Stuff that Could Never Happen in Hawaii
This just in: A Florida woman traded her 14-year-old daughter to a stranger for a car. Of course, that sort of thing could never happen here: a 14-year-old daughter would be lucky to fetch a riding lawn mower-- or, at best, a stolen ATV. Plus, the legal age of consent here is 8 years old. Just kidding! It's actually 14. It used to be 12 until a couple years ago. When the legislature tried to outlaw pedophilia, the governor vetoed the bill on the grounds that it would be "offensive to his constituency." Plus, his riding lawnmower still had 18 months left on the warranty.
Wait, it gets better. In New Mexico, a 12-year-old boy was apprehended for bringing a 36-inch burrito to school for show-and-tell. Ever-vigilant school officials mistook the burrito for a WMD. Amazingly, Michael Moore didn't even make a movie about it. Couldn't happen here, though; just try finding a 36-inch tortilla. On the other hand, a 36-inch sushi roll really would qualify as a WMD.
In Garfield County, Oklahoma, (where obviously cartoon cats are "huge"), a television, stereo, and VCR were stolen from a house in the town of Kremlin. Two days later the thief broke into the house again, returned the electronics gear, restored the wiring, and repaired the damage from the break-in. I'm not making this up! "It was spooky," proclaimed the sheriff of Kremlin, Garfield, Oklahoma. Obviously, this could never happen in Hawaii: It would take the thief 6 months just to get the permits.
Now, this actually did happen in Hawaii: The legislature defeated a proposal to ban killing dogs in back yards on the grounds that it would violate the religious beliefs of people who kill dogs in their back yards as sacrifices to the gods. And because dogs were originally brought here as food. Which is a good thing to remember when you're stopping for "ribs" at the roadside "Ono BBQ" stand.
No Truth to the Rumor (Well, Maybe a Little) Department
"Runaway bride discovered in bowl of chili." She was actually found warming her cold feet in a 36-inch burrito...
"Asteroid on Course to Collide with Earth on February 19, 2019" Oprah Winfrey, however, is on course to collide with Willie the Whale.
"Hilo is Primarily Characterized by Prolific Rain." As a point of fact, Hilo is also characterized by profuse rain, copious rain, massive rain, interminable rain, after-rain rain, and of course flooding. For variety, there's also annoying drizzling rain, needle-like blowing rain, and yummy sulfuric-acid-laced rain. In between, however, there's wonderful hot muggy sauna-like humidity. But you get used to that. Really. We have that in Kona sometimes in summer and after awhile you really get to like it. Well, who doesn't like free sauna?
"Although lava flows from Hualalai Volcano do not show anomalous eruptive behavior, they pose a substantial hazard for coastal communities of Kona." Oh, those zany volcanologists. What they meant to say, obviously, is that "abundant xenoliths in the Ka'upulehu flow were transported in numerous episodes of deposition and remobilization, during which they eroded the channel systems in which they traveled." Well, OK, they did say that, too. When my mainland friends ask what I plan to do when Mauna Kea erupts, I always tell them: "I'm planning on it erupting towards Hilo."
Ask Dr. Big Island
From today's mail (or possibly femail) bag...
Q: So many of the people who are now moving here in vast hordes like migrating African Wildebeest seem utterly disdainful to our laws and regulations. Is the law in Hawaii like a sushi menu, where customers can pick and choose which ones to obey and disregard the rest?
A: Obviously, yes. Realtors in particular are fond of telling people "anything is legal in Hawaii... if you get away with it." A common saying, not long ago, was that our police don't enforce most of the laws because most of the lawbreakers are relatives. "Oops, busted cousin Omar!" How do you explain THAT to Auntie Consuela? "Er, well his dog wasn't on a leash and pooped on a neighbor's lawn (while he was shooting up a methamphetamine/heroine cocktail), just before he started a fire without a burn permit, (well OK he set fire to a car that he had just stolen, with the owner still in it), and then yelled obscenities at passing traffic while playing his boombox real loud (OK, he happened to be holding up a Japanese store and also stabbing a tourist at the same time). Lately, however, this is less true, seeing as how many of those same police were arrested themselves. "G' head," as they say on the mainland, pick and choose the laws you want to obey and disobey the rest-- and then do not pass "Go" on your way to court. Most of all, don't snivel, whine, and complain when you get caught. Most popular excuse: "back in North Carolina that was what we done did n all..." Of course, whatever it was, it was probably illegal in North Carolina also, which is why they moved to Hawaii and live in a shipping container. Next stop: Arizona, "The Prison"... or do we rent our prisons in Colorado now? Hard to keep up with change on an island, especially when it's the most remote landmass in the planet's largest ocean...
Q: Why does the Humane Society go around dumping mongooses in residential subdivisions?
A: What else are you going to do with them? Never mind that the state has been trying to eradicate the dislocated pests for decades, or the fact that the average mongoose kills 2,400 birds, including many endangered species that exist nowhere else on Earth, every year (quick, get out your calculator and multiply that by 75,000 mongooses, which are themselves multiplying at the rate of 600% per year), or much less the fact that they wreak havoc on chicken pens and duck houses. What business it is of the Humane Society whether species wild or domestic, endangered or bred, are brutally decimated in vast numbers... er, wait something may be awry here.
Q: If it's the most remote landmass on the planet in the middle of the largest ocean, why is it called the "Big Island"? Shouldn't it be called the "Really Remote Island?"
A: Actually, "Big Island" is a mistranslation. The actual name, translated
from the original Marquesan "Kikinuinui", means, literally "Big Penis".
Naturally, this offended the British, widely known for having penises the
approximate size of a pencil eraser; hence, the anglicism "Ohawayee" (meaning
literally "Ten-penny Nail") on English maps of the period.
Predictably, people on the mainland are once again polarized. Apparently, they constantly need to be fed reasons to disparage each other for their divergent beliefs, nothwithstanding the fact that what makes the nation unique, or as Tony the Tiger would say "g-r-r-r-eat!", is its divergent beliefs. OK, Tony the Tiger says that about sugar-coated amarinth flakes, or possibly Prozac or Androsterone, or some other All-American taste treat, but you get the idea.
Anyway, half the mainland is hopping up and down mad demanding that the finger be put back in the chili until well-done, half is shouting and screaming that the finger should be shipped off to Papua New Guineau, where it's traditional to feed uninvited guests fingers and toes (usually their own), and the other half is demanding the recipe. Hey, it's the mainland. "It's g-r-r-r-r-eat!" Not to mention, "less filling!"
Live Hawaii? Put your bib on Bra!
The "original recipe" Hawaiians were veritable finger and toe gourmets. According to state archaeologists, they lived in lava tubes and ate their children. Must have put a damper on the ol' "family night" dinner, if you were a kid. "Why's Dad so happy tonight?" Kamehameha officially banned children-eating during the period when he was kissing up to the British to obtain cannons for conquering the other islands. Of course, if he had lived long enough to see Prince Charles and Camilla, he might have changed his mind.
Not to be outdone by Wendy's, McDonald's is getting into the fast-finger foray, licensing celebrities to donate miscellaneous body parts for its recently announced "McSurprise" promotion. "Find Michael Jackson's eyelash in your order and win a licensed Disney action figure of Peter Pan!" Oscar Meyer has announced that it will be replacing its beloved "Weinermobile" with a 30-foot "Fingermobile" complete with waving beauty queen. (Missing a digit on one hand, of course.)
As if that weren't enough, a smudge on the nail of the infamous pre-cooked digit reveals upon examination a near-photographic image of John the Baptist dunkin' doughnuts in the Sea of Galilee. At last bid, you can buy it for your collection on E-bay for $72,000 (reserve not yet met).
So, you're undoubtedly asking yourself this very moment, where in West Hawaii can I sample Original Recipe Haute Hawaiian-style Cuisine avec Pre-cooked Finger?
Um, let's put it his way... Best to pass on the "finger sandwiches", or for that matter any crunchy-looking hors d'oeurves on the "pupu platter". And speaking of fingers, if your contemplating ordering something from a quaint roadside kiosk or "sushi taco" stand, if you spy the kid behind the counter picking his nose (or any other bodily orifice), you might want to shuffle slowly back to your car, holding your copy of "1,000 Things to Do on the Big Island" over your derriere as you go.
Hey, lighten up, it wasn't a middle finger!
(Admit it, you thought I was going to mention "feeding tube" somewhere
in this post. Now, THAT would be tasteless...)
CNN reported that France has now moved up past the USA as the most crime-ridden country in the world. China has even issued a travel advisory against visiting. Imagine that. Who would want to pickpocket a guy in brown pajamas wearing a beanie with a red star on it? I'm not sure those pajamas even have pockets. What would the thief get for his efforts: a copy of "The Travel Tips of Chairman Mao?" Oops, politics again.
Back to sex. When Captain Cook first arrived on the Rock, the girls didn't wear clothes. It was easy, that way, to decide what to wear every morning. Nothing. Well, there was always a flower to pick out for behind the ear. "Let's see, should I wear the white plumeria or the pink hibiscus? Honey, which one makes me look thinner?"
The ship's crew immediately began trading with the locals. The most popular trade, according to the ship's log, was "the world's oldest trade." The price for a tumble in the taro patch with a fun-loving wahine was a two-penny nail. The locals liked nails because they made cool fishhooks. So, when a wahine asked her hubbie, "honey, do you like my nails?" she meant she'd spent the afternoon schmoozing up to the barbarians. Actually, the locals thought the barbarians were gods-- at least until they found out English guys have such little weenies. Meanwhile, as reported in the ship's log, the sailors were busy prying loose every nail on the boat. This led to a somewhat propitious (for the sailors) delay in port.
As a parting gift, the sailors gave the Hawaiians a big case. Mainly
a big case of syphilis. The first of many generous European contributions
to the isles.
Maybe you've seen the airline commercial that ends with the punch line: "you are now free to move about the country...", always guaranteed to rouse the seasoned road warrior. Obviously, the country referred to is Burkina Faso.
You know the drill: by now "fear factoring" has become so omnipresent in daily life no one would be the least bit surprised if microchip implants suddenly became mandatory... not just for dogs entering the state of Hawaii, but for all people wanting at some time or another to "move about the country." actually, this may not be a totally outrageous idea: at least we'd all know who has all their shots. The chips could even be uplinked to global positioning satellites, so everyone would always know where they were (well, OK, we don't have GPS in Hawaii, but let's say you decide to go for a hike in some more technologically advanced location, such as Kathmandu...) Apparently everyone under the age of 50 already has more body piercings than Maui has traffic jams (the official figure, at last count, being something like the logarithm of E to the Nth power over infinity times the number of times Michael Jackson has denied having had his facial features altered plus Cher's real age in prime numbers), so what's one more piece of manufactured junk inserted in the ol' (figuratively speaking) flesh? Besides enhancing "national security", chip implants could be a real boon for the air travel industry: instead of the customary strip-search-pat-down-poke-and-prod routine, travelers would a zoom through airport security microchip-sensors as their machine-readable databases announce "I am not a terrorist!" (or in the case of certain former U.S. presidents and ex-Enron executives "I am not a crook!")
On the U.S. mainland, we have read, the level of fear people are supposed to experience is mandated in the form of multi-colored alerts, Level Yellow meaning "lots of fear, but go about your life as normal," and Level Orange meaning "humongous fear, but go about your life as normal." Level Red, which has not yet been implemented, apparently denotes "you're already dead, but if you were alive you'd be a veritable swimming-Pool-Filled-with- Jello o' fear." Some pundits have suggested replacing this system with one all- encompassing fear alert: Level Paisley, meaning "be afraid, very afraid... or not too afraid, but go about your life as normal, unless you're already dead, in which case your vote doesn't count anyway except in Florida."
Of course, Hawaii as a rule doesn't participate in the national color-alert system, so as not to dissuade tourism, but also because the stores would rapidly run out of crayons, forcing the public school teachers to go on strike and prompting Matson to raise shipping rates for Crayola and Magic Marker branded products. Naturally, many island residents have been feeling left out.
This just in: Hawaii will soon adopt its own color-alert system reflecting our unique color schemes and traumatizing fear factors. The gist is as follows:
Level Aquamarine - "Surf's Up" (meaning: your tilelayer won't be showing up for work for the next few days.)
Level Alizarin Crimson - "Motorist Making Left Hand Turn on Mamalahoa" (meaning: you won't be moving for the next couple of hours, so might as well break out that copy of "The Unabridged Works of Umberto Eco" you've been meaning to pretend to read. ("The Unannotated Lawrence Norfolk" may be substituted in a pinch.)
Level Manganese Violet - "Brisk Breeze Spotted Off Pago Pago" (meaning: KTA is about to run out of toilet paper.) Footnote: In all fairness, people on Kauai who had their commodes blown away by Hurricane Iniki have a reason to stock up everytime the flag on the fourteenth hole at the Kiahuna Golf Club starts flapping.
Level Phthalo Green - "Self-important Yuppies Arriving Bearing Long 'How to Improve Hawaii' Lists" (meaning: there goes the neighorhood.)
Once you have become accustomed to our system, you will truly be "free to move about the island" and, what's more, "go about your daily life as normal,"
though you still won't be going anywhere on Mamalahoa for the next
couple of hours. Unless some kind soul lets me turn in front of him.
My uninvited guest had coiled himself into an inner tube and settled down for the night on my face. In one adrenaline-charged motion, I plucked the reptilian face muff from my violated mug and, with the same motion, flung it wildly into the darkness. I heard something go plop in the distant sand and skitter away into the rocks. From a lizard's perspective, it was a monument to the politically incorrect treatment of Gila Monsters. However, my kisser has its own certain inalienable rights, and its sanctity had been trodden upon.
Incoherent expletives escaped my throat. Becoming lucid, I turned to Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor, who was sleeping obliviously beside me, and stated calmly: "A lizard was sitting on my face."
"Um," she replied, skeptically. I could tell by the inflection of her snoring that she had not one iota of interest or, for that matter, credibility, in this allegation. Shrugging or, possibly, shuddering, I pulled the sleeping bag up over my head and welcomed unconsciousness. Since then, I have taken measures to ensure that this unsavory incident is never repeated. For one thing, I have sworn off bargain-basement beer.
Here on the Rock, of course, lizards are not only welcome in the boudoir, it is considered bad luck to shoo them away. The most welcome reptile in the Tropic of Capricorn is the upside down gecko, whose toe pads permit it to cling to smooth surfaces and, therefore, is most often seen hanging upside down from the ceiling. Natives the world over cherish their bedroom geckos who perform the admirable function of alleviating the habitats of insects. Despite this benefit, not everyone is comforted by the knowledge that in the dark a lizard or two is doing upside down push-ups on the ceiling directly over his or her head.
As for me, whenever I hear the "click-click" of my house gecko welcoming me to the coffee pot in the morning, I always say "good morning." He likes that.Well, it's an active volcano, in fact, the planet's most remote landmass protruding smokily from the world's most vast ocean. You can call it the Big Island, but it's in the end, it's miniscule after all. We all have to get along.
After a seeming eternity, the hotel staff sent a canvas-covered truck around to rush me to the local jungle hospital.
The "hospital" on Rangiroa is a small clinic with six rooms and a one-person staff who is employed simultaneously as chief administrator, admissions clerk, head physician, intern, nurse, pharmacist, and groundskeeper. This versatile staff person, who lived in a modest limestone house behind the clinic, was inexplicably raking the beach as we arrived. Smiling pleasantly, he put down the rake and unlocked the hospital.
Not a sign of life stirred within. He ushered me into a tiny chamber the size of a walk-in closet, that served as reception room, examination room, and admissions office all rolled into one. The examination table was little more than a glorified ironing board on which even a midget would have difficulty reclining. The doctor-nurse-administrator was a young Frenchman with light blue eyes.
"Who eez seek?" he asked. "You or hair?" He nodded hopefully in the direction of Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor, undoubtedly contemplating a complete physical examination.
"I am," I groaned, barely able to remain conscious. He looked disappointed.
"Wot eez eet?" he asked, shrugging.
"I think I have food poisoning," I began. "I have--" I stopped when I saw that he had no idea whatsover what I was saying. "Er, do you speak English?" I asked him.
"I am no good at ze Eenglish," he said, "but I try. Wot eez ze problem?"
"Fever," I gasped.
"Fee-bear?" he repeated blankly.
I pantomimed having a fever, mimicking Tomoko by grabbing my brow dramatically.
"Oh, yes?" he replied finally, pretending to understand. He scribbled something down in a book that looked like an accounting ledger.
"Chills," I continued.
"Cheels," he repeated, shrugging.
I repeated Tomoko's rendition of having chills. He nodded and scribbled.
"Stomach ache." I went on.
He knew stomach ache and began writing vigorously in the ledger. "Weezout zee vomee-teen?"
Scribble, scribble. The interview continued in this vein for some time, until the young French doctor had finally run down the complete list of symptoms Tomoko had pantomimed earlier.
"You weel now--how you say--not to sit up, but to--?" He gestured for me to lie down.
"Lie down," I said, clambering with difficulty onto the glorified ironing board.
"How you say again? To--?"
"Lie or lay?"
"Either," I moaned, nearly losing consciousness. Here I was suffering an agonizing death before his very eyes and he had time for an English lesson. He poked and probed for a while, then gestured for me to get up.
"Eet eez ovaire," he announced.
I hoped he didn't mean my life.
He left the reception-examining room-office for a moment and returned with a little gauze sack. "Here zair eez ass-pee-reen," he said. "Tek tree each day, one weez each meal."
Besides the little hobo's sack of aspirin, he also handed me a little vial of what I later deduced was the French equivalent of Pepto Bismol and a generic Alka Seltzer tablet in an unlabeled paper sleeve.
That was it: eet was ovaire. He ushered us out the door, smiling congenially.
The canvas-covered truck was waiting to whisk me back over the coral road to the hotel, where I staggered back to our grass hut, downed the French Alka Seltzer, and returned to the respite of my coma.
Two days later, the typhoon abated, and simultaneously, I began to recover from the food poisoning. As we emerged from our fare onto the beach, we discovered that three fourths of the clientele had fled to Tahiti before the storm. Everyone who remained--with the exception of Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor, Tomoko, and the Tahitian cashier--also became the "very first" to come down with a "headache" and other symptoms because of "ze wezz-air."
Dede the Bartender, however, had not fled. Looking approximately like Moses in a lava-lava, he gaily sang French pop tunes behind the bar and continued to flirt with the ladies. It was he who taught me the French word for screwdriver, tourne-a-vice. He assured me that, like the English word, the same term is used for both the hand tool and the cocktail. Yet, when I order a tourn-a-vice anywhere in French Polynesia, the Tahitian barmaid, whoever she may be, looks at me in shock and takes two steps backward. Could it be that tourne-a-vice has another meaning in the native vernacular--something Dede artfully concealed from me? Something like "Gut-Wrenching Dysentery of the Gods?"
For six days, furious gale winds lashed the fragile atoll, and Rangiroa submitted. The coconut palms bent and flapped their tufts meekly. The sea hissed and roared, heaving itself against the barrier reef with a deafening tumult. The thatched huts along the beach moaned plaintively in the wind, which screamed through every crack and crevace.
We huddled in our fare in our accursed French-designed platform beds, with the flimsy bedspread pulled up to our chins. Every visitor to the Tahitian isles eventually learns that French hotel furniture designers have an aversion for anything remotely resembling physical comfort. The miniature platform bed in our thatched bungalow was a triumph of the French persecution of tourists. To maximize the sleeper's distress, the bed consisted of a three-inch slab of foam rubber laid on a plywood sheet mounted on four blocks. Actually, our double bed--which, inevitably, I came to call "the rack"--was two such half-beds shoved together.
We attempted to bolster our spirits by repeatedly rereading the brochure we had received from the Tahiti Tourism Board prior to our departure. The brochure assured the traveler that "tropical rainstorms, though sudden, rarely last more than a few minutes. A storm may appear at any time without notice, apparently from nowhere, but, minutes later, the sun will be shining from a pure blue sky." Right, I surmised--and, likewise, the French make comfortable furniture, sharks are color-blind, and the moon will soon grow hair.
Every night around 7:30, bent like trampled grass, we religiously sloughed down the beach through the driving rain to the open-air dining room to be watered and fed by our bemused Rangiroan hosts. Owing to the storm, the dining room had begun to take on the aspect of an emergency air-raid shelter, and the American Meal Plan had been replaced by something akin to Red Cross provisions. Instead of bread, we were fed impenetrable, cracker-like slabs of unimaginable age and origin, accompanied by fish or chicken broth served on saucers. The main course was something that had been grilled. Much more than that cannot be stated with authority. Whatever it was, it was white, had been marinated in something tart, and had a texture not dissimilar to upholstery material. (I had not yet observed any marine life resembling living room furniture, so I was reasonably certain it was not a grilled sofa foot-stool fish.)
Of course, while a gale is lashing a tiny tropical island, it is inconvenient for the (very, very) small aircraft used for inter-island flights to fly in fresh provisions. Furthermore, in such conditions the Rangiroans generally do not paddle out in their hand-carved canoes to check their nets strewn in the lagoon. In retrospect, all this may seem quite obvious, but it was easy to overlook these rather significant details at the time. Whatever type of aquatic organism it was that was being force-fed to us strandees was not exactly market-fresh. The sudden transformation of haute cuisine to emergency Doomsday provisions should have been an obvious indication of our plight. However, after numerous excursions in the tropics and hundreds of flight segments all over the world, I had begun to become coccooned in that false sense of well-being that, sooner or later, enshrouds every road-weary warrior.
Unfortunately, this immunity was as not nearly as formidable as the cracker-like substance we were fed at dinner. After three days on the typhoon diet plan, I came down with a violent gut- wrenching affliction that I an only describe as Ru's Revenge.
In Tahitian religion, the universe was created by the god Taaroa, who, having no mother or father, was apparently his own parent. Bored of floating around in a vacuum, he created the Tahitian islands, starting with Raiatea, also known as Hava'iti, after which Hawaii was named by wayfaring Marquesas Islanders-- but that's another story. After forming the land, Taaroa covered the land with plants and animals and filled the ocean with fish. Unfortunately, the carcass of a giant octopus was holding down the sky, causing a permanent state of nighttime. The demi-gods Maui and his brother Ru undertook to liberate the world from darkness. When Ru attempted to snatch-and-jerk the dead octopus, he was rewarded for his efforts with a giant-size hernia. His intestines popped out and floated over to Bora Bora, where they can be seen today in the form of clouds hugging the peak of the silent volcano, Mount Otemanu.
A person afflicted with Ru's Revenge wishes his intestines would pop out and float over to Bora Bora, taking his anus with him. Ru made his presence known with body-doubling abdominal pain, mercurial fever, and violent chills, bringing new sights and sounds to the dank, windswept bungalow. A typhoon cacaphony played--rain pelting the thatched grass roof; my racked body, simultaneously moaning and thrashing on the rigid platform bed; thunderous waves pounding against the reef; and indescribable intestinal orchestrations.
My fever-broiled brain was haunted by the travel brochure that I had kept for weeks with gleeful anticipation in my passport wallet. It said: "Paradise Has Never Been So Close." Funny thing about paradise: like love and hate, paradise and Hades are sometimes separated by a fragile tissue. In this case, the tissue was apparently imported from the same French company that manufactured the wispy toilet paper stored in the bathroom of our fare. The tissue reminded me of that chocolate candy that "melts in your mouth," except that French toilet paper "melts in your hand." Sparing the reader the morbid details, it was no match for the Gut-Wrenching Dysentery of the Gods.
All night long, the hut shook and whined incessantly in the gale. The next morning, there was a break in the storm. Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor helped me to stagger down the beach to the manager's hut to plead for an aspirin. Having known in advance that a typhoon was approaching the island, the management had already fled the atoll for Tahiti. There was no one left but the receptionist--a sprite, giggly, Chinese girl named Tomoko--and the cashier--a half-Tahitian, half-French girl whose face could have come straight off a Modigliani lithograph. Both were born-and-bred Rangiroans who were not the least bit bothered by the foul weather.
"My husband is feeling a little sick today," Our Lady said, gesturing toward the bench, which had been hand-carved from the trunk of a palm tree and where I now lay doubled up clutching my abdomen. "We were wondering if you might have any aspirin--"
"We air not 'lowed to geeve zee ass-pee-reen," Tomoko explained, shrugging. Like the French, the Polynesians are fond of punctuating their pigeon English with a snatch of charades. She drew a circle in the air, representing an aspirin tablet, even drawing the little crease that goes down the middle.
For our edification, Tomoko added: "Eez by ze constee-too-shong," She acted out the signing of the French-Polynesian constitution as she spoke. When she had finished miming, she went on to explain that someone somewhere in French Polynesia had once been given an aspirin and had had an allergic reaction, resulting in a big lawsuit against the hotel, Air Tahiti, and the French Polynesian government.
Somehow, I had difficulty believing that a prohibition against aspirin had been written by the founding fathers into the Tahitian constitution. Imagine all the island kings getting together with the French colonists to forge a common law. Dressed in loin cloths and wearing enormous flowered crowns looking like New Year's Parade floats, the kings sit around in a circle running down the list of prohibitions. "Nuclear testing--O.K.," says one. "Gutting the rain forest to build condominiums--O.K." says another. "But, absolutely, no giving out aspirin."
The other girl, the one with the Modigliani face, scrutinized me worriedly and asked: "You are malade in ze tete, yes?"
"Yes," I gasped. "And I have a fever."
Tomoko's eyes lit up in horror. "Fee-bear! And--?" She grabbed her shoulders and shivered violently.
"Yes. Chills also," I groaned.
"Vomee-teen?" She pantomimed an imaginary stream flowing from her mouth.
I nodded weakly.
I had never before--or have ever since--seen anyone pantomime diarreah. It is not often done in this country, especially at business luncheons. However, respectful as I am of differing cultures and customs, I merely nodded my head. "Do people often get this illness here?" I asked from the bench where I lay writhing.
"You are ze very first one," Modigliani Face replied. "I zeenk you have headache today," she concluded, "because of ze wezz-air."
Of course: not food poisoning, but the weather. Why hadn't I thought of that?
Somehow managing to stand, I staggered back to our fare and, throwing myself on the torture rack of a bed, mercifully fell into a coma. Over the next few days, when I focused my eyes during brief glimmers of consciousness, I spied Our Lady sitting up in bed with her visor pulled down low over her eyes. She was morosely devouring every last word of written English on the island. By the third day, she was reduced to reading the ads for briefcase-organizing systems in in-flight magazines.
How much longer, I thought, before we both snap? Before the thatched roof blows away? Before Modigliani Face calls the island doctor?
Next: A trip to the jungle doctor
A canvas-back truck awaits arriving foreigners for transport to Kia Ora Village. The island itself is actually a long ribbon of coral barely higher than sea level. On one side is the lagoon, so vast the opposite shore is invisible, and on the other, the less docile Pacific. The land mass is no more than 100 feet wide and, in most places, the sea can be viewed on both sides simultaneously. Rangiroa's only road, paved with coral, stretches down the middle of the ribbon.
Still stunned by the endurance test of getting to the atoll, I vaguely remember being whisked over that coral road in the back of the canvas-back truck, which was chased the entire journey by a little black-and-white spotted dog. A white-whiskered old man sat on the bench on the opposite side of the truck bed, humming quietly. Every once in a while, he would yank a kidney-shaped leather flask from his belt and squirt its contents into his upraised mouth. With each squirt, he would yell out to the dog scrambling as fast as its tiny legs could carry it behind the truck. "Vite, vite!"
Later, I found Gray Whisker working behind the island's only bar. Everyone called him Dede, the way the French spell and pronounce Daddy. The little spotted dog either belonged to him, or to no one in general and Dede merely took care of it sometimes. He addressed it as Spot, which would not have been surprising if the principal languages of the region were not Tahitian and French.
The only libation establishment on Rangiroa remains to this date my favorite watering hole on the planet. Built on stilts right over the water, the hut overlooks the lagoon on one side and an unspoiled coral sand beach on the other. The bar counter consists of coral carefully laid in cement, on which a finely polished iron-wood slab has been mounted. The building is constructed in traditional Polynesian style, with a thatched roof and bamboo walls. The bar's patronage is largely European, with ample representation of divers, yachtsmen, sun worshippers, and planet wanderers from Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland, and other nations.
The only place to stay on this thin spaghetti strand of paradise-- literally-- is Kia Ora Village, where a dozen or so fares-- native-style bunaglows--are constructed along a pristine beach. The woven-grass fares are designed with open walls hung with mosquito netting to allow the cooling trade winds to wash through their interiors on hot, humid afternoons.
As I was able to confirm personally, the use of netting rather than window glass is somewhat less beneficial during a typhoon. But more will be said about that less-than- propitious find later.
Dede the Bartender was an extroverted, loquacious host with a more-than-casual interest in his female patrons. Born in the South of France, he had emigrated to French Polynesia to lull about on a sailboat he had bought and restored in Papeete. Mooring for long spells in the Rangiroa lagoon, he had become something of a fixture at Kia Ora bar, where he struck up a friendship with the manager, who was also French. For pocket change, Dede occasionally tended bar. When his yacht capsized and sank during a hurricane, he became the village's full-time bartender--at least until he could save enough money to resurrect his yacht from the bottom of the lagoon.
Dede was an unusual-enough sight, with his amorphous gray beard sprouting in all directions and never wearing more than a native-style pareo, a piece of cloth wrapped loosely around the waist and tied in a knot. It was even more unusual that he was French and worked at a trade normally reserved for natives. Dede claimed he was fifty two, but he was easily sixty five if he was a day.
He spoke English better than anyone else on the atoll, with a great deal of winking and tongue clicking to punctuate his thoughts. In addition, he was the self-averred Rangiroa Bureau of Meteorology, using his gout and a fingertip to forecast the weather.
The day after we sighted the white-tipped shark --our fourth day in the Tuamotu archipelago--a dense wall of ominous black clouds gathered on the horizon. I asked Dede if a storm was brewing.
"Hm," he replied, knitting his eyebrows in concentration. "My gout has been acting up," he admitted. To complete his analysis, he dashed outside, licked his right index finger, and held the digit aloft. He returned to the bar shaking his head.
"No storm," he proclaimed.
Later that afternoon, I spied him boarding up the windows.
Next: The Punishment of the Gods
I had it on the word of Dede the Bartender, the gray-whiskered institution of Rangiroa, that the only dangerous sharks in the Tuamotu archipelago are those of the land-roving variety. The dorsal-finned scoundrels that haunt the craggy undersea reefs are not nearly as treacherous, or so he insisted. For some reason, that advice was of little comfort to me the moment I came eyeball-to-eyeball with my first shark in the open water.
A local villager had taken me in a small boat to a remote area of the lagoon known by the natives to be frequented by great hordes of exotic marine life. Having deposited me in the crystalline sea, he had motored off to a nearby atoll to occupy himself with more interesting matters--like sitting in the shade and staring vacantly at the sky. Diving with a snorkel, I had been swimming around aimlessly for several minutes, agog at the incredible carnival of brightly colored parrot fish, butterfly fish, and trigger fish. The shark cruised up slowly, with apparent disinterest, adding a new dimension to the definition of agog.
There we were, the shark and I, alone together in the deep blue. I was clad in day-glo swimming trunks, and he was adorned in shiny, blimp-gray sharkskin and a chic, white-tipped dorsal fin. I would not discover until later that my New Wave Australian-made trunks were of a hue known to shark behaviorists as "yummy orange."
"Ah--a white-tipped," I noted, mentally. "Ah, a yummy-orange," the shark noted, probably. I comforted myself with recollections of what a clerk in a Marin, California dive shop had told me two weeks earlier: "If it's a white tipped, it's harmless." Or was it the black-tipped variety she had said was docile? The chartreuse-tipped? As I dug vainly in the cluttered recesses of my memory, my great gray rubbery-skinned host began to glide lazily in a wide circle. It did not escape my notice that I was the epicenter. Scrutinizing his silhouette as he passed over a patch of light-colored coral, I was able to approximate his length at eight feet. Of course, everything appears larger underwater--or so I comforted myself. Most probably, he was a Carcharias taurus, a gray reef shark. Etymologically, the word shark is derived from the German Schurke, which translates loosely as "politician"--one who preys greedily on others by deception. This particular white-tipped specimen was more bulging than sleek and obviously well fed. It occurred to me that his mouth was more or less the same size as my waist.
So it is true, I observed, that sharks are naturally curious about people. He further elaborated on this concept by closing the circle, reminding me for some reason of a tightening noose. There was no reason to panic, I reasoned. Sharks--as everyone knows--disdain the flavor of human flesh. I had heard Jacques Cousteau confirm this fact on a National Geographic special: "Ze shork deez-dane ze flay-burr of ze U-men flash," he had said. So why was it that my heart just then began frantically dancing the flamenco on my breastbone?
As Carcharias taurus glided through the glassy water, the eye on the side of his head that faced me appeared not to move. This was because it was fixed on a solitary object--me. In retrospect, he was most likely zeroing in on my yummy-orange trunks. Just then, Our Lady of the Priceless Designer Snorkeling Outfit came swimming up like an Olympic-class sprinter. She had not yet noticed Carcharias, to whom I now pointed triumphantly.
Suddenly, Our Lady became a blur in the turquoise water, executing a perfect pirouette and flapping her graphite flippers faster than the human eye could follow. So astonished was Carcharias at this ghastly flailing of human limbs that he showed his tail and torpedoed himself away into the deep blue.
As for that other variety of shark of which Dede the Bartender spoke--the treacherous land sharks with their velvet voices, razor eyes, and deft fingers--I have had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of plenty of them in places like London, Paris, Athens, Sydney, and New York. However, I have also had the occasional misfortune to wake up with the effects of island rum performing a war dance on my medulla oblongata, and, eventually, this, too, passed. But, as for carcharias taurus, to this day, he remains in that special place in every scuba diver's heart reserved for his first date with a shark in the open water.
Walking along a desolate dirt path through the dense jungle on the remote Polynesian isle of Huahine Iti, Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor and I came into a village of about a dozen thatched-roof huts set in a clearing by the edge of a reef-fringed lagoon. Each hut, a puzzle of woven palm frond and plywood, was surrounded by a meticulously kept garden of scarlet hibiscus. It was mid day, and there were no signs of the occupants of the huts. The villagers, I surmised, were all out fishing.
Passing a series of huts, we saw tiny dark faces bobbing up and down in the open windows. As we neared the edge of the village, young children began racing out of the huts into the road. The eldest could not have been more than eight years old. We were soon surrounded by children laughing and shouting in their native tongue. Suddenly, a boy no more than four-feet tall ran up to Our Lady, who instinctively turned and produced a child- adoring smile. Ignoring her overtures, the tyke dashed behind her and smote her mightily on the derriere.
Oh, how Our Lady did yelp in disbelief and clutch the so-offended flesh. The Polynesian boy, terrified by her reaction, dashed back inside his hut and hid.
Eventually, of course, that small boy will grow into a burly Polynesian who, sooner or later, will probably swat every female derriere on the island. One day I expect to open a National Geographic to find a photo of Huahine village women with pillows strapped to their buns. The islands of Tahiti, after all, are the isles of love. Huahine Iti, apparently, is the kinky isle of unprovoked spankings. I blame it on the French influence.
Huahine, the Island of Practical Jokes, is actually two islands, one called Nui (Big) and the other called Iti (Little). On the remote side of Iti is a small traveler's outpost, which, for legal liability's sake, I will refer to as the Sandy Beach Lodge. The main residential center and commercial harbor of the island are located on the northern tip of Huahine Nui. The road to the Sandy Beach Lodge is a rugged, unimproved jeep trail carved into the volcanic rock and coral sand.
Huahine Iti had only recently been opened to tourism when we arrived to investigate the ancient Polynesian worshipping grounds on Nui. At that time, on the remote peninsula where the Sandy Beach Lodge was being constructed, the sight of a person with a fair complection was still something of a novelty. At the time, there were only three other Caucasians in the region. One was the lodge manager, a short, portly, white-haired woman in her late 60s, whose son-in-law, the owner of the establishment, lived far away with his bride somewhere in Montana or Colorado (she was never quite clear on this point). One can only speculate on the man's motives for installing his mother-in-law in a primitive lodge on a remote South Seas isle where even telephones were practically nonexistent.
The mother-in-law, whom we shall refer to as Gladys, had an unfortunate aversion for most life forms, animal or vegetable. She probably also despised minerals, for that matter. Her most venomous hostility was directed toward the Polynesians who lived in a nearby village. Since she was the only individual of white complection permanently residing in the district, this trait struck me as particularly inconvenient-- not to mention, potentially hazardous.
The Polynesians, whom Gladys distastefully called Pickaninnies, were not the only humans whom she disdained. She also had no use whatsoever for any nationality other than American--another inconvenient trait for someone living in a country governed by the French. She did everything in her power to turn away "furners," perhaps because the only language she herself spoke was Oklahoma Trailer Park. You may have surmised, at this point, that the real name of the lodge was not the Sandy Beach and the owner's mother-in-law was not named Gladys.
We arrived to find the lodge in a mysterious state. The place had been open for just a month. We were the first Americans Gladys had seen since she had arrived on Iti--a fact over which she fussed mightily. The only other guests were an Italian couple whom she had tried to dissuade from checking in. But the Italians, who had paid in advance back in Napoli, were not about to be turned away. Throughout our stay, Gladys complained constantly about the Italians, equating them to some kind of pestilence.
The islanders were curious and friendly. The company of our hostess, the mother-in-law from Hell, was somewhat more dubious. Shortly after our arrival, it became evident that Gladys was a resolute drunk. She kept the keys to the bar on a ring which she wore around her waist, primarily because she did not trust anyone among the lodge staff. She crept into the bar every morning to mix herself a double gin and tonic. By 10:00 A.M., she was plastered. By 1:00 P.M., she had completely passed out. She would not emerge from the sanctuary of her bungalow until dinner time, around 7:00 P.M. It was therefore impossible to procure anything from the bar between sunrise and dusk. Since all beverages, including fruit juices, sodas and, most important of all, beer, were kept under lock and key in the bar--and Gladys had the only key--afternoons at the Sandy Beach Lodge were akin to camping out in Death Valley.
One parched afternoon on tropical Iti was sufficient to prompt me to take matters into my own hands. On the second morning after our arrival, we rose at dawn and jumped on the flat-bed truck that the local village women took to the seaport on Nui to do their daily shopping. The one-way fare for the two-hour ride was 50 francs, about 42 cents. When Le Truck returned to the village at noon, the women were all laden with fresh bread loaves, vegetables, and fish brought into the island daily by boat. Our Lady and I rode back with boxes of orange juice, Coca-Cola, and beer.
The village women were of all generations, from small girls in training to become adult village women to toothless great grandmothers awash in their memories. Along the route, they all gossiped excitedly, punctuating their remarks with shrill laughter. When the truck passed by one of their husbands, sons, or fathers working on a road crew or painting a bridge, they laughed even more loudly and made suggestive facial expressions and gestures. There was a great deal of "oo-lah-lahing."
The village women seemed quite pleased that we had chosen to ride on their open-air flat-bed truck, rather than having ourselves shuttled around in a private, air-conditioned car. Though French is the official language on all the sister isles of Tahiti, the villagers spoke only Tahitian among themselves. Despite the fact that we could not communicate verbally, each morning they seemed to be more and more pleased to see us.
The men of Iti were devotees of aita peia peia--the "no problem" way of life that forbids working too hard or hurrying. Every day on the way to town, Le Truck passed over the cement bridge that connected Iti and Nui. A seven-man crew was employed painting the bridge. Day by day, we had an opportunity to review their progress. After a week had passed, no more than a ten-foot span had been covered with fresh white paint. We never actually saw any of them applying a paintbrush to the bridge. Mostly, they just sat around on the span, gossiping or staring into the strait below.
Three days passed without consequence, during which time, the bridge-painting party advanced three feet, Gladys fell deeper into a stupor, and I finished off the case of beer. On the night of the third day, the villagers formed a vigilante committee and, carrying torches, marched to the lodge in an unruly throng. They were not holding a welcome parade. They were marching because they had a grudge against the lodge. All of Gladys' employees were residents of the local village and, to date, none of them had received so much as a franc in wages. The money required to keep the lodge operating came from Gladys' son-in-law in the states, but for some reason, he had ceased sending funds.
The mob assembled on the grounds outside Gladys' bungalow. Gladys, woken from her usual nightly stupor, emerged in a quilted robe, cursing under her 40-proof breath in her quaint Trailer-Park dialect. A tall, muscle-bound native with a short-cropped beard, stepped forward to deliver an ultimatum.
"Pay now," he shouted in English. Gladys, who was having difficulty tying her robe, glared at the mob. "Get off my property," she demanded, angrily.
"You pay now," the leader repeated. "Get off," Gladys shrieked. "Get off--or I'll have you all thrown off." It was not immediately apparent who was going to throw them out. The villagers stared at her glumly, temporarily stunned by her show of resistance. Someone among the mob began to giggle, then another--and another. Soon they were all shrieking with the same shrill laughter that emanated from the flat-bed truck every morning and afternoon.
The big, burly Polynesian put on a stern face that, no doubt, he had seen in a rented video. Throughout the South Pacific, videotape rental outlets housed in bamboo shacks could be found in the most remote areas of the jungle. Every village had a video cassette player, which, for some time now, had replaced religion as the main missionary influence in Polynesia. The islanders surely knew far more about Americans and Europeans than we knew about them.When the muscle-bound villager put on his best Swarzenegger sneer, the crowd fell silent. "You no pay," he announced, "we take lodge."
"The lodge!" Gladys cried, in alarm. "You can't take the lodge! What about my guests?" The burly one cocked his head. "We drive them into the road," he said, looking sideways at his companions. "Like chickens." There was more giggling among the mob, and even some bwuck-bwucking.
Gladys stood her ground, shakily. "I'll have you all put in jail. I mean it. You'll see." At this, the mob grew restless, and a general growl rose up in the hot night air. To realize just how volatile our predicament was takes only to understand that there were no police on this island. It was extremely unlikely that there were any jails. One of the village women stepped out from the crowd and stood between the burly man and Gladys. The woman was known as Teresa, Sandy Beach Lodge's front-desk clerk. As is often the case in tropical resorts, Teresa was the real manager of the lodge, the person who made the establishment function.
Feeling sorry for the pathetic mother-in-law and, perhaps, also for us innocent guests, Teresa offered a compromise. "We will not take the lodge," she announced. "We will not drive the guests into the road. We will wait one week. You will pay then." Gladys agreed, and the mob retired triumphantly to the village, where they held a spontaneous party. Guitar music and singing filled the air.
It is appropriate to point out that Huahine is known throughout Polynesia as the Island of Practical Jokes. In the past, the villagers had broken into her food stores and stolen five hundred chicken breasts, which they replaced with five hundred chicken wings. On reflection, this act of petty theft was a spectacular undertaking. Where on Iti could a village supported by fishing and coconuts come up with five hundred chicken wings? On another occasion, they snatched all the goldfish from a decorative pond in front of the lodge and held a beach barbecue.
Petty larceny has been ingrained in the Huahinean soul since the times of the Polynesia gods, who were not above snatching an implement or two when the rightful owner wasn't looking. Polynesian custom dictates that "what is mine is yours." It follows, therefore, that "what is yours is mine." Among the people of Huahine, petty theft has evolved into a kind of game--a chance to demonstrate cleverness and stealth, but without any malice or intended injury to the victim.
Sooner or later, the foreigners who reside full-time on the islands become acutely aware of this aspect of the islanders' behavior--and the sooner, the better. Any experienced lodge owner stocks his liquor cabinet with twenty bottles of imported Scotch whiskey if he wants seventeen on hand. The other three will somehow manage to disappear, no matter how well they are secured with lock and key. The metamorphosis of Gladys' chicken breasts into chicken wings was a sterling example of this principle.
How these larcenous feats are accomplished remains a secret more closely guarded than any liquor cabinet. The people themselves regard such acts as mere mischief, not as criminal behavior, so the authorities generally look the other way.
Gladys, however, had not studied Polynesian customs before arriving
to take over the lodge. In her mind, she was about to be tarred and feathered
by a tribe of savages--or, possibly, barbecued on the beach like her goldfish.
Secretly, she made preparations to flee the island.
The muscle-bound native who had led the vigilante mob--and who, as it turned out, was married to Teresa--was apparently the organizer of the party. Gladys also attended, no doubt to keep her eye on the bar. I bought drinks for all of the villagers, a gesture that brought a hearty shout of approval. The guitarists played more vigorously, and everyone sang louder. The Italian couple wandered in and sat at a table at the back of the room, as if trying to observe the proceedings in secret.
Finally, Our Lady of the Perpetual Tennis Visor got up to dance with one of the village men. Afterwards, I spied a great deal of whispering among the ladies. Clearly, there was a conspiracy afoot. My suspicions were confirmed when one of the village girls approached me and held out her hand, signaling for me to dance also. She could not have been more than 16 years old. The men shoved the tables against the wall, making an impromptu dance floor. As we began to dance, everyone who was not playing a guitar or singing jumped in.
The dancing was 1950s, American-style beebop--no doubt learned from old videos. We danced to traditional Tahitian songs accompanied by vigrously strummed guitars. The girl who danced with me was obviously quite pleased to be beebopping with an American. The feeling was entirely mutual. We danced and partied with the natives until after 2:00 A.M. Staggering across the beach to our bungalow, Our Lady and I crawled into bed, sending the geckos skittering across the ceiling in the dark. As the last glimmers of consciousness flickered and waned, I could still hear the villagers strumming and singing, now more loudly than ever, as if to lull us asleep in our bungalow.
The next morning, as the lodge car emerged onto the road to deliver us to the landing strip, where a twin-engine Cesna awaited to whisk us back to Papeete, a few of the village women stood alongside the road and waved. There was apparent sadness in their expressions. Teresa shouted: "We wait for you to come back!"
I knew better than to think they were actually sad to see us go: after all, this was the island of practical jokes. A speck of dust blew into my eye just then, blurring my vision. Damned ocean breeze...
Most everyone who has ever posted a personal opinion on the internet, on a bulletin board or in a topical chatroom, has probably, at some time or another, experienced the minor frustration of wanting to "un-post" something -- a typo, a poorly worded sentence, or, perhaps, an indiscrete sentiment. Alas, there's no white-out for the huge typewriter page that is the World Wide Web. Younger generations, of course, have no idea what I'm talking about. White-out, or "liquid paper," was used back in ancient times before the invention of the self-correcting Selectric typewriter. Don't stare at me blankly like that. A "typewriter" was a mechanical device with a keyboard somewhat similar to the one you're using now that enabled the user to generate hard-copy print-outs simply by pounding on the keys. Its hallmark was the ability to yank a ruined page out of the machine, crumple it (the page) into a ball, and hurl it in the general direction of the round file bin in one violent motion. A Selectric was an electric-powered version of this device which made it even easier to ruin page after typewritten page by lightly brushing the wrong key or pressing the right one too forcefully, though the page-yanking action tended to wear out the little internal gears and eventually make it impossible to create evenly spaced lines of text. Of course, in those days we didn't call it text, we called it type. I don't know when exactly type became text... somewhere between the TRS 80 and the Commodore PET, I think.
I usually get into trouble posting something intended to be humorous. Of course, the road warrior learns early and often: humor doesn't translate well. This lesson pertains not only to foreign language cultures but also those in which English is a second language. Like Massachusetts, for instance. I landed at the Boston airport once and asked a woman in an information kiosk for directions. "Lahlohtray coffyuhbrahco," she said, "tuhrattlattun ropuhfaaaaahso." "Thanks," I said dutifully and drifted off toward the parking lot, not possessing the slightest clue what she had said. At least, in other foreign countries where English is a second language, such as Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama, I can pretty much figure out what is being said. "Yawl plannon keshunna nacks planta mammy." "Yes, indeedy, I do plan to catch the next flight to Miami."
But humor? That's a different story.
Once, at an international conference, I began a speech as follows: "I went into a parlor this morning and asked, can I have a hair cut? The lady at the counter looked at me and replied, which one?" Eight hundred blank stares. "I said all ten thousand of them," I added, prompting them with overkill. Narry a twitch or so much as a blink, though I thought I detected low muttering from the back of the auditorium.
Well, admittedly, it's not exactly a side-splitter, but at least a little polite snickering would have been in order, seeing as how I had just flown halfway across the world to give a speech at approximately 2 AM bio-time. Part of the problem is that as Americans, we're trained from an early age to begin a speech or open a meeting with a joke and a smile, to set your audience at ease. In fact, there are numerous books in print devoted entirely to "opening jokes for meetings and speeches." (The haircut anecdote isn't one of them.)
Turns out "haircut" is not a term of common usage in some countries. In fact, the English vocabulary of your average non-English-speaking minister of trade is limited to stuff like "Good morning, here is a seat near the window. Oh look! For lunch we are sausages and tea." To make matters worse, in some countries, telling a joke, or even smiling in a business meeting, is considered rude or insulting, the implication being that you're not taking the others in attendence seriously. Lesson learned.
As a result, I no longer begin speeches and open meetings with a joke. Instead, I open with at least three or four, to ensure at least one of them produces a respectable yuk, if nothing else, by the process of attrition.
Animal Rights Hawaii-Style: The Maui County Council has tabled
an ordinance that would ban the backyard killing of dogs because of opposition
by some groups that such a ban would be discriminatory based on their religious
tradition of eating dogs.
Post-statehood "Hawaiian culture", though bearing hardly any resemblence at all to the society and culture of aboriginal Hawaiians, does have something for almost everybody. Bobbing head hula dancer dashboard ornaments, plastic ukeleles made in China, imitation flower leis, buzzing gnat-like golf carts, and the "Kama'aina Pizza Hut" jingle are only the tip of the lavaberg. The "homie" thing of hanging an imitation lei from the rearview mirror is quaint, inspired by the fine haole tradition of hanging fuzzy dice in front of the windshield. Bobbing head hula dancer dolls let you know when you've just run over a pot hole or the neighbor's little boy.
Of course, there's no rule about what you can or can't obstruct your windshield with, though it's technically illegal to obstruct your windshield with anything at all (what better way to show the world you live dangerously!). Say you like sheep: why not mount an entire rack of lamb on your dashboard? Now we're talking! So maybe you're not partial to the smell of plastic flowers melting in the UV rays; hang a pair of socks from the rearview mirror instead! Maybe they won't smell much better, but they'll definitely come in handy sooner or later. Don't like the colors on the "Nuke the Dolphins" bumper sticker? Hey, no problem! Just grab a KTA coupon book and tape a few pages to the windshield. Then everyone will REALLY know you're one 'aina. Be sure to leave a little peephole just above the steering wheel so you can see the ocean as you plunge into Laupahoehoe Gulch trying to overtake the tourists in the little mini rent-a-jeep as they struggle to break 15 MPH. You say your car's looking too clean, too cared for, maybe like a rent-a-car? Get out the ol' hammer and pound a few dents in the side, sprinkle some dirt (preferably red) on the hood and, voila, "local car!" After all, wouldn't want to be mistaken for a **gasp** (shudder) "tourist"!
Everybody sing along: "....fresh from the hut..."
On a sun-drenched Fiji morning in the Somasoma Strait near Taveuni, I had just surfaced from a dive and was lounging around on the boat. It was just after a rain, and the sea was as smooth as a newborn baby's ...er, as a mirror. My guide, Mikele, hailed from the distant Yasawa Islands, northwest of Viti Levu, where, it is rumored, the inhabitants still practice cannibalism.
"You don't still eat people in Fiji, do you?" I asked Mikele, jokingly. The Fijians are a good-natured, fun-loving people, fond of the company of strangers, so I was not afraid of offending him. The Fiji Islands were known to European explorers as the Cannibal Islands, for the eccentric dietary preferences of the inhabitants. Cannibalism was an extremely important element of Fijian society, both a religious rite and, in the words of the curator of the Fiji Museum, "a perfectly normal part of daily life." Of course, in an island society, everyone is more or less related to everyone else, giving special import to the saying "you are what you eat," or, in this instance, "whom you eat."
Mikele did not immediately answer, but instead replied with a toothy grin. Unlike the Polynesians, who always seem to have blackened mouths, Melanesians pay great attention to their teeth and often have glistening white smiles. "Not so much," he said, finally. "Not around the coast, anyway. Not for thirty, maybe fifty years. But farther out..." His voice tapered off.
"So some Fijians do actually eat people?" I egged him on. He shrugged. "They take a little blood, you know, and mix it up with some other things. Then they have a little sip. It's just a ritual. They don't kill anyone; it's usually their own blood, anyway." He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "It's not for me. Kava! That's what I like! Kava, kava, and more kava!"
If cannibalism was the most important part of pre-twentieth-century Fijian life, kava is assuredly the most important part today. Kava is central to Fijian culture and the national drink of the islands. The local beer, Fiji Bitter, is quite drinkable but also expensive, expecially for an outer islander. Kava is a beverage with the tint and texture of muddy water and the anesthetic qualities of novocaine. It is brewed from the root of a pepper plant called Yaqona (pronounced "yankona") that grows wild in the islands. Racks of Yaqona roots drying in the sun are a common sight in every Fijian community. When I inquired about the racks in a small coastal village on Vanua Levu, a woman pointed to the roots and said simply: "Drug." She said it matter-of-factly, like a mother instructs her child by pointing to an object and saying its name.
As I learned from Mikele and other Fijians I met on Taveuni and Mataqi, there are two different versions of kava. One, a diluted and weakened version, is served to tourists in welcoming ceremonies. This innocuous kava is the one described in tour brochures as producing, "after several bowls...a slightly numb tongue and lips." The other version, brewed with saliva and substantially more potent, is drunk by natives. This high-octane kava is the legendary native grog reported by eighteenth-century seamen. After two or three bowls, general paralysis sets in.
"It numbs you," Mikele told me, "especially from the waist down. Your legs are useless. If you stand up, you will get dizzy. If you try to walk, you will fall down. But it has no effect on the mind. Your mind remains completely sober, trapped inside your paralyzed body." He laughed gleefully, savoring even the description.
"It is a community thing," he went on, without urging. "Everyone from the village comes and sits around the bowl. A cup is dipped." He pantomimed the ritual, dipping an imaginary coconut shell into the communal kava bowl. "Kava for you..." He handed me the invisible shell. "Kava for me..." He raised it to his lips and took a long sip, closing his eyes appreciatively. "Kava for everyone..." He passed the imaginary shell around to other nonexistent drinkers.
"And Fijian women, also?" I wanted to know.
Again Mikele shrugged. "Women, they might have a bowl. But kava
is mostly for men," he stated definitively, as if reciting an absolute law
of human existence. "In Fiji, here is how the duties are divided up:
the women do the gardening, the washing, and the cooking, and the men do
the kava drinking, the beer drinking, and the ganja smoking." His eyes twinkled
as he laughed. Then he added: "It is lucky to be born a man in Fiji."
In Greek mythology, Zeus, the CEO of the gods, named his eldest brother Poseidon to be executive vice president of the sea. Poseidon's headquarters were located at the bottom of the Mediterranean, where he lived with his wife, Amphitrite, the daughter of an earlier sea god. Poseidon's official duties included engineering natural catastrophes such as gales, sea monsters, and earthquakes. The symbol of his dominion over the seas was a trident, with which he smote the earth to initiate floods, geysers, and quakes. His favorite form of transportation was a horse-driven chariot--a sort of antiquarian jet ski--that bounded across the waves surrounded by sycophantic sea monsters. One of these, a giant squid named Scylla whose hobby was plucking sailors off ships, had a cameo role in Homer's Odyssey.
Clearly, the ocean did not rank high on an ancient Greek's list of favorite natural environments. On John the Baptist's list, it was omitted altogether. In the last book of the Bible, Saint John imagines the creation of a new, improved earth--a utopia without any oceans:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...and there was no longer any sea.
The notion that the world would be better off without an ocean was probably founded on the great difficulty of sea travel in biblical times. Obviously, Saint John had not spent much time studying ecosystems. If you take away the sea, you also take away nine tenths of the planet's water supply, introduce worldwide drought and famine, destroy ninety percent of all living species, and more or less make the world uninhabitable. Hardly what I call a utopia.
In the Middle Ages, people actually believed that every landlubber had an undersea counterpart. They imagined sea bishops, sea monks, sea kings, and sea soldiers, among other creatures, each resembling in fishy guise the respective profession after which it was named.
Early explorers claimed that a gigantic snake spanned the entire earth at the equator. Reports of giant squids and octopi, killer whales, and dinosaur-like serpents accompanied almost every sailing ship back to port. The Swedish historian Olaus Magnus in 1555 wrote of a qiant sea monster called the kraken, which supposedly had the body of a gigantic herring, the legs of an alligator, and long, ribbon-like tentacles. In other words, a medieval Roseanne Arnold.
Scuba divers, like other ocean adventurists, are fond of sea-monster stories. However, I cannot yet report having spotted a kraken, skirmsl, or even an Aptosaurus. It is not as if divers really need any more hazards. The ocean has an ample supply of man-eaters as it is. The most famous, of course, is the shark. Just mention the word and most people immediately begin hearing the theme song from Jaws.
In the Middle Ages, the Old English term shirk or shirke was generally applied to almost any form of low life, but particularly to thiefs and other scoundrels. Its use in this context far predates its application to elasmobranchs. In fact, any human to whom the term was applied was undoubtedly held in higher esteem than the pointy-finned pelagic that bears this ascription today.
While diving in Fiji, I encountered a black-tip in a flat sandy area at the bottom of a 100-foot dropoff. I had apparently crossed the invisible line, for as soon as it spotted me, the shark bolted directly in my direction. I had encountered several sharks before, but none that had actually swum toward rather than away from me. I could hear a rhythmic thumping in my ears. It was not the theme from Jaws, but the blood pounding in my head. I had my vintage Nikonos II with me, and I was eager to get a decent shot from six to eight feet away, if possible. The shark and I swam toward each other like two locomotives destined for a head-on collision. The black tip was about 10 feet away when I raised the Nikonos. For some reason, he did not like the look of the lens and made an abrupt turnaround. He darted away just as I snapped the shutter. I swam after him, hoping to get closer, but after chasing him for a minute or so, I lost sight of him in the jagged reefs.
Sharks, in all fairness, are not the diver's most formidable harzard.
Scuba divers and every species of marine biology have one savage enemy in
common --a species so dangerous that it threatens virtually every other life
form under the sea. It preys by ingenious methods, often without discrimination
or apparent reason. It kills not just for its own survival, but also for
its apparent amusement, or simply out of its careless disregard for the survival
of its own offspring. It is capable of razing whole reef structures, wiping
out entire species, and destroying complete ecosystems. If you need a hint,
the most dangerous predator in the ocean walks upright on two limbs,dumps
enormous quantities of toxic chemicals into the sea, destroys 50 million
acres of rainforest each year, polluting the atmosphere with massive "greenhouse"
gases, and produces 8 million tons of solid waste each and every day of the
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