Thursday, December 30, 2010

Butterflies and Starships



The butterfly effect is the theory that a butterfly beating its wings in South America can cause a chain of events that leads to a tornado in Texas. Of course with chaos theory you can imagine something like that as well as that same butterfly’s wing flap causing the most gentle stir of a breeze in Texas that allows a fragrance enough strength to move into a room and someone smells it and it brings back fond memories and lakes their day. Chain of events done.
The story I have about a butterfly effect involves a high school yearbook in 1986 and impulse purchase made eight years earlier. And there is an ironic twist.
The German Disco Group Bony M. was not well known in America. In 1978 they released Their Album Nightflight to Venus. The title track is a percussion dominated song with narration that sounds like Cylons from classic Battlestar Galactica. A grandmother was shopping in Australia for her grandson and spotted the album. It looked science fiction themed and she knew he was fond of Star Wars so she bough it for him. That grandson was my friend, Alan who played the tape for me. We both enjoyed the drum-beats and overall ethereal sound of the song. The opening narration with the Cylon voice welcomed everyone aboard the starship. A name was given and to us it sounded most likely that the Cylon called the starship Olion.
A few years later Maui Youth Theatre was doing the stage Production of Starman Jones. The director asked me to put together a mixed tape of good sci-fi music. So along with Meco’s Star Wars/Cantina band and other sci-fi music I included Bony M. singing Nightflight to Venus.
Our friend Hans was enamored by the song so I gave him a copy. We discussed the song and I told him how Bony M.’s music was hard to find in the U.S. I also told him the Starship’s name was The Olion.
Hans took me for a ride in his Toyota pickup once and he started the motor and drove in time to the music. Then I saw in his senior year book that he wrote a shout out to his truck. He named it Olion.
So the impulse purchase in Australia caused a chain of events that led to the yearbook hat-tip. And what teenage guy wouldn’t name his vehicle? I thought it was very cool. But here comes the twist. I bought the CD in Budapest, Hungary years later. I realized that they were not saying Olion. So I finally looked up the lyrics on the internet. Here is what the Cylon actually says:

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome aboard the starship Boney M for our first passenger flight to Venus.

There you have it. There never was a Starship called Olion. Like Jimi Hendrix kissing a guy, it was misheard lyrics.
So Hans, your truck was even more unique that you knew at the time. Thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

from fire to quiet

I can vaguely remember what I was doing at the stroke of the New Year for the past 23 years. As early as 1979 I remember lying in bed listening to the roar of firecrackers outside. Hawaii’s mix of cultures includes a good dose of Chinese. Even through the western calendar New Year is not at the same time as the Chinese New Year the tradition of firecrackers and other fun things is ingrained into the Hawaiian culture.
I remember being at a boat dock in Lahaina one year and a boat sitting up off the parking lot under some trees caught fire. That was exciting and it was an exciting year. Of course I began to believe that whatever I was doing at the stoke of midnight at the year’s beginning was significant and would dictate the rest of my year. I began 1988 with a powerful firecracker nearly going off in my hand. That year was both thrilling and turbulent. As the end of 1990 rolled around I quit my job at Pizza Hut and visited friends on Maui. At a New Year’s party as midnight swept up I walked away from the revelers and said a little prayer. I had strayed a bit from God but I knew that I belonged under his control. I wanted my life to be different. Midnight came. That week I decided to move to Maui. In two months I was working for a radio station. In another two months I was full time. In November of that year I stated dating Prajna. I spent that New Year’s with her.
That was the last of the New Year’s that seemed to be significant. The next year Prajna and I were together at the radio station at midnight. Years after that we had children asleep in bed. I guess that once my life was right enough I didn’t need superstition to make me believe that I would have a good year. From parties and fires to actually sleeping through midnight I guess it’s also just growing older and discovering what’s more important.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Joy of the Star

Every year the classes at Kamehameha III School in Lahaina would put on a Christmas pageant. From youngest to oldest classes would present a short Christmas themed skit or musical number. I began going to the school in the third grade. My class combined with some other third graders sang two songs and acted out a U.S. Mainland theme with kids pretending to play in the snow.
The week of the play we went to the cafeteria to rehearse. An upper grade was still there, probably 5th or 6th graders. When their teacher saw us she drooped and addressed her class to run it one more time.
“And this time,” she sighed. “Get it right okay?”
‘Do you hear what I Hear?’ played. The kids shuffled around the stage looking at each other. Then when the song mentioned the star a girl came out onto the stage with a confident and cheerful smile and danced with absolute enjoyment.
When the pageant took place a few days later the student’s costumes made it easier to tell the king from the shepherd and the whole thing made more sense. Only the star’s costume seemed to take away from the arresting joy I still remember today.
That may be the first time I really noticed the song. Years after every Christmas season I declared it one of my favorites. Then a few years ago it hit me that there is a story behind this song wanting to be told. It seemed so obvious that I still search around for it but it seems no-one has heard the night wind telling them to compose a story about a Lamb and its shepherd boy braving a winter countryside to tell the king the most important news either of them will ever hear.
I have five pages so far. There is still a long way to go and I only read it and think about writing it around this time of year. Someone remind me in June to pick it up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

dosn't make me upsot

We sang Christmas music in Sunday school when I was very young. Well past the Christmas season I annoyed song leader insisting we sing Jingle Bells.
Without a doubt one of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. I can’t nail down a favorite Christmas song even though there are several that I could go the rest of my life not hearing. Some of my favorites every year are Bruce Springsteen’s Santa Claus is Commin’ to Town and Vanessa Williams’ knock-down gospel version of Go Tell it on the Mountain. I love The Trans Siberian Orchestra and also the parodies by Bob Rivers. Some of my most memorable Christmas seasons were when I was in a choir or musical production at the time or the three years I worked at KNUI Radio.
I have a very early memory of the church organist in Jerome, Arizona playing O Little Town of Bethlehem is a prelude for the Christmas Eve service nearly 40 years ago. One summer Sunday as I sat in bored in church I thumbed through the hymnal and found the section of Christmas music. There were two versions of Hark! The Herald Angles Sing. One was subtitled Eastertide and the other said Mendelssohn. I thought Mendelssohn meant Christmas and didn’t know that the composer Felix shared a name albeit spelled differently with a little girl on the other side of the island what I would marry someday.
I hummed O Little Town of Bethlehem to myself each Sunday and it felt like Christmas. Then when it really was Christmas, that song didn’t take me there. The magic was used up and gone. Now I refuse to listen to Christmas music if it isn’t close enough to Christmas. But when it’s Christmas let the music play. So for just about a month there isn’t such a thing as too much Christmas music. Thanks local radio stations for playing it so much, so far for not playing the Barbara Streisand version of Jingle Bells.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What I believe about this time of year.

The North Pole is the northernmost point on Earth. The Earth’s axis of rotation is there. The is no landmass, only a sheet of ice that is constantly in motion. Although fish and wildlife have been observed near The North Pole, nothing lives there. This includes any jolly old elf with a toy workshop.
Oh David, how can you say there is no Santa Claus? Well I didn’t actually. Let me tell this true story that is completely unrelated to my life and children just a decade ago. When I was a teenager there was a little girl in my town diagnosed with leukemia. I had only known one other person that had cancer and that took his life. I never knew children could get it. Then right around Christmas she and her family received plane tickets and a trip to Disneyland. It was signed from Santa Claus.
This was before Make-a-Wish was well known. This gift was from a benefactor who wanted to remain nameless. I found out later that a local church had done this. It didn’t take any of the magic and wonder from me. I saw a picture of the little girl with The Mouse. She had a cap covering her head and a shy smile. I was touched. And after years of not believing and even after finding out that a church had done this for the family I believed in Santa Claus. This was not the fat man with the beard and red suit from the Coca-Cola cans. What I believed was that people still can be as if there is a spirit living within them that would do a wonderful thing like that.
Christians, heathens, agnostics and the poor atheists who think that they can be good for goodness sake are all capable of having this spirit in them. It is Christens who recognize it for what it is. Despite our sinful selfish selves, we were created in the image of God and his image is in us giving us a sense of what is right and wrong. Our God wanted to come and be with us so he was born in Bethlehem in order to give us the greatest gift of all. And once in a while if you look you can see God in other people, more than ever this time of year. So let’s all show God’s love in what do and who we are.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

up on the housetop in the sandbox

Living in Arizona in my 3rd to 8th year, I had a sandbox in my backyard. Chucky, Darrin, and sometimes Mark would come over and play. Our favorite thing was building tunnels. This was before the house behind us got a big sand pile and we played on that.
Our next-door neighbor was Mrs. Bean. On the other side were the Harkeys who had a big red dog named Red. Penny Harkey would babysit sometimes and she had a T-bird. I think Mrs. Bean had a Chevy Nova.
We tried to be good neighbors. This meant following a strict rule: Do not bother Mrs. Bean’s yard at all. I may have set the rule myself after the time I got scolded by my mom and dad for stealing her snow one winter. Her snow had no footprints and wasn’t being used anyway.
It was December 1973. A whole bunch of my friends were over one day after school and we played in the sandbox. I liked playing outside when my friends were over better because inside all Chukie wanted to do was play with my cars and I liked to play with my cars by myself.
So one day after school we were all in the sandbox and we were singing. It must have been pretty close to Christmas because we were all singing "Up on the Housetop."
We were happy that it was almost Christmas. The sand was too dry to work with so we got a hose and turned it on in the sandbox. The water made little canyons that looked like The Grand Canyon, but smaller.
"Ho-Ho-HO," we all sang real loud. "Who would know?"
The afternoon was joyous as only 6 and 7 year olds know.
“HO-HO-HHOOO!! Who would know?”
Then I saw it. The water from the hose was forgotten long enough and I saw calamity. I had to tell my friends, but not ruin the moment. So I kept singing, just different words:
"And ho-ho-ho, who would know that the water is going into Mrs. Bean's yard?" There was a pause of dead silence and then a collective gasp. Suddenly the sandbox was alive with boys running around shouting orders to each other like the 3 Stooges in a sinking rowboat.
The water was finally stopped. And we prayed that Mrs. Bean wouldn't notice the wet spot on the far corner of her backyard.
The next day at school we were all happy to have lived through the disaster. We didn't talk about it much. But when the class all sang "Up on the Housetop," we looked at each other and shuddered knowingly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Boldog karácsonyt.

The first time I spoke Hungarian without thinking about it was when I was Christmas shopping for Prajna our second year there. My knowledge of the daunting language had progressed well from the previous Christmas. Our first Christmas I had to take a cheat sheet with me. Students called cheat sheets a puska and I’m glad I didn’t call it that when I was fishing it out of my pocket in the shop because it translates literally as gun. I had four words written on my puska then. Nagy árbocgomb feleség terhes. It basicly said large pillow wife pregnant. My grammar was incorrect, but Prajna got a pillow for Christmas.
It snowed our first Christmas and for the first time I understood the line from ‘Tas the night before Christmas’ that talks about the moon on the snow giving the brightness of day.
That was a fun Christmas and one of my fondest Christmas memories of my whole life will be teaching Jingle Bells Batman Smells to one particular class. This class was the most disliked in the school with a bunch of nutty students. We got a long great. I mentioned the song to them and they asked me to teach it.
“Mister Faux teach us the Jingle Batman song.” So I said I would if they were good. They were and that afternoon groups of the class were belting out Jingle Bells Batman Smells in the cavernous corridors of the school. Once where Soviet Anthems and communist propaganda flourished was a juvenile bit of western culture. I was thrilled.
The next Christmas we had Benjamin along with Harrison and Naomi. It didn’t snow that year even though it was cold and icy. Prajna hinted she wanted perfume. I was in a touristy shopping area and asked the price of Chanel #5. When they told me I blurted Jó Isten (good God). Prajna got a very small bottle for Christmas.
That same year a shopkeeper gave me a wide warm smile and told me Boldog karácsonyt. I smiled back and returned Merry Christmas which they understood. It was nice to know plenty of people knew that English phrase.
Boldog karácsonyt everyone.

Monday, December 13, 2010

if you complain nothing happens you might as well not bother

I didn’t complain about Southern California’s weather all summer. We had some record breaking heat waves too. I’m not boasting, I just realize that complaining about the weather won’t change it. Except in the winter I sometimes forget that and whine about the cold.
This past week while much of North America was suffering through a winter storm we here were enduring sunny temperatures in the 80’s. Even my friends in Hawaii were hit with a winter storm. I was loving it.
Later in the winter I’m sure we will have icy mornings. Cold mornings are worse that any other time of cold day. At least I don’t go work outside in the cold any more. When I was a surveyor the most unpleasant cold I think I experienced was in Victorville with temps in the low 40’s but icy sustained winds in the 30’s ignoring every layer of clothing and making me feel like I was in a frigid river.
People who prefer extreme cold to extreme heat tell me that with the cold you can bundle up and move around but when it’s sweltering there is no more you can do. While I agree with this I still prefer too much heat to too much cold. Cold is like death. Heat maybe to but not as unpleasant.
When I started this blog out I was thinking about sharing Christmas memories from Hungary and beginning with the weather in Budapest which was nice. Then I went on and on about the weather. With many cultures that is the most polite topic of small talk. But I will wrap up this weekly blog just thanking anyone who reads this. I have almost 100 entries and it really does matter to me that it gets read. I won’t fool myself into believing that this navel gazing is just to keep writing and shout out in the emptiness.
On the subject of complaining which this entry touches on, I want to state that I will try to never make that the main focus of an entry here. We all get complaining from all sides all day and this should be safe from it. If I managed to not get all abysmal last week around the anniversary of Naomi’s death then I can avoid complaining about chilblains that are my own fault for not wearing socks.
I’ll talk about Budapest next time.

Monday, December 6, 2010

the soup of loss, honor and moving on

We were preparing lunch in the boy scouts when a friend arrived in a grand flourish. He exploded from his family car and his right hand shot in the air as if he was answering the question ‘who wants to live today?’. He had brought Scottish Bangers to us. He had just discovered they were available at Foodland and had not had them since he had lived in Australia years ago. Apparently bangers should be fried in a pan and served on the side of something. We cut them up and put them in soup. My friend nearly wept at the misuse of them all through lunch. He made such a dramatic fuss that our scoutmaster finally shouted to him that the bangers were in the soup and there was nothing he could do about it and eat them and quit crying.
Sometimes we lose something before our plans are fulfilled. It can devastate us.
When I die I really hope that I am remembered as a great father and grandfather. I hope they go on and on about the stories I told and what an inspiration I was. But none of this is on my friends or children to do. If I want to be remembered that way it is entirely up to me. Once I am gone I have no say what happens. They can cremate me and scatter me in the ocean, sell my corpse to science or put me in soup. I don’t care, I’ll be gone.
When someone loses a family member or loved one or friend they can go to all kind of measures to preserve their memory. Crosses on the side of the road, stickers on the back window of cars, and tattoos are just a few examples.
Soldiers can be honored to help their comrades in arms go on. Families can receive closure from burials and memorials. Senseless deaths can be brought to the attention of others to perhaps prevent it happening again.
People can do what they feel is right as long as they don’t deceive themselves. Anything they do to honor the lost is not for the lost it is for them. It is those left behind that miss their loved one. It is those who grieve who have the pain. The one who is lost is not benefited by anything. They are gone.
Naomi died eight years ago tomorrow and yes I still miss her and of course I wish she was still here. But it doesn’t honor her to dwell on her loss or wallow in misery or use the lost child card playing the game of life. But more that dishonoring her memory is this, I have to move on. This is my life now and today with no Naomi. I have other things to care more about.
Sometimes we lose something or someone before our plans (like walking her down the aisle at her wedding) are fulfilled. It can devastate us. But we can and must heal and move on.