This is a simple column by a complex woman.  
Dumb-asses need not apply.
If you flatter yourself to be
a bright spot in the universe
and aren't offended by "psychotic breaks,"
If you're a little frightened, well, all the better.
We kinda like you like that... with hot sauce.

“they call it paradise” 


It’s not Kailua Beach Park, but the Ocean Shores,
WA version, complete with parking and race-car
driving right up on the surf. 

I used to live in Hawaii, for most of my life really. When my father suffered his first (the first of three) heart attacks in the middle of the night in Ft. Dix, N.J., he decided to retire, either in Stuttgart or on Oahu, where we once were stationed in Ft. Shafter. Former headquarters of Nazis... or paradise, gee how can I choose? 

Anyway, dad finally bit the big one about a year after I moved out of the Aiea, Halawa Heights rented house in a huff, after one too many times of him slapping me, hard, in the face, and accusing me of being a “whore, like your mother!” Just because, in the last case, I was going to the movies with Mark Jensen, the boy I would marry after we graduated high school (and we know how that didn’t turn out). 

I lived with my mom in a six-floor apartment building in the middle of a Makiki neighborhood (think Compton with Asians) in grand central Honolulu proper—for about the rest of my young adult life until my next phase started, when I met and married Eddie, and we moved away to Florida, then back to Hawaii out of a bout of hysterical homesickness (really, we should’ve thought better of moving in with his parents first, then moving somewhere less lightning-bound altogether), then off to Washington state where we reside now. For now. 

During those off and on years, I got to know the 50th state pretty well, an outsider’s point of view, so to speak. Even though I looked like 3/4ths of the majority of residents there, Asian, I felt isolated, more than I had being one of only two token Koreans in a school of black, white and Latin back in Pemberton Township’s Newcomb Middle School, N.J. 

I spoke perfect English, no accent, no weak indulgence for blending in with the natives by dumbing down and talking pidgin – unless it was to mock said natives under my breath. I arrived my second time completely shut down, thoroughly spent on the constant uprooting of my Army brat existence; I used to be quite sociable, the first girl on the block to welcome a new neighbor and find a friend to play with my age. And I just did not fit in. 

Nobody wanted to know me. They stuck to their pre-destined ohana, set from birth (these people never heard of moving), forged throughout high school, and taking the same courses, choosing the same major in college so their social clubs could all stick together. They’re still together, married to their token haole with 3.5 hapa kids in Mililani. 

Better, less crowded up the road, in the
back of Quinalt Resort & Casino, but not quite Hawaii,
not even close. The sand feels like silt and takes forever to scrape off. 

The few “friends,” and I use the term loosely, wanted nothing to do with me when school ended and the weekend began. It’s Aloha Friday, no work till Monday, doobie, doobie doo... They hung out in packs at Pearlridge Shopping Center, or the BFD trek on TheBus to Ala Moana Shopping Center, leaving me out, because, well... I guess because I didn’t grow up with them as a keiki. And, I was strange. (But I didn’t need to tell you guys this.) 

I would always pride myself on coming from Hawaii, figuring it would win me a few points with the cloistered Mid-west whitebread types who’d never met a katonk, much less heard of lumpia or malasadas. They’d remember Hawaii Five-O or Magnum P.I., smile, and let go of the tight clench in their collective butt-cheeks that a China-man was in their midst. 

They’d ask me about the best luaus to go to in Waikiki, the most secluded beaches, and where the locals go, as if I were a local myself. And I’d act like an expert tour guide. I barely left my apartment. I never saw the Arizona Memorial. I could care less about the Big Island’s annual hula fest (I didn’t care about any of the events and cultural highlights in the visitor industry magazines I used to write and edit for). 

I may have spent 15-plus years in Hawaii, but I was never a local. 

I hated the heat and humidity, the provincial, small town laid-back attitude that looked down on you for not fitting in, not dumbing down, not being local enough, the Rock fever (i.e., think of being stuck on a rock and not able to get out), the phony, hypocritical manufactured Aloha spirit no ka oi tourism and marketing gimmick designed solely, and I mean solely, to take as much money out of the average #1 Japanese tourist, #2 the other haoles from the Mainland, not out of the original Polynesian sense of hospitality where everybody was welcome, regardless of ethnicity or how they mispronounced Halawa. 

I could’ve done without the constant barrage of Oriental-heavy cuisine, too. The equivalent of a Starbucks, there’d be Japanese this, Chinese that, Korean everything on every corner (I hear the same malady afflicting parts of Washington, unfortunately, where it’s near-impossible to get a decent omelette at any hour of the day or night around here) – with the signs and the menus in Japanese! After one fried noodle, SPAM musubi, plate lunch too many, I was about ready for some down-home Southern chitlins. 

What’s left of Hawaii’s influence –
and these “rubbah slippahs” are not even from Hawaii.

Eventually, I left for good because of the above, and because, well, it’s just too expensive to live there, unless you’re a lawyer, doctor, politician, actor, Sonny Corinthos, have a boatload of money, or plain out of luck and stuck (see Aala Park). Houses are crammed together, and cost from $500,000 (if you’re lucky) to over several million. The “affordable homes” are slightly under that, and available if you’ve got a lot of time to spare to sleep over in the first-come, first-served line to even apply. Cereal’s like, about $10 a box (I only mildly exaggerate). And all those quirky, tacky stores and restaurants that used to remind me of the 60s and 70s, pieces of my childhood, Coco’s diner, Bella Italia, the Ritz, Liberty House...have been replaced with designer boutiques and multi-million dollar chains. The Hard Rock Cafe’s rock-hard $12 burgers over Coco’s down home-made ambience and cheap burgers and fries? Get me outta here. 

Cut to 2004, eight years later, and I’m sitting on the couch catching the last 40 minutes of a new NBC fall season drama, called appropriately enough, Hawaii. It stars one of my favorite 1980s hunks, Michael Biehn (The Terminator) – who, btw, resembles Mark Jensen – and it’s set on location throughout various locales in Hawaii (on all the islands, not just Oahu). 

I took one look and fell in love again, talking myself into believing I once belonged there, the whole jive nostalgia trip, y’know? Pretty soon, as Kewalo Basin faded into nightfall on Waikiki, nothing more seductive, I’m ready to pack my bags and go back to my home in the islands, humming Seabreeze, seabreeze, take a message to the one I love, kiss her tenderly, tell her to wait for me..., pick up where I left off, find a job editing a trade or visitor industry magazine, catch up with those “friends” scattered, I mean, still living in Aiea and Kailua, revisit the hot spots of my youth... 

My home? Who am I kidding? 

By the new year, I’m supposed to decide on our final destination, where Eddie and I, will live out the rest of our lives together, maybe add a fifth wheel to our retirement plan and travel around, but always return to this unknown homebase. He’s really aiming toward Florida, where his cousins live, in a manufactured home community in Barefoot Bay, near Melbourne, Vero Beach and St. Sebastian, and just had to evacuate the other weekend, stuck on the freeway with thousands of other refugees for over 15 hours straight... that Florida. 

I’m not too thrilled about the a) lightning storms from May through August, b) hurricane season from September through November, c) bugs, snakes and assorted other critters most likely to settle into our residence, d) substandard educational system rivaling Hawaii’s for producing the dumbest grads on the block (I should know, I flunked Algebra and had to take basic math in a community college), and e) heat and humidity, another Hawaii trademark. Eddie figures Florida, even though it’s shaped like a flaccid, dripping penis, is a cheaper Hawaii, without the stale Hawaii Muzak, with better Mainland access and Italian food. 

Maybe he’s right. Besides, I’ve no other options to challenge him with. The South... headquarters of the KKK, godawful summers, magnet for tropical storms (not that Florida is immune, it’s supposed to suffer the most). The Midwest... tornadoes, not an ocean in sight. The East... brutal winters, expensive, 9/11. The West... California’s too hot and too weird, Nevada’s a sweltering desert of sin, cancer sticks and static electricity, Arizona might as well be Hades, ditto New Mexico. I feel nothing for Montana or Wyoming. Oregon is prime real estate for hobos and extreme liberals. Idaho? Don’t make me laugh. 

I can’t go back to Hawaii either. Been there, done that. Despite Hollywood’s current courting of the place (with the WB channel’s North Shore adding to the paradise fascination) to the contrary. 

Still, there are times when... well, over Labor Day Weekend, the family took off for an overnighter all the way down to Ocean Shores, past Olympia and Aberdeen, the Hanford nuclear power plants. We thought it would be the next best thing to Hawaii’s Kailua Beach Park, wide open spaces of sand and the Pacific ocean for our son James to romp around in. He loves to dig sand and load it onto his truck and into his pails (and fling it at me), and challenge himself by running into the low tides. 

But when we got there, we had to pay $5 just to park, nobody else did. We walked a half a mile toward the actual beach area to find another parking lot of monster trucks, SUVs, horses, mopeds and every other man-made invention on wheels spewing exhaust. Not only that, this makeshift parking lot was only a few feet from the water, and more cars, trucks and mopeds were speeding up and down the beach right up against the water. The only safe place to play with your kids was in the water; otherwise, you had to wait, look both ways and race across – over horse doo-doo, firework remnants and splintered pieces of wood – to the safety of some sandy area past the makeshift parking lot. 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a few children trying to frolic around in the surf, but they didn’t get far, because of the constant traffic. I stared at the drivers and pedestrians smiling their goofy toothless smirks as they raced past me, smelling gasoline instead of salty sea air, questioning the sanity of humankind, hearing the Eagles’ song reverberate in my head, the one that played when we first got in our car to head down here, “The Last Resort” ... 

What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier
We have got to make it here

We satisfy our endless needs and
justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God

And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning
They stand up and sing about
what it's like up there
They call it paradise
I don't know why
You call someplace paradise,
kiss it goodbye 

“I live here, and this disgusts me,” said a mother of three beside us. James had settled into shoveling some silt onto the back of his truck, ignoring the rush hour traffic on Mother Nature. 

“How are kids supposed to play safely around here with these cars driving all around? It’s insane!” Eddie added. 

The mother gave us an insider tip, go to the Quinalt Resort & Casino down the road, in the back, there’s public access to a less-crowded beach. We went, and I got to see baby seagulls in formation, running to and from the surf, chasing their mom in flight and on land, the kind of National Geographic travelogue stuck in my mind, not Armageddon we just left. A middle-aged lady was jogging in a small circle close to the surf, two 12-year-old boys tried to surf but the waves were too rough, I took some digitals, freezing my feet off, trying to look thin and sexy, yeah right, my husband and our son played in the sand and walked in the water a little. 



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