Saturday, May 30, 2009

Trash talk

There's a joke here on Hawaii Island that the the primary way locals dispose of their rubbish is to load it all into the back of a pickup truck, then drive around until it's all gone.  On strolls up my narrow, one-lane jungle road,  it seems it's not really a joke at all, but a statement of fact.  Lately, I've noticed an odd assortment of trash strewn along the edge of the roadway.  There's the usual stuff, like McDonald's bags and Kentucky Fried chicken boxes and soda cups and beer bottles.  I even see the occasional Starbucks Frappuchino with whipped cream plastic tumbler, which just goes to show you that a person willing to spend six buck on a cup of coffee isn't necessarily enlightened or evolved.  That said, it's the other stuff that's got me perplexed; yogurt containers, egg cartons, tampon applicators, vaccuum cleaner bags.  These are not items a person just has in their hand and flings out the window.  (I don't even want to think about that prospect with the tampon applicator.)  It's just so sad, you have to laugh a little, or you might break down and cry.   Maybe that's why it's considered a joke.

Locals like to blame tourists for their woes, for messing up the beaches and crowding the roads.  The truth is that the vast majority of litter here is generated by locals.  Tourists never find my road except by accident, the occasional lost souls who's made a wrong turn.  It's a dead-end route used by residents, by their visitors, hunters, county road crewmen and cops.   That's it.  So that is where the garbage comes from.  The idea that my own neighbors are so willing to trash the street we all share is unsettling, to say the least.  When I lived in Gunnison, I'd get frustrated at the occasional bit of junk tossed out to land in my yard, so I know litter happens everywhere.  It's noticeably worse here. 

It's been hot and muggy for days with only occasional, light evening showers to cool things off. I'm not complaining.  A reprieve from the rain is both welcome and appreciated.  The poor poochies spend their days flopped in the coolest places they can find, their tongues hanging out, zapped of energy by the humidity.  Good thing we live at 2500 feet.  They'd die these days at sea level.  The cats are hot too.  Poor Alvin and Winnie have thick coats more suited to a chilly climate.  It's a rare thing to see a cat pant, but they do.  

The summer semester has not yet officially begun, but we have vast amounts of work to do in preparation for our residencies and assignments due in the weeks leading up to that, so my nose has been pointed toward the pages of books, reading, taking notes, formulating questions, preparing myself to discuss the material with some semblance of intelligence.  

And speaking of intelligence, did you happen to catch the Scripp's National Spelling Bee finals last Thursday night?  If you've read the annals of this blog over the years, you know I love it.A boy from Kona just misted making it into the finals.  He finished 12th, which is spectacular. The kids are amazing, smart, diligent, disciplined.  They are goofy, spirited and unique. With all the horror stories we hear of teens in our society today, these youngsters give me hope for the future of the world.  The competition was especially keen this year, with many of the finalists going several rounds before someone would ding out with a mistake.  The words were off-the-chart difficult and contestants were forced to rely on their knowledge of word roots of origin to get the spelling right.  Seriously, these words were gnarly.  One boy who was considered a favorite because he had come in second place last year, came in ninth or tenth this year, missing a word by one letter.  I found myself tearing up when the bell dinged on him.  You could see he was crushed.  If you've never watched, be sure to catch it next year.  It's really good.  I think I look forward to it as much as the Superbowl.  The winning word was laodicean.  Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall.  

I shall sign off now, lest you become laodicean about my incessant rambling.

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunshine, cold blooded creatures and fish

It was a beautiful day today.  Perfect.  One in a million.  Literally.  So I jumped into the convertible for a joyride.  OK the convertible is a tractor and the joyride is mowing the lawn, but still, it was a fantastic day.  There I was, cutting around the old tangerine tree,  hitting old, moldy fruits that had fallen to the ground, hearing the thud as the blades whacked the dense blobs hiding in the grass.  Fuzzy and nasty as they are, they smell great when you whir over them.  So great, it inspired me to sing, and of course, what else would I croon but that age old masterpiece from the 60s, Hey Mister Tangerine Man.  "Hey mister tangerine man, make some juice for me.  I'm not normal and, there ain't no place I'm going to (except the assylum).... Hey mister tangerine man, splat some fruit for me, in the jingle jangle morning I'll be co-mitted soon."  Yes, it's a classic.  

So there I was, mowing away, cutting grass, grinding up sticks and anything in my path, when I came upon a toad cowering between a bag of potting soil and the wall of Ron's new compost pile. 
"Don't worry little critter," I said.  "I am Toni Toad and would never harm a hapless creature such as yourself, never mind that you are a poisonous, invasive species.  That's not your fault. That's our fault.  Humans.  But this human would never grind you into amphibious fertilizer.  Never on purpose anyway.  There are oodles toads in and around the yard and even more tiny lizards. Lizards are not amphibians, of course.  They are reptiles.  I remember that from elementary school.  I see these small fry hop or slither away, darting this way and that, taking refuge under trees or hunkering into holes.  I like to think they all get away, they all escape the blades, but I suspect that's not true.  I suspect it, but I don't want to think about it.  For you little guys pulverized into mulch, I am truly sorry.  For the lawn must be mowed.  Why, I don't know.  It's something we humans are compelled to do.  We are driven to, "develop" the world.

Earlier, I went to the Volcano farmers' market to pick up some coffee, a sticky bun, some chicken-veggie curry, lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, a packet of tea and the big score; fish.  There was a guy selling something from the back of his truck.   His sign said, "Fresh Fish."  I asked what it was, fully expecting him to say, "Ahi."  That's what they always say.  It's all tuna, all the time here in Hawaii, the population with the highest concentration of mercury in the bloodstream of any state in the union.  I am a little sick of Ahi (unless it's tucked with some wasabi and a tiny slice of cucumber into a sushi roll), and tuna in general, never mind that it's not good for you to eat more than once a week.  So when he said, "Ono," I was pleasantly surprised. 
"How much?" I asked.
"Six dollars a pound," he said and opened his cooler.  I expected to see whole fish; head, fins, tail, silently screaming, "Gut me. Clean me."  Instead, I saw big, fat filets, wrapped in plastic.  
"Sold," I said, and bought enough to feed myself tonight and stock the freezer for several meals.  Ono is, well ono, as in onolicious; a nice, flakey, slightly dense white fish.  It's also known as wahoo.  Good stuff.  Less mercury.  Ono.

Ron has flown away to Las Vegas.  He will be there a couple of days, then travel on to visit clients in Arizona and California.  He is in Vegas, but his luggage is in Seattle.  That's inconvenient.  Hawaiian Airlines' Seattle baggage center called me this morning and I have called them back three times since, only to get their answering service.  They have yet to return my call to confirm that they got my message and the bags are en-route to the Golden Nugget, downtown Sin City.  Ron said they don't even give you a toothbrush and a comb like they used to when they lost your luggage.  They charged him $15 to check it this time, which makes it all the more infuriating.  You pay them to take your suitcase far, far away.  It's a mad world.  

And speaking of Mad World, I downloaded Adam Lambert's version of that song.  That boy is gifted.  I'll buy his records, for sure.  I swear, if I were twenty-five years younger, I'd become a groupy. 

Lucy just slunk into the room as only Lucy can do.  For a mostly blind kitty, she's smooth.  That means, of course, that I've got to pet the queen, so must free my hands from this keyboard to do so.

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Friday, May 22, 2009

A gut feeling

My abs are becoming rock solid, if I don't say so myself.  Of course, they are covered in a thick, great-if-you're-an-arctic-walrus-but-not-so-attractive-in-Hawaii layer of flab, so you really can't tell.  I would love to attribute this to all the sit-ups and crunches and planks I do in the gym, but that would be misleading.  My core strength can only be fairly credited to the kitties. Yes, it is they who have me clenching my rectus abdominis with great fervor each morning as they jump without warning up from the floor to land square in the middle of my gut.  No clench, and my internal organs are toast.  They do this when I am sound asleep, dead to the world, out like a light, snoozing soundly, so I am forced to wake up, realize what is happening and react, all in a nanosecond.  It's got to be good training for something, though I'm not exactly sure what.   I now rue the day when I learned to sleep on my back.  All I can say is, "Ugh!" But my core thanks you, little kitties.  My lower back has never felt better.

Yesterday, driving into Hilo after our morning hour of sunlight had been chased away by vog and clouds and rain, it occurred to me that this is the gloomiest place I've ever been.  Really dreary.  Not only is the sunlight obscured all but a couple of weeks a year, but the air is tainted with sulfur dioxide and there's water and mud everywhere.  OK, sure, it's green. That too, is part of the problem. Too much of a good thing is almost as bad as too much of a bad thing. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration.  Still, it's as though God ran out of other colors when he got to this part of Hawaii, so with the exception of the occasional flower blossom, it's all we get. It's surprising, even for a Pacific Northwest girl, how many variations of green there are in the rainforest.  Dark shades, light shades and every shade in between; sagey greens, limey greens, kelly greens, grassy greens, mossy greens, booger greens.  (Just checking with that last one to see if you are paying attention.)

Oh well.   I'm just one, big whiner.  If I lived in the desert, I'd say it's too hot and too dry and too brown.  In the mountains, it's too bloody cold in winter.  In the city, it's too crowded and concrete.  It's always something with me.

This morning, however, it's nice, if  a bit hazy, so I'm headed out to enjoy the day before it changes.  Volcanic fumes be damned!  I'm walking.

A hui hou.  Aloha! 


Saturday, May 16, 2009

The perils of being nice

I must have one of those benign faces, an approachable demeanor, an aura that screams friendly.  It's as though the word sucker is emblazoned on my forehead, or across my back, advertising my niceness.  Being nice is a curse, let me tell you.  I went to the Hilo library yesterday to write.  My plan was to sit there for three productive and uninterrupted hours of quiet, with no barking dogs or, "Can you help me with this" husbands.  I found a spot near the courtyard and got quickly to work, eyeballs trained intently upon my laptop screen, tick, tick ticking the keyboard.  A man arrived to sit in my area at an adjacent table.  I didn't notice him at first.  I was busy.   Engrossed.  But the neon of my niceness must have flashed, "Bug me.  Irritate me. I won't get mad.  I'm NICE!"  
"Excuse me," he said.  "Excuse me."  I looked over to see him sitting there with papers strewn about on the table in front of him.  He was a small, thin, ragged man who looked to be in his 40s or 50s, uncombed, grey-streaked, chin-length hair, white stubble and a few teeth missing.  He smiled.
"Yes?" I said.
"I was wondering if you could help me.  Do you know, um, how do you spell credibility?"
I spelled it.  He wrote it down, face inches from his hand as he scratched his pencil along. He sat up straight and looked down at what he'd written.
"Are you sure? That doesn't look right?" He said.  This got me a little miffed.  If you know so much about it, dude, why the hell are you asking me?
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure that's right, but let me spell check it here on my computer just to be sure."  I did so.  "Yep.  That's right."
"Good.  OK.  Thank you.  Thank you so much," he said.  A few moments passed.
"Do you know how to spell astro-cartography?"  
I rattled off letters like a Scripps champion.  Oddly, he did not question my accuracy on this one.  The man proceeded to ask about a dozen more words, most of which were common and simple, some he still had the audacity to question.  He was having trouble hearing me. 
"Was that a 'p' or a 'b,' he'd say,  so I was forced to repeat myself and to speak louder and louder, until finally, this being a library and all, I said, "Why don't I just write them down for you."
"That would be great," he said.
Once he'd exhausted his vocabulary list, the man explained to me that he was having cards printed for his, "business."  
"Good luck with that," I said, then retrained my focus on the screen and began to type.  He did not get the hint.  The man rose, walked over and held a form in front of my face.  It was the document he planned to submit to Office Max for printing.  I took it, looked it over, noticed the words Jesus and Christian (the latter of which I had helped him spell earlier) and astrology, among others.  He was putting himself out there as a Christian astrological counselor.  
"Do you believe in astology?" he asked.  I was surprised by this.  I thought he was going to ask me if I believed in God or if I was a Christian or if I'd been saved. 
 "Well, I don't disbelieve it," I said.  That was a bit of a fib.
"Have you ever had your astrological chart done?"
"Yes." That, in fact, is true.  I was once presented with a pretty, colorful circle inscribed with all sorts of symbols and images that meant nothing to me, even after it was all explained by a new-age, hippy dippy friend of a friend back in the day.  It was the early 80s, but stuff like that doesn't change, right?  You're born when you're born so I assume I'm still the same Aries-on-the-cusp, Taurus rising, Pisces sinking or stinking or whatever.
"Well my name is Michael and when I get my business cards, if I see you here, I'll give you one and you can come for a free astrology reading," he said.
"OK, well, thanks," I said.
"Bless you. Have a nice day," he said, "And thanks again for all your help. I'm just so luck I sat next to you."
"Yeah," I said.  Lucky you. Needless to say, I didn't get much done.  

That afternoon while I was in town, Ron went to the post office to mail a large envelope.  When he arrived, there was just one person in front of him, so he made that age-old mistake of thinking that because the line was short, his USPS experience would be a quick one.  He described her as Hawaiian and, "enormous."  She presented the clerk with a large bundle of Saran-wrapped clothing.  
"I can't accept it like this," informed the clerk.  "We'll have to put it into a box."  So the clerk did so, labeled the box, readied it for transport and said, "That'll be $10.75.  The woman handed the clerk her debit card.  The clerk ran it through her machine several times, but got nowhere.
"It's being denied," she said.  
"It was a debit card," Ron emphasized in the telling, "so that means she didn't have $10.75 in her checking account."  
"Hey, I've been there, so I would never judge anyone for that," I said.
"I know, I know," he said.  "I'm just saying."  
The woman promised to be right back, then lumbered out the door toward the parking lot, no doubt to rummage through her glove box and seat cushions and ashtray and cup holders and along her floor boards.  She came back with enough bills and change to complete the transaction, but it took several minutes before she returned. 

Today, we stopped into the Sears repair center to pick up a part for our sick weedwacker.  It's a tiny piece, plastic, and costs $3.95.  The thing won't work without it.  They did not have one in stock, so Ron was told that they'd have to order it and that shipping and handling would be $28.00.  He decided to wait until he gets to California in a few weeks to see if he can pick the part up there. 
I had a similar experience with Amazon's Outlet.  I purchased a flash drive.  It seemed like a great price - $28 for eight gigs - however the shipping and handling was $18.99. So I changed my mind and canceled the order.  I don't get it.  These items are tiny.  They would fit into a padded envelope and can be sent via USPS for a buck or two tops.  It's because we live in Hawaii that shippers and/or merchants feel justified in gouging us.  I bought the exact same flash drive today - same brand, size, everything - at Wal-Mart for $25.99.  Office Max had one on the shelf too, for $99. Office Max was virtually empty and Wal-Mart was packed.  

The park is socked in with vog today, so I am forced to skip my sojourn to the gym.  Even indoors, with mere screens on some of the windows, the air can be pretty nasty when the volcano is pumping out gas and the air is still.  So I'm eating dark chocolate M&Ms and typing this blog instead, listening to the rain outside. Hey, they're peanut M&Ms, so they're heavier.

A hui hou.  Aloha!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Cherry picking

A few of our trees were bursting with coffee cherry yesterday, so I impulsively began to pick them until the bottom of my t-shirt resembled a kangaroo pouch.  I pulped them by hand, a sticky, messy task, then soaked them over night to ferment them.  The soaking removed what's called the mucilage, the slimy goo that remains around the seed, otherwise known as the coffee bean.  In a few hours I'll take them out of the water and dry them by spreading them out on a cookie sheet and putting them in Ron's office with the dehumidifier cranked.  I can finish the drying tomorrow morning in the oven, set on a low warm temp.  Eventually we'll get a dehydrator.  We'll need one, since we live in a climate too damp for air or sun drying.  For now, however, it's low tech all the way.  Once dry, I'll rub the parchment off the beans, then roast 'em, also in the oven since I don't have roaster.  I predict I'll have enough for just a pot or two of coffee, but it's my coffee, gun funnit, so it's gotta be good.  

The Hawaii legislature has just overridden the governor's veto and passed a bunch of new taxes to soak tourists, smokers and rich people.  Now I believe we should all pay taxes and better all those people than me.  But this time, they've gone too far.  These hikes won't affect me, unless you count the indirect effect of fewer tourists on the overall economy due to exorbitant lodging taxes.  Tourism is the number one industry in Hawaii and has been sagging since 2007. People are strapped at best, unemployed at worst, and are tightening their belts. Those who might have come to Hawaii two years ago are opting instead for a cheaper destination.  Hawaii costs a bundle.  The governor wanted to do one-day/month furloughs of government workers, eliminate overtime or cut hours the way private companies and other local governments have done all across the country to save money.  But the government workers here all belong to powerful labor unions, unions that control the state legislature - it's 90% democrats - and they are in no way willing to make concessions.  This despite the concessions being made by organized labor all over the country.  Of course, for many of them, like GM's UAW, it's concede or lose all the jobs when the plants close.  Hawaii has more government workers per capita than any other state.  I'm not philosophically opposed to labor unions.  They have their place in certain segments of the economy and all employees should enjoy the right to organize if they feel compelled to do so.  That said, I believe certain professions - namely teachers, nurses, airline pilots, college professors and other highly trained occupations - diminish their own professional value in a competitive marketplace by forming unions.  

On the flip side, the governor wants to use federal money earmarked for education to bolster the state's general fund.  Bad idea.  The poor schools here are in dire straights, despite all the tax money flowing to them.  School administration is top-heavy and there is only one school board for the entire state rather than smaller, independent districts.  This makes for an inefficient, unwieldy, behemoth of a bureaucracy with no local control.  The federal funds are (I think they are anyway) designated specifically for infrastructure and teachers, not administration, so despite the cumbersome nature of the public school system in Hawaii, would help tremendously.

Of course, these are just my opinions, which aren't worth a hill of beans, coffee or lima or kidney or navy or refried.  Although when you think about it, a whole hill of beans could be worth quite a lot.

Speaking of beans, gotta go check on my soakers.  

A hui hou.  Aloha!  

Saturday, May 09, 2009

A day in town

I picked up a few items at the Hilo Farmers' Market this morning.  The place was bustling, but the merchants were complaining to one another about how slow it was.  There were lots of lookers and few buyers.  Everyone, however, was happy to see the sunshine, so despite the heat and mugginess, nobody was complaining. 
"At least it's not raining," said one man, a merchant powering down an enormous cheeseburger like he hadn't eaten in a week. 
"I hear that," I said.
"One think about Hilo though," he said.  "When it rains, it's a warm rain, you know?  So it's really nice for just walking around.  Really comfortable."
"True," I said.  "Especially if you have one of those giant, Hilo umbrellas."  He liked that, smiled and nodded. I wanted to add that 72 degrees, dry and sunny are also nice conditions for walking around too and don't require an umbrella, but I didn't want to burst the guy's bubble.  Nor did I want to encourage him to speak again with his mouth stuffed with burger.

I went to KTA to pick up a few items as well, one of which was a packet of vinyl gloves for Ron. He's allergic to latex and likes the vinyl ones instead of work gloves for certain tasks.  So I got those, some good beer, cat food (I'm always buying cat food) and assorted sundries, only to arrive home and find that the gloves - the primary reason for my trip to town - had not been put into the bag.  When I called the store, they had 'em, right there.  The bagger guy just missed 'em and I didn't think to rummage through my bag to be sure I had everything.  Silly me.

It really was a beautiful day. No rain until late afternoon, no vog, a little hot and sticky but I am in no way complaining. No way.  Not at all.  

A hui hou.  Aloha!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Ah Cinco de Mayo.  Viva la Mexico!  Thinking of that yesterday reminded me of the U2 song Vertigo, which was featured in the planetarium show I saw Friday night with my neighbor, Kathy.  I haven't heard that song in awhile.  There was Bono, shouting, "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!"  Hmmmm... All I can say is, let that be a lesson to you kids out there.  Stay in school!  If you drop out, you two (U2?) could become a bajillionaire rock star who cannot count to four in Spanish.  One, two, three fourteen?  Hello, hello....  Really, could nobody tell the guy?  Is he that cool?

Speaking of the planetarium show, I'm proud to say I didn't get dizzy or queasy 'til the third to last song.  Maybe it was Vertigo.  I don't remember.  I just know it took about an hour after I got home for the fuzziness in my head to clear.  

Anyway, back to Cinco de Mayo.  It will be a memorable day for me.  I was laid off.  Got an official letter telling me how great I am and how it's purely a financial matter and how much everyone enjoys working with me and on and on.  I know, I was laid in December and worked more after receiving my official severance letter than before.  Somehow, I think this one might be for real.  My last day will be May 14.  The owner of the winery has said he will not put any more money from his own pocket into the business and since we are losing money daily, well let's just say things aren't looking up right now.  Management (and I use that term loosely) is compelled to keep the new girl, since she's free (the state pays her wages) and of course all the managers are still working full time with no concessions.  We've talked about reducing our hours of operation and being closed one day a week, but nobody is willing to make a decision like that to save money and keep more people employed, because we have brochures printed that say we're open all day every day so damn it, we must be open.  It would apparently be too arduous to make a sign for the front gate posting our new, abbreviated recession hours, so there you go.  Rumor has it we are down $5000/month from where we need to be to break even.  Since I only make about $400 a month, I'm guessing it won't be long before other heads roll, heads that can't afford to.  Of course, the managers left behind will have the fun of picking up the slack when there's nobody left in the tasting room to pour tastings for tour groups that never buy anything.  Oh, and we can't tell the tour groups to stop coming or charge them a per-van fee for their free tastings because those people just might go home and order case loads of wine to be shipped to their addresses on the mainland.  Of course, e-com as we call it is way, way down, so there's no evidence of that happening, but hey, it could happen, so let's just keep pouring those free tastings just in case. 

My friends Kathie and Janet and I celebrated both my layoff and the day Mexico's ragtag army trounced the French by drinking Margaritas.  That was fun!  

So now I have no excuses not to get into better shape and write buckets of deep, reflective, riveting fiction.  No excuses, that is, except that I'm lazy and have no talent.  So, onward!  Uno, dos, tres, catorce!

Friday, May 01, 2009

Banana Republic banking practices

On Wednesday, I schlepped a coffee can full of coins to the bank for deposit. I'm guessing it was worth between $200 and $300.  The first time I did this, I was surprised to learn that the deposit didn't go into my account the same day, but the next.  Rather than dump the coins straight into the counting machine, they transferred them from my can into a bag, put a slip of paper inside with my hand-written account number scratched in ball-point ink and sent me away empty handed.  I was less than comfortable with this procedure, but when the money showed up the next day in my account, I decided I'd trust them again.  It's a system.  A lousy system, but a system none-the-less.  So this week, I did the same thing and again walked away with nothing, forced to trust that money would eventually land in my account.  It's now been two days and I've received no deposit.  So I called, only to be told that it can take up to five business days for coin deposits, because, "Coins are not considered a high priority."  Oh really? The last I checked, coins were legal tender.  If I hand the teller four fifties, the money goes in immediately.  Coins should be no different.  The woman on the phone also mumbled something about the coins having to be taken to "the vault."  Huh?  I took them to the branch with the coin counting machine.  It's a branch I believe also has a vault.  It's my branch of account.  I don't get it.  I have a BS in Business Administration.  Guess I should have gone for that MBA. Wait.  Ron has one of those and he doesn't get it either.  Once counted and in the bank's possession, that dollar figure should be added to my account immediately.  And what's to prevent the person who dumps the coins into the counter from skimming a few bucks off the top?  Nobody would know, since nobody gets to witness the count.  This place is ridiculous. Every bank I know on the mainland with a machine counts the coins while you wait, then gives you a receipt for the deposit.  If coins weren't so heavy we'd just schlepp them to Vegas.

Tonight, my neighbor Kathy and I are going to dinner, then to the U2 planetarium show at the Imiloa Astronomy Center.  When I mentioned this to Ron yesterday, he said, "You two?  Your going to see Amy Loa? Who's Amy Loa?  Why he thinks I would refer to myself and a friend as "You two," I couldn't quite get, but it was a little funny.

I hate to say it, but the weather seems nice today.  The last several times I've mentioned the sun in the annals of this blog, it was mere minutes before the rain swept in for the remainder of the day. 

Hoppsy's doing pretty well, all things considered.  We had a walk this morning with only mild tripping and awkwardness, a good pace and of course plenty of excellent sniffing opportunities.

Check out Lucy in this photo.  Comfy!
A hui hou.  Aloha!