Sequestered, Week 1

First day of spring
I step onto the front porch
to greet the stranger who has come
to retrieve my old sofa. Free,
I’d said on social media, resisting
the urge to add, to a good home.

When I ask if he’ll use the sofa
in his house, he hesitates.
“For a friend,” he says in an
inflection that prickles my brain
with stereotypes about people
with such accents.

I may be giving my longtime
furniture friend to someone out
to make a buck, my brain jabbers,
rather than to, say, a woman who’d
also asked for it online—
a woman, I imagine, who might
have settled the sofa into her life,
put her children on it, maybe a pet
or two, watched TV programs
in languages both familiar and new.

But I chose the first person who said
he’d come get it, thinking that was fair—
he’d asked first—before I remembered
that nothing this week is fair, especially
an indiscriminate virus seeking hosts
anywhere it can.

But then, I thought, maybe the man
with the accent needs the money.
Maybe selling my castoff will help
feed his family. Maybe he will
give it to a friend.

I wanted to ask, but instead,
at my urging, he climbed into the bed
of the pickup so I could take a picture
of him and the younger man who came, too—
the one with more facility in the language
I think of as mine—the two of them,
sitting on what had been my sofa,
smiling.

And as the truck rolled away a distant
era of my life, I turned to go back
in the house, looking up at the trellis
over the driveway. There, just today,
the first bursts of purple—baby wisteria
making its way into the world.

In two weeks,
the blossoms will disappear,
the trellis awash in bright green leaves
that will last, I hope, all the way
to the end of summer.

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Take a flying leap

leap day

(For Dick)

Go ahead—it’s the one day in four years
when we can, the extra day tacked on
to February when seemingly impossible
things are possible: when ladies can propose
to gentlemen, when any man who refuses her
must buy her a dozen pairs of gloves so
the spurned maiden can hide the embarrassing
lack of a wedding ring—or enough fabric
to make a skirt. Just like St. Patrick refusing
St. Brigid’s proposal, offering her a silk dress
and a kiss of consolation.

It’s the day in 1940 when Hattie McDaniel won
her Oscar for her performance in “Gone With the Wind.”
The day we could, if we were in France, read
a newspaper published only once every four years.

The day the founder of U-Haul was born,
a man who has moved millions—literally.
The only day we could possibly down a
Leap Year martini at the Savoy Hotel in London.

Though the Scots think it unlucky to be born
on this largely invisible day, in Anthony, Texas,
Leaplings born on Feb. 29 gather to celebrate.
As do the northern Italians, who commemorate
l’ann d’la baleina, the whale’s year, when
the behemoths were thought to give birth.

In Taiwan, grown daughters return home with
pig trotter noodles to ensure their parents’
good health and fortune.

Let’s take a running leap into the next four years,
holding hands as we thank the previous ones
for delivering us to this place of grace and good
fortune, as we jump into the next adventure
of this lucky, lovely lifetime together.

 

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Into the light

for Dickie

I watched you walk through
windward-leaning cypress,
head toward the edge of a seacliff
into the light, a familiar silhouette
angling away from me, the long shadow
of life extending behind you,

and I thought again, no, not yet,
just as I did last year when you
made an unplanned departure,
felled by something you couldn’t
see coming, only to be returned—
kicked back to our side—to finish
what you started.

So this year, on the anniversary
of your homecoming, at a beloved
spot overlooking waves that travel
from horizon to shore, you headed
into the light through slender poles
of trees, then paused at the edge,
looked back over your shoulder
and gestured to me.

C’mon, you said without words.
Come see this.

And I followed you.

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The Sea Ranch, Feb. 15, 2020

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HBD2Him

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Shootin’ the sunset on his 77th birthday, Feb. 13, 2020.

We are delighted to spend Presidents’ Day weekend at The Sea Ranch, as we do most years. Last year, of course, Dick was recuperating in Honolulu after his cardiac arrest and subsequent triple bypass surgery. He spent his 76th birthday there with two of his longtime friends, Connie Raub and Cora Johnson, who arrived from their homes in Colorado and Nevada, respectively, to care for him when I had to come home to teach.

chowderNow, on his 77th birthday, he is stronger and feeling better than he has in years, and we’re once again in one of our happiest places on our side of the Pacific Ocean (though, of course, we love the Hawaii side of the Pacific, too). We celebrated Dick’s day on the drive to The Sea Ranch with crab sandwiches and good clam chowder at Fisherman’s Cove in Bodega Bay. And as we drove north on Highway 1 toward Casa Pacis, the sweet cottage on the coast where we’ve been fortunate to stay many times, we were tickled to celebrate another birthday together. It’s another marker in this journey back to wellness for Dick, this birthday. And we are so grateful for it.

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We were also tickled that one of my journalism students, Express editor-in-chief Rose Vega, wanted to do a story about Dick’s Great Heart Adventure, as I’ve called it. (The Express only does stories with ties to Sacramento City College.) It turns out, of course, that Dick’s two rescuers do (as followers of this blog know)—Salesi Maumau, who performed CPR on Dick at the airport, is a former City College Panthers football player and student, and Claudio Alvarado, the RN who tended to Dick at the airport, now teaches nursing at City College.

That the Express editors decided to post the story on Dick’s birthday today tickles us. (Great job, Rose! And yes, I’m a wee bit biased in more than one way.) It is the cherry on top of our already bountiful sundae of a year, following the first anniversaries of his rebirth (Jan. 15) and triple bypass (Jan. 24). The good stuff just keeps coming!

Happy birthday to you, dear Dickie. And as the song often ends… and many more!

 

 

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Half birthday

roller coaster

Photo: SeaWorld San Antonio

Every year on January 30
I smile at the notion that I have
gained a half a year,
remembering when I lorded
those six months over my sister,
felt superior to younger classmates,
looked eagerly toward gaining the next
digit at the end of July, when—lucky me—
there would be a party that often involved
hopping the fence across the street,
making our way down the hilly path
to swim in the lake.

And now, halfway through my 61st year,
I understand what my elders moaned
about in my youth: that years grow wings
and do, indeed, fly, that we pick up speed
on the roller coaster of life, that we
look back and wonder where it all went,
wish we could restart and truly enjoy
the ride, return to languorous days
at the lake with our friends, then—
damp towels slung over shoulders
that had no glimmer yet of the burdens
they would one day carry—
head back up the dusty trail toward home
where a cake and presents, and, it turned out,
the rest of our lives, awaited.

Thanks to Antsy McClain for the inspiration. 

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Guest reunites with life savers

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Chris Ohta of Hawaiian Airlines

Oh, my. What a sweet gift arrived from our friends at the AED Institute today. We were so moved by this 2:25-minute video assembled by the Hawaiian Airlines corporate communications team. They met us at the Honolulu airport to greet us and interview Dick just before we headed home on Jan. 15, the first anniversary of his cardiac arrest.

Chris Ohta, the Hawaiian Airlines guest services clerk who ran for the AED, shines in this video… as he well should. His quick thinking made all the difference.

We’re honored to be a part of this video and so grateful again to Hawaiian Airlines for their kokua and aloha last year and this one.

Watch it once, and then maybe again.

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Dick being interviewed for the video.

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Coming home

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With our friends from the AED Institute, Kim Williams (left) and Jenna Tanigawa (right), who greeted us in Honolulu at the airport.

Part II

It’s not unusual for us, despite our great love for Hawaii, to look forward to coming home after a couple of weeks’ vacation there. There’s something about returning to one’s own abode, own bed, own kitties that tugs us toward that place we’ve made ours—in a completely different place than the ones we love in paradise.

Some might question that whole “paradise” label anyway. For on this two-week trip to Kauai, we saw a lot more stormy than sunny weather. This is not unusual on the north shore in winter, but even in drier Lihue and Poipu, it’s been a soggy January so far. We did not see the sun at all for all of the last week we were there. But that was OK.

Dick likes to call our January trips to Hawaii the “Restore Jan’s Sanity Trips.” And that’s true. They’re a welcome break between the hubbub of my semesters, which land me on my feet going 60 mph (Dick estimates it’s more like 80 mph) from day 1 to the end. I always say that I work 60 hours a week when I teach, and that’s probably an under-estimate. But 10-hour days are not unusual between school and home for any teacher.

I really love my job, I often say. I sometimes wish there was less of it. (And there will be one day, as I contemplate retiring in the near future.) But when you get to vacation mid-year in Hawaii, it makes the long hours more do-able.

So that’s one reason it doesn’t matter what the weather’s like in Hawaii in January. It’s much warmer than home, and even in the rain, I can put my feet in warm ocean, which might be the best free method of healing (literally great physical therapy for the ankle I sprained in October).

But with that warm rain and water also comes much aloha—that magical Hawaiian word for love, welcome, hello, goodbye and general affection. We experienced that tenfold last year after Dick’s cardiac arrest, subsequent hospitalization and CABG (coronary artery bypass graft), as well as two more weeks of recovery in a house we rented in Pearl City for Dick and our two friends Connie and Cora, who came to care for him after I returned home, two weeks into a new semester.

Turns out, the aloha continued this year on Kauai, too. Our friends, Toni and C.B. Martin, with whom we stayed in Haena on the north shore, greeted us with big hugs and aloha after following our ordeal from afar. They’ve literally weathered great storms, too, from the April 2018 flood that wiped out great swaths of the north shore to an infection in Toni’s eye that resulted in a corneal transplant. Their wonderful dog, Nugget, the golden lab, though getting up in years, is still a good greeter every time someone comes in the gate.

And we were also happy to see our friends Andy and Leona Doughty for dinner one evening. I’ve worked for Andy for more than 20 years, editing his best-selling Hawaii Revealed guidebook series, and they flew to Honolulu to see Dick the day before his surgery, take me to dinner and then sit with me the next day. Even before that, they made sure I had what I needed to live in the hospital for two weeks, including the assistance of one of their employees (and my former student) Mākena Ongoy, who made Target runs to bring me supplies and clothes.

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Jenna, saying to Dick, “I can’t believe how good you look!”

But the aloha continued even as we made our way home. After we flew into Oahu from Kauai, we were greeted with leis and hugs at the airport by two members of the AED Institute team, Jenna Tanigawa and Kim Williams. The AED Institute was started in 2006 in Honolulu by Pamela Foster, RN, at the request of the airport fire chief, and has installed defibrillators all over Hawaiian airports and in other spots around the islands. We were pleased to see AEDs in prominent spots on the north shore of Kauai, too, sponsored by retired physician Jeff Goodman, and the Rotary Club of Hanalei Bay.

Jenna and Kim arrived with plastic AED signs to install in the airport. Since Pam Foster started the Institute, 69 people suffered heart attacks or cardiac arrests in Hawaiian airports. Fifty of those people survived, thanks to AEDs. Dick was No. 50 last year. Since then, the AEDs have been used seven more times at airports, and one more person has su, according to Jenna.

After some chitchat with Jenna and Kim, they offered to walk us to our next gate, E1, which is a good distance from where we came in. Last year, the walk between gates really fatigued Dick, who was on the verge of cardiac arrest but didn’t know it until he was suddenly dizzy. This year, he was fit and good for the whole distance (farther, actually, than last year). And when we got to Gate E1, another surprise awaited us.

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“Dick, Jan, we want you to meet some of the first responders,” Jenna said as a line of tall, blue-uniformed airport firefighters stood waiting, including now-Assistant Chief Ronnie Arevalo, who responded to Dick’s emergency at Gate C1 last year. (Though we didn’t see them this time, we’re also grateful to Chief Martinez Jacobs, AED program director and ARFF chief, as well as Roy Sakata, airport manager.)

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With Tuiatua Tuiasosopo and Heather Tanonaka of Hawaiian Airlines.

We shook their hands of those emergency responders and thanked them, stunned to see them, then turned around to see Hawaiian Airlines employees who looked familiar. There was Justin Nowak, senior operations manager, who arranged for us to see Guest Service Agent Heather Tanonaka, who was at the gate and contacted the first responders. There was Tuiatua Tuiasosopo, who was on the ground with passengers Claudio Alvarez and Salesi Maumau, who worked on Dick. And, we learned, Sarah Iida and chief agent Juliet Magbaleta kept the area clear and ensured that other guests could board the aircraft.

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Dick meets Chris Ohta.

But the person I’ve most wanted Dick to meet was Hawaiian Airlines guest service agent Chris Ohta. He was at the gate when Dick collapsed and ran for and retrieved the AED. Then he joined Salesi, who was doing chest compressions, and Claudio, at Dick’s head monitoring his pulse. They placed the pads, and Chris pushed the button to deliver the shock that allowed Dick’s heart to restart.

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I saw tears in each man’s eyes as they hugged. (Mine were a bit damp, too.)

Last year, when Dick, Cora and Connie departed Honolulu on Feb. 15, there was a tremendous celebration of life and press conference. Some of the same people who met us this year were there last year. But Chris was not working that day and hadn’t met Dick. I got to meet Chris when I flew from Honolulu home on Feb. 1. He and Salesi and Claudio, who didn’t know each other, worked as a team to bring Dick back to life, and they are especially dear in our hearts.

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Last year Dick was interviewed by a reporter/photographer from the Star-Advertiser, the combined version of the two daily papers that used to operate in Honolulu. (In 1971 Dick took a leave from The Bee to shoot for the Star-Bulletin, as one of the papers was called then.) This year Dick was interviewed on video by two people from the Hawaiian Airlines communications team about his experience for the airline. Then Heather Tanonaka saw us off down the jetway, with Kim and Jenna waving aloha behind her.

And by the time we got on the plane, we whoomphed into our seats, hung our leis on the plastic attachments on the seats in front of us (the nifty doohickeys to hold your iPad or iPhone so you can access the in-flight entertainment), and dozed off.

We had a blissfully uneventful flight, retrieving luggage quickly, and took a shuttle to Dick’s car we’d left in the airport parking lot. We were pleased to find the weather dry and stopped for our traditional In-N-Out burgers on the way home (we generally don’t eat much on travel days). Hawaii has a lot of wonderful things that we miss when we’re not there, but they don’t have In-N-Out burgers!

And Dick, who in the days of his newspaper career, ate a lot of burgers, rarely eats them now. He is taking good care of his newly repaired heart, walking daily and watching his diet. But I watched his heart nearly burst with emotion (as did mine) at all the aloha bestowed upon us during this trip.

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We continue to be nothing but “gratitudinous,” as Dick likes to say, for all that we’ve been given, can say nothing but mahalo nui loa (thank you very much) to our Hawaiian friends.

Looking up the meaning of mahalo on activerain.com, I found this syllabic breakdown:

—MA in this case means “within”
—HA refers to the “breath of life” or “divine breath of life”
—ALO means “in the presence of”

It adds, “The complete translation, including the hidden meaning, reads, ‘Thankful to be in the presence of the divine breath of life.’ It both recognizes the divine breath in one’s self and the individual one is thankful for.”

That’s it exactly, what we celebrate every day now: the divine breath in one’s self and the many individuals we are thankful for.

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Chris Ohta and Dick

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Otherwise

 

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Returning to the gate where it all happened a year ago, Jan. 15, 2019.

Part I

I’m a big fan of the poet Jane Kenyon, whose last book of poems, published after her death in 1995, was called “Otherwise.” Knowing that she was dying of leukemia, she assembled the collection with her husband, the well-known poet Donald Hall (he died in 2018). When I first read the title poem, it rocked me. It still does.

Otherwise

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

(from Otherwise: New and Selected Poems © 1996 Graywolf Press)

•J4876 rds hono airport signCRThat refrain, “It might have been otherwise,” has stayed with me this past year, since Jan. 15, 2019, when Dick collapsed in cardiac arrest at the Honolulu Airport just as we were about to board a plane for home. Now we’ve just spent the last two weeks on Kauai, and, though he didn’t set this up intentionally, it turns out that again, this year, this new decade, we are again heading home Jan. 15, 2020.

We spent a week in one of our favorite places, the north shore of Kauai, in the area of Haena, in a sweet little rental called the Tiki Hut, hosted by Toni and CB Martin, people whom we consider dear friends. It’s like coming home when we drive onto the private road, when we open the gate and Nugget, the big yellow lab, greets us, when we find Toni’s banana bread waiting for us with other goodies in the small kitchen of the Tiki Hut, when we stroll the yard that feels like a tropical botanical garden.

Every day, in the morning and just before sunset, I walked down the private road that curves around and leads to the beach, slipped off my flip-flops before I hit the sand and left them near others waiting for their owners’ feet to return. I’d walk north, looking at the interesting shell and coral pieces the tides had brought in. I watched the January waves rolling in like great sheets of gray blue in some places and in others caressing the soft sand into which my feet sink.

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This year on every walk, I sang my appreciation to the sea, the litany of “mahalo nui loa” (thank you very much) never enough to convey my gratitude for all the ways Dick and I have been held and assisted and propped up this year. I fell in October, spraining an ankle and breaking a thumb, so I considered all that sand walking good physical therapy. I’d be thankful for work I love waiting for me at home and good people with whom I work. For this mate with whom I got to once again lie down with and listen to the rain pelting on the roof of the Tiki Hut.

I am so much aware that, to quote Jane Kenyon,
“One day, I know, / it will be otherwise.”

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At the Daniel Inouye International Airport near Gate C1.

That doesn’t mean that I’m pessimistic about things. Not at all. Life is short, but as Dick’s shirt says, Life Is Good. (His original Life Is Good Hawaii T-shirt was cut off him on that fateful day, and he’s now wearing the replacement LIG shirt that our friend Jan Lake had made for him. You can read the story of how that happened here.) It means that I want to stand in conscious awe and not to turn a blind eye, but not to get mired in the sadness and difficulties of the world that threaten to overcome us all. Kenyon suffered from crippling depression all her life, and that she survived and had four books of poems published, working on the final collection to her very end, inspires me.

It means that both Dick and I want to live blown open by love and compassion, to continue to be a force for good in the world, to take every opportunity to extend kindness to everyone we encounter. We live gratitude every day. I’ve given up trying to be a tough guy, even with students who, some might say, deserve that kind of approach. I’m not a tough guy; I’m lousy at it when I try, and it just makes me and others feel bad.

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The very AED that brought him back near Gate C1.

My sweet, generous partner died in front of me and was brought back to life through the auspices of kind strangers, in circumstances over which I had no control. And every single part of it brought people who gave their time and talent and expertise for our greater good. We think of and offer our mahalo to Claudio Alvarado, the UCDMC nurse, who immediately knelt by Dick after he fell and monitored the whole procedure, of his partner, Camron Calloway, who comforted me, of Salesi Maumau, at the time a Honolulu firefighter who performed CPR, all of them in line behind us to board the plane to Sacramento.

We think of and offer our mahalo to Pam Foster, who through her AED Institute, put AEDs in airports all over Hawaii (and all over Kauai, too, we noticed this trip), and her colleague Jenna Tanigawa, who later trained us in the use of AEDs. To the people whose names we never got: the EMTs, ambulance driver, airport firefighers and Hawaiian Airlines staff (including HA employee Chris Ohta, who ran for the AED and pushed the button that delivered the shock that allowed Dick’s heart to restart.

We think of and offer our mahalo to Dick’s incredible care team at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center, in no particular order—Dr. Diana Kim, Dr. Nicholas Dang, Dr. John Lee, Dr. John Chen, Dr. Lance Blaisdell, Dr. Kenneth Schwab, Dr. Neil Onizuka, Dr. Elisa Zaragoza Macias, and cardiac physicians assistants Tim Berkeley and Whitney Regan. We’re also grateful to the front line nurses Donovan Char, Sally Dominguez, Erin Shulze, Jaime Reese, Tatyana Cathey, Agnes (who found a heart pillow donated by the Manoa Lions for Dick on his last day), the RN assistant named Shy (and many others whose names I didn’t write down), Mel Kai and Tono (human and pet visitor volunteers!).

I still thankful for the blessing chaplain Leavitt Thomas’ offered us before Dick’s surgery on Jan. 24: “We are affirming a safe and successful procedure followed by an easeful and graceful recovery.” And it was so.

We also offer our deepest mahalo to our island friends who came to our sides and offered so much aloha: Mākena Ongoy, Hawaii Jan Lake, Andy and Leona Doughty, Jervin Wait, Sue Young, Tara Young and Avi Mannis and their son Elliott. To our dear friends from the mainland Connie Raub and Cora Johnson, who left their lives for two weeks to tend to Dick as he recovered in Pearl City. To Kristen Consillio, Star-Advertiser reporter, who interviewed Dick when he finally left Hawaii and did an excellent story about him. To our many friends and family who sent love and support in so many ways, especially Dick’s sister and brother-in-law Marge and John Thompson. To my Sacramento City College students and colleagues (Dean Robin Ikegami, Vice President Ginny McReynolds, Randy Allen, Marci Selva and Jason Peterson, among many others), who made arrangements and filled in for me during the first two weeks of the semester while Dick was still in the hospital.

If I ever needed proof of a higher power, of unseen companion spirits working on our behalf, the last year of miracle after miracle—of being in the right place at the right time, of the people delivered to help us every step of the way—has reassured me that help is always given, even when I forget to ask for it. I take great pleasure in the simplest things. On this trip we got to plan another day just the like one we’d already had—together. Days that on the north shore ended with a walk across sand to look our favorite view at the triangular peak called Mt. Makana, behind which the sun set, the sky awash in different colors and textures.

We’d stand there—sometimes getting rained on, sometimes not—grinning at each other like a couple of happy little kids, thinking how lucky we were to be here. Not just in that place, but here. On the planet. Together. For as long as we can be.

Because one day, we know, it will be otherwise, and the one who is left will have this great treasure trove of memories. And may we remember, in the words of our friend, singer-songwriter Antsy McClain, “I won’t cry because it’s over; I’ll smile because it was.”

As they say in Hawaiian churches at the end of prayers and hymns: Amene.

(Check for Part II of this story—Coming Home—tomorrow.)

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In flight

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Writing the poem, Jan. 3, 2019.

A year ago today Dick and I boarded a Hawaiian Airlines jet bound for Honolulu on the first leg of our vacation flight to Kauai. It’s been my custom for some years (initiated by my friend Corinne Litchfield) to bring aboard a skinny Sharpie, perfect for writing on… what is the proper term for them? Barf bags.

I just looked it up online: air sickness bags. And that made me wonder, who came up with that idea?

According to Phil Edwards, writing on vox.com, “Though there were a few passenger flights earlier, commercial aviation sputtered to life in the 1920s before taking off in the ’50s. And one of the big anxieties was getting sick on the plane.”

Several factors contributed to that problem: Gas and oil smells sometimes wafted into the passenger cabin, but according to Edwards, planes flying at about 5,000 feet (before pressurized cabins made 35,000-foot flights possible) often encountered a lot of turbulence. That sent tummies into distress, and when Gilmore T. Schjeldahl of North Dakota developed a new bag-making machine using plastic, it changed aviation in a not insignificant way. His company eventually produced a variety of polyethylene packaging materials and plastic bag liners. He died in 2002, after being awarded 16 patents, according to Wikipedia, “and may be best known for inventing the plastic-lined airsickness bag.”

(You can, like most anything, buy them today on Amazon. One version, by VNS creations, describes its bags this way: “Portable and light, the bags are ideal for car sick kids, pet messes, babies sick in plane, pregnant women, drunk passengers. Keep them within reach — whether you’re traveling by air, car, or boat — always be ready if/when you need to puke!”)

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And though many airlines have done away with feeding passengers or providing blankets and pillows, the barf bag is (thank goodness) still with us. These days the ones I’ve found are plain white, plastic bags, free of airline logos.

When her mother was still alive, my friend Corinne Litchfield, when flying, used to write her mother letters on barf bags. This prompted her years later to create a now-defunct website called Paper Bag Writers, which encouraged people to submit their creative writing on barf bags. She’d photograph the best ones and put them on the website. I’m proud to say that I had a poem or two on bags on that site.

Now I cannot leave an airplane without leaving a Sharpie-poem’d bag in a pocket or with a flight attendant. I usually do two—one for the plane and one for me—but my rule is that it’s an original poem that I conceived and drafted on the plane.

I never expected one of those to find its way back to me. But the poem I wrote on Jan. 3, 2019, did.

Adrian Ruby found the scuffed, torn, poem’d barf bag in the nose cone of the plane that flew us to Hawaii last year. He works in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for Safety Training Systems, which makes flight control trainers for the military. “One of the first thing we do is we cut the plane apart,” he told me last week in a phone conversation. “In the cockpit area, we found three rachets, three or four pairs of glasses. These mechanics must lose all kinda shit, and it’s like, what in the world? And that was there.”

He read the poem and noticed the date. “I’m thinkin’ this plane was flyin’ in January because she wrote this poem.”

On Oct. 25, 2019, eleven months after that flight, Adrian Ruby sent me a photo through Facebook of this bag, with a simple question: “Is this your work?”

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First draft of the poem, returned to me by Adrian Ruby, November 2019.

I responded, “It is! Wow! How and where did you find it?”

And that’s when the story began to unfold. I asked Adrian to send me the bag, which he did, and, after a couple of tries, we finally talked a couple of days before the end of the year.

“I think it would’ve been under the forward lab. I don’t know how it got from the [passenger] compartment to down low. There’s spaces in the sideboard liners that it can get in the cargo hold. Either that, or one of the guys who cut it apart found it.”

Curious to see who Jan Haag might be, Adrian decided to check Facebook. “I couldn’t even hardly read the name. I just kinda guessed. When it popped up and it said you were a writer, I thought, ‘It’s gotta be her.’

As he pulled the plane apart, Adrian told me, “I’ve seen inspection dates like 1985, ’91, so it had been in service for quite a while. By the time we get some of these aircraft, I think, ‘I’m not flyin’ on one of these.’”

Adrian is a 52-year-old woodworker, a former cabinet maker, has been working for Safety Training Systems for 13 years. One of his buddies connected him with the job. “It’s kinda interesting and it’s not the same old thing every day,” he told me. “I could be workin’ wood, the next day I could be workin’ stainless steel, aluminum.”

And one of the most interesting parts of his story is that he’s not a guy who reads much poetry.

“I can’t hardly read,” he said after I offered to send him my book of poems. “I have some kind of problem and they never really addressed it. They put me back in a remedial reading class. I can’t sound out words. I just have to work on my brain to want to learn that. I skip words a lot. It’s really tough when I try to write, too.”

I was struck by the sweet happenstance of someone who struggles with words finding a writer’s words on, of all things, a barf bag and being moved to find her and share that with her.

Adrian Ruby’s kindness touched me, I told him, because I wrote that poem 12 days before my partner collapsed at the airport on the day we were to return home, felled by a cardiac arrest, then revived, thanks to the help of people we didn’t yet know. Our lives changed irrevocably on that Hawaii trip, and Adrian Ruby turned out to be one of the people who, months later, also emerged to do us a kindness. Another stranger who was, in the words of my friend, singer-songwriter Ansty McClain, “a friend waiting to happen.”

So Dick and I are grateful to Adrian Ruby for his thoughtfulness, for his persistence in tracking down a writer who scribbled a new poem on an air sickness bag that found its way to a retired jet in Oklahoma. It means more to us than he’ll ever know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy new year!

2019-2020 hau'oli makahiki hou

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