Thursday, January 03, 2008
I can't believe I'm back. But then I can't believe I went in the first place.
I spent the holidays with my family in Hawaii this year, which is so far beyond my normal routine that I'm starting to wonder if I imagined the whole thing.
But it was real. I actually got on airplane--the first time in about 8 years--and spent 10 days in fecking Hawaii. And it was fantastic.
My sister, my aunt and myself represented the East Coast in this family summit meeting, while my brother, his wife, and my niece weighed in from San Francisco.
We stayed on the Big Island, first in Kona and then in Hilo, and I couldn't believe I was walking around in shorts and a t-shirt in December.
I've always wanted to spend one Christmas away from home and now that my parents are both gone, I'm not sure what "home" means anymore.
Obviously I don't want to quit celebrating the holidays at all, but they lose some of their meaning without my mom and dad around.
While we're not what anyone would call church-goers, we wanted to attend a Christmas service and we found the perfect place just a short walk from out hotel in Kona.
Mokuaikaua Church, Hawaii's oldest Christian church, was holding a service on Christmas Eve, and I have to say, it was incredible.
The building itself is a treasure, made from 'Ohi'a trees and completed in 1837. We East Coasters sat in the back as three women in traditional costumes sang and danced up the aisle toward the altar.
They were followed by three men, also in traditional garb, who approached the altar one at a time and bowed.
I should mention here that this sort of thing never happened during the Christmas mass at Our Lady of Angels Church in Brooklyn, at least not when I was going there.
We sang all my favorite carols and lit candles, it was the kind of celebration that simultaneously felt completely different and quite familiar.
On Christmas Day, we ate at a restaurant by the beach and from my chair I could see the waves crashing on to the shore.
I had a good time, but the female members of our party informed me that I had too much to drink and was being obnoxious. I respectfully disagree, but I also don't remember much from the evening either.
As I write this, I'm listening to Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters singing "Mele Kalikimaka," a Hawaiian Christmas song. Mahalo, Bingle.
After the holiday, we did the Hawaii thing. I was designated driver and I had a great time sitting behind the wheel of a new car. After years of creaking around in rust buckets, I felt like I was piloting the space shuttle.
Everything was automatic in this goddamn thing--the doors, the windows, the trunk--I felt like the Amazing Kreskin making all these things happen.
I still don't know what half the buttons and dials mean, but I loved the feeling of just tapping the gas pedal and taking off.
My old Toyota wouldn't take off unless you dropped a match into the gas tank, which would have been a good idea, now that I think of it.
One day we went out on a boat for snorkeling with the dolphins. I don't swim worth a damn, but I was content to sit on the deck and enjoy the sun and sea.
The dolphins were scarce--apparently they were trying to sleep--but we did see a couple of them fly out of the water and spin through the air.
A day or two later, I started off at the beach and ending up freezing my tail off on the snowy peak of Mauna Kea, a mere 14,000 feet above sea level.
This is the perfect place for a man who is afraid of heights, but I'm glad I wasn't sitting in the front seat of the tour bus.
We also went to a seahorse farm, where the guide told us that sea horses don't stray far from where they were born and are not at all aggressive when it comes to fighting other fish for food.
It sounded a little too familiar. I rarely travel and I'm not good at speaking up for myself. But I'm not a seahorse.
After that, we packed up and headed off to Hilo, which is about two hours away. We saw some incredible scenery, but the last 30 miles or so provided me with some of the most hellacious driving I've ever experienced.
Let's see, we had rain, fog, little or no lighting on twisting roads, construction, drivers who seemed bent on committing suicide, and an extremely nervous middle-aged guy from Brooklyn who hates driving at night and probably needs glasses but is too deep in denial to admit it.
Other than that, well, it was a walk in the park.
Hilo was colder than Kona, with rain and very changeable weather. You're driving along when the sky opens up and the rain comes down so hard you have to switch on the hazard lights, slow down to crawl and hope the clowns around you are being equally cautious.
But then it stops, the sun comes out, and everybody speeds up. It's like Mother Nature is doing the Emily Litella line--"never mind."
We saw such incredible scenery: sheer cliffs, monstrous waves, huge trees and bizarre plants. It was like exploring another planet.
I remember looking around and thinking, hey, this is just like the greenhouse at the New York Botanical Garden.
Then I reminded myself, that this was real, an actual rain forest, not a bogus one.
We went to Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park twice during our time in Hilo and there's still plenty we didn't see.
Now, as for the flying, well, that was pretty much horrible. I had gone to a hypnotist in hopes of erasing this phobia from mind like an draftsman rubbing away a slip of the pencil, but it didn't work out that way.
Every morning for a month I listened to a tape of the hypnotist telling me that from now on I would be cozy and comfortable on a plane.
Instead I was terrified, saying the Rosary over and over, clutching my parents' mass cards, and squeezing my poor sister's hand to a sweaty pulp.
My sister pointed out that I did actually get on a plane, so there was some progress, but I was hoping for a Manchurian Candidate thing, where instead of turning into a mindless assassin, I become fearless of flight upon seeing the Queen of Diamonds.
Maybe I should have gone to Angela Lansbury for help.
The flight back was a nightmare, something out of Neil Simon play, only there was no jokes to be found.
First, we almost got clobbered by some jerk in an SUV on our way to the airport. I was waiting at a light when I heard this godawful screeching and I see this huge vehicle got skidding by me sideways.
The air stunk of burned rubber as the loser righted himself and got back on the road, but I took it as a bad omen. And I was right.
Our flight out of Kona was delayed--and marked by horrendous turbulence--causing us to miss our connecting flight in LAX. From there, we tried to get on to one New York flight after another.
It was like the fall of Saigon, or Casablanca where everybody had to get onto a plane right now, this very second. But we didn't have the letters of transport.
While waiting in L.A., I found a laminated card that contained a prayer for people who travel on airplanes. One side was in English and the other was, I believe, in Hebrew.
I was tempted to keep it, since I'm so frightened of airplanes, but my sister encouraged me to bring back to the newsstand where I found it. They were no help, naturally, so I gave it to a cop by the security gate.
I know that prayer will never find its rightful owner, but I couldn't steal somebody else's prayer.
We got close to getting on the 1:30 pm flight, but they only had one seat and we didn't want to split up. We finally got on the 3pm flight and it was going fairly well until we got close to JFK and were told we had to wait for permission to land.
We were flying in circles over Jersey and I'm thinking of every possible disaster: midair collision, rocket attack, drunken small plane pilots, lightning bolts, wind shear, suicidal stewardesses, UFO abductions, the sky was the limit in my twisted imagination.
We finally landed at about midnight to a freezing hellhole of a town. I felt like I had been gone for ages, but still it seemed like I had just left.
Now how's this for irony: while my sister was absolute rock on the plane, she was frightened by the steep angle of the escalator in JFK. A few minutes ago we were five miles up in the air in a flying soda can, but that didn't bother her.
There is no logic to fear, but I think more people have died in plane crashes than in escalator accidents.
Like most vacations, I ate too much and spent too much, but there's no price tag on what I got out of this trip.
I want this vacation to mean more than just a winter tan and a stack of T-shirts from the ABC Store. I took a big step away from myself and I got a chance to look at myself.
I'm terrified in an airplane, but one thing this fear makes me do is look at how much time and energy I've wasted being angry about things in my past.
I thought if the worst does happen, do you want to die still angry at some jerk who crossed you back in high school?
I want to keep that insight without the insanity. I want the perspective without the panic. I want to change.
This is the New Year, so I've decided I'm going to have a clean slate for 2008. I know, I know, resolutions were made to be ignored, but I'm going to work on this one.
Just look at 2007: It started off roughly with the death of my father, but then I took two solo performance classes, culminating with a 30-minute piece, marked by 50th birthday with a big party and flew out to Hawaii.
For one thing, I've decided I'm going to take swimming lessons. I'm tired of watching, of thrashing around in the child's end of the pool.
I don't know exactly why I never learned to swim, but I was the youngest of four children and I think at one time I must have resisted getting into the pool and my parents let me get away with it.
I don't believe in the sink or swim approach, but I wish my folks had nudged me a little on this one. Instead, we all just said Robert doesn't swim and left it at that.
Well, Robert can fly, so he can swim, too. My niece learned how to swim at four and she told me that the instructor started off by making all the kids paddle in the water with cupped hands.
"We kept saying 'ice cream scoops, ice cream scoops,'" she told me.
Sounds good to me. I want to get more connected to the world, I want to do things instead of watching. The sea horses better look out because I want my ice cream scoops.
Hau'oli Makahiki Hou--Happy New Year to you mainlanders.