BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
Once there were and there were not …
“Sone le le” from Andre’s 1000x album is blaring in your earbuds as you battle your default human nature of being unsatisfied, lazy, suffering, lethargic and ennuied.
You are pushing half your body weight away from your chest, against gravity and destiny, and sweating in a gym on the fourth floor of a building at the intersection of King and Ward in Honolulu.
You open your eyes and standing in front of your is a Kazakh lawyer. His lips are moving; he’s talking to you.
You smile and remove your left earbud to hear him, because your right brain is intuitive and process the whole and not the parts.
His name is Tim. You met him more than a year ago at the gym. He and his wife have a strict routine they follow every other day.
Today, he jumps through a series of thoughts and questions.
“Your anchor Pamela Young. She’s the most talented woman on the air here. I saw her live reports from the Vatican. Good coverage of the Mother Marianne Cope beatification ceremonies.”
When you first met Tim, he asked where you were from. “You’re not local,” he said.
You’ve always had issues with the word local. What is local in the 21st century? So, you told him about the place of your birth, the place of your origins, the civil war and the American schools where you were taught to be global and cosmopolitan.
“I know Armenians,” he had said. Then he had explained his accent and where he was from with some hesitation. He had said people knew his country only as the butt of jokes, thanks to Sasha Cohen.
You had almost said people around the world knew your Homeland because of a reality show star. But you had refrained.
“Armenians are smart. You’ve got Jewish blood in you,” he begins and then asks whom you think the President will name as the head of the DOD? Then he asks which think tanks do you follow and most agree with?
#FOURTH MACHINE, THIRD SET
The Beautified Project’s rendition of “Kilikia” is blaring when you feel a light slap on your shoulder. You’re doing curls and turn to see who it is.
Josh is a Filipino-Mexican public school counselor. Smart. Dedicated to his students. He’s the only child of a military couple from Nebraska, who stayed on the islands after they left the service.
“I told my cousin I met a Kardashian,” he says.
You ask him to explain.
“You,” he says. “You’re the Kardashian.”
Brad says hello. He’s the retired Air Force pilot from South Carolina, who now spends a few hours a day selling time shares in Ko Olina.
You introduce the men to one another and make your way to the treadmills and Joanne, who lives three floors below you in your building down the street and thinks you’re her landlord’s nephew. She is carefully walking uphill and watching the Hill on C-SPAN.
You smile and think of all the people whom you’ve met at the gym, in your apartment building and at work:
Joe, the Hawaiian doctor whose Hawaiian parents are both doctors. He has just returned from USC to join the family practice. Haruko, the precious great grandmother next door whose name means spring, and the pilot down the hall who flies to Hong Kong with his fiancee, the stewardess, every week.
Then there’s Takashi, the chain smoking neighbor next door whose wife walks him to the garden so he won’t smoke inside their home. He’s multilingual with a keen sense of politics and political players on the islands, and he is a consul at the Japanese consulate and writes reports to the Foreign Ministry about everything that is happening here.
There’s Matt, the art historian and tour guide at Shangri La, Bob, the former bodyguard of the Hollywood stars, and lest not forget the Beirutsi Armenians huddling together every Tuesday in the back of a Waikiki jewelry shop for backgammon tournaments.
#MENTAL WORKOUT IS PAU (finished)
On the elevator, you’re greeted by the bright smile of an academic named Marco. He’s a multiple degreed mench with a historied personal story dating back to Sicily, the Bronx, San Francisco and now the islands. He helps run a private university and is tasked with its institutional effectiveness.
When you were working in Armenia a few years ago, a friend of a friend called you ‘riffraff.’ She did what native Armenians did to the repatriates in the 40s – reverse racism, the expression of self-hatred towards others, encultured xenophobia.
She, a diasporan, equated people who weren’t fortunate enough to land in one place and have a steady job in their chosen profession to debris that the waves thrashed around and delivered to a beach.
Debris has been washing up on the islands from the 2011 Japanese triple disaster, when a tsunami and earthquake created a nuclear nightmare, and the ocean’s gyrations have brought boats, buoys and a television set to Hawaii.
Your Genocide was your multi-generational tsunami, and here you are – wherever you are reading this column.
What can you be but grateful, learning after a lifetime to trust the waves, the oceans, the universe – God as She sweeps you where you need to be. You feel blessed and are grateful to have been allowed to enjoy the label, rather title of riffraff – debris of the world, trash.
You’re royal riffraff, the connector of people, the glue of society, the spiritual soul making the universe a friendlier place.
You, we, I am proud and blessed to be riffraff.
Had you not trusted Her, would you have ever met and learned from the 101 incredible souls on Oahu like the Kazhakh, the Filipino, Japanese, Hawaiian, jeweler, restaurateur, painter, writer, retired Jordanian doctor, the sniper, engineer, banker, the Air Force Captain, the grandmother of ten, and globe-trotting journalists… all in one place, somewhere over the rainbow.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.
Paul Chaderjian is a television news producer at the ABC station serving the Hawaiian Islands. He has worked at ABC News in New York as a writer-producer for “World News Now” and as a reporter in Fresno. He served as the Arts & Culture and West Coast Editor of the Armenian Reporter, anchored English-language news at Armenia TV and has hosted the annual Armenia Fund Telethon. He may be reached via paulchad.com.