|Life as a Loser
Greetings From Hawaii
By Will Leitch
Feb 16, 2004
Note: The Life as a Loser series is ending at No. 200, which will run on March 29, 2004. There are now six left.
POIPU, KAUAI, HAWAII — I am coming to you live from the heart-achingly gorgeous island of Kauai, in the middle of the South Pacific, middle of nowhere, really, where I am taking the first real vacation of my adult life. (When I was a child, our "vacations" revolved around where the Cardinals were playing, which is why the Leitches once spent six whole days in Cincinnati.) Thanks to my inability to understand what the numbers on sunscreen mean, I am a smoldering ruin; I came here looking like Powder or late-'90s Billy Corgan, and after four days, I'm so red that when I get in the shower, the cold water boils.
But I'm here. Here are some thoughts on the most incredible state of our Union, the one with the landscapes like Mars, no Sprint PCS cell phone service and, I dunno, maybe one Web café. This is probably a good thing, though I'm too addicted to technology, even still, to understand it.
The first two days of our trip were spent in Honolulu, which, as a vacation destination, is highly overrated. It is overrun by tourists and is to the state of Hawaii as a whole as Times Square is to New York City. It's a place no one who wants to experience something new would want to be. Honolulu is an endless parade of strip malls, waiting in line for Chili's, and $24 disposable cameras. Waikiki Beach is the tourist central writ large, an explosion of fat housewives reading Danielle Steele and blistering. I could not get out of Honolulu soon enough.
However, the one noteworthy event of the two days on Oahu was a visit to Pearl Harbor. Want to see something funny? Go to Pearl Harbor and ask one of the veterans on duty at the time, one who now serves as a tour guide, which planes Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett flew. They lose their minds. Veterans hate no movie more than Pearl Harbor. You know how Jewish people feel about that new Mel Gibson crucifixion movie? Same thing.
By the way, speaking of Pearl Harbor ... I have to say, call me callous, but after 9/11, memorials to disasters (Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, Rick Pitino's era as coach of the Boston Celtics) just don't affect me as much anymore. I know it was horrible, and I know it was an historic event, but I'm sorry, but I just keep thinking, "Nope. We had it worse." I know it's wrong. Sorry. But that's what I think.
Mercifully, the stay in Honolulu was short, and we were off to Kauai, the smallest, least-populated island, which is to say, the one that fat Americans haven't overrun with Burger Kings. The island is actually an old volcano peeking up from the ocean. Its climate is alternately breathtaking (in Poipu Beach, where I'm staying, it's 80 degrees and sunny, all the time, like Judgment City in Defending Your Life) and otherworldly (in Waimea Canyon, it rains all day every day. Honestly. If Kurt Cobain had grown up there, he'd have killed himself at 6.) But it is quiet and barely inhabited and is the closest approximation to what the Garden of Eden must have been like. The water is the purest blue, the sand is fine and sticks everywhere, and there are pine trees in the middle of crosswalks.
I really can't overstate how beautiful it is here. What's the best way to put it? When I left a piece of bread out for a couple of days too long and it molded, it actually grew pineapples.
One of the funniest things about Kauai is its strange mutations of animals we all thought we knew. We're out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by nothing, so animals evolve in odd, cute ways. I keep seeing species I'd never even imagined before; I feel like Paul Bettany in Master and Commander. Waking up on the balcony yesterday morning, Pina Colada dripping down my shirt, I saw a bizarre combination of seagull, duck, and horse. It looked at me and levitated. Every insect has some sort of evolutionary twist. I saw a beetle with a snout, a cricket with red racing strips, and a mosquito that spoke Latin.
This is what vacations are supposed to be like: Planning to go out and see the Farmers Market, or crafts fair, or hula-dancing bears, or whatever, and instead being so drunk on Mai Tais by 8 p.m. that you fall asleep in a puddle of your own drool. Or somebody else's drool.
This probably has something to do with growing up in Middle America where there are no large bodies of water, but I have to tell you: I cannot get used to women just walking around in bikinis. I'm sorry; I just keep staring at their breasts. I know it's just a swimming suit and I should be enlightened and not be so lame and infantile, but I can't help it: I just keep looking at their breasts. They don't even have to be attractive; it's just that they're there ... everywhere! It's like every girl is just hanging around in their lingerie, all day. This is the norm in tropical environments, I'm sure, but to me, it's just a bunch of chicks running around in bras. Sorry. I'm immature.
While I'm here, I am being considerate enough not to call my friends and say asshole things like, "Hey, how's the snow? Did you guys rise above freezing yet?" Therefore, I do not appreciate some of the locals, who mostly work in the magnificent outdoors, not extending me the same courtesy. My girlfriend and I were on a raft tour yesterday. Our guide, a handsome older Hawaiian man who was all-too-happy to be showing tourists around the ocean all day, kept rubbing in the fact that at the end of the week, we'd all go back to desk jobs and he'd still be out on this boat.
"[overlooking the staggering Na Pali Cliffs] So, is the view from your office this nice?"
"Well, we here in Hawaii don't subscribe to the same money-grubbing that you folks on the mainland do."
"You people are so pale. Do they even let you outside where you're from?"
Come to think of it, I am getting kind of annoyed with the pressure they put on you here to say "Aloha" all the time. Not to get provincial here, but "hello," "hi," and "goodbye" are perfectly adequate words. They serve their purpose about as well as any words in the English language. But here, the locals look at you like some sort of landlubber if you accidentally let slip a "hello" rather than "aloha." Speaking of which, the Hawaiian word for "thank you" is "Mahalo." I am finding this word to be incredibly passive-aggressive. We're staying in a condo here, and it is covered in signs like "Do Not Smoke Here. Mahalo!" or "Dispose of your trash in an orderly fashion. Your mother does not work here. Mahalo!" Mahalo is a word that the locals use so that they do not sound like Lumbergh in Office Space. But I'm not buying it.
It is impossible not to look like a dork on vacation. It can't be done. You could be wearing the most fashionable, hip outfit, and you will still look like a doofus when you're on vacation. In New York, I have long hair that I can fool people into thinking is "mod." (Or maybe just fool myself, I dunno.) Here, I just look like an idiot in sandals.
I am however, beginning to understand the ethos of the Hawaiian shirt. I just bought my first one. It has a woman at a luau dancing and watching a cargo plane drift past mountains overhead, and it has pastel prints surrounding the picture, like a gay frame. It is a ridiculous shirt. And I love it. I find myself wanting to wear a Tigers hat, grow a mustache, and start having Vietnam flashbacks as a prim-and-proper English butler follows alongside, supporting my quest and cracking wise.
The Hawaiian shirt sums up all that is great and terrible about Hawaii. It's comfortable, loopy, and can only be worn here. At home, if I wore it walking down the street, I would be justifiably beaten. But here? Here the normal rules do not apply. And I think that's what vacations are supposed to be about.
Eventually I will have to go home, and the shirt will go in storage. Do not mock me for enjoying this while I can. Mahalo!
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