Friday, January 30, 2009

first impressions.

i started classes on wednesday. im taking three this semester. one is a post WWII american literature course, another is a film and human rights course, and the third is an independent study course, where i will be writing a longer project and communicating with a professor via email, and not necessarily attending a class.

wednesday was the american literature class.

ive been back in school for about 3 years now, maybe even longer if i really do the math, and although ive had some fairly inspiring and encouraging professors, ive yet to experience a class with that oh-my-god-you-make-learning-so-exciting teacher. i havent gone through a dead poets society type semester, where the lines of academia, inspiration, and fun intertwine to create a near magical experience i'll remember for the rest of my days. ive had smart teachers and unorthodox teachers and teachers that spoke to their students in a humble, understanding tone. ive had annoying teachers and condescending teachers and teachers that seemed like they had long ago checked out of the profession. ive always done a good job in the classes though, and assumed that the exhilarating, change your life or at least the way you think about things type teacher and course was something of fiction. a thing that hollywood made up.

i might be wrong.

the professor for my literature class is fairly young, just a bit older than me. he was tall and thin and good looking in that intellectual literary way. he wore glasses and smiled a lot. i imagine if he taught at a bigger university, he would be the teacher that new students swooned over. something im sure, in this speculative world, would land him in trouble. but thats neither here nor there.

he started off by handing out a small, seven page print-out. im going to do things a little different this semester, he said, and i'll explain that to you in a while, but first were going to read the prologue to ralph ellison's "Invisible Man," and while were reading it, im going to play a little Louis Armstrong.

ive read the prologue to invisible man before, its an iconic piece of writing in one of americas most important novels. a novel i read years ago and was so floored and intimidated by, that i never dared pick up the book again. it would be good to read it in a class, to discuss its many themes with a group of people also reading it. and reading it while listening to jazz, well, that just seems appropriate. hell, its a great idea. this class is looking good, i thought. whats the catch?

he then went on to explain that he felt that literature after WWII, especially american literature, was greatly influenced by music. particularly jazz music. i couldnt argue with that, in fact, i believe i have said something similar in the past.

i felt myself getting a boner. things shifted down there.

we read the prologue and its just as mysterious and brilliant as i remembered. the whole time louis is playing the trumpet or singing the blues. the entire class is swaying along with the meter of ellison's prose and the broken heart of armstrongs horn. im dizzy in words and music and all the grand thoughts behind them. we finish the piece and in the background like a pleasant whisper satchmo keeps playing.

the teacher says: usually my courses are a great deal of intensive writing. but this semester it wont be like that - this semester will be intensive reading. see, i got into this profession because i love books, particularly novels, and i love to study them and talk about them. there are some great novels to read, and i want you all to enjoy and appreciate what they have to offer.

i stiffened a little more, still wary of it all. this class cant be that good, can it? he handed out the syllabus. then went on.

you'll notice there are only four essays due this semester, he went on, all at about five pages each. most of your grade will involve class discussion, as well as participation in a blog i have set up just for this course. you can post your own ideas -ideas about the books in the class- as they come to you, but mostly you will be commenting on post i put up asking you to explore certain elements of the work we'll be doing. the comments are public, so even though this is somewhat informal, choose your words carefully and think about what you are saying before you post. i'm sure some of you might get a little happy with the reefer and post at 3am [the class chuckled at this observation] , in this case, depending on the content of your comment or post, i will give you the opportunity to rescind your statement. but i am curious as to what one might say at 3am, so ill allow posting and commenting 24 hours a day.

wait a minute? most of our grade will depend on blog post and comments? about the books we are reading? and hes aware of and allowing to some extent, the posting of comments/post while possibly inebriated, just because hes curious what we'll say? at this point my boner is raging.

then we go over the books we will be reading during the course of the semester. the aforementioned Invisible Man, then a book by phillip roth, a memoir i wanted to read a few years ago but never got around to, a don dellilo book i already own, a cormac mcarthy book i already own, and a few other, decidedly great novels. the fact that its got probably the three greatest living american authors on the list [and my personal favorite] just made things that much more exciting.

and he says, after discussing the novels and their merits for a bit, ok, you all have a lot of reading to do, so i'll let you go early tonight. see you next week.

i looked at the clock then, it was only 7:30. i would have time to stop and get a drink on the way home and still be able to watch LOST at a reasonable hour.

thats when i came my pants.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

meandering along

The sky is a miserable shade of gray today. I'm beside myself because I had plans to meet with someone this afternoon but, because of the obvious gloom above, we postponed those plans for another, more agreeable day next week. Now I'm perched behind the computer screen, unsure of what to do, sort of taking things as they come along. But this has its own unfortunate obstacles, as my power keeps going out.

We have a guy standing above an open hole just out front of my house. he’s wearing a reflective vest and a hard hat. Surrounding the hole are short, knee-high barricades. In the hole are, presumably, more men in reflective vest and hard hats. They are tinkering with wires and pipes and hanging lights on hooks so they can see better in the dark. They are also getting increasingly frustrated with neighborhood residents approaching them and asking about the progress of their work, wondering when the power in their apartments will come back on, and just what the initial problem was anyway. Their job description apparently does not entail answering questions from concerned citizens.

Now the power is back on and I have to figure out what I'm gonna do besides type into this here word document. I do have things to I need to achieve. Preparations to start. Projects to ponder. Where to begin?

I start classes today. Yay, I guess. This means that most of my free time will be stolen away for the next five months or so. Oh well, things could be worse.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

day thirteen: [the last days]

on the last of my days i prepared for coming home. i was taking the red eye back on the 30th, arriving in new york on new years eve afternoon, and djing that night from ten until five in the morning. i needed to get music together, as well as wrap my head around the exit. i spent a few hours a day getting music together on my laptop, then as the sun rose into the sky and the tide waned on the beach i would slip into my shades and make room for some relaxation.

we never made it to Hana. the seven sacred pools remain undiscovered by me. though we did hike up a soft mountain and i did sink my legs into a running river. we went to dinner a few more times and everyday dipped into the ocean.

one night, drunk on love and the warm air and a bottle or two of wine, we went skinny dipping. the beach was empty and dark and we left our clothes just outside the surf. the water was comforting on our skin and we held each other and giggled and looked out onto the dark horizon. afterward we gathered up our things and took a drive out to the point to watch the stars in a light rain.

the final day i was there we went to a place called blowhole and the wind howled without mercy and the genius of the ocean crashed all around us. the mud was red and wet and stuck to our shoes and splattered on our legs. there were strange rock formations that she told me were made by ghost of hawaiis' past. on the mountain looking down we saw a grave and beside it a pair of old sneakers and the picture of a young boy smiling. we frowned at it and sighed. thats a shame, she said. it began to pour rain and we stayed for a few minutes longer looking at the sea and the waves and the sneakers. then we piled into the car, our legs covered in mud, and chased the sun for one last time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

day 11 or 12: (crapping out)

At one point I crapped out. I think it was a day or two after Christmas.

Every morning was the same routine. Wake up and walk to the flower room and watch, bleary eyed and scratching my head and painting a smile on my face, as her and her step mother made leis and discussed the events of others. Get a coffee and smoke a cigarette and take some painkillers for the ache in my mouth. Sit down at the dining room table and try to create pleasant conversation with her father and uncle, about where the sun is on the island or what time the water would feel best, while sipping my coffee and distracting myself with the newspaper. Gather up a bag and put on my swim trunks and roll down the window as we drive off into the day.

Always to meet another friend. Another person from way back in her history. Around every corner another hand is extended and another nice to meet you is said. Everyday I'm the boyfriend from new york that’s never been to the island before. The boyfriend from new york everyone has been dying to meet and goes to school and is studying what, exactly? The boyfriend from new york that stole their friend away.

And after the big birthday party and the last minute Christmas shopping with her family and the drinks every night some place new and strange or some place old and stuffed with memories and the big groups at every meal and all the curiosities about me and all my curiosities about them I just wanted a break from everything and everybody. I just wanted to sit around and frown and find some momentary solace in our womb the internet. I wanted to be alone and read a book. I wanted to lay there and stare up into the sky and not have to think of anything but clear blue before me.

And when she came home that morning from yoga at dawn with big ideas in her head about how we would play the day, I just couldn’t get down with the program again. I didn’t want to meet her friend and her other friend and her other friends new husband down at the beach again. I didn’t want to learn about a new person and have a new person learn about me again. I didn’t want cocktails and appetizers and another hundred dollar bill. I didn’t want to see the sunset. I didn’t want to laugh. I didn’t want to remember another moment fondly. I didn’t want to share anymore. I was done sharing. At least for a day.

I just wanted to be alone. I needed a vacation from my vacation.

But I went along anyway, because I didn’t want to be the party pooper. I didn’t want to be the asshole. So I went. I knew it was a bad idea from the get-go, but I figured, hey, fuck it. I'm on vacation. Ill go to the beach and have some drinks. That’s what you’re supposed to do on vacation, right?

And at the beach I couldn’t bear the sun. I couldn’t stand the ocean. I couldn’t tolerate the sand. I drank a beer and looked out onto the horizon through my shades and hated every minute of it. I gave short, clipped answers. I was distant and aloof. I kept my t-shirt on and felt embarrassed about it but was too stubborn to disrobe. I was miserable. I was the party pooper. I was the asshole.

But whatever. I was over it. I didn’t care.

Anyway, getting to the meat of this post:

At some point everyone but me is laughing and giggling and wet and salty and fresh from a quick dip in the sea. There was a cooler and in it was beer from the local brewery and some snacks. A bag of moshi crunch and some spam mosubi, a few cans of green tea and maybe a tin of sashimi. Drunk on the sun and the beer and the good times with old friends, she decides that this was the moment I should try the spam mosubi.

We had discussed this earlier, back in new york. I was willing then. In the safe web of delis and pizza parlors, hamburger joints and twenty-four hour bodega’s, that I was surrounded by. I think I have tasted spam once, when I was a young kid, and it was sickening to me. it makes me gag even trying to remember the flavor of it. But its embraced in Hawaii and she had grown up with it. so I was ready to do as the romans, or in this case, the Hawaiians, do, and partake in their local delicacy. Back in new york, that is.

But right then, on that beach, at that moment in time, I was not willing to eat a square of rice with a slab of spam laid atop it, wrapped in some wet, slimy looking seaweed. And this was not the best day to try to shove spam down my throat, “for fun.” So I declined. she shrugged, and then she took a bite of it and immediately gagged. She hissed to me that it tasted horrible. And I believed her. It LOOKED horrible. Funny thing is, then she offered it to a bunch of people, the friends and friends, all giddy for some reason, and this one girl scarfed down the whole thing like it was cheese wrapped in bacon

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

day six through eleven: (the toothache)

i wake up and it feels like ive been grinding broken glass across my back tooth all night. my gum is the size of a small, bloody marble. im drooling all over the pillow because i can hardly close my mouth it hurts so bad. i try to talk and i have a lisp. i keep slurping back spit. im a fucking mess.

i take two percosets and by afternoon were at a surf shop buying t-shirts for christmas presents and i feel no pain. before that we stop on a dock and watch the crabs crawl along the rocks. i smoke a spliff and she points to the ocean and tells me what it looked like, how it was changed, during the great hurricane of ninety one. how it was loud and violent. much more vicious than it was right then. we went into the store and the sales people were young and casual and helpful but not aggressive. we bought a couple t-shirts for christmas gifts. for the men in our lives who just want something simple.

we go to the beach and dive into the ocean every day. we go to different parts of the island, chasing the sun and running from the rain. we drink every day at happy hour, mostly at the bars in the hotels. the ones on the beach that have the cheap mai tai's. every sunset we drink and watch the sky change colors. i eat a palmful of painkillers every four or five hours and still grimace every time i take a bite from a fish taco.

we spend the first few days shopping for christmas gifts. she effectively ditches me one morning, leaving me to sleep in, while she shops for my present with her sister. i clumsily arrange for her sister to take me to a shop to get her gift after awkwardly announcing to her that i needed a little time to do some things alone. on christmas morning everyone is pleased and after going to brunch at another fancy restaurant on yet another fancy golf course, we go to the beach and swim a mile and a half, to a black large rock and back. it is exhausting but fun. while sminng there are dolphins herding fish ten feet from us and when we are underwater we can hear the whales. just in the distance, mating.

the next few days we follow a local routine of beach bar beach bar dinner and then drinking bud lime on the back of her dads pick up truck while staring at the stars on hanalua point.

Monday, January 12, 2009

day five:

it is monday and we decide to take a bike ride. its partially inspired by her father, who bikes up a mountain three times a week and who is sixty three years old, leaving us no excuses. shes in much better shape than me. where as she is a lean, mean, biking machine, i am the equivalent of a sack of potatoes placed on the seat of a bike. but we still venture out into the sunny wetness of the island. and i huff and puff along side of her, game for adventure.

we go up and down long hills, circling around a golf course and finally parking at a beach. we get off the bikes and she points out a few places she played as a child. a small patch of trees. a rock near the edges of shore. a pathway leading right to the ocean. she tells me they look different. they all look different. development has taken away the memories of her youth. we watch the ocean and she sighs. there are tourist everywhere. she says it used to be a local beach.

on the way back i crap out on a hill. i stop the bike and stand and, heaving deep, uneven breathes, tell her we need to take a break. she smiles and looks forgiving but i can tell she wanted to keep going. i hop back on the bike and as were going up she tries to talk to me. i dont answer because im grumpy and tired and wish the hill would plateau and end. when we reach the top i say one thing: finally.

that night we take it easy. we go back to the restaurant we had brunch at and i have a manhattan and she has a glass of proseco. we have a few rounds and i go outside and smoke a bunch of cigarettes while watching the moon sit atop a distant mountain. they have a speaker outside and it plays christmas carols at a soft volume. [it blew me away how much christmas spirit maui had]. at home that night i try to have sex with her but she wont because were below her parents bedroom. shes afraid the muffled cries will alert them of our activity. its understandable, but i sleep restlessly the whole night.

Friday, January 09, 2009

day four:

it is the last days for a few visitors. one of her step mothers brothers, and her aunt, uncle, and cousin are going back to the mainland now that the party is over. in the morning they shove gifts for all of us under the tree, which stands seven feet tall in the living room and has an entire lifetime of ornaments hanging from its branches. some hand crafted by deceased relatives, some given to them in holidays past. she points out one to me she made while in grade school. i fondle at it and comment on its precious simplicity. a santa head with the words "merry christmas dad" stitched into the back.

we all go to brunch at an upscale restaurant that sits at the tip of a golf course. there are golf courses everywhere in maui. they all look gorgeous and cost an arm and a leg to play on. none of the locals ever enjoy the sport. it is a luxury reserved for tourist and professionals. on the way out i see football games playing above the bar and me and her stop to catch the scores. it feels weird watching the snow fall in new england, especially with the sun still rising above the twelfth hole outside. we check the weather in new york and its in the thirties. in chicago its negative three. i make the suggestion we go to the beach and she nods her head and gives me a look that says where else would we go.

at home people say good by and we give a lot of hugs and there are people telling me it was nice to meet me and it was nice to see me again and her step mother starts crying because it always breaks her heart to see her brother go. when the commotion has settled and those that are leaving are on their way we grab some fins and snorkels and the keys to one of the cars. as we pull away i roll down the window and the air is warm and wet and there are christmas carols playing on the radio. it isnt even eleven am yet.

we park the car in a resort parking lot and she tells me to act natural, as if im a guest there. i remark how, being one of the very few black people in maui, i will stand out regardless. she laughs and agrees and says to act natural anyway. on the way toward the brush we see a cleaning lady and i nod and start searching the doors for a number to blurt out if she ask what room im staying in, but the cleaning lady only smiles and nods back and pushes her cart filled with supplies to where ever she is going.

we take a small hike on the side of a hill overlooking the ocean and arrive on the edges of a small formation of rock that makes a series of coves. there are a few teenagers there already jumping from the higher points into the water. we go pass them wordlessly and find a private cove where we do the same. the water is crystal blue and after i pace my breathing and get comfortable in the snorkel equipment, i see the fish. they are everywhere and a thousand different colors. she dives under and i watch her body as she expertly dolphin kicks into a school of small, orangish fish. she points at the living coral and warns me, with hand gestures, of certain crustaceans on the reef that can poke my feet if im not careful.

only once do i suck in sea water and that is because i get so excited when she points out an eel. we go further out, away from the cove and closer to the reef, and see a dozen squid lurking near the bottom. a long, pointy, transparent fish lurks by and we both marvel at it and i can tell beneath her mouth piece she is smiling. when we make our way back to the cove and reemerge from the water there are a lot more people there, mostly teenagers, jumping into the ocean from the highest point there is. they are all locals, she says. tourist dont come here that often, they cant find it. i watch as one guy front flips off the side of a rock. he lands with a slap and all his friends groan for him then laugh. so this is what the kids in maui do for fun. its just like the brochure.

we grab our things and go back to the car. i tell her how amazing it is and she says wait until you see Hana. it is mid afternoon and i mention the sunday night game and a beer. she knows of a place near the local mall. we go to a bar and watch the giants beat the panthers in overtime while eating sashimi and drinking blue moon. there is still sand on our feet and salt attached to our skin. she wonders aloud how the cats are faring back in new york. i bet they're fine, i say.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

day three:

in the early afternoon we all go to a buddhist mission and begin setting up for the party. her step mom is having her sixtieth birthday bash in the temples recreation area. she tells me that growing up there, her and her best friend [whos dad is a priest at the temple] used to play all around the grounds. climbing on the buddha statue [the largest on US soil, apparently] or ducking under the raised platforms and hiding behind the trees, pretending they were spies or adventurers or models or whatever. she introduces me to the priest, her best friends father, and he doesnt speak much english but is warm and forgiving and laughs a lot. i feel at ease with him. i meet more people and they all seem nice and i try to remain impressive. the tables finally get set up and a few pictures are taken. i stand in the back most of the time, because, as always, im the tallest.

i borrow one of her fathers shirts as i didnt bring any appropriate casual tops to go with shorts and slippers. it is a blue button up number with a floral pattern all over it. very island sophisticated.

as people start filing into the party i lurk around the keg making insignificant conversation with the guest ive already been introduced to. the dj is set up on a stage and i meander over toward him to spy his set up. we chat for a while and he seems to be very impressed that im a dj in new york even though im sure he makes much more money djing in maui than i ever will on the mainland. i start drinking wine and make small talk with the pretty bartender. everytime someone learns im from new york they ask if i know someone, a friend or old classmate that has moved there in the past few years. i politely say no and remind them there are over 8 million people in city. this never seems to register.

the warm night air and flowing red wine get every one loose and a dancefloor is established. the dj plays songs from the 80's, as the host instructed. all the women are old and beautiful and full of energy. i sneak away to smoke a cigarette on the beach and look into the darkness of the sea. i realize i dont have a flame when and wonder what to do. behind me is the kitchen to the mission and in it is the priest. i wander over to him and ask him for a light. he doesnt understand at first but i make hand gestures and point at the cigarette. his face lights up and he nods quickly and says hai twice, fast and clipped. he opens a drawer and digs out a book of wooden matches and test them first, striking forward at the box instead of sliding back towards himself, like i see people usually do. it is a strange and exciting gesture for some reason. he hands me the box and i bow slightly and go back to the beach, hoping no one has seen me.

the people are dancing to billy idol and all the tables have plates of food unattended and she is somewhere in there swimming in her childhood. i try lighting the cigarette and the match doesnt work. i try again and again, tearing at the box, almost destroying it. from nowhere a girl emerges with a backpack on and piercings all over her face. we are all alone on the beach and aside from the music from the party, only the shushing of the surf is heard. she notices my frustration and i motion that i cant light my cigarette. smiling, she takes the book of matches, grabs two sticks, and ignites them on the sliver of box not yet mutilated by yours truly. i lean in and spark my cigarette and take a deep drag and say thank you. she smiles and her lip ring twist against her teeth. then she shrugs on her backpack and walks away into the empty beach.

i meet a thousand people throughout the night. two twin girls give me a jar of weed because they know i smoke and sympathize with me. next door neighbors from her childhood tell me boring stories of when she was a little girl and she blushes and i laugh and kiss her forehead. friends of hers look me up and down to measure if im worth her time. i switch from white wine to red and back to white then back to red.

as we are cleaning up a drunk man outside the party begins to heckle us. i smell pussy! he says. go back to the mainland, he says. you didnt even book my band, he says. she tells me the locals arent too keen oon white people, even the ones that have been there for thirty or more years. the voice is drunk and frustrated and it rises in anger from the blackness behind the fence. i look around to see if anyone will challenge it but no one does. they all just finish cleaning up and ignore him. it makes me uncomfortable but i say nothing. i just do my part.

at night before we fall asleep i hear the wind howling outside. i go to the sliding door and listen and its louder than traffic on a thoroughfare. this is the white noise of the island. i stand there hypnotized for a moment before she whispers to come to bed.

day two:

i woke up at six-thirty in the morning and already the house was awake. her parents were in the flower room making leis. (thats what they do for a living. they make leis and have pretty girls sell them to tourist. it seems so intentional. such a given. the kind of story no one would write because was already written long before. you move to maui and you surf until your bones are filled with salt, then you make leis into your old age. how wonderfully typical.) she is in there with them expertly poking a long needle into the butt of a jade bulb and talking about new york. i walk in and say hello and scratch my head and ask if anyone wants some coffee, because im going on a run to the shop. the parents say no thank you and smile and she says ill go with you and does a small, excited jump and runs to get her slippers. on the way back from the cafe i smoke a cigarette and we talk about what were going to do that day. this scene repeats itself every morning im there.

a group of us go to breakfast at a small diner on the beach. we watch the waves and eat eggs and rice and fruit and white chocolate macadamia pancakes with coconut syrup spilled on top. our server has a daughter she went to high school with and they talk a minute about where everyone is in life. she introduces me to the server. i shake her hand. the server has a deep tan and sagging, leathery skin. despite this unfortunate condition, she looks really good for her age (a familiar symptom i noticed in Hawaii's women). we exchange pleasantries and when the check comes we all split it. not once did anyone foot the bill. i found it kind of refreshing.

afterward we walk down to the beach and dive into the ocean. it isnt even eleven in the morning yet. she tells me we will go to the other side of the island to visit a place called Hana. its the paradise of paradise, is how she pitches it. she says we'll do this on the following friday. we'll make a trip of it. i dive underwater and swim towards her waist and squeeze and pull her down with me and she doesnt fight back. when we come up she giggles and i spit water from my nose and she points at me and says, ew boogers! we watch a tourist try to walk into the water with his flippers already on and laugh. she tells me in Hana there is seven sacred pools and a waterfall we can dive from. i'm excited.

later we go surfing. its her, her dad, her sister, her cousin, and me, while her step mother and uncle watch from the beach. everyone catches a wave. she gets up easily, as if she does it every weekend. i have trouble paddling out, then laying on the board, then sitting on the board. i dont get past that level of skill, and still cant say i sat on the board for longer than thirty seconds. on the way back in i get frustrated because it doesnt seem like im moving. she comes and helps me and her dad surfs by and says i made a great effort. thats the only attempt at surfing i make the entire trip. im sure i looked pathetic.

we have dinner at the table at home that night. it is all of us again, just like at hula grills. we eat fish and salad and garlic bread. we drink wine. everyone is excited about the party tomorrow evening. they are expecting two hundred people. there is a dj booked. there will be free food and booze. its supposed to be warm and there is no forecast of rain. i drink a glass more wine than everyone else except her, who keeps up with me sip for sip, for solidarity's sake, of course.

day one:

we went from the airport to a place called hula grills and had mai tai's while watching the sun sink behind lanai. i was still wearing a lei that had been placed around my neck after getting off the plane. there were ten of us. me and her and a bunch of her relatives, including her parents, who i was meeting for the first time. her father didnt look up from his menu or his drink much. her step mother's eyes barked but her tone was nice and even. all around us a warm blue wind. we made plans for dinner and i tried pace my drink orders because i didnt want to make a bad first impression. plus i needed to give my liver a bit of a vacation itself. it deserved it. i ate the pineapple wedge from my drink and it was explosive. id never had one so good. finally we were in maui. she leaned in and said lookit and pointed out towards the horizon and squeezed my hand.
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:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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