As we learn
To Be, To Change, To Have Direction
Is one Intercommunication within This Magic Sea.
It is the first of December. The Southeast wind drives long swells hard onto the black volcanic rocks of Tutuila's shore. Moira dances lightly over the swells, and makes her final course change into the entrance to Pago Pago harbor. On her port side, a huge, sharp-peaked mountain juts - green and ragged - from Sea. To starboard, an almost vertical green wall crests into the blue tropical sky.
"Impressive," Freddy coils the headsail sheet line, surveying Tutuila's only harbor.
"It's an enormous crater. The crater wall forms the sides of the harbor. The huge peaked mountain over there must be the center plug."
"So where's the rest of the crater wall?" She picks up the other sheet line and coils it.
On the crater wall, next to a church, I can make out a set of leads indicating the entrance to the channel. I bring Moira's bow towards them. "We passed over it about ten minutes ago. It's on the chart. Probably blew out when Tutuila was born. Now it's a reef about 30 or 40 feet deep."
"I wonder why everybody hates it here?" Freddy stands on the cockpit seat and checks the alignment of the leads. The tranquility of the crater harbor, the green, protective walls covered with jungle, and the little villages dotting the coastline look very inviting. Especially after our long bash to windward.
"Louis isn't everybody," A Purse Seiner is headed out of the harbor, ready to go hunting for Tuna. Ahead the harbor twists off to the west and as it opens out we see the tuna cannery complex, its wharf piled three deep with tuna fishing boats of every description. Enormous, ultramodern purse seiners with pretty little helicopters on top; a large transport ship, and maybe fifty oriental longliners in various stages of rusty decay. There is a bright yellow cable-car dangling from a cable which stretches from the center of the volcanic plug right across the harbor up to the highest summit of the crater wall.
"Louis wasn't the only one who said they hated it here." she replies. "Everybody hates American Samoa."
"We've got to try that," I point to the cable car.
The main wharf and the small town of Pago Pago are on our left as we turn into the protected, inner portion of the drowned volcano crater. It looks run-down. The main wharf is piled with hundreds of containers from container ships. I glimpse a good old yellow school bus in what must be the center of town and a perfectly ordinary black and white cop car. It's the good old U.S. of A. We make way for a really dilapidated looking Korean longliner headed out to sea.
"How'd you like to be on that?" I ask Freddy. She just shrugs, meaning it was a really dumb question.
"There are some yachts over there," Freddy points to a cluster of yachts tied up to an earthen berm about mid-way along the southern coast of the bay. We angle towards it. Louis told me there would be a grotty marina called the Arc Park. You clear in there, on the outside.
Two yachts are already tied up to the face of the clearance wharf. We do a slow fly-by and Freddy asks a woman on the decrepit looking ketch if we can tie up alongside to clear in. Then we set out the bumpers and go alongside. We shut down the engine. And the heat is on.
"Holy Crispy!," Freddy gasps, "It's hot!"
"It's hot," I concur. "Let's get the awning up." Already the teak in the cockpit is too hot to stand on. We put up the awning and get out of the heat, limp with sweat. Living in a volcano crater in the tropics in summer ain't gonna be fun.
"That's OK," says the woman on the yacht next to us, "It rains a lot. Almost every day, so it kind of cools off a bit."
7 December. Pearl Harbor day.
I am deeply impressed. She is as wide as she is tall. She's so round her vertical striped dress makes her look like a beach ball. Two young Samoan men put their hands on her enormous ass and, giggling, shove as hard as they can. She wiggles and squirms and squirts through the tiny door into the Pago Pago bus. Acid Rock thunders from the 80 watt speakers on the front floor of the bus. We see the woman roll aft and occupy a whole third of the wood bench along one side of the bus. Freddy and I get aboard.
The bus is a home made affair, built on the chassis of some GM truck or car. It's painted in longitudinal red white and blue stripes with white stars on a blue field for the roof. The windows are sheets of scarred plexiglass sliding fore and aft in wood grooves. Freddy slides her window aft and puts her nose in the air stream. The smell in the bus is a bit ripe. "I suppose the ladies work in the Tuna Cannery," I murmur to Freddy.
"No shit, Sherlock," she snaps. The bus not only reeks of oily fish, it also is dense with smoke. Freddy hates cigarette smoke. With the exception of Madame Beach Ball, Freddy and I, the other people on the bus are all enormous women, dressed in white from head to rubber boots. About half of them are puffing on cigarettes, maybe to anesthetize their noses after a hard day picking fish flesh off Charlie the tuna.
We have already learned the secrets of working the busses. When you see one, raise your hand, it stops. When you want to get off, rap on the wooden overhead, it stops. Although how the driver hears you rap is a mystery since the music is blasting hard enough to make the whole rig bounce down the road. When you get off, you toss a quarter on the dashboard. If you toss a dollar, then you get off, make a casual half-turn and reach your hand back into the bus without looking. The driver puts the change in your hand by the time you do this and then lead-foots the accelerator.
"That must be it," I poke Freddy as we round a bend and I see a huge, square block of a building adjacent to what is clearly a school. There is a turn-off into the school about 100 meters ahead. I reach up and tap the overhead to give the driver warning.
The bus stops. Like that. Like I had tossed out an anchor. We are about 75 meters short of the obvious turn-off, right in the middle of the turn. It seems, when you tap, the driver breaks. None of this advance notice or stopping only at bus-stops. Freddy and I get off, dutifully tossing two quarters on the rug-covered dashboard over the big speakers. I glance back as we walk off and see the forest of medallions and ineffective air fresheners surge back as the driver roars off down the road. Another bus, this one with a big eagle painted on the side, zooms after it.
"Hey, they're great, we'll have to take a tour around the island on those things." I take Freddy's hand as we walk towards the KVZK TV studio.
"The stink is enough to make your teeth melt," She says sunnily.
I am totally unprepared for what happens when we open the plain wood front door and march into the KVZK-TV building. The shock arrests us in mid-stride and we gasp, mouths open, panting. "MY GOD! OH, MY GREAT FUZZY GOD!"
It is freezing cold. Like being in a vast meat locker. We edge down the hallway, strangers in a strange land, our lungs and bodies clutching the wonderful ice cold air. "We have found the never never land of Pago Pago," Freddy sighs.
A large, Samoan secretary looks at us with bland indifference to our obvious religious joy at the cold air. "We are looking for Dave Irving," I grin.
"Upstairs," she moves her head imperceptibly left. We walk that way and come upon a flight of wooden stairs. Up the stairs we enter the provence of the Department of Education. Another secretary sends us to the Art Department way at the back of the building. There seem to be a lot of people around. It's a big building. Half-way along the hall there is a glass window looking down into a TV studio filled with ancient and dusty video equipment. At the door to the Art Department I stop and ask again for Dave Irving.
"That's me," a middle-aged man holds up his hand, wiggling his fingers and flashing a big hollywood grin.
"Hi, I'm Rick Chesher and this is Freddy. From the yacht Moira."
"Oh, hey, all right, Hi, guys. Sure. Got some mail for you. We wondered when you were coming. Sort of expected you a month ago." Dave ushers us in to his cubical in one corner of the spacious room. He's the kind of personality you like on first sight and like even more when you get to know him.
"I hope you don't mind our using your post office box number, Louis said it would be OK and warned us that general delivery mail sometimes goes astray here."
"No problem, no problem. How are Louis and George?" Dave's California accent and mannerisms are engaging. "When are they coming back to Samoa? We haven't seen them for years."
"They're fine. Louis has decided to settle down in Fiji. He's started an art gallery in Malololailai. Looks like you've settled in here pretty well yourself." Dave's desk area is well fleshed out with books and personal things with that patina of long-term belonging.
"Yup. Pidge and I - uh - well. We're going to stay here awhile. Hell, I hardly spend any time aboard the Matthew these days." Dave's friendly glow flickers and fades. "You see, the medical facilities here are free for residents and Pidge....well, she's got a medical problem and you know, uh....we could never afford the treatments anywhere else. Radiation, chemotherapy, all that. She's in Hawaii right now, getting another treatment."
"Oh." This bit of bad news leaves me just standing there, uncertain of what to say.
"Well, look, why don't you guys stop over about 5 this evening and get your mail? We live right opposite the marina. Fourth house from the turn off to the marina. How long are you going to stay?"
"Probably for the hurricane season."
"Great. We'll have plenty of time to get to know each other."
The instant we walk out of the front door the heat assaults us. "Christ, I'm blind." My ice cold sunglasses have completely fogged over in the humid furnace. I stagger around with my arms out in front of me like a blind man. Freddy giggles. I remove my fogged sunglasses and squint back at the huge, brown, square, windowless monolith. "It looks like it was designed by the same architect that built Scrooge McDuck's money-bin."
"I'll bet it was the radioactivity." Freddy says thoughtfully as we stand waiting for a bus.
"Dave's wife. Cancer. Radioactivity in Tahiti. Louis and George said Dave and Pidge spent a long time in Tahiti - years - I'll bet that's how she got cancer. Remember the doctors in Suva? The one's on Princess Grace's yacht. Don't you remember she told me they worked in Tahiti for months, helping out with cancer patients. She said the French government tried to hide the statistics, but the number of cancer patients there was ridiculously high for the size of the population."
"Yeah, Of course I remember. The guy told me they found radioactive debris on a beach at Moorea, too. You could be right. Plutonium is a heavy metal. Once it gets into the biosphere, it accumulates in living tissue and gets passed along to the top predator. Hominids are the top predator. Any amount of plutonium is dangerous."
We board a big bus and rock and roll out along the perimeter road heading west. Once we are out of the crater and make the turn onto the south coast, the air cools from a light southeasterly wind. The island looks cleaner. We ride and ride, Samoans get on and off at intervals. The driver changes rock and roll tapes, alternating acid rock with basic rock. An imitation Elvis bee-bops us past American Samoa's people. The homes become larger, the villages neater, the further we go away from Pago Pago. The road is not bad, well kept. We pass three shopping centers and eventually come to a town called Leone. The bus stops, turns around and the driver, a 250 pound Samoan in a tank-top T-shirt, looks back at us. "End of the line." He says in Californian American. "You guys tourists?"
"Right, Just want to see the island."
"No problems. I gotta get some stuff then I'll head back into town. Be about 15 minutes if you want to walk around. I gotta collect two bucks from you, though. OK?"
"Yeah, it's a buck each to Leone. Fifty cents to Nu'ule shopping center from town. A quarter for short hops. I gotta collect now because it's my dad's bus." He gathers up the heap of coins and bills from the dash with his massive paw. I give him two dollars and he squeezes his hulk out the door and ambles towards a small store. He must be six-foot three. I revise my weight estimate to a solid 280 pounds. Samoans tend to be big.
Freddy and I get out and wander along the street. The sea is just visible through the trees and there is a small estuary, crossed by a bridge, at one end of town. Most of the houses are standard U.S.A. type homes but here and there are some big, sprawling, open houses of a more traditional Samoan design. Oval, open, with logs all around holding up the roof and mats on the floor. We stand and look into one. There are several large mounds lying on the floor, one of them supporting its head on a hand and watching a huge color television set.
At five, we stop by Dave's house. Their house overlooks the Ark Park. It is one of those old, tropical, single story, wood, government houses. And it is busy. Dave hands us our mail and introduces us to Rick Davis who also works for the Department of Education (DOE in local jargon) and an older man named Bill Travis, who pops up out of his chair and pumps my hand.
Bill Travis is an Englishman, maybe late 50s or early sixties, whose weather-beaten face and stout build says Sea all over it. He's energized, speaking in a clipped, educated British accent at something like 100 words a minute. He stumbles, in his perpetual excitement, over some of the words. He is captain of a fishing boat, working deep mid-ocean reefs out of Western Samoa. Bill says he left England in 1946. "So, tell me, what about yourself, what are you doing here in American Samoa?"
"Well, I hope to be using the KVZK studio to put together a film I've been working on."
"Yes? Good. Good. And what's the film about?" Bill's lively eyes brook no evasions or shoddy answers."
"I call it, 'This Magic Sea'. Essentially, it is about how awareness has developed on the planet. About how the world we see around us is the culmination of 4.5 billion years of the planet learning new modes of behavior, building layer upon layer of behavioral networks, from atoms to molecules to cells to multicellular organisms, to social networks and on to a global consciousness which is the language system of Man."
"Oh, Tellurism! You're a Tellurist." Bill smiles and settles back, satisfied. "How interesting. How delightful. Yes, yes, very interesting. I am, too, you know. Been one since the war when I looked down from 20,000 feet and discovered there was no boundary at all between Germany and France. Heh, heh, heh."
People generally have no idea what I'm talking about or they jump to conclusions in entirely the wrong direction. This is the first time, however, anyone has hit me with Tellurism. What the hell is Tellurism?
"Ahh, you have heard of Tellurism? Secret of the Gods? E. T. Stringer? Oikumenos? No? Nothing? Oh my goodness, you must read Stringer's book. I have a copy back in Apia, I'll hunt it up for you." Bill makes a note in a little book.
"Secret of the Gods?" I assume it's something like VanDaniken or some other offering from the lunatic fringe.
"Oh, don't let the title put you off, it's written by a meteorologist, actually, and not a bad job of it. He's put forward the thesis that the planet is a living organism and describes the development of civilization as an embryonic process. Very well done, I think. Sees layers of selves from atoms, molecules, cells, humans, and then larger beings called Oikumenos - that's civilization - Bios - the biosphere - tellus - that's the planet - Atenos is the star, and of course then there is the galaxy, universe, the whole system. What about Derry's book, The Earth is Alive? Read that one? What about Korbitzky, do you know him?"
"Uh, yes. Certainly."
"And what's his name? You know, wrote the Rise and Fall of the West?" Bill frowns and kneeds his temples to work out the elusive name. "Dear oh dear, can't recall. Anyway, a good book. Good, very good. He compares the rise and fall of three or four different civilizations, including ours, and shows parallel stages of development. Says they are growth stages like the learning phases we all pass through as individuals. Also puts together the thesis of civilizations as developing individuals."
"I see you guys have hit it off," Dave sits down next to Bill. My mind is frozen in shock. Not only does Bill seem to understand what I said, he seems to know more than I do about it. There are a thousand things which come to mind to ask him but just as I get around to saying anything, Bill jumps up, looks at his watch, and heads for the door like the white rabbit in Alice and Wonderland.
"Look, gotta go, sorry to rush off. Richard, Freddy, nice to meet you. Dave, be back in a few days. Ta ta, all." And he grabs a battered old briefcase and is out the door like a shot.
"Quite a character," Freddy observes.
Dave laughs, "You bet, there are endless Bill Travis stories. He's the last of the old time British Adventurers. A fighter pilot during the War, a mercenary, written several very good books, and the best story-teller you'll ever meet. He's married to a genuine Western Samoan Princess."