IMR: 2000: January: 11 — Tuesday, 11:19 a.m.
Room 201, Hawaiian Studies Building, Univ. of Hawai`i-Manoa, Hawai`i

Already. Back in another classroom already.

Like last semester, just one class this term. Hawaiian Studies 390: Issues in Modern Hawaii, taught by the illustrious Mililani Trask.

It'll be interesting. She's the head of Ka Lahui Hawai`i, one of the more prominent Hawaiian sovereignty groups, and was in the headlines just last month for calling Daniel Inouye — U.S. senator and combat wounded Vietnam veteran — a "one-armed bandit." (To the uninitiated, he truly does have only one arm.)

This is a nice building. New, sharp and modern, but clearly designed with a Hawaiian aesthetic. Open, airy, filled with ferns and grass and green, lots of glass for natural light, and copper and dark wood accents. Classroom density is definitely not the priority.

It's the first time I've been here. This despite the fact that I probably knew more about its history and design than most when they were building it.

In my first semester as a staff writer at Ka Leo, November 1992, I was assigned to do a story on the then-unbuilt Hawaiian Studies Building. I'd like to say I was given the story because they thought I was a good writer, but really it was because I was green and everyone was scared of the Hawaiian Studies Department. (Some things never change.)

So I interviewed Trask and various university bureaucrats, read what little had already been written in Ka Leo's archives, and even got copies of the blueprints. I went with photographer Richard "Under the Stars" Walker to take a picture of the fancy scale model the architects built.

And then I wrote a 110-inch story, which had to be cut to 84 inches before it could run, which was still massive by any newspaper's standards. The entire front page and more than half of page three.

I never forgot that assignment. I actually got a note of thanks from Trask. (In the news business, one piece of positive feedback nullifies twenty complaints.) I was made a Senior Writer soon after, eventually churning out more than 60 articles that semester. The next semester, I was Associate News Editor, and the rest is — my dear god — history.

I remember looking at that little model... the towering cooper pyramids, the big courtyards and open spaces, the rich landscaping and real lo`i (taro ponds), and thinking, "No way it's going to look like this when they're done."

But today, if you looked at that excellent macro POV photo Richard took, you wouldn't know it was of a conceptual model and not the real thing. It's something else.

[ Panther four days from being discharged from Castle Medical Center. ]On Saturday, I drove out to Castle Medical Center to pay one more visit to the infamous Panther, who — amazingly — is being discharged on Thursday. I stopped by because I wanted to see him, certainly, but also because he was quite eager to have the PowerBook carcass I'd left with him hauled off and burned.

He looked great. I mean, as great as anyone in the hospital can look.

He was stricken with a severe pneumonia and suffered a heart attack only two months ago, and the first time I saw him, he was barely conscious, frighteningly thin and weak, and unable to communicate at all. Today, he's chatting up a storm (charming the nurses, of course), reading voraciously, and getting about the hospital on a cane.

We just talked. About those dramatic, philosophical thoughts that come when one faces death head on. About the New Year's celebrations around the world and the post-Y2K doldrums. About hospital food and friends and how badly he wanted a cigarette and a beer. And about the many incredible, vivid, bizzare delusions he had while doped up on morphine.

I mean, we're talking Japanese commuter shuttles to the moon, dinosaurs strolling in the shadow of the Ko`olau mountains, contracts with Steven Spielberg, homicidal nurses, secret messages from hackers hidden in the video readout of his heart monitor...

"As if everything that really happened in the last few weeks wasn't enough to write about," he said.

[ The great Kory K pays a visit. ]Just as I was about to leave, Kory walked in.

While Kory was the first person the hospital called when Panther was admitted, and even though I was depending on him for updates on Panther's condition, this was the first time he was able to make it out to visit. Panther ribbed him a bit, but it was clear he was very happy to see his old friend.

I hung out a while longer, mostly listening as Kory helped Panther catch up on the insider gossip from Hawaii's local music scene, like the story behind the recent breakup of "Pure Heart." (I didn't want to admit I didn't know who "Pure Heart" was, let alone the fact that they broke up.)

When the nurse brought Panther's lunch — a pasty "vegetable curry" that was a disturbingly unnatural shade of green — I decided it was time to go.

I have no doubt I'll meet up with Panther again soon. He'll be staying with friends through the end of January, but after that, he'll be back with his "boys" prowling the streets of Honolulu. Either way, I bet more than a few people are eager to read the next entry in "The Tales."

[ Commercial Shoot at Waimanalo. ]I spent the rest of the day less than two miles away, on a remote lot off a back road in Waimanalo, enjoying another brief stint as an extra on a local television commercial.

That Sue. She's a wonder.

The setting was about as far removed as you could get from that of the other ad I did last April. Instead of a busy street corner in the tourist mecca of Waikiki, we were on a cool, wet patch of rural ranch land with a grand view of the mountains.

The concept? Folks on a corporate retreat pushed into walking across hot coals. My job? Be a faceless coworker standing along the path of fire clapping and cheering.

It's just terribly fascinating to watch the many parts of a production come together, even if it's "just" a local team making a short commercial. Even though, as usual, the half-dozen or so extras spent most of their time waiting, it wasn't too bad for amateurs like me, who thoroughly enjoyed the "behind the scenes" show.

There's a whole group of folks, sometimes an entire company, handling every specific element of the shoot. There were the guys who only provided, set up, and broke down the camera dolly for a few quick rolling shots. And there were the guys who set up and ran all the fire effects, from the cheesy torches to the deceptively simple-looking "bed of coals" (under which there were propane lines, smoke machines, and even orange glow lamps).

All told, my fellow extras and I were there for four hours. And the crew, and the three principles, were there all day. All those people, all that work, all that propane and film and tortilla chips, just to get enough footage to fill no more than 22 seconds of a 30-second television commercial.

Hey! It's not Mililani teaching this class. It's her sister, Haunani. It's the considerably more visible, political, and — until the recent "One-Armed Bandit" flap — controversial Trask.

Now this is going to be interesting.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 11 January 2000 · Last Modified: 13 January 2000