Note: The Life as a Loser series is ending at No. 200, which will
run on March 29, 2004. There are now six left.
POIPU, KAUAI, HAWAII -- I am coming to you live from the heart-achingly
gorgeous island of Kauai, in the middle of the South Pacific, middle of
nowhere, really, where I am taking the first real vacation of my adult
life. (When I was a child, our "vacations" revolved around where
the Cardinals were playing, which is why the Leitches once spent six whole
days in Cincinnati.) Thanks to my inability to understand what
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on sunscreen mean, I am a smoldering ruin; I came here
looking like Powder or late-90s Billy Corgan, and after four days, I'm
so red that when I get in the shower, the cold water boils.
But I'm here. Here are some thoughts on the most incredible
state of our Union, the one with the landscapes like Mars, no Sprint PCS
cell phone service and, I dunno, maybe one Web café. This
is probably a good thing, though I'm too addicted to technology, even
still, to understand it.
- The first two days of our trip were spent in Honolulu,
which, as a vacation destination, is highly overrated. It is overrun
by tourists and is to the state of Hawaii as a whole as Times Square
is to New York City. It's a place no one who wants to experience something
new would want to be. Honolulu is an endless parade of strip malls,
waiting in line for Chili's and $24 disposable cameras. Waikiki Beach
is the tourist central writ large, an explosion of fat housewives reading
Danielle Steele and blistering. I could not get out of Honolulu soon
- However, the one noteworthy event of the two days
on Oahu was a visit to Pearl Harbor. Want to see something funny? Go
to Pearl Harbor and ask one of the veterans on duty at the time, one
who now serves as a tour guide, which planes Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett
flew. They lose their minds. Veterans hate no movie more than Pearl
Harbor. You know Jewish people think about that new Mel Gibson crucifixion
movie? Same thing.
By the way, speaking of Pearl Harbor
I have to say, call me callous,
but after 9/11, memorials to disasters (Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City,
Rick Pitino's era as coach of the Boston Celtics) just don't affect
me as much anymore. I know it was horrible, and I know it was an historic
event, but I'm sorry, but I just keep thinking, "Nope. We had it
worse." I know it's wrong. Sorry. But that's what I think.
- Mercifully, the stay in Honolulu was short, and we
were off to Kauai, the smallest, least populated island, which is to
say, the one that fat Americans haven't overrun with Burger Kings. The
island is actually an old volcano peeking up from the ocean, and its
climate is alternately breathtaking (in Poipu Beach, where I'm staying,
it's 80 degrees and sunny, all the time, like Judgment City in Defending
Your Life) and otherworldly (in Waimea Canyon, it rains all day
every day. Honestly. If Kurt Cobain had grown up there, he'd have killed
himself at 6.) But it is quiet and barely inhabited and is the closest
approximation to what the Garden of Eden must have been like. The water
is the purest blue, the sand is fine and sticks everywhere and there
are pine trees in the middle of crosswalks.
I really can't overstate how beautiful it is here. What's the best way
to put it? When I left a piece of bread out for a couple of days too
long and it molded, it actually grew pineapples.
- One of the funniest things about Kauai is its strange
mutations of animals we all thought we knew. We're out in the middle
of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by nothing, so animals evolve
in odd, cute ways. I keep seeing species I'd never even imagined before;
I feel like Paul Bettany in Master and Commander. Waking up on
the balcony yesterday morning, Pina Colado dripping down my shirt, I
saw a bizarre combination of seagull, duck and horse. It looked at me
and levitated. Every insect has some sort of evolutionary twist. I saw
a beetle with a snout, a cricket with red racing strips and a mosquito
that spoke Latin.
- Speaking of which, this is what vacations are supposed
to be like: Planning to go out and see the Farmers Market, or crafts
fair, or hula-dancing bears, or whatever, and instead being so drunk
on Mai Tais by 8 p.m. that you fall asleep in a puddle of your own drool.
Or somebody else's drool.
- This probably has something to do with growing up
in Middle America where there are no large bodies of water, but I have
to tell you: I cannot get used to women just walking around in bikinis.
I'm sorry; I just keep staring at their breasts. I know it's just a
swimming suit and I should be enlightened and not be so lame
and infantile, but I can't help it: I just keep looking at their breasts.
They don't even have to be attractive; it's just that they're
everywhere! It's like every girl is just hanging
around in their lingerie, all day. This is the norm in tropical environments,
I'm sure, but to me, it's just a bunch of chicks running around in bras.
Sorry. I'm immature.
- While I'm here, I am being considerate enough not
to call my friends and say asshole things like, "Hey, how's the
snow? Did you guys rise above freezing yet?" Therefore, I do not
appreciate some of the locals, who mostly work in the magnificent outdoors,
not extending me the same courtesy. My girlfriend and I were on a raft
tour yesterday, and our guide, a handsome older Hawaiian man who was
all-too-happy to be showing tourists around the ocean all day, kept
rubbing in the fact that at the end of the week, we'd all go back to
desk jobs and he'd still be out on this boat. Various highlights:
"(overlooking the staggering Na Pali Cliffs) So, is the view from
your office this nice?"
"Well, we here in Hawaii don't subscribe to the same money-grubbing
that you folks on the mainland do."
"You people are so pale. Do they even let you outside where you're
I tried to come up with some kind of witty comeback, letting him know
that his life here had its limits as well, but I had nothing. He had
a point. But still. I know have to go home at some point; don't remind
- Come to think of it, I am getting kind of
annoyed with the pressure they put on you here to say "Aloha"
all the time. Not to get provincial here, but "hello," "hi"
and "goodbye" are perfectly adequate words. They serve their
purpose about as well as any words in the English language. But here,
the locals looks at you like some sort of landlubber if you accidentally
let slip a "hello" rather than "aloha." Speaking
of which, the Hawaiian word for "thank you" is "Mahalo."
I am finding this word to be incredibly passive-aggressive. We're staying
in a condo here, and it is covered in signs like "Do Not Smoke
Here. Mahalo!" or "Dispose of your trash in an orderly fashion.
Your mother does not work here. Mahalo!" Mahalo is a word that
the locals use so that they do not sound like Lumbergh in "Office
Space." But I'm not buying it.
- It is impossible not to look like a dork on vacation.
It can't be done. You could be wearing the most fashionable, hip outfit,
and you will still look like a doofus when you're on vacation. In New
York, I have long hair that I can fool people into thinking is "mod."
(Or maybe just fool myself, I dunno.) Here, I just look like an idiot
I am however, beginning to understand the ethos of the Hawaiian shirt.
I just bought my first one. It has a woman at a luau dancing and watching
a cargo plane drift past mountains overhead, and it has pastel prints
surrounding the picture, like a gay frame. It is a ridiculous shirt.
And I love it. I find myself wanting to wear a Tigers hat, grow a mustache
and start having Vietnam flashbacks as a prim and proper English butler
follows alongside, supporting my quest and cracking wise.
The Hawaiian shirt sums up all that is great and terrible about Hawaii.
It's comfortable, loopy and can only be worn here. At home, if I wore
it walking down the street, I would be justifiably beaten. But here?
Here the normal rules do not apply. And I think that's what vacations
are supposed to be about.
Eventually I will have to go home, and the shirt
will go in storage. Do not mock me for enjoying this while I can.
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