I am looking through lists of links on the Internet. It is Sunday night, but it is almost Monday morning. It is 11:30 p.m. The new Boardwalk Empire episode ended at 10 p.m., which means it should now be available to watch for free on a video streaming website.

Please explain what just happened.

I was just told to “Keep it secret, keep it safe!”

 

What is your earliest memory?

Tripping over the hose and breaking my collarbone for the first of four times.

 

If you weren’t a musician / writer, what other profession would you choose?

I’d make a great king.

One day last month I checked in with BookScan via my Author Central account on Amazon and discovered that a copy of Primacy had been sold in Colorado Springs.

When I was a literary agent I once chased an author in Colorado Springs, a fine writer who worked at the university there but never produced enough words to fill a whole book for me. Nice guy, too, but I doubt he was the buyer.

When I was eleven years old, my parents presented me with an awesome music rig for Christmas. Within minutes of opening the box, after installing the batteries and internal storage, I was listening to popular tunes. With the press of a button I could download songs and play them back at my leisure. And download I did.

But there were drawbacks to this particular rig. It possessed only one speaker. Its wireless connection was actually an AM/FM radio, and the internal storage was a finite supply of Certron Normal Bias 90 minute cassettes. Also, whenever I recorded songs to tape, the first ten or fifteen seconds were invariably marred by some jackass DJ talking over the top of the music. And the batteries ran out too quickly.

You don’t come of age in any measurable amount of time. Some people find they’re still passing through teenage well into their midlife crisis. Some find they never knew what teenage was to begin with.

How are you?

By Mary Hendrie

Letters

Hey John,

Thanks for the note on my wall. Your exuberant “hello” was heartening like good soup on a bad day, which isn’t to say yesterday was bad. It was a good day. I heard from you, after all, and work went pretty well. Aside from the hour I spent looking through photos of friends I no longer speak to, I’d say the overall experience for the day was net positive.

But it’s a funny thing when people write on your wall and want to know, “How are you?” It’s a more sincere question than the passing-in-the-grocery-store variety, but it’s loaded, and it can’t really be answered via wall post.

How am I? Well, I’m alive, but somewhat disillusioned. I miss the slow, easy life of our hometown, but I don’t miss the ignorance of some of the people. I quit smoking since we last spoke, and sometimes I wish I hadn’t.

I live near DC, where the air quality is toxic, and I know because they tell me every day on the radio about the air quality — code orange, which means we should all avoid strenuous outdoor activity. I’d like to lose a little weight, but that’s hard to do with all these codes to follow.

Every day, I drive home and scan the radio for familiar songs to fight off the particular loneliness that breeds in my car, and when Morrisey comes on, I belt out all the words, right or wrong.

I have a good job in a boring city, a great husband, and a normal sex life, I think (but I don’t know what’s normal). Oh, and I wrote a book of sorts, but actually it was my grad school thesis, and I can’t bring myself to look at the thing for editing purposes or to print copies to send to agents, so it’s just sitting on my shelf now. Some of it is pretty good.

To tell the truth, when I look at all our old friends on Facebook, the people who are outrageous and fabulous and those whose lives are quiet and generic, I feel I’ve lost something. I’ve been hollowed out a bit, and I don’t know how it happened or if I am alone. I feel I’ve had limbs severed, but all my parts are here. I wasn’t looking when this phantom part of me died, so I’m not really sure what I’m trying to revive.

I have not yet joined the ranks of lonely folks who teach their pet birds to sing pop songs, but I have lost a couple cats. Anyway, I guess birds do it for some people. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t like birds much.

The truth is, I keep waiting, John. I keep thinking something amazing will happen, and then I’ll feel right. Like the book I’m meant to write will just spontaneously come into being as a best seller. Then I’ll feel like the person I was always meant to be. Like my ship has come in, right? But until then … until then …

Well, I took a bike ride after work, and I went down to the grocery store just to see if I could do it. I wanted to go inside and buy some squash to cook for dinner, but I didn’t know what to do with my bike while I went inside, so I just turned around and rode back home. It was fun, anyway.

And tonight, we’ll celebrate my husband’s birthday with a few friends at the house. Our house. Did I tell you I own a house now? We’ll eat crabs and drink beer on the back deck. We have a lot of trees, which are pretty, and a nice view of a little creek. After dinner, we’ll watch a movie. It’ll be fun. Maybe before the night is over someone will end up naked, but most of our friends have outgrown that.

I was about to say life ain’t half bad, but maybe it is, John. But even if it is, 50% is better than some presidents get. And the truth is, at least I have people, ya know? At least I love someone and go outside sometimes. Code orange be damned, right?

So, how are you?

Please explain what just happened.

Right before I opened this document, a rerun of Cold Case started on TNT HD and my chihuahua climbed up on my shoulders and wrapped herself around my neck to nap.

 

I performed this piece at the TNB Literary Experience in December 2009. It’s available on YouTube at: Is There Really a Hawaiian Word for Christmas?

 

I told Kimberly my title would be “Deconstructing Mele Kalikimaka,” because I thought if I didn’t have an intellectual-sounding title nobody would pay any attention.

Kimberly said, “Don’t worry. They’ll all be drunk or stoned or busy hitting on each other, and won’t pay attention anyway.”

“I get it,” I said, “like when I was teaching night school.”

 

Barack Obama and I were born and raised in the same far-away exotic foreign land.

Kenya!

All right, Hawai’i.

Obama and I shared many Christmas traditions. For example, enduring endless repetitions of Bing Crosby’s “Mele Kalikimaka.” On the radio! In the stores! White Christmas was bad enough, but that was a Mainland thing so that didn’t matter.

We never had white Christmases.

But we did have Hawaiian words, and we knew which were traditional words and which were transliterations, and a song built on a not really-Hawaiian phrase for Christmas, sung by a Mainland guy with full orchestra . . . and the Andrews Sisters . . . was an insult.

 

Transliteration. Deconstruction. Actually I’m going to do a contextualization, which is more accessible. I know agile minds out there are already all over Mele Kalikimaka’s historical specificity, hermaneutically of course, and while considering bilateral symmetry and propositional ramification they are hoping, indeed praying, that I won’t inappropriately conjugate anything or descend into misplaced concreteness – meaning that if I do a Bing Crosby imitation I’ll be in deep shit.

But I will recite the words.

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say,
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day,
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway,
Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright,
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night,
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say “Merry Christmas to you.”

Had enough?

 

So . . . is Mele Kalikimaka really the Hawaiian way to say Merry Christmas? That depends on what you mean by Hawaiian.

If “ancient Hawaiian,” no. They didn’t have Christmas. The first they heard about it was from the gangs of Pacific rogues who fell upon Hawai’i in the early nineteenth century – missionaries, who told them to worship Christ, and sea captains, whalers, and traders, who taught them what to do on Christmas.

It could have gone like this:

The missionary says, “Yes, on Christmas we celebrate the birth of our saviour Jesus Christ with prayers and a church service.”

“Uh-huh,” the Hawaiians say.

The whaler says, “What we do is cut down a big tree, bring it inside the house, put candles on it, say Merry Christmas, light them, get drunk, eat, keep drinking and eating and saying Merry Christmas until we pass out.”

“Sounds like a plan!” the Hawaiians say. “But saying that holiday’s name is rough . . . we don’t use C or R or S in our language. So . . . Merry, Mele, yes, that’s easy, but Ka-ri, Ka-li, uh . . . how about Kalikimaka?”

“Close enough,” the whaler says, “when you’re drunk it won’t matter.”

 

So . . . Mele Kalikimaka! Merry Christmas! Hawaiian* or not Hawaiian?

Let me go to my Pukui-Elbert Hawaiian-English dictionary.

Mele, here it is, meaning “song, or chant.” Umm.

Kalikimaka, yes, here it is, “Christmas.”

All right, it means “Christmas song or chant.”

 

“Christmas song or chant is Hawaii’s way

to say Merry Christmas to you.”

Hmmm. Nah.

 

Now in English we can unpack Christmas into “Christ” and “mass,” so let’s take Kalikimaka apart too.

kaliki, corset

maka, beloved one

 

Here we go:

Chant for a beloved corset is Hawaii’s way….”

I don’t think so.

 

Hawaiian Christmas, as we have learned, is green and bright. This is unlike, for example, Christmas in Biloxi, Mississippi, but let’s paddle on past that.

To properly celebrate Christmas you need a tree.

Eighteenth century Hawai’i, the most remote islands on earth, had no pines. But Norfolk Island, a British penal colony down towards Australia, did. The British brought them to Hawai’i, where they flourished – the pines, not the convicts.

Each year our family had to make a decision. Should we get a local Christmas tree, that would be a Penal tree, or should we get a Mainland tree, that would be a Douglas fir, but everybody called them Mainland Christmas trees. They were superior to Penal trees because, well, they were from the Mainland.

I went college on the Mainland. Freshman year, Introduction to Botany, the professor was showing slides of evergreens. He put up a Douglas fir.

“Who knows this one?”

“It’s a Mainland Christmas tree?”

 

Ah . . . the Mainland. That distant paradise across the Pacific, where everything was better.

They had TV, but we didn’t. They had FM radio, and we had AM. They had places for kids to get into trouble . . . but so did we.

Weekend nights at the shore were like anywhere – parked cars, kids smoking, drinking, making out, listening to the radio. But we’d be trying to pull in Mainland stations, twenty-five hundred, three thousand miles away. The farther, the better. KGO, San Francisco was good, KSL Salt Lake was better, and one night a kid with a hopped-up car radio started yelling that he had WLS Chicago. We got out of our cars and clustered around, listening.

Our little station played the same songs, but they sounded better coming from the Mainland. At Christmastime, a little static and some fade improved even Mele Kalikimaka.

I was making out with Leilani one night, with San Francisco pounding in.

“Get Salt Lake,” she said, “and I’ll take off my bra.”

 

But that was teen life. Small-kid time was harder. One Christmas we were decorating our Penal tree with the radio on and Bing was singing away. For the first time, I paid attention to the bit about the sun and stars. It was frightening. Where had I gone wrong? Was the Mainland a stranger place than I thought?

“Mom,” I said, “Mom! You know the song? Is here the only place where the sun shines by day and all the stars at night?”

 

One Christmas I asked the minister down at the First Foreign Church if Kalikimaka really meant Christmas.

He looked at me. “That’s the Hawaiian word for Christmas, son.”

I said, “But the Hawaiian word for Christ is Kristo, and since you told us we should put Christ back in Christmas, shouldn’t it be Kristomaka?”

He looked at me.

I said, “Because then Mele Kristomaka would mean Chant About Beloved Christ.”

He kept looking at me.

“Beloved Christ . . . right?” I said.

Finally he said, “Son, we’re Protestants. We don’t chant.”

 

 

*Hawaiian is a living language, and of course it has transliterations, and words with multiple meanings, as do all languages. I plead guilty to cherry-picking meanings. Please don’t mistake the little games I’m playing with Hawaiian words for legitimate linguistics work. Speakers of Hawaiian know that, for example, the word I’ve rendered as mele has several different pronunciations, and each has a different meaning. Because this is a humorous piece and meant to be spoken, I haven’t used proper orthography. My uncle, the late Donald Kilolani Mitchell of Kam Schools, would probably be annoyed, and the late Mary Kawena Pukui, whom I knew as a boy, would probably gently scold me. E kala mai ia’u!


My boyfriend and I were driving home from the movies the other night. Which movie is not the point, but for the sake of setting the mood, it was a comedy and we laughed and we laughed.

The point is he’s got satellite radio in his car and he was flipping around to find something decent for us to listen to.

We tend toward a channel called Deep Tracks (AKA excuse to play understandably forgotten Emerson, Lake, and Palmer tunes) or Top Tracks (AKA excuse to play “Won’t Get Fooled Again” again, but with the benefit of really crisp acoustics.)

One can also find some decent comedy from time to time. And a hardcore rap show hosted by Ludacris. He and his partner swear and everything. We never listen to indie rock on satellite. I don’t know why.

Sometimes Mark turns to Hank’s Place, a channel that usually plays fine and classic country tunes. This time around, we found ourselves in the midst of a ditty with lyrics about getting old, and likening the aging dilemma to having the value of a precious, antique violin.

For reason that are probably apparent, Mark kept hitting the satellite radio remote, scrolling through our many other options to see what else we might find.

We came upon a jazz channel called High Standards.

Tony Bennett was singing.

I’m sorry to say that the name of the song he was singing now escapes me. Whatever the song was, it was quite good and not one I was familiar with.

A factoid emerged from my brain.

 

 

Tony Bennett is known to have been a fan of the marijuana. He went so far as to document it in his autobiography. Apparently it became a problem, but I prefer to think of him as a groovy velvety-smooth-voiced, cannabis-smoking man who lit up way before it became associated with hippies and lazy people. His whole crowd probably did it. You know the jazzbos — they were cutting edge, did dark things on the down low.

Anyway, I’m listening to Tony Bennett and I start thinking about his digging grass and it suddenly hits me, “Damn, I bet it would be really cool to get high to Tony Bennett.”

I don’t get high anymore.

I have an unfortunately sensitive disposition. Afflicted with a tendency for over-thinking, and the old cliche of fear and loathing whilst under the influence of most artificial substances (though thankfully not sugar or wine), I had to stop all forms of partaking in my early-20s.



I was instantaneously saddened at the thought that, in all likelihood, I would never smoke a joint, or load a pipe — fashioned from a Coke can or otherwise — with marijuana and have the experience enhanced by the dulcet sound of Tony Bennett’s voice.

My single-minded concentration on hard rock during my most prolific and potent smoking years started to seem really short-sighted. Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin both opened and blew my mind for sure. But clearly not enough. Not enough for Tony Bennett to enter my consciousness.



I considered that if my grandmother had played a more influential role in my life during my teenagehood, perhaps then I might have had my time with Tony Bennett. Or, conversely, ridden a real bummer in the form of the soundtrack to YentyI thought about the people I know who still smoke. And how the world was still their oyster. As it applied to the possibility of hearing Tony Bennett while altered.

I thought about my dad and how he surely listed to Tony Bennett. While drinking. Which is different. If my dad had ever smoked, I imagine he would have put on The Band or Leon Redbone.

Then I wondered what my mother might put on while she was smoking.

It felt like I was onto a new smoking game. “What Would So-And-So Listen To?”

Thinking about all the fun I was most likely never going to have made me tired.



Songs with the word “tired” came into my head.

I thought of The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting.”

And of The Beatles’ “I’m So Tired.”

Current artists didn’t seem to be writing songs about being tired. Or they didn’t seem to be writing songs that will stand the test of time about being tired. Maybe it has something to do with ecstasy and cocaine.

Getting high makes you tired.

I often have bouts of insomnia.

Getting high to Tony Bennett and then falling asleep sounded like heaven.

I wished that could be my plan.

It occurred to me that my desire to get high to Tony Bennett represented something else. A desire to be carefree. Relaxed. Spontaneous. Unafraid. All worthy aims. All goals I’ve been working on from different angles.

They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line…

Anyway, satellite radio has some real hidden gems. I highly recommend it.