Tuesday, January 3, 2012
NEW YEAR'S EVE 2011: MEETING GOD
After weeks of cold and rain and wind (so sorry for the tourists), New Year's Eve day was absolutely glorious. I stopped my year-end cleaning and purging, and set off across Kapiolani Park to indulge myself in a good dose of delicious sunshine.
The park was eerily empty. No soccer games anywhere. No picnickers. Bandstand locked and deserted. So I decided to take a picture of the empty benches to kind of paint the mood.
Just then a guy in a bright red shirt drove up on his bike. As I wished him Happy New Year, I noticed a cloud of white pigeons following him overhead. He passed me too fast, and I was simply too enchanted, to snap a picture of this unusual apparition. As he drove past me, he turned and started shouting up to the trees, "Come on down now! Come on down!" And down they came. Hidden in the trees, the waiting pigeons fluttered down to where he parked his bike.
"Gotta take care of my babies." he says as he opens a bag with bird seed and another with sliced bread.
I move in closer to take better pictures, but it spooks the birds, and I suddenly find myself in the midst of wildly flapping wings.
"Oops, sorry." I say.
"They'll come back." he shrugs."No problem."
And sure enough, they do. Of course they do. It's food.
Then, silently, the man points to his bike.
I don't know what he's trying to tell me until I move closer to the bike.
Oh, my goodness!
Three gorgeous little parakeets (blue, yellow and white) sit perched on the spokes of his bike. Like three bored avian Marie Antoinettes, they're looking down at the sordid feeding frenzy of the peasant pigeons below. You can almost hear them sniff, "Mais oui, let them eat cake." I cannot stop taking pictures of them. They have such personalities.
"Where did they come from?" I ask.
"They're mine." Mr. Bird man says. "They fly with me everywhere."
How charming is that?
After a while I tear myself away, thanking him for a great New Year's Eve present.
I cross the street to go to the beach and am happy to see many people enjoying themselves there. A handsome young couple from Japan asks me to take their picture and I stay to talk with them for a little while. When they move on, I notice a deeply-tanned man with a mane of shining white hair looking at me intently. But friendly. Curious.
I decide to acknowledge him. "Happy New Year!" I smile.
"Happy New Year." he says and comes toward me. "You local?" he asks.
I get that question a lot. It is as if people think I am, but yet can sense that there is something off.
"I'm from Indonesia." I tell him.
"Is that in Taiwan?" he wonders.
His name is Kalanimoku, born and raised in Honolulu, family home on Hotel Street.
I'm standing by an empty bench, so I sit down and he takes it as an invitation to take the seat next to me.
I ask him about his life, his work (he's a retired, used to drive trucks), his travels. He tells me he lived in Germany for five years. Four in the service, one as a civilian.
"You must have had a German girlfriend then if you liked it so much you stayed on for another year." I laugh.
"Yeah, more than one." he admits.
"How many?" I ask. "Five? Six? Come on, be honest." Just ribbing him.
He's enjoying not answering and leaving me with mere hints of his virility. "No can help, ya."
I learn that he was a coin diver back in the days when tourists arrived here by boat. They would throw silver dollars into the water for the boys to dive for.
"I must take your picture then." I say, "You're the only coin diver I have ever met."
"That's exactly what Mrs. X said to me." Kalani says as he stands up for his picture and runs a green comb through his hair. (Mrs. X is a locally prominent woman)
"She wanted to take my picture too and then one thing led to another." he adds.
"Oh yeah. Like what?"
"She wanted me to be her boyfriend."
"Oh, no worry about me, Kalani." I laugh, "I'm not in the market."
"Hey brah." A friend of Kalani's stops by. Local guy named Ron, from Molokai.
"How you guys know each other?" I ask. Nosy.
"From long time already." Ron says. "Kalani is my hero. He's god."
With that he excuses himself and leaves.
"Whoa, Kalani." I say, "Now I'm really curious. You better tell me how you got to be god."
Kalani looks me in the eye. All serious.
"I take care of myself." he says quietly. "I swim and do my exercises every morning right there on the sand bar in the channel that the monk seals use. See, right there." He points to a spot Ewa off the jetty. "And I help people stay healthy." he continues. "You must stay in balance, physically, emotionally and spiritually."
He takes a plastic squeeze bottle of Jergens Original Scent lotion out of his backpack and systematically covers his body with a thin layer of it, each time carefully measuring a certain amount into the palm of his hand before rubbing it onto his skin. You can tell this is an important part of his health routine and requires concentration.
A gracefully muscled young man walks past. He stops for a moment to greet Kalani.
"That's J." Kalani says, "He is training for the Extreme Fighting championship. I help him out."
Kalani shows me his right leg. I had already noticed a thick warren of varicose veins just below the knee on the inside of his leg.
"I was supposed to have this operated on." he says, "But no need."
I feel a sermon coming on. "Prayer?" I ask.
He nods. "No more dead blood. See? All running smooth now."
I'm loving this. No matter where I go, I meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories.
Kalani's phone rings. For the umpteenth time.
He answers, "Yes, yes, I'm coming. I'll be there soon."
We've been talking a long time.
He turns to me and says, "I was supposed to be at my friends' picnic an hour ago, but I had too much fun talking with you. Now they're mad at me."
He hugs me and trots off toward Kaimana Beach.
After I've gotten enough of the sun and sand, I stop by the garden to harvest rich green kale leaves for dinner. What a blessed life. What a way to enter the New Year.