain. It’s lovely, this lime green carpet growing deeper by the day. An army of mowers will fire up when the rain stops. If the color of Hawaii is green, the sound is the mowers that keep it at bay. I used to live at Hotel Molokai where the grounds were well kept. The gardener’s fired up weed whackers, hedge trimmers and leaf blowers before the first tourists rolled out. Like the roosters and the whine of oversize tires on the highway buzzing yard tools eventually faded into the background. Karaoke night never did, I cranked music with headphones on to survive that. Rain thundering down no longer wakes me up, but it should have last night. It rained like saber toothed tigers and she wolves.     

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Survivor lost

     Auntie Gertrude died last week. She left one hundred, maybe two hundred cats behind. No one is sure because most of them are wild. Everyday Auntie Gertie drove around Kalaupapa dumping cat food out of her old truck to feed hoards of feral cats. She had the food flown in at an exorbitant price and she made her rounds in spite of having lost a foot and all the fingers on one hand to Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy). But that isn’t what made her driving unusual, she was also legally blind. The streets of Kalaupapa are paved, grass grows up to the edge of the pavement and there are no curbs or traffic lights. It’s a quiet town with few cars, actually the perfect place for brail driving. Auntie Gertie felt when she was off the pavement as she made her way around with her truck full of cat food.  
     The residents of Kalaupapa are either survivors of Hansen’s disease or staff provided by the State to care for them. No one under sixteen is allowed. The peninsula is surrounded by ocean and sealed off from the rest of Molokai by vertical cliffs. The lung burning switchbacks up the cliff face make mules pant. Auntie Gertie only hit one person, as far as anyone knows. It was his fault though, since, duh, everyone knew to get out of her way. There's probably a plan for the cats, but I don’t know what it is. Her beach house sits on a small rise on the way from the airport into town, with a graveyard on the back lawn. I painted it a few years ago and sent a print to Auntie Gertie. I knew she wouldn’t be able to see it, but I figured if she could still drive maybe she could imagine what it looked like. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Expect Nothing

Good advice, but only if you can do it.  Isn’t that the catch with a lot of things? Smoking isn’t bad for you, if you manage to quit. Carl Jung said, “All anger is the result of unfulfilled expectations.” So if that’s true I must be expecting to stumble on the fountain of youth, win the Tour de France and get a regular job. I gave up booze and cigarettes, but I’m not giving up expectations. That would really piss me off.
My friend Victoria sent this Christmas letter. I’m not going to suggest she give up expectations either.    
A Hillbilly Holiday Story  
Two days ago a neighbor warned us that four neighborhood Toyota trucks had been relieved of their rare metal recycling trophies; catalytic converters.  
Last night we pulled into our parking lot and surprised four guys who presumably have stolen converters in the neighborhood.  
 So, while all six of us (dykes and burglars) were deciding what to do in our mutual surprise, Viv and I scrambled out of the truck. I reached inside the warehouse door for "Jessica" and drew down on the group of young men.
Brazen, huh?
They  whistled to their lookouts and scattered when I cocked the (EMPTY) shotgun (it sounds like death)  so I chased them up the street with it for a few seconds and wondered how criminals got to be so young and fit and I got to be so fat, mean and stupid.  
REEEEEALLY stupid it suddenly occurred to me as I stood alone in the dark with a huge empty gun in my hands. The police station was in sight and I didn't have a great explanation for myself.
The ensuing 911 call went something like this:
Maam, is a burglary in progress?
No, no, nothing is going on anymore.  I'm not even there.  We've all run up the street toward you. They're probably right outside your station window, if you look out.  I'm just calling so won't shoot me.
Maam, where are you? Do they have weapons? Can you describe them?  
Oh we're right here near you. Four guys, one in a white hoodie sweatshirt, all late teens, but I was the one waving the empty 12 gage around for effect  and they WERE  running away from me so I didn't get a look at their faces.
Uh,........Maam,  did you say you were waving a shotgun?  You have a weapon??
Maam, where are you?  
I'm about two blocks from the station. You can't miss me.  I'll be the only grey haired white lady carrying an empty 12 gage shotgun on Center Drive, so will you ask the officers not to shoot me please?
I'm sorry Maam, if an officer sees a suspicious gun they're trained to shoot if necessary.  You're carrying the gun at this time?  Do the suspects have a weapon?
umm................ can you at least let me get home before shooting me, then?
Minutes later two patrol cars pulled up.
They assured me that no one was in the next door yard and looked peeved.
No kidding. Thanks, guys.
So, today I airline cabled and welded the muffler and catalytic converter together on my truck in a giant automotive, granny crochet and steel rod security kludge.  Good luck me ever replacing my muffler.
Now I want my proactive citizen Girl Scout badge.
Happy Holidays!
Victoria, I’m not sure what impressed me more, that you have a shotgun, that you chased thieves with it, that you welded your own muffler or that you were thoughtful enough to send a Christmas letter.  Hope to see you later this year, where did you suggest , a cougar infested cabin in Montana? Count me in and please bring Jessica. 


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

     I stood on the deck to watch the fireworks, but the mosquitoes chased me inside. It’s been raining so they have bred and organized into kamikaze squadrons. I forgot about Hawaii and fireworks. They really blow stuff up, and not just the weenie store bought stuff that is marginally legal. People, mostly guys I think, make yard canons out of large pieces of pipe. They flash when the gasoline catches fire and then explode. The resounding boom rattles the fillings in your teeth. Dogs scream and cats turn into Brillo pads then disappear for days, sometimes forever. Veterans experience flashbacks. There is no way not to jump. I tell myself, “I’m cool, the next one is NOT going to make me spill something.” Then kaboom. “Really, the couch is suede? Will Coke make a permanent stain?” Fireworks can’t be lit before 9:00pm. At 8:59 and fifty nine seconds the first mega blast reverberates off the windows, bowing them in. Further away the explosions sound like thunder, but one blast in the driveway next door sounded more like someone tossed a match in the SUV’s gas tank. Tomorrow on the news we’ll find out how many lost digits were the result of igniting yard canons. I'm pretty sure the neighbor is temporarily deaf. This won’t go on much beyond midnight, but if it scared off mosquitoes like it does cats I might almost be willing to risk the neighbor’s goodwill, the dog’s sanity and a few digits.  
All the very best in 2011!