Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Naked And The Free

     I took a week off to visit my friend Juanesta, who’s working on a show that’s shooting in Hawaii.  Juanesta is renting a condo in Waikiki/Diamond Head.  It’s a lovely one bedroom place that has partial views of the Pacific Ocean, its shores lined with those tall graceful palm trees you think of in association with the tropics.  There’s no beach behind the property, only jagged rocks.  The currents there can be dangerous and signs abound attesting to this.  “Swim at your own risk,” “Only experienced swimmers should enter,” and more to the point “Danger!  Keep Out!”  Just up against the rocky boundary is a sturdy sea wall that allows a two foot walkway along the edge of all the buildings at this tail end section of Waikiki so that surfers and other “experienced swimmers” can go to and fro.  A short black wrought iron fence forms the only separation between the public sea wall and this private property. Behind this fence are four lounge chairs arranged under two welcoming palms.  These chairs face a westerly direction, and allow for a most breathtaking view of the sun sinking down behind the horizon and seemingly into the depths of the mighty Pacific each evening.
     I was seated in one of these loungers one morning reading “Eat, Pray, Love” (saw the movie – let’s just put it this way – next time I need a nap, I’d rather not pay 12.50 to do so) when a Hawaiian man, I’d say mid-thirties, walks by.  I mouth Hello and go back to reading.  About three minutes later, he walks by in the other direction, stopping to make polite conversation.  He is from the neighboring island of Molokai and he had heard there was a calmer beach than Waikiki, where he could just lay out without all the distractions and tan – a neighboring nude beach, because he doesn’t want any tan lines.  I tell him I don’t know of any nude beaches, he makes a little polite conversation, then he’s gone again.   But then two minutes later, there he is walking in the other direction again, a little slower, more hesitantly this time.  Now, I’m from Brooklyn, and I happened to catch the premiere episode of the newly revamped “Hawaii 5-0,” so Homey don’t play that.  My posture becomes a little more rigid, my head straighter – kind of like one of those little meerkats.  If this man is gonna try and jump this fence, I’m ready!  Right on cue, he appears once more. He stops and looks at me for a second, then leans over the fence. Okay, it is on!
     “Excuse me,” he says, “You seem pretty cool, I kinda need to ask you something.”
     “Uh huh…, “ I say.
     “Maybe if you could come closer,” he says.  “I don’t want to say it out loud…See, it’s kind of embarrassing.”
     “That’s cool, I got great hearing.  You can whisper it right from where you are.”
     “Okay, well…would you mind walking down the sea wall with me.  There’s a bit of a secluded area down around the way…”
     “Oh, hell to the nah!” I’m thinking.  “This man’s gonna ask me to perform some lude act on him.”  And I just stare, cause I can’t wait for him to finish his sentence.
     “I’m performing tonight…well, I’m in a stripping contest, which is why I can’t have the tan lines.  Anyway, you have to dance and all.  And it’s my first time…kind of an adventure, really.  And I was just wondering if you could follow me down the way and watch my act and give me some feedback.”
     “Watch your act?” I ask.  “You mean, watch you strip?”
     “Well yeah, and dance.  And let me know if it’s engaging. ”
     Well, if his act is anywhere near as engaging as our conversation, he was sure to be prize pig that night.  Blue ribbon all the way.  But, still being a cautious, untrusting New Yorker, I decline, explaining I was just about to leave to go have a look at Pearl Harbor, which was the truth.
As I drove through Honolulu, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy.  If he really was stripping that night and not trying to lure me to an untimely death, he had a lot of chutzpah – in a good way.  I sensed no mental illness.  His eyes didn’t dart back and forth as he spoke to me.  He didn’t have an imaginary friend seated on his shoulder.  But he was free enough, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally to not only take it all off in front of a room filled with people, but also to make a most interesting proposition to someone he did not know – someone who would be judging him every moment of the way.  He was free enough to be able to put up with my critique, no matter how brutal. And how shall I put this – I don’t think either Chippendale’s or Thunder From Down Under would ever be rolling out the red carpet for him.
     In this journey I’ve been on to find a new agent and publisher for my novels, there has so far been more lows than highs.  The cold submission of query letters has so far only been met by sometimes polite, sometimes very impersonal “Thanks, but no thanks” letters.  I’m getting better at being more detached as I read them.  It pricks a little, but I file them away and do my best not to take it as a personal rejection of me as a writer and as a person.   As an artist, rejection is such a great part of what I do, the skin has to grow thicker at some point.  The problem is, it’s as if I’ve reached a safe middle, where the lows don’t really sting, but with that, the highs don’t make as much of an impact either.  I’ve become a bit desensitized.  But this man – this lovely, strange Hawaiian stripper dude desperate for an even tan, seemed to have figured out the balance. There was such feeling and emotion in what he asked, but there was a calm and freedom.  It was actually inspiring– as he seemed to have mastered being both emotionally attached and critically detached at the same time.  In other words, I could sense the highs were as explosive and colorful and full of flavor as they should be, but the lows had been anesthetized. 

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