IMR: 1998: December: 15 — Tuesday, 10:13 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

The holidays are always hell for those neurotic about documenting their lives, publicly or otherwise. The diarist's paradox: the more interesting the life, the less time to write about it.

The last two weeks have been chock full of the sorts of things of which flowing, captivating essays are made, but the remembrances and reflections kept slipping away as my brain filled with the next great adventure.

Now, mid-week, between finals and adjusting to full-time hours downtown, what's left is fuzzy and disjointed. Pity.

[ Shaka Santa ]Turns out getting into the holiday spirit -- even after years as a cynical, disenfranchised grinch -- isn't all that hard.

It's Katie's first Christmas. Pride be damned, we're going to do it right.

Since the mayor flipped the switch for "Honolulu City Lights" earlier this month, Jen and I have gone out several times on the spur of the moment to enjoy them. Katie's unpredictable temperament and the wet weather have so far kept us from touring the capitol district on foot, but even from the car the displays are impressive and heartening.

They're pretty much the same from year to year, of course, but spotting the little changes is fun enough. I was tickled to see an animated paperboy tossing papers on the side of the Hawaii Newspaper Agency building. Even the bank building where mom works is in on the act, despite being tucked deep within Chinatown.

While Jen is taken with the increasingly elaborate setups at the Board of Water Supply, I've always gone for the less gimmicky stuff. The light-wrapped trees in Bishop Square downtown have always been my favorite.

On the home front, for the first time in years, there is a Christmas tree up at mom's. (Jen and I simply haven't the room in our apartment.) Even though we decided to get it early, we still had to pick from the few sorry specimens left behind in a nearly empty corral. Even so, our selection was nice enough, with only one flat side perfectly suited to face the wall.

The ensuing mayhem after we got it to the house was worthy of an Abbott and Costello skit. It took five people, working in shifts, to cut half an inch off the stem with a tiny, rusted saw. Mom had to sit on the tree at one point to keep it from rolling around. By the time we cut all the way through, we were all too tired to set it up.

Fortunately, the yuletide spirit persevered, and last Wednesday we wrapped it in lights and covered it with ornaments... many of which were as old as I was, made with love by my own mother's hands. Todd and Heidi did a lot of the decorating, my brother even sitting down with one of the half-lit light sets and checking each and every bulb.

What went under the tree, however, seems to be almost entirely Jen's department.

Since the month began, Jen's been itchy to get stuff for Katie. We've gone on at least two clothes shopping expeditions, and a $50 check from her grandmother was converted almost instantaneously into a Toss-and-Tickle-Me Elmo and a Playskool telephone. She's also been spending exorbitant amounts of time at the EToys site, and in one moment of weakness, actually dug out and activated one of my long-dormant credit cards to get something there. Mom's bought Katie some clothes too, and Jen's mom just sent a little rocking horse... er, cow.

We've even been good and wrapped most of the stuff to be opened on Christmas. (Some of the clothes and the rocking cow, however, were put into immediate service.) I've even subjected Katie to some toddler gift training, and she'll be well prepared to rip the wrapping paper off her presents when the time finally comes.

Katie's not the only one getting presents, though. We're still thrilled to have the video camera Gayle gave us early to document the season, and Jen's mom sent a new Kodak Advantix APS camera for the same purpose. She also sent a WalMart gift card with $200 in credit loaded into it. On Sunday, we spent it all (plus $3.07) on gobs of long-needed housewares, from a set of pots and pans to new sheets and pillows.

When it comes to getting gifts, we're sitting pretty. Giving gifts, on the other hand, is a bit problematic. Even though most people I know allow me to claim the Poor College Student Exemption, I'm easily motivated by guilt. Especially since Jen and I didn't give out more than a handful of trinkets between us last Christmas.

I got something small for William, and picked up a cheap-but-functional flatbed scanner for mom. Tower Records gift certificates are in the cards for a good portion of my family. But I'm drawing serious blanks for both ideas and funding for the other folks on my list... not the least of whom is Jen.

I'm hoping for divine inspiration (or even intervention) in the next few days.

Traffic out of downtown has been a mess this week.

Over the weekend -- seemingly only a few days after the plan was first announced -- the state rushed out and added a single mauka-bound lane to the formerly one-way stretch of Punchbowl between King and Beretania.

To pull it off, they had to add a traffic island to the corner near City Hall, making right turns onto King an exercise in insanity. They also turned the leftmost lane of King a left-turn-only lane, pointing up the new freeway-bound corridor. There's a mess of new signs and traffic lights.

(Some of the signs are even contradictory. Although they put up "Left Lane Must Turn Left" signs, they forgot to take down the old "One Way" sign... pointing right.)

See, people used to use the leftmost lane of King to speed out of downtown, because many other drivers don't want to take the chance that there might still be parked cars along the sidewalk. On Monday, the first day the new alignment was in effect, I sat in traffic and watched dozens of cars fly past on my right, only to come to a screeching halt at the corner and signal to get into my lane to stay on King.

So while the right side of King was backed up because of the usual swarm of buses, the left side was now also a mess. Everyone was struggling to squeeze into the center lanes to try and avoid the mayhem. Creating, of course, more mayhem.

And the fact that people are already driving especially badly in the area to gawk at the Christmas lights doesn't help one bit.

How we manage to have such awful traffic on an island continues to baffle me.

One final failed, one to go.

There's a saying. I think it goes something like, "Rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic." That's what my Hawaiian 301 final felt like on Monday. It became immediately clear that the question was not whether or not I was going to pass the exam, but how badly I was going to fail.

Seriously. All of a sudden, there was no question my answers were going to betray absolute ignorance. Instead of wasting my energy pretending I could come up with the answers, I concentrated on making sure my stupidity was well presented.

"You crashed and burned," I want my professor to say, "but you did so with style."

I think I was just completely unprepared for the format. Even though she explained it, I didn't expect it to be so... blunt. Although we were told to study a vocabulary of over 100 words, there were only twenty on the exam (seemingly the only twenty I hadn't memorized). The written portion was almost disturbingly short, and the listening portion was over before I'd even gotten into the right frame of mind. As I watched my classmates walk out one at a time, I felt as if I'd shown up to witness the Second Coming and blinked at precisely the wrong instant.

I'm especially upset by the possibility that I've disappointed my professor. I liked her a lot, and especially admired her ability to correct you without making you feel stupid. Independent of my scores, I think we had a good sense of camaraderie in the classroom. You'd think I was cruising with an "A" by how active I was.

I'm trying desperately to look on the bright side. I'm taking Hawaiian more out of personal interest than academic necessity, and in that sense I do think the class was worthwhile. I learned a lot, and I feel more proficient, even though my grades don't show it. Hell, Hawaiian classes have been the most enjoyable I've taken in college, bar none.

But if it's something I enjoy, I should have done better. I should have kept up with the assignments. I'm only taking six credits this semester, so there's no excuse.

Although I optimistically signed up for 302, I don't think I'll be keeping it. Besides, I'm already registered for both the stats and specialized reporting courses in the journalism sequence for next semester, and they will probably keep me quite busy. Yes, this year's bellyflop probably marks the end of my Hawaiian language studies.

And I haven't yet hit rock bottom. I've got Kato's final on Friday.

Even if I ace it, I'm not looking at anything higher than a C in Journalism 365. Believe it or not, I got nines and tens (out of ten) on all my quizzes and an "A" on the midterm. But I didn't turn in the infamous course journal (the second time, which is when it counted most), which unfortunately makes up 30 percent of the total grade.

Unlike Hawaiian, though, I can't give up on journalism. It's taken me six years to get this close to a bachelor's degree -- and frankly any degree would do -- and I don't think I can survive another six. No matter how attractive geology sometimes seems.

That's weird. All the keys on the right half of my keyboard suddenly shifted in mid-sentence. The word "optimistically" came out "6*t505st5ca33y." I had to restart to straighten everything out.

Windows. Bah.

Work has been just insane.

It's an admirable goal, honestly, to work toward the "paperless office," the digital workplace of the 21st century. It's great that this international business agency is thinking big, and that our office is playing a large part in modernizing and educating its membership.

But the fact of the matter is, I'm the only staffmember with "information technology" in my title. (In fact, I think I'm the only dedicated full-time web designer in the entire organization.) And now that David -- my boss and the office's reluctant computer guy -- is vacationing in Japan, I'm being kept especially busy.

And this week, so far, has been a terrible week for office equipment.

Our laser printer died, and had to be replaced with David's printer from home... which subsequently ran out of toner. And the elaborate fax network I recently set up went the way of the dodo over the weekend when the server completely filled up. This and that started to hang or crash, and each reboot, thanks to Windows NT Server 4.0 and a gargantuan RAID-5 backup array, took nearly fifteen minutes.

Unfortunately, even after uninstalling all but the most essential applications, and making everyone delete their old mail (many users had over 200MB of accumulated messages and attachments), the main drive showed practically no change in the amount of free space. Prayer is pretty much the only thing left in my mental toolbox, and our tech support guy insists he can't come in to look at what's going on until January 4.

And don't even get me started on the office water cooler. That thing took up more time and energy of our staff than anything else today... and we still only get a dribble out of the hot water tap.

Finally, foremost on my mind, though perhaps not evident in everyday conversation, has been the recent addition of "community service" to my list of extracurricular activities.

Over the last several weeks, my protracted dealings with lawyers and judges and counselors quietly came to a close. A slow, difficult, sometimes terrifying process stemming from the accident last February. Matters that I've always been quite successful at keeping out of my mind, except, of course, when required by law, or otherwise revived by the occasional darting moped.

The short version, omitting a lifetime's worth of trying moments, was this: given my life of wife and kid and job and school, and the unanswerable questions of math and circumstance, I was spared trial and verdict and was instead directed to another, much less intimidating building, where I would be "assigned" to respectfully answer for what fragments of liability remained on my plate.

Having escaped the (arguably unreasonable) fate of incarceration, I was calmly resigned to the prospect of raking freeway embankments and cleaning park restrooms -- the stereotypical things people get from who-knows-where.

Imagine my surprise when the remarkably warm and soft-spoken state employee explained that such tasks are only a last resort, and that my various skills clearly dictated an office assignment. In fact, a quick scan through a thick binder found a likely spot for me at the main library.

But wait, what's this? The Makiki library was also on the list. The library practically across the street from our apartment, the library where I'd already volunteered a handful of hours of my time earlier this year just because I could and felt I should.

A week later and it was all arranged. As perfect a match as there could be, as far as I was concerned, as far as these unfortunate things go. I was asked what I'd like to do, and was prepped for filing papers and shelving books, and allusions were made to the library's longstanding plans to computerize. I'd be serving my community, and an agency I'd always intended on supporting.

As my first day approached, however, I became ill at ease. So much so that Jen were prone to almost daily squabbles, all, in retrospect, clearly due to the dark cloud looming over my head. However innocuous my assignment, I knew that it was still a form of punishment, which bespeaks wrong. And, of course, memories of the accident started bubbling to the surface, more vivid and painful than ever. Most difficult to accept, though, was the fact that what I was going through was part of the whole point of the system.

And my apprehension turned out to be somewhat justified. When I showed up for my first day on the job this past Saturday, I was informed that the volunteer janitor had just quit, so my first task as part of the team would be to sweep and mop the entire building.

Six hours later I had only finished the first floor (there are two). Even so I'd collected enough gunk and hair to build a Don King wig. Only during my breaks did I have the "privilege" of staffing the circulation desk and processing donated books.

I suppose it beats park restrooms. But not by much.

My limbs still ache, and I still smell Simple Green everywhere I go. I wonder constantly whether that spot at the main library is still open. But, though I can't entirely explain why, I'm determined to stick it out.

I can't possibly imagine how they could expect to fill all my hours with janitorial work, but even if they do, a little regular exercise isn't the worst duty a guy could face. And physical exertion, I'm beginning to realize, carries an element of spiritual cleansing.

I'll have to think about what happened every time I go in. But perhaps that's not all bad... my instinctive approach of keeping my thoughts completely buried clearly hasn't worked. Though I figure my body will be stronger when all is said and done, I'm more interested in building -- and clearing -- my conscience.


© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 15 December 1998 · Last Modified: 16 December 1998