Monday, December 24, 2012

Golden Showers.

In the pantheon of Christmas stories, I'm sure there have been many thousands of stories that have much more meaning than mine or are universally remembered as a parable, teaching a story either to or about a whole culture of people. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas is one.  Or that whole Nativity/Three Wise Men thing could, I guess, be another one.  But my own favorite story relating to this time of year has nothing to do with presents, Bing Crosby tunes or, yes, even flaming rum punches.

My journey back to Northeast Ohio had started more than twenty-four hours before the wheels of a tired 747 touched down upon the muddy gray concrete of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.  I had endured a hurricane the likes of which Hawai'i had ever seen before or, thankfully, has seen since.  After three-and-a-half months of helping friends dig out, suffering from large roof rats running across my chest at three in the morning, and a litany of thoughts surrounding my future on my garden isle, I decided to take a small sabbatical and visit Ohio for a few weeks.

I had packed my bags and sent most of my stuff back to the North Coast; there wasn't anywhere to live and real estate prices had soared.  The rent on my oceanfront condo had gone from a measly $800 a month to a little over $2k for that same thirty-day period.  Illegal?  You bet.  But the speculators and opportunists had done their best to make as much money off of the victims of this disaster as they could, jettisoning much of the Aloha Spirit out the window in favor of a large return on the FEMA money that had poured into Kaua'i after Iniki tore most of the island to shreds in late summer of 1992.

What do I do?  Should I stay and tough it out?  My roommates had decided to abandon any hope of finding  lodging and had gone back to Cleveland in mid-October.  I was without a safety net, a place to live, and the mental resources to make a rational plan.  So I hopped on a plane to spend time with my family and decided that I'd see how I felt once I arrived back in the balmy climes of Northeast Ohio.

I left my adopted homeland after a few tear-filled goodbyes, a glance at the remains of my condo, many palm fronds still glued to the interior walls of my home due to the excessive force of  a hundred and thirty mile winds, and a last meal of musubi.  As I walked across the tarmac to the awaiting plane a slight Hawai'ian breeze heralded my farewell. The bougainvillea was fragrant and I inhaled its sweetness one last time before I was greeted by the flight attendant.  I took my seat and, over the next day, changed planes four times.  My layover in San Francisco was the longest.  I sat, waiting for my plane to Cleveland, with a tattered copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula at my side.  I attempted to leaf through the first few pages but couldn't concentrate on the century-old prose.  My mind was scattershot; thoughts of Hawai'i and my impending return plagued me.  Should I go back?  Should I move to Honolulu and attempt to find work there instead of returning to Kaua'i?

What about home?  Would I be welcomed back?  Had my friends forgotten about me after I had abandoned them a year earlier?  I didn't sleep at all while awaiting my flight. At about midnight an announcement was made to board the aircraft.  Once I boarded the plane I saw my row; I had asked for an aisle seat and a cute, pixie-cut blonde had plunked down next to me, her head leaning on the bulkhead and blocking the window. Sweet.  She smiled at me and we commenced into conversation. We talked for almost four hours.  By dawn the next morning we were making the final approach into Cleveland.  The blonde was headed back to Cincinnati to see her family.  She worked in the TV industry as a  makeup artist.  We had something in common.  She told me to call her if I made it to Los Angeles and the movie career that awaited my arrival.

She gave me a kiss on the cheek and smiled as I walked towards the plane's exit.  Prior to landing, I had glanced past her perch and wonderful-smelling neck to peer out the window.  My hopes of a Bing-Crosby-White-Christmas homecoming was dashed when I saw the landscape surrounding the airport.  It was gray, overcast and raining. Typical Cleveland-in-December weather.

Oh well.

I grabbed my bag at the carousel and awaited my mom's arrival.  She walked past me, not recognizing her first born with my tanned, tropical skin and shinier, long hair.  To this day she denies that she didn't recognize me.  But I was there.  Sorry mom...you've gotta admit that your tanned son was a stranger until I spoke your name.

We made our way to my sister's house ten miles south of the airport.  We had tipped off my brother-in-law that I was coming home but wanted to surprise my younger sister.  We got to their house and my sister, expecting the early delivery of her Christmas present, was quite shocked when the anticipated bow-wrapped puppy was instead the return of a not-so-prodigal son.

We talked for an hour about the hurricane, Hawai'ian food, my production assistant work on Jurassic Park and the delicate differences between local Kaua'i girls versus their mainland counterparts.

I must have looked glassy-eyed because our mom decided it was time for me to get a shower and some sleep.  I hadn't slept in almost two days and it must have shown in the severe case of bedhead that I had inflicted upon myself while talking, bent-necked, to the pixie blonde as we made our way across the continent at thirty-five thousand feet.

A half hour later we arrived at my mom's house.  Nothing had really changed in my absence. My old bedroom was there; the same swirls of dust inhabited my dresser, exactly as I had left it twelve months earlier.  My bed looked inviting.  And, more importantly, the shower awaited me.

Oh my god. The heavenly shower.

In the 100+ days since the hurricane I had been blessed with about five hot showers.  One hasn't lived until they've been vanquished to an outdoor, homemade shower.  Our showerhead was a hose, tossed over the top of the plywood shower stall.  Our makeshift bath had two temperatures and they depended upon how cold the ground was the evening before. The water was either very cold or, as on most December Hawai'ian mornings, just. above. freezing.

I shed my clothes and turned the water on in my mom's shower. I made it as hot as my deprived, sore body could take and just stood there until, forty-five minutes later, the hot water ran cold.  My almost-hour shower was a re-birth of sorts.  I finally got out, prune-fingered and soggy-toed, and dried myself off. I collapsed into my old bed and slept for seven hours straight, awaking only when my mom shook me from my slumber.

We then met my sister and brother-in-law at a TGI Fridays in North Olmsted, a favorite watering hole until it closed a few years later due to a dubious rent scuffle with the mall owners.

We sat and talked.  We drank too many sweet alcoholic drinks.  We laughed. It felt good to be home. I felt warm. The shower, a godsend, was still on my mind.  As we settled in to our meal Hawai'i and my ohana became less important. As I looked out the window I noticed a slight snowfall, a dandruff almost, had started to slowly cascade over the parking lot. Twenty minutes later it was a coating; our cars were covered.

We had dessert and after-dinner coffees.

We buttoned up our coats and walked out into the crisp air.  The new-fallen snow, now about an inch deep, crunched under our footfalls.  The weather was a jarring contrast to the warmer tropical conditions that my body had been accustomed.

I hugged my sister goodnight.  I shook my smiling brother-in-law's hand. My mother and I got into the car.  I closed its door and started the engine.  My favorite radio station hummed to life, broadcasting their familiar station-identification jingle that I hadn't heard in a year.

Looking back I know that my decision was made that night.  Hawai'i, with its beauty, wonderful people, and fantastic food had lost out to a hug, a simple snowfall, and the warmth of a Christmas spent with the people that really mattered to me.

Oh yeah, and that damn shower too.


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