Yesterday, I took my wife and daughter for a ride to the West side of Oahu. They hadn’t been there yet. We rode along the beautiful road which goes between the mountains and the sea in Nanikule, Wainae, Makaha, and the small communities in between. It’s been more than a decade since I’ve been there – it’s changed. The last time I was there, there were tent towns stretching along most of the coast – now the tent towns are interrupted by watered golf courses and Disney resorts. The poverty hasn’t gone away, but the gentrification is in full movement mode. My wife’s reaction was something like “It’s like a completely different nation. Low houses, no high rises, no Safeway, and no big tourist businesses.” And then as I pointed out the shanty’s and tent villages hidden behind the kiawe bushes, she started to feel the anger that our society lets so many slide by. The kdis playing in front of the scrap wood and tarp shelters, the adults peeking out of the shadows, waiting for the next sweep of the police or parks department to shove them to someplace else. It’s easy to pass the homeless and think ‘Oh, they must have drug or mental problems’ but there are families, seniors, people who simply cannot make it here. “The government should provide for them,” she said, and I agree. There are many programs which offer assistance, but none of this should be allowed – and then you see the huge gold courses, the giant touristic facilities, and the ever increasing tourist buses and rental cars…there is something seriously wrong. And then there are those who are on the edge of poverty – we passed an older couple over on the windward side of the island a few days ago – in my former hometown of Kailua – which has become so unaffordable that even the middle class cannot afford to live there – this couple was sitting by the side of the road in folding chairs holding a sign “We’re short on rent – even a little bit helps. We don’t want to be homeless” – and like nearly everyone else, I drove by reading the sign too late to stop and too busy trying to make a few dollars to give away a few dollars – but even though I drove away, that sign didn’t stay behind. There is something seriously wrong here. And on that note, I made another observation yesterday – it used to be that the homeless camps flew Hawaiian flags, the shacks, the tents, the enclosures – yesterday, on the drive up to Kaena Point on the west side – I didn’t see a single Hawaiian flag flying from the homeless camps nor from the weekend beach camps of residents – for some reason – that troubled me even more than the homelessness itself….
I find it a constant challenge to not be angry at the complete bullshit that we are all wrapped up in. Here we are, all wrapped up in our world-views, struggling, fighting, suffering, striving, dying, and all to achieve what we view as ‘the way it is’ – and yet, it’s not really the way it is at all. Not even close. Consumer culture, politics, capitalism, success, failure, (the list goes on) these are all human constructs which in point of fact, have no actual basis in reality. Yes, they are real, yes we are trapped in them for the time being, and yes they affect us – but these things are not actually real.
In the book, The Wizard of Oz (not the movie, the book), Dorothy and her friends and all of the inhabitants of Oz are forced to put on green glasses before entering Oz. The Wizard is not simply hiding beind the curtain and manipulating light and sound – he is fucking with the reality-perception of an entire society! He is using every trick he can to maintain control and keep the society under his control – and he sends Dorothy and her friends on multiple death errands because he feels threatened by their awareness and power. He sends them with the thought that if they succeed, it’s good for his people and if they die, well, it’s good for him.
Our human society and governments are the wizard. In reality, we are not missing the things we seek. We have brains, courage, heart, and even the ability to get ‘home’ – meaning in this context home to our true nature, to what we truly are. We are not made to be politicians or business people or financiers or developers or any of ten thousand other things – we are made to be friends, family, nurturers, builders, craftsmen, explorers, and more – but the wizard has blinded us so that we only see green, so that we only see financial security, monetary success, and so that we become consumed by riches.
It’s difficult to not be angry with the wizard. I’ll admit, I’ve been incredibly incensed for most of my life. I’ve made myself sick with anger at the false nature of our existance for most of my adult life. I was young when I tore the glasses from my head and have spent the better part of my life trying to convince others that what they thought they were seeing was only an illusion – most people seem to already understand that on some level – but most of them prefer to live in the illusion – they understand how to navigate in the wizard’s world and intuitively understand that navigating outside of it is far more dangerous than mastering life within the illusion. The problem of course is like that of a video gamer who is very good at a video game but terrible at life – you may be President in the game but in reality you are suffering from malnutrition and alone in a filthy pile of refuse.
So, those of us who know the truth about the glasses – we are left with a dissatisfying choice of either wearing the glasses and immersing ourselves in the illusion or removing the glasses and suffering the reality that all around us are living the lie. The Buddha offered a third alternative which is – from my experience – the most difficult. The middle path allows us to live in the world of illusion while seeing it for what it is. Finding the true middle path is incredibly hard – I have spent my life bouncing from one side to the other – and when I get close – I am distracted by this anger, the anger at the illusionist, the anger at the illusion itself, the anger at being put in the position where I must don these green glasses and walk amongst the delusional – my anger is self-righteous (as all anger is) – and it is dangerous. I must strive to put my anger away- as far as I know, there are only two ways to do that – acceptance of what is and releasing the anger as love through compassion and empathy.
There are fundamental systemic problems that are literally killing us – both individually and as a species. Unless we can get a handle on these issues – we are almost certainly doomed. The first problem is wealth. Not wealth inequality, not wealth distribution, not how wealth is earned or spent – but simply wealth. Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem.
Wealth allows for exploitation, individual versus collective good, and a disporoprtionate allowance of power in terms of access, accumulations, and use of abilities. Wealth is very good for the individual who has it – but, as history has shown us, very bad for everyone as a whole – including the person who has it. This is a matter of long term versus short term good. The individual profits while the species, the biosphere, and the planet as a whole is degraded.
The problems of wealth are not a new revelation, though for most people, wealth appears to not be a problem at all. The main issue is that wealth has so firmly entrenched itself into our system and into our worldview that the idea of ending the concept is not only unfathomable but completely abhorrent to nearly everyone – including this writer who feels that he completely understands the problem of wealth intellectually but still has an inherent desire to strive for wealth personally because of the short term net positives wealth could bring to my individual life, the life of my offspring, and potentailly, the good which could be done if wealth of any size were accumulated and controlled.
One hopes that there is a way to end wealth once and for all – because it is the fundamental drain on our existance – however, given the above – it is unlikely that such an end would be pursued, allowed, or embraced by anyone. While there are religious and philosophical systems which have eschewed wealth, there has yet to be a political or economic system where wealth of one kind or another has not found a way to flourish.
Wealth is a fundamental systemic problem which appears to have no solution. As such, it may be best to move on to further systemic problems. Your thoughts are appreciated here as more than one brain is definitely better than just one.
The POTUS is easy to make light of. It’s easy to not take just how dangerous he is as he gives a buffoonish speech to 40,000 boy scouts in which he touts an ultra-nationalist agenda, demonstrates to young people that it is okay to be an a-hole, and uses the event to push his sociopathic agenda. All of this stuff as he publicly shames the attorney general he hired, pulls back from promise after promise, and seemingly accomplishes none of what he set out to do – all of that is dangerous in itself – but the real danger is that behind the scenes, behind the cover of the great buffoon, beneath the radar of massive undertakings that are nearly impossible to fulfill, there is serious policy work being done and serious cultural shift taking place in the the fibre of the USA. I’m glad to no longer be on the mainland, surrounded by bafflingly vehement Trumpers who appeared to have brains but appear to have stopped using them. Oregon, a state that is ruled by liberal politics but inhabited by a massive number of poor white people who actually still believe that Trump is their saviour – that he has their best interests in mind – that he is there to HELP them. Not just poor, uneducated, white industrial workers – but all those closet racist baby boomers (and let’s be clear here, baby boomers are white Americans born between the 40s and the early 60s) who secretly don’t think a woman can do as good a job as a man, who secretly think that white people are naturally better than non-white people, and who are convinced that they deserve a good life more than anyone else. That is Trump’s base – and it’s not shrinking as we watch him turn our highest office into a mockery – no, his base is growing. As unbelievable as it seems to an educated liberal like me, there is no denying it – his base is growing – and I promise you – he just won a whole new generation of voters. Trump is causing a massive shift in the ideology of the United States. He is taking plays from the dictator playbook daily. He is making us immune to the dangers of totalitarianism with his seemingly foolish actions – but there is nothing funny about threatening to fire people as they stand next to you on a stage, there is nothing funny about demanding political opponents be investigated and jailed, there is nothing funny about loud, yelling, nationalist chants in front of brown shirted adolescent boys. I’m grateful to have left the mainland. I’m grateful to have my family in Hawaii and away from so many of the Trumpers, but they are still here – I see them on construction sites, military bases, and in business suits. We, the people of the United States, are in a very deep lake of shit – and it’s time to stop laughing about how funny it is or how unlikely it is that we are here or how it’s impossible that things can get worse. We’ve been walked right out here laughing our heads off and denying it could happen. It’s happened. It’s happening. It’s not good and not getting any better.
Just in case I forgot to mention it – moving is really hard work.Mentally and physically it is extremely challenging and the past month, I’ve been working in a state of hyper-overdrive. The amount of stuff that has been accomplished seems insurmountable when I look back on it…this is just the major list…there were countless smaller tasks and heavy objects…
1) Selling our antique store
2) Selling our little community paper
3) Training the new owners and taking care of details
4) Finding a job in Hawaii before moving here
5) Finding an apartment in Hawaii before moving here
6) Coming to Hawaii on a brief trip to secure said job and apartment
7) Packing our lives up into a 10×6 trailer
8) Delivering the trailer to Oakland and then driving back (1000 mile trip)
9) Liquidating our entire household (except what we shipped in the trailer)
10) Selling our vehicles and other cargo trailers
11) Storing my Vanagon
12) Flying across the ocean with my wife and five year old
13) Buying a car
14) Renting a storage unit
15) Furnishing our apartment
16) Starting a new career
17) Selling the trailer
18) Selling at the Hawaii All Collectors Show
20) Registering my daughter for school
21) Changing my phone anddrivers license over to Hawaii
And the list goes on and on …. technically, to be fair, this process started at the very end of May, so it’s been about 40 days … I’m exhausted and my body and mind feel like they’ve been through a serious beating…thank god it’s time to get to work. My vacation is now almost over.
I was driving on Kapiolani Blvd yesterday about 3pm when I noticed a lot of police and fire – I looked up and there was smoke coming from high up the building in front of me. It’s a building I used to have a friend that lived in – the smoke grew and then flames stared coming. The quality of my video is bad because I was just holding the phone up as I drove…absolutely awful. Three people died, a dozen injured, and probably at least a dozen apartments destroyed. When I got home to the much smaller building we live in, the first thing I did was a fire drill with Sophia. We went over where the stairs are, what to do if she can’t find us, and where to wait for us if she evacuates and can’t find us.
Much to my surprise, I like living in an apartment building. This is a reminder of one of the many dangers of it.
There are some big issues in Hawai’i. They were issues when I left in 2008 and they have gotten worse. In some cases much worse. Don’t get me wrong – I am plenty happy to have the bathwater with the baby – but as a logical person, I can’t help looking beyond band-aids and seeing some not very simple solutions.
1) Hawai’i has a car problem. There are so many cars on Oahu that the other day when I had my trailer in my assigned parking space it took me an hour and a half to find a parking space within a half mile of my apartment. This problem comes from many different sectors – and nearly every problem I will mention below has contributed and is connected to it. Housing is not affordable so you have three and four generations stacked in a single family home plus an ohana shack in the back yard – every adult has a car and the garage has been converted into an apartment so you have 3-10 cars on a property that was designed for one in the garage and one in the driveway. Add to that problem #2 – Hawai’i has a homeless problem – the worst in the nation and many of the homeless live in their cars – or try to. Then you have apartment buildings like ours – a l4 story builing where each apartment has 1-2 spaces and many of those have been sold or rented to earn the money necessary to live on. Then you have the military – problem #3. Every soldier, sailor, Marine, or airman has a car that they’ve had shipped over by the military – and their spouses have cars. Then you have tourism – car rental is a big business and tourists like to drive – huge lots of cars sitting and waiting to be rented and then looking for parking. As I remember, public transportation was pretty good in Hawai’i – but I can’t say for sure now because my job REQUIRED me to have a car – it was a condition of employment. The city and county are building a light rail system – which actually should help when it is someday completed- but they are going to have to take more drastic measures because car addiction is not easily solved. I don’t like these solutions any better than anyone would – but they have worked in other places. Creating car-free areas in urban congested zones to encourage commuting and using public transportation. Waikiki – car free. Downtown Honolulu – car free. University of Hawai’i – car free. Next are the less popular ideas – somehow banning the military import of personal vehicles and raising the price of car rentals – even less popular is the idea of raising the registration fee and taxes on vehicles – and offering buybacks on older and larger models. Nobody wants to have these things done – but the problem is far worse than it was and from what I can tell – this is the only way to make it better.
2) Hawai’i has a homeless problem. On this one, there is really only one solution – the humanistic solution. Every person should have the right to a safe, secure place to call home. Our greedy capitalist focused society has somehow made it ‘okay’ for there to be huge camps of people who have been left behind socially and economically. We pay huge amounts of money to house prisoners, we allow the ultra rich to buy huge properties and leave them vacant (in some cases entire apartment buildings). All of that needs to be said but ultimately – the homeless problem here and elsewhere is systemic and needs to be addressed at the root – housing is unaffordable here. Desirable real estate has gone so high that undesirable real estate has gone sky high and the rates that hotels and vacation rentals can bring have driven rents even higher. We have allowed the formation of a complex caste system to take place in our society where the higher castes can own unlimited amounts while the lower castes starve – this is considered ‘okay’. It’s not. Land that could be used for housing is gated and closed by the military, by golf courses, by country clubs, and by the ultra-wealthy.
3) Hawai’i has a military problem. There are nearly 100K military personnel here – and their dependents – wives, children, dogs, vehicles. The military long ago took all of the best lands on Oahu for itself. Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base, Bellows Field, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and more. These lands and beaches should be given back. Pearl Harbor and Hickam are a city that could house a huge population. I am not saying that the military should leave Hawai’i completely – but the amount of land and number of troops should be reduced greatly. This would reduce traffic, homelessness, rent and property values, and other problems.
4) Hawai’i has a golfing problem. I’m not a golfer. I admit it. Golf courses shut down huge areas of land to any other use thus cutting the non-wealthy off from using that land, the amount of water they use is obscene, and, frankly, they are elitist symbols of our caste system. Seriously, there are dozens of courses on Oahu. A large number of them are on military bases. Ban golf on Oahu or limit the number of courses to five and make them all public – or, if you are crying in your elitist cup of cat poop coffee right now – allow one private course but make them pay full retail for the water.
5) Hawai’i has a tourism problem. Tourism here is a mess. It’s expensive to come here and the lines are out of control. I know a lot of mainland people have never come here because (and I’m quoting) when they price compare, they get a better deal, less crowds, and cheaper flights when they go to Mexico. Air BnB and uber and Lyft are giving people a chance to earn with their cars and properties but driving the cost of housing up and the profits of tourism down. None of that is what I am referring to though. The tourism problem is that huge amounts of money get spent here and are promptly deposited in mainland and international banks by companies and corporations that are not based here. That is the tourism problem I am referring to.
So, in a nutshell – here is what I propose (if anyone that could make it happen is reading this):
1) Reduce non-essential troop levels and base sizes, require the military to provide transportation for troops stationed here, no personally owned vehicles (POVs)
2) Eliminate most golf courses and require full payment for water and land from those that stay, no sweet elitist deals
3) Ban POVs from congested urban areas and raise taxes and registration fees on urban POVs
4) Create a vacancy tax to drive hotel/housing rates lower – owners must pay a tax on unoccupied property or rooms – if they are using AirBnB or similar or are a hotel resort, the tax is nightly – for residential it would be monthly
5) House the homeless in vacant military housing, provide low skill employment to those capable of working
6) Require resorts and tourist business to be based in Hawai’i and to bank in Hawai’i.
Would these solve the problems? Of course not. Would new challenges arise? Of course. Would these be a good start? Absolutely.
I am grateful and happy to be back on Oahu, back in Hawai’i, and back in paradise. I have a few observations that I’d like to share…
First of all -n the value of a good credit rating. I could not have done this if I hadn’t of made a concentrated effort to improve my credit rating and learn how to rock my credit score. I take that back…I could have done it, but the credit makes it much easier.
Second – I still love Kalama Beach Park – but Kailua seems to have had its soul ripped out. I am grateful that we landed in Salt Lake. It’s a whole different world. Kailua really seems to have become a sort of cartoon reality. It makes me sad. It’s a strange Haole sub-culture of money and privelige – yes, it has some very definite charms of its own, but it’s not what I’m looking for – at least not right now.
Third – Lines of tourism. Our first night here – my wife and daughter’s first night in Hawai’i – I wanted them to experience being a tourist – so we stayed at the most touristic hotel of them all – Hilton Hawaiian Village. It was cool. We had a top floor room with a complete ocean view and thanks to my creidt card points/rewards strategy we didn’t have to wait in the 1-hour-long or more check in lines. Yes – money and privelige – if they think you have money, you get the privelige. Joining the awards programs gave us free internet, a free checked bag on Hawaiian Air, and for some reason got us a free upgrade on our room. But, back to lines – our first meal in Hawai’i as a family was another touristic thing I’d never done – The Cheesecake Factory in Waikiki – huge lines, decent food, ridiculous prices, and bad service. The girls loved it – I was not impressed except that the cheesecake was actually the best cheesecake I’ve ever had…which definitely counts for something. We couldn’t get around that line and I noticed something – parties of two got seated almost immediately and the staff tended to seat parties of five or more with preference – as a party of three we were in a sort of limbo until I complained that larger and smaller parties that came in after us were being seated – and then we were seated immediately – 3 and 4 parties are the lowest price point at bigger tables. And, when we were seated – our table was still dirty. A lame line experience. Yesterday, on the 4th of July, I took the girls on my old circle island tour in our new car (not brand new, but thanks to credit strategy just two years old, no money down, no payments for 90 days and financed for 60 months) – in the old days, I did this tour hundreds, maybe even thousands of times – so I have a perspective on the change – the lines at the Kuhuku Shrimp Trucks are complete insanity…people at Romy’s and Giovanni’s are waiting up to two-and-a-half hours to eat garlic or spicy shrimp. We skipped that line when we realized we hadn’t brought cash – Hanane was amazed that anywhere in the US could be cash only – we went to an ATM and then stopped at the Korean shrimp truck – which used to be pretty good but which yesterday gave us big shrimp drowned in melted butter/oil/fat. The line was short for a reason. It was the fourth so there were lines of cars going to the North Shore, massive lines for Dole whip at the Dole plantation, and then when we went to Kailua for the fireworks – lines of cars looking for parking everywhere – we ended up going to a little known beach access in Aikahi and enjoying poke and rice on the beach with a small crowd and a perfect view of the fireworks. A quick drive on the H-3 and we were back home in time to watch the fireworks from the mighty Missouri from the catwalk of our apartment. Ah, I just thought of another couple of crazy lines – Costco. On the 3rd we went to Costco to get a few housewares and dinner…I’ve never seen anything like it. A constant sea of carts four wide and never stopping flowing from the registers to the parking lot and then lines 20-30 deep for food and drinks. Insanity.
Finally – fourth. In Reedsport we furnished our home almost entirely from garage and estate sales. So I haven’t bought things like shower curtains, silverware, dishes, blankets and the like since 2005 or so…as such, and as an antique dealer and estate buyer – I was out of touch with the prices of such things. Now, I’m amazed that anyone ever bought any of the household shit we sold at our sales…yesterday at Ross we bought a set of dishes for $18 – new. We bought a set of silverware for $15 – again new. We not only paid more for used stuff at garage sales and estate sales but we sold this same kind of stuff for more at the sales we ran – used. Beds on the other hand – holy cow. You can pay as much for a bed as you pay for a car – Hanane stepped up and bought our bed or else I was going to find a used one. As it was, we managed to buy a floor model that had been discontinued with a new frame for about 1/3 of the retail cost. Which still was $600 more than I paid for my old jeep cherokee and $400 more than I sold it for.
Our apartment is empty at the moment. Except for our suitcases and the few essentials we have bought. I’m glad I’m not in the retail business any longer. If I were, I would probably focus on beds and furniture – new or ‘certified’ used.
It’s been a long road….I don’t mean the nearly ten years going around the world since I left Hawai’i. I mean the last two weeks…yikes…flying back from Oahu, getting our entire household packed in suitcases, arranged for an estate sale, priced, and advertised (though not very effectively) and then dealing with three days of cheap strangers (or strange people we already knew) offering us rock bottom prices for cherished possessions – because they all knew we were leaving – and then the trauma of giving the things we refused to sell to cheapskate dealers to charity or to our neighbor who helped with the process. We sold my wife’s car, my little trailer, our basketball hoop, the washer and dryer, and a few more things – but mostly at the rock bottom prices you get at the end of the month in a town where the majority of garage salers are waiting for a social security or disability check – and frankly, the sale was a financial failure – but we got rid of all the stuff, cleaned the house, and left a day earlier than planned. After four years in Reedsport – as my wife went to lunch with her friends from work – I realized that I hadn’t really made any friends there – there was no one I really felt the need to say goodbye to. Lots of acquaintances and customers – but that was it. We drove away and made a daytrip up through Eugene stopping to swim in a lake and then touring through Brownsville, having dinner with my mom, aunt, uncle, and cousin in Corvalis, and then drove to Salem where we stayed in a decent hotel. In the morning we looked at the capital, rode the carousel at the Riverfront park, and then drove to Portland stopping to play in the splashpark in Wilsonville and then playing at the Portland Children’s Museum before checking into our hotel next to the airport. The next day, we dropped off Sophia’s Siamese fighting fish with one of my best friends, ate Ethiopian food together and then I parked my VW Vanagon in his backyard before getting dropped off at the hotel. Now it is early morning – we are getting ready to check out of our hotel room and check in for our flight to Hawai’i where our new apartment, new life, and many adventures await us. Here we go!