Adventures at the DMV

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When I graduated from college, my mom bought me a 1974 Super Beetle and that meant I had to get a driver’s license. So I borrowed a friend’s car and took the road test, in Iowa. I don’t know how things are now, but it was pretty easy. I passes the first time, although the officer did say, “When you want to change lanes, you should look over the same shoulder as the lane you want to change to.” I guess she could tell I meant well even if I wasn’t a very experienced driver. I drive that car very happily until I left the States and ended up in Japan.

Back in the day, it was easy to switch as US license for a Japanese one. There was just an application and the eye test. I switched since you can’t renew your US license by mail and I didn’t want to be without any license at all. Eventually, I got a gold license, a privilege reserved for those with no tickets or accidents. That was easy for me since the only time I ever drove in Japan was on a very straight road in the middle of Hokkaido during our honeymoon. I remember the landscape was flat, fields on both sides, a couple of milk cows and a coke machine standing forlornly by the road. Even that was harrowing.

After I arrived in Hawaii, I used my gold Japanese license to rent a car, then buy a car and insurance for that car, but I figured we live here now and ought to have US licenses so we don’t have to carry around our passports for ID. Plus my Japanese license says I was born in Showa 38, which is 1963 and not to be confused with 1938, and it expires in Heisei 33, which by most reckoning is 2021, not 2033 by which time I will be very old and wrinkled indeed and might not care much about driving anymore.

So we went to the DMV, light in heart and mind, thinking that for once an exchange with officialdom would be pleasant.

Ah, the naive heart and its rose tinted sunglasses.

They shut Rochi down flat–until he gets a social security number, he can’t get anything but a one year international permit, and those are only issued in Honolulu.

And me? I have to start from scratch. Step one: apply for a learner’s permit.

I honestly thought the officer was joking. No such luck. She went on to say that before I could even apply for the permit, I had to take the written test, just like I had when I was 16. I really had to bite my tongue not to say the things I was thinking. It’s not her fault, she’s just doing her job, blah blah blah, but still, the Monkey of the Absurd was doing somersaults in my belly and I was having trouble controlling him.

You only have to get 26 of 30 questions right so I figured I had a pretty good chance. I got three wrong, but they were concerned with speeding, passing school buses and drunk driving, none of which I do. Most of the questions were common sense anyway, which reminds me of the written test I took in high school and my favorite test question of all time:

An ambulance approaches from behind you with its lights flashing and siren wailing. Do you
a) pull over and stop
b) turn around and go the other way
c) follow it and see where it’s going

I laughed out loud and was sternly scolded by the uniformed officer overseeing the test, so today when I felt the urge, I held the Monkey tight and slipped him a couple of bananas to keep him quiet.

I booked the first road test appointment available, which is December 3, so I will be driving illegally for at least two months. And here’s the kicker–when I show up for the test, I have to be accompanied by a licensed driver over 21 years of age. Rochi doesn’t qualify since, technically, he doesn’t have a license either. I was scratching my head about that one when I remembered that Ma will be visiting then. Both officers behind the counter smiled and said that would be fine, but just then the Monkey slipped out of my grasp. He made me turn to the people waiting in line and say in my best good-girl voice:

My mommy is coming to the DMV with me! Isn’t that great?

I paid my $12, was photographed and fingerprinted (!) and given my learner’s permit, which is nestled inside my wallet next to the driver’s license I’ve had for 30 years, which I used to buy and insure the car which, technically, neither of us is allowed to drive. And then I got into that same car and drove it to home, soberly and within the speed limit, and didn’t pass a single school bus on the way.

How do you like them apples?

eda car

 

Calm

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Our subdivision has its own private parks, including one that has a pool. This is nice for a couple of reasons. One, hardly anyone uses it. Two, it’s only a couple of blocks from my house. Three, hardly anyone uses it. Four, despite this being Hawaii, there aren’t many places to swim; all the lower Puna ocean spots recently got eaten by lava. Five, hardly anyone uses it. Six, it’s a really nice pool, solar powered, clean, and has ozone treated water so there is no chlorine so no chlorine stench. The first time I swam there, the air smelled of gardenias. Today, it smelled of freshly mown grass. And six, did I mention that hardly anyone uses it?

This dearth of bodies in itself would be pretty marvelous, but imagine coming from years and years of life in Tokyo. Sure, there are pools, plenty of them, but they are never more than three feet deep and there are plenty of hot, sweaty people to fill them. And the rules. Ah, there are oh-so-many rules. You can gain entry to a public pool for a mere $3 but:

-Two hour limit and everyone must get out after an hour to rest
-No food or drinks, not even water
-No jewelry or hair clips
-No make-up or sunscreen
-No running, diving or pool toys
-No more laughing, no more fun, Quaker meeting has begun

The staff are vigilant about enforcing the rules–in my head, the guys are wearing only tiny Speedos and paste-on Hitler mustaches. In effect, there is no swimming since there’s very little water between the bodies anyway. My impression: people soup.

So today, there were a few people lounging by the Honu Street pool but I had the water to myself for a few delightful minutes, a degree of self-indulgence I hadn’t felt since last month’s hot fudge sundae, but coupled with the joyous freedom of movement that only water affords and there were no volcanic rocks to step on and not a calorie to be gained.

me in pool

Of course, it couldn’t last.

It would be foolish to seek perfection in paradise. Anyone who thinks they will find it here is kidding themselves. The only perfection lies in how we perceive the world and how we handle the ways it tries to influence us. While yoga and drumming and costuming (more about that later) are challenging but incredibly fulfilling, we are discovering that our only neighbors are raving lunatics. I had been warned that this is lower Puna and there are problems with drugs and vagrancy, but I was not expecting threats and obscene childishness from next door. It is a heartbreak.

So I will continue to pursue my inner Om, keep my feet on the ground and above all, stay rooted in calm. Short of torching their house, there is little we can do beyond not letting them ruin our lives.

However, there is a favor I would ask of you, gentle reader. If I age, say, 10 or 15 years and then dye my hair purple, develop a double D bust and park myself by the pool wearing a neon green string bikini with fringe, then light a cigarette (!!!), please slap me. Slap me hard.

no smoking

Pub Cheese

Pub cheese

What ho? Pub cheese? In my local Hawaiian supermarket?

My curiosity was piqued. I had heard of–and enjoyed–pub food, like Ploughman’s Lunch and Cornish Pasties and Steak and Kidney Pie, but what could make one cheese pubbier than another? Visions of Tislet and Cheshire and Stilton danced in my head. Upon closer observation, I noted “sharp cheddar”. And more, it said “Gourmet Spreadable Cheese”. How could I go wrong?

Little did I know.

In my innocence, I brought it home, opened a Longboard and a packet of crackers. The sweet angels of anticipation danced a cha-cha on my taste buds as I pried off the plastic lid, peeled back the plastic liner and….

Pub cheese inside

Oh. Oh, dear. Dear me. Alas. What was this?  I peered into the container, barely daring to believe what I saw, unable to process the image before me. The texture resembled marshmallow peanuts, those denizens of the purgatory where evil sweets carbonize for all eternity, elbow to elbow with candy corn and Peeps. This was evil, pure evil.

marshmallow peanuts

Choking back my horror, knowing in my heart that I had to persevere, I spread a bit on a cracker and took a bite. With a jolt, I realized that this substance, this aerated orange travesty, had never been cheese, much less sharp cheddar, the go-to of cheeses, the Savior of Lost Recipes, the cheese all processed cheeses bow to in homage. This aerated travesty may have been a distant relative of Cheese Whiz, a cousin twice or thrice removed perhaps, a dubious honor at best. I bowed my head, feeling ashamed, out-played by the power of my own gullibility.

Still, the beer is only a little flat, the crackers aren’t totally stale, and there’s no point in letting perfectly awful junk food go to waste. If you’re in the ‘hood, feel free to drop by, take your shoes off, set yourself down.

I’ll just fix us a snack.

Flowers 8

Is that a gun in your pocket?

I was noodling around the Interwebs and discovered that just down the road a bit, the Nanawale Estates VFW was having a breakfast this morning. The very thought brought back wispy childhood memories of church dinners and barbecues at the Community Grove. This was an ideal opportunity to combine my enduring love of going out for breakfast with doing something good for the community. It was also very high on the list of things I never thought I’d do and I revel in new experiences.

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Arriving at the VFW, we were given a warm greeting by Commander Deb and then piled up our plates: French toast, hash browns, scrambled eggs with cheese, sausage and fruit cocktail fresh from a can. (Ahem.) Eight dollars well spent. That was at 9:30 this morning; it’s after 3:00 now. I’m still not hungry.

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As I stuffed myself with this bounty, I soaked up the conversation around me. There was a group of men discussing the horrible treatment they’d received from veteran’s hospitals. The one sitting closest to me said he had served 26 years, had seen two wars, and was treated like trash by hospital administrators. This is the treatment they get after willingly putting their lives on the line? How can that be true when we are sitting in breezy sunshine, eating good food, listening to birds sing?

I was feeling the warmth of human connection, empathy, the shared pain of lasting scars, the challenges we all find a way to survive, when one of the guys made a joke about how he had once been married and that was worse than anything else. They all laughed, belly laughs, guffaws. I felt my empathy drain away. I knew they were just being guys, needing that twisted machismo that seems so important to men but only thinly veils their pain. I didn’t have the energy to respond so I pretended not to have heard.

There was an artist at the farmers’ market who had a similar effect. His detailed freehand line drawings of Hawaiian plants and birds and ocean creatures were so full of life, I was considering buying one. Then I noticed he was working on a drawing of a sub-machine gun, a solid, metallic symbol of death. I nearly gasped. If he truly wanted to alienate me, he could have drawn disemboweled kittens, but the gun was effective enough. I sighed and moved away.

After so many years in my Tokyo oyster shell, I feel disconnected from who I once was. These moments of interaction with others help me define who I am becoming, help me learn to trust my instincts, my intuition. Each day feels as if my heart is pumping moments of other people’s lives through my own veins, absorbing their realities and perspectives, finding strength and wisdom from both their sameness and their difference. In a sense, I am rediscovering myself, finding me in others, finding me in me.

blue flowers

Fool Me Once

Tuesday was a true day in paradise…almost. First thing in the morning, I went to yoga at the Hawaiian Sanctuary, where the name speaks for itself. In the late afternoon, we drove to Keaau where we signed up for taiko drumming lessons, something we’d both wanted to do for years. It doesn’t hurt at all that the lessons take place in a Buddhist temple.

Hongwanji

Yes, I get the irony that we had to move to Hawaii to study Japanese drumming. It’s the same irony by which Lava Tree State Park is closed due to lava. Life’s little quirks are what make it worth living.

In between yoga bliss and drumming delights, though, was an endless phone call with health insurance people, or at least that’s what they called themselves.

I was nervous about this, having heard what a nightmare healthcare has become in the States, and knowing I was spoiled by my Japan’s socialized medicine system. But the rate they offered was just expensive enough to seem legitimate and yet not outrageous. As I sat there answering questions, giving away personal information, I had an inkling that I was being scammed but was unable to do anything about it, like slowing down to look at a wreck on the highway. Unfortunately, I was the wreck. Nobody wants to admit they’re being scammed; on some level we believe that makes us stupid. I got passed along from Kind Keri to Gentle Jimmy, feeling more and more stupid as time passed and when I finally started to object, they switched me to Chris the Dickhead.

Chris: I’m sorry this is so confusing for you.
Me: I’m not confused at all. You keep contradicting what Keri and Jimmy said.
Chris: Yes, I understand that you’re confused.
Me: Stop being so condescending. You’re the one who doesn’t have his story straight.
Chris: I’m not being condescending.
(“I’m not hungry,” said the Big Bad Wolf as he swallowed Little Red Riding Hood.)
Me: Fine. But you’re not making any sense, either.
Chris: Sweetie, if you would like me to explain it again, I’d be happy to.
Me: Did you just call me ‘sweetie’?

If it had been my grandmother who said that, or even YOUR grandmother, it might have been all right, but instead it was a nasty, knuckle-dragging, kindergarten drop-out who had decided that bullying was the way to get me to agree to this policy. I was incensed and therefore grateful when he switched me back to Gentle Jimmy. I suppose that’s all part of the strategy. These people know what they’re doing.

By the time I got back from drumming and read the documents and did some online research and gradually realized how completely I’d been taken in, it was too late to call them and argue. It didn’t matter, though. The damage had been done and I knew I would have to do some fancy footwork to get out of it. That meant getting up early to call my bank where I cancelled my debit card and then call the fake insurance people who cancelled the policy, or so they said. The phone rang and rang but nobody ever answered at the number they told me to call to confirm my refund.

Exhausted, I stared at the ceiling and tried to understand what had happened. Basically, they said I qualify for a good rate because I am healthy, unlikely to need drug or alcohol abuse treatment nor have babies, which means I wouldn’t be needing to use the insurance, which only covers preventive testing anyway. So that means they wanted me to pay more than $300 a month to NOT get hurt or sick. In other words, I would be paying for being healthy. In yet other words, I would be paying for something I already own.

Lesson one: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Lesson two: All future telemarketers who want to sell me insurance will be informed that I am Amish and therefore do not own a car and do not believe in insurance*; they’re probably too stupid to realize that I don’t have a phone, either.

 

 

*Kudos to the brilliant mind of Joyce Watkins Gardner for this one.

orchid

So Be It

weird flower night

For reasons I cannot explain, I was drawn into the garden. Perhaps it was the intoxicating smell that wended its way through the window and wound itself around my head. It could have been the sound of fairy chuckles barely audible above the chirps of coqui frogs. My willpower was subdued. I had not choice but to follow my own footsteps out the door. Under the shining stars I leaned forward to fill my lungs with a scent that countless fashion houses had attempted–and failed–to copy.  I peered inside this anomaly of nature and saw tiny white pistils like the teeth of piranhas or sharks yet soft, welcoming, daring me to nudge them with an inquisitive fingertip.

And then I found myself falling…falling…falling. I fell past Alice’s lacy pantaloons, past the White Rabbit’s tufted tail, deeper and deeper into a time and place that does not exist. Down was up. Yesterday was tomorrow. It was neither good nor bad; it just was.

Somewhere around the end of 2016, I had fallen down a similar chasm, dissociated myself from that truth on a fundamental level, the only level left when the impossible becomes possible and the ability to process truth is lost, so I told myself I didn’t have to. All I had to do was keep moving forward. And so I did. One foot in front of the other. Plod from Monday to Tuesday, from January to February, from winter to spring to summer to fall and back to winter again. I bought a house in Hawaii. We packed. We said good-bye.

As I am slowly emerging from the fog, we are trying to make the transition from being visitors to being locals. So far, it still feels like we are on vacation, staying in a borrowed house, just waiting for the owners to come back and politely ask us to leave. We have not yet accepted that we live here. We will not have to empty the fridge and give back the keys. We will not have to return the car that isn’t rented. We will not have to go back to the airport until any of the hundreds of people who threatened to visit actually do.

In the meantime, we search for our place. We went to a community celebration of Queen Liliuokalani’s 180th birthday in Hilo yesterday. There was a lot of singing and ukulele playing (which I will learn to like…maybe), a taiko drum performance (which is why we went) and a mass hula dance, a showcase of a dozen hula schools which included a lot of cute little girls and one chubby grump of a boy.

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It reminded me–and didn’t–of my own small town childhood. While we had no purple hula dresses or seed bead necklaces or sacred leaf leis, we did have doting families and grave seriousness given to performances that only those families could appreciate. It gave me a wonderful feeling of belonging, realizing that those sentiments are universal.

Feeling buoyed, we went to the Hilo farmers’ market, where a man selling coffee asked if we were visitor or locals because we “had a local look”. I guess you start to look different when you aren’t wondering if one more string of puka shells will fit in your suitcase or whether that jar of honey will survive the gorillas in baggage handling. I smiled and said, “Locals, but only recently.” And he replied, “I’ve been here 10 years now. I still wake up every day and look out the window and think how great it is that I live in paradise.” I do that, every single morning. I wake up earlier than I want to because my subconscious wants to see the rising sun peeking through the trees behind our house, wants to smell the early morning wisps of sea breeze that make it this far upcountry, wants to hear the coqui frogs closing up shop and giving way to birdsong.

I am still in a fog most of the time; they say sometimes it never goes away. Once you’ve been faced with your own mortality, repeatedly, you start to see the world in a different way. Beyond the basic tenets of good manners, I’ve never cared much what other people think. Now I don’t care at all. Always with an awareness of consideration and compassion for others, I must make my way on my own terms. As the wise man said, “None of us are getting out of here alive.” I aim to make the best of life while I can. If that makes me selfish, so be it.

ocean me

Sunday Morning

Sunday morning, Hawaii time, which is some other time everywhere else, the rain had stopped, the humidity dropped and the morning sky was the blue of a wildflower petal stretched like a tarp across an endless sky. I had an indulgent morning of yoga and coffee, then we headed for the farmers’ market. The past two Sundays had rained out so it was a treat we were looking forward to.

Farmers' market loot

Our first stop was the balsamic vinegar lady. When we went three weeks before, I bought some of her obscenely expensive bottles of bliss and wanted to thank her. She had told me that she spent weeks perfecting each of her concoctions with dozens going in the bin for each one that made it to her table. I believed her. I tasted a few and my favorite by far is the Habanero coconut lime. My morning tonic:

Fresh squeezed lemon from the tree in the garden, grated ginger, half a teaspoon of turmeric honey paste, a bit of organic apple vinegar and a dash of the Habanero coconut lime. Add warm water. Sip slowly and be grateful that the world allowed you to be a part of it.

Lunch was a falafel sandwich slathered in hummus, cucumbers in yogurt, pink pickled daikon and a slice of spicy pepper, proudly presented by the Lebanese man who hands out tastes to waiting customers while he creates his magic. One sandwich is enough for two and barely leaves room for a scoop of vegan coconut ice cream.

It seems that the volcano is calming down; a few days ago, they closed the ops center up the road from here. It had been filled with military versions of news gathering trucks and ominous-looking unmarked vans, but they removed the “Be prepared to stop” sign and most of the scary vehicles, so we thought it would be all right to go exploring to the south.

Just past the entrance to Leilani Estates, there are signs saying, “Do not stop”, “Keep windows closed”, and “Metal plates ahead”.

metal plate lava smoke

It was, literally, metal plates, which appeared to be covering what is left of lava paths running across the road and into the dense vegetation growing close to its edges. There are no signs of lava except for wisps of smoke rising on either side of the road, like the dying embers of a campfire or the ghostly tendrils of dry ice winding their way along the floor of a fun house. We didn’t stop or open our windows.

When you get to the end of route 130, there’s a park where you walk across lava formations to get to the ocean. The undulating rock reaches into the distance, seemingly endless, its random bumps and blobs giving way to elegant swirls and waves, as if a celestial baker had been nipping at the cooking wine and kept nodding off as he attempted to ice the world’s largest chocolate cake.

sky so big Only the very brave, or very foolish, would dare to swim there. Watching the surf pound against the black sand and rock as ocean spray wet my lips and lashes assured me of the majestic power of nature. I sat on a rough hewn log expecting to feel humbled. Instead I felt that I was part of something much bigger than myself, an essential part, as if the whole would be less if I wasn’t there. At first it was just an inking, but it grew into something warm and glowing, perhaps the beginning of the internal white light I’ve heard about in guided meditations. I felt centered in the universe, centered in me. I somehow knew that I was exactly where I needed to be.

Perhaps the shattered, scattered pieces of me are coming back together.

cairn