Okay so my latest novel Apprehension, which I wrote about here, is going on the shelf. I sent it to every agent on the AAR site who said she was interested in fiction. I received 224 no’s or no replies. I tried multiple agents at an agency where that was permitted, which is why the number of queries is so high.
The good news is that one NY agent requested the full manuscript to read. Although he had good things to say about it, he ultimately passed. However I’m happy because that’s the first time a major agency has requested a full ms from me. I’m making progress and getting closer.
I learned a few things from the months of querying. One is don’t start your novel with a Prologue. Just get right into the plot with a bang like they tell screenwriters. Unfortunately I included my Prologue in most of my queries. Especially when agents only wanted one sample chapter, and I sent the Prologue, I feel like this hurt my chances.
Another thing that may have hurt me, though no one said so, is living in Brazil. Although I didn’t advertise this, if the agent wanted my address and foreign phone number, I gave it to him. Maybe this was off-putting.
This was only email queries. Being out of the US, I didn’t query any snail-only agencies. I also didn’t query any publishers directly this time. I probably should.
But now I’m prepping a new novel. If I can get my head right and start cranking, I feel like I will produce it as readily as I did Apprehension. I just have to not think about it too much. This is tough, right, because what is a novel if not the deepest of thought.
I’ll probably start posting some original music of mine here on the blog while my writing is focused elsewhere. If this isn’t your thing, stick around and I’ll get back to posting new writing as soon as I’m done.. or maybe during the writing of the new novel should I achieve that kind of flow.
You gentlemen and ladies are producing fine work and I’m happy to be a face in your crowd.
i’m in a bike race in northern virginia. it’s long laps around a military complex and through the woods but the distance is stretched, dozens of miles or more per lap, and each lap feels so long. when i hit the woods, the woods are very muddy. it is a slog to get through. it takes a long time. it’s hard work. i sweat, i curse. there is another rider beside me. we kind of team up to do the race together. there are other riders ahead of us but it’s a little easier now. when i finally get through the woods i think the race is over. but there are two more laps. i’m dumbstruck and can’t believe it. i don’t know how i’ll have the endurance to keep going.
The worst thing in the world is a child who dies in pain. You can see this as a tourist when you visit the mummies of Vesuvius, those who died in place and were preserved in its eruption. I have seen small children sleep in a catalogue of odd positions. One kneels in bed, his butt upon his heels, arms thrust straight behind him, supporting all his weight on his turned face. He sleeps like this for hours. Another one outside lays his head on his forearm and curls up on the ground. There is a child of Vesuvius in this same pose. He lays on his hip, one leg atop the other, bent fetally, and his spine is skewed so that his chest is flat against the ground. His elbow is crook’d. His head rests on it, facing down. I have seen living children sleeping in this pose. What I have not seen is hot ash and lava raining down on them. Imagination is the quickest thought. They’re injured, falling in finality, turning their bright faces toward the ground.
Pompeii in person’s easier, because tourism brings remoteness of perception. There is a full grown mummy of a man preserved in a glass case. Rob Brydon contemplates him for a moment. Then he launches into a conversation with the mummy. Brydon does the voice of a character of his, the Small Man in a Box. He speaks in a higher pitch with a clenched throat. It sounds like a distant man, muffled, as though he were speaking in a box. Brydon switches between his natural voice, for his own dialogue, and the SMiaB for the mummy in the case. It is hysterical. This comedy obliterated the melancholy above and had me laughing so hard my ears were stuffed with cotton, my mouth and nostrils caked in down. It would be like suffocating, for a moment, but that I was spasmodically happy, and there was no rain.
Brydon and Steve Coogan are there to trace the path of Byron and Percy Shelley in Italy. They see the beach where Shelley was immolated. They stand on the GPS coordinates of a long-demolished flat where Byron slept. They eat in the finest restaurants, Brydon and Coogan do, and stay only in suites that have names in unbranded hotels. All the while they do impressions and tell jokes. It is a funny fantasy.
It ends with Coogan and his son diving off a boat into the Mediterranean. It’s a father and son moment, a swim in the waters that took Shelley from this world, along with his crew, and so many others. But this is a movie. The sea is calm and it is magic hour. The sun is four fingers above the horizon so it’s yet a blinding orange. Our machines bob beside them on the waves.
It’s been 15 or so years since the Holocaust. Its horrors have happened and they should be gone but no, they aren’t. They stick to Wanda’s skin as though in her survival she’s been trudging through a dust storm. Her little boy was one of the six million. Now middle-aged, Wanda has given up. She smokes constantly, and once the alcohol gets her to where she can’t feel anything she picks up men in bars. It’s Soviet Poland and everything is grey.
Anna was born during the Holocaust. Her parents were two of the six million, and she was raised in a convent by nuns. Now of age she is about to take her vows and join them. Life stretches out before her in the way it does for the young, it disguises its length and hides its only promise, heaps of difficulty and ennui. She has a family, a sisterhood of those her own age, raised the same, preparing to take the same step. But first she goes to see her only living relative, Wanda.
The real world does what it always does, and it sends tremors through utopia. For Anna the first crack is that Wanda is not pleased to see her. For Wanda, Anna is a mudpit. She is worse than a storm of dust, she is a glue-like gloop of reminder and memory that covers Wanda so thoroughly she cannot breathe. Anna’s presence stops up Wanda’s nose and throat. The hot smoke of her cigarettes cannot burn the passage open, nor can the alcohol like Drano clear the way. But like all survivors Wanda has her practicality, the logic that arises from complete acceptance. She sees that this is her reality now, with Anna, who looks so much like her dead sister. And so Wanda acts. They go to find their family, Anna’s parents and Wanda’s son, which is to say that square footage of earth that is the last embrace on their remains.
To tell the plot from here would be to ruin it, not for the audience who has not seen the film, but for the very privacy of these characters. What happens is so meaningful, so deeply felt, that to analyze it here would be like telling secrets that could harm. It would be complicity in things I hold myself apart from and thus above. I am as selfish in this way as anyone.
Perhaps it’s easy to intuit that away from the convent, emotionally wracked, Anna tries the vices of the world. The result, and what Wanda does, however, is a private act. I may be a voyeur but I’m not a tattle-tale.
tl;dr This is the best Kieslowski movie since Kieslowski smoked himself to death.
The scene, a stage whose floor is covered in fog. A small child stands on scaffolding 20 feet up. He’s dressed in white and holds a light up to his face. In front of the scaffolding, near the lip of the stage, sits an empty chair. A woman marches in a diagonal from the back right to the middle of the stage. Without turning or changing her stride she walks backwards, then forwards, and repeats this back and forth for many minutes. She extends her arm like a conductor. On the right of the stage is a man in a red jacket. He has his back to us. He holds a piece of chalk and writes on the air. Slowly a big black train emerges from the right. It comes out halfway onto the stage and then pulls back again.
There is no singing at this time, only repetitious music with the occasional new note of variation.
The scene, the theater whose ground in caked in smoke. A young boy stands on scaffolding three meters in the air. He wears a white suit and a small light that he holds illuminates his face. At the left of the stage near its edge sits an empty school desk chair. There is a woman in suspenders walking as though she’s on a loop. She walks quickly and with purpose, forward and back, in a slanted line. It seems she would get tired for doing this so long, but she does not. To the side away from her stands a man in red and black. His hair is gelled and parted. Looking towards the boy he seems to be tracing something with an implement. A train leaves the darkness on the right, its smokestack giving smoke, its cyclops headlight glowing. It does not cross the stage but pulls back from whence it came.
There is no singing at this time, only repetitious music with the occasional new note thrown in.
In this scene of the opera, composed by Philip Glass, directed by Robert Wilson, the floor of the stage is obscured by smoke. The arm of a crane is erected in the back left, and a platform, like that of skyscraper window washer, is held by cables by it. A kid on the platform is dressed like Tom Wolfe. A light he holds before him brings his face out of the shadows. There’s a chair, unoccupied like current Wall St, where in other scenes a violinist in an Einstein wig and mustache will sit up and play. A woman wears the uniform of most of this production: white dress shirt, suspenders, gray slacks, and All-Star Chucks. She strides to and fro upon her trodden path, arm extended in one side of a Y. A man on the right writes spasmically on nothing, his feet invisible in smoke. Now appears the train. It does not come out far enough to reveal its conductor, but later in the scene it will.
There is no singing at this time, only repetitious music with a bit of variation.
The tableau of the stage is a man, woman, and child. The objects are a train, chair, and scaffolding. Wispy fog, heavier than air, settles to the ground. The boy and man stand still while the woman marches in her place. The train peeks its engine from the side, sliding on tracks we cannot see, and then withdraws back into oblivion. The man locks his knees and scribbles on the air. The woman’s ponytail waves when she turns her head militarily from side to side. Her arms are like a K without a post. The boy leans forward on one leg as though he’s about to take the first step off his rostrum. Oh but he does not. Under the scaffolding there is something in the fog. It is lit up and glowing. It is a conch shell laying there. Something else begins to lower from the roof, a thin rectangle of light. It is a slit, and it is white, and when it reaches the fog it bisects the tableau. Then it leaves the same way that it came, just as the train will do.
There has been singing this whole time, but the soprano voices were so like an instrument that it was hard to tell. The repetitious music continues through the scene, another 20 minutes more.
Hello, issue 8 here speaking. Between now and when I step down, at the emergence of issue 9, Brasil will have elected a new President. Now the candidates are campaigning hard. I myself need not campaign. I have been appointed. My term of office is two months. I have that long to fold my bird of paradise wings and hop around to seduce the literary world. The President of Brasil gets four years on the job.
Which of the three leading parties will win is not for me to know. Will it be the incumbent Workers’ Party? The business friendly Social Democrats? Or the one named like a programming variable, the Socialist Party? Trailing behind these three are three more socialist parties, one of which is the Green Party. Its candidate is being meme’d for having a personality. The Socialist Party candidate died when his private jet crashed by reason of mechanical failure or a bomb. Since the tragedy the party has moved in the polls from a distant third to a close second behind the incumbent.
You can tell Brasil has a parliamentary system. You may have heard Brasil has a lot of parties. It is of note that the six like-valued parties above take up more of a range on the political spectrum than the two parties in the United States. But one thing is the same: candidates’ signs are lining the roadways. Every candidate is assigned a number. This number is often displayed on the signs more prominently than the candidate’s name is. You use the number when you vote. This is for the benefit of Mr. Analfabet. By law every citizen must vote.
May I present Daniel Lee, who knows himself in all his facets. Gregory Novak shines the glow of love in top prose. Patrick Pawlowski probably will make that mistake again.
Laura Hurwitz finds salvation in an unlikely place.
Andira Dodge grabs ahold of flitting childhood time. Christopher Schaeffer, in honor of sports talk, is a beast. He beastin. Who writes in beast mode? He do. And S.N.W. Tolstoy lives through an 8.0 on the parental Richter scale.
On our cover, designer Nayrb Wasylycia divides the continents like man.
The Brasilia Review #8 comes to you from where the air itself is kindling. Water is mercy and this air has none.
What to eat in Hawaii. A typical meal is the plate lunch. This is a serving of meat and two sides, plain white rice and macaroni salad. The mac salad is a cold dish of elbow noodles, chopped veggies added stingily, and scoops of mayonnaise. The meat portion is popularly chicken katsu, which is breaded, deep-fried rib meat with the bones taken out, in strips but somehow still connected. Your misc chicken cast-offs also go into a top-notch katsu. These cuts of meat are imported from Asia frozen and still contain all the tendons and gristle that let you know in an awkward chew that you’re eating an animal, like for real. Katsu lacks the elegance of the pink Play-Doh that is the uncooked McRib.
Other portions of meat in the Hawaiian plate lunch include hamburger, a hamburger patty, sitting in the big cubicle of the thrice-divided white clamshell styrofoam box. The Loco Moco is the hamburger with eggs and brown gravy. Then there is the beef, which is a mystery on par with the sudden shock of transcendent back pain came from. I never ordered it. Another is the shredded pork. Codename: Kalua pork. Specialty: Impresario.
Most box lunches are ordered to-go from fast-food eateries called Drive-Ins, although they have a small seating area. These are the cheapest all around. You can find the plate lunch for five bucks or less. The slightly more upscale places, your Zippy’s for example, the Frisch’s Big Boy of Hawaii, will offer fish, usually Mahi-Mahi, spice-rubbed and grilled.
Another good cheap food is 7-Eleven sushi. They sell sushi in the 7-Elevenses in Hawaii. A fist-sized roll of imitation crab is $1.50. Eight pieces of California roll will be like four bucks. The most popular Hawaiian sushi is Spam. It’s a slice of Spam on a rounded, inch-high poker chip of white rice. This is like 50 cents. It sits cling-wrapped in stacks on the counter right by the register, alongside the hard-boiled eggs. These are for when the impulse strikes, as you’re checking out, having passed on the gum and candy bars, to pop a hard-boiled egg in your mouth and savor the oysterish outside and powder-packed yellow inside. Regardless of the what-for, it’s common knowledge Hawaiians love Spam. They love it from the can, they love it in their fried rice, they love it on the grill.
At convenience stores you can also get your manapua, a steamed bun with meat filling. Some people go down on one knee for them, but this was one food my foreign throat upended. It’s a white bun, bigger than your hand. Because it’s steamed the dough tastes wet, as in watery. If you’ve ever put sandwich bread in water, it’s not that soggy, but it is like Corn Pops left too long in milk. The filling in the hollow middle of the bun can uncharitably be called meat gloop. Pro-tip: Never order these at a Filipino restaurant unless you’re used to it. Impressively, the meat there’s a lower quality than the Drive-In chicken katsu. The manapua I ordered, on the Fort St mall, had neck bones in it. There’s nothing to kindle a love of paleontology in you like pulling round, perfect vertebrae from out your own mouth.
As an often unemployed, often hungry Honolulu resident, I’d urge you not to overlook Sam’s Club. Do overlook how it’s evil, until you complete your purchase and your belly’s full. You don’t have to be a member to walk into the food court, where a slice of pepperoni pizza and a drink, or a hot dog and a drink, is only like two bucks. This kudzu-esque Walton spawn is conveniently located on Oahu near the Ala Moana Mall, the place to kill-by-entertainment the best part of yourself by watching free hula with tourists from Japan on a weekend afternoon. The mall is conveniently located near the Ala Moana beach park, where anthropologists study the interaction of the Oakley-wearing Segway cops with the flocks of Hawaiian homeless who clump together ‘neath the trees when the sun goes down.
But if for example your student loan check just came, and you are flush, treat yourself to the hot foods section of your Times or Foodland, your local grocer. For 10 bucks you can get a bento box, a Japanese plate lunch. It is a piece of grilled fish with rice and Japanese vegetables, both or either cooked and pickled. It’s of higher quality than your Drive-In counterpart, and while you might get the occasional fish bone in between your teeth, they do a good job of taking out the spine.
Impressions of Kaneohe. I lived in Kaneohe only a few months, just as I’d lived in Kalihi only a few months before. Hawaiian real estate is greatly difficult for the unsupported person.
I found the apartment in Kaneohe via the classifieds and had as much luck with the embedded roommate from this method as you would expect. But I had entered what I did not yet know, but realized deep-down was to be, my last semester, and I had to have a place to live to make it to its end, even if this meant moving across the island.
Kaneohe, going south to north, is on the other side of the mountains so strong in my memory. It is a valley town, under the Pali where the Oahan warriors leapt to their deaths rather than submit to the invader Kamehameha I. Today the town is built up with shopping grids, as is everything. Its dominant color is green, not least for the awe-ful views of the mountains’ face, covered in the vegetation tinged with yellow that makes the verdant green look bright. Storms in the valley were spectacular. At night the lightning illuminated the mountain crags in flashes of magnesium, revealing what had appeared a moment before a Nietzschean void to be giant masses slumbering, leaning out above, protecting us. In the sun whenever it was raining yonder but not right overhead, cheery rainbows wavered frequently.
To ride the bus from Honolulu over the mountains to Kaneohe took an hour and I did it every day. As I discussed before the buses had on their fronts racks between their headlights with spaces for two bikes. After dark the buses to Kaneohe ran only once an hour, and Siddhartha’s patience would have been tested if the two bike slots were already taken when the bus arrived, so I began to ride my bike farther down to bus stops nearer and nearer the beginning of its route at Ala Moana Mall. How much time I wasted there. The only people who come to Hawaii to hang out at the mall are the Japanese and me.
Of Kaneohe I recall a botanical garden at the end of my street. Sometimes for a change I’d walk there, under the strong sun, and if the gate at the end of the cul-de-sac was locked, I’d stand and wait for them to open. There were campsites on the garden land, where for a permit and a fee a local family could hop 10 kids in the back of a pickup truck with a tent and stay there for the night, grilling out on park-provided grills and singing songs, the deep men’s voices carrying like foghorns in the bay. For the lone sojourner there was less to do. I remember no signs etched with a description of rare species. There were no trails, only a one lane road which ended at an information hut that was always closed. There were picnic tables, and I’d take my journal there, but the wind came off the mountains like a charging horse, and I had to press my forearm against the pages to hold them from curling up and flipping, and this meant hunching over, and I could not remain comfortable long.
The semester ended, and rather down I decided that my academic aspirations were to join it in the nothing-space of stopped activity. Never have I felt like such a failure as I did leaving Hawaii, less for the ivory tower, which only appealed to me in bursts, and more for the general lack of any impact that I had upon the culture as a whole. Like an ordinary human I touched only people that I met. A kind friend drove from the city one morning before his job to cart my boxes to the continental shipping store. They would race me to the mainland, and lose. But my friend couldn’t take me to the airport. The thought of riding in a cab, of being sent away alone, was more depressing still.
It was my second to last day, and I was in Manoa where the university is. I’d ridden rather far off campus to the town post office, to mail off the paper final breaths that I would breathe upon that storied isle. This office was a place to which I’d never been before. As I walked up to it who should come out the smoked glass doors but an acquaintance of mine, a friend of my aforementioned friend, with whom in my time I’d only spent a couple afternoons. We chatted for a minute. How strange it was that he would be at this post office when his apartment was downtown. I felt it was a synchronicity. I asked what he was doing tomorrow, knowing that he worked from home. He earned his living running pornographic websites. Would he mind driving out to Kaneohe to take me to the airport? He would not. And so the next morning a friendly handshake and well wishes eased the painful separation from the place I had not left since I moved there, and I was sent off.
It is a place I only visited once, for less than an hour, but should I be so fortunate to retire wherever I want, it will be there. It is Tantalus, Honolulu, a road that winds up Round Top Mountain behind the city proper. It is a beautiful, narrow road with lush tropical foliage that is itself beautiful scenery. Up there the air has that clean smell that is wet leaves. It is normally misty, a dainty droplet rain that can’t decide whether it wants to fall.
To understand the appeal of this rainforest to a years-long resident of central Honolulu you must understand that for four-fifths of the year the city is sunny and hot. That is the reason real estate developers a hundred years ago terraformed Waikiki marsh into Waikiki beach. They drained the land to make it dry, dug the Ala Wai canal to divert the water, brought great barges full of sand from the beaches of Australia, to dump on the shore, and create the wedding photo backdrop that we know today.
And so it is to live in the city mere miles from Waikiki is to live on concrete and asphalt, like the back wall of a ceramic oven, where the buildings are the sides, and it collects a relentless heat. And come September the tradewinds stop blowing and it is misery. The wind reverses and drags with it a humidity familiar to Southeast Asia. The tradewinds are the only thing keeping Hawaii from being Vietnam. The Leeward wind is sticky, unendurable. When it arrives the people leave their unairconditioned homes for the library, and all its chairs are taken upon opening. They ride the city buses aimlessly, just to sit and be cooled off.
I didn’t learn of Tantalus’ vibe until my first return to Honolulu, after I’d left school. I was staying with a friend, and a friend of his invited us to visit some friends on Tantalus. The locals of Honolulu are so well connected they make it a small town. So we drove the SUV to the back of the city, away from the ocean, and at the foot of the mountain began to make our way up the winding road. We stopped on the way at a turn-off to explore the woods on foot. Leaving your vehicle unattended at a place like this is a good way to get it broken into, but the local boys had other goals that day.
The house at which we were the guests was small, not much more than a double-wide trailer, but with a full live-in basement. It sat in the canopy looking white and level off the slanted mountain road. Inside we were introduced to the guy who lived there, and then another, and to even more. Five or six guys were living in this house. They were mainlanders originally but now only in appearance, and their quiet Hawaiian stoicism allowed no bit of who they used to be to show. There weren’t friends before they moved in together. They just disliked the city life. They were willing to live on top of each other to be on Tantalus, where their numbers were required to afford the rent on a double-wide like this.
We sat in the living room, most of us on the floor. The conversation of the group I was tuning out. I was listening to the outside. The rain was thudding calmly on the broad banana leaves. It would stop and a few minutes later start again. It gave everything the pallor of a hush. Birds were squeaking to their friends. It was the type of setting that made all the entertainment that I loved feel like it wounded me and I didn’t want it anymore. The clouds though full and puffy just gave the mildest hint of fog. The sun had beat them there but there they settled, on the mountain, uncowed, leaving the city to the sun. On Tantalus nothing was photographically overexposed. I could look out the window at the wet brown bark, my eyes resting open without sunglasses on. The tension in the corners of my eyes had pulled the tension from my shoulders like a thread when it had gone back to get a tan and wait for me. I felt supported by the island, as though Dali crutches were underneath my arms. I felt my wishes all come back to me.
I boxed up a little sliver of my mind and left it there.
Locals New Years Eve, Honolulu. What I didn’t know then but what I’d find out in Brazil is that many warm countries shoot off fireworks on New Years Eve. It’s not an official display sync’d to a radio station. The common people do it.
In Honolulu they don’t wait until midnight. They begin when it gets dark and they are enthusiastic. Parts of the expressway are coated in fog from the fireworks in the neighborhoods. It was a smoky gray fog, sticking around stubbornly in spite of the winter tradewinds.
My roommate at the time was a local guy, a high school Japanese teacher. He was gay. He was in the closet but it was the type of closet that only exists for the self. He didn’t censor his intonation or behavior. He had some gay flamboyance, so everyone could tell. But he knew that we knew. I knew because he had a friend visit from Japan and when they came from the airport they went straight to his bedroom and turned the music way up. He’d never played loud music before. I left the apartment, as much to give them privacy as to escape the bad pop music, so I missed the confirmation, the post-coital glow, though talking to the friend later, in his limited English, he had the mannerisms I expected. How stereotypes do have us navigate the world. My roommate’s students knew he was gay. They gave him gifts of Armani Exchange at Christmas and at the end of the year. His public school was in a rather well off area. I met some of them when he brought them home. And as I’d find out New Years Eve, his family knew too. But not the one of us talked about it. It was plain he didn’t want to. So all of us around him carried on.
Lou, my roommate, invited me to his family’s for New Years Eve. I in turn invited a couple of the Frenchies. Arnaud had a car, a shitty red hatchback, manual drive, with the kind of doors you had to slam to get them shut, and one of the seatbelts didn’t work. In other words it was a typical Hawaiian car. I had verbal directions to Lou’s family’s place. It was either in the Nuuanu-Punchbowl or Liliha-Kapalama neighborhood, I can’t remember. But it was on the mountain side of the expressway, where the locals live.
It was already dark when we left. Getting there meant looking for landmarks, “You should see a Jack in the Box on your left.” Lou was supposed to come out of the house and wait for us by the street so we’d know. We got our wires crossed and drove past the house. The neighborhood street had a row of parallel parkers on each side, and our car going down the middle, hatchback though it was, was not enough to allow another car coming toward us to go past without one of us moving over. Arnaud pulled the wheel of the car to left and right, driving slow and stopping quick. This wasn’t for other cars, though, because we were the only ones driving. Everyone else was in their backyards celebrating. Or they were in the street. A lot of kids and adults were letting off fireworks in the street, tubes on plastic stands standing up pumping booms like cannon fire. Firework smog made it impossible to read the house numbers, the street signs. Everything was seen in flashes of white, exploding all around. Loud bang to this side, and now behind us. We craned our necks inside the car to look up and see the colored ones go off. And the kids and adults in the streets craned their necks at us. They stopped momentarily and stared. Our sort wasn’t common there. I felt like an interrupter. Although we just wanted to watch the fireworks like everyone else, I was aware that it felt like a tourist enterprise, a safari. No one shot bottle rockets at our car, but I was relieved when I saw Lou.
He directed us to pull into the driveway. It was dirt and the car bobbed in the ruts. We crawled behind his walking pace. The driveway ended at a compound of three or four houses near one another sitting in a U. It wasn’t visible from the road. Lou told us his family owned all of them and lived there together. Grandma and her kids. I got the feeling it wasn’t one married family per house, that it was more crowded than that. The middle of the perimeter of houses was dirt, with patches of grass resistant to the sun and non-chalant about the rain. There was a tree and a couple picnic tables.
No grand introduction came from Lou. Local men talking quietly to themselves, standing around with longneck beers, kept on doing so. Kids ran around wrapped up in their kid things. One of Lou’s aunts offered us food. They had a buffet of a few hot dishes, pulled pork, deep friend wings. But also they had poi. I’d never had poi. It’s a root vegetable turned into a pudding. It’s unquestionably purple. I took the big spoon sitting in it and put a dollop on my plate. “How is it?” she asked. “It’s good,” I said with the frozen smile on my face that is not a smile at all. My emotions felt worse than the taste. There was no way I could eat it. I had to let it go to waste, and if no one saw me throw it out without touching it again, it was still rude.
Lou introduced me to Grandma. “I’m his roommate,” I told her, shaking her hand. “Oh,” she said. “Oh!” She got the warmest smile on her face. She was wearing tinted eyeglasses and she wouldn’t let go of my hand. We stood there holding hands. I smiled. It was weird but I felt good in her warmth, even as she continued to hold onto my hand much longer than she should. Then Lou looked away. “Tch,” he said, looking disgusted. Is he embarrassed of her? I thought. Then I realized why. She was holding my hand because to her, I was a member of the family. I was Lou’s roommate, which meant I was his boyfriend.
What could I do, I couldn’t disillusion Grandma, so I let it go when he pulled us apart with a “That’s enough, Grandma.” But later when I approached a couple of the guys standing around drinking, relatives of Lou’s, the first thing I said was, “I invited my girlfriend but she had to work tonight.” “Where does she work?” one of them asked. He was smiling. I told him the coffee chain and which hotel it was in. All the guys were smiling. They didn’t believe me. At the time I was the type of breeder who was accepting enough to live with a gay guy but not accepting enough to be thought of one myself. I pointed out my friends Arnaud and Aline to the guys. “They’re from France,” I said. The guys were interested. I called my friends over, thus changing the subject.
The kids were setting off small fireworks in the dirt. But most of what we did was look up at the bursts in jade and red going off over the rooftops, sounding close and far away. I asked the guys for a beer. This would have been rude where I’m from. The guys hadn’t offered one, and maybe that meant they didn’t want to share, but it was Hawaii and aloha, and we were the guests, so I felt comfortable to ask for me and Arnaud. Aline was off talking somewhere else. They gave them to us. We said thanks. We stood there with them, beside one of the houses, standing guys, occasionally lifting our bottles for a swallow. France as a subject dwindled in a minute. No one felt the need to keep a conversation going so it was mostly silence. It was homelike.
Then it was time. The family motioned to us. The kids were running on the driveway up ahead, their arms full of fireworks. They started setting them on the street, open mouths facing up. The adults arrived and set theirs up. I couldn’t see the pavement for the covering. Then they blew the whole street up. There was so much white light flashing in my eyes. The dark inverse of that was pulsing on my retinas. They fought each other in my eyes.
Bus confrontation on the bus. It was sunny and hot. The sky was blue but it was so bright it was like a ski-slope white out, with the light reflecting off concrete stairs, facades, chrome, and everything. Low Pacific clouds were fat and lazy, gathering over the mountains behind the city and way out at sea, like the ringed crater atop Diamondhead, and the sunlight poured down on us. It was hot and I was sweating. It was so hot the air was almost scratchy. Just standing in the sun gave me an itchy feeling on my forearms, on the back of my neck. My face was hot yet clammy, with dense layers of sweat on my derma, the outermost of which had hardened and congealed under the oven light, as sweat continued to run out of my pores, forming a liquid middle, like a pudding pie. Wiping it left brown streaks on my face. How uncomfortable it was.
The poor like me have to walk around outside. But I didn’t have the melanin-saturated skin, the advantage that regulated my temperature, to help. I should have stayed up north near the ice where my blue eyes would have been a bonus in the 20-hour black of winter, and my skin could pull the vitamins from that weak light, instead of where I was, on the Pacific island of Oahu, where all was bright and white and blinding me, making me helpless, a target for predators.
I was waiting for the bus. Near the central library, it was a common stop for a dozen different routes. There were a couple benches under an enclosure, made of what we used to call smoking glass, that is, stained brown, three sides, an abbreviated roof, and an open front. Or perhaps the enclosure was acrylic. Regardless, there were four times as many people as could fit into the shade, which wasn’t much from the angle of the sun. There was a gnarled tree nearby with more bark than leaves, growing spindly like veins at wind-blown angles, that another three people found comfort under. I, being in the prime of my life, and an obvious outsider, wanting to make up for history, so to speak, left the best spots for the elderly. Unlike some others I observed.
My bus arrived. It was an articulated bus. These buses are like the lengths of two normal buses, front to back, with a joint in the middle, that lets them execute right-angle turns. There are two benches of facing seats on the joint itself, incidentally, and the way it pivots on sharp turns makes sitting there fun, like a carnival, or it would, if your knees weren’t so close to the knees of the people facing you, making you a bottleneck for people passing to the back of the bus.
So we lined up to get on. I had my wallet out and open to my student ID with its semester bus-pass sticker clearly visible. I had rules for my behavior. One was to walk up slowly to the door when the bus arrived, giving women and the elderly space to line up first. What a shining example of the good-hearted ha’ole I made. I wasn’t like the businessmen who overthrew your queen and destroyed your kingdom, I said to the locals with every friendly nod.
I was lifting my leg to the bottom step of the bus when a man cut in front of me. He did it quick and without care, walking fast into my personal space and jostling me. He was short and thickly muscled. His black hair went past his shoulders. His brow was set in a combination of concentration and anger and his eyes it seemed were closed. He pushed past a lady on the stairs, squeezing her against the short stairwell of the bus. She didn’t protest or make a sound. In the wake of his air I caught the scent. He was drunk. He’d struck my shoulder with his and boy was I indignant.
The two people ahead of me showed the driver their passes and went around him as he leaned on the money machine, talking or perhaps grunting at the driver to let him on. At the top of the stairs I couldn’t help myself. I was determined. I body-checked him against the rail, like he’d done me. It wasn’t full speed hockey-style, but it was enough to make him move. It was like a rap on the knuckles from my jeweled cane as I held a scented hanky to my face.
I found a seat in the back of the bus, past the articulated joint, a two-seater facing the front with both seats open. I had another rule: when I sat in an open two-seater, I always took the seat by the window. I wasn’t one of those who sat on the aisle, leaving the window seat free, ignoring everyone getting on board, daring them to sit beside me. Oh no. I was a paragon of virtue in this foreign land, respectful, courteous, and kind. A real boy scout, no oppressor, no rich land-grabber I. I wouldn’t even put my backpack on the empty aisle seat like everybody else did with their packages. It went right between my legs on the floor. See how open this aisle seat is? I seemed to say. Clearly I am good and not like the others. Pray sit yourself down beside me.
The stewing in my head was settling. I’d gotten him back. I took my hat off, wiped my brow. I began the wait for the time it took sitting still for a person to cool down from the heat. Then I noticed: here he came. Nearly falling forward, grabbing the backs of seat and catching himself on the poles, not from the bus now in motion, but from his inebriation. I couldn’t believe it when he fell into the open seat beside me.
I turned away. I wasn’t going to move. This was my seat. I had my earbuds in and turned them up. He was saying something. I couldn’t hear him. Then he hit me. He hit me with his leg against my leg. I whirled on him with a loathsome look. He was breaking all the rules! “Are you gonna talk to me now?” he said. I spit out a sigh and stood up to move. But he wouldn’t move his legs. He locked them, knees against the seat back in front of him. I hesitated, and then stepped over him. He lifted his knees to make the stepping over harder. I walked down the aisle, just past the pivot joint, where I sat on a bench seat parallel to the bus side, facing the windows opposite.
I was down only a moment when he reappeared. The bench seats were three-seaters, mine and the one across and facing me. He didn’t sit beside me. This time he plopped down in the middle open seat between two older women opposite me. He was following me around the bus! I was equally scared and disgusted. I didn’t know what to do. Why didn’t the driver do something? The drunk was slurring something at me. I couldn’t hear him for my headphones. But he wasn’t going to make me move again. I was a full-grown primate. This was my spot.
The tension broke when he suddenly passed out. His chin drooped, his head hung forward, and he slumped. It swung back and forth in time with the bus. The women beside him leapt up and moved. The looks on their faces surprised me. They were directed at me! As though I were the cause of this! It wasn’t my fault there was a violent stalker on the bus. It was the driver’s fault! I didn’t remember in the moment that I had caused this, by body-checking him back, trying to restore my rule-bound honor, sir, instead of doing what the other passengers did, just letting it go.
I did the same as the women. I immediately jumped up and moved seats too. I returned to the back of the bus and took another seat facing the front. The ride continued.
Then, just as suddenly as he had passed out, he woke up. He looked around. I wasn’t there. No one was there. Everyone around had changed seats away from him. He was alone. In desperation he got to his feet. He moved to a new seat too. He took the open aisle seat beside someone in the front section. He must have felt some pre-Cambrian embarrassment because even from the back of the bus I could see him smiling, turning on the charm, making nice with his seatmate. His seatmate responded conversationally. I watched him gesturing. He turned his head in profile and smiled. Maybe the seatmate didn’t know what had gone on behind him because he hadn’t seen it. Or maybe he knew more than I did.
When the drunk passed out again, head lolling back against the seat handle, his seatmate didn’t move. The air of danger was diffused. No one moved again.