IMR: 1998: October: 31 — Saturday, 1:01 a.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawaii

It's Halloween, technically. But the big spook in my life hit a week ago.

I threw out my back on Saturday. I don't know how, honestly. One moment I was sitting at mom's computer, the next I was crumpled on the floor in too much pain to yell.

So what if I'm a wuss with no tolerance for pain? To me it was absolutely excruciating. I'd never felt anything like it before. It was like a knot of nerves decided to set off some cherry bombs at the base of my spine. It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit, it hurt to curl into a ball.

Of course, Todd had a whole gaggle of friends over, and the lot of them got some first rate entertainment as I crawled and winced and rolled on the floor for the next few hours, convinced that the pain would eventually go away.

"How pathetic," I said. "I probably sprained my butt."

But as the evening dragged on, it became pretty clear that I wasn't going to be able to drive home. Worse yet, the pain was starting to make occasional trips up into my kidneys, creating a sensation that simply defies any description. Mom dragged Todd away from his card game and I was hauled off to the emergency room at Straub.

To make a long story short, the doctor wasn't sure what was wrong (sprain? herniated disc?), but he gave me some pretty scary narcotics and ordered me to stay in bed for the next few days.

And I would have gladly complied, if I hadn't already missed a week of classes to go to Los Angeles.

Fortunately, by Sunday the pain had subsided to the point where I could at least hobble freely. When Monday rolled around, it only hurt to stand up straight, so I went through my classes and afternoon downtown hunched over like Quasimodo.

"See?" I told my coworkers, leaning against a door frame. "This is how much I love this job."

With each day since, the pain has lessened but not completely disappered. There's still general soreness with any back-intensive movements and I find it impossible to sit in any position for more than five minutes (muscles in my lower back start twiching).

On the bright side (if you can call it that), the whole fiasco was enough to finally — finally — convince me to see a doctor. My first such visit in what must be three or four years. And at a loss as to how to pick a health care provider and primary physician, I just decided to follow Jen's lead.

That's right. Dr. Boyens, the charming family practitioner, is now charged with maintaining the health of the Ozawa family (Makiki chapter).

As he poked and pinched and pulled and bent, we chatted about my health, and more directly my phobia of doctors. (Like auto mechanics, I've always held that given time and money, they will always find something wrong.) He and I have very compatible senses of humor, which helped a lot when I had my pants down around my knees.

It was pretty clear that my present state of physical fitness played a large part in my back's decision to revolt. In the last five years I've gone from heavy-duty mountain biker to desk-bound paper pusher, every wonderful ounce of muscle dissolving into half a pound of fat. And I've also known that I've historically had horrendously bad posture.

"But I am sitting up straight!"

His diagnosis? A simple strain. The prognosis? A small dab of physical therapy and some hard time in "back school." (Seriously, that's what it said on the official form.) I can see it now. A room full of aching geeks trying to walk around a room with UNIX manuals balanced on their heads...

Oh yeah. And I should probably start biking again.

[ Vote No on Nov. 3 ]I've always been an activist at heart.

With Greg in town, William, Jen and I decided to hook up with him at a mutual friend's house. While William cooked up some fish and steak on a portable hibachi, we talked nonstop about anything and everything... but mostly about local politics and the upcoming general election.

The hot topic, not surprisingly, was the same-sex marriage ballot, which asks whether the state legislature should be empowered to amend the constitution to ban homosexual unions. True to journalist form, we had praise and criticism for the campaign waged by both sides. But we were also unanimously against giving politicians the power to meddle with anyone's civil rights.

I noted that the "No" camp suffered from weak grass-roots visibility, despite its many television commercials. I complained that I regularly had to drive past swarms of "Yes" sign wavers (often along Vineyard on my way to work), and that the only place I'd seen "No" supporters was at the corner of University and Beretania... invariably surrounded by "Yes" folks.

I committed myself then to actually doing something. The next day I hunted down the "Protect Our Constitution" office on Kapahulu Avenue (next to Subway, across from Pietro) and grabbed stickers, buttons, and a couple of yard signs.

From that point on, there was no looking back. Over the last few days, I've been a man on a mission.

In addition to our trusty Nissan, both mom's car and grandma's car sport "Vote No" bumper stickers. One of the large signs stands outside mom's front door, Mililani Town Association gestapo be damned. (It's especially brave placement by mom, considering that her neighbors are extremely active in a church). In fact, I already managed to distribute the entirety of my stock to friends, forcing me to return to headquarters earlier tonight for a fresh supply of propaganda.

Most notably, I've taken to putting the other sign in the passenger-side window of our car and parking in a particular stall when I go in to work. Set perpendicular to exiting traffic, it gives my admittedly small audience an unusually clear view of my message:

Vote no. Then go and battle it out in court like you're supposed to.

Eager as I am to do my part, of course, I'm still treading carefully. ("You don't like owning a car, do you?" William recently joked.) I have to make sure my confidence isn't falsely boosted by the fact that I've yet to meet anyone who's going to vote yes. It's obviously just luck, because according to the polls, there are unfortunately more of them out there than us.

The fact that our polling place is a church isn't exactly encouraging, either. Or... Maybe I can park my car right in front?

It's so frustrating to see the "Yes" camp gaining ground, sometimes downright infuriating. (They're practically the only sponsor of KFVE's daily reruns of "The Simpsons.") Their ads are getting nastier, the resulting fear clouding over the underlying hate. And I was doubly disappointed today to see the Star-Bulletin taking their side, with the usually conservative Advertiser instead advocating the side of reason.

I firmly believe that nearly all rational people in this state know that on an intellectual level, adding a restrictive clause to a bill of rights is a bad idea. But despite the numerous and varied arguments against giving this power to politicians, it's the "Yes" camp and its single emotional argument that will linger with voters when they're alone in that booth.

[ HDL ]The only other adventure of the week was renewing my driver's license, and beginning the slow process of reviving Jen's driving credentials.

We went to the downtown Satellite City Hall under King Street. I was impressed with how quickly they processed my renewal. (They don't even give you the written test anymore.) Not fifteen minutes after I walked in, they handed me my new, goatee-inclusive Hawaii driver's license.

Before, you had to wait six weeks for it to come in the mail. That's progress... I guess.

The thing is, the new design is ugly. (Not that the original rainbow look was much better.) It's only so obvious that it's all just one low-resolution, specially laminated computer printout. The printed area is noticably smaller than the card itself, leaving huge white borders. And more disturbingly, things were clearly shifted around to make room for an unexplained bar code.

How long will it be, I wonder, before these things are just tatooed on our necks at birth?

At least I don't have to renew until 2004. Good god, I'll be 30 years old then.

Jen, meanwhile, passed the little quiz and got her learner's permit. (They're actual cards now, instead of flimsy slips of paper.)

Now, she'd had a Hawaii driver's license before, but it expired more than two years ago. And since I was always the one behind the wheel from even earlier, she has basically forgotten how to pilot an automobile. With my recent emergency, though, we quickly realized that she should be able to drive, even if she doesn't do so regularly.

So I quickly made up a "Student Driver" sign, and so far she's taken us on a couple of short errands. She even managed Friday rush hour today for our regular trip to the beach. I've surprised myself with how calm I've been, but unfortunately Jen says I make her nervous just by being there.

We'll manage, though. She's already more confident than she was only a couple of days ago, and I rather enjoy asking "what's the speed limit on this street?" at random intervals.

When I got back from L.A., it seemed like Katie was an entirely different baby.

Part of it is just that being away gives you a chance to see your child from a more independent perspective. It suddenly struck me exactly how big she was, how alert and how active.

And part of it was that she really did change. She learned to crawl while I was away, and her first tooth had finally broken through her gum.

I'm looking forward to the meeting in Hong Kong next May, but that's going to be for two weeks. (Jen and Katie may actually travel to Florida while I'm away.) I shudder to think what milestones I may miss then.

Before I forget...

Things I liked about L.A.

  • The food. I probably wouldn't be able to find a decent plate lunch place, but the variety of other delicacies would probably make up for it. How many restaurants per square mile was it again?
  • The newspapers. For starters, there's more than one (worth reading). And the "L.A. Weekly" is everything the "Honolulu Weekly" aspires to be. Ten times as thick, five times the sex and politics, and chock full of ads for "private dancers" and plastic surgery of every variety.
  • The shopping. So that's what it's like to actually have choices as a consumer?
  • The social scene. With a city that size, there'll always be someplace new to go. One week's schedule of bands at the House of Blues was the equivalent of a whole year of concerts in Honolulu.
  • The drivers. Seriously. Perhaps they've got more insane motorists per capita than anywhere else in the world, but I'll take a skilled maniac over a clumsy dimwit any day. (L.A. drivers are good bad; Honolulu drivers are stupid bad.)

Things I didn't like about L.A.

  • The traffic. If I ever bitch about it taking an hour to get out to Pearl City at rush hour again, just kick me.
  • The air. You know that saying about smog making the best sunsets? Poppycock. I guess I just wasn't built to live every waking moment in clinically sealed, climate-controlled, air-conditioned boxes.
  • The water. You'd probably have to gargle with untreated sewage to get that taste out of your mouth.
  • The cost of living. Everyday things like groceries may actually be cheaper than in Honolulu, but the stuff you actually want is way overpriced. You know that joke about the $12 hamburger? It's not a joke. (Though an 8 percent sales tax beats a 4 percent excise tax any day.)

The plan for today? Hang out with mom, give Jen some driving lessons around Mililani, drive out to Wai`anae for the big picnic in Greg's honor, then back to mom's to spend the evening giving candy to kids.

Kids brave enough to walk past the "Vote No" sign, at least.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 31 October 1998 · Last Modified: 3 November 1998