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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Pau Hana

The reasons why I moved a lot about the country were mostly due to weather conditions more than anything else, as I assume it is for many other people who have a tendency to not stay put. Growing up in Buffalo, NY was a lesson in cold temperature survival. In 1977 there was a great blizzard in Buffalo. I was 24 years old and loaded with wild oats. By the following spring I was out of there, moving to, of all places, Kona, Hawaii.  The cultural differences in this example are kind of hilarious. For one, I had a strong city accent that was so out of place in Hawaii that most people concluded that I was some kind of gangster or hood simply from the sound of my voice. My skin complexion was drastically white and unhealthy looking to most Hawaiians. I had absolutely no sense whatsoever of what it meant to be of Hawaiian descent, and my sense of nature, in general, was extremely limited. Despite such drawbacks, however, I did manage to get a job, starting out as a bus person at a Hilton Hotel. From there I moved up to room-service waiter and bar server. I was also hired by a small jewelry store in the hotel as a part-time sales clerk.

A search through the classifieds got me a place to live in which I shared an apartment with a man who happened to be an ex-convict, but he was actually a very good person and no problem to share an apartment with at all. In short, I was able to support myself and live comfortably in one of the most beautiful places in the world – and there was no longer a need to put on a jacket of any sort. I reveled in aloha shirts and tee shirts, Bermuda shorts and flip flops. Life was good. Going to the beach and having a beer while watching an amazing sun set was something I never got tired of doing. There was, however, one big drawback that came to haunt me after over two years of living the Aloha spirit – the higher education system on the Big Island of Hawaii was less than stellar. If I wanted to get ahead in life I needed to go back to the mainland and get a degree. 

I am not to saying that living in Hawaii would not have worked out. I also found that having a New York State education gave me a competitive edge for employment opportunities in Hawaii. I was quickly moving up the ranks and had progressed to becoming a desk clerk, night auditor and management assistant in the hospitality industry.  If I stayed, I would have eventually landed a management-level position, without a college degree, at a hotel that paid a decent wage with strong benefits due to the strong hotel unions and lived happily ever after in Paradise. 

I graduated from a male-only parochial high school where academics and discipline were drilled into us on a daily basis by Franciscan priests who often used corporal punishment to enforce their demands. There were no beautiful ocean waves on pristine beaches to escape to. Instead we were mostly stuck in doors for 7 to 8 months out of the year, looking at snow and ice, and textbooks.

There was no “pau hana,” spirit in Buffalo, as they say in Hawaii. Pau Hana is a commonly used phrase that means the time for relaxing and socializing after work. Hawaiians use it all the time as a social icebreaker : “Pau hana, bra?” they would say in their pigeon English slang, meaning are you ready to have a good time and forget about the rigors of work, sit back, relax and “talk story,” as they often said in reference to simply enjoying the company of friends in a non-threatening environment. It was just another example of the kicked-back lifestyle and pleasant Aloha spirit that Hawaiians are famous for.

Now Buffalo, as well as most Rust Belt cities, is another story. Rust Belt citizens have a much harder existence that can be seen in their customarily stern faces and overall serious nature. Our daily life is more of a constant battle with the elements of nature that pound our faces and constrict our ability to walk unimpeded. In many ways just living in Buffalo during the heart of winter is work in and of itself, thus making any kind of pau hana spirit relatively nonexistent. Of course, we celebrate our time off  like anyone else, it’s just that we have to do more work to get to that point, being forced to remove snow barriers, clean off our cars, heat up our windows and trudge through the sludge. Then, of course, there isn’t much to look at other than the mounds of snow piling up outside our windows. 

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