Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paradise Lost?

Maybe it was the hype. Like that movie that everyone raved about but when you saw it you thought “Eh.” That’s what Hawaii was like for me. I moved there when I was eighteen, spurred on by the logic that I may never have the chance to do this again. My parents had moved there and I’d at least have a place to stay for a bit. I wasn’t particularly interested in leaving Reno. I liked my life. I was living in my first apartment with a good friend of mine. We’d spend our off time eating chicken wings and playing “Super Bowl Sunday” on the commodore 64. On the weekends we’d cruise up and down Virginia Street until we met some girls, got in a fight, or decided we wanted to some pancakes. It was good times. I started working the graveyard shift at the restaurant and though there wasn’t as much “Super Bowl Sunday” anymore, I was still having fun.

I’d get home from work around 7 a.m. and sleep ‘til around 2:30 or 3. Then I’d get up and eat a bowl of Frosted Flakes while I watched “Days of our Lives”. At 4 o’clock I’d switch over to channel 2 and watch re-runs of “Magnum P.I.” That’s where I got my images of what Hawaii would be like. But not everyone on the island lives on a private estate, drives a Ferrari and can pull off a moustache like Tom Selleck. In fact, not even Tom Selleck did those things, except for the moustache. I didn’t know this yet. I’d watch it everyday and imagine all the fun we’d have in this tropical paradise. My roommate was moving there too. We were able to have a blast in Reno, how could two handsome, funny, intelligent guys like us not have a great time living in Hawaii? There turned out be lots of reasons.

We got off the plane in Oahu around 1 a.m. My parents greeted us and were amused by our wardrobe. Both of us were wearing denim shorts, short sleeve button up shirts (I believe mine was also denim, but I make no certain admissions), white shoes with no socks and white Swatch watches. “Abbot and Costello go to Hawaii” could have been the title of the movie. My parents decided, even though it was so late, they’d take us downtown before going home.

Waikiki at one o’clock in the morning is breathtaking. It’s 71 degrees and there’s not a soul on the beach. The water is crystal clear even in the dark and the sand is soft and comfortable. I imagined myself lying out there, tan and fit, wearing my white Swatch watch and chatting up local girls and tourists alike. My roommate was lamenting the fact that Hawaii had just raised the legal drinking age from 18 to 21 and wondering if he’d be able to get a fake ID as good as the one he’d had in Reno, where his name was Spike and he was 23. Hey, it worked. As we drove to my parents house right outside of downtown Waikiki I wondered if I’d be able to sleep.

When we boarded the bus the next morning to go downtown, I was still excited and dressed funny. It occurred to me that my roomie and I were two of only five white people on the bus, which was packed. I didn’t feel threatened by all the islanders and Asians, just different. I’d never been in the minority before. I’m guessing it wasn’t as much my pale skin as my green pastel shirt that made some of them stare. Maybe they thought I was Sonny Crockett? That’s what I was going for.

When we got off the bus, I wondered if we were in the right place. What had been so beautiful and serene just hours ago now looked like Detroit with a nice beach. Thousands of people were crowding the street. You could barely move inside some of the shops and the restaurants all had at least 30 minute waits. It was noisy and it was raining. It rains every morning on Oahu. People in Seattle jump off buildings or OD on lattes because it rains everyday. People in Hawaii don’t. There’s a general lack of reaction to everything there from the locals. The only thing they get even a little riled up about is all the goddamn howlies, of which I was one. One wearing a girly colored shirt and a white watch. I started to feel a little silly as I saw that most of the obvious tourists were dressed just like me. I’d have to make an effort to fit in, I thought. Maybe get a Ferrari and grow a moustache. We had fun those first few days in spite of everything. We hung out on the beach, spent too much money and I of course, kept my eyes peeled for Thomas Magnum.

About the time we needed to start looking for jobs and a place to live, my roommate bailed. One week of paradise had been enough for him and he went home. I was a little bit pissed but more than anything I was envious. I already knew this wasn’t for me either. I couldn’t live in a place where I couldn’t pronounce the street names. What did these people have against consonants, for chrissakes? I called home one day, lost, to get directions.

“I’m on the corner of Kalakua and Pheeliapas…” I told my mom.

“Do you mean Kalakua and Phillips?” she said, barely containing her amusement.

All the vowels broken up by an occasional K or W wasn’t the only thing that I came to hate. I couldn’t stand living with my parents. And they couldn’t stand me. I was miserable. Their apartment was made of cinder blocks painted a pale yellow. The living room was long and narrow. It was like a jail cell with a lanai. Lanai is a fancy word for what we here in the real world call a balcony. Everything in Hawaii has a fancy word. Our lanai was just big enough for you to stand on, as long as you stood sideways with both feet pointed in the same direction.

Job hunting in paradise sucks just as much as job hunting anywhere. It wasn’t long before I realized I’d have to work at least two jobs just to survive. A 300 square foot studio apartment over a McDonalds with a broken hot plate and a view of the dumpster was $600 bucks a month. And there was no lanai. Milk was something like $31 dollars a gallon. On the bright side, Spam and corned beef hash were cheap and abundant, and at least they were in cans so the roaches couldn’t get to them.

And then there was the island fever. I was petrified to fly so I felt more isolated than even a normal person would. I was getting more and more difficult to be around everyday. I wouldn’t go to the beach or to visit all the beautiful places on Oahu. Instead I’d lie on the floor, my head propped against the couch with my feet touching the “far” wall and watch Stryper and Poison videos on MTV. My parents were disgusted with me, imploring me to go out and do something. I missed “Super Bowl Sunday” and chicken wings more than ever now.

I got a job working for a restaurant in downtown Honolulu. My boss was a lesbian, and a mean one. My other two co-workers were a gay couple. Roger was a white guy about 45 and Angelo was a Pilipino kid about 22. My white Swatch didn’t seem so weird around these people. I made the best of it and socked away every dime I made so I could go home, where the states were connected and people got pissed when you accidentally bumped them on the bus. I actually liked my boss and “the girls”. They were funny and easy to work with. My parents still harped me about getting out and doing things. My mother would say “Why don’t you go out and have some fun? You should make friends! Stop lying around the house all the time!” So the night I went out with everyone after work, I thought she’d be happy. When I got home at 2:30 in the morning, she was waiting up.

“WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?!?! I WAS ABOUT TO CALL THE POLICE!!!” she informed me. She obviously had not adopted the lassez-faire attitude of the islands.

Before I could save even a fifth of what I’d need to move back to the mainland, my parents decided to help me. They gave me all the money I needed, and a little more, to make sure I wouldn’t come back. I’d miss them and I felt badly, but I took it. I strapped on my white Swatch, and steeled myself for the plane ride home.

When I tell people now how I hated Hawaii and explain why, the general response is “But wasn’t it just so beautiful?” The best way I can explain it is, living in Hawaii is like dating Paris Hilton. Sure it’s good to look at, but it’s expensive, loud, boring and lot’s of people are in and out of there all the time.

Who wants to live like that?

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