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. 

Alex

The other day, we had lunch at Kitchen Alex, one of our favorite eateries in Sangenjaya. Alex is a long narrow establishment, maybe three yards across and ten long. There’s a curved counter flanked by a dozen stools serving as stalls where we can strap on the feedbag. It’s nothing fancy. Each day there are specials, A Lunch and B lunch, or you can order off the menu. Basically you get either the hot plate (three thick-cut French fries, a handful of wilted green beans and a small pile of ketchup spaghetti) or the cold plate (chopped cabbage, spaghetti salad and a thin slice of mikan) adorning your meat choice. Each meal comes with a plate of plain steamed rice and the best miso soup I’ve ever tasted.

Behind the counter, Mrs. Alex serves the rice and washes the dishes. The smaller of the two jumbo sized Alex Juniors (let’s call him A Junior) serves as sous chef, prepping the plates and adding dollops of ketchup or squirts of mayo as needed. At the end of the counter, Mr. Alex is lord of the six ring stove, surrounded by an array of grease-encrusted pots and pans he deftly maneuvers around the stove or piles on the rack above it. The even larger B Junior skirts behind us serving water and handing out plates and running the register. Over the years he has grown rounder and rounder; often he jostles us like a pinball against bumpers. He may have finally outsized the narrow space; this time there was a girl with a ponytail doing his job.

We had eaten there many times, maybe once a week or so for several years. Mrs. and Juniors both A and B had never spoken, but occasionally Mr. Alex would venture a comment:

“Off today?”
“Yep. It’s Sunday.”
“Yep, it is.”

But this time, when we sat down, he raised his eyebrows and said, “I thought the two of you had been murdered.”

Murdered? We laughed, pleased to have survived whatever hideous violence the poor man had imagined, more pleased that he had noticed our absence.

Nothing had changed, not one whit, except us. Somehow we were different, but there was great comfort in the familiarity of the food, the same nicks and cracks in the counter, the scowl on Mrs. Alex’s face, the TV chattering in the background. We didn’t even try to explain that it was a momentous occasion for us. Rochi had been wanting to go there since we got off the plane five weeks ago but, until a few days ago, there was no way he could have swallowed even one wilted green bean. I won’t go into the details of the medical merry-go-round we’ve been riding for so long; that’s a story for another day. Let’s just say Rochi’s finally getting better and, fingers crossed, on the road to recovery. The food, in all its greasy simplicity, was delicious and a grand reward for what we’ve been through.

Lesson learned: You rarely notice how much something means to you until you don’t have it anymore; if you are wise you will value it twice as much when you get it back.

Also, I love the Big Island, but the Bigger Island is pretty great, too.

Insurance

Sometimes you find yourself wandering along a beach, marveling at the beauty all around you and then life comes at you with a whoosh and suddenly you find yourself standing on the opposite shore scratching your head and wondering how you got there.

Literally.

Rochi has had an ear problem for months now. We saw five different doctors in Hawaii and nobody could fix it. All along we’ve been paying cash for these services because we can’t even apply for insurance until open enrollment in November. That insurance doesn’t take effect until January, and when/if we finally do get it, the monthly premiums cost as much as our Tokyo rent used to cost except that rent did not also demand deductibles and co-pays and other fancy words that boil down to “shut up and do as you’re told.” Until then, I had been feeling smug that I had bought a house and, for the first time in my life, was not paying rent. Lesson learned.

The last doctor we saw said we’d done everything we could do at the clinic level. The next step would be a CT. Without insurance, the test alone would cost at least two months’ rent. She told us point blank that we’d be better off coming back to Japan.

So that’s what we did. We arrived on a Tuesday night. By Wednesday lunch time, he had insurance, we had seen doctors and been given medication. Total cost: about $50. A week later we spent a full day at the hospital, he had multiple examinations, two CT scans and prescription medications. Bill for the day: almost $200.

As we were riding the shiny new escalator toward the exit from the clean, modern hospital, we were both doing the math in our heads. In the States, that day alone would have cost us two trips to Japan, flying business class and staying in fancy hotels, maybe even a Rolex or two. Or about 2.5 years’ rent.

In the United States, people die, they DIE, because they’re afraid to go to the doctor. It’s not the pain that is so scary, it’s the bills that arrive weeks later, unexplained but final. Thou shalt pay. End of story. They even send email with the heading, “Great news! You have a new e-document.” I understand these documents are sent by computers but at some point, some actual semi-human organism must have written those words with that intended purpose. “Great news! You’re still sick and now you owe a bazillion dollars! Yay!” This is cruelty that borders on sadism. But the real irony, and the ultimate insult, is that there is nobody to explain and nobody to blame. You can call every number they give you, but everyone you speak to will tell you the same thing: “We don’t make the rules. We just send the bills.” I keep hearing voices in my head saying, “I’m not responsible. I was just following orders.” Where have we heard that before?

I have even sensed an undertone of, “You should be grateful you got to see a doctor at all.”

Really?

Are we talking about the same United States? The land of the free, where we have a right to the pursuit of happiness but not to basic healthcare? Is this the same home of flag-wavers who claim a love of God and equality for all but run for cover when we talk about universal health coverage? I thought we were talking about the United States where we have indoor plumbing and clean running water and safe food and cell phones and WiFi and Sunday football. But I guess these pleasures don’t extend to anyone who is running a temperature.

It seems fundamentally wrong that we have so many basic freedoms, things we take for granted, when millions of people around the world go without milk or shoes or education. We complain about slow Internet while people in our own country, maybe even next door, die of a simple infection they can not afford to treat.

We are lucky. We had the Japan option. But what happens to people who don’t? Not for the first time, I am ashamed of the country I represent.

Little Lessons

There were so many birds chirping in the garden today that I felt like I was in an aviary at a zoo, but not the one at the botanical gardens outside Hilo. That one only encloses a couple of sleepy looking parrots. While I’ve never once been threatened by a wild Hawaiian bird, the parrot enclosure was festooned with dire warnings of fingers being bitten off by foolish visitors proffering treats. So I steered clear of the parrots, not my favorite bird anyway. The rest of the gardens were grand and the wild birds provided enough of a chorus to keep us entertained.

We are in a particularly good mood today since what seemed like a medical crisis turned out to be manageable with a minimum of trauma and that’s always a good thing indeed. Which all goes to show you that things tend to work themselves out and will do so whether we worry about them or not. That’s a comforting thought but often easier in principle than practice. But the happy, twittering birds really help put things in perspective.

Lesson 1: Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Lesson 2: Don’t take anyone else too seriously.

Lesson 3: Unripe soursop sauteed in coconut oil and spices makes the world a much better place.