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A MEDLEY OF VIGNETTES FROM HONOLULU
The Egregious Misuse of the White Towel
There is a disturbing trend at the 24/7 fitness center in Honolulu: To keep their place on a weight machine that they temporarily leave for a few moments or for much longer, some audacious young people drape a white towel on the seat. I don’t care where or why they feel compelled to go. Anyone who wants to work out on a vacant machine has a right to do so. I see red every time I see the white towel. It is a no-trespassing sign of entitlement gone wild. I’d love to remove it, even trash it, but I have restrained myself so far.
Yesterday, I complained to the manager about this proprietary white-towel syndrome. He agreed that hogging a machine (whether incessantly on it or reserving it) displays a lack of civility in our increasingly shameless culture. But he said that he can’t dictate how members conduct themselves unless they are blatantly abusive. And my concern didn’t meet that standard.
Then he suggested that I politely tell the offenders (when they return to what they consider to be their own private machine) that their behavior is “inappropriate.” I have been tempted to do so, but I would probably not be discrete enough, so I prefer to avoid that confrontation, at least for now.
When living in the dorms fifty years ago, I knew the proper use of the white towel. If a guy stuck a white towel through a crack in his room, he had a girl in his clutches; and he was not to be disturbed. Everyone obeyed that unwritten law. On the other hand, I have no respect for the white towel on the seat of a weight machine. It is an affront to common decency, and its rude owners should voluntarily surrender it.
A Man for all Seasons?
Today on the bus, I sat directly across from a well-groomed middle-aged man who sorted through a voluminous satchel filled with helter-skelter papers—anything from tiny receipts to official-looking documents. As he began to take out one item, he fixated on it for a while, and became almost electrified as he started to babble to a woman sitting diagonally behind him. She ignored the strange man who was like Jack Nicholson in a maniacally good mood. After the maestro of half-crazed scrutiny apprised and grandiosely crinkled up bits of paper, he stuffed them back into his carrying case, rummaged through some more items, and hoisted them up for examination, jabbering all the while to that same woman who continued to stare straight ahead unmoved by his incoherent monologue.
The man was obviously unhinged and befuddled, but he seemed to be happy enough. He was so unselfconscious and pleased by what he had hoarded and revealed that I almost envied him.
When he got near to his destination, however, he calmly closed his satchel, sedately waited for the bus to stop, and seamlessly blended in with the other passengers who exited the bus.
I was taken aback: I began to wonder if his earlier frantic gesturing and gibberish might not have been genuine, just an inspired shtick, a bravura performance that perhaps no one on the bus beside me had been suckered into. In any case, it will be hard to forget that weirdly uninhibited character, whatever his intentions.
A Holding Pattern at the Parking Lot
Yesterday, I was fortunate to find a parking space at the invariably congested downtown Honolulu Costco monster warehouse. After getting out of my car, I looked for familiar landmarks so that I’d have no trouble later locating where I had parked. Ah, as Jewish wisdom so often echoes, man plans and God laughs.
When I left the store, I wheeled my improperly aligned cart towards the left-hand row where I was convinced my car was stationed. But my Mazda wasn’t in sight. I obviously misjudged where I had parked; instead of turning back to the first row to my right, I methodically but vainly continued my quest throughout the aisles that fanned out to my left. The late afternoon sun was scorching my skin-sensitive face, the inflamed back of the heel on my left foot was excessively smarting, and my stomach flip flopped at the revolting possibility that my car had been stolen.
Then I finally thought of a simple solution. All I had to do was press the bottom alarm (Hold!) locator button on my trusty car gizmo. But it didn’t work. I heard nothing at all. When I looked down, I figured out what I had done. I must have pressed on the next-to-the last Hold button, the one for the trunk. Wonderful! Now my trunk could be open. Although I didn’t have anything too valuable there, I didn’t want people prying into it. I was hot, hurting, and a bit unnerved. Quickly losing composure, I repeatedly pressed the correct Hold button, but to no avail.
I had only one option. I plodded back to the Costco entrance/exit and began searching the other side of the parking lot. Just one lane over, I spied my car. It was intact, and the trunk was closed. What a relief!
Then I realized that I had been too far away from my Mazda for the trunk to open remotely, and evidently once I pressed the trunk Hold button, I had deactivated the alarm mechanism. In the future, if I am rummaging for my car wherever it might be parked, I will have to make sure to press the proper “panic” button. Ah, the joys of computerization. And so it goes.
Two Oddities at the Honolulu 24/7 Fitness Club
THE WOMAN: Most of the time, I don’t observe people while I am on the stationary bike located in the first row of the aerobics room: I read instead. But yesterday, I finished my novel before ending my workout. To amuse myself, I scanned the big mirror in front of me for any quirky, odd behavior behind me. Soon I noticed a very fit young lady methodically pedaling on one of the gliders. She was a well-coordinated multi-tasker. With one hand, she was messaging on her smart phone. With her other hand, she automatically kept pushing her long lustrous hair away from her eyes, especially when the rotating fan at her back was directly blowing on her. She adeptly maintained her well-balanced choreographed movements while I was still on my bike and probably after I left for the weight room. Her arms may have gotten as much of a workout as did her legs; but in each case, she showed no fatigue. She was an impressive impresario of her universe.
THE MAN: Just before I approached the weight machines upstairs, a wiry, elderly man outfitted in neon began effortlessly walking backwards through all of the narrow aisles. When he finished, he changed his strategy. He walked forward following the same routine, but only strode on the sides of his feet. When he finished encircling the gym, he identically alternated going backward and forward, never staggering or bumping into anything or anyone. It was a tour de force.
These upstairs and downstairs routines were exceptionally diverting. What both the man and the woman lacked, however, was passion. Their faces remained impassive, emotionless throughout. Of course, they weren’t performing for an audience; yet if on some level they were showing off their skill, I’d give both of them an A for technique, an A for concentration, but an F for expression.
My Kingdom for a Chicken
Before working out at the gym yesterday, I rode the bus to Sam’s Club to purchase one of their luscious rotisserie chickens. There were only two left. Luckily, I was able to grab the plumpest one, and luckily I was able to scoot into the shortest checkout line. However, that was the end of my good fortune with the coveted chicken.
When I reached the exit, I was told that I had paid for a couple of other items on my list but not for the chicken. So I returned to the fellow who had checked me out. Considering that he was in the process of excavating loads of piled up goods from a huge shopping cart, he was unable to assist me. Instead, I proceeded to the self-checkout, an area whose scanner has never been user-friendly to me, perhaps because my Sam’s card was old and faint.
I was not surprised that my repeated attempts to scan the chicken bar code were futile from any angle, and the only person who might be able to help me was all-too-patiently deliberating with someone else a couple of aisles away. Eventually, she was free to attend to me. I figured that she would have the same problem that plagued me—at least initially. I was wrong. She pressed the scanner once. Presto! Data from the bar code lit up the screen. This woman was just as adept as my wife at rescuing me from my mishaps with mechanisms.
But my chicken woes continued. While I waited for the bus to take me to the fitness center, I felt a bit of aromatic liquid squirt onto one of my legs. It was runoff from the chicken that had somehow leaked from its container and filtered through an unexpected hole in my bag that housed my meager purchases from Sam’s Club. Instantaneously, I had unwelcome guests. Flies were attracted to the chicken juice running down my leg. I quickly wiped away the residue, but to no avail; gobs of flies continued to pester me until the excessively delayed bus finally came.
When I got to my gym locker, I cleaned off and resealed the chicken container, worked out for an hour, and made a quick bus connection home.
Was my chicken misadventure worth it? Absolutely! Right after I entered my condo, I feasted on the still juicy, exquisitely savory dark meat.
I wouldn’t share my portion of chicken with anyone else—not even the lord of the flies.
Strange Sights at Random Bus Stops
Near a bus stop close to Walmart, a toothless old man, while grasping a small cup, ceaselessly stirred a crusted soupy concoction with a half-extinguished cigar butt. Yuck!
Next to a bus stop at Walgreens, I once saw an extremely thin man wearing a surgical mask, evidently used to ward off incoming germs and/or suspected air pollution. But all of a sudden, the he lifted this mask to take a few puffs of a cigarette that he had hidden behind his back. Go figure!
More than once and at more than one bus stop, I have seen a mumbling hooded man wearing smeared goggles and outfitted in a heavy, frayed, black sweatshirt with matching and equally squalid sweat pants. Torn black gloves cover his hands down to his knuckles. Mismatched adhesive strips are splayed on his fingertips. Ratty black sneakers complete his makeshift wardrobe. He is quite a spectacle. He looks a bit menacing, but I have never seem him interact with anyone.
Today, a middle-aged man on a bicycle passed by just as the bus arrived. He may have looked average, but he had an unusually equipped helmet. A small scope was securely fastened to the middle of the top of his helmet; in a pocket at the front of his helmet was a large smart phone. I wondered what kind of receptors lodged within the well-stocked backpack on his shoulders. Perhaps he has an astral connection.
The last time that I had a seat on a standing-room-only bus, I became progressively unnerved. After a crush of people got situated, my wife, who was seated opposite me, gave me a knowing look. Oops, I noticed a young well-endowed young lady standing right in front of me. Her half-exposed breasts just about jutted into my face. Petrified, I immediately stared at her feet, and when that got tiring, I scanned other directions, anywhere but straight ahead. When those stratagems strained my neck muscles, I resorted to closing my eyes. At the next stop, a new batch of passengers crowded in. When I opened my eyes, I saw that the young lady had been nudged to the back of the bus. What a relief!
But my wife soon alerted me to another unsettling situation. She snickered as a scuzzy obese guy stopped in front of me. The guy’s skimpy shirt exposed his bulging splotched belly that resembled rings on a decomposing tree trunk. I shuddered: his stomach was within an inch of my face. I shut my eyes to blot it out.
At the next stop, more people left and others entered. Mercifully, the obnoxious man had gone, and now the person who stood in front of me was nondescript. I was overjoyed that the rest of the bus ride was uneventful.
On a bus, I prefer sitting to standing. I have almost fallen down when a bus forcibly stops and swerves, barrels into potholes, and abruptly bounces because of worn out shock absorbers. Being jarred while I am hanging on to a bus support is physically dangerous. But being seated on a bus has its psychological pitfalls, as I learned the other day. Of course, if I had taken a book with me, I most likely would not have spied anyone hovering over me. In any case, it’s always an adventure or misadventure riding TheBus on the streets of Honolulu.
NIS is a multi-faceted acronym that could signify, for example, money (New Israel Shekel), cyber protection (Norton Internet Security), or creativity (National Innovation System). I’d like to add my own NIS acronym: bus blues (Not in Service).
The bus I use the most, Bus 2, is the closest one that goes to Waikiki from my gym. Sometimes, the bus is delayed, or the weather is so nasty that the bus stop kiosk offers little protection, or I have to suffer second-hand smoke from passersby. So whenever I see a bus in the distance, presumably Bus 2, I am greatly relieved. But there is a catch. Much too frequently, as the bus approaches, I no longer see the header Waikiki. Instead the dreaded Not in Service designation appears. What a bummer! What a tease! What presumption!
I am one of the many forlorn, exasperated people who hope to get on Bus 2 but instead confront the notorious Not in Service bus barreling past them.
No matter where I am, every time that I come across the acronym NIS, I conjure up monstrous images of this transit nemesis, the nefarious NIS.
A TALE OF TWO BUS DRIVERS
Yesterday, after I settled myself at the back of an overcrowded bus, about twenty unassuming Asian tourists arrived, quietly standing up along the front rows. No matter how often the beefy bus driver told the tourists to move along, they remained in place. Outraged, he started to scream at them to move back, but they just looked blankly at him and stayed put. Instead of figuring out why these foreigners were ignoring his command (most likely their English was scanty), he berated them, flung his arms into the air, and then repeatedly pointed his stubby fingers to the back of the bus. Still, the group didn’t obey. They looked bewildered and a bit frightened. Instead of asking someone to translate his outcries and explain his fierce gestures, the bus driver stomped his feet and continued shouting. Finally, the tourists understood; they shuffled to the back of the bus and hovered amongst themselves. In the meantime, the ignorant, frustrated bus driver became more composed, perhaps conserving his energy for another bout with any more uncooperative passengers. Bereft of sweetness, grace, and compassion, this bus driver (whose bulk and temper remind me of Ralph Cramden of The Honeymooners), is an ideal candidate for anger management and cultural sensitivity programs.
On the other hand, the bus driver whom I observed last week as I sat in the first row was a peacemaker, not a warmonger. For over five minutes, he patiently addressed the routing connections that were distressing an elderly lady. When she entered the bus, she told the driver where she wanted to be let off. He explained that unlike Bus 2, which would have dropped her off at her usual stop, she was now on Bus 2L, a bus with limited stops; and hers wasn’t one of them. Nonetheless, he could take her to a stop pretty close to where she wanted to go—or she could get off 2L and wait for Bus 2. Unconvinced, the woman argued that bus driver could easily change his route to please her. He calmly replied that it was against protocol to do so. Getting her near her usual bus stop was the best that he could do. Undeterred, the woman pleaded some more; the bus driver again ever-so-kindly told her that he couldn’t make an exception for her. Again, she protested a little louder; again the bus driver courteously stood his ground. He never raised his voice; he was firm but polite. Eventually, the woman, realizing that she couldn’t make the bus driver budge, agreed to get off close to her usual stop, thus ending their manageable tete-a-tete.
Both incidents in the two different buses took about the same time, but what a difference in perspective. I abhorred the first bus driver’s tirades and marveled at the second bus driver’s civility. If only our current political arena could be modeled not on maniacal ravings but reasoned discourse!
For a Stranger, a Minus Becomes a Plus
I am not much of a talker. I may write extensively, but I speak sparsely and to the point. Some people have said that I am a good listener accordingly. That’s true, even though I get a little restless depending on how intense the one-way conversation is. I am especially attentive to anyone who confides in me, whether a friend or a stranger: I vicariously enjoy being attuned to the drama and trauma in the lives of others.
The other day while I was sitting on a bus stop bench, a roly-poly middle-aged woman plopped down next to me. She looked a bit haggard and out of breath. After a couple of minutes, she settled in and began talking to me about how she overcame her troubles: she is now drug free and no longer a thief. She used to be a drug addled shoplifter and embezzler until she was caught years ago and jailed. When she was released, the IRS informed her that she owed thousands of dollars in back taxes. It took her almost twenty sober years to finally make restitution. In fact, she had just celebrated the first anniversary of evening her account with the feds. She was proud of her steadfast uphill accomplishment.
I never interrupted the lady; I nodded appropriately. I was patient and indulgent, enabling her to elaborate on her downfall and rehabilitation. At the end of her monologue, I said that I admired her painstaking efforts to redeem herself. She appreciated my understanding and support.
When the bus arrived, the woman told me that because she would most likely never see me again, it was safe for her to have related to me her unsavory past. Little did she suspect that she would be the main character in this vignette.