Although I have experienced a few surreal epiphanies over the years, I am not hot-wired for spirituality, unlike some members of my family. Moreover, I am immune to biofeedback, I can’t be hypnotized, and I haven’t been able to benefit from meditation, transcendental or otherwise. Nor am I elevated or entranced by massage therapy. I am rooted in reality.
Yesterday, to avoid bouts of rain, I took a half-hour walk in the covered lower parking lot of my Leisure Heritage condo building. During my walk, I didn’t have any deep philosophical thoughts, and I didn’t speculate about how to align myself with the universe.
The parked cars in the garage grabbed my attention. After lots of scrutiny, I counted 33 of them, 13 (33%) had license tags beginning with a T, and only 3 of them had tags in the first half of the alphabet: A trifecta of the number 3.What a great way for me to pass the time during my walk. Even when some cars left the garage and others entered, the statistics remained the same.
It’s possible that I will have a life-altering revelation as I walk about Waikiki. But it is much more likely that I will continue to revel in unexpectedly mesmerizing trivia.
A Tale of Two Phlebotomists
During my recent hospitalization for blood cancer at Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu, part of my treatment entailed a few rounds of bloodletting (how medieval!). Phlebotomy is the modern medical term, but the end result is the same, the loss of pints of blood.
The nurse who administered the first phlebotomy was creepy. Throughout her painstaking, time-consuming preparations, she fervently fiddled with an array of vials and rubber tubes as she arranged and rearranged them. All the while, she mumbled and hummed. And when she occasionally spoke to my wife and me, she droned on and on about some bloodletting trivia. The only bit of information that made sense was that it would take about a half hour to draw my blood.
It actually took about ten minutes: her first harmless enough miscalculation. But her second miscalculation was egregious. As she was finishing up, she confidentially whispered to me: “You really don’t have cancer.” Wow! I was horrified. What a grossly ignorant thing to say, coming from an oncology nurse.
I didn’t confront her, but I did cite her inane comment in a follow-up form that the hospital sent me a week after I was released.
The second phlebotomist was the diametric opposite of the first. She said that the bloodletting would last about ten minutes (she was spot on), she spent no more than a minute organizing her paraphernalia, and she was silent throughout and after the procedure: a welcome change from the kooky dramatic antics of the first nurse.
Uplifting Notes in Honolulu
Last week, I got my first Covid-19 vaccination shot at Blaisdell Center Concert Hall, the epicenter of the classical music offerings that I have sorely missed because of the pandemic. Initially, I was a bit despondent, but I brightened up during the fifteen-minute mandatory waiting period at the end of the process: On the nearby lawn, a few members of The Royal Hawaiian Band were playing some delightfully soothing melodies. What a treat to experience an in-person concert (informal as it was) for the first time in a year! It was a booster shot in the arm.
Yesterday, when I was in the midst of taking an uninspiring walk around and around my Leisure Heritage condo’s parking lot, I heard some delicate flute-like music. As I continued walking, I saw a familiar resident in the far corner beside the stairs leading to the exit gate. Normally, his M.O. is to inveterately smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk and grumble about the tourists and the weather. But today, he transformed himself; this nicotine-addicted curmudgeon was masterfully playing the pan pipe so intently that he didn’t notice me as I repeatedly walked by during the last ten minutes of my exercise regimen.
He may not have been aware of my presence, but I sure was astounded by his talent: a noteworthy coda to my- until-then boring walk around the condo grounds.
Bravo and Boo
Last week at the Waikiki Elks Club, my wife and I were seated next to an animated crowd. One man, however, was a welcome standout. He intermittently laughed with a cheerful, booming voice. Because I have sensitive hearing, I normally would find such hilarity grating if not distracting. But I wasn’t unnerved. In fact, I was fascinated. The man’s hearty, heartfelt, deeply textured laugh was almost operatic: It had the vibrato of a basso profundo. At the same time, it sounded like an life-enhancing mantra. I felt like applauding his inspiring voice.
Yesterday at the Elks Club, there was no such appeal as my wife and I sat next to a similarly animated group. One of the women looked like and screeched like the harridan wife of Larry David’s best buddy in Curb your Enthusiasm. Hardly decibel deprived, she all too often laughed in a shrill tone that whiplashed me in my right ear while I was trying to attentively listen to my wife with my left ear. I was able to multitask for a few minutes. But I gradually got so flustered that I gave the shrew thumbs down for her blistering laughing. She was so preoccupied that she either didn’t see my gesture or ignored it.
Never would I disturb the hearty man’s enthusiasm. On the other hand, I would relish curbing the raucous woman’s enthusiasm.
Weird: The Watchword of Teenage Angst
My wife and I lately have been binging on two sudsy TV family drama series aired within the first decade of 2021: Everwood and The O.C. In both sagas, teenagers excessively rely on one word to describe whatever unaccountably happens to them, their family, and their friends: weird. After a while, I began to despise that word. Why couldn’t the screenwriters have substituted a few synonyms in their vocabulary grab bag like peculiar, eerie, mysterious, surreal, strange, odd, unsettling, unnerving, uncanny, or bewildering? How weird would that have been? Why dumb down the private school, college bound teenage characters so that they can think of only one word in relation to what transpires around them?
I don’t doubt that demographically speaking, teenagers often describe their experiences as weird. But in Everwood and The O.C., weird is uttered so much that it becomes an all-purpose, all too handy, cringe-worthy, stereotypical mantra.
But then again, perhaps it is fated that weird is so overused in these prime-time soap operas. I would imagine that a few of the screen writers were familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In that play the freaky witches who foretell the future are called the three Weird Sisters, weird then meaning what is destined. Using weird in its modern context, angst-ridden Macbeth would feel weird about the hags’ weirdly riddling prophecies.
During my walks in Waikiki since the pandemic began, I have occasionally seen an unmasked, expressionless, shaggy young man slowly drift along the sidewalks as if he were stoned. He invariably wears a loose-fitting heavy jacket that flaps about as he vacantly stares straight ahead. This uncouth person could be harmless or a menace. In any case, I stay far away from him.
A couple of days ago, I noticed him when I was on my last lap around the block. I stopped for a moment. He had left the sidewalk to stand in the middle of the road. Around him was a puddle. It wasn’t from the frequent rain spells that we have recently had. From my vantage point, I saw that he was in fact at the tail end of urinating. I wasn’t shocked, but I was somewhat taken aback. Just then he saw me. Oops! How would he react? Uncharacteristically, he genuinely smiled, perhaps delighted that he had relieved himself or perhaps proud that he had an audience to witness this spontaneous spectacle. In any case, I had no intention of making any more than brief eye contact with him, never mind congratulating him on his gross accomplishment.
After he zipped up, I looked the other way and resumed my walk, quickening my pace until I gratefully entered my Leisure Heritage condo building.
I will probably encounter this street person again. I hope that the ball will remain in his court.
Appearance isn’t Always Reality
For years, I have had trouble deciphering the poorly enunciated lyrics of pop tunes. What I think I hear accordingly is sometimes inaccurate. Yesterday evening, I realized how flawed my perception has been. While I was listening to the iconic “Here Comes the Sun” from the Beatles’ 1969 Abbey Road, my wife displayed the lyrics on our TV screen. Man, was I enlightened! I have always thought one of the repeated words in the song was hingully, perhaps the name of a place. But I was wrong. Hingully doesn’t exist: “Little darling,” a bit garbled and softly sung, is the correct expression.
For the past 52 years, I had no doubt that hingully was a part of “Here Comes the Sun.” Yesterday afternoon, I was only briefly misled, getting caught in the trap between appearance and reality. Just after leaving my Waikiki condo lobby at Leisure Heritage, I encountered a young man standing next to the exit door. He was not wearing a mask, an all too frequent violation of Oahu’s mandated Covid-19 restrictions. Disgusted, I hurriedly bypassed him and went down the parking lot ramp into the street to begin my walk around the block. As I did so, I felt that something was amiss. I touched my face: No mask! I was just as blameworthy as the young man I had met a moment before: my righteous indignation boomeranged. Humbled, I quickly retrieved my mask and my comfort zone.
The discrepancy between appearance and reality is one of the dominant plot motifs in literature and in my own life, whether it is revealed after half a century or during any current day of the week. None of us are immune: we cannot escape the fact that sometimes appearances mislead and misguide us until we see the truth. I embrace these revelations. They humanize us all.
Impediments and a Compliment
During my walk in Waikiki yesterday, I had to maneuver past lots of barriers: I hopscotched over clusters of oversized palm tree limbs that were recent victims of strong trade winds; I scooted around two soft mounds of dog poop that had not yet begun to congeal; I shied away from a sliced-up trash bag that had randomly released an ant-infested bathrobe, a slew of beer bottles, and a medley of rotten potatoes; and I gingerly bypassed an unmasked, conked out homeless guy who had almost completely blocked the pavement.
Sidestepping this chaotic choreography was at times frustrating, but I grudgingly persevered. Near the end of my walk, however, I got a welcome boost. I spied one of my 24 Hour Fitness Center cohorts, a husky man whose only exercise outdoors was ever so slowly walking his miniature dog. When he saw me, he nodded and effusively said “I love your stride.”
Although my workout buddy has previously applauded my brisk pace, his compliment yesterday was especially gratifying because I have finally regained the stamina and strength that I had routinely maintained before my hospitalization for blood cancer just about two months ago.
When I see my friend again at the gym (Covid-19 variants permitting), I will make sure to compliment him. Although he still has a huge gut, for years he has vigorously tried to get in shape. The next time that he finishes lifting an unusually heavy pile of weights, I will tell him, “That’s a gutsy move; bravo.”
A Novel Spectator Sport at the Drug Store
The other day, I was overjoyed that only one person, a scraggly middle-aged woman, was ahead of me at the check-out counter at Long’s Drugs (CVS). Noticing that her mask covered just her mouth, I gestured for her to raise it onto her nose as well. She complied, but not for long. When I looked at her again, the mask was once more at half-mast. Reflexively, she pulled it over her nose, but as I watched, the mask slid down again.
I soon realized that the woman wasn’t playing games with me or goading me: she was vigorously chewing gum. Every time that she did so, her mask automatically lowered. Instead of getting rid of the gum (God forbid!) to obey the mask mandate, the woman unselfconsciously chomped away.
In fact, because I am fully vaccinated against Covid-19, I wasn’t personally worried that the woman’s nose was so often exposed. Accordingly, I began to be more amused than appalled by her antics. I can just imagine how quipster Larry David would have teased or even harassed the woman. He might have told her how much he enjoyed observing her masticate. I, however, said nothing. I just continued to watch her repeatedly munch on that worn-out piece of gum as if she were chewing her cud.
In the meantime, the cashier spent at least ten minutes researching some data before allowing the woman to use her credit card. I could have opted to go to another counter, but it would have been quite a letdown to leave the follies.
The woman didn’t look very cuddly, but man could she chew.
Viva Vivacity in the City
Yesterday, at the tail end of our four-mile walk in Waikiki, my wife and I briefly relaxed at the Royal Hawaiian Food Court. While waiting for my wife to return from the rest room, I noticed a masked young lady uproariously skip a few times toward a group of middle-aged couples sitting at a table in front of me. When she got there, she hugged everyone, took off her mask, glowingly smiled, and began an animated conversation, making sure to include everyone. It didn’t matter whether these people were relatives, friends, or mere acquaintances, the winsome young lady delighted in their presence. It was mutual: her uninhibited joy buoyed their spirits, as it did mine, from a distance.
I am grateful that I have had so many opportunities to observe and write about such wholesome endearing moments in Waikiki. And with tourism on the rise as Covid-19 subsides, I expect that more life enhancing scenarios will inspire me.
Being Attractive at 77 is a Two-edged Sword
The other day, a budding young woman and her infant daughter joined me in the elevator at our Leisure Heritage condo building. With grandfatherly grace, I delighted the baby with my patented cartoonish facial tics and twisty hand gestures. The mother wasn’t uproariously amused, but she pleasantly indulged me.
After leaving the elevator, I began to wipe some crud off the rear end of my wife’s car. Sweat was saturating my head band and my muscle shirt. Momentarily, the woman whose child I had just entertained came up next to me. After intently looking at me, she leaned in (showing some cleavage) and said that I was very “fit,” especially for someone my age. I was initially taken aback by her unsolicited compliment, which I could have interpreted as damning with faint praise, although I am not as skeletal as I was during my recent hospital stay. After regaining my composure, I (a bit tongue in cheek) told the young lady that she was equally in good shape, regardless of her age. She smiled luxuriously and bounced away with her infant. What an exit!
If I see the young lady again, with or without her baby, I’m not sure how I will react; but I’ll try to be less demonstrative. And it would be less awkward (at least for me) if we happened to be discretely clothed during our next hopefully brief encounter.
Two Memorable Men at the Beach
Last week, while I was luxuriating at the beachfront of the Kahala Hotel, I saw a tall well-muscled man vigorously brandishing a long iron cane next to a row of bushes. I soon realized that he was more of a wannabe fencer or a majorette than a lone wolf terrorist. At first he expertly used the cane to swiftly lunge and thrust forward, to the side, and backward. After that, he twirled the cane over his head and around his chest. Always in control, he steadfastly performed an array of variations on these basic moves. He didn’t smile; he didn’t flinch. He put on a remarkable show, but he wasn’t a showman.
The next day, I noticed a nondescript man standing along the same bushes as the man with the cane. However, he used only his arms as props for a remarkably different routine. Although he had none of the panache or skill of the other man, he had a quiet authenticity. First he tentatively placed his slender arms across his chest as if to comfort himself or to ward off any obtrusive thoughts. He kept perfectly still. Then he slowly raised his arms over his head and swayed a bit, perhaps in silent, subdued prayer. For a few minutes, he repeated this regimen.
Both contrasting men were mesmerizing. The forces of yin and yang are alive and well in Oahu. Vive la difference!