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Monday, January 17, 2005

Pacific interlude

So we just got back from our secret undisclosed location, where Janet and I delivered papers and Nick and Jamie got some sun.  Nick had taken to counting the number of days during his winter break when the sun did not appear in State College (namely, all of them); he had in fact begun to doubt the heliocentric theory of the solar system (it is only a theory, after all), and by New Year’s Day was seriously entertaining the possibility that the planet rests on the back of a giant turtle and is swathed in cotton. Jamie was up for the trip too, since he always likes to travel to a “new state, never done before,” and Janet and I were wheezing and honking our way around the house with nasty nagging post-holiday/ post-MLA colds and sinus infections.  Hawai’i seemed like a good place to go– assuming, of course, that we could get there through the surprise four-inch snowstorm that arrived in central Pennsylvania the very day we were supposed to drive to Harrisburg for our flight (through Chicago to Honolulu), and assuming that we could load up on enough Nyquil and vitamin C to keep our bodily effluvia from messing with everyone else’s bodies all up and down the passenger cabin.

“We’re going to be the family everyone hates,” Janet suggested, plausibly enough.

“On a nine-hour flight, too,” I said.  “Honestly, I wouldn’t want to sit next to me.”

“I’m going to ask the flight attendant to move me away from me,” Janet replied.

Actually, it was not clear that any of us would be sitting next to any of us on that Chicago-Honolulu flight, since we’d all been assigned disparate single seats, and we thought that in Jamie’s case, at least, this might be a bad idea.  But it all worked out eventually, and after rising at 3:30 AM in Harrisburg and catching our 6 AM flight out of the frozen North American tundra, we touched down in O’ahu at 2:30 the same day, January 12.  And we somehow made it back safely on the 15th and 16th, flying from Lihu’e (in Kaua’i) to O’ahu to Los Angeles to Chicago to Harrisburg and then driving 90 miles to State College, changing our clothes twice along the way (don’t ask how) while leaving all that fine Pacific brine sticking to our weary bodies.

You may feel free to envy us (as Derek Smalls once said, I envy us), because Hawai’i is quite nice this time of year.  Then again, you should also know that I met a chicken quesadilla in Kailua that incapacitated me for 24 hours, making life exceptionally unpleasant in certain respects and reducing me to a diet of small sips of Gatorade on Friday.  By which point Janet had acquired a migraine aura, as she informed me just before she took the boys to lunch during my talk.  “I can contract diphtheria,” offered Nick helpfully, while Jamie reminded us yet again that the aquarium we’d visited on Thursday morning merely contained black-tipped reef sharks whereas the Sea Life Park near Waimanalo had hammerheads, and “maybe we would go there– be good idea.” Jamie never did get to see his hammerheads, but before his parents were laid low by a few of the frailties to which mortal flesh is heir, he had climbed to the summit of Diamond Head, complaining all the way– except at the top, which he decided was “cool.” Also, we hung out for a while with grad-school compatriot Susan Schultz and her family; Susan teaches at the U of Hawai’i-Manoa and is the founder of the Tinfish Press, which you should go check out right now by means of that handy hyperlink.

Fun fact! Many people know that Hawaiian names are based on the twelve-letter (five-vowel, seven-consonant) alphabet devised by nineteenth-century Christian missionaries who transcribed the natives’ spoken language (just before they stamped out hula dancing, wave riding, and smiling), but very few know that the missionaries based their limited choice of consonants on some of the trains of the BMT branch of the New York City subway system: K, L, M, N, and W (they had long since committed the J, Q, and R for missionary use in the Caribbean).  Later, in a spirit of generosity and with an eye to the future, the missionaries threw in H and P for use during rush hours, and decreed that the M would also make local stops on weekends.

Another fun fact! South Pacific was filmed in Hawai’i even though Hawai’i is actually in the North Pacific.  Watch carefully when Mitzi Gaynor sings “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right Out of My Hair,” and you can see the water swirling down the drain counterclockwise, which, because of the Coriolanus Effect, only happens north of the equator.  Director Joshua Logan smugly predicted that no one would notice the slip, but history has proven him wrong!

Finally, on the political front, I don’t see what’s the fuss about a little annexation here and there.  This should be a happy time!  Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who.  Besides, as the Cato Institute points out, Hawai’i’s annexation has been proven to be beneficial to the hotel, golf, and wedding industries.  More importantly, Hawai’i represents the westward leading edge of a realization to which North Americans have been remarkably slow to come: namely, that we’ve occupied the wrong damn land from the start.  Think about it.  As I type these words in the northeastern US at roughly 41 degrees above the planet’s equator, the air temperature outside is 15F, with a wind chill of -2.  In Chicago it is 9F; in Minneapolis, 1F; and in Winnipeg, Manitoba, just under 50 degrees north, it is now an ungodly -17F.  These are simply unacceptable conditions in so-called “temperate” regions.  By contrast, even frozen Helsinki, way up there at 60N, is 45 degrees warmer than Winnipeg today, 13 warmer than State College.

The lesson is clear for those who think globally: U.S. out of North America now.

Posted by Michael on 01/17 at 03:44 PM
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