It's tax time. After the holidays, New Year's Day, the Super Bowl and the Oscars, this doesn't even pretend to be a season of happiness. It's a time of laboriously poring over bad-news numbers on slips of paper of all shapes and sizes. It's taxing just trying to sort it all out, especially when you know you're going to pay at the end.
Still, every now and then you find a silver lining as you fill in the blanks. When you're a writer, everything's a story - even tax documents. Going over my eccentrically organized file folders last week with my accountant Gene Simon in his converted backyard garage in Pukalani was as much talk story as it was number crunching.
Lots of tax returns get filed from converted garages on Maui. That's our style when it comes to high finance on the Valley Isle. A little funky, a little laid-back, tropical plants outside the windows.
But the sad sum of the numbers filling the blanks also added up to a happier narrative of how the year was spent. Literally.
Turns out, a lot of my 2013 was spent in hardware stores. "Retirement," after all, is
pretty close in the dictionary to "rebuild" and "remodel." In Upcountry Maui, hardware stores double as cultural centers. Kula Hardware with its glorious nursery and Kula Community Association baseball hats on sale at the cash register. Pukalani Ace, where they take that "helpful hardware man" motto to heart - the female staffers especially. And Miyake in Makawao for 2-by-10s and other long lists of lumber.
Oh, sure, Lowes and Home Depot are also well represented on the year-end credit card statement, but it's the neighborhood stores that you count on in a pinch. Especially considering that you'll be back in a few minutes to get what you actually needed the first time. By the third visit, for sure.
A great thing about hardware stores in our complex world is that they're one place you can find answers. By the third visit, for sure. They offer the promise of actually being able to fix things. That's an elusive pursuit for us humans.
As more and more modern technology goes digital - a mysterious, invisible alchemy as far as most of us are concerned - hardware stores still have nuts and bolts. The laws of physics are still in effect. And the employees behind the cash register at Pukalani Ace usually manage to work a little cheerful encouragement into the process, which never hurts.
Upcountry cultural centers aren't limited to hardware stores. Pukalani Superette not only always has just what you need foodwise, but also has 50 years of history, stretching back like roots into the culture tending the farm fields of Haleakala's fertile slopes. And you may run into Neida Bangerter or Keith McCrary in the checkout line.
Pukalani Foodland offers not only great poke, but chances to catch up in the aisles with Teena Rasmussen from the Mayor's Office; or Kula Hospital head, Dr. Nicole Apoliona, who updates me on progress in the state Legislature to transfer public hospitals to a private nonprofit.
Once at Foodland, I ran into Lisa and Kris Kristoferson, on their way to town from their home in Hana. They were just back from a White House concert, televised on PBS, where Kris was the guest of honor as an all-star lineup chimed in on his immortal "Me and Bobby McGee" for the first family and guests.
When I told Kris I had just seen him on TV playing for the president, he said, "Yeah, I can't believe he stayed for the whole thing."
With horses on the hillsides, cattle occasionally dotting the slopes of Haleakala Ranch, farms growing everything from persimmons to proteas, Surfing Goat Dairy and the new Ocean Vodka distillery, fertile Upcountry feels worlds away from the tropical postcard, palm tree-lined beaches visible on both north and south shores from this altitude.
It's a place that has always been about agriculture, but the ethnic mix of families who have worked its lands for generations - the Chinese, the Japanese, the Portuguese, the haoles and the rest - have produced a rainbow-colored society in the process.
One reason I love going to Kula Community Association meetings is to be reminded that as spread out and rural as things feel up here on the mountain, it really is a community. A vibrant community that makes things grow from the earth below our feet, under that huge, hopeful dome of sky above our heads.
It's a hardworking place, but healthy, happy and mostly sane.
Even if it takes tax time to remind us.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-9535.