Friday, September 23, 2011

Imaginary Postcards (pt. 2)

(continued from here)


Photo by Ji

Dear Dicky,

Today I learned that Adriana and Ji don't like Morrissey. WTF?


Photo by Adriana

Dear Dicky,

I lost the keys to our rental car somewhere inside a Long's Drugstore today, and 2.5 hours of vacation were lost in consequence. We scanned each aisle countless times, ransacked the trash bins, combed the parking lot, but these keys had something to prove. The Long's staff rallied to help us, interrupting their workday to join the hunt, and I was touched by their genuine concern.

I felt like a stereotype -- another absent-minded woman losing her keys -- and inside, I was beating myself up for it. Repeatedly, I apologized to Ji and Adriana for my fuck-up, but they responded only with reassurances. "Yes, we're stuck at a drugstore," Ji said, "but it's a drugstore in Maui and it doesn't get much better than this." I thought of boyfriends from vacations past, and wondered if they would've been so kind.

We ate fish from a cart in the parking lot and weighed our options. I was ready to call a locksmith (a $300 pricetag for new key), when an employee ran from the store, a fistful of silver flashing. The keys had been hiding among the water socks. I went back inside and thanked every employee personally. To myself, I vowed to be a better person.

Later, we took the long way to Waimoku Falls and the Seven Sacred Pools -- the West Maui Highway. The landscape here is alien, a little like land coming back to life in the decades following a wildfire. I piloted our car through the winding dirt roads, stopping occasionally to inspect the herds of grazing Maui cows, who seemed somehow more relaxed and friendly than mainland cows. "Moohalo!" we'd shout to them. The cows would only masticate and stare in response, but we could see the pineapples twinkling in their eyes. And all along this narrow road, the bluest ocean was always to our right, a constant companion crashing against the lava rocks.

"What planet is this?" one of us asked.

If you filmed landscapes like this, I think I'd enjoy your work more.


Dear Crystal,

I ate the best meal of my life tonight -- our last in Maui -- at Mama's Fish House. Granted, we got incredibly stoned in the car beforehand, which proved a little embarrassing since the parking lot was valet-only. I had to relinquish our smoke-filled vehicle to an attendant who slid behind the wheel without making eye contact. Heightened senses or no, I still think it would've been the best meal ever. I'm pretty sure.

We ordered three appetizers, three entrees and three desserts. I think the waitress was a little afraid of us -- three women who ate with such abandon and gusto. Several dishes were served in coconut shells, and Adriana asked for a spoon so she could scrape out the flesh. At the meal's end, these were our only leftovers -- our plates were bare -- and so we took the coconut shavings home with us in a box. The bill was over $300 before tip, which I'm sure you find horrifying, but it was worth it.

On the ride back to our vacation rental, we listened to our favorite Maui old school radio station, and sang along to Exposé's "The Point of no Return." On the eucalyptus-lined road to Hai'ku, we stopped the car short because so many frogs were hopping into the road. Illuminated by our headlights, a single frog waited, looking up at the three of us expectantly.

"Go touch it, Ji!" Adriana squealed. Ji exited the car and walked toward the frog. As she got within striking distance, she took a step backward, paused, and then moved closer again. She reached out her hand, but then snatched it away, stepping backward. This happened several times before she turned toward us and said, "I can't! I'm scared."

"I think I can handle this," I said, rising from the passenger seat. I crouched next to the frog and stared him down, the headlights cutting through the fog around us, creating a spotlight. I was surprised by the frog's muscularity -- the little guy was ripped. Our eyes were locked as I reached out and touched his clammy back, shocked that he didn't move as my fingers grazed his skin. I turned and looked up at Adriana, still behind the steering wheel, in awe.

"Kiss him!" she shouted.

I turned back to the frog and lowered myself into plank position. As I moved my face toward him, he leapt away. Instinctively, I assumed a frog position and hopped after him. I chased him to the edge of the eucalyptus grove, but I wasn't quick enough -- he'd disappeared into the foggy woods.

I stood, balled my fists and turned my face toward the low-hanging Maui moon, howling, "Unrequited love!"

I know you haven't been too interested in traveling to Hawaii, but I think you'd like it here. So many things remind me of you.


Photo by Adriana

Dear Shannon,

I brought three books to Maui (two on my Kindle). This does not include my copy of Maui Revealed, which is the only one I've cracked for six days on this island. I'm carrying my journal too, but my pen only appears to sign checks. Is this living in the moment? I'm writing these postcards now, here on my blog, because stopping to write about anything that happened as it was happening felt impossible. I did buy some postcards on my last day in Maui, which I scrawled hastily on the first leg of my flight, and then mailed when I changed planes in Honolulu. I can't remember anything I wrote.

I hope you haven't found any more poop in your library. I'm still trying to figure out what I should do for Thanksgiving. It's not the same without you.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Imaginary Postcards (pt. 1)

Our plane is circling above the island, making our final descent into Kahului, but through the cabin windows, there isn't much to see. Clouds. The darkening sky. Adriana has the window seat and Ji is on the aisle. It seems I have made a sacrifice by volunteering for the middle, but I only wanted a guaranteed sweet spot for the return trip. I am planning for the end before anything has begun. A few moments earlier, Adriana was singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door." We have not yet seen the island, but as we descend, Adriana says, "I want to get pregnant here."


Second waterfall. We hid our cameras in the forest after this. Photo by Ji.

Dear Lei,

Today we went chasing waterfalls and Adriana surprised me. The guidebook described the hike to the Four Falls of Na'ili'ili-Haele as an "adventure" -- a category that is distinct from an "activity." On the trail to the first waterfall, through the bamboo forest and across the wooden plank that served as a bridge, families were turning around. "The waterfalls here aren't any good," a mother tried to reassure her young son who was too tiny for the rock-climbing.

The first waterfall was small, but after scaling the slippery rocks, we were rewarded with the gorgeous second waterfall. Before I could take in my surroundings, Adriana jumped into the pool. She glided through the water, a bespectacled mermaid home to breed.

The pool, the falls, the pebble shore, the birds chirping in the bamboo forest: it was enough for me. More rock-climbing and a trip up a rickety rope ladder attached to a 12-ft rock face would be required to reach the third waterfall. I was ready to call it a day here (guidebook: "This is as far as most people will go"), but Adriana was already out of the water and climbing. "If gyms were this spectacular, I'd be so fit." I remembered the time I brought her once, years ago, to my Burn & Firm class at the Hollywood YMCA. Twenty minutes in, she was balled up in a corner of the gymnasium, head between her legs, hyperventilating under the fluorescent lights. Who was this creature now, climbing waterfalls barefoot in a hot pink bikini, as I slipped around in my waterlogged tennis shoes? Reluctantly, I followed her up the side of the rock.

The hike was worth it. At the top of the third waterfall -- more breathtaking than the previous two -- we took turns jumping into the pool 30 feet below. We hadn't packed any food, but it didn't matter. As we splashed around, perfectly ripe passion fruit floated toward us. We'd suck out the oozy flesh and watch the discarded rinds drift away with the current.

"I'm done," said Adriana as she floated in the pool. "If this vacation ended now, I would be completely satisfied." It was only Day 2.

So . . . have you killed my plants yet?


Photo by Adriana

Dear Mom,

I am in Maui. I don't think I told you I was going. Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell you about my travel plans because you've never been anywhere, and I know it's not for lack of interest. When I visit anyplace other than Phoenix, I know I am making a choice. I wonder if that occurs to you too -- even though I don't think you've ever said anything to make me feel bad about it.

We stopped for barbecue today at a shack on the side of the Hana Highway. I love driving here and it makes me think of my other favorite drives -- the Pacific Coast Highway through central California and Australia's Great Ocean Road. Not that Hana looks anything like those places -- it's just that same feeling of otherworldliness. There is a waterfall every few miles. The guidebook described a condition that is common among vacationers: beauty fatigue. It hasn't happened to me yet.

The barbecue stand was out of mahi-mahi. We didn't think we'd make it to Hana before sunset and the guidebook warned that our food options were limited. Jesse, the islander behind the grill holding a Heineken says, "Chicken or Pork?" After explaining that I don't usually eat meat, he says, "What? You come all the way to Maui and you not gonna try the pork?" He has a point. "Pork," I say. He piles my plate high with the stuff and I carry it to the long wooden picnic table.

Did you cook pork when I was a kid? Because I don't remember it ever tasting this way -- I don't think it would've been possible. I tell myself that it's Hawaii falling apart in my mouth and it's paradise. With some help from Ji and Adriana, my plate is cleaned.

How is James doing?


Photo by Adriana

Dear Chris,

Today my camera fell off a cliff.

Yesterday, we met a guy working a roadside barbecue stand who offered to show us around Hana. When we asked how much it would cost, he said, "Spend the day with me and at the end, you decide what it's worth." He told us his Hawaiian name at least three times, but I can't remember it. He also goes by Jesse, so that's what we call him.

The first place he took us was the Blue Pool, which is on private property, but Jesse's somehow related to the owners, so it was OK. In fact, I've noticed that he addresses most everyone we meet as "brother" or "cousin." The water in the Blue Pool is spring-fed. We took turns drinking from it and then letting the water pour over our heads, the force of it making our skulls vibrate. "This is your baptism," Jesse said.

He drove our rental car through the winding roads of Hana with a Heineken between his legs. I don't know why this seemed acceptable, but it was. Maybe because my father always drove with a beer between his legs? Maybe because the sky was full of rainbows? We made stops for waterfalls, beaches, and to gather food: fruit, banana bread, avocado, and once, a salad (which involved Jesse hacking away at the brush along the side of the road). We listened to the Knife ("This sounds like music for people on Ecstasy") and Bo Diddley, which Jesse liked better, though he kept singing over the vocals with impromptu island songs.

He wanted to cook us fish for dinner, which meant fish would need to be caught. This meant scaling the side of a cliff, the dirt crumbling beneath our feet as we took tentative steps, clinging to whatever protuberances we could grip in the wall of rock. We eventually settled into a perch and watched Jesse stand in a tree for a half-hour, surveying the surf below, scanning the tide pools for the telltale silvery glint. We watched the Heineken bottle slip from his hands and crash a few hundred feet below. And then he was off, armed with a backpack and a net, bounding down the side of the cliff like a kid playing hopscotch.

We watched the water and waited. Sometimes Jesse was visible among the rocks, but mostly he'd disappear for long stretches of time. Silently, we considered what we'd do if he didn't come back -- how would we get out of this place without his guidance? -- but we kept our fears to ourselves. When the silver camera slipped from my hands and fell soundlessly below, we all thought that it could have been any of us. When I moved to look over the cliff for any sign of it -- maybe it got caught on a rock, I thought -- Adriana said, "No. Don't. Stop."

Nearly an hour passed before Jesse returned to us, his blue backpack heavy with fish. "Sorry that took so long," he said. "You hungry?" We went back to a home that wasn't his -- another cousin? -- in a neighborhood that felt a little like South L.A., but with a better view, and watched him fry the fish whole. We ate fish eyes and drank beer on a stranger's porch as the sun set over Hana. Stuffed, we left Jesse with a fistful of cash.

How is the pizza in New Haven?

(to be continued)