Genuflect by Gordy Grundy
Autumn 2001; Issue No. 54
A RESPONSE TO NINE-ELEVEN, PART I
HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE.
Many of you don't know that I own an island in the South Pacific where I spend a great deal of my time. When I'm not dogging it in Los Angeles, Walihi is the place I call home. It is a refuge-it was a refuge, a place of tranquility and beauty far, far away from the many humanities of our world.
Walihi lies north of Tahiti and southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. Far from the shipping lanes, it is a small island that has been charted by only a few seafarers throughout history. Walihi, pronounced 'volley-high,' roughly translates as The Island of Limitless Love and Endless Beauty to the Edge of Time. Despite its size, the island affords several lush green valleys and seven distinct beaches where long rollers, perfectly shaped, caress the wide shores of fine white sand. The surf is always up on my moku, my island. The hale nui or Plantation House was built in the mid-nineteenth century by a reclusive whaling captain who had a startlingly contemporary eye for architecture and a passionate demand to spend the cocktail hour facing West planted in a comfy chaise on a wide lanai. The few guests that I have brought to the island cannot witness a sunset without sobbing, for the beauty is so intense that it invokes a private and personal catharsis.
I don't mean to brag but there are two painting studios on the island, the smallest offering five thousand square feet of workspace and a motorized roof. Lack of storage is an ill wind of the past. On the occasion when I go 'figurative' there are plenty of models, ready and willing. Unlike the guaranteed heaven of an Islamic kamikaze where seventy black eyed virgins are awaiting, Walihi is populated with dark eyed men and women, none of whom are virginal. This is just one of the many reasons why nightclub Mocambo at Bacchus Beach on the north shore is always hoppin'.
Life on Walihi is idyllic, but the island is not a utopia. Even though the team of gardeners may snip the thorns from every rose and comb the thistles off a Koa tree, red ants battle black ants and jellyfish invade the shores after every full moon. Orchids blossom and die. Cows are murdered, tarred with marinade, then sacrificed upon my bar-be-que grill. A bartender may screw up a cocktail proportion. Haole guests will get a sunburn and a coconut occasionally falls upon my head. The Realities of Life are not ignored for they are accepted judiciously and rationally. Prominently placed on a rise in the Valley of Higher Thought, there is a small but tastefully designed temple dedicated to Aristotle. A long reflecting pool edged with lotus blossoms mirrors the bright light of The Eternal Flame of Reason and Objectivity. On nights when dark clouds obscure the ever-present full moon, the Eternal Flame fills the valley and glows like a volcanic beacon.
Nicknamed Led Zep, Haleakala or Mount Stairway to Heaven is the islands highest peak. The purple and black lava rock rises abruptly and dramatically to an elevation of 5,280 feet above sea level. The summit is narrow and affords a spectacular and unobstructed view. When a Chinese junk crashed upon the Reef of Irresponsibility, I salvaged the Lazy Susan from the galley and brought it to Led Zep's plateau. The Lazy Susan was big enough to sit on and allowed me to spin slowly and view the world in 360 degrees. There I have witnessed seven solar eclipses. I have seen the umbra, the shadow of the Moon, cross the Pacific and darken the blue waters like the hand of a God. I have seen the fire of Bailey's Beads, the flare of the Diamond Ring and the horizon bleeding red in an endless sunset.
I rarely tell anyone about Walihi because it is too hard to put into communicable words. Life on the island is as easy as remote control. It is as soft as the Castillian leather in a SUV. It is as warm and constant as an electric blanket and as meaningful as a heartfelt Emmy Award winning sitcom. It has the forceful power of a 9.3-liter engine, the refreshment of a sports drink and the passion of an electronic greeting card. Walihi was all these good things but so much, much more.
Early on the morning of Tuesday, September Eleventh, I was collecting seashells in the Lagoon of Romantic Love on the southwestern shore of the island, standing knee deep in water of such a translucent blue green that no artist's palette could ever capture it. Ka'ne, my pet dolphin, was leaping and playing just a few yards away. The tradewinds cooled the sun, crisp on my neck and shoulders. Suddenly the seashell basket that was floating beside me drifted seaward so fast that I could not grab it in time. At first, I thought the tide was simply changing. Then I noticed an increasing pull upon my legs. The pull became a surge. The water was draining from the lagoon with such force that I was knocked off my feet. The sea was leaving the shore. I staggered to stand upright. Ka'ne leapt high but his powerful tail could not propel him forward and he was swept away. Any escape was useless. The outer reef, that just a minute before had been invisible and submerged, now stood exposed. Fish, suddenly stranded, flip-flopped their useless tails in puddles of wet sand.
The empty lagoon had fed the growing surge offshore. It was not a wave but a wall of water moving incredibly fast and forcefully. The reef filled instantly and the lagoon was consumed. It lifted me up, gently at first, and shoved me along at increasing speeds. Suddenly I was thrown over the beach, across the park, over roads and through the fields. Palms were ripped from their shallow roots. The Plantation House splintered into shards of glass, mahogany and sandalwood. Wild-eyed livestock thrashed to keep their heads above water. The wave carried us relentlessly forward. I could make no resistance nor offer help as friends flailed past me. The red striped walls of nightclub Mocambo zigzagged to abstract expression. Books were torn from their shelves and the shelves ripped from the walls in the Library of Progress and Modernity. The bleachers in the volleyball stadium dissolved into splinters of broken bamboo. Onward the waters pushed over the island. The great surge began to slow as the wave ran up the Valley of Higher Thought and destroyed the temple. The Eternal Flame of Reason was snuffed instantly.
Usually caused by the sudden displacement of land in an undersea quake, a tsunami or kai e`e, is a rhythmic wave of kinetic energy. As it crosses the ocean at speeds over five hundred miles per hour, a tsunami often passes under a ship at sea unnoticed, for the wave averages a height of only three to five inches. When it meets an island, a tsunami does not collide but rather envelopes. Water is piled upon the land kinetically. This is not the source of its great destruction; the advance of the water destroys little. The devastation is wrought when the waters are sucked back to sea with a hellish force and uncontrollable fury; its retreat carries everything and everyone away with it.
THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY
With the quiet power and speed of a tsunami, our American way of life has changed. The waters have just begun to recede and it is too early to determine the breadth of the destruction. All we can feel now is the shock and sting of the slap. Like the sadness that accompanies great beauty, there is an opportunity in our tragedy. These events have kicked open a fresh window into our sensibilities. We have been given a new chance to think deliberately. This situation is forcing us to determine value, to find what truly matters and what does not. Life does not look the same. Our channel has been changed. The Refresh Button has been hit. Some of what we see is good, some of it is bad and some of it is ugly.
Due to space limitations and the timing of good taste, my list of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly has been suspended. The waters are too turbulent. There is so much that we are seeing and feeling; life is now a slamdance across the emotional spectrum. I am proud and awed by the heroics of those that made a conscious and selfish decision to take a bullet for a brother. I am nervous when I see ten-gallon hats riding on six-gallon heads. I blanch at the patriotism of 0% APR financing and I cry proudly for the values of our Founding Fathers. I fear for unseen dangers. I am appalled by the hawks and disgusted at the doves. I get nauseous when the Neutra homeowner frets that he may be a target for anti-Modernist thugs. It's no wonder I drink.
There is a sound that sometimes reverberates in my head. It haunts me often and fascinates me endlessly. The Hollow, as I call it, lives deep in my ear. It is as horrific as it is beguiling. I am seduced by it. The sound is hard to describe. It is the cacophony of formed metal as it is forced into another shape. It is the howl of a car flipping over and over across Sunset Boulevard. It is the moan of a ship as it tears into an uncharted reef. It could even be the sound of an airplane as it enters a skyscraper. The Hollow's screeching high treble is murdered by it's hellishly low, pounding and unforgettable bass.
The Hollow is a trigger to survival. It produces a unique, instinctive reaction. When faced with danger, the human animal will assess a situation and react accordingly. We judge the threat against our defensive capabilities, list our options and scan for venues of escape before we make the decision to fight or flee. The Hollow is a representative sound of a peril so fierce, so ungodly and incomprehensible that there is no retreat from it. Its force is so devastating and its path is so unpredictable that any fight is futile and all escape is impossible. Logic demands that we relent to its great and unknown power. To survive, one's muscles must go lax and follow the flow of the turbulence. The Hollow demands that we lose our control and abandon our will, for that is the only survival option. Given the terrorist threat, all we can do is give a little blood, strengthen our vision and try to keep an even keel while the Hollow screams and howls in our ears.
GORDY GRUNDY is a Los Angeles based painter. His visual and literary work can be found at http://www.GordyGrundy.com.
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