Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Effect of a Few Wrong Turns: North Shore Soap Factory, Oahu, Hawaii

For the Podcast, click here.
I was looking for a restaurant where I could eat locally caught fish, listen to the soothing plinkings of a distant ukulele, feel the juice of a ripe pineapple dribble down my chin, and watch the surf crash onto rocks and sandy beaches.

That was easier said than done as I roamed around toward the North Shore and highway after highway was snarled with construction. I gave up and decided to simply go where the open roads took me.

And, they took me to an old sugar factory that had a couple of tour buses parked in front, and a few Japanese tourists taking photos of each other as they returned. I looked at the sign, but instead of being a sugar mill, it was a soap factory. I thought of the Lush chain and the wonderful, intoxicating aromas of spice, flower, herbs and musky perfumes, and I thought I would try it.

I entered and immediately made a mistake, entering the off-limits factory itself instead of the gift store, where tourists could observe the fabrication of soap through thick safety glass.

The colors and scents were delightful, and it was a super-saturated rainbow of color. I considered purchasing a number of bars, but then realized I still had blocks of hand-made soap from a trip I made to Hawaii several years ago, and so I did not really need more souvenirs or potential gift items.

I wondered how much they sold to Japanese tourists.  Soap is practical and a great gift and household item, but it is heavy and bulky. I would imagine the best market would be the upscale boutique hotels that might enjoy having tiny bars of soaps and tiny little bottles of bath soap, shampoo, and more. It surprised me that they did not have more miniature sets for sale. They would be great gift sets.

But, I’m not much of a marketer of soaps or artisan items, although I love the small factories and gift stores that one finds tucked away in unexpected places.

Next door, in the gift store, there were all kinds of coffee beans for sale and other food items. Again, I thought they were rather bulky, and it might make more sense to have a little coffee bar. But, if we’re talking about busloads of Japanese tourists, perhaps not. Perhaps the best would be to have a number of places for wonderful photos, and then keepsake experiences. I do not know.

It is interesting how we combine shopping and retail experiences with the memories we create for the future, and thus shape our concept of ourselves and the world. We order our knowledge of the world by means of the images we create, and even as we create them, we know that they are less than authentic, but more designed to capture the quirkiest products, the most dramatic slice of nature, the most super-saturated colors, and the most emblematic semiotics.

So, as I think of a photo of myself to create a memory of what I just experienced – the effect of a few wrong turns – I will take photos of what is most unique. It will be, for me, a representation of discovery, and more specifically, the rewards of discovery.

The photo, with its rainbow array of soaps, tiny colored bath ducks, plumeria, pineapples, Kona coffee, macadamia, and more, will be a visual reminder of how rewarding it can be to go off the beaten path and to open your mind for new things, for discovery. Of course, I could just as easily frame this as a cautionary tale of menace and danger, but thankfully, that does not occur to me, unless I’ve been binge-watching past seasons of Forensic Files.

Life is much richer as a series of joyous explorations and discoveries.

The Perfect Companion

(Podcast) For most people, it’s an animal.  That’s because they’ve already given up on people. Or, if they do include people as their predilect companion, it’s generally a temporary one.  A few hours snatched here or there, or a brief vacation, and then both are secretly glad to go back to work, back to a place where they don’t have to constantly perform for scraps of approval or fear they are always judged and on the verge of rejection.

Ay chihuahua, my little best friend!
After the Chihuahua races, Cinco de Mayo, Tulsa, OK

A dog, cat, or even iguana is infinitely preferable. Your dog is always happy to see you. It’s an open-hearted, boundless love, and if you need it to be all about you and no one else, you can condition your dog to dislike and even menace everyone except you. You can even justify the neurosis you’ve instilled into your companion animal by saying that he’s “protective.” Maybe he is. But, if you like the fact that your dog loves you, and you alone, there’s something else going on. But, don’t worry too much about it. You’re not alone. If your pet is an “emotional support animal,” it is very likely that the exclusivity is something that gives you emotional support.

I’ve had students and coworkers who have brought their emotional support animal (dog) with them to the classroom and to the office.  I suspect the dog went with them everywhere else, too.  Would they want their spouse, sibling, parent, or friend with them at all times?  I suspect not.

Many Victorian novels feature a “paid companion” – a kind of personal assistant considered higher than a servant, but mixed with the clerical and step-and-fetch-it duties were requirements to go to shopping and to cultural events (museums, openings, readings).  I always wondered while reading why a woman who was independently wealthy would saddle herself with a companion. Why not just go to the places alone? But, I suspect that it might not have been safe. It might have been considered somewhat disreputable. So, the paid companion was also a bodyguard and chaperone.

Lucha Libre at Elote, Tulsa, OK  Cinco de Mayo celebration
Perhaps the Victorians were more realistic than we are about psychological needs. Sometimes we live far from our families; sometimes our families are like driftwood on the beach, constantly swept out to sea, then brought back, redeposited in new configurations. It’s all very transitory and confusing. In fact, if I think about it too much, tears well up, and I think of all the beautiful moments that time and circumstances swept out to sea.

All the loss and change in the world is hard to face. Talking to a human companion often simply compounds the issue. Even if you’re not feeling on the verge of being judged and found wanting, the conversations often veer into the bleak abyss of uncertainty and the lack of control we have over our lives and the seething, unstable environment.

My son had a lemon beagle named Sammy. For a while, Sammy was a kind of companion animal and emotional support animal for me when my son joined the Marines. But, I, too, abandoned Sammy when I moved to upstate New York. I’ll have to do a lot of rounds in purgatory for that, I believe.

I had to conclude that while Sammy could have been a good companion animal for me, I was a wretched one for him. Dogs make great emotional support animals. Humans, in contrast, are horrible emotional support animals for dogs. At least I was for Sammy. I’m probably equally terrible for another human.

No wonder I feel a bit lonely sometimes.

Then what, or who, is the perfect companion?

Who knows.