Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Slush Fund

I just put down a deposit on an Atlantis Cruise in October, I committed to doing the Vaka Eiva series of races in Raratonga, I'm off to New York this March, and I'm fantasizing about an extended trip to Eastern Turkey next Spring  ...

... and for the third time today, someone has asked where I get the money ...and do I have a secret slush fund? ...  especially since every other weekend I am mostly broke. 

Here's how it works:

- I ride my bicycle to work almost every day.  Savings: let's say $2500 a year over those of you who pay for parking and gas.

- I cook my own meals. Lunches, at least these days, are mostly vegetarian and made of what I find at the Kapi`olani Farmers' Market. So, twenty bucks a week for me versus forty if I ate at the lunch wagon: that's maybe a grand a year,  plus at least another grand over those of you who eat out for dinners.

- Add to that the weekends that I am happy and content nursing my garden or reading books rather than drinking at the bars ...

And that's already three trips to Paris, at least, airfare and hotel included. 

And that's how I do it. 

Friday, February 20, 2009


Just experimenting with the new Google Earth here. If this works, then that should be Fananu below on the left, my home for two years while I was with the Peace Corps. Ikup, on the right, is not inhabited.

View Larger Map

My life for two years is contained in that little map: the school that got washed way by the storm wave, the ice plant that was destroyed during a riot, the boat house I slept in, for the second year, with the other unmarried young men after my host-father tried to shoot his son, the reef where I would go spear-fishing every afternoon, the taro patch where I would hide out with the guys to drink some god-awful moonshine, the beach I would hide out at when I needed time away ... they always try and make Paradise look something like my island, but I've lived it and know things about "Paradise" that a lot of people don't.

Fananu Demographics: Population 250 (249 Chuukese, 1 Haole), plus another 250 or so off island; 0.1 square miles; and far from everything.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lost Worlds

The wind is full of ghosts tonight
That tap and sigh upon the glass
And listen for reply.

-  Edna St. Vincent Millay

I usually hate nostalgia. I've been so nomadic all my life that remembering yesterday means remembering lost worlds and forgotten friends and lives I could have lived but didn't. Nostalgia is always melancholic. It's about loss. I hate it. Usually.

The most exotic people for me were those who spent their whole lives together, cohorts that were born, lived, and died in one small town.  It fascinated me that some people go through this journey with the same companions all the way. For me, my memories are scattered.  Each period of my life has involved a new tribe, and only a few people seem to cross with me from me. I'm always chomping at the bit for different and new horizons, but living this life has it's cost. I suppose that all lives do.  

I moved to Hawai`i with the inention of staying put, come hell or high water, at least ten years (and I think it's been fourteen already). I wanted to know what it felt like to have one single group of friends for longer than a few years. 

You can stay put, but this world is still nomadic. I never quite realized how much.  I have lived as many lives, and have as many lost worlds, as if I had stayed on the move. Fourteen years, but I've easily been through four or five lives here, and they don't really intersect.

Facebook triggered this round of nostalgia. It's been good website for nomads - suddenly I'm finding people that I lost track of years ago. Maybe that's why it's become so insanely popular; we've all gone nomadic, and this is allowing us to reconnect. 

And I've been ok with this. Nostalgia isn't all bad.  And so I spent yesterday digitizing old photos, and I'll be putting them up online this week.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Chemical Burn

I see this plant all the time at Home Depot, and thought it would make a pretty addition to my herb garden. Sure, they call it "rue" - but I figured, maybe the plant had just been saddled with a bad rap.

But no. The plant has fully earned it's name. Witness what it did to me:

That's a chemical burn caused by the above Ruta graveolens. Rue doesn't burn right away - rather, the oils get on your skin, and then intense sunlight will trigger it to bind to your DNA, effectively killing the cells.

Or, as the scientists would say:
One of the more dramatic, uncomfortable and persistent plant-and- skin conditions is phytophototoxicity. This can occur from skin contact with plants containing chemicals known as psoralens followed by exposure of the area to ultraviolet light. Psoralens sensitise the skin to sunlight and the phototoxic effects are due to ultraviolet-induced binding of these chemicals to nuclear DNA and subsequent cell death. Resultant skin damage can be severe (Lown and Sim 1978, Song andTapley 1979).

Phytophototoxicity. It's almost worth the burn to be able to say that.

Not that I knew all this off-hand. I just knew that somehow I had burned myself, and couldn't figure out how. It was a bit surreal, since generally these sort of things involve fire, or hot stoves, or other things that are hard to forget. Second-degree burns don't suddenly appear for no apparent reason, yet this one seemed to have done just that.

I looked up everything I could think of, and quickly ruled out fungus, staph, bugs, allergies and stigmata. I was stuck, and I had certainly never heard of phytophototoxicity. Nor did I think that my friendly neighborhood garden center would be selling plants that burn.

Then I found this anecdote on WebMD: The leader of a "Native American storytelling and crafts workshop" told a bunch of school children on a field trip that the Indians used to rub rue on their bodies to ward off mosquitoes. Since rue is from the Mediterranean it's a pretty safe bet that he totally made this up. I guess he figured, it kind of smells like menthol and couldn't hurt. The kids and parents dutifully smeared it over their bodies.

The article has photos of the results. Mystery solved.

Luckily the fake Injun didn't make tea for the kids. The Greeks did use rue medicinally - to induce abortions.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


It's Wednesday, and my weekend just ended. It was a good one.

Friday had sushi with Fred, John, Boyd, and Sumner. I was the kid at the table, allowed to join the grown-ups for the night. Afterwards we went to see Souvenirs at Diamond Head Theater. It was awful, and I left at intermission. It was a two-person one-joke play (a rich lady can't carry a tune, but thinks she's a diva) with a life-affirming message at the end about how being true to our dreams is important. I didn't need to stay until the end to know that - you could see the moral coming from five minutes into the play.

It was so bad that I actually went online to do some research, and to try to figure out just what the authors were thinking - and how it managed to make it to Broadway. Turns out it started as a lounge-type act, and I can see it working there. I don't know how anyone thought it would work in a theater.

I skipped the cast party at Town, obviously.

Saturday I went to Ozomatli with Ken Zen. We tried to recruit others, but the ones who were interested were broke, and the ones who had the dough weren't interested. Too bad; it was a fun show. Later we went to Ke Kai's for a night cap. It was dead: two transvestites, the bartender, two other male customers, and a mentally impaired guy who was the boyfriend of one of the transgendered ladies. One of the trans chicks danced on the bar for a bit, but that kind of thing sounds more risque in print than in reality.

This was not enough to make the bar interesting

Sunday was Swamp Romp practice. Allen had us run 1.95 miles (according to Google Earth) and I didn't die. That surprised me. My thighs still hurt. I did the first 1.6 miles in 17 minutes (that's a sprint in my book). The last stretch was on soft sand, and that was hard.

Later went to Hulas for one drink, which turned into more than one drink. Monday I behaved. Last night I went to Hawai'i Opera Theater for Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and honestly enjoyed it. The last two times I tried to go to the opera in Hawai`i I fell asleep, and I'd given up. My opera friends had told me that they refused to go with me again, anyway. This crowd doesn't know my history. I made plans to see Carmen in March with Ron, and Sumner might have an extra ticket for Abduction from the Seraglio ... it looks like I'll get a dose of culture to counteract all the circuit parties.

Julia Kierstine as Manon was the star of the show

Ron and I rounded out the night with a nightcap - or maybe five or six nightcaps - at his place. Our final drink was a thimblefull of Laphroaig - which is the single best whisky I have ever had, by far. A sip, and you could almost taste the wind blowing across the moor. It would settle in, releasing smoke and peat and whatever ice age elements were carried in the peat.

I will have dreams about that whisky

And that ended my weekend, just in time to get ready for the next. Since I overspent this past one, this one, I think, will be much quieter.