Feet of clay
As luck would have it, a veterans employment rep with the state sent me to the Service Employees Union office for a job interview. There was an opening for a plumber and general maintenance worker at
Hickam Air Force Base. I got hired, and started the next day. The company I worked for was Geronimo Service Co, curiously based in California and Las Vegas. It was a pretty sleazy outfit, and eventually got itself kicked off the base for corrupt activities. I still fondly reminisce about having a hand in their departure, a story for another day. The workers stayed, doing the same jobs for the new employer.
I enjoyed the job for the most part, working with "local" guys - mixtures of "Hawaiian," "Japanese," "Chinese," "Filipino," and just about every other group imaginable. There were a few "Haoles," the term used for "white" people, but no one of "African" descent. Haole is pronounced howlie, and has both a derogatory and neutral connotation, depending on the context.
We did repairs on family housing units on the base, and I settled in with a crew that included an archetypal "Hawaiian," Mitch Lono, a big, lighthearted guy, who one day said to me, "I a full-blooded Hawaiian, brah! We a dying breed!" It's one of those things that I remember as if it was just a moment ago. I loved the idiomatic way the locals and "Hawaiians" talked. It was known as Pidgin, and had a rich, flowing, and comical pattern. The funniest example I remember is when a guy named Calvin (pronounced "Kelvin") was complaining about some job frustration or another. He yelled out "You no can get shit done!" It was classic. I often say this to myself when I'm experiencing difficulty.
My favorite memory of working at Hickam is the day when a couple of crews were working together to get a house ready for its new occupants. The Air Force officer's wife who was moving in showed up, and after a few minutes came up to me and said, "Excuse me sir, but is your name Geronimo?" I was wearing a blue uniform "aloha" shirt with the company name on it, as was everyone else on the crews, about eight people. I told her no, that it was just the company name. She said, "Oh, because that man over there is also named Geronimo, and everyone else here seems to be named Geronimo." It was one of those "You had to be there moments," and we really had great fun with it. Few are those among us who are asked if they are Geronimo.
After about eight months on the job a friend told me I could get in the lecturer pool for the community college system on Oahu, and I applied soon thereafter. Again, as luck would have it, an Economics instructor at Leeward Community College was taking a sabbatical, and I got hired almost immediately, ending my time at Hickam.
Not long after I began teaching I moved to the northeast part of the island, to an area known as Hauula. It was a beautiful spot, a retreat owned by a "Tibetan" lama. It had 40 banana trees, about 10 coconut trees, mango, papaya, and breadfruit trees, and a vegetable garden. I hardly had to shop for groceries at all.
The hard part of living in Hauula was the distance from my teaching job. If I drove, it took an hour, and was a pretty tedious drive in my rusty pickup truck. Most days I rode the bus, which only took a half-hour longer, and I could buy a monthly bus pass for $15.00. It was an enjoyable ride, and I could sit back and enjoy the water, the lush scenery, and the variety of people who rode the bus. One of the great vistas I have experienced in my life is the view on the way home as the bus (or my truck) crested the mountains, and began the descent towards Oahu's North Shore. The sugar cane fields (and pineapple) became the backdrop for a truly majestic opening up of the sky and ocean, in what can only be described as beatific.
One day while riding home the bus stopped in Haleiwa and about 20 school girls got on. They must have been eighth-graders, and they all wore uniform plaid skirts and white blouses.
They busied themselves with normal teenage girl banter until a couple of stops later when an "African-American" guy boarded the bus. He sat in about the middle of the bus, and immediately the girls started whispering and laughing among themselves, saying things like "See the popolo," and "Check out the popolo," and so on. Popolo is the local term for "African-American," and is more derogatory than "nigger." It refers to the black berry of the Solanum nigrum plant.
I've spent a good amount of time in the "American" south, mostly Arkansas and Texas, and was born in the brutally "racist" city of Chicago, but have never experienced such "racial" cruelty as I did that day on the bus. The guy knew what was going on, but just sat there helpless. He didn't move the whole time he was there - didn't look left, didn't look right, just stared straight ahead. The girls, as I remember, were all of "local" mix, and if I remember right, seemed to be of Native "Hawaiian" and Haole mix, known there as "Hapa-haole." The Native "Hawaiians" have suffered genocide and oppression relatively as great as their indigenous counterparts on the "Mainland," but that doesn't insulate them from the universal bigotry against those of us who descended from slaves in the "New World."
Into this cultural milieu our current president, Barack Obama, was born. He grew up partly in "Indonesia," but his formative years were spent mostly in "Hawaii." There is no "racial" majority in "Hawaii," with "Japanese" "Americans" being the largest minority - about 24% when I lived there. Here's a more current breakdown.
Though Obama attended Punahou School, one of the island's most exclusive (The Kamehameha Schools are more exclusive - you have to be at least part Native "Hawaiian" to attend), and probably the best academically, he likely wasn't completely insulated from the prejudice against "African-Americans." With his light complexion he could have "passed" for a "Samoan" or even a "Hawaiian," but he likely is quite familiar with the word "popolo."
I can't imagine what it must be like to be of mixed "racial" background, at least as it is perceived, to have been abandoned by your father, raised in "Polynesia" by a "Caucasian" mother and grandparents, and to be seen as "different" in a place of such ethnic diversity. What seems clear about Barack Obama is that he is a conciliator to a degree rarely seen, to the point where he seems to have lost his sense of his own foundation, attempting to be all things to all people.
He runs the very real risk of being no one to anybody, including himself. I suppose he will always be someone to his family and friends, and to his closest political allies. But once his presidency turns sour he will find himself abandoned in a manner as cruel as what I saw while riding on the bus in Oahu in 1984.
Some of that abandonment is taking place already. Since taking office Obama has attempted to protect the criminality and secrecy of the Bush regime, has continued some of Bush's most heinous policies, has escalated "America's" military involvement in "Afghanistan," has failed to close the illegal torture prison in "Guantanamo" Bay, "Cuba," and is now in the process of watering down his "reform" of our shamefully inadequate and criminal health care system. "Leftists" are jumping ship, seeing him as just another soulless politician. Though not a "leftist" myself, I am a bit surprised at how easy it was for me to lose faith in Obama.
It's hard to blame Obama for being such a vacillating and unprincipled president. No matter how little his connection is with the history and culture of "African Americans" who descend from slaves, he has to be well-aware of how ready a great many of his fellow citizens would be to shoot him or hang him from the nearest tree.
Gun nuts who are showing up at his appearances are not doing it to stand up for their rights. They do it just like threats and intimidation have always been done, with the not-so-subtle hint that but for the presence of the Secret Service and police, he would be shot without hesitation.
Still, I believe Barack Obama is about as good a person as we can get to serve as president. Who would we get that would be better? Al Gore? Hillary Clinton? John Kerry? John Edwards? Joe Biden? How about Christopher Dodd? Hardly. We all carry the baggage of our youth, of our circumstances in life, our DNA, our heredity, our environment. And of our own feet of clay. The job may be too great for any one person: The "leader" of the "free" world.
What we would do better to acknowledge, and what many of us seem to be doing, is that it is up to us, not Barack Obama, to save our civilization, to save our planet, and to save ourselves. We don't have a lot of time to put our trust in "leaders," no matter how great the persona. We can help Obama to lead by making him follow our lead. He can take all the "credit" he wants to if things go right, but "credit" won't matter much if the Polar ice caps melt completely. Or if the bungling of "leaders" results in a nuclear holocaust. We may all have feet of clay, but we can avoid becoming clay. Or dust.
I wrote something similar to this post in May, in response to an article in Salon.
Here's an example of what might result from our dependence on leaders.
This Grateful Dead song is a good source of inspiration. This too( Here's another version in case the words are too garbled). Here are the lyrics.
Some Bob Marley is always good for the soul.
You can't get a better feel for "Hawaii" than the music of Israel Kamakawiwo`ole, "Bruddah Iz."
If you can find a recording of this song, it would be worth the effort.
This video shows another side of "Hawaiian" music.
Here's Peter Moon. The porch they are sitting on is known as a lanai.
This tune from Keola Beamer is good for relaxation.
The great Ray Kane.
If that isn't enough, Beethoven's Violin Concerto never fails to inspire.
I wrote a comment to a radio show about "Afghanistan," which can be seen here. It's about 80% down the page.
Glenn Greenwald in Salon writes the best analysis of the Obama regime's continuation of Bush policies to be found anywhere.
This op-ed by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times does a pretty good job of describing the hatred for President Obama.
This is worth reading. This too.
You can read a good description of the corruption of our health care system in this article.
R.I.P. Patrick Swayze. Here's the finale to Dirty Dancing, set in the "Borscht Belt" of the Catskill Mountains of New York, where I lived during my guru-following days.