Lockdown: Folklore

The last time a hurricane was headed right for us, some time in 2018, my dad predicted the wind shear near the Big Island would slice the top right off the storm and reduce it to just a little storm. That’s exactly what happened.

When I called my parents Saturday morning, I was hoping for some similar prediction, but “The navy ships are leaving Pearl Harbor right now,” he said. “When the ships take off, you know we’re in for a wind event. The ships don’t care about rain.”

My dad used to live on those ships. And he has an excellent view of Pearl Harbor from his lanai. When he says the ships are leaving it’s because he’s seen them leave.

“We’re going to get hit. Not hard, but hit for sure,” he said.

Great.

This thing looks like it’s heading right for us, like it’s going to plow right through the island chain beginning at the Big Island in the southeast and curving up to the northwest, moving back in time through the history of the islands from youngest to oldest.

I woke up after only about three hours of sleep and decided to stay up, looking forward to a nice afternoon nap. The idea was to tie things down around the exterior of the house, but it really looks like I have most of Sunday to do it, so I’m just going to wait. Instead I did a few normal chores and a little bit of reading. And lots of podcast-listening.

I took a very short nap so I could wake up for the news, then went back to bed and got up at around 8. Clearly it was time to take a walk, I think my earliest walk since this lockdown began. It didn’t quite work out that way, but I did get out the door by 9 and took a couple of bags of bottles and cans to the bus stop nearest my house — not my usual bus stop a bit further up the road. I thought I might keep the walk short, so I relieved myself of the recyclables as quickly as I could.

And then it called to me. McD’s. It was right there, across the street and up a block. So I had lunch in the dark, in a grassy area near the bus stop. A McChicken sandwich, a McDouble, a small chocolate shake, and a Diet Coke. I never smoked when I was in high school, but it felt the way I imagine I’d have felt the first time I snuck a cigarette on the roof of the classroom building at school.

I never did cut a class to smoke a cigarette (I didn’t have my first cigarette until I was twenty-five) but I did cut chapel once, up on the roof. We weren’t allowed up there, but there was nothing to stop us except a sign telling us not to go there. There’s a locked gate now.

Breakfast, several hours earlier, was the leftover penne, this time with some blue cheese melted in. It was delicious. Dinner, which I’m finishing up now, is a bowl of instant ramen with a large handful of choy sum and half a bag of bean sprouts. It’s aight. I picked up a different brand because I had “something different” on my shopping list and this was the best I could do. Some Taiwanese instant soba actually (not ramen). It’s not good. Unfortunately I have four more packages of this stuff. Guess it’ll go into the hurricane kit.

I felt the weight of my sins, deep in my gut, so I walked around the block and meandered through the neighborhood to try and exorcise the demon of gluttony, but as I warmed up I knew I didn’t want to go home. I ended up going through some weird (but not unfamiliar) streets and finished with 12,000 steps, or just about half a mile shy of what was once my daily expectation. Not bad.

“Exile,” “The Last Great American Dyanasty,” and “Betty” are the standout tracks for me on this new Taylor Swift album. If you’re only casually curious, check those three songs out first. She has Bon Iver on “Exile.” It’s kind of an amazing track. “Betty” is the real heart-breaker, though, and perhaps closest (thematically) to the work she’s better known for.

I love that she did a song with Bon Iver, but if she’s thinking of making this genre her new home, I’d love if she did a few songs with Kina Grannis, Marié Digby, or the Mountain Goats. That’s who this new album makes me think most of. Or she could revisit her country roots and maybe do something with the Secret Sisters. Heck yeah.

I was riding with Susan one night, somewhere in town on our way to dinner. This was after I thought we both knew it wasn’t going to happen between us (I was apparently wrong about the “both” part, but I didn’t find out until quite a bit later at a concert), and she was playing a mix CD. It had a Bruce Cockburn song on it — she said I was the one who turned her on to him, of course — and then something else I really dug, and then a Mountain Goats song.

It wasn’t just any Mountain Goats song. It was the Mountain Goats song, the one that makes me weep every time I hear it. “1 John 4:16” from The Life of the World to Come (2009). Susan and I had never discussed the Mountain Goats; I was surprised to learn she was aware of them. I said, because I wasn’t immediately sure, “Is this the Mountain Goats?”

She said, “Um, I think so.”

In the holding tank I built for myself
it's feeding time
And I start to feel afraid 
'cause I'm the last one left in line
The endless string of summer storms 
that led me to today
Began one afternoon with you, long ago and far away

And someone leads the beast in on its chain
But I know you're thinking of me 
'cause it's just about to rain
So I won't be afraid of anything ever again

In the cell that holds my body back, 
the door swings wide
And I feel like someone's lost child 
as the guards lead me outside
And if the clouds are gathering, 
it's just to point the way
To an afternoon I spent with you when it rained all day

And someone leads the beast in on its chain
But I know you're thinking of me 
'cause it's just about to rain
So I won't be afraid of anything ever again

Ugh. I can’t even read those lyrics without tearing up. They just uncover the vast emptiness I camouflage with work, writing, podcasts, music, food, movies, and God. I’ve learned to live with it — I think we’ve all got it in some flavor, only most of us deal with it better, some of us filling in enough of it with marriage and kids, calling it good enough.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe R’s got it figured out and the emptiness was me, and now that I’m not there, it’s not there either. I know that can’t be entirely right; she’s got some family things that are mind-blowing and I can’t talk about them because they’re not mine to talk about, but maybe she figured enough of it out that she doesn’t have a “1 John 4:16.”

Dammit.

So I told Susan, with about as much pleading in my voice as I could manage while still being somewhat mature, that if we didn’t skip the song, I was going to cry. She skipped the song, and God bless her, she didn’t ask about it. Which in retrospect wasn’t fair of me because I made her cry at the Kina Grannis concert we went to some time later. Weird how these things are all linked.

My high school classmate Tiger texted me to ask about a song she remembered from our days at HBA. We had a biology teacher who was a musician, had grown up playing in local bands in clubs since his teen years, and who always had his Ovation guitar in the classroom, and when it was your birthday he would ask you what kind of music you liked, and he’d make up a birthday song for you right there. He sang in a lot of our chapels, and there was this one song HBA students really responded well to. She couldn’t remember the name of the song or the teacher, exactly, so I sent her the link on YouTube. Nice way to start the day.

Crush Girl and I talked about her adventures Saturday morning. I had been a little nervous for her, with the hurricane coming, but it turns out she could have spent the whole day because Saturday’s over and it was lovely from beginning to end. She sent me a photo of where she’d been. Gorgeous.

My boss texted the whole department to tell us to be careful, and that she’d stocked up on duct tape, so if we needed any we should just call. Someone else chimed in with what he had plenty of. My reply was that I must be doing it wrong — all I’d brought home was red wine and Maui Brewing cola so I could have kalimotxos.

Ali and I texted back and forth a few times early and late. She’d gone berry picking. I was getting the house ready for a hurricane I hoped wasn’t coming. She asked about some work things. I updated her. We talked a little about my salary. I said the topic was making me uncomfortable. Sent her the link to the song Tiger asked about, thinking she might find it interesting.

I know you’re thinking of me, ’cause it’s just about to rain.

One reason (and there are many) this song makes me cry is that I know this line isn’t true. It’s one of the most interesting parts of this whole R saga, the way I lifted so easily and so quickly out of her life while she never lifted out of mine at all. This is that baggage everyone’s always talking about. I’m carrying a ton of it, all with her monogram, and if she’s carrying any at all, it’s not mine. I say “interesting” because there’s a novel in here somewhere, there’s some incredible truth about human relationships I’m still chipping away at. “Down here, it’s just winners and losers, and don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line,” says a Bruce Springsting song I love. What if that’s true? You’re a winner or you’re a loser, and there’s that line.

If you’re in the islands, be careful. If not, enjoy a lovely rest of your weekend, and reach out if you need someone to connect with. Assuming I don’t lose cellular service, I may have lots of time for texting.

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