Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chapter 1 - Addiction

I’ve steered my life through countless strange turns, but I had never encountered a series of curves quite as perilous as Candy’s. I met her on a Friday night; First Friday in downtown Honolulu, when the city descends on Chinatown to meet up with good friends and look at bad art. I was entertaining my wife, her mother and a collection of girlfriends at Le Baron Noir, an intimate little French brasserie-inspired wine bar that had just opened. I had fashioned the place into an office of sorts, making a personal haunt out of the small bar in the back room. The back room bartender was a sommelier-in-training and my wife, Svetlana, was a wine aficionado having spent most of her adult life in France and other points throughout Europe.

Svetlana had an appetite for fine wines and our bartender was always holding very interesting bottles under the bar for “testing”, as the bar hadn’t yet settled upon its final wine list. She and I made a point of spending as much time there as possible and invited other friends there to meet us regularly, in order to support the growth of the place. We had seen too many good and inspired places in Honolulu shut down for lack of selling their concept to a decidedly provincial Honolulu populace. On this First Friday our wishes were fulfilled and the place was full from wall to wall and the din of jubilant conversation echoed from the rafters.

Svetlana was also strikingly beautiful and it was customary for her to command the attention of the room. She was doing just that when Candy swam through the crowd and up to the back bar with a few friends giving chase. A high pitched chirp danced in the din and her presence could be felt by everyone, whether they had noticed her countenance or not. My mother-in-law was fascinated and drew in on her first to introduce herself. Svetlana was next and the three of them were soon engaged in conversation. Almost jealously, I shifted around to her other flank to make an introduction of my own.

“Hi there, and welcome to my bar! I’m Robyn.” I added.

“Hi!” She squealed with piercing exuberance, as though I was the first person she had ever met in her life. “I’m Manby!”

“Manby?” I asked, never having heard of such a name.

“No, Manby!” she happily squealed a little more loudly this time. “Who names their kid Manby.” I wondered, but I could do little about it.

I was already addicted to the sweet harmonious pitch of her voice and the sparkle in her eyes that lit up everything that she deigned to cast her glance upon. I was lit up and that was all that mattered. I didn’t have any trouble hearing the rest. She had just come from a church meeting and had a pair of her Christian friends in tow. They looked around the bar at the revellers and imbibers disapprovingly. Candy introduced them to me and without a second thought and I asked them if I could treat them to a glass of wine. The shorter and more belligerent looking of the two explained that she didn’t drink. I told her that I found that to be somewhat astonishing since Jesus was a drinker.

The secret was out. I knew more about the Bible than a drunkard from a wine bar should know. Alas, it would take many chapters to explain how I came to read and reread the Scriptures myself. The woman remarked that if I really knew anything about Jesus or the Bible, I wouldn’t drink either. We had trapped one another in a cage and it was time for the cage match to begin. I decided to launch the opening volley. “I don’t know you,” I confided, “but I’m certain that I know more about the Scriptures than you do.”

This was a bold opening to make to a woman that goes to church on a Friday evening and is not Jewish, but I knew the die was cast. The short woman’s eyes lit up, not expecting such a bold assault. I gave her moment to compose a rebuttal and for the first time noticed the odd French a capella music in the background. “Duppy duppy duppy duppy dup dup dup, duppy duppy duppy duppy dup dup dup,” went the song in repetition.

I braced for impact while Candy’s eyes were wild in anticipation. She had never seen a worldly person challenge one of her Christian friends before and certainly never over scripture. It was taking too long. I supplemented my challenge with, “I don’t like the way Protestantism is practiced in the United States because the scriptures are heralded as the ‘unerring word of God’. They simply take the Bible to literally here when it is rather littered with mistakes.”

She had two openings available to make her charge. She paused, looked up to the left and nodded in an upwardly motion as though to acknowledge a thumbs-up from Jesus himself. Resolute, her nostrils flared with a spark of confidence. “There is not a single mistake anywhere in the Holy Scriptures!” She retorted. The proof was back on me.

I love these types of challenges. My friends know better than to assail me when I make a bold statement out of the blue and they certainly know better than to make bold statements of their own that are not well researched. They prefer to ask me what I have to say before risking the loss of a beer bet or a humiliating dare, because all too often they have suffered Wikipedia proving my case before they had the sense to back out. I usually do a special treatment when a Christian takes me up in a challenge, however. I’ll like to show them the proof of my case (and their folly) in whatever Bible they might have on their person. “Let me show you in your own book.” I’ll say.

Judas was on my mind at the time. I have a morbid fascination for betrayal. This was newly aroused in me because I was finishing off Dante’s Inferno at the time and recently learned that the betrayers get the worst treatment of anyone in Hell. Also, the National Geographic Society had just uncovered a set of scrolls that make up the Gospels of Judas, the legendary betrayer of Jesus. Among other things, they suggest that Judas hadn’t betrayed Jesus at all and that he was requested to perform his act of betrayal to bring about the resurrection. It suggests that Mathew and Luke got that part of the story wrong. The Christians I’ve met consider these newfound gospels spurious of course and I knew I wouldn’t win my bar challenge if I were to even make mention of them. I had another idea. I quickly asked her an old standby. I asked if she knew how Judas died.

“Everyone knows that his bowels exploded,” she said, purchasing a number of strange glances from around the bar.

“Yeah, if you read the book of Acts, I think it says something like that in the first chapter.” I grinned ever so slightly and asked if I could see her Bible. “But if you look to the Gospels for the answer, you’ll find that…”

I flipped to the end of Matthew and looked around. Thank God her copy was annotated. I can’t quote chapter and verse with more than one glass of wine in me. “Here it is in Chapter 27. According to Matthew, who had the most to say about this whole affair, Judas went and hung himself. I wonder why the book of Acts got that wrong, don’t you?”

She came back swinging, saying that perhaps Judas hung himself and then exploded. I laughed aloud. It was a good retort, but leaving it behind I pointed out that was only one of hundreds of mistakes and other absurdities. I chided her about how Matthew kicks off the New Testament with the genealogy of Christ, listing 27 generations between David and Christ. Later on in Luke, it takes 43 generations to list the same family line and all the names are different. Later still, in 1 Timothy, it says that people shouldn’t even look at genealogies.

My rival had had enough. She could not stand to watch me flip through her personal Bible looking for mistakes any longer. Bowing her head a little; I don’t know if in shame or respect; she nodded to Candy that it was time for her to leave. She clutched her Bible, lowered her head and snorted out of the bar. Svetlana had been watching in her periphery and caught the end of the conversation when my rival was dizzied, reeling and leaning on the ropes. Svetlana chirped her customarily supportive “Good job, Sweetie!” to me over the din.

Candy looked at me in awe. It was a look of admiration that made me wonder if I’d just saved the life of a small child. I glanced around to be sure. No small children. I can’t say exactly what it was that fully captured her attention that moment; her adoration really. Ironically, by playing the devil’s advocate, I had won her Christian soul in under five minutes.

The night wore on and Candy floated around the room, always coming back to Svetlana and me between her dances from one group of people to the next. She explained that she hadn’t been out in years and wanted to see and do more. I agreed that we should go out and look at some bad art and perhaps try another watering hole. Svetlana took her mother to one event and I took Candy to another resolving that we would meet at a third. On the way I asked if she could spell her name for me. “C-A-N-D-Y,” she replied.

My brain could not have been working properly back there. I asked if her name was actually Candice and if people called her Candy as a nickname. No. As politely as possible, I asked if Candy was some sort of “stage name”. It seemed to be a good name for a stripper. No. Candy said that she did perform from time to time, but as an opera singer. I gazed back at this revelation in amazement and disbelief. How could I be so lucky as to meet an opera singer? “I love the opera,” I said enthusiastically.

I must have revealed some of my disbelief just then. Candy took up the challenge. She leaned over to me and putting one hand on my shoulder and the other on my ear, whispered Mozart’s “Queen of the Night” aria perfectly, fluidly and gently into my soul. Her voice managed the high F in the piece without any indication that she had a hint of difficulty or that there anything unusual about having performed this miracle. I was weak in the knees from having heard such a sweet voice applied so perfectly and beautifully in such a personal way. The turnabout was complete and she had purchased my soul for a song.

The rest of the evening we tripped from one First Friday venue to the next, sometimes finding and sometimes missing Svetlana and her mother. On our travels, Candy explained that she was single, 36 years old and that she spent most of her time between work, church and singing with the Honolulu opera company. I learned that she had her own condo in Waikiki and that this was the first time she had been out having fun since she could remember. In kind, I told her that I was married, mostly happy, gainfully employed, full of big ideas and ready to take on the world.

These might have seemed the kinds of things that a person would say on a first date, assuming that they are enamoured with the other. I personally made the delineation that it was at best, an advanced flirtation on my part, having filled my side of the story with praises for my wife. It was rather a birth. The new and independent Candy was being born before my eyes; born again for me and the world to partake in her sweet and sickly Candy-ness. I was the midwife at the birth of my own calamity.

When the night was through, Candy and I parted company by taxi. She went home to Waikiki and I walked back to my darling wife who messaged me to say she was home. This was the beginning of my addiction to Candy.

To continue this story, I’ll have to explain a curious series of events from the past. This story is the result of an intersection between two very different forces of nature. The first and most influential force in the story is me, your humble narrator and as you have learned, the second is Candy. Candy defies description at every level and when I contemplated the telling of this story, I confess to you that the only people qualified to capture Candy’s essence in poetry or prose have been dead for a very long time.

Shakespeare could have certainly written a play about her. Freud could have written a world renowned paper. Many sociologists and philosophers alike would have been forced to rethink their theories about gender relations, had they even met Candy for an afternoon. As it is, these great writers died too soon. When Candy crashed into my life, the obligation to tell her story became mine. I alone possess the tale and I alone have the onerous duty to relate it to you.

Now it would be impossible to tell a story about a shark without describing the ocean. It would be more difficult still to tell a tale about chlamydia without describing human genitalia and it would be impossible to tell the story of Candy without describing life on the island of Oahu. In this particular saga, there are really two locations that are important to the story from the beginning; the island of Oahu itself and my marriage; a virtual sort of location in space and time, which was being physically conducted for the most part, from our luxury condominium, a short brisk walk from downtown Honolulu.

Oahu, nestled in the middle of the Hawaiian island chain is important to the story not so much on its own accord, but for how it affected me. Over a period of about 10 years on the island, I had the good fortune to acquire a rather large collection of friends, almost all of whom were women. Now it’s true that I may have been predestined for such a fate. My family was matriarchal and I was raised in an environment where women ran the household and made all the major decisions. Any boys born to the family quickly made an escape and were rarely seen around the home except at meal times. By the time I was in the first grade, I regularly had no less than 2 grandmothers (one great), 4 or more aunties, the neighbour girls my mother and a countless friends of theirs all under the same roof at any given time. Uncles, fathers, grandfathers and the like were scarce and reflecting back, probably for good reason.

Growing up alone with women for my only company certainly affected me in such a way that I am necessarily comfortable around them. I enjoy their company and because I’m not constantly in the mind of sexual conquest, they are comfortable around me. I not only endure the contrast between their likes and ambitions, I enjoy the difference in perspective. As it happens, the psychological weather conditions on Oahu formed the perfect storm for me to create a large and diverse collection of women for friends. With a garden of women in my life and in my household at all times, I believe I had created the only sort of ground fertile enough to make a bed for Candy’s flower.

It’s not easy to explain Oahu in an empirical sort of way, because it can be a very different place for the different types of people that live here. The basic facts are commonly known. Oahu is part of the Hawaiian island chain in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no land mass of any size for more than 3000 miles in any direction. Honolulu is the largest city and capital and is on the south shore of Oahu. Hawaii is the 50th state of the United States and both happily and angrily joined the union in 1959. Angry secessionists linger on the island to this day, under the certainty that the U.S. annexation and occupation of their sovereign state was illegal.

While I personally don’t think that being part of the United States is really a boon to Hawaii, the secessionists tell a stranger tale. The first secessionist to make my acquaintance was an angry fellow from the town of Wai'anae. In an emotional speech, he told me that his mother cried the day that Hawaii joined the union. Engaging him further, it was easy to tell that he didn’t really seem to care so much for the politics of secession. He was at a loss to describe the kind of government that he would prefer to be subject to. The only noteworthy sentiment he seemed to carry was a strong distaste for Asians and out of politeness, a limited distaste for haoles (the Hawaiian name for white people), of which both groups seem to visibly outnumber the pacific islanders that first colonized the Hawaiian island chain centuries ago.

In subsequent conversations with secessionists, the only recurring theme seems to be that under an independent Hawaii, some resolution would be enacted to prevent Asians or haoles from ever voting or becoming full citizens regardless of whether they were born here or not. It was of little surprise to me that during the last secessionist rally I witnessed, they hoisted the red-white and black colours of Nazi infamy. I only mention this because in Hawaii, racism is mainstream. It can be very difficult for haoles to get work in Hawaii and the odds are stacked against any colour of newcomer to the islands. It is actually a common occurrence for a mainland haole to have an island lifespan of about 6 months. This is an important factor that has affected my life ever since.

Apart from the beautiful scenery, I learned the hard way that Hawaii actually had very little for a fortune seeker. In truth, to invest in any Hawaiian company that does not hold real estate is folly in the highest. Hawaii has a dearth of quality professionals and many common business sectors are completely absent from the island chain’s rolls. The only non-real estate sector that ever thrives in Hawaii is of course, tourism. Fortune seekers soon learn that there is no manufacturing, no product distributors or wholesalers, no advertising agencies, no software houses, no investment banks, no research companies, no national headquarters for a mainland company, no convention businesses, no fishing fleets, no export businesses (except pineapples). For some, the Hawaii business climate is no more fertile ashore than for someone who might be nearby and adrift at sea.

My talent or gift is to create computer software. Somehow, I manage to force computers bend to my will and when I write software it is the closest thing to magic that exists in the modern world. I create something out of nothing. Despite Hawaiian employers being stingy with their wages, this skill afforded me a series of reasonable paying jobs. For a while I thrived and eventually gained the courage to strike out on my own start up my own consulting company. Being independent and able to set up my own jobs relieved me of the quiet desperation that I was constantly in as an employee.

Like it does in so many relationships that land on her shores, Hawaii intervened to wreak havoc on mine. Many couples come to Hawaii to live their dreams and all too often it’s the husband or boyfriend that soon comes to the conclusion that they cannot make enough money here to feel useful. The man concludes that money is more important than sunny weather while the woman decides that the island is more important than the money and the relationship ends in six months with the man returning to the mainland while the wife remains in a low, but just sufficient paying job.

I’ve made friends out of both men and women here and the men are all gone, save a few. Every man –jack of them left because of money issues. I’ve lost my male friends to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Zurich, Ft. Lauderdale and even Portland; Portland, for fuck sakes. The women have mostly remained, having only lost one to Arizona, one to Mexico. At least they went somewhere warm. Those that remain make up the core of my closest collection friends to this day.

The matter at hand for me had always been as follows: not to become one of the broken Hawaii-bound couples that I had witnessed time and again. Having been on the island for half a decade already, I decided against a new relationship with anyone local and imported Svetlana from Paris. We had sailed past the 5 year mark by this time in the story and were past struggling to survive financially, but the islands had taken a toll on our marriage in every other regard.

To understand this, I’ll have to explain the marriage from beginning. Svetlana, was no less complicated a person than myself. She was born in a tiny land-locked country called Macedonia. Through a pair of marriages and intrigues she ended up living in Paris. She lived on her own and between the steady pay of working in sidewalk cafés and would sometimes make a little extra when employing her talents for photography and design. Her mother, also a Macedonian, had met a Parisian businessman many years earlier and escaped the fate of most of her countrymen through marriage, becoming a French citizen. Svetlana followed suit and eventually had secured a life in Paris, but somehow never managed to get her French passport, a circumstance that dogged us throughout our marriage.

I met her in a coffee shop in London. I was in London to take a course for a database product that I was using. I was getting my usual Starbucks after a long day in class and I noticed her working on a laptop, engaged in what appeared to be the design of a web page. The design was stunning. So was she. “Oh are you a designer?” I asked.

“No, I am just making a design for my mom,” she replied.

Her voice was so unexpectedly sweet. Her accent was not like any that I had ever heard. It was simultaneously Eastern European and French, but on top of that had a lilting quality that was unique and her own. I looked at her brown eyes and knew at once that I was in love.

There are those that don’t believe in love at first sight and I wish that they would have been there when my gaze met Svetlana’s. Nothing else mattered at that moment in life for me except that I must possess and be possessed by her. Coffee turned into dinner and dinner turned into a late night stroll through the city. Svetlana extended her London visit and stayed with me in my hotel in London. It was summer and the rooms were hot and sweaty and Svetlana and I made them hotter and sweatier still. After a few days later she swore her love to me and our fates were sealed together in glass.

When my courses were finished, we toured London, southern England including a nifty trip to Stonehenge and then took the Chunnel to Paris to meet her friends and family. I headed back to Honolulu secure in her love. 3 months later I returned to Paris. We took a road trip to the north with her family and friends and were married in a small ceremony in Denmark, the marriage capital of Europe (for international marriages). After a few tearful goodbyes, we shipped her things to Honolulu and headed there ourselves to start our new life together.

We were a sickeningly sweet couple. “Combien doux!” her friends would say, dragging out the d-o-u-x for several seconds every time they thought to say it followed by a laugh.

We called each other “Sweetie!” without exception, using each other’s real names only for complaints or admonishments, which for us were quite rare in the early going. I had been in many relationships and this one was by far the most free of complaints. Perhaps it was my love for her or perhaps it was just that I was determined to keep and maintain the perfect marriage.

Problems did arise for us in about our third year of marriage. My Canadianness required a work visa to live and work in Hawaii and mine had expired. My former employer had declined to renew with me again, since I was doing more contract work on my own than work directly for them. They had so little work that I’m not sure if that was the reason, but I had no recourse. My biggest contract was with an insurance company and I needed a visa and they needed me. We worked out a deal and they made me an employee. For an entrepreneur, nothing is worse than being an employee.

Being an employee gave me a new lease on Hawaii, however. The pay was still quite reasonable. I was granted a new visa and my visa had the magic stuff needed to get Svetlana a new visa as well. On her own, her Macedonian passport was of less use to the Immigration and Naturalization Services than if it had been issued by Al Qaeda. I was used to sending Svetlana abroad without me. Her work visa in France was similar to the Green Card in the United States in that one had to be on American soil for certain periods of time or the card would become void. I grew accustomed to times being apart from her, but this time it took seven months to resolve the visa issues.

When I finally brought Svetlana back home, I was spent; emotionally, physically and financially. Her visa would not allow her to work, nor could she support my efforts in Hawaii and the entire weight of our relationship was on me. After months of fighting with lawyers, the INS, and clients who always found ways not to pay, I had no energy for anything, including my marriage. “I gave at the altar,” was a phrase that commonly popped into my head… and maybe into a few conversations.

The following year was a period of adjusting to an employee’s wages and lifestyle. Despite being highly paid, taxes and deductions kept us from the high life. Svetlana’s biannual trips to Europe were our only real luxury, except for my car. It was a bright red Porsche Carerra and neither of us were willing to part with it after all we had been through. My life became one of servitude to my new employer, to the newly defined marriage, to the airline companies, the landlord, the bank and credit card companies, the auto loan company, and the list never ended.

I was no longer self-employed in any real sense and could not make any extra money to satisfy the growing pack of wolves at the door. Svetlana was loathe to leave Hawaii after the troubles we’d gone through to get her here. My employers refused to budge on my salary, since I was making nearly as much as the CEO already and was not likely to get more money soon. Further my employers were reticent to let me leave for periods of time to make more money, since they wanted me all to themselves. I was trapped like a rat with nowhere to go but financial oblivion and I suspected that my marriage would enjoy the same slide down.

With my course charted for Hell, it was at this time I decided to read Dante’s Inferno. My fate was out of my hands and I decided to enjoy the ride. I concentrated life on something I could control, which was my social life. Svetlana and I added to our friends through social events and every other kind of event, all of which distracted me from my fate. Just at the time when I was peering down into my own personal descent to oblivion, Dante’s leopard pounced into my life to greet me. Her name was Candy.


  1. I just learned that you were growing up in a household full of women. When I was young, most of people that surrounded me were male...cousin, uncles, siblings, kids in neighborhood, etc.

    Will keep reading!

  2. your writing took me breathless. almost needed to use my inhaler. you have a talent i didn't know,but glad i took that drink. I'm impressed, my x is a writer but his story bored me with unnecessary detail. You did lay it hard on the bible business, i guess your making your point. It was executed and hard to the point. a little touchy for me. It was your style that intrigued me. i will continue with a fresh day.Dam you good.