My sister changed her name to Just Gail sometime in the mid-late 1990s. She reasoned that she didn’t want to have any man’s name, and yet she was not a big enough presence to have “just” one name. The rest of us were glad both of our parents were dead before she did this, and we weren’t really surprised because Just Gail had always been just one of a kind. Gail and I were half sisters but the half never got in the way of sisterhood. She was seven years older than I, and we grew up together in the same homes in Evanston, Denver, Towson, Maryland and Riverside, Connecticut. In Denver, she drove a white 54 Mercury and had boyfriends with t-shirts with rolled up sleeves. She and my sister Sherry hosted a gang of kids in the basement of our home, which had a separate entrance so it was easy for my parents to ignore, and my younger brother and I were not allowed to go down the stairs. Which of course we did. It was there that I saw my first tatoo.
In Baltimore, Gail went to Towson High School and from there she went to Endicott Junior College in Massachusetts. Mother always said that Gail was the smartest of the four of us. She certainly was the most out-of-the-box. One of a kind to be sure.
When we lived in Riverside she worked for MARS broadcasting, the home of the syndication of the Dick Clark radio show. Even though it was a radio show, she was always telling me and my teenage friends that we should practice our dancing in case they needed some extra dancers. I can’t remember whether we believed her.
Gail left home when she married a man with nine brothers and sisters from Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. Before they divorced, she had three wonderful children, all of whom have grown up to be wonderful people. One is a comedian, one is a photographer and natural born artist, and one is a school administrator. They have children of their own and after a brief stint living in Vilas, North Carolina (Gail’s maiden name, not coincidentally to this, was Vilas) Just Gail returned to New Hampshire to be near her children and grandchildren. She was proud to see her comedian son on Letterman earlier this year. She had a big heart.
She loved to go to antique stores and thrift shops and she always came up with something thoughtful and perfect for the person she sent it to. I have an old wooden flag that says “Old Glory” on it, and our store has several pineapples we use in our merchandising and a pair of dogs that keep our Island Mango Poi Dog company.
Gail believed that she had powers that allowed her to predict the future, even to will things into being. She went to sweat lodges, became friends with Indian chiefs and had a Tee Pee in her backyard for some period of time (post-children and pre-grandchildren). She loved poetry and would frequently breakout into recitations, unbidden. She tried out to be on The Price is Right, her favorite TV show. She hand wrote a book about our family and mailed a copy to Maria Flook who wrote Invisible Eden: A Story of Love and Murder on Cape Cod. Ms. Flook never got back to her.
Towards the end of her life she subsisted on Coca Cola and cigarettes and Filet O Fish sandwiches from McDonald’s. Though we didn’t see each other often, she and I spoke on the phone three times a week. She would talk about her children and her grandchildren effusively.
About a month ago, Gail had a stroke, was hospitalized, and sent to rehab. At rehab, she became enraged that she had arrived there wholly by a series of accidents. She did not believe she’d had a stroke and demanded to go home. On the morning they let her out of rehab she had a remarkable showdown with the staff who would not let her go outside in 4 degree weather to wait for her daughter. I heard a lot about this during the week after she got out of rehab. So did her children. Her dog Fancy had been given away when she was in rehab, and she got her back. About a week later, her daughter dropped by her house and could tell Gail was in real trouble. Gail died the next day.
Two years ago, Gail came to visit me in Hawaii. When she left she gave me one of her purple alarm clocks. She had two. I have looked at that alarm clock every day since she gave it to me, and I look even harder at it now. That was the last time I saw her.
On March 10 Mark and I went to “An Evening with David Sedaris” at the Hawai`i theater. We left Kailua with enough time to park the car in the lot that borders Bethel / Beretania and Nuuanu (for those of you who live here). It was packed solid and the parking agent told us we had to go elsewhere. It’s a little bit difficult to negotiate, and so while we were turning around I sent a message to my grandmother — who is in charge of parking. A woman turned up who was leaving at that very moment.
She pointed out her car and we followed her towards it. Then, she did a really Hawai`i kine thing. She got the parking ticket off her dash, brought it to us and told us to use up the time on it. It was good until 12:19 a.m. the next morning. This kind of surprising small gesture is typical of what you find here in Hawai`i and it gave us a great start to our evening. We tipped the parking agent and off we went to Hawai`i Theater.
Beth-Ann Kozlovich from Hawai`i Public Radio introduced Sedaris, telling the story about the last time he was in Hawai`i. Evidently a very not Hawai`i thing happened to him: he was robbed at the house he was staying at, losing lots of important personal stuff including his laptop which he had not backed up. For a real writer that has to be a miserable, horrible thing.
This year, so far so good. He and his partner Hugh had been on Maui and he came to the stage (un-robbed) to read some recent stories, a New Yorker story about his sister committing suicide and several diary entries he had written.
I love his books, and the stories were great fun. He even brought humor (if a bit dark) to the story about his sister’s death. Then came the diary entries. I assume these had not been published and that we were hearing the unedited David Sedaris.
And here’s what I found out. He is outrageous to be sure. But he is also mean. David Sedaris and Hawai`i = cognitive dissonance. Because Hawai`i itself is such a small town, where you are likely to run into anyone at any time, you don’t get close and personal with many people like David Sedaris. Don’t get me wrong: I had a great “Evening with David Sedaris. ” His dark, sardonic, sarcastic wit even tickled my East Coast fancy.
But I had to compare him to the lady in the parking lot. With her simple gesture, she lifted our spirits and started our evening off just right. Some of his diary entries made me wonder if a harder me hadn’t been like that in earlier times. And grateful that Hawai`i has softened me up.
When Brook and I started our Brand Strategy Group business twenty four years ago, we sent an announcement postcard that was headlined “A Woman’s Place is in the Market.” It was crafted by our friend Brian Gallagher and made the case for our big advertising agency expertise. Not surprisingly many of our male friends added the word “meat” before “market,” and you wouldn’t believe how many people asked us (over and over again) “When are you going to get a real job” or “When are you going back to the agency side of the business?”
We persisted, and built a solid reputation for being the branding experts in Hawai`i. At one point, we printed tongue-in-check t-shirts which said “Garvey + Gramann The Smartest People in Hawai`i.” We had a great time and were lucky (and good) enough to work with businesses large and small, including: Pictures Plus, Island Insurance, Hawaiian Host, Maui Divers, Kahuku Brand, the Hawai`i Seal of Quality and many,many more. At some point people stopped asking when we were going to get a real job.
All that being said, it is still a man’s world out there, and despite progress, we all know that women are still being paid less than men and few have really broken the glass ceiling.
Last week, New York’s Cardinal Dolan spoke with CBS about women’s role in the church, saying that although women could not be priests it is ” important for the church to listen to them more seriously because their advice is really valuable.” Pointing to his collar, he noted that “you don’t have to have one of these to do God’s work.” A typical exclusive-male’s-club answer. Was he saying that up until now, the male power base in the church has not been listening to women? It’s not like nuns have not already been bearing the burdens of the church since time immemorial. And I don’t believe Catholic nuns are looking for pat’s on the head for their godliness. I don’t recall seeing “Priests on A Bus.”
Just this morning there was a story about how Getty images asking its “24,000 photographers around the world” to send them pictures of women that show competence and accurately reflect exactly what is happening with women today. That they have to scour the world for these pictures says a lot in itself.
Worse than all of this is the trend across Republican legislatures around the country to roll back Rove v Wade and to have the government get control over women’s bodies. According to polls, a majority of women in evangelical churches are happy with what these legislatures are doing. I grew up during the sixties and over the past decades this backwards fall did not seem possible. This does not bode well for the future of women in the United States. A woman’s place, and a woman’s body, should be under her control.
Twenty years ago, the last time that the idea of rail was gathering steam in Honolulu, Brook and I got to work with the big tour bus companies, Charlie’s Taxi and well known rail foe Cliff Slater on a project called BusPlus.
We met pretty much in secret, and weren’t “allowed” to say Slater was part of the meetings, lest we alert the rail proponents of the project. The idea, called BusPlus, was for the big bus companies (Roberts, Grayline, Polynesian Adventure…) to help solve the traffic problem — in lieu of rail — by using the hours that visitors were’t travelling (and were coincidentally the peak traffic hours) to offer an “executive” bus service. They planned to offer service to all of the well travelled areas, complete with coffee and newspapers, taking people to work and bringing them home.
In order to make sure that their business plan was accurate, BusPlus did a survey asking when people needed transportation to work. They found that in the Waianae area that so many people had two jobs that they would need to travel early in the morning and late at night. The sheer numbers of people that this applied to was surprising … I was understanding for the first time that Hawai`i’s unemployment rate does not come close to telling the real story. Another thing we found out was that government employees paid only $30 a month for parking (even back then, that wasn’t much) and so it was going to be hard to get them out of their cars.
Once a plan was put together, we went to talk to Gary Gill at the City Council (his position at the time) and I must say he was not the type of civil servant I believed he should be (sorry, Gary, but you lectured us and didn’t listen…).
BusPlus never happened because the rail project was killed that year, with Arnold Morgado casting the last vote against rail, and one of the last votes of his political career. Thank God for Arnold Morgado.
As everyone knows, the rail proponents spent the next decade getting ready to relaunch what I continue to think will be the biggest disaster in Hawai`i’s encounter with mankind. And they have succeeded. So I am waxing nostaligc for BusPlus, which I strongly believe would have been a huge part of the solution, and we would actually have had a shot at solving Honolulu’s traffic problems.
I wanted to take a moment to give Castle Hospital and all of its employees 5 stars, 5 diamonds, thumbs up — as I was treated very well during my overnight stay this week at the hospital.
Readers of this blog know that I had a heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery in 2004. The surgeon used veins from my left leg to repair my broken arteries. I am approaching the 10 year mark, and I cannot tell you how many people have told me that I would have another heart attack at ten years because veins used (versus arteries) clog up. So I have been particularly sensitive about this these days, even paranoid. On Tuesday morning I was sitting at my desk, planning to go to lunch with Brook to discuss some business when I began to get a feeling of warmth in my chest. No chest pain, nothing else. But women present atypically, and I definitely did ten years ago.
I went upstairs to take my blood pressure and it was quite high … didn’t come down … so I decided to call an ambulance. This is what they tell you to do, even if you are not sure, which I was not. I went around and locked up the house, called Mark, Brook and Ian and told them I was calling 911. Two fire engines and one ambulance (from Waimanalo!) arrived in short order, and I was transported (I believe that is what they call it) to Castle Hospital ER. Brook, Ian and Mark got there before I did. The ER was so crowded that there were people lying in the halls, and I was pushed, sitting up, into the middle of the room. They got me a bed after about 10 minutes, and I spent the day there hooked up to monitors, getting my blood drawn …
The hospital was full so about 3 p.m. they told me I was going to have to spend the night in the ER. Not happy. But they found me a private room and moved me there about 5:30. Happy. Everyone in the ER was wonderful, as were the nurses and aides on the Laulima floor, and the nuclear medicine, radiologist and cardiologist folks too. Brook came at 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday and stayed with me through all my tests and until I was released from the hospital. Ten years ago, she spent every night in the hospital with me. Lucky to have such a good friend.
Happy to say, I got to go home on Wednesday, having been told I had not had a heart attack and my heart was in comparatively good shape — I am lucky to (most probably) be in the 50% of people whose veins do not clog up at the ten year mark, and I may be around a bit longer.
Castle is a terrific place and we’re lucky to have it in Kailua.
Gloria. Circa 1955.
Gloria. Circa 2012.
Other than working for the American Red Cross in Korea for two years, Gloria Garvey has lived in Hawai`i since 1971. Her opinion and other writing has appeared in: The American Philatelist. Honolulu Weekly, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star Bulletin, The Star Advertiser, Hawai`i Reporter, Pacific Business News, Island Scene, The Design Management Journal.