IMR: 1998: September: 10 -- Thursday, 10:44 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i
Spent most of the evening on the couch numbing our brains with the Video Music Awards.

I'm not sure what the appeal is, especially since I'm still unclear on the selection process (at least the Oscars make repeated references to the all-knowing 'academy'). As far as I could tell, even the sponsors knew in advance who the winners were, and have probably known for as far back as it took them to produce flashy congratulatory commercials.

Well, it beats network television. NBC was airing the final episode of "Seinfeld" for the twentieth time.

I doubt they'll be inviting Ben Stiller back to host this thing. I actually like his comedy, most of the time, but tonight he's just flat. He's as bad at bombing as Dave Letterman.

That Aerosmith song won "Best Video from a Film." Better them than Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page, but still. I must be missing an integral implant that everyone else in the neo-X generation got, 'cause "I Don't Want to Miss a Thing" just annoys me. The lyrics remind me of the sort of stuff clumsy adolescents would read aloud in high school poetry classes.

Then again, I practically cried the first time I heard Alanis Morisette's "Uninvited," so what do I know?

Our rock stars are growing up. Parenthood is trendy now. Will Smith, Madonna, Billy Joe Armstrong... role models for procreation (if not 'family values'). Even Prince and Michael Jackson have offspring, disturing though that may be.

The remark of the night came from Jen, when Hanson and Sara Michelle Gellar scurried on stage to present an award. "Wait," she said. "Which one's Sara?"

And although I missed it, Jen said they reported that MTV broadcast the "Smack My Bitch Up" video a grand total of two times. Ever. Just by weird coincidence, then, Jen and I must have caught it both times.

Even though the video -- in the grand scheme of things -- was fairly tame, I still remember being rather shocked when I saw it. Mostly I think I was surprised that slick and polished MTV still had the spunk to show a four-minute rampage of violence, vomit, and full-frontal nudity. (Female, of course.)

I got the exact same uncomfortable feeling I got one night over a decade ago, when I turned to MTV for the first time and caught Devo's "Whip It." Back then, I was thoroughly disturbed and intrigued and felt as if I'd gotten a taste of something scandalous and forbidden.

Now, of course, that video is so tame and dorky the only time you see it is during shows where they make fun of how dorky music videos used to be.

I wonder if, in 2009, I'll catch "Smack My Bitch Up" on some retro show and think, "Boy, I remember when that sort of thing was considered obscene!"

For Katie's sake, I hope not.

(Reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite Simpson's episodes depicting the family in the not-so-distant future. "You know," Marge says, clicking the remote, "Fox turned into a hardcore sex channel so gradually, I didn't even notice!")

I admit it. In the seven short months since I've become a dad, I've had flashes of conservatism that make me want to flog myself with a rusty strip of barbed wire.

In general, though, it's amazing how times change. Just look at what you can get away with on television these days. Those Herbal Essences commercials? Tampon ads where they actually shove the things into narrow flasks to show it sucking up that blue stuff? I'd wager stuff like that would've had people picketing in the streets in my parents' day.

The other day, dad passed along some gifts from Grandma O. Two dresses that she'd made for Katie, and a sweet card adorned with two $20 bills.

The dresses were just too cute, and the money bought a week's worth of groceries, but deep down, I felt awful. She should never have to come to bribery in order to see her great granddaughter.

So I called her up yesterday, and summoned what little Japanese I could remember to tell her we'd visit her that night. We drove up to her apartment deep in Manoa Valley just as the sun was going down.

She was waiting at the door for us. She ushered us in, we sat on the couch, grandma sat in a chair opposite us, and for a minute or two we just smiled at eachother. My natural instinct would have been to fill the silence with small talk, but I kept quiet and just watched grandma staring at Katie staring at grandma. That simple moment was more than enough.

When they smiled at the same time, I felt something indescribable. I tried to wrap my mind around what I was seeing, a grin crossing three generations in the span of a small living room.

Although Katie was tired and grumpy, she let Grandma hold her a little while. Grandma, in fact, was very talkative, but damn me I could only pick out bits and pieces of sentences. Most of the time I just said 'Hai!' and nodded vigorously.

More than ever I wished I could really communicate with her. I mean, here was a woman who raised six children. To that Jen can only say "Wow!" But I gave up Japanese to study Hawaiian. What wisdom were we missing out on?

Fortunately, with her broken English and my broken Japanese, we could talk a little. Right off she asked about breastfeeding, which Jen handled quite admirably. She was also as anxious as we were to see teeth, or to see her start crawling, both of which are due this month.

Even though she said she didn't have much food, she still managed to whip up a delicious dinner. Salmon, crab cakes, Japanese-style marinated potatoes and rice. She also cut up an apple and a peach and mushed them up for Katie. Unfortunately, since she was used to the mild, ultra-smooth taste of Gerber Stage 1, she frowned the biggest frown when the real thing landed on her tongue.

When Katie started teething, Grandma ran off and came back with an empty thread spool. She washed off the label, but after looking it over, put it down in frustration.

"Before time, these all wood," she said. "Now everything plastic. No good for the mouth."

Grandma also brought out a quilt she had just finished that morning, placing it on the floor so Katie could stretch out. Katie's this close to getting on all fours now, and although she doesn't do it on purpose, when she pushes herself up on her arms, she often slides backwards. She's also rolling over like it's nothing.

When we sat her up, she immediately reached out and pulled up the edge of the quilt, much to Grandma's delight. Katie's now very inquisitive, reaching and grabbing at anything she sees. Noses, plates of food, magazines, cups. Everything still goes straight to her mouth, of course, but after that she does hold it out and study it a little.

Eventually Katie's mood hit rock bottom, and it was time to go. But as we left I think I did manage to convey to Grandma an invitation to our apartment next week. From now on, I'm not going to let it get to the point where she has to send gifts to get to see us again.

As we headed out to the car, Grandma stood at the door and watched until we were out of sight... just like she used to do every morning, I remembered, when Todd and I were loaded up to be enlightened at our Christian preschool.

As we were driving up to Grandma's place, we passed a small pack of Cayetano sign wavers standing at the corner of Punahou and Wilder. I smiled and waved and honked my horn, getting cheers and shaka signs in return.

"What are you doing?" Jen asked. "Are you voting for Ben after all?"

"Let me level with you," I said. "I wave at just about every sign waver I see 'round election time."

I have a great amount of empathy for sign wavers, despite the fact that I dislike the practice itself. But that's only because I've spent more than my fair share of hot afternoons doing the same thing.

Since my dad's always worked in government, he's always been involved in politics. So I'd often get sucked in too. When I was a little kid, I'd join him canvasing neighborhoods, knocking on doors and sticking pamphlets under doormats. And I distinctly remember holding up big wooden signs along South King Street, sweating, my arms aching from nonstop waving, a smile frozen on my face.

Nearly 90 percent of the time, people ignore you completely. But even though I was a little kid, that didn't stop some people from leaning out of their car and cursing, or flipping the bird, or tossing trash. It's traumatic for anyone to have a stranger give you the evil eye the entire time they're stopped at a light, let alone for a 12-year-old boy.

I remember living for the rare times someone would wave back, or cheer, or honk their horn, or even stop to say hello. Sometimes, these people didn't care at all about the candidate or the race, but they were impressed with our enthusiasm.

So when I see a sweating, sunburnt, middle-aged woman waving at traffic, I remember how much it sucks. And I remember how one smile can erase twenty thumbs-downs. So I wave. It's only a couple of calories lost.

Heck, I probably can't even vote in the districts for which some of these people are running, but I do vote, and these people obviously do too, and I gotta admire them for that. Frankly, everyone complains about the democratic system, but only the people who care enough to participate should have the right to bitch.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 10 September 1998 · Last Modified: 16 September 1998