People frequently ask me what life in Honolulu is like, and I am usually reluctant to say much about it because, solitary bird that I am, who am I to adequately sum it up? The least I can say is that mundane life here is like everyday life anywhere it is ground down to balance supply and demand. But I am expected to say more than that about this beautiful Pacific resort. So, to see if I can temporarily supply the demand, here some particulars of a typical early Sunday morning from my isolated point of view, some particulars from which you may draw your own inferences about life in Honolulu, at least as I regard it.
I rose at the crack of dawn, continuing a long-standing custom which was most valuable to me while living in Manhattan since it allowed me to beat the frantic rush for the proverbial worm. Not that I had ever fully rid myself of the famous New York Minute; quite to the contrary: I had so internalized it that my jet lag lasted six months after my arrival here. Some of my dreams are still in Eastern Standard Time: I often awake at midnight with an urge to organize files, balance books, analyze history, and predict the future according to whatever side of the bed I got out of. But not on this Sunday, a day true to its name: the cock was just getting ready to crow this morning – I was born in the Year of the Cock, by the way.
The sunrise was so glorious that I wanted to star on Broadway and break out into song and dance but, instead, I slipped on my shorts and sandals and otherwise prepared to set out, on foot, to Waikiki Beach some two miles away from my studio in Moiliili, an area of Honolulu so named because it sits below a mountain that looks like a lizard i.e. moiliili.
My little apartment in Moiliili is perched so as to provide a bird's-eye view of Manoa Valley, a fertile aspect of Mother Nature embosoming the University of Hawaii, the beloved foster mother, alma mater, of many local residents. Its campus, quite lovely, especially with its many wonderfully exotic trees bearing strange flowers and fruits, is a commuter campus: students are spread out all over the island of Oahu. Between the campus and my cute little roost is the American Way, the brutal interlacing freeways clawed out of Earth by the Beast of Creative Destruction, orchestrating as usual this morning the whizzing and whirring and whooshing counterpoint of steel-belted radials spinning out various frequencies along its rigid confines. Once in awhile, I hear the crescendo of a motorcycle accelerating to a high, strident pitch. All this is accompanied by a choir of ravenous dogs in the shelter nearby, yelping for breakfast, and the chorus of valiant birds chirping in the trees below. I cannot bear to look directly at the traffic for long, as I feel that it will drive me mad, like that poor neurotic dog that my beloved Rene and I had on Big Island who went crazy every time he saw a wheel spin.
As I packed my beach bag, the sounds outside reminded me of the home I ran away from, and how I used to try to rest on Sundays in the park beside Riverside Drive. But this is not quite like New York: drivers here do not honk much, so I do not have an opportunity to sing that song I composed (Honk! Honk! Honk! You honkey, 'cause it's a honkey-tonky town!).
Pedestrians are respected by virtue of the Aloha Spirit in Hawaii, but are in fact occasionally run over like bugs in those crosswalks without lights over several speeding lanes. Jaywalkers are quite rare. As for those intersections with lights, the 'WALK' sign is a brief flash which a pedestrian must faithfully wait up to three minutes for, so it would take twelve minutes to encompass the entire intersection ( New Yorkers: Don't let Mayor Giulani intimidate you. He's a driver! Give him an inch and he'll take a mile. Jaywalk!). Bicycles are an undesirable species tending to eke out an unlawful existence on sidewalks for fear of extinction, and, of course, proposals for good mass overhead or ground rail transportation are voted down in favor of the almighty automobile. However, Waikiki Beach is pedestrian-friendly - many locals denounce it and do not go there, but I love it: it is good therapy, in my opinion, for any city boy or girl.
Anyway, those of you who live by "freeways" can imagine why I was thinking about cars as I walked towards Waikiki Beach. Both Aristotle and Rousseau loved to walk, one to teach while doing so, the other to speculate, hence I would describe my perambulations this Sunday morning as a cross-walking effort to organize my savage nature into metaphysical puzzles. I contemplated the apparent fact that, in a city congested by automobiles, like New York City, one does not have to have a car. However, in a village where one might go to get away from the urban congestion, a car is essential. Paradise can be Hell, and vice versa. Honolulu is somewhere in between, I concluded, and by then I had arrived at the Internet Cafe on Kapahulu Avenue, where I stopped to gas up on coffee.
"May I help you? You look puzzled...." the intuitive young lady behind the counter inquired, with an English accent especially notable to me on the coincidental word "puzzled".
"I was just thinking that Sunday is a good day to get away from cars," I explained.
"Why cars?" she asked curiously.
"Cars, for one, are clogs. They clog everything up. I mean 'clogs' in the sense of those heavy wooden blocks they used to tie to the necks or ankles of animals and people so they couldn't run away," I said, and made a mental note to look the word up in the Oxford (I subsequently found some entertaining usage quoted therein: (1570 Levins) "A clogge at ye foote, impendimentum", (1629 Cole) "The body is to the soul as a clogge tied to the legge", (1681 Dryden) "that Kings were useless and a Clog to Trade", (1727 Swift) "a perpetual clog to public business").
"There's always Da Bus...." she kindly suggested.
"Yes, Da Bus system is pretty good, but it might be better to get away from machines altogether."
"Yes, a large in a paper cup, please. It stays hotter than in a mug."
"O.K. I have to warn you, our coffee is made by a machine," she declared with eyes twinkling.
"I'm not exactly an orthodox neo-Luddite."
"Neo-Luddite," I repeated, feeling once again like a repository of the arcane. "Luddites," I pedantically continued, "were workers protesting the weaving machines around the beginning of the Nineteenth century. They believed the machines reduced employment, so they went around smashing them. They themselves were eventually violently suppressed."
"I see," the young lady mused; she had welcoming ears, so I went on.
"You know, that reminds me of the Jewish man in New York I observed arguing with an obstinate newspaper vendor, insisting that he couldn't pay him for the Times on the Sabbath because he couldn't touch money. He was most vehement about it, claiming he would pay the Palestinian newsstand operator on the morrow. Well, I don't understand the Sabbath, but I supposed it had to do with the fact that money is a kind of machine. I do know the use of elevators is disallowed. But I was thinking that if that was the case, the avoiding of machines, then the Times should be shunned because it is a propaganda machine. May I have some milk for the coffee?"
"Sure. Here 'ya go. That is very silly, I think, not taking the elevator on the Sabbath," she said seriously.
"Well, I believe the Sabbath has something to do with love. The customs serve as a reminder...."
"But if you take the elevator, you have more time for love," she emphatically stated.
"What?" I asked, surprised; there is really something to be said for the spontaneity of face-to-face conversations. "More time to make love, did you say?"
"You said that. I said 'more time for love.'"
"Hey, thank you very much," I replied sincerely. "That gives me a great idea for an article. I'm going to have my coffee now."
"You're welcome," she said as I took a place at a table in the midst of some of the Internet Cafe's usual clientele who were clickety-clacking computer keys and pointing cursors at icons.
So smart, that gal, I remarked to myself. She sounds English but hasn't even heard of the Luddites, who were Englishmen, yet has an intuitive sense of what machines are really for, even though she is surrounded by a world obsessed with building and using more and more machines as if that were the sole purpose of life. But some of the young Europeans I've met are like that. The French especially. I like to talk with them. Maybe I'll go to France and see if the Revolution is still alive. No, maybe not, I’m lucky to be here in paradise. But what an idea for an article! I could entitle it ‘Take The Elevator To Love.’