I am a misfit in Paradise: I felt my pants shrinking this afternoon as I sat anxiously on the couch doing nothing at all because there was so much that I should have done in the past that my regrets for not having done it had finally overwhelmed me. I could not face the future let alone make a move in that direction. Last week somebody advised me not to move from Oahu to the Big Island of Hawaii; there is no future there, he said, although futurists predict it will someday be the cultural center of the Pacific.
“Maybe that’s where I really belong,” I responded. “I’m sick and tired of the future.”
You see, I returned to Hawaii four years ago, having lived in Manhattan for twelve years. I arrived at Honolulu Airport feeling like a lean junkyard dog. When I stepped off the plane and filled my lungs with clean Pacific air, it really hit me hard: I was suddenly certain I had made a suicidal mistake.
“Déjà vu! Been here, done this!”
Now that I’m back I remember why I moved to New York. They say you can’t go home again; I heard but I did not listen, so here I am again because of my stupid nostalgia for the good old days that were, now that I think of it on the very same spot, not so hot after all. I blew the perfect Manhattan job, and then turned down the offshore job of my dreams, kissing an early retirement good bye. And I threw away the cheap illegal sublet on the Upper West Side. I blew it all, yes I really did, I did, I did.
“Aloha to me!” I angrily greeted myself at Honolulu International Airport.
My Hawaii friends – only Native Hawaiians dare call themselves Hawaiians – were not at the gate to greet me because my arrival gate had been changed without notice. I waited and waited, then went down to the baggage area, thinking about getting a ticket on the next flight back. Rick and Lynn were waiting for me there, correctly figuring that I would eventually show up for my bags. I was glad to see them; I appreciated the Aloha spirit and the lovely leis, yet I was in a state of shock.
Despite my initial anguish, I decided to stay in Hawaii for at least two weeks to mull things over. I called my New York landlord. He is an exceedingly kind man: he offered to hold my apartment for two weeks! I was already going up the walls after one week: one panic attack mounting another, and after a dozen years of abstinence, I was craving beer again. It seemed like everything in Hawaii was going in slow motion: I could barely stand it. Making matters worse, gulping mugs of one-hundred percent Kona Coffee brought Hawaii to a relative halt as my thoughts raced madly ahead.
On the one hand, I was desperate to fly back to my Upper West Side crib. On the other hand, if I returned to New York after making such a big commitment, I would be a fool and a coward and a madman, or so my superego said. Good grief! Why do we only have two hands? There was no compromising, not on my limited means; alas, I could not maintain myself in both places. I eventually reasoned that leaving New York City is like quitting smoking: one has to stick with it for a year or so. So I
stayed put for my own good, I think – no one ever knows for sure what would have been if one had done otherwise.
Paradise can be hell. Although I had lived in Hawaii before and loved it, this time I felt like a complete alien. During my prolonged stint back East, I had become a New York jerk. I say that affectionately: After four years in Hawaii, I still miss the jerks. And, as far as Honolulu locals are concerned, I am a loud-mouthed haole from the Mainland. Yes, I am a misfit in Paradise, the man who arrived feeling like a junkyard dog.
After the first therapeutic year went by, I still felt I had made a bad mistake returning to this pleasant resort. Then years two, three, and four passed me by.
“Mistake, mistake, mistake, surely this must be the worst mistake I’d ever made in my life! What a dead end, a good place to die.”
And that is precisely what I thought about most of the time: death. One day Rick pointed out some condos that we could have more than tripled our money on.
“Tombstones!” I exclaimed.
And now, four years after my arrival, I live above an old Japanese cemetery in an old Japanese neighborhood named after a lizard because the mountain above looks like one. If there were any vacancies in the graveyard, my remains would be unwelcome, but the condos are for sale or rent to all qualified comers at a pretty price – please, no Section 8.
I began to chill. After awhile I stopped barking and started listening to the dogs bark across the street at the animal shelter. And I hearkened to the birds singing in the trees eighteen floors below my cute little studio, and to the children exuberantly shrieking in the playground, all muffled by the constant roar of heavy steel-belted traffic on the freeway a block away – Hawaii is a paradise where everybody exercises their constitutional right to have as many cars as traffic can not bear. It took awhile before I noticed that I had calmed down and was smiling a lot. The absence of a crushing crowd on the sidewalks to dodge every second had taken a big load of adrenaline off my nerve-wracked constitution. Honolulu is one of the most densely populated places in the world, but few people walk the sidewalks. My body is no longer racing, I have picked up forty pounds, but my mind is still running somewhat ahead of the lethargic local pace – according to the Help Wanted ads, almost every firm needs fast-paced, self-starting, multi-tasking people.
As for the weather and scenery: The weather is perfect and Hawaii looks like Heaven. But so what? It is a meaningless backdrop to my absurd life. I know how Camus must have felt on that afternoon in Algeria.
However, however, however – what a wonderfully useful word ‘however’ is! Hawaii is, however, working on me despite myself. The longer I live in Hawaii, the more I appreciate it. I’m adjusting. In fact, I may have had the final adjustment today.
When I become more anguished and overwrought with subjective existence than usual, I take a long walk to Magic Island, where I get my marching orders from the surf beating against the huge lava-rock barrier that bulwarks it – a clumsy verb suits those boulders well. Magic Island is really a peninsula, jutting out from Ala Moana Park across the street from the famed Ala Moana Shopping Center. It is within ten-minutes walking distance of Waikiki Beach, yet it is rarely crowded, and then by locals, for the shopping center occupies the tourists.
Ala Wai Yacht Harbor is on the Diamond Head side of Magic Island: I enjoy watching the boats sail in and out, with Waikiki and the crater as backdrop: a Honolulu post card could not be prettier. On the far end of the peninsula there is a wonderful semicircular beach protected by the barrier boulders, which let just enough water in to form a placid salt water pool to wade, float and swim in. As for me, I like to sit on the downtown side of Magic Island, opposite the yacht harbor, listen to the surf crash up against the rocks and watch the crabs scurry about; the local kids sometimes eat them on the spot, but I have no appetite for that.
The sound of the surf beating up against Magic Island reminds me of the subliminal suggestion tapes I used to listen to on the Mainland. You know the ones, the sound of water rushing over whispered commands to get rich, get smart, get laid or whatever. I stopped listening to them when the producer was caught using a continuously flushing toilet for his “high-technology” sound effects. When I listen to the surf at Magic Island, I suggest to myself that I shall hear my marching orders: I blank my mind out and just listen. Who knows? Perhaps by virtue of gurgling-water association everything I once heard on those toilet tapes will come true ! But that doesn’t really matter: The eloquent song of the Pacific Ocean playing on Oahu’s breast is sufficient to get me going.
I had no sooner arrived on my favorite boulder today when a young girl with sandals in hand came out onto the promontory, taking long but ginger leaps from boulder to boulder, giggling gleefully all the way. She saw my rubber-soled canvas shoes and laughed.
“You’ll get tired feet wearing those, mister!”
I nodded and said, “I’m a tender-foot.”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked, with a cosmic smile on her beaming face.
It was. It IS. It was suddenly beautiful to me. I had almost missed it, the panorama of Diamond Head, the valleys, the gleaming buildings downtown, the fluffy-pillow clouds idly floating in the blue, the glistening ocean, the yellow Sun blazing, the sound of the frothy white surf churning all around.
“It’s gorgeous.” I answered the girl.
“Thank you,” she replied, as if I meant her, personally, and immediately went back the way she had come, quickly disappearing from view.
“Her vanity suits her,” I thought, “for she is Nature speaking.”
Was she the sea-god’s daughter? Her comment was a magic wand on Magic Island, for everywhere I looked everything was excruciatingly beautiful. And out of the clear blue I heard myself say, “I did the right thing. I made no mistake coming to Hawaii.”
So I laid me down on a Sun-baked rock by the ocean and waited for my marching orders. You might think me mad, hence I am reluctant to say this, but I shall: I heard a word, repeated over and over, “Aloha, Aloha, Aloha….”