Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's about time

"Every year seems to go faster and faster!" "Where does the time go?"
Seems we can't stop talking about time these days.
"2006 is almost over!"
"It's already 2007!"

I know it goes by a lot faster for me than for my 4 year old nephew, The Pupster. For him, a year is one fourth of his life. He had to wait an eternity before he got his present from Santa on Christmas Day. He'll have to wait another before his next birthday.

For me, that same year is less than one 40th of my life. so naturally, it will feel quite a bit faster.

At the same time, however, since I've embarked on my Life of Adventure, time actually doesn't seem to fly by faster and faster. I think my years, my months, my days are so full of novelty right now that time actually feels like it's slowed down. Maybe when you are riding life like a bucking bronco, and loving every minute of it, maybe when you are not hurtling towards death... that changes everything. I feel like I've successfully reversed the tides and become more like The Pupster, who has all the time in the world, his whole life ahead of him.

"Time is the great equalizer," was my mother's favorite saying. Rich or poor, privileged or not, beautiful or this inequal world, time is the one thing that's the same for everyone. "It's how you use it."

But I know it's not at all the same for everyone. Oh, the LENGTH never changes. A second is still a second, a minute is still a minute. The length is always the same, but the thickness doesn't have to be.

So, on that note, may your seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks and months be fat and juicy for 2007!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Hockney's Still Life

I wrote this long before I had a blog, but it's still true today, so…

Sunday May 1, 2005
It's another silent morning in Santa Monica. I can't help but marvel at how deadly quiet it is in Los Angeles. Perhaps I feel this way because I got too used to the roosters, the dogs, donkeys, and early morning mariachi band practices in the last few months I spent in Mexico. It still weirds me out a bit. There is something non-life about this much silence. It's beyond still life. It's diving right into David Hockney's placid pool. But that would make a splash, a sound, a ripple and we must keep this environment intact. Even if it is a surreal silence.

Occasionally, the silence is pierced by an errant car alarm, cutting through the still, like OJ's knife. The screeching beep-beep-beep honk-honk-honk is a hint of the violence that runs underneath all the silence in LA.

There's an air of unhappiness. There is also an air of false joy -- as if all Los Angelenos were merely cast members in an elaborate Disney production. They smile, they joke, they chat on their cell phones -- but everyone guards his inner self like a dark secret. In "life" they are not insecure, untalented waitresses. In "life" they are aspiring actresses, poets, painters making a living some other way until "life" catches up with life. Even the homeless seem to be something they are not. I wonder if they are panhandling because they can make more money this way than running errands, helping with construction, sitting at a desk...

I suppose it is also this distinction between "life" and life that can make Los Angeles feel so lifeless.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Solstice

Flying to Los Angeles on the shortest day of the year. Since when did they stop feeding you on domestic flights? And with the airline security restrictions, it's hit or miss as to what you can take onto the flight. No liquids, so a thermos of soup is out. A sandwich is fine, but a jar of mayo is not. An orange is okay if you can consume it before you land in California. Poi is out, according to the United ground staff tagging our luggage, and so if Jell-O and yogurt, according to the sign just outside security screening.

We had just gone flying the day before with N, who has a commercial glider license, at Dillingham Airfield, way up at the north end of Oahu. I had never done it before and wondered how you got up high enough to catch the currents. You get towed up by a tow-plane! But, of course.

"Deputy Dawg" was the tow plane for our "Bird of Paradise" glider. Gliders are extremely efficient things. The body is a sleek little pencil of a thing with long sleek wings. I guess it's sort of like a longboard for the skies! In only a few hundred meters, we were airborne, but the tow-plane kept taking us higher and higher until we were up at the top of the cliffs and then, giving the tow-line a bit of slack, we disconnected and were on our own. There's quite a bit of wind rushing into the glider, so it's not a silent, weightless world by any means, but without an engine, it really feels like you are gliding on air.

The United flight back to LA was not like that at all. (Though, I must say that out of all the American carriers, I think they are the most professional. And I'm not just saying that because I just happened to be one of the handful that got a free glass of wine from the first class cabin.)

Big Dog was packing a Satsuma orange, an almost empty jar of almond butter, a small pack of peanuts and a plastic triangle of a sandwich he bought at a newsstand.

"Do you want any?" He was already into the sandwich before we even took off. I was still full from the pancake breakfast we had two hours ago.
"Not for me. What's that squealing sound?" I asked.
"How should I know. It's not my plane."
When he got out of his seat, I realized it was coming from the headphone plug on his armrest. Someone had cranked up the volume so much the audio was squealing out of the tiny holes!

By the time we got to LAX, I really was hungry and so was Big Dog. We both get mean when we're hungry, but after the chaos at the airport, the throngs, the piled up traffic, the sudden cold, the long wait for a shuttle bus and then the walk to the taxi stand when we finally gave up and decided to take a cab, I knew enough to give him plenty of space. The cab driver made the mistake of asking him to repeat our destination and Big Dog almost bit his hand off.

So when we got to our condo, we threw our bag in the door and rushed out to Benito's, our favorite fast food Mexican joint a few blocks away on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Most American Mexican food is too goopy with melted cheese and too much sauce, but Benito's is more like what you'd get in Mexico, and as I munched down my carnitas taco and taquitos, I realized that this was what I liked about LA. I like it's multiethnicity. It's a mini United Nations at our local supermarket. Right behind Benito's is our favorite Persian bakery where the Iranian immigrant family makes everything from scratch and it's awesomely good and inexpensive. In front of Benito's is a restaurant specializing in Oaxacan cuisine, a California roll place, a more traditional Japanese restaurant, a 50's themed diner… Can you imagine how BORING a place this size would be if it were only filled with people of European descent?

"I can't believe we're back in California. Winter's just started and it's the shortest day of the year," Big Dog grumbled. (Still hungry? Have another taco.) I was already feeling better, however.
"Yes, but from tomorrow, the days start getting longer and longer!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

South Surf's Up!

That was the big front page headline from one of the local papers yesterday, and, man, has it been rolling! Since Sunday, Waikiki's had a barrage of big, chunderous waves. Until now, the waves have been low, slow and easy, but then all of a sudden… At "Walls," on the Diamond Head end of Waikiki, there were giant waves, blasting in one after the other. Strangely, the number of surfers is always the same (how can this be??) but the sudden swell brought the bodyboarders out in droves. (I recently found out that "bodyboard" and not "boogie board" is the correct term. Unless you are using a real Boogie Board, I guess.)

Big Dog and I were out there with ours, too, paddling and tumbling and riding those waves with the super-fit local kids and out of shape vacationers and everyone in between. Walls is great because it's pretty much dominated by bodyboarders, so you don't have to feel like a speed bump in the way of surfers.

Bodyboarding is a completely different experience from surfing. I am sure there are surfers out there -- the ones who call bodyboarders "spongers," for example -- who think it's a lesser kind of surfing, but it's just different. It's like the difference between luging and snowboarding. It's a full-body experience and, as much as I hate to admit it, better suited for younger bodies than mine. After a full day of boarding on Sunday, I think we were only able to do a couple of hours the next day -- we were so tired.

"Oh, to be twelve, again!" I lamented to Big Dog when I finally battled the incoming waves and paddled out to the Pipeline-sized outsiders. (Okay, maybe not PIPELINE sized…) But it is so much fun you forget how tired you are, how the silly diver fins you've got have ripped pieces of your flesh off, how your cheapo kid's board rubs your stomach raw, how your eyes are stinging from the salt water and are nearly blind from the reflected sun, how it starts to get cold out there, buffeted by wind and waves. You catch a huge wave and it's the ride of your life! Until the next one, and the next one…

Actually, bodyboarding until I was completely exhausted has kept me in the best of moods. Guess I'm like that dog that gets cranky unless you run him ragged chasing after Frisbees.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Lessons from Nature

The Finals for the Pipeline Masters finally took place today, but not before they had strung us along all day yesterday. ("It's not off yet, they are postponing the call til 12:30." "We're still waiting for the big swell that is quickly approaching. The new call time is 1:30.")

"The waves are small. They're not going to do it today," Yuko-san told me on the phone. She's a former pro-surfer who is now a flight instructor. I was calling to arrange an interview with her for a radio show.

I should have listened to her instead of repeatedly calling 596-SURF for the latest update, but it all worked out in the end because friends from Arcata (northern California) who had arrived on Monday rented a car (Big Dog wasn't about to bike it to North Shore), I was meeting Yuko-san in Haleiwa AND the Competition was ON. Efficiency always feels mighty good to us Virgos.

There isn't a whole lot of parking at Banzai Pipeline, but entrepreneurial locals turned their front yards into temporary parking lots, charging $5 per day. Not bad! (During the Aichi Expo last year, the local farmers were charging the equivalent of $20-60 for their spaces!) Since none of us minded walking, we found a spot on the road about half a mile away, but you really have to be careful about parking because Hawaii is as rabid as Los Angeles when it comes to illegal parking. Even as we walked to Pipeline, a tow truck was hard at work removing offenders from the road.

The great thing about Pipeline is that the giant waves break right there on the shore. You are incredibly close to the action and the pros make it all look deceptively easy. What many tourists don't see is the razor-sharp coral reef mere inches below the surface, ready to turn an inexperienced surfer's face into pizza.

I'm not a surf reporter, so I'll leave comments on the competition to the pros, but we were sad to see Jamie O'Brien eliminated during the semi-finals. So much of surfing is out of your control. No matter how good you are, if the waves don't cooperate… I guess that's why I love it so much. Surfing teaches you to respect nature, teaches you patience. It teaches you that you just have to accept some things. Like waves that are not perfect, like luck not always being on your side, like the traffic jam getting out of North Shore after the competition. You just have to let go and enjoy the moment anyway.
If only I'd started surfing at his age! The local kids come out during the competitions to show off their prowess. Who knows, someone important could be watching!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New Wheel, New Friends

I'm amazed my borrowed bike is faring so well overnight on its bike rack. Sure, it's locked up to the rack along with Big Dog's borrowed bike, but I keep seeing bikes with missing wheels, missing seats and missing frames all over town and I know that many a rider has been unpleasantly surprised. So I was only mildly surprised when I found that my rear tire had a flat yesterday. Accident? Vandalism? Who knows.

"It was fine when I was riding it last night," I explained to "Frank" at Island Triathlon & Bike.

There is a motorbike and bicycle rental shop a few doors down from us but they wouldn't loan me a bike pump! Obviously they are not real bike people. REAL bike people always help out other cyclists. Some will charge a small fee for using their pump but most will just help, because that seems to be an unwritten law among cyclists. I found Island Triathlon & Bike in the phone book and THEY were fine with my using their pump. In fact, they'd even check my tire for me to see if it was a puncture or not.

Walking my injured cycle along the Ala Wai canal, I was amazed to see schools of big eyed fish. The locals are still talking about the sewage spill that happened, I think, in the spring. Raw sewage spilled out into the canal and out into the ocean, infecting a man with flesh eating bacteria that eventually killed him! Pretty disgusting, huh. They've been doing major work along the canal to put in a new sewage line ever since.

Island Triathlon & Bike is a cute shop on Kapahulu, opposite the Ala Wai Golf Course -- friendly and funky, it's the sort of place that might be a local cyclist hang out.

Turned out I indeed had a gash in my rear tire, but while the mechanic outfitted my bike with a new back tire and tube, I got to chat with Frank and his exotically gorgeous partner, Jeri. They had both lived in Japan in the early 70's and it turned out that Frank had even gone to the same university as me -- about a decade earlier. (You know, that's another funny thing about cyclists. Most are ageless. A cycling buddy in Tokyo is now approaching his mid-60's but he sure doesn't look it!)

Frank pointed out that the bike I was riding wasn't really the right size.
"I know, but it's hard to travel with your own bike. There are travel cases for them, but once you get somewhere, what do you do with the case? Plus you get hit with a surcharge by the airlines," I complained. That's when Jeri told me about Bike Friday. Unlike other fold-up bikes, these are light and fast! Might be the solution to my travel needs…and it looks like a fun bike. Lots of cool bike travel blogs on their website, too! So, what started out as a bummer (punctured tire) turned into a nice encounter!

Meanwhile, we wait for the swell approaching North Shore and the final day of the Pipeline Masters. Friends are telling us it might be tomorrow…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

What the body can learn

The water has been quite decent the last few days, so we've been out surfing every day. Waikiki is a great place to learn because it's filled with Really Bad Surfers. Actually, it's kind of dangerous because of that -- people who haven't learned control, or even enough to stop their boards if they are about to collide, are all over the place -- but at least you can be as bad as you want to be and not feel silly.

I'd first tried surfing about 6 or 7 years ago. One day, we were up at North Shore, so I took my borrowed board out into the waves. As I got out, the waves were getting HUGE, but isn't ignorance grand? I didn't even know enough to feel scared and (though I got bashed in the nose a time or two by my board) I was out there with the Big Boys. Of course, I couldn't catch any waves forever, and when I finally did, it was all I could do to get on my knees and ride the board, seiza-style, to shore.

Now we are here longer and I've been able to actually practice different things. I still suck big time, but it feels great to learn a new physical thing. I think as we get older, we continue learning new things but most of the physical things, we've already learned long ago -- walking, riding a bike, swimming, skiing, hang-gliding, wind surfing, rollerblading... So it's been several decades since my body had to learn anything really new. (Variations of already learned motions, such as dancing, don't really fall into this category.) It's really interesting to learn a new "feel." Being out in the water, surfing, is nothing like how it looks from the land. And there are all new things to learn about balance, position, etc. It's also a completely different feel from boogie boarding, which is just as fun but a bit easier, I think.

Friends from high school can't believe I've turned into such a jockette. I was such a physical disaster in my teens, no one wanted to pick me for their teams. Everyone thought I was just the most uncoordinated person ever, but after high school, I realized I had great coordination. I just didn't do well at team stuff. I hated being in a team, working as part of a team. I think something inside me wanted to sabotage the group effort. Once I got to do things on my own, though, everything became fun again. Guess it's the Lone Wolf Syndrome.

And finally, a photo from my Japanese version blog. We were out at Diamond Head when we first got here and there were these 2 pretty good female surfers. They really blew me away when they walked by me, though, because they turned out to be mother and daughter. From afar, they both looked like young women. Wow.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Teen Dogs

The Big Surfing Competition has been going on and now there's only one day left. We're in the last of the three competitions, the Pipeline Masters, and have just one more day left of it. This series started on the 8th and will go on til the 20th, but all that means is that the organizers get to pick 3 days within that period. The waves have to be big enough, good enough, coming from the right direction, etc. so they can't make the call to do or not do the competition til 7am each day. There's a number to call to see if the show is happening but after calling several days in a row and being told that it's been postponed, you start to forget about the whole thing, and then, bam, it's back on. Thus, I already missed out on Days 1 and 2 of the Pipeline Masters and am waiting for the final Day 3.

I am wishing we were staying in the North Shore area instead of Waikiki. Because we'd decided not to have a car this time, we were limited to the Honolulu area. Distances are shorter and everything is within easy bike access. But the North Shore is a ways away (too far for Big Dog to bike) and the buses take a bit longer, so by the time you find out if the competition is on, then get your act together enough to ride the bus out there…you might have missed most of the action by then. Still, since Jamie O'Brien who had a fantastic first day at the Pipeline Masters (beating out Kelly Slater!) is Shaula's boyfriend, I'd really like to get out there on Day 3.

Shaula is our friend N's daughter and we saw her for a while the other day after she'd gotten back from a modeling stint in Tokyo. I couldn't help but be impressed with her sunny personality. In so many ways, she's much more mature than I was at her age, and yet she has a charming, girlish innocence, a carefree-ness that I never had at 20. I had the world on my shoulders. Well, not the world. Just a family to support, a mortgage to pay and school to get through. I was like a 45 year old in a 20 year old body! No wonder I feel like I'm getting younger all the time -- I just have a backwards life.

And in this backwards life, Big Dog and I are living like teenagers whose parents have gone away for the weekend. Or dogs left in the house with no human supervision. We're normally such anal retentive people, it's funny to see the place strewn with discarded clothes, half-read magazines, unorganized junk scattered everywhere… And like a teenager, I'm learning how to surf.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


"I hate bicycling with you," said Big Dog to me last night. We had just come back from Diamond Head. It was a wonderful short ride in the late afternoon -- gorgeous pink and blue sky, breathtaking views from the edge of Diamond Head. The ride up was not as steep as I thought it would be and the ride down was….wheeeeeee! I thought it was a wonderful ride, but I guess BD didn't. "You always go too fast. The whole point isn't to get from Point A to Point B as fast as you can. And then you ride in the street. It's dangerous. Why can't you ride on the sidewalk?"

Our local friend N. loaned us a couple of old bikes for us to tool around town in when we first got here and it's been great to have wheels here in Honolulu. The entire island is not that big and in Honolulu, you can easily go anywhere by bike. Big Dog is using the mountain bike and I have N's old road bike that he used to ride in Tokyo. It's a cute red junker, with only one gear shift and a slightly loose chain, so I basically use it as a one speed, though if I had tools, I'd fix the thing for N.

The thing with road bikes is that you HAVE to go a certain speed. It's like having a Ferrari and driving 30mph all the time. The Ferrari's not going to like it and neither are you. What is a nice, easy, sauntering pace for me, is "too fast" for the Dog, I guess. Sometimes when I ride behind him, I have to slow down so much I can hardly keep balanced! That might be a fun game, but is definitely not my riding style.

"Well, I don't like riding with you, either," I finally admit out loud. The bicycle has been my main mode of transportation since I was…well, almost as long as I can remember. In Tokyo, it's not only kept me out of rush hour commuter trains and all the germs they carry, but has kept me out of traffic snarls, getting me from destination to destination in the least amount of time. Late for an appointment? Pedal harder. Perfect vehicle for a control freak like me. Plus, there's just something anarchic about cycles.

Since getting our bikes here, every time Big Dog and I went anywhere by bike, I had to ride slower, do more stunts (like riding on sidewalks, going the opposite direction from traffic, etc.) than I was comfortable doing and I'd think, "Oh, give me a real cyclist to bike with!" But I had kept these thoughts to myself. Until now.

"You ride on the sidewalk. Don't you see the "no bicycles allowed" signs everywhere? Sidewalks are for pedestrians. It's like riding an obstacle course, slowly, when you ride on the sidewalk. We're supposed to be on the road. And how can you enjoy cycling when it's stop and go, stop and go all the time?"

"You're not a driver so you don't know how much you can't trust them. If I collide into a pedestrian, it'll only be a few bruises, but on the road, you could be road kill."

I don't want to be road kill, but the thought of running into a pedestrian in this liability-crazed country freaks me out just as much. "The cars have to learn to share the road. But they DO need more bike lanes here." (In fact, though, they have more bike lanes here than Tokyo, which I think has zero -- at least not as part of the road, though I've been on bike lanes created from pedestrian walkways. And they have these cute bicycle shaped objects that are simple bike racks.)

Bicycling in Hawaii shouldn't be irritating. The air is sweet, the distances easy and roads are in good condition. So, like the sensible Virgos we are, Big Dog and I decided we'd stop riding together. Now, I can really cut loose. Heh heh.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Mele Kalikimaka Season

That's Merry Christmas, to you. It's crazy enough that the Christmas season starts so early but it's even crazier here in Aloha Land. The town is starting to get covered in green and red and silver and gold. Surfing Santas, Aloha shirt clad Santas and hang-fiving Santas are everywhere. Today I saw a giant, dinosaur-sized Beach Santa (unbuttoned red and white aloha shirt) and muu-muu wearing Mrs. Santa.

But like everywhere, Christmas means shopping, I guess. (Last night, there was an ad for a pet store on tv. "If you're wondering what to get your favorite pooch for Christmas…" or something to that effect. "If you're buying Christmas presents for your cat or dog, maybe you should have a child, instead," I muttered.)

Big Dog and I were in the Ala Moana shopping center yesterday, fighting the holiday shoppers. Well, not really fighting. All we were looking for were beer bargains. In California, we get the best deals at drugstore chains like Rite-Aid and Longs, so we went to investigate the Longs Drugs in the shopping center. There were no bargains there, but shoppers galore, and as we were leaving, so were a gaggle of elderly Japanese women. These over-60 Japanese women are something else, but I'll save that for another entry. These women who were leaving the store with us, were completely caught up in their own conversation and did not stop to let a middle-aged European tourist enter. It was a toss-up, as far as I was concerned, if the ladies were closer to the door than the European man, but obviously the European thought HE should have had right of way. As the Japanese obasans barged past him, he took great offense and said in heavily accented English "Vot do you tink zis is? A jungle? You can't even valk properly…" as he pushed through.

"Hey, man, this is Hawaii. Chill!" I wanted to say, but being Jungle Monkey myself, I was already out of the store.