Skin Deep

I’ve gotten used to lizards keeping me company while I do yoga out on the lanai despite my onetime herpetophobia. They are a fact of life in Hawaii. I figured I’d have to make peace with them if I want to live here. And so I did. This morning a particularly aggressive one took a stroll across my yoga mat. I realized his pointy snout was drawing him toward my cup of papaya juice. I know from seeing their little faces leering down at me from the papaya trees that it’s a favorite. So I shooed him away and put my cup on the table, safely out of reach of pointed tongues.

But the other day, I was doing my usual morning yoga, reveling in the sunshine and fresh, clear air, when I noticed a lizard had attached herself to one of the wooden uprights on the deck. Following my movements, she arched her long spine, stretched her chin past her knee toward her foot and then started chewing on her toes.

I can’t do that. But I felt oddly flattered.

I went back to my practice, stretching and toning and finding four dimensional balance, listening to the gentle birdsong in the background, feeling the breeze on my skin, its heat equatorial with an undertone of cool.

Then I noticed lady lizard’s skin was turning pale. Fascinated, I gave up all pretense of downward dog, forgot about chattarunga, and stared, gape-mouthed, as she shrugged her narrow shoulders and removed her face.

yoga lizard

Ah. Molting. I hadn’t realized lizards do that. And as I digested that idea, I started to wonder why I’d never seen any discarded lizard suits draped over the lower branches of the potocarpus hedge.

She was quick to answer that question as I watched her slowly eat said skin. She opened her eyes wide in a “yummy” gesture and grinned at me, a wisp of papery epidermis dangling from her lower lip until, with a quick whip of her narrow tongue, she licked it off.

As I sat enthralled, Dear Abby popped into my head.

Dear Abby

Granted, my little friend was taking this concept rather literally, but the idea has been going through my head. I realized that we had not lived here quite long enough for life to become normal when we returned to Japan where we had lived for so long that it felt normal even though it wasn’t. And then, at long last, we came back here, where things were no longer the normal we hadn’t ever gotten used to in the first place.

I would like for our life here to be part of who we will become, or better yet, who we are becoming. I feel pretty sure it will, assuming a lot of things it is not safe to assume. I’ve always enjoyed the unpredictability of life, the tantalizing spice of the unknowable. But under all of that, it feels like we’re living on a veneer of thin ice, ice that shouldn’t exist in a tropical setting. It wouldn’t take much to upset the papaya cart and leave all of us climbing out of our skin.

Still, despite our worries and fears, when the evening sunset casts its pink glow across the pineapple patch and the purple-red leaves of the ti trees, there’s a sense of magic in the air. While the world is toddling its way into an uncertain future, I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be. 

Me pineapple

 

Sobgiggle

It’s almost impossible to write when my emotions are turned inside out. While the world is percolating with disease and bitterness, there is no sweeter air than the air I am breathing this moment. The setting sun casts a pink glow on the pineapple fronds I see in my very own garden while birds chant their contentment.

This morning, I lay on my yoga mat with my eyes closed feeling calm and composed. When I opened them, my breath was sucked out of my lungs and up into a sky so clear and blue that I let out a sound I had never made before. At that moment, I realized I had invented a new emotion, a joy so pure that it nearly lifted me off my mat. But it was a joy blended with a sorrow so profound that it could have sucked me down through my mat into the depths of the ancient volcano that pulses and breathes beneath us.

I had created a sobgiggle.

Learning to live with joy is just as hard as learning to live with grief but it is a learning process that gives form and meaning to life. I am grateful for it.

Quarantine: Day 3

I got a call from a nice fella named Darren at the Hawaii Covid-19 committee. He asked how we’re doing and whether we understand the rules of stay-at-home. I said, “Well, we stay home, right?” There was a pause and he said, “You’d be surprised how many people don’t get that.” I didn’t even try to explain that we’d spent the past eight months not wanting to be in Tokyo, living out of suitcases in a series of Airbnb’s (details at http://tokyotales2) struggling with the Japanese medical establishment and bureaucracy, desperately missing our kitties and wishing EVERY SINGLE DAY that we could come home.

I told Darren that we’re fine and happy to comply with the rules. I suppose I sounded impossibly upbeat and annoyingly perky. Darren persevered, though, and said we should stay home through June 3. From the 4th, he said, we can do whatever we want. I had to stifle a giggle at that.

Darren, honey, we’re already doing what we want.

Quarantine: Day 1

At long and weary last, we are home. We managed to unpack most of the junk we dragged back with us. I went through all the mail, ending up with three piles: stuff I have to do something about, stuff I will consider doing something about, and credit card applications. The latter was by far the largest.

Now I’m wide awake at 1:30 am. I went to bed at a reasonable time but had a horrible dream. We were back in Tokyo, sharing a shabby apartment with two guys; one had a horse head. A horrific car crash had triggered a second wave of virus outbreak. Sirens wailed outside and when I tried to see what was happening, a tsunami crashed into the building.

A word to the wise: Don’t watch a documentary about the 1348 outbreak of bubonic plague before bed when you’re jet lagged and feeling just a little guilty that quarantine is a pleasure.

Lizard

Through the miracle of the flying sardine can, otherwise know as Hawaiian Airlines, the mouse is back on the Big Island. There is much to do. Several months worth of cat hair beg to be swept under the rugs, spiders encouraged to take up residence elsewhere. The cats have marked their protest to my absence in my bed; much laundry has been done. I work my attack on the invasion of tropical weeds marching toward the house, a stoic terracotta army uniformed in shades of green. From under the wilting tomato vines a village of disease-ridden snails have been unceremoniously evicted. Lizards leer at me, papaya juice dripping from their chins as they feast on my bounty, perched on branches just out of reach.

This morning, while attempting to free the compost barrel from the clutches of a particularly vicious strain of crabgrass, a lizard leapt from among some palm fronds and landed on my calf, startling us both. But its touch was not the slimy pointy slithersome horror I had expected. Instead, it was gentle, soft, like the brush of the tip of a cat’s tail or the fingertips of a very young baby. I had expected to suffer an embolism but instead felt warmth, release, comfort.

I didn’t expect to be gone so long, didn’t know I would be back so soon. And yet, here I am, and in that one moment I realized I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Aloha, Hawaii. I missed you.

A Suggestion

When I was at immigration the other day, I felt the call and went to the ladies’ room. I don’t know what happens in the gents’, but in the ladies’, we generally nod or half smile as one of us exits a stall and another enters. It’s a kind of ‘the coast is clear’ message and it seems to be universal. Proceed with caution of if a woman avoids eye contact and resolutely studies her shoes as she exits.

When I got to the front of the line, a lady came out of a stall and I had my half-smile at the ready. But as the corners of my lips lifted, she reached out and clasped my arm.

“What sort of ladies’ room oddness is this?” I wondered. We may acknowledge each other’s existence; we do not touch.

“I’m so sorry!” she said.

Slightly alarmed, I thought, “Whatever mess you made in there, lady, I don’t really want to know, but thanks for the heads-up.”

She persisted. “I’m so sorry. I couldn’t figure out how to flush the toilet.”

She was around my own age. Judging from her coloring and accent I would guess she was from India. The genuinely distressed expression on her face told me her story in a flash: “I do not want anyone, not even a total stranger, to think I am some sort of third world yokel hayseed who doesn’t know that you’re supposed to flush the toilet.”

Kudos to her for her courage. She could have studied her shoes and walked away.

I peered into the stall and saw the flushing mechanism. It had seen that kind before, possibly on my last visit to immigration. It was a button on the wall with a lever covering it. You press the lever which in turn presses the button, which I did. Whoosh! The woman smiled and heaved a sigh of relief as she walked away, head held high.

I think the whole thing made an impression because Japan is so very fond of rules. Just yesterday, I used the ladies’ at a public library. The walls of the stall were carpeted with reams of instructions on how and when to use the toilet, including DO NOT FLUSH DIAPERS, MAGAZINES OR CELL PHONES.

I kid you not.

Japan takes toilet technology very seriously. I have found myself standing in the stall, scratching my chin and wondering how to flush. And more than once other distressed ladies have asked for my help finding the elusive flush button.

Therefore, in consideration of my current visa conundrum, I propose the creation of a new visa category: Toilet Flush Advisory Specialist. I am clearly qualified as well as willing and able to share my expertise. I have extensive experience with all manner of stalls, from spiffy hotels with glistening fixtures to nasty holes in the floor covered with footprints and other unpleasantness. [These are nostalgically referred to as KKK–Kusai (smelly), Kitanai (dirty), Kurai (dark). See? I know my stuff.] On pain of deportation, I promise I will always clean up my own messes and never steal the toilet paper.

Now could someone help me find the Suggestions box?

Toothpaste

The mouse finds herself still on the bigger island. Apologies that this post has nothing to do with the Big Island except that the mouse really misses it and hopes to get back soon.

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When Jane and Michael Banks asked Mary Poppins about her plans, she said, “I shall stay until the wind changes.”

That line has been running through my head over the seven weeks we’ve been back in Japan, punctuated by the purchase of a tube of toothpaste. I’d packed a travel size, thinking we wouldn’t be here long, but it was gone quicker than you can say Good Oral Hygiene. So I went to a drug store, and when I reached for a tube of toothpaste, I swear I saw a chorus of Merry-go-round horses and animated penguins flit past singing, “I shall stay until the toothpaste is gone,” with just a bit of and English accent.

I lost my permanent residence status because we were gone for more than a year, so I had to enter Japan on a tourist visa, which will expire on December 30. So yesterday, we girded our loins and faced the horror that is Tokyo Immigration. It’s an awful building, woefully understaffed and strategically placed a 20 minute bus ride away from Southeast Nowhere, nestled among ghostly warehouses on a piece of barren landfill. It is a charming reminder of how much Japan loves foreigners.

The delightful Omotenashi you may experience in a hotel or a Hato bus tour is a thousand hemispheres away from the bland face of bureaucracy that greets the growing sub-population of foreigners who shuffle through the doors of the immigration building. Don’t let the hordes of adorable toddlers you see in Tokyo fool you; Japan is dying and desperately needs an infusion of fresh blood, while it stubbornly ignores both that need and the population itself.

But I digress.

Information told us to go to counter D. Counter D sent us to Counter C. Counter C sent us to Counter B. The staff were sympathetic but all said the same thing. “We understand that you lived here for three decades, dutifully paying taxes and now you’re here with a sick husband who has no other family. That’s sad, but we have no visa category for it. So bug off. Rules is rules.”

Before I turn back into a pumpkin, I have to get out of Dodge. (A classic example of the mixed metaphor, Jane and Michael, in case you were wondering.) So I made a tentative airline reservation for mid-December and, this morning, I forced the very last bit of paste out of our new tube of toothpaste. I wonder if, along with her floor lamp and goldfish bowl, Mary Poppins’ magic carpet bag also contains a new tube of Aquafresh…and tuppence to feed the pigeons outside the immigration building.

The thing that bugs me more than anything is the number of desperate faces I saw at immigration, people who want to stay, need to stay, in a country that needs them but doesn’t want them, while I desperately want to leave, am forced to leave, but really shouldn’t. If there’s a lesson in there, I’d really like to know what it is.

The Case of the Three Rascals

While the mouse is back in Tokyo seemingly until the end of time, we are pleased and proud to welcome Leah and Mick for a bit of intrigue on the Big Island.

It was a dark and stormy night on quiet Kala Street.  In one quiet house, three lonely kitties were twiddling their paws.  Mom and dad were nowhere to be found and those other two folks had already left after some furious butt-smacks, chest cuddles and snack throwing. What’s a bored cat to do for entertainment?

These three fur balls knew just what to do. Working in stealth mode, they reconnoitered the guest room where rested an intriguing pile of boxes.

“Boxes!  We we LOVE boxes! Yeah! Let’s climb and roll and try to topple them.”

And they did, which meant that the very biggest box, the one that had come a mere day or two after mom and dad has left, was now exposed. It was a big box, a heavyish box.  And currently unopened. 

But not for long.

It’ll never be known whether it was a team effort or a solo pursuit, but eventually a bit of the tape was off.  Then some more.  The box had already been a bit crushed so eventually “some kitty” worked its way in. Could it be Twitch?  She’s small but mighty. George is the obvious culprit but he’s lots of meow and less action. Our bets are on Monkey-boy. Wiry, attentive. Who will know?

That other guy came in last night (his gal friend was at class so he was working solo) and saw that the box was more mashed in and more open. “All right, you rascally kitties, I’ll just close the door to this room,” he said, twisting his mustache in an I’m-the-boss-of-you fashion.

This morning that gal was at the house, too, and after curtains were moved and windows opened, butts-smacked, smelly cheese strip provided in teeny bits to Ms. Twitch and Monkey-boy fell off the couch yet again (much to his chagrin), she opened the guest room, knowing that Ms. Twitch likes to curl up on “her” chair in the afternoons. 

The box was open, mostly! Not wanting to snoop but thinking, “Lord what have they got into now?” She crept closer, lifted the lid, removed the mass of packing paper, and spied the evidence.  Suddenly the missed meals, the perplexity of why the cats weren’t eating was clear……

…… they were helping themselves, albeit just a little, to a large bag of cat food that mom must have ordered just before she left. A wee hole had been nibbled into the bag and the evidence of kibbley bits in the box was proof enough. The guy and gal decided that checking for paw prints or sniffing kitty breath wasn’t needed.  If not guilty by action they were all guilty by association. Fortunately the plastic container of treats had yet to be discovered, as we all know that a mere twisty lid and a cover won’t stop the treat-thief-trio!

Suffice to say that now empty box is in the garage. The bag with a hole in it has been taped and now lives with the other bag of cat food that arrived yesterday (yes, two big bags now!) AND now three containers of treats– these are all making a home for themselves on the dryer. 

The moral of this little story is when bored, a cat will find a way to amuse itself.