Poison Ivy

I sat at a picnic table. I think that must have been it. And a dog must have brushed against the legs of the table after walking through a patch of poison ivy. Because I never went near any vegetation other than grass, but within a day I had the typical blistering rash on the underside of my right forearm and the outside of my right knee.

I washed it and kept it dry and hoped it would go away quickly, but it didn’t. The rash kept spreading over the course of a week until it was all over both arms and both legs. I got some Tecnu and washed everything, but it didn’t help.

The medical literature says the urushiol (the irritating oil found in poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac) does not spread from scratching a rash, so a spreading rash is a sign of re-contamination. So there had to be some source of urushiol that was still irritating my skin. I washed everything that I had touched repeatedly after initial exposure: my keys, my wallet, the armrests and steering wheel and gear shift in the car, my laptop, etc. But the rash kept spreading. In the end, what worked was disposing of my shoes and scrubbing everything including my hands and the rash with rubbing alcohol. Only the alcohol actually breaks down the oil, preventing it from being a problem.

The next time I get a poison ivy rash, the first thing I’ll do is rub everything down with alcohol.

Po’Daddy Siamese Sandwich

The flavors of southeast Asian cooking, notably dishes such as pad thai (“pad” just means noodles, so “pad thai” just means “Thai-style noodles”) can easily be replicated by combining chili sauce (sriracha in particular, less so the vinegar-heavy tabasco-style sauces in tex-mex cooking) and peanut butter. Add cabbage for texture.

Bread is your choice, but to evoke a banh mi, I’d use a crusty roll if available. Then, just slather in some PB, squirt in some chili sauce and stick a cabbage leaf in the middle. Cheap and above-mediocre

Po’Daddy Rice Cooker Mac and Cheese

In a rice cooker put:

  1. 1 cup dry pasta (elbows are usually cheapest, but shells or ziti or whatever is fine)
  2. 2 cups water
  3. 1 or 2 slices of american cheese. (I’m not a big fan of american cheese,but it melts better than any other kind and if you look at the ingredients, you’ll see that they’re not all garbage. The good kind is just melted colby cheese mixed with milk and then refrigerated. The bad kind has “corn solids” and oils and floor sweepings added.)

Turn it on. The pasta cooks in the water and the water boils away until there is so little left that the pot gets above 212°F (100°C), which signals the cooker to turn off. By then, the cheese is all melted and combined with the starchy water from the pasta. Stir and serve.

It tends to be a but mushy compared to superior methods, but this way is cheap, easy, fast, and relies on ingredients many of us already have at hand.

The Post Office: The most secure communications network in America.

We’re familiar with the concept of ‘security through obscurity’, meaning if you make something difficult to find it becomes less likely to ever be seen (like a needle in a haystack).

But there are additional forms of security that paper mail offers over telephone and email (and all other digital forms).

These include, ‘security through inconvenience’ and ‘security through bureaucracy’.

The first is achieved by making the content as cumbersome as possible to discover. Think of a spook whose job it is to sift through all of your email messages, suddenly presented with a stack of paper correspondance. Even if the paper mail is written on postcards – open to the world to see – the mail could take an afternoon to sort through, while a lifetime of email can be scanned in a second.

The second is achieved by relying on the fact that most of our legal protections were established during an era when paper was the only form of recorded documentation. Warrants are needed to open mail, thanks to laws written long ago. This is apparently not true for email.

So, if you want to send a note to someone with a high likelihood that no one but the recipient reads it, write a letter, buy a stamp, and use your local post office.

A Silver Bullet

I returned the following morning. I always do, or try to, after a night like last night. Sometimes I leave something behind.

Once I found my shirt hanging from a tree. I asked some local boys to throw rocks at it to knock it loose. They happily obliged.

Another time I left behind the smashed window in the door of a butcher’s shop. The next morning, the owner was taking inventory and I offered to help sweep up. He shrugged and turned away. I whispered an apology and then bought the last fresh ham from his wife. I had a bit of a stomachache, but knew I would eat it later.

But this morning at the gas station, I couldn’t find any evidence of misbehavior. In fact, I couldn’t find any evidence that I had been there at all, no hairs in the grass or footprints in the mud, no stray clothes or broken windows.

Was this the right gas station? It had been a gas station, hadn’t it? I checked my empty pockets for one of the notes I sometimes wrote to myself.

The pumps and the hedges and the little store looked familiar. I walked toward the drainage ditch that ran around the back, the direction I would have gone. The grass was not matted down, but looked as if someone had brushed it back into place. And the mud had been smoothed over.

I crouched to look more closely and noticed something shiny: a small blob of metal embedded in the dirt under a branch. I used my fingernail to pry it loose. It felt hot in my hand and I cradled it in the cuff of my sleeve so it wouldn’t touch my skin.

“Find something?” A man’s greasy voice behind me arched my back. I stood and turned. “No.” I shivered and slipped the thing into my pocket.

“Lose something, then?” He wore sunglasses and smiled broadly, standing with his feet spread apart while swirling a small bit of coffee in a large paper cup.

“My… My glasses.” I stuttered, brushing dirt from my jeans.

“Last night?” He asked.

“Uh, no. Two nights ago.”

“Hunh. So why are you looking here now?”

“I… I’ve already looked everywhere else.”

He took a step closer and over his shoulder I caught the eye of a woman pumping gas. But she had no sympathy for me. I started toward the road, but the man stepped in my way. “You know, I lost something last night.” He said. “I wonder if you saw it while you were searching for your glasses.”

He waited for me to ask him what it was, but I just stared at the road, planning how to leave without calling attention to myself. I don’t like being remembered.

The man finally said, “A bit of jewelry. My wife’s. She had a silver necklace with a small… well… sort of bullet-shaped pendant. Well… We had a fight and she tossed it out the window toward that grass there.”

I avoided looking at him. “Didn’t see it.”

“Are you sure you weren’t here last night? There’s something familiar about you. Almost… A smell.”

I tried to laugh. “You’re starting to creep me out, man.”

“Well that makes two of us.”

Standing as close as we were I could smell his breakfast on his breath.

He lowered his shoulders and exhaled slowly. I stepped around him and walked away without looking back.

That night I would have to be much more careful.

Aloha Dispatch Month 5

Prince Kuhio Day:


It is one of only two holidays in the United States dedicated to royalty, the other being Hawai’i’s King Kamehameha Day June 11.

It’s a big deal too. It’s a day off regardless of the day of the week. Most holidays get shifted to the nearest Monday or Friday in order to be more convenient for businesses. But people are out for PKD no matter when it falls.

Only three states existed as independent republics prior to joining the U.S.: Vermont, Texas, and Hawaii.

Unrelated to Hawaii, a unique work-related experience happened to me. I had to move 107 records from an Excel file into a database. It took a lot of massaging of the data to match the structure in the database.
But when I tried to import the data, it worked. Without error. The first time.

That never happens. Nothing like that ever works the first time. There is always a missing semi-colon or un-escaped apostrophe or something equally trivial that causes the import to stick.

It’s possible, slightly, that I now have enough experience that I don’t make the sorts of mistakes that result in errors for this kind of thing. But my guess is that I just got lucky.

I couldn’t get a good photo as a I stood on the upper dune overlooking Hilo Bay. It was dusk and a skyscraper-sized cruise ship was turning around the end of the breaker wall while 8 or so outrigger canoes, with 6 paddlers in each one, raced laps closer to shore. Seeing the two types of boat sharing the same body of water struck me as an apt metaphor for this place. The out-of-towners, mostly white, in a position of affluent distance, relying on technology and a hired crew to move them from one side of the island to another, removed from the worst (but also some of the best) aspects of Hawaii and the Big Island. And the locals, mostly of mixed Asian descent, much closer to the Earth, working hard, using an ancient traditional method to go back and forth over the same short distance.

Leaf blowers are, unfortunately, very common here, especially around banks and government buildings. In this climate, tree-trimming, leaf and yard-waste removal is a year-round effort, but the blowers are unmuffled and really a nuisance. At only one non-residential building have I ever seen someone remove leaves with a rake and broom: at the Hilo Betsuin, one of the local Buddhist temples. I suppose this is in keeping with their stated focus on simplicity and respect for others. Amid the din of their neighbors’ leaf-blowers, it was refreshing to see someone take the same amount of time with a broom to accomplish the same goal. I think I understand a little better the appeal that Buddhism has for some Americans – those who wish for a return to a quieter, simpler existence.

There’s a guy living in a U-Haul truck by Bayfront Park. It’s one of those $19.99/day rentals and he has all his stuff in there. Clean public bathrooms with showers are plentiful here, and I’ve seen him cooking dinner over a little grill. So although his place is small, he basically has a mobile oceanfront apartment for ~$600/month.

Leisure is an important part of life here – more than anywhere I’ve ever been – and I think that helps explain why this is also the only place I’ve been where so many men play with remote-control vehicles. It’s very common to see a middle-aged guy in a park, controlling a car or an airplane. In any other state I think the guy would be seen as a loser or an eccentric at best. Here it’s just something to do on a pleasant evening.

The poorer you are (to a point), the bigger your car (or truck). The richer you are, the smaller your car.

I want to live in a place that has an active “Maker” community, a place that does “circuit-bending” and other STEM-style activities to take the kids. Hilo has Hawaii Tech Works (http://easthawaii.org/program-areas/hawaiitechworks/) and the local Ace hardware used to have science demos every Sunday. But there just isn’t enough population here and the weather is too good to sustain the kinds of clubs that conduct indoor activities.
In small towns with crummy weather you can have book clubs and quilting groups and cooking clubs etc. and you can have those things in big cities regardless of weather. But in towns under 100,000 or so that have good weather people are outside. They have fun and do stuff with other people while fishing, swimming, paddleboarding, etc.
I don’t like crummy weather, but if I want to live in a smaller city and have a community of indoor-activity enthusiasts, it can only be in a place with crummy weather.

The people who move here prioritize weather.
We all have priorities. There are 20 or so facets of life that get prioritized consciously or not.
Some put work above friends, often indirectly. They may not intend it, but if they take a job one place and live in a home that is an hour and a half away, they aren’t going to have time in the evening to spend with friends.
Some put family before job, meaning they have time together but not much money.
Some put religion before family, resulting in aloof relationships.
The people who move here prioritize weather.

The second priority is what distinguishes them as one group or another. Militant veganism is one secondary priority. Surfing and other water activity is another.
Some even prioritize career, ambition, and making money, although they seem like a small minority. It’s that priority that seemed to define most New Yorkers, though. They certainly weren’t there for the weather or water sports.

I like good weather. And in fact I can say truthfully that I hate bad weather. Yet avoiding cold weather isn’t my top priority. I’ve met so many people here and in Florida and in southern California that hate cold weather. That’s what defines them and that is the only thing they have in common with their neighbors.
I want to live in a place where what I have in common with my neighbors is a little deeper than a common dislike of snow.

Living here for (only!) 25 weeks has been like living in a metaphor. The phrases I use about our time here sound a lot like descriptions of mortality: e.g. “We don’t have much time left so let’s make the most of it”
What this has meant is that I’ve tried harder to do something interesting every day. It’s not realistic to “live each day as if it were your last” because on your last day of life you wouldn’t have to go to the bank or wash the dishes or think about how much dinner costs.
The lesson I’ve taken, that I hope to follow from now on, is to do something memorable each day.
It doesn’t have to be unique, and most of the day can still be spent working, running errands, raising the kids, but as long as I go somewhere new or see something beautiful, or have a new or particularly good experience (i.e. novelty or pleasure) then I’ve lived in the spirit of carpe diem.