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Don't Pet the SharksAdvice, Observations & Snark from the Big Island, Hawaii
By Kona Lowell
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Kona Lowell
All right reserved.
Look out world. Here I come, a flaming jack-o-lantern tumbling down the front porch steps onto the dead October lawn. All smiles.
Look out world. Here I come, a wounded bomber, trailing clouds of dense black industry, part-time jobs and retirement communities. On fire.
Look out world. Here I come, a glacier of meth, scraping the moss off your stones, dredging up the long ago for here and now. Run, run.
Look out world. Here I come, the song of a sword, whistling through blood and bone, canceling the new fall lineup. Time's up.
Here I come. Ready or not. Here I come.
It's good to be home.
Don't Pet the Sharks
One thing most people notice almost as soon as they arrive in Hawaii is that they are on an island surrounded by a lot of water. In fact, you can see the ocean just about everywhere you go, unless you close your eyes. Because of this, and our boringly pleasant weather, people tend to get in this water and swim around. We call this "having fun" and do it ourselves, even those of us who live here year in and year out. But to make it safer for you tourists, allow me to give you some advice.
It is important to remember that the ocean is not a lake. Lakes have bass in them. Sometimes these are big bass. They like shiny things. They eat shiny minnows. We have fish that are bigger than bass. They are everywhere. They eat sea turtles and seals. To break up the monotony, they occasionally sample people. We call them "sharks."
This is not intended to scare you. Shark attacks are very rare. But that will not be much comfort to remember if one is swimming off with your leg, so here are some tips to keep you safe in our friendly, shark-filled waters.
1. Always swim with a partner. This is called the "Buddy System." It improves your chances of survival by 50% in a shark attack, unless there are two sharks.
2. When a shark attacks, punch it in the nose as hard as you can. I got this tip from an older, experienced one-armed diver named Lefty.
3. Even though they are considered chic, avoid wearing an all-meat bathing suit, except at the pool and for casual shopping.
4. Don't pet the sharks, even if they seem to be asleep. Apply that old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie. Then multiply it by 1,000.
5. Turtle and seal costumes should be worn in the ocean only on Halloween by very, very depressed people.
6. When spear fishing, resist the temptation to make a lei out of your catch until you exit the water.
7. Sharks, though intelligent, have no concept of the words "sit," "stay" or "let go."
8. Avoid swimming at "feeding time," which is approximately at dawn and dusk, unless you have a burning desire to be part of the "food chain." Yes, sharks do eat at other times of the day. They are noted snackers.
9. Avoid wearing shiny jewelry when swimming. See comment on bass fishing above.
10. When swimming with friends, avoid using the "wounded dolphin call" to keep track of each other.
11. Do not go shark fishing on any boat called the Orca.
12. Sharks have a limited, some might even say primeval, sense of humor. When joking your way out of an encounter, keep it simple and avoid elaborate puns.
13. Before going in the ocean, check for any gaping wounds or excessive bleeding. Apply a tourniquet.
14. Small children should be tied together on a rope at ten foot intervals. Attach a large glass sea-fishing bobber to either end.
15. Study shark behavior. This way when a shark arches its back and wags its tail, you will not confuse it with your dog Fluffy's similar body language.
16. On a crowded beach, always chum the end furthest from where you're swimming.
17. Should the unthinkable happen, remember that only a thumb and pinkie are required to make the "shaka" or "howzit" sign, our state's folksy "hello" hand gesture.
I hope this has been of some help. Remember, your chances of being attacked by one of our playful sharks is less than being struck by lightning.
When does celebrity become a burden and anonymity become the goal? To discover the answer to this weighty conundrum I set out to find some famous people and learn for myself.
"Hello! Rick Jameson, right?"
"I'm doing some research on fame and would like to ask you a question."
"When does celebrity become a burden and anonymity become the goal?"
"I don't get it."
"When does celebrity become a burden and anonymity become the goal?"
"No, I heard you the first time. I just don't get it. What do you mean?"
"Well, your brother caught the second largest marlin in the National Billfish Tournament in '91, right"
"Well, that must be an awesome responsibility to have to carry that around."
"I mean the pressure to repeat must be enormous. You probably were inundated with requests to meet your brother, to see pictures of the fish, to ride on other people's boats. It must have been a terrible burden, and I would imagine there were times when you wished you could go back to your old life before you were famous."
"Not really. It wasn't that big a deal."
"Then I gather you are one of those rare individuals who is quite comfortable, or we might even say 'at home' with fame."
"Yeah, I guess. I never really thought about it. It wasn't a big deal."
"So since '91, how many second place marlins has your brother land- ed?"
"I really don't know."
"You don't know, or are you simply trying to avoid the spotlight?"
"No, I really don't know."
"Maybe the fame has become a bit of a burden?"
"Yeah, okay, maybe. I don't know."
"Then will you be changing your Yellow Pages ad? The one that says Go fishing with Rick Jameson, brother of the guy who caught the second largest marlin in the 1991 International Billfish Tournament."
"Well, maybe. I don't know. Hey, I've really gotta go, man."
"Okay, but can I see the picture of that marlin first?"
"Yeah, sure. Here it is."
"Wow. That's some fish."
"Yeah. Hey look, I've gotta go, man."
"Getting to be a bit of a burden, is it not, my friend? I understand."
Those of us who have not experienced what it is like to be a celebrity can only imagine the awesome weight these people must bear every day of their lives. Maybe if we realized the overwhelming, crushing burden they carry, a burden that rests like the world on Atlas' mighty, aching back, we would be more forgiving of their human frailties: their womanizing, public drunkenness, drug convictions, shoplifting and pederasty.
And maybe, knowing of this backbreaking responsibility, we will be less inclined to wish for fame ourselves, to wish we had brothers who caught second place marlins, and got free beer and girls who like fishermen. It is not all parties and riding parade floats and full answering machines.
Just ask Rick Jameson.
The Very Praying Man
I met a very praying man on the roadside. His eyes and arms were raised to heaven, his mouth a blur. His knees were deep in mud, the soles of his shoeless feet blackened with the grime of traffic.
"For what do you pray, pilgrim bold?" I queried.
He turned his fervent gaze on me, and replied with due solemnity, "A ride to town, my friend, is all I seek. But the Good Lord seems unwilling to hear my heartsick pleas. I have been praying here for lo this many hours, till my knees are numb and my lips chapped, but not a single car has altered its course to rescue me from my long distress. I fear that God has become deaf to my solicitations and no more cares for my sorrows and afflictions."
"Maybe if you got out of this 8 foot deep ditch and stood up next to the road where people could actually see you, someone might stop and give you a ride," I suggested.
"Ah, my friend, God needs not the "easy way," he said, making vigorous air quotes with his fingers. "He sees me quite clearly down here."
"True," I answered, "but I don't think God is going to drive by. It wouldn't be cheating to at least stand up, would it?"
"I shall not limit my God, my friend. I shall not limit my God."
With that I continued my journey along the ditch, filling the rest of my sack with discarded cans and plastic bottles. Suddenly there was a deafening roar as of a whirlwind and blowing dust filled the air. I threw myself on the ground, covering my ears and looked skyward to see a golden chariot pass quickly overhead. Out the right hand side the very praying man was waving to me and smiling.
Well, so much for parables I thought to myself.
If I could change anything it would be my nose
and maybe my legs and the shape of my head
and my hair
and my voice
and my eyebrows
and my front teeth
but other than that I'm pretty happy with myself.
One Wonderful Week
I guess I should really be ashamed of myself, and I am, but I had a wonderful week. Sure, I get good days now and then. I can remember one in June of 1987, but seven days in a row is sort of miraculous.
The reason I say I should be ashamed is that this whole week of happiness came as a result of my girlfriend being sick. Nothing serious, just got a bad cold, which she quickly recovered from. It was the laryngitis that turned out to be something really special.
This was the first time since I have known her that she was entirely unable to speak. I don't mean she was hoarse, I mean she could not make a sound, beyond an almost inaudible squeak, like an anemic mouse with emphysema. It was wonderful.
I said I was ashamed already, okay?
This changed everything. First of all, we could not talk on the phone. We were forced to use Yahoo Messenger and chat back and forth on our computers, and since I type a blazing 20 words per minute (with typos), this made for short conversations. In other words, we got to the meat right away. It was incredible.
"I go store way home."
"MNF at 7, Vikes v. Skins. Pizza."
No, I'm the one saying "OK." She really loves football.
And guess what was the one thing we couldn't do? That's right: argue. Now you're seeing my point, huh?
At home, it was even less wordy, since she had to write on one of those erasable refrigerator grocery list things. This kept our conversation to single words for the most part. Like cavemen with Sharpies.
It was tough, but I fought the overpowering urge to come home every night and say, "Well, tell me all about your day!"
But all good things come to an end, and after a week, her voice began to return. I had gone through a whole seven days without once hearing, "You never listen to anything I say."
I have heard that several times since then, but I don't mind. She had a lot of stored up words and plenty to say after being mute for a week. So I am working on being a good listener. And I must admit that "I love you" has more impact when it's spoken than when it's written on one of those refrigerator things in purple.
Still, it was a wonderful week. It might be good for our relationship to have a wordless vacation like this every few years, but unfortunately I can't count on her getting laryngitis again.
So I'm taking up scuba. Did you know that you can go deaf for days if you don't clear your ears properly when diving?
Hawaiian Language Can Make You Go Completely Insane
Wouldn't think a language with only 12 letters could do that, would you? Bwaaa haaa haaa haaa!
The thing is, Hawaiians enjoy stringing word after word together to make new words, which allows them to use these same twelve letters (a, e, i, o, u, p, k, h, l, m, n, w and the glottal stop, or 'okina) over and over. It makes for a very complex, poetic and fascinating language and an innocent means of embarrassing the hell out of haole tourists, while still being charming. Here's a common example, the name of our cute little state fish: humuhumunuknukuapua'a.
Now if you live here, you most likely have no problem repeating that (when sober). You also probably know that it means "trigger fish (humuhumu) with a nose (nukunuku) like a pig (a pua'a)." Or you might remember the song My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii which contains the line "Where the humuhumunukunukuapua'a go swimming by," a song we all sing daily here while pounding poi, stringing leis, surfing, perfecting our tans and weaving lau hala hats and making plans to secede from the Union.
Fortunately, most tourists can avoid saying humhumunukunukuapua'a as it rarely comes up in conversation, but they can't avoid trying to pronounce our mind-boggling place names because they are trying to get to those places.
Take a simple one like Keauhou, located about midway between Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua. It's got some serious vowel action going on. Five vowels, two consonants. Or the famous Place of Refuge, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. Or a hot spot you're likely to visit if you come to the Big Island, Kilauea, our famous volcano (while there, be sure to check out the Pu'u O'o cone and Halemaumau crater).
Seems a bit daunting, no? But do not get discouraged. Did you take Spanish in high school? Okay. Pronounce all the vowels the same way. The consonants you already know how to pronounce, except that the "w" can be a bit tricky. Sometimes it sounds like a "v", sometimes like a "w". Fake it. But here's the important thing: pronounce every vowel. If you do that, you will at least get close enough to be understood.
Now try "Keauhou." Kay-ah-oo-HO-oo. Now run it all together really fast and you've got it. Can of corn. And not as laughable as Kee-ah-HOO. Well, actually it is, but one is correct and the other isn't.
Anyway, you'll eventually get the hang of it, or you'll just give up and point at things on a map. Either way you'll probably get where you're going.
Unless someone gives you directions in pidgin.
Heaven always sounded like a good idea to me. I used to want to go there someday, hopefully at the last possible minute. But now I'm not so sure.
See, I have a very short attention span, which is why I can't watch miniseries on TV or go to the opera. I can't read anything by Michener or Tolstoy. I don't play chess. I write short, stupid stories. I can't even stay interested in the same girl for too long, unless she has a sister maybe.
Heaven goes on forever.
I keep wondering what I would do there for eternity. Eternity is kinda scary if you have a very short attention span.
Sure, it would be really great to see God. I bet I would be amazed and thrilled. But I'm thinking that after a billion or so years the novelty might start to wear off.
Of course since I've never been to heaven I really don't know if it would be boring. Maybe they don't have any clocks up there so you don't realize you've been staring at God for a billion years. And maybe they have activi- ties, like Club Med. And an open bar.
There's also the obvious downside of spending eternity with people you never liked too much. It's bad enough when you have to see them once in a while, like at a class reunion, and be nice to them. You can always leave. I don't think you can leave heaven.
Then there's all those people who are supposed to be there that I really don't like. It would be my kinda luck to end up rooming with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. For ever.
Please let there be an open bar.
Excerpted from Don't Pet the Sharks by Kona Lowell Copyright © 2010 by Kona Lowell. Excerpted by permission.
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