IMR: 1999: April: 29 —  Thursday, 6:31 a.m.
O`ahu Avenue, Manoa Valley, Hawai`i

Even I don't know where the hell I've been all month.

Of course I attended my classes, went to work, played with Katie, grocery shopped, and did all the ordinary things I do. I even did some extraordinary things, including working as an extra in a television commercial and getting my first physical in eight years.

But while I went through the motions, I was definitely at low tide, suffering from a chronic case of the blahs that was infuriatingly unremarkable. It was a bad mood that didn't have the decency to be a really bad mood — like an itch below the skin that barely feels a scratch, it left me pacing in circles, annoyed and unfulfilled.

At worst I was just feeling useless, lost, grinding my teeth pondering What It's All About. Or I'd accidentally start arguments with Jen on purpose, turning even the littlest disagreement into an unflinching, full-bore test of our respective limits. Otherwise, I was simply and overwhelmingly indifferent to everything.

I don't know what snapped me out of it. Maybe it was Littleton. Maybe it was the huge tumble I took at the corner of Bishop and Queen streets, knocking my head into the curb and seriously wounding my ego. Or maybe it was my boss taking me aside and nervously suggesting that perhaps I was starting to slack off — the first negative anything I'd ever heard said about me in any job.

Whatever it was, my melancholy is all but faded away. Now I'm sitting here, listening to All Things Considered on NPR and sorting out my school papers, feeling as if this moment is the first time in weeks I've noticed the cool morning breeze and the wet smell of leaves. I'm upset only by the number of many calories I've stupidly wasted being a sourpuss.

It's good to be back.

Thursday, 8:52 a.m.
Watanabe Hall, University of Hawai`i–Manoa, Hawai`i

Attendance in this class has been dwindling since the first day, but it's getting a little ridiculous. Last week there were twelve of us here, and Bwy was so flabbergasted he passed around a sign up sheet and said, "All of you are getting an 'A' for the course." Today there are only nine students here, scattered around the edges of this classroom built for 60.

To think there was a waiting list to get in at the beginning of the semester.

Part of it is that more than half of my classmates have already finished the final paper, pretty much the point of the entire course. In fact, the last few lectures have simply been in-class reviews of some students' actual papers.

With a week left in the semester, all I've got is an Excel spreadsheet of 52 valid survey responses (out of a total 105 returned) and a slim pack of graph paper.

I just know I'm going to ultimately freak out over this project. To be honest, I understood more about correllation and z-scores a few months ago than I do now. Back then there was homework and basic lectures on the process (even if they were essentially calculator drills). Since then we've concentrated on the theory end, the "political science" end, which is much more fun but — at least with me — dulled all the technical, procedural stuff from before.

Agh. I think journalism students should get a handicap anywhere math is involved.

I'm two weeks away from Hong Kong.

Planning for the annual meeting has consumed 90 percent of everyone's energy at work, including mine. Of course, next year's meeting here in Honolulu is also taking 90 percent, making for a decidedly harrowing pace. As we come down to the wire in arranging things across the international dateline for next month, we're hitting internal deadlines for key elements of the meeting next March.

One minute we're figuring out how to best ship a ton (literally) of books to Hong Kong, and the next minute we're debating how to crop a photo of Aloha Tower for the 2000 registration brochure.

Of course, I can't stop thinking about the Hong Kong trip. I'm thinking it's a pretty damn good spot for my first foray out of the country.

Every well-traveled soul I've bumped into in the last few months can't say enough about how amazing Hong Kong is. I'm not much of a shopper and I'm married, so I'm told I'll miss out on some of the good bits, but I do love to eat and I'm insatiable when it comes to learning about non-Western cultures, so I'm confident there'll be more than enough to keep my brain spinning.

Realistically, I'll spend most of the trip deep in the bowels of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, but some of the urban energy is bound to trickle in. Hell, If I see the sun or the city lights even once, I'll be satisfied.

Thursday, 9:13 p.m.
Our Apartment, Makiki, Hawai`i

The girls are out early tonight. I can only imagine how much fun they have during the day, while I'm tweaking heavily-recycled Excel spreadsheets and playing phone tag with people in Fiji and New Zealand.

Not that my job is lousy or anything. Despite the surprising — but probably deserved and very diplomatic — wake-up call from my boss, I still like what I do and the people I work with. I still can't get over the fact that they're paying me, letting me stay in school and taking me to Hong Kong. And we still eat at the best little restaurants (Ken Fong's is the latest Chinese lunching obsession) and get the occasional, unfailingly orgasmic homemade ice cream cake.

Besides, just yesterday I got a brand-new, overpriced leather desk chair and my own industrial-size steel Rolodex card file. For all I know, those two items are why I'm in a better mood.

Behold the healing power of office supplies.

As bad as I thought I did at the audition earlier this month, I must have done something right. I wasn't the right match for the hero of the 30-second epic, but I guess the director figured I was perfect as "random guy number six."

Professional actors might sneer at being cast as "only" an extra, but really there are worse ways to spend an afternoon. Leave it to film types to make a job out of standing around.

The story? The trials and tribulations of a man in a blue dinosaur suit and the medical plan that keeps him going. The setting? A street in Waikiki — specifically, the stretch of Kalakaua that runs along the beach near Kapahulu Avenue.

It was absolutely fascinating to be around cameras and boom mikes and dozens of people with clipboards and utility belts. The crew was colorful, energetic and hard working, and the constant chatter on their walkie talkies rivaled the traffic of a police dispatcher. In addition to the usual drinks and snacks, the "craft services" table had a jumbo-sized tub of teriyaki nori strips, which was quickly devoured — straight up, of course.

It was great to see Sue in her natural element. And deep inside me, the tenth-grader that dreamed of being a screenwriter or film producer was jumping up and down with glee.

As expected, extras spent forty minutes out of every hour relaxing and waiting for the scene to be set up. But when we were up, calories were definitely burned. Most of our work involved standing frozen on the sidewalk until "action," blithely walking past the guy in the dinosaur suit, then running back to our marks at "cut" to do it all over again. And again. And again.

Just as a regular word starts sounding funny after you've repeated it six or seven times, you quickly forget how to "walk naturally" after doing it on cue a few times.

Every extra brought several changes of clothes, reducing the chance that people in the background would noticably repeat, and I wore three different outfits throughout the afternoon.

The shoot had some priceless moments.

There was the adorable girl who was hired to walk up to the blue dinosaur and kick him in the shins. As much as the crew coached and encouraged and cheered her, she couldn't bring herself to attack the big furry mascot. At one point, a little boy who happened to walk past with his father was recruited to give it a shot.

But what really took the cake was the reactions of everyday people who happened to find themselves in the area.

One scene involved our hero waving at traffic and passing out flyers when some rude, boorish motorist drives past and pelts him with a half-empty beverage container. Of course our hero takes it in stride, and waves on.

But since it was an otherwise normal day in Waikiki, everyday cars and people were constantly wandering past our film car and fake bystanders, often oblivious to the production. And when the camera crew breezed past (in Sue's car, no less) and the cup came flying, people would invariably run up, incredulous.

On the first take, a car pulled up beside our dinosaur and the passengers leaned out and asked if he was okay. On the second take, another car swooped in and the driver said, "I got the license plate, do you want me to chase them down?" And on the third take, a couple of women who had ended up smack dab in the middle of the action actually hissed and called after the car, "What an idiot!"

Though unsure whether any of the takes were good, the director decided to end things before half the Honolulu police force was called out to neutralize our renegade car.

So yeah, I got a physical. After I had a dizzy spell a few weeks ago, and with the upcoming trip, I finally gave in to Jen and mom's nagging and made an appointment with the great Dr. Boyens. Fortunately the Kailua family clinic is open until eight, so we just drove over there after I got off from work.

It went just about as badly as a physical could go. I was nervous and clumsy and couldn't shut up. I was unusually ticklish and giggled at everything, hating myself more with every ridiculous minute.

By the time we got to "that part" of the exam, Dr. Boyens seemed to wanted to get things over with as much as I did. He was thorough but decidedly not delicate, and when all was said and done, I limped over to Jen and Katie in the waiting room and said, "Damn, I'm never that intimate even with you."

I was walking funny for the next two days.

Although I've yet to get the scheduled blood tests, the general verdict is that most of my systems are in good working order. Dr. Boyens did, however, hand out some tough advice when it came to my diet, which — that same week — consisted almost entirely of Quarter Pounders with Cheese.

And believe it or not, I've been following it. Avoiding fast food altogether. Going for fish and chicken, or at least paying more attention to things baked and grilled versus those fried. Eating less and eliminating random snacking. Eating more salads and vegetables.

I've enlisted the help of my coworkers, too. They share diet tips whenever they come to mind, and rate and even veto my lunch choices. One of our interns (another Jennifer) whom I once teased for eating "rabbit food" has become my culinary idol — I know I'm safe if I eat whatever she eats.

It's only been a couple of weeks, but Jen already says I look a little thinner.

I disagree, of course, but even though I still have a tummy and will always have a double chin (it's genetic, really!), I think I feel healthier. Like I have a little more energy, and it's a new experience to not feel as if my stomach is bursting at the seams half the time.

We'll see how long this lasts before I even think about moving on to stage two: exercise. Jen's "Tae-Bo" video is waiting patiently on the TV.

Last weekend was the second birthday party for Trevor -- cousin Jennifer's son and ostensibly Katie's rival for great-grandparently affection. It was at Chuck E. Cheese in Pearl City, which I didn't even know about until we got the invitation.

(Sadly, I'm probably going to become intimately familiar with every party outlet and candy or toy store in this town over the next decade.)

Jen, mom and I walked into the din of game bells and screaming kids convinced that Katie would pop a gasket and scream the entire time. To our great delight, however, she was completely at ease, marveling at the huge animatronic animals on stage and wiggling in her chair to kiddie parodies of late-80s pop hits. She even demanded her own piece of pizza, and somehow found the time to flirt with every little rascal in the joint.

Jen was so impressed with Katie's confidence, she said she wanted to celebrate Katie's second birthday there too. I shook my head, telling her that Chuck E. Cheese is geared to a slightly older clientele.

[ Having a Ball! ]Of course, Katie quickly proved me wrong when Jen took her over to the two-and-under ball pen and plopped her into the pool of red and yellow plastic. She smiled and giggled and pushed the balls around, and seemed to crouch down to bury herself on purpose. When she noticed there was another baby in the pen with her, she couldn't help but try and touch him.

Mom suggested putting Katie in one of the little "rocking cars" — coin-operated rides for little little kids that just rock a little and make driving noises.

Again I expected Katie to scream and try to squirm out the minute we dropped the token in. Instead, she babbled cheerfully and spun the steering wheel as if, at 15 months, she already had her Commercial Drivers License.

When it was time to go, mom and I took each of Katie's hands, and she boldly walked right out the door and three fourths of the way across the parking lot.

It was Trevor's party, but in our mind's, Katie was the star.

During the party, I should add, cousin Jennifer confirmed that she and Daryl were expecting again. Word is it's a girl, but they're not ready to commit to a name just yet. Actually, it was a big piece of news that mom had earlier joked should be kept from Jen, lest she get any ideas. She certainly doesn't need any encouragement.

© Ryan Kawailani Ozawa · E-Mail: · Created: 29 April 1999 · Last Modified: 04 May 1999