Subdivision

I have always sworn that I would never live in anything called a ‘unit’. The whole idea gives me the willies. It evokes images of a Bladerunner world where robots live in beehive cells, all mindlessly doing the same jobs and eating the same food and pooping the same color. So it came as a great surprise when I found myself living in Hawaiian Shores Recreational Estates, which is the name of our subdivision, another term that makes the tiny hairs on my knuckles stand on end. But everything around here is a subdivision; most of them are called ‘estates’. Next to us is Nanawale Estates and just down the road is Leilani Estates. You may have heard of that. It was in the news a bit last year.

I would prefer to call these developments ‘neighborhoods’ but that, alas, is not how it’s done. Fortunately, the ‘estates’ part is just a marketing ploy. There are no estates, just ordinary plots of land topped with ordinary houses. Lawns are optional; we have crushed lava rock. Not one house on our street looks like ours and we have the only white picket fence in the whole…neighborhood…development…division…area.

It’s nice in Hawaiian Shores. We have a community association that has laid out rules for peaceful neighborly coexistence, including a ban on farm animals and rusting vehicles in the front yard. We get home mail service, clean water, road maintenance and access to community facilities. The association office is in a park just a few blocks away. There are tennis courts, a baseball field, a playground, barbecue facilities and a pool. Nice, right?

Having lived here for a year already, I was also surprised to discover that there’s another park a few blocks in the opposite direction. It has a smoothly mown lawn and palm trees but is otherwise deserted. The story goes that 30 years ago, this area was being developed by none other than Pan Am, who thought it would be nice to have two community centers, one with a small pool for kids and another with a larger one for grown-ups. But before they could get all that done, the company went belly-up and the grown-up facilities never officially opened. They sat there, nearly finished, while the tennis nets rotted away to nothing and a papaya tree took root in the empty pool. The impressive wooden structure one assumes is a picnic area is now suffering the ravages of hungry termites. The metal light fixtures that may once have held fluorescent bulbs are rusted away, hardly distinguishable from the wood they’re mounted on. Abandoned bird’s nests peek out from the rafters.

But as serendipity goes, this leaves us with a rather delightful space for an exercise class. I’ve been a few times now. It’s all retired people. (Who else has time for such things at 10:00 on a weekday?) One gentle spirit peers out from her wrinkled face as she does the exercises seated in a folding lawn chair; she told me she was with the occupation forces in Japan in 1947.

I know from many years of experience at gyms and the dojo that a great deal of community spirit can be generated among strangers by sweating together. We roll out our mats and the indomitable Suzan Thompson puts us through our paces. With 25 years of experience teaching fitness at a YMCA, she is a combination of drill sergeant and caring elementary school gym teacher with a smile that can bounce you right into next Thursday. Her occasional off-color jokes motivate us to keep moving as we struggle against our middle aged flab. Today she had us doing glute exercises designed to ‘turn those flapjacks back into juicy orbs’.

Years ago we used to joke that Hawaii was the 48th prefecture, so we have often wondered why there aren’t more Japanese people around here. Susan mentioned that there used to be quite a few Japanese in the class but they’re all gone. They had bought their Hawaiian homes in the 80’s, back when Japan had more money than it knew what to do with, and had since ‘aged out’, gotten too tired to shuttle back and forth, too tired to tend their gardens. I read just recently that Japan doesn’t have the immigration problems the US is dealing with so poorly, mostly because Japan is dying, both literally and figuratively it would seem.

I looked at the slowly disintegrating, never-quite-happened community center and wonder what might have been. Images flitted through my head: A balding Japanese man in an aloha shirt grilling tiny strips of meat, lanky Pan Am stewardesses draped over lounge chairs sipping martinis through red painted lips. And then a fly nibbled at my calf, dragging me back to the present, the pulsing music, my sweaty classmates, Susan’s voice thundering over a background of twittering birds and swaying palm trees. As the aloha shirt and painted lips fade into a past long forgotten, I realize I am glad to be where I am, and who I am, and living in the here and now, even if it is a subdivision.

Calm

private-property.jpg

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