Wednesday, October 5, 2016

ALOHA NUI LOA (CONTINUED)

    So now that I had the US Government car firmly in my grasp ("for official business only") I
set out to get the materials to build my new home in the banana patch I'd 'rented'. First I figured that I'd need some big bamboo to use for the basic structure so I headed over to the Dept of Forestry and, after showing them my Official Government ID, told them I what I needed (I mentioned something about building playground equipment). They said they didn't have any big bamboo lying around but the best place to get some would probably be around their weather station at the top of Mount Tantalus. They gave me directions and also gave me a key to a locked gate that I'd need to use for the private roadway that led to the top. I had to promise that I'd bring the key back to them, which I did, both promise and bring it back, and I set out for Mt. Tantalus.

If you look closely you can see the incredible road that lead
up and down Mt. Tantalus
   The drive up Mt. Tantalus was as luscious and exotic as the name suggests with a road that any sports car driver would love. Near the top I found the gate and after opening the lock I proceeded up to the mist covered mountain top. Beautiful. The top was a veritable forest of gigantic bamboo trees, most too big for my use but some smaller ones would do, but the thing I recall the most was this wonderful musical clacking sound of the bamboo
trees rubbing up against each other in the wind. I don't remember how I cut and hauled the bamboo I needed down that road but I did and before I returned the key to Forestry. I stopped by a locksmith to have a duplicate made for myself, just in case I ever want to go back again. This was perhaps going to be a little more difficult than it sounded because stamped clearly on the key were the words: Property of US Government DO NOT DUPLICATE.

   The locksmith could read and as his wide eyes looked up at me, probably ready to explain why he couldn't make my key,  I had my Government ID out and ready for him, and without another word he proceeded to make my 'personal' key to the top of Mt. Tantalus.

   After I had procured the bamboo I wanted to get my floor off the ground since there were many life forms co-existing with me in the patch, most of them harmless (but large) insect varieties except for one species, the giant centipede which was poisonous. I generally like all insects but I put mosquito netting on my procurement list so at least I'd be fairly secure while I slept. 'Fairly secure' is appropriate as one night I jumped up as two giant 'things' ran across my face. I quickly got my flashlight and found two fist-sized spiders crawling on the inside of the mosquito netting. It took me a little while to get them safely outside, but I liked all those critters, so this is what I'd call a 'minor inconvenience'. 

   Anyway my next acquisition turned out to also be free...used airplane tires that were scattered outside Honolulu International Airport would keep my floor off the ground. I did have to purchase some wood flooring that I got from a used building materials junkyard and with the final addition of some rope and clear plastic sheeting (for a roof) I was ready for construction.


Here it is! VISTA, of course thought I was 'strange' but after Alaska this was 'cake'. You'll notice
there is a tiered roof. That was so the wind coming down the valley could blow through the roof
while the rain would cascade from the first tier to the second and flow off the roof behind my bed,
while I stayed  cozy and dry. And it actually worked, for a while....
   Now all this time I was working at the Curriculum Center at the University and learning about their programs and figuring out ways that could help. I was in charge of about twenty student artists/designers so the first steps were getting to know them and their skills and also making sure they had the tools and supplies they needed to do heir jobs.

   My boss, and head of all the creative services at the Center was Dr. Julius Yucker, Colonel, USAF, PhD. Ret., and as you can imagine, in many ways, we couldn't have been more different. Col. Yucker was military. Straight as an arrow, neat as a pin, wore a sport jacket and tie every day, had perfectly polished shoes, and hair short and probably trimmed to military specification. He had perfect posture. He arrived and left on time and was generally was the opposite of me.

   My dedication was to the specific project I was working on so there were weekends where I worked around the clock to get something ready for its deadline. This was 'normal' in the design world I came from. Everything else was secondary. I came and left when I felt like it (usually showing up late and leaving after everyone else). This was also Hawaii, man, so I never even owned shoes other than those rubber zoris, certainly no tie, and I guess my hair was a bit longer than military spec would suggest. And we really don't have to discuss 'straight', do we?

   Nonetheless, I was apparently doing a good job by the results that were flowing out of my department and although we had our superficial differences, Dr. Yucker and I liked each other, either that or we both found each other entertaining.  Actually everybody I met at the Curriculum Center was talented, dedicated and a pleasure to work with.

   One day, after a couple of months on the job, Col. Yucker called me into his office. "Listen Stanley", (I knew I was in trouble when people used my full name) he continued, I really don't care what clothes you wear, or the hours you keep, or how you comb your hair or the way you run your department." (What the hell was this leading up to I'm thinking) "I just have one favor to ask of you....(here it comes)...."just don't exaggerate!" Wow, my first thought was "I'm dead!". 

   Actually I was relieved that this wasn't something serious and I immediately agreed with him, but at the same time I knew that when I got excited about the possibilities of what we, the Curriculum Center, was attempting to accomplish, I knew that an optimistic view of the future could be misconstrued as an 'exaggeration'.  Anyway, as far as I was concerned, nothing had changed.

  And what exactly was the Curriculum Center about anyway? Well, it seemed that a lot of Hawaiian kids who graduated High School on the islands and who went on to schools on the mainland had the experience of being teased about their 'accents', their use of the English language. The Center's goal was to teach (introduce) kids (grades 1-6) to Language, specifically English, and was divided into three sections SKILLS, LITERATURE, and SYSTEMS.

   SKILLS was what it sounded like: developing the basic reading, writing and comprehension skills to communicate. What I couldn't fully appreciate at the time was that the Center was developing unique 'peer teaching' materials so that, simply put, kids could teach each other. If you've read my blog here called 'APPLAUSE' you'd have a glimpse of the kind of creativity these educators were developing. Today we'd call these materials
A Spelling Kit
'interactive'. The Curriculum Center was years ahead of it's time, and the materials were specifically targeted to the children of Hawaii. It was funded by grants from the "Great Society' of Lyndon Johnson, but where other school districts on the mainland might wind up with educators writing papers, the Legislature, Board of Education and College of Education at the University of Hawaii decided to do something concrete for the kids of Hawaii. It's not easy to know how visionary a project is when a) you're not an educator b) you've just spent a year living with the Eskimos and c) it's your first real design job, but looking back I believe the educators at the Honolulu Curriculum Center were way ahead of their time and were all brilliant.


  Now the people I was working with were almost all PH's with credentials in education up the ying-yang and while I had a degree in Industrial Design from Pratt, the truth was this was still my first job and I was a bit intimidated by their knowledge and position. That all changed when I was handed an assignment from one of the PhD's to look over and make some design suggestions. I asked a question or two and she shrugged them off saying that the materials were self-explanatory. It was Friday so I had the weekend to look over the stuff and when I spoke to her on Monday I told her that there were things that I didn't understand. "What do you mean?" she said, "It's self-explanatory!", as if not understanding it was somehow my fault. Well, I just smiled and said ok or something like that but while walking away I thought this PhD was just not that smart because self-explanatory means I have to understand it. So rather than argue specifics I went ahead and changed some of the instructions and the content to match the design I was proposing simply to make the experience more 'self-explanatory'. Making those kinds of changes was perhaps outside of my 'rice bowl' but when I handed it in and after she saw how well it all worked together, my stock went up a bit (just a bit) and I think my content contributions were perhaps accepted a bit more. I still screwed up enough stuff to keep me realizing I still had a lot to learn.

   My favorite division at the Center was the LANGUAGE SYSTEMS group. They attempted to answer the question: "Why do we have to learn language anyway?" The group, led by Dr.Ted Rodgers had a brilliant answer for those kids. It was "Because language is used in a million ways after school like... in popular songs, in advertising, in animal communication, in sign language etc. etc. and they developed full multi-media educational kits (with creatively written subject guides,workbooks, records, films, examples, audiotapes etc.) on those different subjects that the kids could explore, investigate and create with for a couple of weeks when that particular subject kit was in their classroom. Genius.

   Take ADVERTISING for example. The kids studied how language was used in ads and of course wound up writing (and drawing) their own ads, some of which were reproduced and
Book Cover
printed into the workbooks for the following years students to see. One of my favorites was "BUGS AND MUGS", one kid's ad for cups that came pre-printed with insects already on it, cause if you lived in Hawaii, you'd get the joke. And it was a great ad. We told advertising stories and gave kids an immersive experience that, again, I thought was brilliant. Here's some examples of the ads the kids developed:



'Bugs and Mugs' and 'The Right Bright Shoe"


   Or when we were working on the SIGN LANGUAGE UNIT, it just so happened that the first Boeing 747 was soon going to be landing at Honolulu International Airport. I don't remember who made the contact for us (everybody knew everybody on Oahu, or they knew someone who did) and so, on that great day, my Government car full of my design team was allowed to drive right onto the tarmac to watch the signal man bring that behemoth to a complete stop. We also got pictures of all his 'signing' commands for our book: check it out:



   And for ANIMAL COMMUNICATION we got permission to reprint and illustrate a current article from Psychology today on how Sarah, a chimpanzee was communicating with her human 'friends'. Great, great stuff.



   It's also pretty easy to see how these seminal experiences led me to have a pretty successful career as a designer of interactive museum exhibits and as a consultant to museum education departments developing 'kits' for places like The American Museum of Natural History, The Brooklyn Museum, The Bronx Zoo, The Detroit Institute of Arts and, by invitation, The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.


   So you get the idea: the Curriculum Center was a great place to work. When my VISTA commitment ended, they hired me as a regular employee and it was my first real paid design job. I made a lot of mistakes, but also helped develop some cool projects and work with some great people. The worst part of leaving VISTA was that I had to surrender the car, and surrender was the right word here. I've had a lot of cars in my life but that Government grey Rambler American was the only car I actually kissed goodbye when I had to turn over the keys.


  And my 'Banana home'?.... it was great for several months until the 'winter' (not to be confused with the Alaskan 'winter') came with its torrential rains and winds that drenched and shredded my 'home' (and me) back into the 'real' world, but by that time I could (just) afford a small place on the beach which, as everyone knows, is pretty much as good as it gets.

   One more thing. I now needed a car and remember those winding roads up Mount Tantalus....

ALOHA ! 










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2 comments:

  1. Surprisingly; I did enjoy reading your very long blog, Stan! As for kids at school learning efective communication skills; you may want to contact Toastmasters International as we have chapters(clubs)all over Hawaii! Even the Governor of Hawaii some years ago was an active member herself! We have Youth Leadership Workshops of 6-8 weeks that help youth communicate better! Adults join to better their professional-speaking skills;to be able to Interview better and be able to speak to small and large groups eloquently!

    Mrs. Choon, DTM(Distinguished Toastmaster)-District ONE Toastmasters, Los Angeles, CA

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    Replies
    1. Thank you very much. I'm delighted that you enjoyed it and that you took the time to tell me. Recently I was invited to speak at VISTAs 50th Anniversary Celebration about my year in the Eskimo village of Sleetmute, Alaska in 1969. It was a great experience (both the year and the speech)

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