TO MY GREATEST CONSTERNATION
I want change. I'm waiting for it. I expect it. Next to my front door, I've had two bags packed, always on the ready. The smallest is fit to support a romantic assignation or a bender of three days or less. The larger bag, a nondescript duffel, is designed for a longer journey. Inside I have neatly folded a variety of clothes appropriate for any occasion or any situation from an urban alley to a country club. A tuxedo, plenty of art supplies, a pair of swimming goggles, a years ration of Excedrin PM, theatrical make-up, cash and two false passports are just a few of the economically packed items. I'm ready for change but both bags are covered in dust. (Actually, the smaller one gets some use but not enough as to be commensurate with my young age.)
I'm ready for change and I'm insulted that I have to wait for it. Change should happen miraculously and fortunately. Bon chance is a gift from the Gods, an appointment of talent, grace and aesthetic superiority. Well, I'm sick of waiting. This Prince is used to some service. I've been signaling the Headwaiter for quite some time now and I haven't caught his eye. I'm ready for action, goddamn it, and it hasn't been forthcoming.
Recently I was perusing an issue of Missionary Life, a glossy monthly, and I was surprised to find an article on change. It suggests that if you want to better your life, you should cough up a total tithing of forty percent. It also proposed the theory that if you alter just one small thing in your life, it will eventually effect a greater change, like a loose bolt flying inside your transmission crankcase. The author also gave a laundry list of suggestions, which I have re-translated for your applicability: You can move. You can switch mediums. You can change your day job or your phone number. You can discover a new vice. You can try a new haircut or take a vacation. I'm not a Calvinist and I never tip forty percent, but I knew I had the gumption to change at least one thing in my life.
I DON'T LOOK GOOD WITH A MULLET.
I told my barber Lou to try something new and kicky. I don't look good with a mullet.
A SIREN'S CALL
I had to get outta town. This time by choice but I had to get out fast nonetheless. I know how to read an omen. When my over-burdened camel, Ol' Sanitee, took one look at the little, tiny toothpick I was about to place in her basket, she leap to her feet with a camel's roar. She meant business, so I dropped the stick. I knew I had to get outta town.
This Westerner instinctively travels west. The Siren that whispers in my ear wears a lei of fragrant white and orange flowers. Besides, I was on a budget. My coffers are as dusty as a coffin. If you want to find the cheapest vacation, look for the biggest ads; Hawaii always wins by several column inches. Honolulu dominates Maui or Kauai every time by at least a point size.
With the alacrity and clarity of the Artist's Mind, I was able to calculate the most luxurious comfort and beauty for the fewest clamshells. The cheapest package in paradise is the shopping mall they call Waikiki. It didn't matter; I had a card hidden up my sleeve. If Air Greyhound books two people to a seat or if I had to rest my head on the placemat called a pillow at Motel Poi Poi, I had the key to Shangri-La. My plan was to get there cheap, sleep cheap and spend all of my time at the place I revere as the Mount Olympus of America. With the help of a friend and a fake I.D., I was able to gain entrance to the Outrigger Canoe Club.
For centuries, democracy and it's friend the guillotine have forced royalty into hiding. America's most superior race has taken refuge at the Outrigger Canoe Club. The OCC is a rather small private club at the foot of Diamond Head. The facilities are comfortable and beautiful but not luxurious. It's sweeping view of Waikiki, the green mountains of Barber's Point and the great wide Pacific will always bring a hush at sunset and a murmur of approval for nature's showmanship. The OCC is also artist friendly, just ask Billy Al Bengston.
What makes the OCC exceptional is its members. They are the descendants of American missionaries, whaling ship captains, daring entrepreneurs and royal Hawaiians. These men, women and children are unassuming of their privilege. They share the grace of naturalness. No one walks, for they lope. Their bodies are lean and their muscles long. These are not the people of barbell vanities; their physicality is borne of outrigger paddles, surfboards and ocean-fought strength. Their faces are not lined from worry, just careful thought. Strong white teeth flash against sun browned skin. Everyone stands naturally tall. This is not the beauty found in fashion magazines but in generations of well bred character.
Envy keeps me at the OCC. I remember watching a beautiful, raven-haired mother and her young son scouting the waves, waxing their boards and going out for an afternoon surf; I want to be that kid. The work day ends early at the OCC. My peers would return from a few hours of labor managing the family trust to hoist a canoe above their heads and go for a paddle. Their world possesses an aesthetic that a Ralph Lauren or a Tommy Hilfiger tries to capture but never will. Olympia's director Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi Herb Ritts, would run out of film at this place. These alii, the Gods and Goddesses of America, live at the Outrigger and I was privileged to bask in their community.
My purpose of a vacation was dire. I needed calm and repose. This trip was so spontaneous that I could not find a guardian to accompany and nurse me. Alone and left to my own devices, it wasn't more than three hours after setting foot on Hawaiian soil that I fell into the grasp of a posse of artists and scalawags that rivaled all who I was trying to escape in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I returned more exhausted and war weary than when I had left. I guess I can't help it, I will always be a sailor on shore leave.
I just moved, but this change was not self-initiated as suggested in Missionary Life Magazine. My landlady fell in love with a crusading journalist and gave me the boot. Fortunately, I was able to land, not on the hard asphalt of the street but onto a very large pile of bamboo leaves. Over the last five years, my choice in residences have been for amusement rather than home and heart. Since the scribe was taking my room, he offered me his, a small house four blocks away in Echo Park. He got the girl and the view and I finally got to drop my anchor in a safe harbor that I can call home, a mooring this psyche sorely needs.
I said, "I'll take it" before the journalist could tell me about my new digs. From his description I assumed that he was a design and style writer. He replied, "The creme colored manse with lagoon blue trim is fronted with a grove of tropical bamboo, the symbol of prosperity, growth and upward mobility. True to the early Twenties style of Los Angeles architecture, the whimsical home is perched high off the ground, Hawaiian style, as if ready to embrace a tsunami. This and the lush landscaping will welcome every guest to the charms of the South Seas." Now, if I were this guy's editor, I'd make a few changes to the copy. "Grove of bamboo" might be more accurate as "a few clumps" and "Los Angeles style architecture" demands adjectives such as "ramshackle" and "clapboard". Besides, I'd never call the threat of the reservoir above my head or an address in a floodplain as "tsunami friendly."
However you may describe it, I call it home. The rent isn't bad. It has an old fashioned bathtub which suits me fine. The "whimsical" floor in every room has it's own concept of level and the kitchen reminds me of a galley in a small, smart yacht. Since cooking anything more aggressive than cold cereal is out of the question, I have turned the dining room into a spiffy painting studio. Without air conditioning, my place actually does offer the climate of the South Seas. My oscillating house fan feels like the trade winds.
Over the last eighty years, my neighborhood was built with complete disregard for building codes. My street of single story homes and duplex apartments is oddly private despite the fact that everyone is living on top of each other. When my neighbor sneezes, I reply with a "Gesundheit!" Everyone has a loud dog and we create our privacy with walls of sound. Everybody cranks up their world; music is an invisible property line. As a result, a stroll down my street offers everything from a rural Ranchera to Handel to Fat Boy Slimm. A chorus of dogs sing along in disharmony.
The natives are certainly friendly. On the first Saturday night in my new pad, I came home after midnight to find a party next door and one across the street. I went to both; I got the bum's rush from one and stayed for hours at the other having a great time even though I did not speak the language. It's a dangerous Welcome Wagon. I need not worry though. I am a mere block away from a private mental health facility, which seems friendly enough.
Since the journalist and I were trading places, we also switched phone numbers. The move saved us 15 dollars each in charges. It was later that I learned he was not a food and lifestyle writer but a cop-busting investigator. He writes about police corruption and his sources are gang members and those at the Graybar. Now every dirty cop with a beef has my address and I have been fielding collect calls from jailbirds. Talking to members of our penal colony is very exhausting and laborious. Since the one holding the phone is generally not the one making the call, they have a hard time grasping the idea that this number has changed. "Who you?" they scream repeatedly, "Who you?" It makes me jump every time.
NO SMALL CHANGE
One axiom to remember is "You always get what you wish for, plus a sharp stick in the eye." Never again will I take the advice of a Calvinist nor will I tell Lou my barber to try something new and kicky. I'm throwing in the towel and holing up behind the bamboo grove. As an admission of defeat, I am about to paint a house sign which I will hang upon my porch. The Polynesian styled letters on bamboo will read "Taboo Terrace" because nothing really ever changes. You just can't re-cast the die.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based painter. His visual and written work can be found at the website: www.gordygrundy.com