So humbled and honored that One Truth, No Lie, book three in the Niuhi Shark Saga, is a 2016 Whitney Award Nominee. Mahalo nui loa to all the readers who nominated it.
Author J.F.R. Titchenell, Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know Of), asked what scares me. Here’s my response.
Picking up The Niuhi Shark Saga, you’d think I was afraid of sharks. It’s right there in the title of the series. In the books people get stalked by sharks, bit by sharks, and die because of sharks. As an island kid growing up in the ocean during the 1970s—the premier Jaws era—it would make a lot of sense.
But sharks don’t scare me.
Being alone and misunderstood does.
You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out the sub-text of The Niuhi Shark Saga. I grew up a part-Hawaiian, but perpetually sunburned haole-looking girl in Kahului, Maui. From kindergarten through fourth grade, I was the only person with blond hair and blue-eyes in the entire school district, including the staff.
This didn’t change until my family moved to Kalama Valley on Oahu, where in 5th grade at Kamiloiki Elementary there were more kids who looked like me. But nobody spoke Pidgin, which I thought was the language of school. You can imagine my surprise when my teacher, nose in the air, told my mother I needed remedial English lessons and she was recommending me for Resource, which was code for special ed and not in her classroom. I didn’t need English lessons. I just needed to speak as I spoke at home at school.
The shock on Mrs. Goo’s face when I switched mid-sentence from Pidgin to perfect English was almost worth the hell of being in her class.
Almost. I won’t say more, except that when you’re a kid, being good at sports is crucial to overcoming prejudice. That, and a great right hook.
Consequently, a lot of my fiction involves a character that is isolated from others, usually for a reason he or she has no control over. In The Niuhi Shark Saga, Zader is isolated because he’s allergic to water. He’s the weird kid that others put up with because of his popular surfing star brother, Jay.
In One Boy, No Water, Zader fears being left behind if Jay and Char Siu get accepted into Ridgemont Academy for ninth grade. Without Jay around, there’s the real possibility that Zader will be the Blalah’s perpetual punching bag. But as the story progresses, Zader discovers that Jay needs him too, and that being different can be a source of strength.
In One Shark, No Swim and One Truth, No Lie, Zader and Jay learn that anything they love can be taken away. Because of love, Zader sacrifices himself and travels the world alone, wary that he will turn into the monster everyone thinks he is. Jay becomes consumed with revenge, loses his golden boy status, and has to humble himself and learn from others before he can find peace in the ocean again. Both Zader and Jay reject what others think are their destinies, and prove that family are people you choose and not necessarily related by blood.
The Niuhi Shark Saga takes place in modern Hawaii where all the Hawaiian myths, legends, and gods are real, but under the radar of most humans. It’s my hope that readers come away with a deeper understanding of island life than what’s reflected in Hollywood movies and shows like Hawaii 5-0.
And there are sharks. Did I mention the sharks? Monster-sized Niuhi sharks, with mouthfuls of teeth, all-consuming hunger, and extra-sensory perception. They are apex predators without a lick of human remorse or conscience.
Oh, and Niuhi sharks? They can appear in human form. Unlike Jaws, if a Niuhi shark is interested in you, even on land, you’re not safe. There is no bigger boat.
You’re wearing that? No. Go change. It’s too wrinkled. What do you mean there’s no iron? The rental has a coffee maker, a microwave, a washer and dryer, but no iron? Figure it out. You can’t go looking like that.
You, go shave again. Yes, I mean it. See all of this under your chin? That can’t be there. There’s a new razor and shaving cream in my bag in the bathroom. I don’t want to hear how you’re sunburned and itchy, just do it.
We need to buy a lei. No, I don’t want to go to Royal Lei Shoppe. She’ll think that’s too expensive. Safeway has leis. We’ll get one there. Something nice, but not too nice.Why? Because the best is too nice and that’s worse than not bringing anything at all.
No, not that one. See the brown edges? It’s past its prime. None of these look good. We need a fresh lei. I know if we had gone to an actual flower shop like you suggested I’d have better options, but we don’t have time to go somewhere else. On time is late. No, that’s cheap orchids. It’s a tourist lei. The ginger is nice, but it won’t last. Pikake is good, but look, see how the ribbon is crushed? That one is Micronesia-style; she’s Hawaiian. Yes, that matters. Carnation? Are you kidding me? Here. This one: tuberose and ilima. It smells good—and it’s not too cheap, not too expensive.
Yes, I took the Safeway sticker off the box.
Remember, no slouching. Is that gum in your mouth? Get rid of it. Leave your hat in the car. No cell phones. Stay engaged, but do not interrupt. Children are meant to be seen and not heard. If we eat, your fork is on your left; your water glass is on your right. Napkins on your lap first thing. When we’re done, fold your napkin; don’t wad it up. Cloth napkins, honey. I know because it’s always cloth.
Smile. Remember, everything is fine, everybody is good. We’re all good. Yes, everybody. Do not mention You Know Who or You Know What.
Okay, let’s go. Why are you kids freaking out? She’s your great-grandmother. Just be yourself.
Knowing when I was going to get mail used to be a simple thing. Never on Sundays. Around 11:20 am Monday through Friday and around noon on Saturday. There was no reason to keep checking the mailbox—one delivery a day brought all I was going to get until the next time the mailman made her rounds.
Yeah, our mailman was a lady, but we still called her the mailman. When I was little I thought the word was mail ma’am. I also thought the song Cherish You was all about cherry shoes, but that’s another blog post.
Growing up in Hawaii, I could predict when I might get a card or letter from my mainland family. Christmas and birthdays were a sure thing. Presidents’ Day, Groundhogs Day, Flag Day—not so much. I’d haunt the mailbox the week before an anticipated arrival but ignore it the rest of the time. A kid can only get so excited about Hawaiian Electric bills, Longs ads, and mail addressed to Resident.
But with email, you just never know. Any second somebody could be sending that all important message, the one you didn’t know you were waiting for until it arrived. I find myself reaching for my smartphone and checking my inbox way too often in meetings, watching tv, at kids’ soccer games—even church. I’m starting to feel like Linus with his blankie.
I’m not ADD. I can choose when I’m going to pay attention and can sustain that attention for a scarily long time when I’m engaged. My problem is low boredom threshold.
It’s easier to let people think I’m ADD.
I’d always assumed if I was paying for a party, I’d at least get to pick the guest list.
I am soooo tired of special.
This year, the Rainbow Family has chosen Uintah National Forest for their annual gathering. It’s a pristine chunk of federal land that starts just a few miles from my front door. It’s breathtakingly beautiful up there. Being so close, I’d always wished I could park my camper in a prime location and run back and forth all summer long, but there are laws that don’t allow camping in one spot for more than 14 days. Rangers keep track of who’s camping where and if you’re out fishing or hiking when they stop by, they’ll thoughtfully leave notes telling you how many more days you can stay. To camp in the Uintahs all summer, you have to break camp and move at least five miles every 14 days. That way everyone gets a chance to enjoy the area.
Unless you’re the Rainbow Family.
You see, they’re special. The rules don’t apply to them.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Rainbow Family. They claim to have no leader or leadership; if you have a bellybutton, you’re in. Call them counter-culture, hippies, or alternative life-stylers, nobody applies or signs a permit, pays a fee, or is accountable for the group’s actions. Through magical group consensus—maybe it’s a homing instinct—a place for their annual gathering is selected about two weeks before the big shindig. You know your town’s the gathering place when they start showing up. The media takes care of the rest of the invitations.
In 2014 the only town near their gathering place is my town, a rural high-desert valley community of 12,000 residents misnamed Heber City. Heber’s small enough that the tellers at the bank, checkers at the grocery store, waiters at the diner, and the guy who takes the movie tickets know me well enough on sight to ask how my daughter’s soccer team is doing. We’re also remote; our nearest neighboring towns are 30 minutes away in different directions through winding canyons at freeway speeds. We’ve learned to watch out for deer, elk, and the occasional moose crossing.
Living on the outskirts of Heber on the main road to the Uintah National Forest, my neighbors and I have never locked our doors. Seriously. When the sheriff told us we had to start locking up our houses, sheds, garages, and barns because Rainbows are opportunists, we all had to run 25 miles to the nearest Home Depot. In my case after 15 years, we couldn’t find a key. Many of our garages and sheds don’t have closing doors. Hell, half the cars and pick-ups in the valley are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Yes, Virginia, there really is a place like this in 2014 America.
Conservative estimates think we’ll get 10,000 to 15,000 Rainbow Family members, although they admit some gatherings have been as high as 30,000. The big event is July 4th with most arriving before July 1st and staying through July 7th , but some stay all summer. The Rainbow Family Council started showing up mid-June and selected their main campsite June 15th. Like busy beavers, they’ve been setting up satellite camps since.
June 15th to July 1st to July 7th to…wait a minute…
But it’s okay. They’re really nice people with just a few bad apples giving the group a bad name; we know because they say so.
I’m calling shibai. Here’s the real deal.
The Rainbow Family has held yearly gatherings since the early 1970s. They are fully aware of their impact on small communities—in fact, so aware that they target them. Like modern day locusts, they descend waving flags of free speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of religion while thumbing their noses at laws that govern the rest of us. They gather in such large numbers with no advanced warning that communities are overwhelmed. They camp on federal land which is under Federal, not local jurisdiction. The only way to enforce the laws already in place is to send in the National Guard to root them out. No Fed wants pictures of flower-wielding, kumbaya-singing hippies forced at gunpoint to break camp splashed across the news. So the Federal attitude is live and let live. Besides it’s not like they’re camping on the steps of the White House.
As hopping mad as we get, Heber City’s 12,000 tax paying residents simply do not carry much juice with the Feds. We’re not even a rounding error in their calculations.
Heber City and Wasatch County taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for everything from the trash Rainbows leave behind—I don’t care if they claim to bag it all up, somebody at some point is going to have to haul it out of the mountains and pay to put it in a landfill—to the overtime cost for EMT, police, fire, and all the other civil services needed to manage a double or tripling of our population. Of course, there’re also softer costs like vandalism, petty theft, theft of services, unpaid hospital visits, and drains on the local food pantry and disaster relief services. Rainbows are quick to point out that local business benefit from their arrival, but the math doesn’t add up. Previous Rainbow Gatherings have left behind bills of more than $500,000 in services alone—that’s more than $4,000 per resident in Heber City—bankrupting already thin county coffers. This is not an exaggeration. During last year’s gathering in Montana the governor issued a state of emergency to help defray the fiscal impact. Look it up.
And the Rainbow Family knows this.
And they don’t care.
So don’t tell me how wonderful they are. Really wonderful people pass the magic hat and pony up impact fees, group permits, stay no more than fourteen days, and pay for porta-potties instead of digging slit latrines. Yeah, that’s right. Their waste management plan is slit latrines and campfire ash. Don’t even think about the fact that a human creates about .8 lbs. of solid waste a day. With 15,000 people, that’s about six tons per day. In pristine wilderness. A day.
But I have to give them credit. Next time I want to camp on federal land all summer and dump my black water into a slit latrine instead of hauling it to a sewage treatment facility, I’ll just tell the Ranger I’m with the Rainbow Family.
After all, I have a bellybutton, too.
Oh, hell’s bells. I have to buy new swimwear.
When I was a kid, this meant going with Mom to Sears or JC Penney and trying on a new bikini. No big deal. Bonus if we stopped for guri-guri on the way home. In Hawaii in the 1970s, we all wore bikinis because kids didn’t grow out of them as fast as one-piece suits, and compared to the nudist colony living up the beach from us in Kihei, my sister and I looked like Amish kids. Besides, wearing bikini bottoms under dresses allowed me to yell, “Face!” to boys who chanted, “I saw London, I saw France, I saw Lehua’s underpants!” when I climbed a mango tree or swung on the monkey bars at school.
Back in the day popping a young boy’s bubble with I’m wearing a bikini! Face! was the ultimate burn. Things were simpler.
In the 1980s, I started wearing sleek one piece suits, caring more that the shoulder straps stayed in place while boogie boarding than how high the leg openings were. Remember the French-cut suits that went as high as your hip? I had legs fo’days. Looking at old photos, my ultra-conservative daughter can’t believe her grandmother let me leave the house, let alone walk on public beaches. Wop her jaws when I told her Nana bought them for me.
In the 1990s, I started wearing saggy t-shirts with the sleeves cut off over conservative one piece suits while scuba diving. Around 2000, I switched to baggy shorts and tankinis under big shirts and started playing lifeguard more than swimming myself.
It was inevitable given my new body shape (the non-gym, non-volleyball playing, post-Mom with too many cookies version) that I’d have to fight a battle between what looked good poolside and what was practical to swim in. In the water, skirts and tankinis ride up and most shorts puff out, holding more water than a sponge. Swimsuits that allow you to swim also show every lump, bulge, and chocolate brownie you ever ate. It got to the point where vanity trumped swimming. I put on flirty swim dresses with burka-like cover-ups and stayed out of the water.
It was mainly kiddie pools anyway.
But after losing 40 lbs., all my old swimwear is too big. The family is planning a week-long seashore adventure and I don’t have a thing to wear. I want to swim in the ocean again—no more froofy poolside suits for me. But dang! While the lumps and bumps are smaller, there’s no way I can wear a normal swimsuit in public and not scar little children for life.
Right now, I’m planning on high-rise bike-style shorts under a dresskini top from Lands End–assuming it ships here in time. Plan B is a longer tankini top from Junonia. Plan C is a swim bra under a rash guard. All are a far cry from the sexy French-cuts I used to wear, but at least I’m back in the water.
PS: Of course, none of these photos are of me. Photos of me in swimwear? Are you crazy?
The PiBs are back in town. You can spot them in a New York minute or L.A. heartbeat, the People in Black, dressed for an ice age in 30+ degree weather—a bleak, but chic ice age—walking very quickly and importantly wearing bright Sundance badges, drinking skinny lattes, and talking a little (way) too loudly about Bab, Mark, and JJ on cell phones. They park anywhere they please, cut in line, and will run small children over to get to the counter where they take forever to order because they have to know the provenance of every item on a burger so that they can order a salad, sans croutons and dressing, with an organic cruelty-free lemon-wedge on the side.
Gotta watch the carbs, you know.
To save us all time and misery, I’m telling you upfront that our Heber mom and pop burger joints don’t have dairy-free cheese or sugar-free ketchup or free-range pickles. Part of the adventure of traveling is eating new food. Branch out a little, PiBs. Try the fry sauce.
Like the swallows and Capistrano, for the past 30 years the PiBs have annually flocked to our little town chasing the magic of the Sundance Film Festival. And yeah, I remember the first one—I was a budding director and writer myself attending a nearby university and was bribed with free tickets to point people in the right direction and to keep the riff-raff like me out of dimly lit rooms over-crowded with non-fire marshal compliant rows of folding chairs.
Since those college days I’ve been to some of the big galas and events as both a paying and comp’d guest. Meh. The food’s always pretentious, tiny, and undercooked—something you’d forgive and forget if you were there to stargaze instead of to sample the celebrity chef like I was. I’ve seen remarkable movies—and a lot of crappy ones, too. People forget it’s a film festival, not the Oscars. Best way to tell if you’re in for a stinker? Average the age of the people in the theater around you. Sub-25? It’s really going to suck. You’ve got average at least ten years older for it to be any good.
But back to the PiBs.
Am I glad that they spend money in my town? Abso-danm-lutely. I love to see jets worth the combined GNP of most third-world countries lining the tarmac of our small town airport. I like watching the local fuel truck filling them up and all the taxi cabs buzzing in from Salt Lake City. Our quaint artisanal cheese, jams, jellies, and candy shops sell out. It’s a post-holiday season boon to local ski instructors, photographers, and restaurants. I have friends who rent out their houses and escape to the beaches every January—double score.
I know that the benefits continue when attendees see the quality of our ski slopes, hiking trails, and reservoirs and come back for a vacation when the craziness is over. I’ve even met people who moved here after attending the film festival.
There are clear benefits to having Sundance here, check.
And if it were only about watching independent films, I wouldn’t mind the crowds. We get crowds with all our world-class athletic events, too. My real problem isn’t with the films; it’s with the wanna-bees and their assistants. I’ve actually been in line at Wal-Mart trying to buy the kinds of things Moms need to keep on hand when a gaggle of gel-slick hipster PiBs demanded their own checkout line because they were in a hurry. Didn’t we know who they were?
Seriously? You pulled that line while shopping at Wal-Mart for bottled water, folding chairs, and cheap Park City sweatshirts?
And then there are the people who wail and gnash their teeth in the street, shocked that their car was towed after it was parked under a no parking sign. Once a guy actually called the cops and complained that towing his car was rude and demanded they bring it back.
Yeah, good luck with that. Our sheriffs don’t know (or care) who you are either. They’re too busy making sure the emergency service vehicles can make it down the street.
Now that I don’t work in Park City, most of the time I can avoid the worst of the plague, but this year with a foot in a cast, rocking a knee scooter and a daughter who would rather ski than breathe, I’ve been spending too much time around them. My favorite recent run-in was at a movie theater where my husband and I went to kill some time before dragging the ski fiend and her friends off the slopes. (We were watching a non-Sundance film at a mixed use venue.) I was trying to maneuver through a crowded hall lined with double red velvet ropes that cordoned it down to a narrow one person pathway. (Fire marshal, anyone? Anyone?) A big guy was headed toward me, noticed my predicament, and stepped to the side to let me by. At least five Botox betties and two skinny jean wearing dudes with tasteful grey temples immediately leaped through the gap, blocking me from going anywhere. Big Guy rolled his eyes.
“Can you see me? ‘Cause I can see you,” I said as each person shimmied by.
It wasn’t until Big Guy growled, “Don’t worry. I got your back. Next one I tackle,” that someone woke up from his it’s-all-about-me daze long enough for me to roll by.
Yep. It’s the yearly PiB plague. I much prefer the Olympic athletes and their crew. They always grab a door for me. “Bummer man,” they say with a headshake, “And during prime ski season, too.”
That’s my most pressing problem right now with my right foot in a cast and needing to be propped higher than my heart. The ice bag takes up what little room I have between my gut and knee and reclining half on my back and leaning on an elbow, I’m at a loss at how to balance the computer and type at the same time. Cocooned in a pillow nest, I’m tired of taping out one letter at a time on an iPad. Serious writing needs ten fingers.
It’s my fault for always writing at a desk with a chair and keyboard and two big monitors in a room where I can shut the door. Like a jock with lucky socks, I’ve trained myself to think that it’s all about the quiet room and the ability to use a mouse. Writing on the living room couch is a cramped affair filled with scraps of other people’s conversations and too loud music.
Adapt or die. Right now death is winning.
Being cooped up the past two days has built up a torrent of words and ideas that want to pour like water over a cliff, but they will have to wait until my foot no longer needs elevation and ice or I master some new yoga poses.
It’s going to be a long two months.
In Utah, I run around barefoot or in slippahs waaaay too frequently. It’s not unusual to see me scampering to the mailbox, quick stepping through the snow because until that moment when the sub-zero cold hit my tender tootsies I forgot that normal people wear thick socks and boots in December. There’s something to the saying that you can take the tita out of Hawaii, but not the Hawaii out of the tita.
A side effect of my refusal to wear shoes are rough, dry, and cracked heels. Too much desert, not enough humidity, and definitely not enough hours in the ocean and walking along the beach. I’ve tried all kinds of treatments and lotions from snooty spas to good ol’ Vaseline and plastic wrap, but nothing seems to work very well.
So when I saw this new, easy fix on the internet it’s no wonder I gave it a try. It came up on my Pinterest and Facebook feed at least ten times over the summer and was always accompanied by a zillion testimonials of how amazing it was. Maybe you saw this, too:
This is crazy. Mix 1/4 cup Listerine (any kind but I like the blue), 1/4 cup vinegar, and 1/2 cup of warm water. Soak feet for 10 minutes and when you take them out the dead skin will practically wipe off.
I know, right?
So I got all the stuff together, mixed quadruple the amounts (I wanted my heels covered) it in a big shallow bowl, plunked the bowl in the tub, perched on the edge, plopped my feet in, and goofed on my iPad for 10 minutes. The results?
My skin is blue and no amount of scrubbing with anything short of a sandblaster is going to change it. And of course, the color’s deepest where the skin looks its worst, the exact part I wanted to remove, not highlight like a muffin top over leggings.
My son, the honors chemistry student, laughs and says I should’ve known this would happen and goes through some long-winded explanation about how the acid in vinegar breaks down oils in the foot so the blue dye in the Listerine can penetrate better and then rambled on about quantum mechanics and turning straw into gold—I don’t know, I stopped listening.
And no slippahs for at least a week!