In 1931, Salvador Dali painted “The Persistence of Memory.”

In 2011, I was thinking about another marathon and Stefan Kiesbye talked me into a new kind of training.

The link between Dali’s picture and Stefan’s advice isn’t only that I sometimes felt like the monstrous form Dali dropped in the middle of his composition, or that as I became exhausted my watch melted and drooped. It has to do with persistence.

When I’m walking or running easily the thoughts I think usually stick around until I’m done, even if they weren’t very useful thoughts. But if I’m pushing, they drop away from me as surely as my lactic acid level and heart rate rise. So I can tell you that I planned this piece many times while running. Some of those plans might have been pretty good. I remember being pleased with them, but that’s all. The one I thought of this afternoon’s going to be the one, which is a pity. Or maybe not. Maybe those other ones were nothing more than the endorphins talking.

In Hilo (Hawai’i) I have a 10-mile loop that I run once on Tuesday, twice on Sunday. It gains about 1200’ elevation, which means a long grind uphill (leaving me short on endorphins), but it also loses that 1200’ – which can mean an exhilarating descent.

Here are the streets I run on: Wailuku Drive, Waiau Street, Waianuenue Avenue, Puuhina Street, Kaumana Drive, Akolea Road, Waianuenue Avenue, Peepee Falls Road, Wailuku Drive.

Here are the dogs: a yapper near the Hilo Door of Faith Church, a deep-voiced one farther up Kaumana Drive in an unfenced yard, a couple more little ones, the parrot that barks like a dog (near Chong St), and then on Upper Kaumana eight or ten big mean looking bastards in fenced yards. I look at each gate to make sure it’s not open. One nice little one, though, and then the laid-back guy at Peepee Falls Rd, who only barks when I’m walking.

Here are the landmarks: about half a mile out, the new version of the First Foreign Church, just beyond there is where C almost lost control of the Bad Ass Pink Chevy, scaring the crap out of us both, and about a mile out, the hospital where my mother and father both died. Then it’s on downhill to Rainbow Falls, where a falling rock put a scar on me I still carry, a couple of tenths farther to the ex-Hilo Memorial Hospital (where I was born, and had my appendix out, another scar). It’s now a Hawaii County Annex, housing Adult Care, which on my second loop always seem appropriate. It’s where we took bodies after the 1960 tsunami. That’s the end of the first downhill.

Then it’s uphill 4.7 miles. Turn and go past the guy who was nailing hubcaps on his garage in the late fifties, and still is, and on past the Kaumana Fire House, the Crossing Guard lady (always good for a friendly hello) the Door of Faith Church (for sale) the tsunami warning siren (3 miles), Crivello’s Malasadas and Smoked Meats (best malasadas and bean soup on the Big Island), up and up past the nicely-restored Ford Ranchero, the place where somebody spilled a lot of paint on the road, the dangerous blind corner at Akala Rd, the green condom,

Kaumana Cave, the First Abandoned Sofa, the Abandoned Projection TV, the dead mongoose, the Second Abandoned Sofa (6 mile point, the peak, where I turn around), the wooden bridge on Akolea Road, the place where, in 1959,  Jimmy Watt laid 180 feet of rubber with his father’s Oldsmobile 98, and – getting close to home – the old Excelsior Dairy (where the most beautiful girl at Hilo High held court), Boiling Pots (where most years somebody misjudges the Wailuku River and drowns), down the hill past the old Goo place, and finally home.

I like that loop because it takes me through much of my Hilo life (and my TNB life as well). The uphill is tough but the Second Abandoned Sofa’s waiting for me, and if it’s Sunday, then there’s Gatorade behind the highest boulder in the Kaumana Caves parking area (just past the green condom) and there’s water in the Abandoned Projection TV.

Of all the landmarks I’m most fond of Green Condom, unless I’m very tired and then Second Abandoned Sofa is my friend.

Let me tell you about that green condom. It was on the shoulder the first time I ran up Kaumana Drive, in January 2011, and it was on the shoulder the next to the last time I ran up Kaumana Drive, in late April 2011. I’ve always wondered about an erection lasting more than four hours, but how about a condom that didn’t move for nearly four months? Rain. A couple of small earthquakes. A guy running. No nosing dog? No offended person kicking? Nothing moved that sucker.

Every Tuesday and every Sunday I’d clear the Ranchero, watch my step on the bad shoulder near the spilled paint, and ease around the blind corner wondering if it would still be there. It always was.

Back in the fifties when we boys rode our bikes on Akolea Road (in those days it was called the Burma Road) we would see condoms. The Burma Road was a favorite parking place. It wasn’t paved then and there were almost no houses. Certainly we felt stirrings when we saw condoms, because we knew what rubbers were even though none of us had yet put one to its intended use. In 2011 I wasn’t consumed by sexual stirrings along Akolea Road, although I did have some memories – C and I made out there many times. But at nearly 68 I was usually too tired (9 miles down on the one-loop days, and 18 on the two-loop days). I hate admitting that, but it’s true.

So, the green condom. The first few times I ran by it I did have those boyish thoughts – well, actually adult boyish thoughts.

Did somebody keep it as a memento mori of the little death and then toss it out the window after pulling out of the lot and heading back down to Hilo? I wondered how it got where it was. The parking lot, where it must have been put to use, was a good hundred yards uphill. I couldn’t see a guy behind the wheel slinging it past his girlfriend and out the passenger side window. Maybe it slid from a pickup bed. Maybe the action was in the bushes and no car was involved. Playing the odds, I assumed heterosexual used-condom slinging. Ugh.

These questions kept me busy for a week, maybe two. Green condom, road, parking lot, sex, what happened here?

But by the third week that rubber had lost any sexual significance and become the raiser-of-different questions.

Why are there green condoms? Who buys them? Are there “rainbow packs,” just as with 3.5” floppies (speaking of the past)? Might Dali have had a green condom in mind when he painted the hanging watch? Did the rain wash it to where I found it – and why no farther? What, exactly, fastened it to the road and immobilized it? Why hadn’t it faded? Could DNA still be recovered from it?

By the fourth week it was simply a landmark, cataloged and stored away. If I was tired and felt like walking (not a rare event, with 1200 feet to climb) I’d say, “Shit, I gotta walk, but only from the Dangerous Blind Curve at Akala Road (4 miles from my house) to the Green Condom (4.1 miles from my house),” or I might say “Suck it up, no stopping until the Green Condom,” or – if I was feeling good – I might say “At the Green Condom, pick it up and hold it to Nice Little Dog,” but if it was going badly (for example, on the second loop on a hot day when the rats had gotten to my Gatorade behind the Highest Boulder because I hadn’t screwed the cap on properly), I might say, “Shit, I’ve had it, so I’ll walk to the Abandoned Projection TV and hope nobody stole the bottle of water I put there, and then maybe I can run home from there without collapsing, but at least if I do collapse I have my ID bracelet or somebody could take my GPS watch and use the backtrack facility and figure out where I came from, so they’ll know where to send Ruth my body, except if I make it to Akolea Road and the woman with the cockatoo is walking her goat I might get some water.”

Generally I didn’t think those thoughts as long run-on more or less grammatical sentences. No, it was more like, “Go Green Condom!” or “Rats! Shit! Maybe water! TV!” or “Downhill, hot, Goat Lady, maybe OK, maybe die.” Like that.

Thus the Green Condom’s transformation. By the time it disappeared I was in much better shape than when I first saw it, and it was in worse shape. I didn’t make its portrait until the end of March, so I can’t show it to you in the flush of its smooth, plump youth.

I was saddened by its loss. It had been a good and true friend. Always there for me. First and Second Abandoned Couches and Abandoned Projection TV were also friends. Dead Mongoose lasted more than a month. I thought something would eat it, but no. I have not spoken of Abandoned Engine Block and its companion Abandoned Cylinder Head, newcomers who appeared in February, just below Second Couch, but above Dead Mongoose. To my surprise Engine Block didn’t yield up its oil for a couple of days, perhaps retaining it in some wretched hope it might turn over again. I had to run through it carefully until it soaked into the asphalt.

My friends the Abandoned Ones at the top of Kaumana Drive spoke to me of utility beyond breakage and abandonment, as did the condom (which, I hope, broke only after use).

Just as it took a few weeks for me to stop thinking about what the Green Condom had been used for and how it had come to be where it was, and to turn it into my landmark, it took me a few weeks to go in the opposite direction with the Abandoned Ones at the top.

At first I thought they were cool. Turn around at the Second Abandoned Sofa, exactly 6 miles out. What a thing! I wrote Stefan an email about it. But then when Block and Head appeared, and the oil spilled out, it didn’t seem so cool.

Yeah, landmarks. Sure. Landmarks that meant the rest of my run was cake, almost all downhill home. But shit, I’d say, people dumped their crap at the mauka end of Kaumana Drive for what? Not to make landmarks for me.

Was it to save a trip to the dump? Lazy bastards. A little work with a heavy hammer or a crowbar and all of the Abandoned could have been dumped for free. Then my knee started bothering me and then it was time to go to the Mainland. Sorry, the Continent.

But I’ll be running up Kaumana Drive again in a few weeks.

I don’t think my landmarks will settle back into being landmarks again, because now that I’ve written about them I won’t be able to flush them out like lactic acid.

I think I’d better heave Block and Head into the Toyota and take them to the metal dump. Maybe stink maile and grass will eat up the sofas. Hilo rain will melt Projection TV’s particleboard case. And I’d say the odds favor a new condom at Kaumana Caves. I can only hope for a mightily persistent one. Blue, I think. I like blue.

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DON MITCHELL is a writer and ecological anthropologist, born and raised in Hilo, Hawai'i (where he graduated from a public high school -- in Hawai'i, that's important). He has published academic works, poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, and both published and exhibited photographs. He recently published a story collection, A Red Woman Was Crying, and is working on a novel set on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea, where he did fieldwork. He lives happily in Hilo with his college girlfriend, a poet and yoga teacher, whom he lost for forty years but, lucky for him, finally found.

29 responses to “The Persistence of the Green Condom”

  1. How fun. I love Green Condom. In the early nineties in Berlin, H&M sold green condoms, they were called Birds and Bees or something very similar. Problem was, they had the tendency to tear, so if you were stuck with only green ones, you needed two. I won’t go into any more detail.

    So I’m glad this green condom is made of something very hearty. Seems like a rock solid condom!

    Love the juxtaposition of your picture and Dali’s painting!

  2. Irene Zion says:

    I agree with Stefan about your photograph, Don. I laughed when I saw it next to Dali’s painting.

    My knees betrayed me several years back, so I just walk my trail with my dogs, but I have landmarks too, though nothing as, um, colorful.

    It struck me before you talked about it that there was an awful lot of junk on the side of the road in Paradise. That made me sad.

    When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, someone pointed out the “Long Island whitefish” on the beach. I taught many of my little friends what to call them. I was so ingenuous and, in my defense, exceptionally nearsighted to boot, that it was years before I actually knew what they were.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      It is sad. On the Big Island there’s a lot of talk about caring for the ‘aina (the land) but not everybody gets it.

      That’s good about the Long Island whitefish. After I posted the piece I remembered that although we called them rubbers, we also called them “rubber cocks,” which now strikes me as weird. “Cock rubbers” works, but how to make sense of a rubber cock?

      Yeah, I know. But I’m not going there.

  3. Jessica Blau says:

    Great story, Don. The narrative voice in our heads is so odd, isn’t it? I have a horrible sense of direction and remember things visually. So when I’m driving to someone’s house (one I’ve never been to before) I memorize landmarks on the way in so I can follow them on the way out. And it’s always in that strange head voice that says things like, “bleak house turn right,” and “slumping grey porch, left.”

    I’m sorry to hear the green condom is gone!

    • Don Mitchell says:

      It’s long been hypothesized that navigation by landmark is the basic female method, while navigating by dead reckoning is the male method. I think there’s moderately decent evidence that something like that really is happening in human beings, but there’s a lot of overlap.

      I’m like you, and I’m not the only man I know who is.

      Anyway, I’m glad you liked it. I liked your Jong piece also. At our wedding, my second wife read a Jong poem that was rather explicit. The Unitarian minister hadn’t known what was coming but he was a good guy and only we could see the strange look on his face.

      I remember having an exchange with Uche about pidgins/creoles and I said that the Melanesian pidgin word for vagina was kan, an obvious derivation from cunt, and that it amused me to see missionary medical workers using that word (appropriately, of course) but with full knowledge of its derivation. As to whether Sister Mary Melita, the obstetrical nurse, ever got used to it or not, I can’t know. I wasn’t about to ask.

  4. Jessica Blau says:

    Please, Don, you MUST write a post about Sister Mary Melita and everyone around her using the word KAN!

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Not surprisingly, Melanesian pidgin’s word for penis is kok.

      You want Sister Mary Melita? You’ll have to wait for News of Elsewhere (my novel-in-progress) where she appears, modified of course, as Sister Mary Susan.

      (The nuns belonged to an order that assigned them “Mary” as their first names, always.)

  5. Paul Clayton says:

    Good one Don. I’m going to have to get on my Schwinn Dynocycle, or whatever it’s called, the one the has the big fan on it. Else I’ll feel guilty. May you run forever. I had to give it up. The knees, Achille’s knees. Yeah, I remember seeing the condoms in the fields when I was a kid and wondering what the hell they were. The boys a little older were eager to tell you. And I’ll never forget how angry I was when I first moved to SF, went out on the town, and came back to my car to see a used rubber on the fender, evidently tossed out the window by some MF.

    BTW, my next post features Waikiki. I’m gonna try and get it up (the post) tonight.

    Later.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Waikiki! I can’t wait. True, we Neighbor Island people like to make fun of Waikiki, but at heart we’re envious. There’s probably more beach around Waikiki than on the entire Big Island. We’re mostly lava rocks and crashing surf.

      I don’t know about this tossing-of-condoms. It’s weird. Do you spin around like a hammer thrower or a shot-putter? Twirl it like a party favor? I’ve thrown my share of water balloons but this seems different.

  6. Reno Romero says:

    You know, I just like the pace your writing has. I don’t want it is, but it’s not rushed, it’s just, uh, paced. I dunno. Anyhow, I like it.

    I love that you run. Running one of the most enjoyable things in my life. Along with football, but that’s for another conversation. Wait. If I remember correctly, you’re a fan of those old Dolphin shorts, right?

    OK, Don, keep running. And writing.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Thanks, Reno. I’m glad my pacing works for you.

      Here’s a piece of a poem I greatly admire:

      “. . . And now? And now she was telling the story,
      an old woman talking to children.
      Words came to her, so perfectly at the pace
      of things they seemed not to move at all— . . . ”

      Irving Feldman, “Ever After,” Collected Poems, 1954-2004 Schocken.

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    I desperately wanted there to be answers to all the questions regarding the green condom. I thought that’s where it was heading… a weird sort of Sherlock Holmes type story…

    And then, quite bizarrely, I was hoping that the green condom would suddenly appear somewhere else on an alternate running route some weeks later…

    • Don Mitchell says:

      “I say, Watson,” Holmes sputtered, “fancy that, a green condom or as the French call it, an English Hat.”

      Sorry. No answers, and it remains the only GC in my experience. I’ll shoot you an email if another one pops up, though.

      I’m reminded of a case in Papua New Guinea in the seventies when well-meaning Australian women, trying to help out, ordered cases of “flesh-colored” condoms for distribution to the local people. Whose flesh color, though? They hadn’t stopped to think, and ended up with white.

      High-contrast rubbers, yes indeed.

  8. D.R. Haney says:

    Green would seem to be a strange color for a condom, huh? Maybe, he said jokingly, it was designed to be used, and discarded, in grassy areas, where it’s supposed to blend.

    I like that enough of Hilo hasn’t changed that there continue to be reminders of your past there. I’ve rarely visited my hometown since I left it, but it’s changed considerably since I moved away, and the last time I was on NYC’s Delancey Street, where I moved when I was nineteen and lived for four years, I didn’t recognize it. I was in a taxi, and a friend mentioned that we were on Delancey, and it looked nothing like it used to look. There wasn’t even a single landmark I knew from the old days.

    I think my personal navigation system is probably a combination of dead reckoning and the use of landmarks. But I’ve never really given it any thought until now.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Having those old landmarks around is the upside of small-town stagnant economy life, I guess.

      One wing of my high school burned down in the eighties (I think) and the school rebuilt it to closely resemble the one that burned.

      I keep noticing little things that I don’t do. For example, every time I go down to town I drive past my elementary school. The building seems unaltered. Nearly every time I say I ought to walk around it and see what it feels like. I can remember all my classrooms (it was a small school). But I never do it. Somehow just seeing it standing there looking as it did in 1950 is enough for me. Weird.

      It’s interesting to explore personal navigation. Really, I mean it — for me it’s especially interesting when it goes wrong, and not so much for practical reasons as for “what part of me missed what thing” reasons. There are a couple of areas in Greater Buffalo where I know I’m going to go wrong if I don’t pay close attention, and even being wary I might take a completely wrong turn. I’ve never figured out what causes that, but at least I know where it’s going to happen.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        I’ve always thought I had a bit of a knack for navigation, maybe because I visited a great many European capitals alone, with nothing to guide me but the simplest of maps, and I could always easily find my way around. In Paris, for instance, I walked an astonishing distance from my place in the fifth arrondissement to some place way across the Seine — I forget where, though I know the journey began with a stop in Montmartre — and back, scarcely able to put one foot in front of the other by the time I climbed into bed, and I’d only been in Paris for a couple of days. London, on the other hand, was a bitch to navigate, and ironically, I had a very detailed guide, the one everyone in London, including natives, had: A to Z.

        This piece in fact reminded me of the time I revisited my first grammar school (I attended three), not long after I moved to New York and returned to Virginia one weekend. I went in the middle of the night, and the school seemed so small compared to the way I remembered it. But that’s the cliche, isn’t it? I also remember the sound of a cable on the flagpole as it blew around — a very lonely sound. But that’s undoubtedly a cliche also.

  9. Paul Clayton says:

    Don, make sure you post when you get close to publishing News of Elsewhere.
    Best!

  10. Mary Richert says:

    Don, it’s so good to see another piece up from you. I missed this stuff!

    My best friend growing up was a little boy who lived down the street from me. We used to walk to the gas station/truck stop down the road from our neighborhood and buy candy together on summer days. One day when we were around 10 or 12, we discovered that the gas station bathroom contained a condom vending machine. My friend bought a condom from it, and we brought it back home to my house. He wanted to try and use it (yes), but I thought that was a bad idea. Instead, he took it out, unrolled it completely, then tried to put it on his penis as though it were a sock. It was a great moment. Things flapped around a lot. Then we threw the condom away. So there’s one more way your green condom might have arrived.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Hmm. Could be! I’m impressed with how long you kept that condom, though, and how you found somebody to put it in my path so I could write about it. You rule!

      That’s a good story, though. In my teenaged days there were no vending machines. Either you stole from your father (if he used them), or sucked it up and asked at the drug store.

      I should have commented on your last piece. The truth is that I got sidetracked realizing that I didn’t recognize any songs except “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and that made me feel old and out of it.

      As for the funerals, though, I was with you there, and the box of found objects from your mother. I have a lot of stuff from my Mom and no way to interpret it. Also I’m with you about failing to do the journalism thing. Shit! I have questions now, my son has questions, and everybody’s dead and nobody left a nice clear autobiography or anything resembling it. I had at least a couple of chances to sit them down in front of a camcorder and say “Talk! Talk about anything, I have plenty of tape.” But I didn’t do it. There’s so much I don’t know about them, and now I never will.

      I did find out that my Dad’s small-town central Kansas high school nickname was “Pain.” But I had no way to learn why, or what kind of pain was meant. Nuts.

  11. Gloria says:

    Oh, man. I so want to hear a parrot bark like a dog.

    …the woman with the cockatoo is walking her goat… Your stories never fail to entertain, Don. 🙂

    Interesting meditation on the meaning we imbue an object with, and how it’s all meaningless except for context. I would’ve made up stories about the green condom, too. I probably would make up stories about all of it.

    On another note – you still run that far that often at 68 years old?! Have you always been a runner? When did you take to it? I’m inspired. I need to get my ass moving!

    • Don Mitchell says:

      Sometimes the cockatoo woman has a beautiful macaw on her shoulder. She and her husband have a bunch of animals that like to go for walks.

      So make up your own stories and we’ll get together a collection. I admit it sounds like a writing exercise: imagine a green condom on the road . . . .

      I took up running at 30, and not because of the magical being-30. That’s when I finished up in the rain forest and emerged lean and fit from lots of walking. Some of the staff at the U of Papua New Guinea said, “There’s this thing called jogging, want to try it with us?” I did and I loved it, and I never stopped loving it. I’m really slow now, but I can still go long distances. I did a 42-miler in June (actually 68k in honor of being 68) but it took me all day to get it done.

      Any kind of aerobic exercise gets that blood moving, the brain needs blood, it’s simple. Well, maybe not that simple. But almost.

  12. Joe Daly says:

    Don-

    A thoroughly enjoyable return to TNB. Not that you went away obviously, but haven’t seen you around for a bit.

    You should submit this to Runner’s World- you capture the experience of running the way only a seasoned pavement pounder could- we catalog details and landmarks that the rest of the residents would never notice in a million years, measuring out precise distances and qualifying stretches by their grade and surface. We really do need to get the TNB Track Club up and running. Especially now that I’m getting my weekly mileage up.

    As Duke pointed out, green is a curious color for a condom. I wonder if the wearer went through much of a decision making process before settling on green.

    “Orange? Nah… Blue? Nah… Green? Nah…”

    “No, wait- let’s see that green one again. Yeah, that’ll do.”

    Fun stuff, man.

    • Don Mitchell says:

      It’s good to be back, Joe. I’ve been immersed in fiction, but a dose of CNF feels great.

      I believe in the rainbow pack explanation, but I’m too chickenshit to go on Google and see if there’s such a thing. Amazon?

      OK. Yeah, there is.

      http://tinyurl.com/3zovbu8

      I don’t know about RW. Maybe too staid? I ought to start a thread on letsrun.com and link to it. Do you ever go to that site? It can be amusing but the message board has a shitload of strange regular posters.

      It’s certainly true about the details and landmarks. Not long ago I was describing a race course to a woman I know, who would be red-lining the course (she won First American) and I described one section as “a rise.” A friend of mine who regularly walked that street, just going about his business, was surprised. A rise? What do you mean, a rise? He’d never noticed it because it didn’t affect his walking at all. But 3 miles into a 4 mile race . . . .

  13. Erika Rae says:

    I feel like a green condom should be compostable. Like maybe it’s misrepresented itself. It’s a dishonest condom.

    This was fun. I like seeing your life in Hilo. Good stuff.

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