Copyright © 1999 Robert Wintner.
All rights reserved.
Acts of Submission
Albert Einstein gazes into the universe with big, clear eyes, his hair a halo of quantum intelligence, giving meaning to the words beneath his visage: Great minds have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.
Below him is a drab room veiled in dinge, color-coordinated like the county jail in dirty yellows, rusting grays, dashes of mud brown and assorted off-whites. Dusty ventilators moan lowly over clerks who view the world with glazed eyes that match their sneeze shields. Many pieces of paper slide in and out the transaction hole.
Albert Einstein recalls school days, when these clerks had a future, because time hadn't yet happened, not to them. Albert Einstein hangs as proof that somewhere things are different, or were different, or could have been different. Shuffling papers, sniffing errors, slouching, squinting, audibly breathing, they look up at the clock now and then and call, "Next."
Killing time is proof of government function. The heat and dust of a tropical DMV makes the miracle of internal combustion more miraculous; tiny print on the millions of forms coheres precisely as cams and pistons, in theory. The adversarial atmosphere is natural, life being what it is. You know society and order are good, providing gainful employment for the lower forms, empowering the meek and leveling the field. Unlike their forebears from Japan who worked the real fields, these workers understand progress; they are indoors, sitting down. Vehicle registration takes two hours, beginning with an hour in line, leading to Mrs. Fujimura's deepening slouch and scrutiny and opening gambit, "Were you the next person in line?"
The question belies her racism; I'm white. Nobody likes racism at the receiving end. White people have an empowerment innate to their heritage. "Don't I look like the next person in line?"
"I only want to be sure." I'm curious to know how many times today Mrs. Fujimura asked and the racial descent of those asked. But I don't ask, because I understand empowerment; Mrs. Fujimura can fuck you up till the cows come home, can lose your track in the shit pile and find it years later with a tax lien on it, with penalty and interest. I nod, not exactly like a peon, but then not exactly not. She scans my forms with a jaundiced eye. One brow rises. "Do you have authorization form 512-B?"
512-B is a zinger. It sends you to the end of the line. I know. I've been. I slide form 512B through the window. She scans with new resolution for a wily white guy who thinks he can give her the slip. Slowly a smile tweaks to the left, breaks to the right and leads the head in a slow shake. Certainty becomes pendulous as time passing; negativity finds momentum. The head wags. "Whoever stamped your clearance used the wrong stamp here, right here, and it doesn't go on line two, it goes on line five."
She sits back in her chair and stares through the sneeze shield. She waits in the joy of humility delivered, the ecstasy of watching another white suck realizing inferiority. She is the system, happy to chew you up and spit you out, because that's what she doesit's her job. Unless you draw a line.
"You know I've been through this line twice already?"
"No. I would have no way of knowing that."
"So?" I ask. "Can you fix it?"
She shrugs. The head shakes. "Not if your clearance is wrong. How can I fix if clearance is wrong?"
"My clearance isn't wrong."
"You must see the supervisor. Thursday. Nine to ten."
I nod. It's Thursday, ten twenty. My shirt sticks to my skin. Sweat drips down my ribs as I calmly ask, "What is your name?" She mumbles Fujimura. I have my own pen, certain proof of advanced degrees. I write precisely on my checkbook, "Fu ... ji ... mura. Is that right?"
"Yes. That's right." She speaks clearly now over an anxious glare. She will tell her son or cousin or brudda about the haole suck who treated her like dirt. The fields relevel.
"And your supervisor's name?"
"I can change this for you. But it might come back."
I smile. "C'est la vie. C'est la guerre. N'est ce pas?" She shakes her head, fucking haole suck. She proceeds under the oppression that plagued her forebears.
I wasn't born here. Mrs. Fujimura can tell. I'm not a dead giveaway, like the pasty tourists with tan lines on their ankles. Yet she senses a formal education in the woodpile. She perceives unfair advantage in the formative years, where I learned to be pushy and oppressive. She reads me wrong, but I'm willing to share her hostility. I know we can work this out, once we understand how thoroughly we can fuck each other up. Then we can go home and have lunch, a sandwich for me, char siu, pigmeat lau laus, two scoops sticky rice for her. And maybe some chow fun, but maybe not, it's so hot; maybe some macaroni salad instead, cold, to beat the heat. Mrs. Fujimura is very fat. It's not exactly my fault, but then again, well, you know ...
I drive home in relief and regret. The track is registered for another year; for another year I have fended off the ignorance and hostility available here. I repress further inventory. Hey, some of my best friends are Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese or Swedish. I don't often get close to Filipinos though. Some of them eat dogs. They hang a dog by the hind legs and slit its throat so the heart pumps the blood out. They call it cultural. I can't get around that; cruelty grown in a culture is no less cruel. The governor is Filipino. He won't admit his appetite for dogs, but we're not friends.
On the warm side here are those outside the junta, those for whom life is tempered by tropical balm and aloha, for whom life is good, because the air is warm, the water is clear, and here we are on a rock in the limitless sea. I think most people arrive here by necessity, either as coolie labor to work sugarcane or as castaways coming ashore. The place makes sense in a world breaking down. This place also fails, with wave upon wave of seekers stacking like flotsam on a lee shore, until the dream is buried under too many dreamers. Still, they come, because failure is easier in warm weather with a sympathetic peer group.
Life is mostly slow and simple, with a few cold beers when day is done, yellowfin steaks on the grill with some onion, tomato and mushroom, maybe some sashimi while watching the fire. If a person walks up the drive with something to sell, you listen, because he doesn't want to beat you, not yet, because the place isn't like that yet.
Life at home vibrates with the goodness of the first vibration. Some say the vibration was a word. Some say electrons still arc amino acids here, and the word is OM.
Volcanoes vibrate with violence and machismo. The fire goddess is an old hag/young beauty, Madame Pelé. Flesh falls from her bones when she's not swaggering down the road seductively. You can take a chance and give her a lift or take a chance and pass her by.
Jagged shoreline proves that a nose was cut off to spite a face, yet beaches stretch for miles in ancient communion of earth and sea. Warmth rising in waves seeps in, nurturing those in need, those in doubt. The balm confirms; I was meant to feel this. Rain forests rot and blossom; experience and innocence whisper with decrepitude and lust. Thick and sultry at sea level, the air freezes at 10,000 feet, where silverswords grow and civilization is far away and ages ago.
The rock feels bigger than twelve by fifty. It heats and cools, rises and falls and draws humans to its jungle and moonscape. Greenery and bluery compete in obscene effusion that tints the air with an eerie tingle of cell division. This is life, you think, as moisture beads on your brow and lip and rolls down your nose and makes you wipe your chin. You drink more. The clouds articulate like one stupor finding another; a sultry buzz commingles with a dazed sweat. Each makes room for the other and for you.
People born here throw trash on the roadside in a claim of sorts, as if the place is for some to trash but not others. Or maybe the habit is only a reaction to what happened here. The Hawaiians lost their land. Then they lost the magic derived from nature.
I know a man, not a Kahuna, but a man who dabbles in the huna way, Nikodemo, call him Niko. Niko makes rain with real power beyond whimsy and greed. I watched him make three months of it. He couldn't stop the rain. I think he was too stoned. He grows his own buds, nurturing the plants with incantation, supplication and fertilization. He tells me huna magic survives, just taste this pakalolo. There is power, not a simple euphoria but tree departure from earthbound identity. Smoking lolo isn't for everyone, only those who can control intake. A power awaits that is often uncontainable.
Niko had seeds and showed me how. We understood that two pasts converged in a woods, no talk required, that anarchy and nature identify their followers and show the way to the tingly, misty, antigravity, sunbeamy loveliness. Niko said, "Oh yeah, you got to have da kine love, too."
Niko no speaka too gooda de English. His first language is nonverbal. He looks and knows what's up. The missionaries came with their word. They got the land, introducing Jesus, sugar and federal price supports. The coolies from China, the Philippines and Japan worked and bore children, who got the vote and stole the power. Now they get what is "theirs." The State of Hawaii charges sales tax, hotel tax, room tax, surcharge, embarkation and arrival tax. The newly empowered want ten percent of your net, four percent of your gross, a transfer tax, real and transitory property tax, inventory tax and road tax. And don't forget the withholding tax, which they need to keep for as long as it takes to be certain you're not doing them in. They will fuck you up, unless you grow lolo. Niko quit school in sixth grade. He lives near me and pays no tax. He eats well. At sixty, he looks forty. Niko said lolo brought more money than tourism but no tax, so they sent in the Marines.
He lives better than his cousins, the waiters, bell hops, maids, busboys and pump jockeys. Growing lolo is just as demanding, but income can grow in a few years, if you beat the reaper. The Marines came on with six million dollars once tales of pakalolo evil got televised in the State Senate. Then the jarheads cruised over the rock with big steel balls hung from their helicopters. From the balls they sprayed defoliant on suspicious greenery and got a nice break from practice bombing Kahoolawe Island, a tradition since `41.
Niko said nevermind; be happy, grow prosperous.
Trees grow so fast here you can see time passing, feel your shadow fade under the spreading canopy. I rented a place you couldn't walk across for the weeds and windfall, two acres in fruit sixty years ago but in neglect for the last thirty. I cleaned the house, cut, pruned and hauled. I planted, watered, planted, pruned, sprayed, fed, fertilized, planted and built and didn't rest but pruned and shaped until sweat ran to blood, until Niko said, "Hey, you finish already." He gave me ti and paint-splash crotons. Hawaiians love both, because you cut off a piece and stick it in the ground and get another. Alongside each palm went ti or a crotonand a little lolo baby yielding three grand in six months for no other reason than ka maika'i o ka `aina, the goodness of the land.
Be happy to see everyone, Niko said. We planted breadfruit on the road, according to custom, so those in need wouldn't need to walk up the drive. In the bible, mana comes from heaven; in Hawaii it comes from the land; the place was thick with avos, oranges, lemons and limes. I said welcome, yes, pick. Some came back for more, and I said yes, hana hou. They blessed me and my house, my trees, my land, my fruit and da kine, out in back there.
I got an option to buy the place with my lolo dough. By now the trees were too tall to cover a ground crop, so I harvested and sold them to a new hotel on the far side and exercised the option. Some said I made a killing, the right place at the right time. They broke no laws or sweat. I repaired irrigation lines and put a thousand seedlings in the ground, all legal for the long haul. I built a fence and a gate and turned inward. I am a tree farmer. I farm trees ... The ditty rolled down the rows of Windsors, Fiji fans, pygmy dates, royals, triangles, paper leafs, Manilas. I learned it ages ago; I am a fig plucker. I pluck figs ... Figs won't grow here. Trees grow here. I shape space and time.
Niko said, "The place going to hell already, so many people. Hey. Nice fence. I going get one."
Outside my gate, things took a different shape. A developer on the tourist side began condominia on land his family acquired in the last century. Hawaiians cried foul when old bones turned up in excavations. The developer pledged great care in removing the bones to less vital real estate. Costs soared when laborers quit because phantom feet stood in peripheral vision but vanished if you looked up, or monstrous centipedes squirmed from the dirt and latched on, or scorpions. The foundation was measured and poured and remeasured but was off, unlevel and unplumb.
Magic and misery, joy and suffering, love and death tumble in kaleidoscopic profusion. The rock is my confinement, I shall not want. It's not a penal colony, except when it is. Some who stay sense an absence. We are remote, if not lost. Difference defines us. The rock, out of time, renders us mutant. Consciousness is a padded cell; thoughts bounce off the walls. We muster a smile or a mug as the truth takes root like lilikoi and sprouts near the great trunk of our knowing, then reaches gently up. It coils onto a low limb, and reaches further up until it smothers what we remember of the world, and we know nothing.
A two-lane road runs five miles from the Kalakamahuma Shopping Mall to the main road up the volcano. If you don't go up but stay at sea level, the road runs another five miles to a little town with dirt-brown streets, buildings and pedestrians. For decades pineapple and sugarcane got processed here, staining the fabric of life to match the red dust and smoke. If you stay in town, you can blow this color into your handkerchief. I saw a woman walk from the healthfood store to the curb, clear her lungs and discharge. She gazed with puzzlement at the gob and crossed the street.
Past the little brown town the road runs another five miles to my place. You pass a bluff overlooking a steady break, where surfers and windsurfers engage in class struggle. You pass pineapple fields posted with warnings: DON'T WALK BAREFOOT HERE! The pesticides can kill you. You pass fields of sugarcane that provided jobs for the first Japanese, Filipino and Chinese, who were never called coolies but Christians, arrived at last to the Promised Land. Aqueducts intricate as those in ancient Rome divert water from old swamps and fern grottos where no man could go anyway. All water flows to the fields for the good of all. Pillars of smoke, glorious and terrible as those protecting Moses and the chosen people, here too signal new prosperity. Black snow is euphemism for the polyvinyl chloride flurries that settle over all, as if it is good.
The gate at my place blends into the mock orange hedge I planted years ago from small pots. The hedge rises twenty feet already; and just inside it, the wonder begins with color and form in abundance. I don't see the beauty any more. I know it's there, but I think beauty needs a base of comparison. I think a world of total beauty becomes a world of averages, more humid than the rest with a few insects shaped like dinosaurs. I compare inside to outside the gate and for awhile I see beauty again. But a letter from the holding company bids aloha and warning to leave town for three days next week on account of da kine biannual spray that will kill every organism ever invented by God, you too, but then maybe not, aloha and farewell.
I first felt the absence of need, reprieve from cold and hunger. I moved into it and gained momentum. I felt the beauty and watched it fade. Maybe I only want something else after awhile; but after so many years, what can I do? Where can I go? Oregon?