Origami Heart: Beautiful Today

“You’re beautiful today.”

I looked at him, a shadow until our eyes cleared. He held the face of a million would-be suitors, the face of my soul mate. Now, he was the one to look away.

“I mean,” he sputtered, “you’re always beau— ”

I couldn’t let him say that word again, no matter how good it felt. “Steven, is my order ready? Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, slide, four-color, and a dozen b/ws. Thank you, btw.” This last part I almost whispered, but he caught the drift, blushing and turning at the same time to grab a photo envelope covered in big red letters, my name.

“Merry Christmas, Carol,” he said, handing me my order. Before we could say any more, another customer jostled in front of me, an older, Chinese lady in a hurry. In downtown Honolulu on Aloha Friday, we’re always in a hurry.

As I drifted down Bishop Street, back to my second floor office overlooking the old and the new, Steven’s words covered me like the finest silk from Paris — a vision in cobalt blue, pressed against a young girl’s body on the edge of 22, instead of my mom’s frumpy brown muumuu hand-me-down.

Not Steven. He’s just a nice, friendly employee with a menial job, and he smokes. He probably lives with four other guys in a one-bedroom apartment in Kalihi. That rules him out. My dead father’s voice, the one who chain-smoked his way to an early grave a decade before the ’60s, just like my mom is about to.

Nobody love you now. That voice belonged to the Vietnamese psychic, a woman younger than me with a doctor’s-sized waiting list of desperate patients dying to find love, a better career, a future with the flick of her hands over a simple deck of cards… the one who lived in a tractor house among other dirt dives in the suburbs of Kaimuki. But one day, you meet a businessman. He love you with all his heart. 

The first time I met her, she scared me by bringing up Mark. I think my mom heard about her, this scary accurate psychic in Hawaii everyone swears by. In broken English, this young Vietnamese psychic welcomed me into a tiny room. I only remember an even tinier window, dirty with Kona winds, ocean and palms trees just beyond our reach.

She flipped a few cards. Asked me to halve a deck. I began to think she was playing me when, out of nowhere in her broken English, “You have boy watch over you. He dead now. He die after high school. He love you lot. He your guardian angel. He always watch, very protective.”

The only person that matched this description was Mark, a boy I met early on in high school, a boy who turned out to be gay, a boy who died after high school of AIDS (if what I hear is true). By my junior year, we’d planned to marry. I’d become a writer, a journalist, and he’d go into the lucrative field of computer science, the next Bill Gates. Hell, he could’ve been Bill Gates.

Mark was doing things on the computer most of us could only dream of in the early ’80s, things kids are getting into now. Tall, dirty blonde, thick, tousled hair, the warmest blue eyes, a crooked smile… that Mark.

We loved each other without question. But he didn’t desire me. One night, after two years in the closet, he told me so over the phone. Brutally. So unlike him. “When I look at you,” he said, matter-of-fact, “you don’t turn me on. I’m sorry but it’s the truth.” He then proceeded to describe in excruciating detail just what about my physical body turned him off, this kind, gentle, beautiful boy.

“I can change. I can have an operation to be a man. I never wanted to be a woman anyway!” I cried.

“Carol, you know that wouldn’t be right. You will find a man who loves you completely. You deserve a man like that. I’m so, so sorry I can’t be that man for you. I wanted to for so long, but I can’t live a lie.”

I don’t think I had ever cried as violently as on that day.

I would hear the same speech a decade later from the man who would become my first and only husband. Only, he wasn’t interested in other men, just other women who looked nothing like me, women who were taller, wholesome, and impossibly, boyishly thin like Elle MacPherson and Lori Loughlin.

So you’ll excuse me if I cut you off when you start in on how beautiful I am. I’ve heard that bullshit before.

Origami Heart

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Ripples

I watch her home movies, a voyeur in this golden odyssey, the flashes of faces bathed in sepia tone, her favorite filter when she’s not away. The Whore of Babylon keeps a book of secrets in the file cabinets upstairs between growing her own business, profit and loss statements, systems in place to catch her when she falls.

Her hair is this spun gold, the stuff of angels. Her clothing, a finery made in London and Beverly Hills. But her eyes are cold and dead, they regard me as penance for her multitude of sins, the one fall from grace she cannot abide, I pay for again and again when I cannot avert my own from him.

His unkempt bed, the fragments of this life they once shared, she at the lead, living out a hero’s adventures with other men more lavish, the keys to her platinum shell of a heart. I will read him a story one day, of the endless sea and lonely people singing to themselves in broken Beatles.

If only he would look up and ask.

Jimmy

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Jimmy Borges won four Na Hoku Hanohano Awards May 2016 for this album.

Jimmy Borges was always a tough act to follow.

As a musician in his band, keeping up could be a tremendous challenge. I know, my husband used to accompany Borges on piano on many, many occasions.

The man exhibited quick-silver flashes of brilliance, always in the moment, always pushing for fresh, new discourse, always searching for that perfect note.

Of all the musicians he’s played with, only one stood out, standing the test of time and even daring to upstage Borges, quip for quip, note for note: Betty Loo Taylor, a naturally talented, classically trained pianist.

He probably shared the stage with her the longest, on equal terms, the brother/sister version of Sonny to her Cher in the golden variety show of the 1960s — a show that ran way past its expiration date in the 1990s, a show that gave as good as it got, for both visitors and locals in Waikiki, including a slew of very famous faces.

I would stand in the background, picking up bits and pieces of their storied past, the outrageous adventures they shared, the tales they told out of school about this Hollywood starlet, or a brush with the mob, Sinatra in hushed tones… always with an ear toward the next gig.

Taylor died on Wednesday. Pneumonia.

Borges left us last spring. Cancer. It happened a few short days before his 80th birthday June 1, a day after he won his first and only Na Hoku Hanohano Award — Hawaii’s answer to the Grammys — for the first and only album he worked tirelessly on before the cancer reached his lungs. Four Na Hokus for a lifetime, including best jazz album.

The two of them together onstage, holding court to celebrity, a witness to the changing of the guard, and then, the slow death of their first love, jazz…

I’d like to think of them together up in heaven, jamming with their musical heroes. I’d like to think of their spirits down here infusing us with the beauty, the majesty, the grace only music provides.

Once in a while, Jimmy Borges will pop into my head, and I’ll wonder what he’d think of this or that. I’ll hear him encourage me to keep writing about the working jazz musician (nobody cares about), that it matters, that I’m damned good, “so fucking honest,” too good to throw in the towel so easily. I’ll feel him beaming down at me from wherever he is now, when I’ve overcome major self-doubt in a milestone or even something as small as going to a Trader Joe’s for last-minute Christmas snacks — braving the mindless cruelty of one or two other customers.

His wife Vicki told me recently that if you think of someone who’s passed, he’s really there in spirit.

I miss you, Jimmy. We all do.

Murmuration

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Mary Petrich

Synchronicity is a strange and wonderful thing, isn’t it? It’s everywhere, yet we’re often too busy, too tired, too weak, too self-involved to notice.

The other day, I was busy figuring out my schedule, coordinating plans with my son in his bedroom when — out of the corner of my eye at his window —  I happened to see these little birds swoop in formation out from our roof down to the front lawn.

The sight was small, almost insignificant by today’s larger-than-life standards, yet for me, it was magnificent, almost magical in context. I almost felt like I was a witness to the birth of elves and fairies.  It’s certainly not something you see everyday.

I also saw what appeared to be a red-headed cardinal pecking at one of the largest trees in our front lawn. It was really our resident woodpecker. I could hear my son tell me he tried to shout it away then later remembered as my husband remarked importantly, “Woodpeckers are territorial.”

Two days later, I’m here writing a review for AXS. I expected to do more work on the musicians’ union newsletter but hadn’t heard back from Robert about the WordPress. So I turned to the pile of CDs ready for review, the first one by saxophonist Mary Petrich, a musician I met during a break at a post-Thanksgiving gig at the Biltmore Fashion Plaza — another place I’d heard of long ago but forgot in what context.

I was there visiting friends in Phoenix for a week. The drummer friend went to sit in with a jazz quartet led by pianist Beth Lederman. Petrich was a part of this quartet. We all went to watch. It seemed insignificant, just a place to be until we got to have dinner together at this cool Italian restaurant we heard about.

I found myself approaching the saxophonist during a break. I have no idea why. Drawn to her, I guess.

Petrich was easy to talk to, as it were, and when she found out I reviewed music for a living (and for fun), she handed me her latest CD, Murmuration, which just so happened to be about the phenomenon I witnessed a few days ago from my son’s bedroom window.

Her Murmuration musically tried to capture the essence of, “The sudden massing of wild starlings in patterns of closely synchronized flight.”

What does it all mean?

I have no idea if there’s a big picture at play, or if this is a telepathic conversation that happens everyday and we’re too into our humanness to pay attention.

Pay attention.

Mary Petrich is a spiritually in-touch musician, and a nice lady. There aren’t many like her flying around here.

Through the Looking Glass

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For an overly analytical drudge like me, last night was — as the kids say — truly lit, as in, out of fucking control. I might even go back to Facebook and stay there, just to post about it.

Last night was as close to one of my dreams as I’m ever gonna get. You know, where anything can and does happen, and people aren’t hung up on what’s proper, because … feel over matter.

I did what I never do: I went on a date with a girlfriend in a purely non-lesbian way, and let the shit fly. We planned our date around this new Will Smith movie called, “Collateral Beauty.”

Personally, I found the movie a bizarre let-down — even as I sat there willing myself to cry over literally anything I saw, prompted by the sad, sweeping music and those earnest, six-figure faces. I must’ve been the only person in the theater not crying, sniffling, or dabbing my eyes. Fuck, even Sarah was crying, and she never cries around me.

None of the movie mattered anyway, because Sarah and I forgot who we were supposed to be and for the most part, just let our freak flag fly the entire evening.

Amazingly, we stepped into Alice in Wonderland, just two more characters in this wonderfully absurd play.

Our server at NYP engaged us like a fairy princess, offering copious amounts of this indescribable elderflower mojito. I even danced in the middle of the crowded bar and grill, for no other reason than I wanted to.

A movie theater clerk asked us if we were “two regular people” out of the blue, like it was nothing. Even she couldn’t believe what she said as we choked back gales of laughter — all three of us.

This cop planted at the entrance stopped us, pointed out the long line and, noting our tickets to “Collateral Beauty,” quipped, “See that long line? You two won’t need to stand in it.” I mock-glared while Sarah put her hands on him and shoved. As we walked to the concession stand, she muttered, “I just shoved a cop!”

Jeremy served us an upgrade on our popcorn and drink. At least, I think he did, because we were so far into our mojitos & stuff that he literally forgot to get us our order. He whipped out a box of Red Vines, smiling sheepishly during our trio standup routine over misplacing the theater receipts to collect on the upgrade, or whether we even need a receipt since I had the theater benefit card. After we finally paid, Sarah said, “Wait, shouldn’t we get the popcorn and Coke?” Jeremy was as shocked as we were.

Is this what happiness and friendship feel like? Because I want more of it.

Rush Nero B02 Fall 2016

“Who do they have over there evaluating talent if James didn’t even make the D team, and the team he’s a top player on destroys them?”

My son’s Rush team beat the almighty Surf in the last game of the fall 2016 season today: 6-1. In a previous match, Rush won 3-1, my son scoring the final goal.

There’s a bit of history between my son and Surf. Last spring, he tried out for the newly formed Premier league, merging NW Nationals and FC Alliance. All his friends assumed James would be a shoe-in. So did his former soccer coaches.

Instead, for the first time in the history of Premier leagues, our pre-registration info and fee were lost in the system before tryouts even began. Nobody at Surf could figure it out. My son insists it cost him a slot, but I found that hard to believe since the staff handled the rest of the registrations manually. As long as he had a number attached to his info, he had a fair shot, right?

Whatever the reason, he never made Surf, not even the D team, beaten quite easily by Rush today. A coach from Surf was supposed to call us to let us know either way, but nobody did. I had to call Surf, then deal with the D team coach who emailed me instead about my son “Caleb” and confirmed that “Caleb” could try out for a few practices to see if he could possibly make the team after the fact.

After James took a pass, he’d hoped to make the Rush A team, but didn’t.

One coach believed in him, though. Coach Johann asked James to head up the B team. After a lengthy, emotional discussion, James agreed.

For reasons that are beyond me, that coach is no longer with Rush. But his faith in my son meant everything. There were times in the fall season that tested my son’s faith in himself. One of the only reasons he kept fighting was that amazing coach, who saw something nobody else bothered to see during tryouts, something that was evident to the rest of us.

That coach saw a champion, a kid who never gave up, a leader who lit a fire under every player, even the ones others dismissed as a lost cause, a player who didn’t have to be a star, a player who dispensed justice and took all the shit, a baller who bled for the game without flinching.

Today, the Rush Nero B02 team came together and played the game of their lives, finishing strong with a 6-1 win and a respectable (considering the circumstances) season… justifying Johann’s faith in each and every one of them.

When my son injured his ankle on a clutch defensive move in the first half, the rest of the team stepped up and filled in the gaps, giving up only one goal. Players who’d never gotten near the net before goaled like crazy.

Johann would’ve been proud.

Flash cards

A flash, and she launches herself on their brightly lit bed, French windows at the ready to their left. She carries with her an open newspaper, set to stun, of socio-political context, which she straightens out for his bemusement. He gazes at her with total adoration.

What a mixed up earth, our soul group meant for a different outcome, or perhaps a reversal of fortune.

I was that girl, or I was meant to be her. Someone else took my place, the one who once watched me shine up front — seething with envy. No wonder my throat shuts down in my my most vulnerable state, leaving me to lip-sync with a broken name that speaks nothing of what I once accomplished.

I took hers, gladly at first. Sometimes, I wonder who is the victor, who the victim.

Greed overtakes her, leaving no survivors, while my frugal form counts every calorie.

I must watch our stories unfold from afar, my nose pressed to the glass, unable to warn her to stop, to hold him and the little ones before it’s too late, because now, it is.

Now, she’s stolen another family’s life, their marriage, their child, giving up her broken firstborn, while I cling to the only family I have, wishing I were two women split apart by destiny and a fool’s errand.

My sister?

At Bellevue Square

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I couldn’t help but remember this same time last year. We found ourselves at Bellevue Square to do something festive. Ours was never a family of tradition. Window shopping came close.

Only last year, I didn’t feel much like doing anything but crawling up into a ball and waiting to be swept away like the rest of the trash. Last year, my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive form of bladder cancer and scheduled for major surgery, his first.

Our family didn’t know whether we’d survive.

This year, the holidays are back, and so are we. It was only coincidence — terrible traffic on I-5 leading downtown — that led us back to Bellevue Square.

Here's to better days ahead!
Here’s to better days ahead!

When I brought up how lucky we are to have weathered that storm, my husband brought up another: His urology checkup’s due this coming week, then, if the scope’s clear, the next round of BCG treatments after the new year.

It was all I could do not to dwell on the negative what-ifs, or let that cloud mess with our current joy.

We’ll deal with whatever comes, as it comes. For now, I’m so very grateful for a year with my husband, 26 total to be exact, and for the health and well-being of our only child, a teenager now who’s an inch taller than his father.

So very grateful.

Merry Christmas.

Table for One

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Was I ever that young?

I spend the short course averting my eyes from the lovers hooked up like IVs to one another. A third wheel to my own belated celebration, I quickly calculate the time to pay the bill and make the trip home before the snow. I fill the silence with a reporter’s questions, occasionally lit up with mutual interest centering around the children. A part of me, between the knobby knees and the rape, crawls into a hole and tries to die quietly, so as not to disturb the Renoir painting come to life for the blessing of others.

I grab a bag of cheddar popcorn to go from the 7-11.