“MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD”
By Lou Christine
This book is dedicated to my grandfather, Philo Mickles, (1870-1938)
who aspired to be a writer but because of circumstances, such as fathering 14 children, he never wrote a lick, and this story honors my dear writing friend, Warren Dearden, (1943-1993) who passed-away, way before his time, a baseball-talking buddy, a sensitive-kind man, whose heart bled from his pen and whose beautiful prose and thought-provoking stories were hardly read.
The serious-looking man behind the koa desk could only imagine what news lay unseen inside the certified mail. The envelope—plain. Other than the Honolulu postmark the parcel offered no clues about its origin. Ben wasn’t ecstatic about receiving certified mail—right then he couldn’t recall positive news coinciding with such a formality. Registered letters meant trouble, often bad omens, preludes to some-sort of nasty lawsuit or a dreaded IRS probe.
His secretary, Leilani, placed the post-office’s slip atop his desk the day before. He signed it so one of the Ridgeway foremen could pick up the letter at Kula, Hawaii’s 96790, post office.
Another oddity, certified-or-registered mail was normally addressed toward one of the corporate entities belonging to the multifaceted, Ridgeway corporations belonging to a larger conglomerate. The envelope carried none of those telltale signs. It had a personal touch lacking an official look with no return address. An ordinary stamp had been placed in a crooked manner.
Ben reached for a scrimshaw letter opener with an ornate carving on its end. It was a keepsake with a depiction of an old schooner etched into it. Ben forgot which U.S. President it was, but Ben’s grandfather, Noah Ridgeway, told him long ago the opener with the whale-bone handle once sliced open a presidential-sealed letter. He opened it with one swoop. He unfolded the neatly-typed, three-paged letter. His eyes began to take it in.
The letter’s words hammered themselves home in the midst of the first sentence. Absent were awkward set-up sentences or pussy-footing around. Instead, the letter was made up of words wielding sudden impact!
The prose triggered Ben’s curiosity while targeting his logic. By the second paragraph the tone of it awoke sleeping sentiments. Ben read on, his eyes feasted, his horse sense gulped the explanations with no time for digesting. By the time his eyes sprinted to the last word he was almost out of breath. The letter was signed: Leroy Perierra. Ben laid down the letter gently ignoring other mail and messages. He leaned way back in his swivel rocker. His weight tested the strength of the chair’s rocking-mechanism, pushing the steel frame to its limits. He spun from side to side. For some time Ben just stared at the ceiling.
A strong-looking forearm protruded from inside the sleeve of a blue-cotton, work shirt. He closed his eyes and winced while massaging his temples. He further rubbed his freckled forehead with his freckled, rancher’s fingers—back over the bald spot. At 46, his hair was all but gone. Ben puffed up his cheeks and then let go.
He lurched forward and pushed a plastic call button on his desk phone. “Leilani,” he called to his secretary, “get Keith Boland on the phone.”
Within moments Keith Boland’s booming, courtroom voice came from the other end of the speaker phone. “Yes, Ben! What is it that I can do for you?”
“Keith, I know this is going to come as a surprise but I want you to cease all proceedings against Perierra and his ranch.”
“Sounds like one for the books. Am I hearing you right, Ben?”
“Absolutely, Keith, I want the Ridgeway Corporation to forgo any judgments against the Perierras, and I mean it!”
“Ben, it’s been a long five-year struggle. Has something come up I should know about? I don’t have to tell you how difficult its been to win this fight. What we’ve gained came only after a grind . . . and, buddy, I don’t have to remind, you, the judge handed down a just decision, one we deserved, and one we earned. It’s been attained your way—above board, the way you called it—fair and square, even with the Pereirra bullshit . . . and now you’re telling me you simply want to quit!”
“Keith, I know it sounds crazy but new facts have come to light. Look! I don’t want to go over them right now. I’m still somewhat blown away myself. Stop by the house tonight, I’ll fill in the blanks, but for now—hands off Perierra, OK?”
“OK., Ben, whatever you say.”
Ben’s long-time wife, Kuuipo, entered the spacious office as Ben’s wire went dead. At 45, she still possessed her girlish beauty. She presented herself as a small-framed woman, but beneath her full-length, Hawaiian mumuu, a wicked body pressed up against the cotton fabric, especially in the right spots. Her perfectly round rump contoured itself against the cotton fabric. The first sight of her still stirred the juices of a sensuous man such as Ben.
Ben viewed her as ever so fragile and beautiful, a work of art. He admired her skin. No woman possessed more magnificent skin. Rather than speaking he sat back and further admired her in the morning light. She glowed with such luster, similar to the way a shimmering hand-painted ceramic might light up a drab room. And how much prettier she appeared when she smiled. Yet, she smiled seldom. She smiled that morning though. Ben hoped her smile might be for his benefit . . . and it was.
“Good morning,” she said.
Kuuipo was her Hawaiian name, which means sweetheart. By that time hardly anyone on Maui referred to her by her birth name. She was perceived by most, including the governor of the 50th state, as the stunningly-beautiful Kuuipo; a vibrant woman, a blue-ribbon mother, a philanthropist, the exquisite wife of Ben Ridgeway.
She was active in business and charities. The governor insisted Kuuipo and Ben sit at the head table whenever feasible. Sure, Ben was powerful; a youthful Hawaiian-based millionaire with strong-political ties on both sides of the Pacific, but Kuuipo and her radiant presence added a distinct charm to otherwise stodgy events.
Ben left her bedside at 5:30 a.m. for his daily workout, then not bothering to return. Instead, he scooted off to the office to oversee the family’s ranch and half-a-dozen other growing enterprises. Besides the 200,000-acre spread, which sprawled over parts of three-different, Hawaiian Islands, there were other newer, time-consuming ventures evolving, long after his family established themselves as business icons in the Aloha State, during the past century and a half.
There was Ridgeway Brothers, the inter-island, freight-forwarding company, with a fleet of sea-going barges crisscrossing the currents and treacherous straits flowing between the Hawaiian islands. Then there were subsidiaries, such as the 50th State’s most productive cattle ranch, including an accompanying slaughter house, the Aloha Beef Company. Count several automobile dealerships, commercial real estate, retail outlets, that made up the rest of the Ridgeway empire.
“I wanted to say goodbye . . . but I kissed you instead . . . you were sound asleep.”
“Sorry I didn’t get up with you but I was zonked. It must be the cool air.”
“Come over here. Share this letter with me I just received.”
“Who’s it from?”
“You’ll never believe. It’s from our illustrious neighbor, Leroy Perierra.”
“Leroy Perierra! I never considered he’d be able to write anything worthwhile. Goodness! The man’s a Neanderthal.”
“Write! Christ, the god-damned thing’s typed! And I don’t think . . . why I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it!”
Hearing such a sweeping statement coming from her husband was enough to incite Kuuipo’s curiosity. Her clear, blue eyes darted to the letter’s first page.
In no time she too was struck by the sincere tone and loving sentiments. Before she finished, tears welled. They fogged and dulled the the blue clarity making up her pair of honest eyes.
“Oh, my, God! . . . Why, I never had any idea—and of all people. I can’t imagine Leroy Perierra writing such a touching letter. I’m absolutely flabbergasted! I can’t even imagine him thinking on such terms!”
Ben affirmed, “Neither, did I. He’s been as abrasive as lava rock since we’ve been kids. But then, there’s no doubt how he feels about those horses of his.”
“What are you going to do, Ben?”
“Well, what can I do? You’ve read the letter. I’ve already done it. I just hung up the phone with Keith Boland. I told him to drop all claims against the Perierras.”
“Everything! What about Judge Ricecheck’s decision? Didn’t he turn down Perierra’s final appeal? Isn’t it out of your hands now?”
“We still hold the hammer, of course. Still, we don’t have to enforce the edict. After this I’ve decided to let it go. I don’t know, sweetheart, I’ve never read anything like it! It’s hard to fathom yet it couldn’t have been composed from anybody else other than Leroy Perierra. It’s the damnedest thing!”
Ben’s wife peered back down at the three-page letter. She reread it.
The sender’s name was an all-too familiar character mentioned in the Ridgeway household. Leroy Perierra lived as the Ridgeways immediate neighbor whose family owned forty acres adjacent to the Ridgeway spread. He too was an upcountry rancher on a much smaller scale.
His grandfather, Hector Perierra, purchased forty prime acres at a bargain price from Ben’s grandfather long before, but only after giving up 30-years of his life to the Ridgeways while providing loyal service.
Leroy, the Perierras present-day patriarch, had been locked in a legal squabble with the Ridgeways for seven years, over a small patch of land nestled in a remote corner of both properties. Seems Leroy encroached about 40-square feet of insignificant land. Ben Ridgeway discovered the encroachment after his range workers replaced a dilapidated fence which surrounded the Ridgeway spread.
Ridgeway men, following markings from the most-recent survey, set a new course for the replacement fence. Here-and-there the new fence didn’t follow the exact footings as did the old. The out of whack distance between the old and new rarely varied more than a few feet in either direction.
Within a week after its erection, part of the new fence was mysteriously moved toward the Ridgeways for about eight feet. No matter how insignificant, such movements were reported to Ben Ridgeway.
The Perierra clan, were of Portuguese decent. Their great-grandparents came to Hawaii from the Island of Madeira off of Africa, in the Eastern Atlantic. Their ancestors initially came to the Hawaiian Islands to work for the missionaries, as lunas, (field foremen) on sugar-cane plantations. The Perierras, including many of their Portuguese contemporaries once bossed the Filipino immigrants who were employed as laborers for the Ridgeways, back in the late 1800s when sugar reigned as king. Near the end of the 20th Century, they were no longer employed as lunas.
Most Portuguese diversified by that time and mingled with the rest of Hawaii’s, hybrid society, proudly swelling the ranks of the state’s, Hawaiian Portuguese population, giving themselves to politics, civil service and the private sector. Despite their small numbers they’ve become influential citizens and valuable contributors to the Aloha State.
Leroy wasn’t impressed by the Ridgeways or their wealth. Leroy was physical, not the type of boss to plop himself behind a desk. He lacked education but maintained his own management skills. He possessed brute strength, enough to hoist a car’s transmission and easily toss it into the flat bed of pick up, doing so bare handed with one-defining swoop. Flaunting talk lipped by Maui’s upper crust about making millions bored him and that type of idle talk made him angry. In his view, money didn’t make the man, and the constant blabber about sensational deals and real estate cast that lot as a bunch of weaklings and condescending bastards.
He gave away nothing and Leroy was the type who could have peered into a horse’s mouth and discovered teeth full of diamonds and his expression wouldn’t have change an iota.
More than likely he would have just patted its horsy face, saddled it up, and probably, he would have never bothered to tell anybody.
The Perierra clan stereotyped a certain wing of Hawaiian paniolos. They were boisterous and tough. Their positive traits: Hard-working, loyal and honest. During the last half of the 20th Century the Perierras were independent and no longer in the service of the Ridgeways. The Perierra grandsons scorned at the notion that in the past their family had been pegged as Ridgeway help. Before Ben was born they had already taken on a siege mentality, keeping mostly to themselves, and were thought of by the Ridgeway boys as “hard sells,” and a rough bunch. Most of their spare time was spent riding ponies on the upper ranges of Maui’s Mount Haleakala.
As could be imagined they were proud, big boned, with callused hands while exuding a no-nonsense, work ethic. Many were two-fisted drinkers who didn’t take fancy to the modern ways infiltrating the islands. Embracing newcomers was mostly out of the question.
The Perierras were excellent horsemen. Many of Hawaii’s avid and wealthy polo players boarded their prized ponies at the Perierra collective known as the Kua Kao Ranch. Leroy Perierra derived most of his income by breeding horses. In addition, he boarded other horses, mostly American-quarter horses owned by people who Leroy referred to as rich haoles.
His own prime stock of handsome horses often ran away with the blue ribbons each October at The Maui County Fair.
Since Leroy was 12, he’d been present during the birth of every foal coming to life at Kua Kao Ranch. With such experience, Leroy became the quintessential, equestrian mid-wife.
A dramatic event occurred during one such birth when he was the only person present. On his own he performed an emergency Cesarean section on Ulanda, a cantankerous mare, a Kua Kao favorite.
The lone vet on the island was nowhere to be found. The time—way before the beeper age. Upon, Ulanda, Leroy applied morphine. From his memory he recalled how to perform the procedure. He sterilized a sharp machete with a blowtorch and then opened her up. With great care he reached into the horses sea of organic tissue and pulled from it a soaking foal.
The vet showed in the nick of time, closed the incision, and shook Leroy’s hand. Ulanda and the foal survived. Horse lovers on Maui praised him.
After bringing the baby horse into the world, Leroy named the new arrival, Lilikoi. He raised the filly or we should say pampered her, to no end.
A neighborly call by Ben Ridgeway about the disjointed range fence proved fruitless and didn’t budge Leroy Perierra. He became outright defensive, then stubborn and unreasonable, remaining so all during what was to become a long, drag-ass, legal process. He insisted, “The land belonged to the Perierras!” He told Ben Ridgeway, in colorful language, what he could do with his new fence.
Ben wasn’t about to declare a range war on the Perierras but he wasn’t about to surrender what belonged to his family. His attorney acted accordingly. With no feasible compromises on the table the disagreement turned into a full-blown lawsuit, a lawsuit that filled the pages of the community’s newspaper. A feud ensued.
After seven years the courts determined Ridgeway’s claim justifiably correct. Perierra was ordered by Judge Ricecheck to cease tampering with the new fence.
Perierra and his foot-dragging attorney exhausted the system yet their court proceedings expired. The judge threatened both Leroy Perierra and his legal representative, if they didn’t comply with his court order, they’d be in serious trouble. The Perierras may have been swashbuckling, up-country, Portuguese cowboys but they understood that in the long run with the system ruling the way it did, they couldn’t beat the man.
So came the letter.
Kuuipo Ridgeway finished the letter the second time. Its gripping prose offered a mesmerizing encore. Her memory reflected that during the long-ago past she read something similar, a letter as poignant and as moving. If compared, the most recent composition reminded her of that long-ago letter.
That old letter by then had turned yellow and had crinkled-up but still was kept by Kuuipo, safely tucked away with her private things, still hidden from everyone else’s eyes but hers. By then it had been relegated as an aging, hand-written plea from yesteryear. Mrs. Ben Ridgeway cherished the old letter. If there were comparisons or similarities, both letters were not only eye-opening but stocked heavy with heartfelt devotion.
Between the lines of Leroy’s letter ran a narrative; an exquisite description, painted with words dignifying a tender account. Leroy went on to tell, in heart-wrenching language how he raised the filly, Lilikoi, while carefully prepping her so she’d go on to become a prized mare. He spent much of his spare time grooming and exercising her. Measuring time, he’d match her with the worthiest of Maui’s stallions.
Once pregnant Lilikoi chose a small corner tucked up close to the Ridgeway property. She did so weeks before the expected arrival. She etched out her own nursery some distance from the stable. She shooed away animals and humans. It became her exclusive turf under a lone, purple-blooming Jacaranda and a family of eucalyptus trees that had multi-colored, peeling bark that let off a distinct fragrance much like burnt incense.
Leroy was the only one permitted to come near. Her particular breed held no claim, nor did the breed lean towards having a work ethic, as far as horse life goes. The mare lived a pampered existence. Perhaps she was called upon now and then for an outing or a polo game, or maybe a Fourth of July Parade, whatever. Yet with a baby horse growing inside her and despite the noble lineage, Lilikoi, stomped down tall grass and cleared the soon-to-be nursery of bolder and twig.
The foal’s birth became much anticipated. Leroy decided that during the blessed event it would only be just the three of them. Things didn’t go well. Realizing an emergency situation was at hand, Leroy stamped out the numbers on his cellular, calling in Doc Winston. The doc arrived in ten minutes. Both men worked frantically.
Beforehand Doc Winston said it was essential Lillikoi be conscious during the procedure. A series of injections were employed to both calm her temperament and reduce the mare’s blood pressure. The injections took a different course. Lilikoi acted up! She lurched and rose in the middle of the delivery with the foal hanging half way out of her womb. She panicked. She ran herself in chaotic circles. With such activity surely her vital signs slid close to a danger zone. The foal’s survival was in a precarious state. The foal, possessing its own will to survive, did its best to pull itself out of her womb, valiantly trying to plant all fours squarely on Mother Earth.
A last-ditch attempt to save life had to be called upon! It became dangerously essential to render her unconscious—a dicey play and not part of the original game plan. When that procedure didn’t pan out an attempted Cesarean by the seasoned Doc Winston also failed. Risking injury to all involved, Leroy and Doc did their utmost to remove the trapped foal.
Doc’s last ditch attempt; a tricky and nasty slice and dice procedure, a messy mutilation in the area of Lilikoi’s vagina. With Doc using every kernel of veterinary know-how, he frantically worked. Yet none of them could stave off the oncoming nightmare. Lilikoi and the baby colt perished.
Leroy chased away a sorry Doc Winston. He realized everything humanly possible had been done, yet in his state of grief, he chose to shoo him off in a gruff manner.
Leroy sat frozen in the makeshift nursery for over an hour. He remained numb and felt helpless. The reasons for Lilikoi’s and the foal’s passing were beyond his scope. He thought about praying for God’s intervention but he knew better. It was done. With tears streaming down his cheeks and with shovel in hand, at 2:00 a.m., on January 21st, 1985, Leroy dug the twin graves and buried the pair by himself.
For months he remained a shell of a man. He would simply say, Lilikoi died, and so had the colt. He never disclosed the whereabouts of the remains.
Leroy Perierra, a serious man, was not one to be bantered nor asked intruding questions. He never bothered to mark the graves and he camouflaged the plot’s location. It wasn’t until then, in the form of that letter, did Leroy rehash and overtly grieve, releasing details concerning the tragic miss-birth. In the revelation Leroy pointed out for Ben the hidden location belonging to the gravesite.
In his mind Lilikoi and her colt had been anointed. He deemed himself as their eternal guardian and responsible for seeing both rest forever in peace at the controversial spot—the very spot responsible for the past friction. Friction cropped up between the two families and its effects had taken the two men and their attorneys in and out of Maui County courtrooms for more than five years.
Kuuipo quizzed, “Why do you think Perierra never mentioned anything about the horses in the first place? It could have saved a lot of time and money, along with the bad feelings.”
“You know the god-damned Perierras; they’re proud, especially fucking Leroy. I suppose when the survey shed light, proving the old fence had been erected on the wrong spot, and that the new fence our men erected atop graves. Perierra didn’t think we’d care much about moving the fence back a few feet so he opted to move it himself . . . What a jerk! He never offered a reasonable out or a goddamned explanation. When I first asked him about the fence, he said nothing, other than going into a tirade which ended with a, ‘fuck you, haole!’ Imagine, he calls me, haole! Our family came to the islands 80 years before his—the ignorant son-of-a-bitch!”
“How do you explain the letter?” inquired Kuuipo.
“Whoa! The letter! What a piece of work. Can you believe it? That’s a horse of another color. Imagine! Imagine a crude paniolo such as Leroy Perierra writing a such a letter.”
“I can’t believe it myself,” affirmed Kuuipo, as she held onto the letter. “He must have had someone help him.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s clear by its tone that the words are coming from Leroy’s heart. I mean, he’s a . . . He just . . . Here! . . . Hand me the letter . . . where’s the part?”
Ben snatched the letter out of Kuuipo’s hand, not flashing the same grace as when she fingered the letter. His own pair of blue eyes searched to find a particular passage.
“. . . no boundary, no rotting timber and rusted barbed wire should ever shadow that sacred plot. Something so beautiful, something so innocent, tragically taken from us while in her prime deserves eternal peace.
I, who have cursed you haole. I, who at times whose wanted to wrap my bare hands around your skinny neck, and yes, it’s been, me, who would have enjoyed wringing every breath out of your fuckin’ haole body.
But let me say to you with all sincerity and with every bit of truth I can muster, I myself: Leroy Perierra, would go to my own grave rather than permit your innocent children to be buried beneath such a stigma, especially if you were not present to stop such a desecration.
At this time I am willing to come and apologize to you and your family and strip myself of pride in front of the community to preserve the very place where my Lilikoi rests. Please, Ben! . . . Have mercy.
* * *
It didn’t matter if the typing or convincing language came from Leroy’s fingers or lips or if they were somebody else’s words, words placed strategically with pin-point precision . . . The bottom line: those power-packed nouns, verbs and adjectives rocketed enough “umph” to prompt Ben to change his pragmatic mind. Because of the circumstances, Ben Ridgeway, the serious-minded and tough-in-his-own-way, multimillionaire businessman, was surely stirred, and then willingly relented a hard-fought victory he honorably achieved over the Perierras.
The thought of a capitulating ‘mea culpa’ by Leroy had Ben dumbfounded.
Same as Leroy, the letter was passionate, yet craftily, chocked with attitude, molded by spirit as an intangible. No matter how uncouth the letter became a force that flowed from the bruiser something ever so volatile yet ever so, pure.
Leroy placed his sentiments providing a caring link between a man and nature.
Ben agreed, with Kuuipo, it was doubtful Leroy could have assembled his uncorraled energy into concise thoughts, let alone type them. Yet, the words surely came from the depth of Perierra’s heart
Kuuipo Ridgeway entered her husband’s inner sanctum to discuss plans for the upcoming Christmas party. Ridgeway tradition dictated the husband and wife team host the annual affair. The event took place at the magnificent Ridgeway home in upper Kula.
The mansion was mostly constructed of Hawaiian hard woods, cut from the local forest, and the rest was built by carved stone and lava rock. The estate held a perch on an impressive setting with a magnificent view.
The residence offered breath-taking sunsets. The holiday affair held high emphasis on family and business. Families from the various wings of the Ridgeway empire gathered each year during the early part of the holiday season.
Ben had been tending to the family’s business matters, taking over nine years before, that’s when Horatio Ridgeway passed away. Ben and his four, younger brothers, were the primary principals of the parent corporation. Collectively, they ran the businesses with Ben acting as CEO.
They operated the companies efficiently.
Old friends, key employees, and a sprinkling of recent arrivals to the Islands, made up the mixed ensemble. Loyal employees, ranging from blue-collar to executive, further reinforced an old Ridgeway adage, a year-round sentiment, an adage originally instigated by old-man Ridgeway.
Back when he was alive the old man spoke to each crop of yearly merrymakers and took particular pleasure when he boasted Christmas tidings into annual message he continually perpetuated.
“During Christmas we’re reminded . . .” he’d begin while scanning the room, “no matter what we attain or what type of power we might wield, we can never achieve a loftier plateau, than by being thought of . . . as none-other than as being every man’s keeper and brother!”
The Ridgeway boys adhered to the sentiments voiced by their predecessor.
Kuuipo too kept up with Ridgeway tradition. The happening became one of Maui’s most-sought after invitations, especially since Kuuipo began to set the stage. She developed a knack while able to convey simple methods into nifty, yule-tide themes, since she gently lifting the reins away from Auntie Edna who was fast becoming senile.
A few days after both sharing the letter, Ben flabbergasted Kuuipo saying, “I’d like to invite Leroy Perierra this year. I suppose it might not be a bad idea to show him we’re not just a bunch of land-hungry haoles. He certainly believes we are. We’re neighbors for Christ’s sake. There’s no doubt he’s much more of a sentimental person than we ever gave him credit for.”
“Very well,” voiced Kuuipo, “I have no problem with it, I’ll forward an invitation.”
The ranch house became as Christmas looking as it gets on the 20th parallel. The home’s good-sized doorways boasted large Protea wreaths, a flowered plant growing almost exclusively on the mountain. The arrangements were a mix of rich, colorful blooms, feathery to the touch, yet sturdy enough that they might be-thought-of as something manufactured rather than cultivated. Because of their dry nature and earth-tone colors, the fuzzy flowers maintain their luster maintaining a longer shelf life than most blossoms with them being an excellent choice for the month-long holiday season.
Bouquets of poinsettias were center-pieced on the mahogany drop-leaf tables. Blue, bowed ribbons matched solid-colored balls decorating the tree with the blue ribbons and balls contrasting against the pine’s green. Tannenbaum twinkled on its own decorated merits without artificial illumination.
A hybrid crowd began to arrive around 2:00 p.m. Caucasian, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese and Hawaiians have mingled and married over the last-three centuries. The guests were mostly offsprings of one-time immigrants. They arrived casually dressed in their Sunday best. Good-nature ribbing and year-round aloha added to the Christmas cheer. Many of the top Ridgeway executives were of mixed blood. Two daughters belonging to Ben and Kuuipo by then had married men whose roots stemmed from Asia.
Over the year people were often too busy to acquaint themselves with one another. The affair became perfect setting to do some inside-corporate networking.
A sumptuous buffet lay ready to serve on the peripheral of the main room: Fresh seafood and other island delicacies beckoned. Two, white-jacketed bartenders stood ready. Ben and Kuuipo circulated among the guests.
Ben appreciated the holiday atmosphere. Because of his own hectic
schedule he rarely hobnobbed with ranch hands or lesser-rank employees. He didn’t think of himself, as above them, it was just that most of the time he was too busy. During hectic workdays, he merely said, “Hi,” or flashed a shaka-sign, while speeding off towards another meeting.
The gathering offered opportunity to get closer to his people, for small talk, to find out particulars, to learn of their children or hobbies, or whatever, other than the day-in, day-out talk of sales and figures and the solving of pressing issues.
Ben turned away from the food while biting into a pu-pu. There stood Leroy Perierra. Leroy wore a smile. He didn’t come empty handed. He was armed with yellow roses fresh off the Perierra spread.
“Eh, Ben, . . . aloha. I wen’ bring dees, for dakine—the lady of the house.”
A bearded Leroy Perierra wore his rancher’s best. He sported baggy, Levis-501 jeans. Creases on his pants showed how the pants were recently store-bought yet they were being pressed by amply filled pant legs. The rest the ensemble from the hat and going down to his black-leather, embroidered, cowboy boots had sales tags pinned to them only hours before. Looped though the Levis’ was a thick-leather belt with an imposing belt buckle hammered out of turquoise and silver. The buckle consisted of a large-lettered “L” and the letter “P.” The shirt, red-and-black, plaid-flannel with button-down flaps over the chest pockets. A camel, size-50, cashmere sports coat tented the rest of his girth. He was topped off with a Texas-style, white Stetson.
Kuuipo, with a radiant smile joined her husband’s side. She gracefully accepted the roses along with a peck on the cheek. Ben welcomed Leroy, saying he was pleased Leroy decided to attend.
“How ’bout a cocktail Leroy?”.
“Just beer, brah. I like da-suds.”
Leroy showed no sign of resentment and appeared affable. Since Maui is a relatively small place Leroy had had contact with most of the people in the room.
While guests drank out of cut crystal Leroy slugged down the imported brew, out of the bottle doing so in dramatic fashion.
Ben, Leroy and Kuuipo separated and went on to mingle. Leroy made attempts to join in on pockets of conversation. Awkwardly, one by one, he failed to make headway. After lipping something he perceived as funny, and then after seemingly being rebuffed, he’d back off. Despite the smiles and overtures, he couldn’t perforate those pockets. He began to feel shunned. As the party progressed Leroy became drunk. Worse, while drunk, he became obnoxious.
Company officials, with worry written on their faces and trying not to focus attention on the situation came toward Ben. They frantically whispered what Leroy was trying to pull off.
Too much beer turned him into a sorry excuse for Don Juan. One of Ben’s foremen became livid. Leroy fingered the foreman’s girlfriend’s rear end. Leroy soon became the loudest mouth at the party, shouting across the room, peppering guests’ ears with ethnic slurs. His grotesque laugh began to drown out the piano player and it didn’t lend itself to the Christmas carols trying to be sung by a children’s choir.
Not so nicely one remark landed directly upon a Ridgeway employee, an auto salesman of Japanese decent.
“Eh, brah! Why don’t you sell friggin’ Toyotas, rather than Chevys. Americans should sell Chevys. Japs should sell Toyotas.”
Ben became more concerned after observing Leroy guzzling down another freshly-opened bottle. He pondered. It became obvious, the writing of the tender letter or its auspicious outcome hadn’t changed the stripes on the zebra, a zebra the likes of Leroy Perierra.
Down deep, Ben expected such shenanigans. He permitted it to unfold because in all actuality Ben harbored ulterior motives. Ben desired to extract information from Leroy he deemed vital.
Ben wondered plenty about Leroy’s letter and remained intrigued about the letter’s origin. Something gnawed at him to discover just who assisted Leroy with the action-causing correspondence, and he wondered further how Leroy came to think about making such a move.
With the help of Kuuipo and Leroy’s cousin, a burly, Ridgeway foreman, a staggering Leroy was escorted into Ben’s office. Kuuipo and Leroy’s cousin dumped Leroy on a winged-back chair. Kuuipo and the foreman departed without word and closed the koa doors behind them.
Ben rose from behind his desk. He handed Leroy another chilled beer. The rancher maintained a plastic smile.
“Some friggin’’ office, brah. I wen’ got one friggin” pig pen.” Leroy broke out into another exaggerated fit of laughter. “Brah, it someting what haole money can buy.”
“Actually, my father built this office with his own two hands. He sawed every piece of lumber and set the paneling with some help from my brothers and me. As boys we sanded and stained every piece of wood in here. And I might add, dad assembled this koa desk. I’m sorry to say I can’t take any credit for it.”
Ben realized Leroy’s current condition and he didn’t want to waste time. “Leroy, I have to tell you, I couldn’t get over that letter.. It was impressive. I mean the wording . . .”
“Yeah, brah,” Leroy responded.
“Ahem! Just how did you ever think of such a letter?”
“OK, brah, I won’t try fool you. I nevvah wen’ write that letter.”
“That’s a revelation! . . .Well, if you didn’t, who did?”
“I don’t know. Only it was one haole dude named, Warren, Warren Rearden, or Warren Dearden, or some-other haole-kine name.”
“I’m just curious. Would you mind telling me how you met this letter writer, and how did it come about?”
Leroy fidgeted again. With a touch of reservation he began to unravel the story.
“You see, brah, you and your friggin’‘ lawyers, and your friggin’‘ judge friend, you wen’ had me up against the wall, brah. . . I tell you, brah, I stay pissed. I nevvah know what for do.
“So, brah, like I say, I was bummed. You guys were gonna put dat ugly friggin’ fence over Lilikoi’s grave. So, the night after court, I wen’ suck ‘um up big-time. Next day, I wen’ wake up, ho, bruddah . . . I wen’ got one-big headache, brah. Da-kine, stay pounding.
“It stay Saturday. The fruit-stand place was choke with all kine haole folks. Me no like wait in friggin’ line with dem haoles and all . . . some have da-kine, B.O.
“Instead, I wen’ drink down the juice, dakine, in the back, and I wen’ read the haole bullyton board . . . so, for wait til the line go down . . . so for pay.”
“Wait a minute, Leroy,” interrupted Ben. “Clear something up for me. I’m a little lost here. First, you’ve said you had a severe hangover and then, there you are . . . talking about how you were waiting in line at Haleakala Fruit Stand . . . waiting to pay for the juice?”
“Oh, sorry, brah, I should say first . . . I go there. Don’t tell nobody, but I like drink that ginger-blast they wen’ sell. You know, brah, when I got one friggin’ hangover, it help. That’s the stuff, brah, guarans! I no like go there ‘cause, they got smelly hippies hanging ‘round, acting kinna stupid. Lots of sissy-looking men, wearing sandals, beads, and ‘em short shorts. The buggahs act like friggin’ mahus, all hugging and all. But the chics, brah! You should see, ‘em! Some wahinis wear da-kine see-through dresses. Whew, brah! No bras! I like see ‘em friggin’ tits. Udder dan dat, I nevvah go ‘round dat kinna place.
“So, when I wait, I wen’ read da bullyton board. Sometimes haole chics leave messages. Ho, maybe they like become Portuguee by injection!
“Anyhows, I wen’ see one piece of paper tumb tacked. It wen’ say, ‘Letter Writer available.’ It say more haole stuff, ‘bout, if somebody got one problem with maybe da-kine, IRS, or with some wahine, or whatevers, dat dis guy wen’ write letters for one-small fee. So, I figgah; haoles know how for talk to haoles, so haoles know how, for write haoles. So, I wen’ call da-kine number.
“When I call, I get one-answering service. I leave my number, brah. That night dis haole dude wen’ call me. He say next day we wen’ meet.
“I’ll tell, ya. It hard at first, brah. I no like talking to dis guy. Still, brah, I tell him all about you and I’s problem. I tell him everyting. brah. I no hold back. You should see, brah, when finished, bowf dis haole guy and me are balling like friggin’ mahus. I say, ‘you tink you can tell my story to the big haole man up on the hill?’
“The haole dude wen’ tell me if what I say stay true . . . and from da-kine, heart . . . well, brah, he say he should get my point across, if he wen’ write one letter.
“He wen’ talk haole stuff, about logic and all. Stuff I no like talk about.
“I say, how much? He say, fifty. I say, let’s go, brah. The man say I have no editorial rights. He want me for give him just details and it stay done. That’s it. Said, he mail me one copy of what he write, but he nevvah want no more input. I figgah I have nothing for lose? I nevvah wen’ see him again. He nevvah contact me, for-see how I make out.
“The dude write one radical letter eh, brah?”
Leroy beamed, as if he beat the white man at his own game. Ben simply nodded his head. To him the revelations about the letter and its origin were fascinating and as mysterious as the letter itself.
“Did this Warren say anything else about himself—where he was from, or where he lives?”
“Nah. I nevvah ask. Me, no care. I just want one friggin’ letter that wen’ do the job. I tink he say, he was passing through. I nevvah wen’ see him before . . . Did I tell you dat?”
Despite the power of the pen and the compassion extended toward Leroy he refused the gift of enlightenment. According to him, he employed the white-man’s system for his own intentions.
Ben had heard enough. The gray area about the letter was clearer. The next day he’d drive down to the Haleakala Fruit Stand and inquire about Warren Dearden or Rearden, or whatever his name, and see if the hand-written advertisement was still tacked up on the fruit-stand’s bulletin board. If it wasn’t, he’d inquire with Mark, the stand’s proprietor, to quiz him if he had any knowledge about the so-called letter writer. Ben would try and find out where he was or where he went. With Leroy’s testimony, Ben’s curiosity rose a few notches. Ben desired a special letter with a proposed content only known within the confines inside his mind, an urgent letter he needed penned by another
Warren Dearden placed his lap-top computer on the counter. He ordered a coffee from a tired-looking waitress. The exact time inside the open-all-night joint, 3:30 a.m. Earlier over the phone a scratchy voice squeaked that her name was Vicky—she insisted the urgency of their meeting at the seedy location during that hour.
It was a hell of time to meet somebody to discuss the composing of a letter. Warren hadn’t many calls that week and Hawaii’s rather expensive.
After adding milk, stirring, and taking his first sip, Warren slouched, feeling both tired and bored. Warren’s eyes wandered and absorbed the goings on in greasy-spoon. The establishment certainly didn’t cater to Hawaii’s finest.
Behind the counter, two-beat waitresses shuffled back and forth from coffee urn to counter. Now and then, only after persistent eye contact, or after the floozies were pestered by people waving-money, did they bother to drag their disinterested asses toward the cash register to settle up.
Acting miserable they’d eke-out weak smiles to some of their steadier customers—and they’d force better ones to those who left tips. Dark circles under the women’s eyes, along with constant sniffling, were telltale signs of other woes perhaps.
Warren noticed how their zoombie-like mood changed after a certain dude showed up. He was Samoan, five-nine, at least two-eighty, as solid as a stand-up Amana. He leaned heavy on the counter pressing down on his elbows. The counter buckled yet endured.
Out of the corner of his eye Warren caught a glimpse of how the Samoan slipped plastic packages into the waitresses palms before they ventured toward the ladies room.
After returning the waitresses’ steps became livelier. The gals teeth gnawed at the insides of their gums. In Warren’s view they were tanked-up on something stronger than the coffee shop’s caffeine.
After taking turns in the bathroom they substantiated Warren’s suspicions. There were drugs being used.
At the far end of the cafe three-teenage Filipino kids lounged in a littered booth. The skinny punks focused attention on themselves. They disturbed patrons. They contrived outrageous laughter (much the same as Leroy Perierra did at the Ridgeway party) The upheavals were brought on over the idea of nothing.
Filled-to-the-brim ash trays and half-filled cups of coffee marred the table top, with drippings soaked up by a dozen-or-so paper napkins. Additional litter lay on the floor. Bouts of laughing ran its course only to be interrupted by fits of coughing, boiled-over goofiness induced by bad drugs.
A black man at the end of the counter rubbernecked the scene. The black man’s felt fedora was topped by a colorful feather. The feather protruded on the cocked hat, tilted atop an “Afro do.” The “dapper’s” other attire—-suite and tie. His clothes were out-dated. He spun in half turns from atop a revolving metal stool. His free hand fiddled with a foreign cigarette. He stuffed the digger into the open end of a ritzy cigarette holder. He sported the smile of a jackal. From time-to-time he’d pull the cigarette holder from between his lively lips with him flashing a gold-capped, toothy grin. He rambled.
Warren pegged the pseudo superfly as harmless, just one of those night-owl simpletons passing time away in Waikiki. The black man continued to pan the cafe while commenting about the cafe’s clientele.
A heavy-set blonde sitting in a booth behind Warren, with a flowered lei around her fat neck, began berating her heavily-tattooed companion. “I’m not going to take your shit anymore, asshole!” she complained.
Her companion ignored her as if he were in a stupor. He stared blankly at his half-eaten and half-drowned-in-ketchup omelette. He seemed to have lost his appetite.
“Some Friday night! You promised we’d go out and have a good time. It’s the only night I’ve been off that stinking base in over a month. We paid a baby sitter so it can be just, us . . . and all you fuckin’ wanna do is look-at and talk-to other chicks. What kind of wife do you take me for?”
She’d been crying. Mascara ran down her chubby cheeks.
The black man couldn’t resist. “You gotta treat the women, right! That’s what I say! . . . You gotta treat the women, right! When a woman’s not happy nobody gonna get happy.” Then he laughed his jackal laugh and kept dipping his donut while taking deep-deep drags off his fag. He maintained that goofy grin satisfied with his interjection. He had yet to take a bite from his cruller and part of it crumbled and floated atop his yet to be drunk Java. He chatted on, then focusing attention towards the three Filipino kids.
“Man! Some fools get messed up.”
The distorted faces of the young men abruptly turned, their looks transformed from silly to Chinatown sour. It was then scowls that accented the boys’ young Asian features.
The off-the-cuff comment initiated a potentially explosive situation.“Shut up! I cut your heart out, popolo!” So said one of the boys who snapped with an accent that boasted a distinct ring of “Illicano.”
“Oops,” pleaded the fancy Dan, realizing his comments might be dangerous. He spun on his stool still somewhat full of himself yet not totally erasing his smirk. Then he quickly glanced the other way perhaps to harp on less explosive subjects.
On the surface, Warren paid attention to his coffee. A prolonged peek wasn’t worth the risk inside such a volatile place where a provocation could occur by an innocent stare.
He didn’t care for the vibe. A number of powder kegs were at hand. He reflected how he’d been in worse joints over the years. Actually, after what he’d been through the place was benign. Even though his street sense insisted he be careful.
He thought about a passage he once read in Mario Puzo’s, “The Godfather.” The part where the Godfather forewarned his son, Michael, to watch out for dangerous situations.
The novel, as he remembered, painted a vivid picture of fools doing foolish things with characters indulging in dangerous escapades capable of unnerving the wrong guy, and those cavalier acts, if challenged, could get ‘em aced. The Godfather spoke how deadly violence erupts on the spur of the moment without fair warning-—how a fool can deliberately infuriate. The Godfather warned, “When someone provokes dangerous men without resources on hand, that my son is a sure sign of a fool, and such fools are begging for trouble . . . and they who resort to flashing signs of contempt, thumbing their noses, or giving the finger, or by jumping out of automobiles in a rage, festering out-of-control energy toward the unmeasured . . . they too are dangerous men.’
In the gangster novel, The Godfather spoke of how the target of one’s contempt can quickly turn and fire back. The Godfather further warned, that that target could turn, and there’s a possibility the provoked one might be armed. Such a provocation could get a guy blown away.
Warren thought, . . . better to remain a perfect gentleman and stay out of other people’s problems . . . Wise advice given by Don Corleone, advice Warren adhered to.
Warren didn’t have to feel all that uneasy. Outside lay balmy Honolulu, a place relatively safe with a decent-enough reputation. Cops manned every corner.
Warren shed his reservations and reflected about the idea of him finally making it to Hawaii. Time had washed away 46 years before Warren finally arrived in the much-advertised paradise. Throughout his life he heard many speak of the place and he often gazed at the brochures and travel logs.
So where had he wound up? In a cruddy coffee shop surrounded by a gum-strewn pavement, tall buildings and honking horns, a far cry from what he once imagined with him sitting on a hurt-your-butt counter stool rather than frolicking on pristine beaches with soft-swaying, palm trees.
In lieu of a tropical ambience he cowered under fluorescent lights while hanging around a downtrodden coffee shop. For what? To earn money—-he could have been in Paducah.
Warren brought back memories . . .
Twenty-five years before he desired to visit Hawaii; when his curly hair showed no traces of gray; when his sea-blue eyes showcased a twinkle; before pangs of heartbreak and when he’d eventually be introduced to the scallywag, Mr. Disappointment.
One time he held tight to a vision of Hawaii. Years before, back on the Mainland, when he faced the West he felt a horizon’s lure beckon him toward the Hawaiian Islands.
During what was once an innocence age he dreamt about sweeping his sweetheart away to make someone named Holly his wife.
Spoken of plans were to have had them jetting off to Kauai for their honeymoon. Sad to say the honeymoon never materialized.
He sighed a “Too,bad,” sigh that broke his self-imposed trance as he decided to bring himself back to reality. He began to look around.
“Are you, Warren?”
Warren recognized the scratchy voice as the same voice on the telephone that afternoon.
“I’m, Vicky. Sorry, I’m late. But you know, business.”
Vicky’s eyes hooked onto Warren’s. Moving in unison both pairs panned the outside, past the dirty windows, viewing numbers of provocative-looking women on the outside.
Her eyes then broke away. She began taking tough puffs off her menthol cigarette. Her take-your-breath-away attire and platinum hair matched her with the horde on the outside.
Focusing on the woman’s hair, she was a natural brunette, yet her hair was made up of straggly locks, bleached over too many times. Frizzled: teased, curled and sprayed, that hair would never sheen again or set off a young girl’s luster. The hundred-dollars worth of coloring couldn’t be counted on and be just one of those chicks with broken ends and lifeless bangs sentenced to a lifetime of hair drab.
Her girth, chunky—-poured into a black, patent-leather dress, exaggerated, split by a half-way-down, gold-plated zipper that could have burst open and exposing her number-one attribute, a pair of bombastic tits.
Her cleavage sky-sloped towards the top-rims of pink nipples. Gus, back in college would have called them “50-centers”. At the top of one of her breasts a blue tattoo said, “wild pair.”.
She was planted into knee-high boots. Her bare legs just kept on going up to a shocking hemline ending or beginning somewhere mid-way up to the brazen exposed cheeks of a plump derriere.
If not brazen enough—-for undies-—her buck-bare butt was tied and halved by a corded, black-leather thong—-the thong was tugged tight and ran along the crack of her outrageous ass!
She was draped with “come-fuck-me” bracelets and “come-fuck-me” rings. While “come-fuck-me” adorned she pouted a painted luscious pair of red sultry lips. Without saying a word those lips pouted more expressively especially for Warren. Those lips boasted, the same way they had always boasted her special attributes since the first moment she discovered the power of their sexuality.
Those lips were the winning edge that held fast onto most men’s mind, as something she had over other girls. She pouted them in the exact manner almost every night since first becoming a harlot. She curled those “come-fuck-me” lips in such a way, saying, she’d have no problem—-no problem what so ever. . . at anyplace . . . at anytime . . . saying there would be no problem to suck it to the root accordingly.
“Everybody gets held up now and then.” She chewed hard on gum.
Warren held onto a fragile collectiveness. He invited the woman to join him.
Her overwhelming presence placed him ill at ease. The idea they might be together had Warren feeling conspicuous. “Fuck it,” he surmised, “I’m not running for Senator; I’m here to write a letter.”
The thought prevailed he might be perceived as a john. Looking around he concluded it didn’t matter.
“So, you’re the guy who writes the letters?”
“I suppose . . . that’s what I do.”
“Seems like a strange profession.”
“Yeah, it’s different alright.”
“You must meet a lot of interesting people?”
“I meet all kinds.”
“Ah . . . what about my kind? Have you ever written a letter for somebody like me?”
“Like I say, I suppose I’ve written letters for all kinds of people . . . adults, children . . . I’ve written letters for ladies.”
“Really! Tell me.” Vicky snapped. She no longer seeming nervous.
“Oh, I remember a woman who desired me to write a letter to her high-school English teacher. Years after graduation she was still smarting the way her teacher rejected an original poem, a poem she composed.”
“How come she had a hard-on for her teacher? Didn’t he like it?”
“Just the opposite. After reading the poem in front of her class her English teacher said the poem was one of the most up-lifting pieces of poetry he ever remembered listening to in his entire life. This lady told me he heaped praise and played it up somewhat, and at first, her teacher acted theatrical. She said she stood in front of her class and beamed with pride.
“Only thing the teacher then shifted his tone. He then accused the girl; saying she must have pilfered the work from some-obscure poet, one he then couldn’t identify. Nor could he recall for her or the rest of the class the poem’s name but nonetheless the English teacher subjected her to ridicule, especially by blurting that a pea-brain such as she wasn’t capable of organizing and arranging such cohesive and tender thoughts—then he flunked her.
“By the time she enlisted me, she carried the shame for years.”
“Pricks! That’s what all them teachers ever were.” Vicky made a face.
“Actually, it was the discredited poet’s hairdresser who recommend me, so the lady hired me to write to that particular teacher, so to set the record straight.
“You ever hear of, Rodin?”
“You mean the big bird in them Japanese monster movies?”
“Not really, I think that was Rodan, I’m talking about the sculptor, Auguste Rodin, the Frenchman. He found himself in the same situation. During the early-part of his career he was accused of being a fraud. When I wrote her letter I made the comparison and used Rodin’s example. Anyway that’s another story.
“Come to think of it—I’ve had lots of clients enlisting me to write letters to past teachers—ex-students clamoring for justice.
“So, . . .” rubbing his hands together, “how may I be able to help you, Vicky?”
“I need a letter written . . .”
“To my sister.”
“Fine, but tell me why?”
“She won’t talk to me.”
Tears welled up in the corners of Vicky’s eyes. “She just won’t understand!” Then Vicky became more subdued; her scratchy voice was almost a whisper.
Warren reached out and placed his hand over her small fist. He lowered his eyes. A silence fell between them. All the noise inside the greasy spoon and the ruckus from the outside intersection turned to mute, at least within the minds of the two strangers. Warren and Vicky partook in a telepathic encounter.
Warren was first to break the silence. He straightened up and peered into Vicky’s dark-dark eyes. He began to speak. His tone remained kind but deliberate. He discounted the immediate riffraff.
“Here’s how it works, Vicky. You tell me your story, or problem, or whatever. . . Tell me the whole story from beginning to end. Stress any important details you wish to cover. Tell me what you desire. After I’m finished listening, I’ll size up your situation, and I’ll tell you the feasibility of me helping you or not.
“One thing, it’s very important everything you tell me must be true. If what you tell me isn’t true, the weight of the words I eventually write won’t register, and then there’s no chance of them working in your favor. Remember, always say the absolute truth . . .
“After that you’ll be the one who will decide if my letter-writing service fits your bill. If that washes with you then we’ll determine the financial arrangements. That will be it. I write the letter. I produce a copy for you. I’ll mail the original to your sister and then mail a copy back to you. Then it’s, aloha.
“Do you think you’ll be able to handle those terms, Vicky?”
Before agreeing, Vicky wished to know more about Warren. She asked if the lap-top computer, the one the coffee shop’s counter, was the one he used to write his letters. He affirmed.
She scolded him in a “cutesy” manner, saying it wasn’t the best of neighborhoods. Warren said he reckoned the lap top was more secure in his person than being left behind inside his run-down hotel. His eyes darted to the three punks in the booth. “Dudes such as those carry screw drivers and break into hotel rooms around the world. I suppose it’s no different here.”
She parted her lips then contoured them into the shape of a heart. Her facial expression synergized as her lips in concert with her roving eyes. They flirted saying by the looks of his physique he could probably handle himself.
Somewhat embarrassed, Warren smiled back.
Warren’s waitress came sashaying by. Vicky ordered a double espresso. The waitress who’s name tag said, Annie, pressed Vicky.
“So what? Are you going to pay me in yen or dollars?”
Vicky ignored the wise crack.
Annie didn’t let up, “You probably want some Equal with it, huh?”
Vicky acted as if she desired not to make a scene in front of Warren. But then, after perhaps giving it further thought, Vicky discarded discretion and fumed—the fireworks began, “And don’t . . . let it get cold, bitch!”
Annie shouted over her shoulder, “Don’t worry about me pig face, I know how to do my job. Why don’t you just go back outside and suck more of them little Jap dicks you seem to like so much.”
Vicky, ready to jump the counter, snapped, “Oh, yeah, you bag-a-bones . . . by the looks of things around here you’re not so particular whose cock you stuff between your nigger-loving lips, you skinny coke-sniffing cunt . . . with uglier-than-shit, bitten-down nails!”
With her last affront, Vicky struck a nerve.
Before Vicky arrived, Warren noticed that not even Max Factor could have spruced-up Annie’s bitten-down-to-the-core nails. Vicky’s, pull-your-pants-down retort had every pair of coffee-drinking eyes on Annie’s gnarled, finger tips! The exposure caused the coffee-shop waitress to freak. Hysterically, she bolted out the back door.
Unaffected by Annies’ outburst, Vicky went on with her story.
“Well, here goes. Like I say it’s my sister. She lives in Lahaina, over on Maui . . . She won’t talk to me.”
“Well it’s like this, I fucked her husband! . . . But it was a mistake and she won’t understand!”
“Sounds to me she might have a point. What’s to understand, you slept with her husband?”
“Look around, it must be obvious what I do.”
“You mean, you’re telling me you charged your brother in-law and it was strictly business?”
“No! No! No! To tell you the truth I don’t know if he paid or not, that’s not the point.
“Listen! You see there’s this guy named, Tony, over on Maui. Every now and then he calls for me and some of the other girls to come over to Maui to entertain friends and associates.
“The money’s good and sometimes it’s limos, dinner and dancing. There’s romantic stuff too. It’s kind of nice. Way better than hustling Japanese tourists or piss-drunk sailors from Pearl Harbor.
“Don’t get me wrong—every time Tony calls it’s not always a bed of roses. There are times it’s sad and lonely . . . It might be a hotel room . . . or maybe there’s a dice game going on in the room next door. Tony’s flown us over to Maui and other islands . . . so to bang . . . what usually turns out to be a bunch of cruel jerkoffs at some bachelor party or get togethers. What happened between me and Andy was more like that.”
Warren interrupted asking a few set-up questions . . .
Then Vicky continued, “ . . . so, me and two other gals, Bunny and Jade, Jade’s Oriental, well we flew over to Lahaina. Tony and Bunny made the original deal. According to Bunny, we were going to do some big shots. They were supposed to be some high-maka-makas, some union officials from out of state—supposedly in construction.
“Anyway, at first it was real nice. The men treated us like ladies. We all went out to a ritzy restaurant. Afterwards, well I have to confess, there were drugs. Then we all cruised to some fancy rock club on Front Street, we didn’t stay long. We piled into the two limos and went up to this big house over-looking the ocean . . . it was cool, dude, with pools and Jacuzzis. I guess altogether there were about ten of us. Tony was already there, then some other people showed, including other women.
“I didn’t know if the other chics were working girls or not. To tell you the truth, that night I could have cared less about almost anything. Hey, I was in for the ride, so were Bunny and Jade. Looking back, it was Friday night and we were off the streets of Waikiki. Up to that point each of us earned $500 a piece, ate a great meal, and so far we didn’t hafta jerk anybody off . . . so things were beautiful.
“Around 11:00, the guy I told you about, Tony, well he pulls me aside and sez, ‘OK, it’s time to do your thing.’ He further sez, ‘Look, Vicky, here’s the deal. I’ve talked it over with the other gals and it’s OK with them and they’ve already agreed . . . I wanna tell ya, we got a little extra work for you girls tonight. The guys wanna have a little circus action. Ya know, they want the three of you together at once in the wet room. The guys also requested some three-way action . . . ya know, a little pussy, some head, and wham-bam up the Hershey hi-way. How’s that wash with you?’”
Vicky told Warren she wasn’t outrageously shocked by the racy request, but she didn’t much care for his attitude. She indicated, professionally speaking, those specifics about expectations should have been properly discussed while she was over on Oahu. She would have preferred to make her choice back then. Yet her survivor instincts insisted she maintain an accommodating smile while Tony wrapped up his sales pitch.
“Look, Vicky, I know taking a brown-shot ain’t part of your m.o. but I promise, it will be worth your while. There’s an extra thousand in it for ya.”
Vicky explained her-then thoughts, “Well, as you can imagine, Warren, I still was a little shocked with his nerve and all. Despite what you might think, I still had a job to do, I mean . . . well it’s what I do. But every girl has her dignity to protect!
“To tell you the truth, the guys up to that point were very, very nice . . . and not that bad looking either. As you’ve already figured, hey, I’m a party girl and I’d been doing some considerable drinking, and don’t forget, I was snorting blow. So I was feeling kinna good.
“So, I go and put in some stipulations. I told Tony, there’d better be some lubrication around . . . and if it hurt just an ittsy-bittsy bit I wasn’t going for it. And furthermore, everybody had better have on a fucking condom . . . and I insisted, that I wanted them to put on new ones when we switched partners. I laid down some more ground rules. I wasn’t going to do any muff-diving or titty sucking! . . . I don’t eat pussy! . . . You know, that’s become the big thing with johns these days . . .
“Tony, that slimy-creep, kept saying, ‘You know what it’s about, baby . . . you know what it’s about, baby. You’re a pro.’ I wonder how much that son-of-a-bitch was getting? And to think of it, he didn’t have to suck anybody’s cruddy cock or have anybody ramrod something up his skinny dago ass. The creep, Tony, with his lechers hands kept patting me on the ass and then he sez, ‘Oh, by the way, baby, a couple of other guys might drop by. We might have to work out some additional deals later.’
“Anyway, we go into this unreal room. It was this gigantic sauna, all white covered in tile from floor to the ceiling. A king-size, rubber mattress with rubber pillows sat in the middle of the room. There was no other furniture.
“Steam was coming out of some ceiling fixtures. We were already in bathing suits ‘cause before that we were in the Jacuzzi sipping champagne. With the heat and booze we were feeling kinna sexy and all.
“The three of us undressed . . . Huh, so did the guys . . .
“You know, stuff started happening, and we started balling the union guys.
“It wasn’t my first scene.
“I’ll tell, ya, the whole friggin’ room was HOT and steamy. It was far out. It was like we were in Heaven or something, with the steam setting off a cloudy look. I was kinna whacked, and the thought ran across my mind maybe we were dead!
“Probably ‘cause I once saw this play on PBS or BBC or something, about these characters who didn’t realize that they were already dead, and somehow they all wind up inside this steam bath. The scene reminded me of that.
“Then, all of a sudden the steam stopped, and then an almond-flavored, oily solution came dripping out of the same place the steam came from. The hot-steam, and hmmm, the warm oil, and don’t forget the steamy-sex, and with me out-of-it, doing it all with some nice-looking guys . . . I’d say the ambience was very effective..
“I mean, like wow, Warren, we was flying . . . It was awesome!
“By then, Bunny and Jade really got into it. They didn’t take the same no-lesbo-stuff oath, I did. The non-stop action aroused the goons. Some guys live all their lives for shit like that. You could see it was too much for some of them. They couldn’t hold back. Guys like that could never make it in porno flicks.
“With that, all of a sudden, lukewarm soapy water comes gushing out. That was awesome. It was like we were in a car wash. Any tension there might have been earlier was broken and everybody’s laughing, ‘cause we’re full of suds and soon enough we’re rinsed by another deluge, this time though, with clear-warm water. A girl couldn’t help but be impressed.
“Other than the lesbo stuff, I guess I was right in there with the rest of the perverts—hey, $1500, is, $1500.
“So, maybe an hour goes by. The scene gets repeated again, bitta-bam—bitta-boom with the steam, oil, then suds! . . . I guess, I became lost in my own thoughts. Probably, I played out some of my own fantasies. There’s three-or-four different guys on the water bed with us.
“Tell ya the truth, they all become faceless johns, and I hadn’t noticed much, other than the ritzy, sprinkling system. For twenty minutes or so I’d been busy with a pair of buckaroos whose spider-like bodies almost smothered me. I didn’t have much of a view.
“But by then the starting line up of johns had already shot their wads. I looked around and noticed, the earlier guys were on the sidelines, smoking cigarettes, them then peeking-johnnies, taking pleasure at Bunny, Jade and me getting gooned up.
“Well, one of the other girls, I think it was Bunny, started to complain and said something like, ‘What about the new guys?’ Just like that Tony sez, ‘you can count on another thousand, each.’
“Like I say, Warren, I’m a working girl, and when do you get a chance to make money like that? . . . Hey, I was whoring. So, I just took a couple more swigs of Jack Daniels and said to myself bring ‘em on. More men showed up. Why us three gals must have boned 25 guys.
“The worse part was unbeknown to me, somewhere in that human bowl of spaghetti, was that noodle-dick, Andy—my empty-headed brother-in-law. We hooked up unknowingly finding ourselves face-to-groin or groin-to-face. Is it a sin we can’t recognize each others private parts? Hey, you know the old saying, put a bag over their heads . . . right? Before we ever realized it Andy and me hooked up and did a few numbers. The damage was done!
“It wasn’t until we got up off the friggin’ bed that I recognized bonehead, Andy. I could have killed him!” Vickey (almost in a whisper) “but still . . . because of the money I kept my tongue.”
Vicky went quiet for five beats . . . . . then exploded. “Christ! How could it have happened? The room was dark and I was half-whacked out and so was he!”
She shook her head, “I’ll tell, ya . . . it’s a strange fucking feeling to bust your sister’s husband while he’s cheating on her, then come to grips with, that you was the one, the very-one caught cheating with your own brother-in-law!
“Well, here’s the bad part. News like that gets out fast in a small place such as Maui, and lots of the men, mostly the single ones, did a lot of bragging. Being a man you can imagine all the rehashing and Monday-morning quarter-backing going on, especially about the three-way sex and all—in guys minds that’s always a big deal. The next thing you know the gossip gets back to my sister.
“When confronted, stupid Andy, even admits it, and instead of being discreet, the yo-yo goes further and involves me. The “dufus” is so lame; lame enough to tell, Paige, that’s my sister’s name—says he didn’t think she’d be too sore since he did it with me.
“He painted a different picture and went on to say that he was forced into it. The fucking, asshole!
“Andy played it out like he was given orders by the higher ups. He told my sister he was just playing along and was afraid, afraid if he didn’t join in he might lose his construction job. Who knows what else he told Paige?
“Now, my sister doesn’t want to hear anymore. Somehow, because of what Andy ‘fessed up to, she envisioned that asshole and I went out dancing and partying together and had a merry-ole time. She thinks Andy was involved with me earlier. I would have never dared, instead, I would have been on the next plane back to Honolulu if I had any inkling Andy was anywhere near. I swear, I had no idea he’d be there! . . Ooh! I don’t know why I never pinned Andy to be a horn-dog like the rest of them other scum-bags. I placed a higher value on him, just because he’s my brother-in-law.
“As for my sister—she’s forgiven him.
“This thing has driven a wedge between our family. Some forces in my family chastise my sister; they say she should forgive me since she has already forgiven that asshole Andy. It’s driving me crazy!
“Ever since we’ve been kids she’s always been the prissy, house-wife type, and I suppose the hard-to-swallow facts are that I’ve always been the slut, but regardless of my looseness, that’s had nothing to do with us, we’ve always been friends. We’ve never let my way-of-life get into the way of our friendship.
“But this time, because of Andy, she won’t let me explain. I wouldn’t fuck Andy for a million dollars. It was all a big mistake.”
Warren rocked easy. Vicky’s sad eyes looked up so her then sincere-looking mouth could say more.
“So, I figured, when I read your flyer, that maybe you could help. I know it sounds crazy, and I don’t know if you write to people about such things, but I was wondering, and by the sound of your advertisement? . . . ”
Warren absorbed Vicky’s story, reasoning how a comfy steam bath landed Vickey in in piping-hot water. He inhaled and said, “Your’s, Vicky, is exactly the type of letter I prefer to write.”
Warren envisioned a double opportunity. He savored such moments: First to mend Vicky and Page’s fence and then perhaps show Vicky there is promise when when one speaks truth. Despite appearing as an uncouth low-life, he envisioned a decent enough future with a few breaks.
He substantiated his enthusiasm, “I suppose I get a certain satisfaction acting as a conduit while getting people back together. Just as in your case, sometimes a problem looms so large people are unable to say their piece while face to face. People wind up distancing themselves, clouding the issues or wrapped up in emotion. And by the time people call on me, it’s my job to write the words they themselves can’t say.”
“Good then, you can write her for me! Just explain to Paige how it happened! You hafta tell her. She has to let me back into her life!
“I miss the weekends on Maui. I miss the laughter. I miss the times on the beach. I miss the shopping and lunches, and I miss just doing nothing, just wasting away days with the one person I’ve always been able to relate to. It’s the only sanctity I get. I miss her so much, you can’t imagine how I miss my little niece, Debby, who I love as my own. The way my life is sizing up, I probably never will have any kids of my own and they’re the only family I care about. I’ve thought about this whole thing so much, and, if she forgives me, there’s a chance I might consider straightening out my life.”
Warren “hmmed.” “Vicky, I’ll do the best and if what you say is true, I’ll try and convince your sister what happened the way you say. Is she aware you turn tricks . . . I mean, for money?”
“Yeah, she knows. We never talk about it, but she knows.”
“So, therefore, the feasibility is you could be on Maui doing your job so to speak, with no idea who’s to become your clientele.”
“Right, but it’s more complicated. Probably at this point you’re a sore reminder of her husband’s infidelity. The connection between you and Andy, regardless of the circumstances stands as a woeful reminder . . .
“One approach might be to put Paige on the defensive. It’s dicey, since the woman’s been deeply hurt. I’ll have to mull over which approach to take.
“But first, business is business. Now’s the time we decide on my fee. Let me see . . . how much is something like this worth to you?”
“I didn’t think about that part.”
“Sorry, I’m no Mother Theresa. Well, let me ask you . . . what do you charge for one of your sessions . . . you know?”
“I insist on $125, for an hour for straight sex, plus the john pays for the room or it’s the back seat of his car—no compacts.”
“Well, then, that’s my fee for your letter. I don’t need a room or a big back seat. You can pick up the bill for the coffees.”
“Sounds fair enough. I ain’t tipping the bitch.”
“I’ll cover, Annie.”
Vicky, flashed an intriguing look. She tilted her head, regressing back to her hooker role.
“Don’t hate me for saying this. I was wondering, since you’re from out of town and all, and you know, despite being kinna cute, you look a little lonely. I was wondering if you might consider a little this or that?”
Warren offered no more than a shy grin, “Thank you, but I don’t mix business with pleasure. Besides, in my case, I have to be more involved with someone on an emotional level that is, but it was considerate of you to offer.”
“Ooh, that could get risky. Still waters run deep. Hey, I better watch it, don’t get me emotionally involved,” she giggles, “I might be tempted to wanna do ya for nothing. I mean, like I say, you’re kinna cute.”
“Thanks again but first I’d rather have your sister and you talking to one another.”
Not very lady–like and from inside her braided-leather thong, Vicky dug into her crotch and fished around for a roll of bills. She counted out six, moist twenty-dollar bills and a five spot.”
“There. We’re paid up!”
Warren wasn’t sure how to go about and pick up the discrotched currency. A funky payoff considering its recent nest. He gingerly snatched and buried it into his own pants pocket and bid Vicky farewell with a benevolent peck on the cheek.
Three days later Paige received the letter.
Warren typed out Vicky’s prodigal story. He indicated if Paige were willing to forgive her bozo husband she could maybe see fit to forgive her favorite sister. Placing the words as Vicky’s, he harped how her sister genuinely loved her and never would have considered dishonoring their cherished relationship.
He challenged Paige, indicating, for her to show case her family’s strength and how certain situations, especially transcended ones’ of perilous pride, and why one shouldn’t forgo happiness for the sake of pride. He brought to light, using carefully placed words, indications that insisted she face the facts. His writings persisted that Paige would have to act courageously, because by forgiving her sister, she’d have to acknowledge to everyone in the know that her husband was a cheat and a dumb buffoon.
Warren’s experience guided him while writting each sentence convincingly, hammering home and then sculpting gently as he chiseled away the pain with words.
Twenty-five minutes after reading the letter Paige tearfully phoned her sister Vicky, with both having a tearful telephone reunion. That weekend Vicky returned to Maui. They became united once again.
Warren Dearden had been writing urgent requests and letters of forgiveness for some time. He composed fervent pleas and explained misunderstandings in epigram fashion. It hadn’t begun that way more than 25-years before. Back then he hardly wrote while growing up near the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, California. The early part of Warren’s life, during the early ’60s, was spent mostly care free as a happy-go-lucky, surfer. He was a byproduct of working class people. His father, a stevedore—his mother worked in downtown L.A. for the telephone company.
Warren became the first Dearden to befriend the family’s new, next-door neighbor, an advertising executive named James McGee who recently moved to Southern California.
Mr. McGee migrated to the L.A. basin to open a satellite branch for a big-time New York City advertising agency. Many of the heavy hitters in the TV industry transferred their production services away from New York and out to the coast. McGee’s firm sent him west to service those accounts.
Being an affable youth with a curious nature Warren spent much of his free time over Mr. McGee’s whenever there wasn’t surf. McGee took a liking to the boy, as did the boy to him.
To Warren, Mr. McGee represented someone worldly, more sophisticated than his parents. McGee traveled extensively and shared stories about people, places and relative events. Warren became interested in James McGee’s work. Soon enough they began brain-storming together, coining slogans, coming up with logos on behalf of Mr. McGee’s advertising firm.
The firm represented burgeoning products such as Ipana Toothpaste. While hanging out with, McGee, Warren tried his own hand at slogans. “Brush ‘em, brush ‘em, brush ‘em,” came to life as one of their joint concoctions, as was, “I want my Mapo,” which became a successful Madison Avenue campaign, originating within the minds of Warren and McGee, campaigns that generated large advertising revenues. The world may have never realized that the-then newly-formed duo of Dearden and McGee launched the notion people should be able to double their pleasure and double their fun, by chewing and chewing, Doublemint Gum.
After graduating high school Warren enrolled in U.C.L.A., but he spent time working on advertising. McGee couldn’t ignore Warren’s talent. He appreciated his apprentice’s special knack, but still, McGee insisted, if Warren wanted to hang out, he’d have to keep up on his college work. Warren agreed.
The boy was sensitive, sharp and intuitive. He understood trends; maybe more important, he recognized turn offs. Home office advertising magnets in the forthcoming months would refer to Warren as McGee’s protegee or McGee’s, boy wonder. McGee tagged Warren “Child of Peoria.”
During the Sixties, Peoria, the Midwest American town, was often chosen as a test market, a place where many of the nation’s fortune-500 companies advertised, introduced and marketed their newer products.
McGee spoke highly of Warren. While Warren enrolled as a freshman at U.C.L.A., Mr. McGee recommended the home office might consider hiring Warren, perhaps on a casual basis. Mr. McGee sent credit Warren’s way. The N.Y. office agreed. Soon enough, Warren earned $25,000 a year, as a surfing, part-time, laid-back, advertising executive.
For Warren, life unfolded pretty much as a lark. He surfed during the early mornings and afternoons. During the evenings he and James McGee continued to create television and radio campaigns, along with hundreds of print ads.
Warren possessed your classic California, beach-boy looks., highlighted by the surf and sun, his blondish hair capped an almost six-foot frame. His upper body was strong and lean, well matched with muscular thighs and calves. He was quick to smile and friendly, the boy next-door type. At a place like U.C.L.A. he met a nice girl named, Holly.
Everything may have been too perfect. Not yet twenty-one and he stumbled across a promising career and met the prettiest of girls—a girl of his dreams. They let nature take its course and he and Holly were swept away discovering a mutual bliss unlike anything they had known before.
The likes of Johnny Mathis and the Righteous Brothers stirred their emotions. They slow danced to the other doo-wop melodies of the day.
Under the moon and stars, on the balmy Southern California beaches, they probed each others’ bodies and discovered what it was like to make new love. As nature would have it they began to plan their future—a beach-party-bingo wedding and a Hawaiian honeymoon and then a love nest right on Manhattan Beach.
They dreamt on, to have kids, be a surfing family, take the kids on surfing safaris around the world.
Vietnam loomed on the horizon during 1968. Warren’s college deferment would expire after he graduated. Advertising executives weren’t exempt from military service.
Uncle Sam gained interest in Warren’s future but because of his involvement in projects coming from McGee’s N.Y. office, and because of some well-place calls, Warren need not worry.
A decision by the home office decided to have Warren back to N.Y. for the summer of 1968. There were important people to become affiliated with, to establish a fundamental concept of the business and equally important, to comprehend how the more-structured part of the business operated. Such an internship was considered pragmatically prudent for both he and the firm.
Warren’s bride to-be had additional classes of her own. For the first time in their relationship they’d separate, only to be joined again come September. See You in September became their hope springs eternal.
Warren ventured off to skyscrapers of Manhattan. Other than missing Holly the transition came easy and it wasn’t long before he became the new darling of the firm. The office girls cooed over his California looks and easy-going manner. He showed himself as refreshing, compared to those rough-around-the-edges nasalites who verbally honked their horns around the Manhattan office. The office girls were fed up with the “toughies” from the Bronx, Queens and Far Rockaway, whose seducing techniques were considered as worn-out and trite. World War II, hackneyed cliches no longer packed the same clout as they once did back in the Forties. Warren didn’t spiel any of that crap.
Still, Warren staved off temptation while remaining every bit a gentleman. During his spare time he surfed at New Jersey and Long Island beaches. He broadened horizons, sought out culture, while taking in the galleries of Metropolitan Art Museum. He began to keep up on the latest in contemporary art, especially by browsing and asking questions inside the smaller galleries in Soho.
The idea of someone painting a portrait of a tin can of Campbell’s pork and beans, or a half-empty bottle of soda, nudged his advertising senses and it intrigued him that art was being parlayed into big money and such art was wildly sought-after by a certain class of people.
He became a fan of impressionists. Claude Monet and Paul Cezanne became his favorites. He also admired the works of Rousseau and Renoir.
To a degree the art helped when he missed his Holly. Those country scenes soothed his loneliness. The mixed-pastels and tranquil settings lent him a particular peace of mind. When he called Holly, he spoke of them enthusiastically, saying how he wanted to share what he had learned about art at California’s museums when he returned.
Other free time he spent attending movies rather than getting into the pants of bright-eyed office girls. The ‘round-the-office, suggestive body language made it perfectly clear to our boy that many of them would be more than willing.
He chose to hold out, shun trouble and faithfully he phoned his girl twice a week. Over the phone they expressed both their love and loneliness.
When September rolled around, Mr. Higgins, the firm’s CEO, insisted Warren stay put until after the general election in November. The firm’s political-wing were in the midst of at least two-dozen, congressional-senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns. Higgins wanted him to remain on the team and be involved in strategy sessions inside, especially when those political types came trudging to the Big-Apple. It was mandated: Warren could go back to California come November.
Somewhat reluctantly Warren went along. After all it wasn’t so bad living in a $750 a month apartment rent free. A sedan picked him up and delivered him home. He’d been promised a $15,000 bonus that coming Christmas—serious money that would assist a young couple just starting out. Also, he was slated to earn at least 50-grand in salaries the following year.
Warren had scheduled himself to go back home the day after the national elections, the first Tuesday in November. His work was complete the week before the election. Polls indicated their campaigns were in the lead, except for a debacle involving a gubernatorial-race in Delaware.
In that case it seemed the law-and-order Republican-candidate’s son was caught smoking marijuana at some ritzy school in N.Y. The candidate had been far behind anyway and the grass-smoking incident became the coup-de-grace.
Warren asked Mr. Higgins if he could leave N.Y. a few days early. He figured he’d surprise everybody. It washed OK with Higgins. Warren hopped an airliner on October 31st, zooming west.
His mom received the welcomed call from the L.A. airport and went to pick him up. He kissed and hugged his mom and shook hands with his pop, but couldn’t wait to get into his own Corvette and zoom over to his sweetheart’s.
Trick or treaters spooked the streets by the time he arrived at Holly’s house. She wasn’t home. Her parents were. They said she dashed down to Del Mar for a Halloween party. She’d been spending time down there with a new girl friend. Somebody they hadn’t met. They had the phone number.
Warren told them to hold up and not call; he’d rather surprise her. Holly’s mom mentioned, she overheard Holly receiving precise directions how to get to the party, said the house was near the race track. She remembered her daughter repeating out loud: make the third right after a billboard in Del Mar, the one that says, ‘Where the Turf Meets the Surf.’ The mom said the house sat right down that road, “It’s supposed to be the big white one, right on the beach.”
Warren peered down. Resting on the dining-room table lay a Lone Ranger-like mask. He asked if he could borrow it. “Sure, sure, Warren, take it.” The mask was left behind by one of their grandchildren.
Mask in hand, he hopped back into the red Corvette and sped south. Within an hour he zoomed into Del Mar and the excitement about finally being able to hold onto his girl had him pressing his foot harder on the accelerator. He was aware of the billboard, after all, his angle was advertising, and amongst certain circles that particular landmark was familiar.
He recognized the party house. Cars were parked everywhere. He hopped out of the ‘vette! His, “I’m back baby” pace kept cadence to the pulsating Marvin Gay music pumping out of the party house. Warren did a little skip, more or less, ‘what’s going-oning,’ it as he sashayed towards the party’s door.
Warren put on the mask as he entered and mingled with partyers. The party was packed the revelers. Warren, while incognito, wandered through the rooms. He mixed with Superman, Popeye and King Kong. “Inagotta de Divita” blared from the stereo.
He found a somewhat dark, far-off room. From his view there were at least four-or-five couples making-out, them spread about atop couple-hugging sofas. Embarrassed by his intrusion he began to excuse himself not wanting to disturb anybody’s kissing. Then he braked!
He wasn’t about to believe his eyes! It was her!
Holly was in somebody else’s arms! She was embraced in a prolonged kiss! The strange young man’s hand cupped her left breast and he was caressing it deliberately without being rebuffed with her arms wrapped around the man. Holly caressed the back of the guy’s neck, rubbing the guy the same way Warren remember her handling him.
Rather then leaving he bolted further into the room and grabbed the young man from behind.
“Get off my girl, motherfucker!”
Both men tumbled to the floor. Warren flew into a rage. The mask remained on his face.
“Stop, it! Stop, it! Stop, it! Somebody, help,” screamed his cheating girl friend!
His mask became off-kilter. He had no vision. Warren kept swinging blindly. Others came to the rescue. He and the other guy were separated.
Friends of the guy kissing Holly aligned themselves with the fellow. Warren remained helpless, pinned to the floor, and then he was unmasked. Warren was promptly thrown out. Four-or-five, good-size, young men tossed him onto a heap on the beach. Holly found herself astonished. She followed.
They were left alone in seconds flat.
“Oh, my god, Warren! You don’t know how I missed, you!” She reached for him.
Warren’s aching adrenalin pumped through his body and instead of hearing her out he blocked his mind and put off her approach including her attempted embrace.
“Get the fuck away from me you, bitch! I can’t believe it! I come all the way, 3,000 miles, just to surprise you and this is what I find. Is this why you’ve been spending a lot of time down here? So, are you fucking him or what?”
“Warren, it’s not as you think. You don’t understand. I’ve been so lonely. He’s just a friend!”
“You can stay fucking lonely for all I care! Drop dead, bitch! We’re through!”
Within fifteen seconds Warren headed north to where he didn’t know.
Warren didn’t return to his parents house. Instead, he crashed over Mr. McGee’s, who by then had moved to Beverly Hills.
No ‘that’s life’ type of sympathetic words of encouragement could not band aid the pain. McGee’s own past experiences with young love and wisdom offered no help. Warren was crippled. He never dreamt such a thing could have happened. He had prepared himself to give his all forever to that girl, and that quick the relationship lay in ruin.
After a few days he returned home, filled-in his parents and sulked. He didn’t elaborate. He refused her calls and kept to himself. The only helpful distraction, an ocean swell. Early winter waves rolled into Long Beach with perfect, four-foot, glassy fronts. After a few rides Warren lost interest.
Warren and his father Jeb Dearden had never been close. For the preceding six years it was as if Mr. McGee had taken the place of a father. His stevedore dad was loving, but he’d rather puff on his Chesterfields, talk union shop, and chug beers with cronies rather than sit home. There was no way the working man could be as polished or enchanting as Mr. McGee.
Warren recognized his folks were just that—folks—two old fogies who didn’t have a clue about the more-intriguing aspects of life. If they once did, somehow while raising a family, they lost interest, if they ever had it at all. They appeared far removed from the concepts relative to style and trend.
Warren sequestered himself in his room; brooding, staring at the TV—with his feet angrily propped up on a hassock, his arms locked, tightly folded and pressed hard up against himself.
After a knock on his door in walked Warren’s dad into his bedroom. The father was dressed, as usual, in his gray, stevedore work pants and matching shirt.
Walter Cronkite’s image showed on the evening newscast; his resonating voice giving accounts about the ongoing war in Vietnam. Warren’s dad’s eyes were downcast and his graying temples had become wrinkled from previous thought. His body language—awkward—perhaps unsure about his intrusion.
“Warren, ahem! Do you mind? I want to talk with you.”
“What’s up, dad?”
Warren braced himself, figuring his mom issued his dad marching orders to come in and give him a pep talk. A talk he could have predicted about how they both saw him as special, and how he’d probably find another girl. He didn’t want to hear that crap. But for the sake of it he’d let his dad speak his piece and let on. At least, that’s what Warren figured.
Warren’s room was decorated in the same fashion as when he was a teen, when the wild cat of a kid ripped the waves full on from dawn to dusk. Posters were plastered everywhere highlighting dare-devil surf scenes. Ron Jon and Lightning Bolt surf boards nestled in each corner. A giant poster depicting a surfboard accessory called Sex Wax sat still on the wall.
Jebb Dearden scanned the room with his hands on his hips, taking it in . . . He hadn’t been in Warren’s room for years.
“Here, let me sit down, son. Say, I want a few minutes of your time. I feel it’s time we’ve had a talk. . . . I know you and I haven’t been that close. Don’t worry, I haven’t taken it personally. Christ, I’ve seen us keeping our distances as a thing of respect, ya-know, like we’ve kept out of each other’s way. You know me, I like spending my spare time with the guys down at the tappy, and as far as me and your mother, well the romance flew out the window years ago. Oh, I’m not saying I ain’t happy with your mom or anything. It’s like this, you know . . . your mother likes her church bingo, and she has her own friends . . . But I’ll tell you something and you have to believe me, we’ve both been very proud of you boy.
“Warren, I understand your generation has to travel to the beat of your own drum. First it was all that Elvis shaking, then that jigaboo stuff, and now it’s the long hairs and that Beatles music. I’m not even taking into account the surfing stuff with the Ventures,and all that goes without saying. I have no gripe with that and no reason to complain. After all I’m the fellow who first bought this here beach house. What else was I supposed to expect?”
Ole Jeb Dearden hadn’t yet to sit down and remained standing, talking away nervously with his workman hands still on his hips. Still talking while turning ever so slowly he peered again at each poster or trophy or memento with Jeb giving the keepsakes astonishing attention, realizing they had gone unnoticed by him all those years with Warren spending time with McGee, college and with Holly and then going off to New York, they had been doing nothing more than collecting dust.
“So far you’ve been a damn-good son. You’ve never been in any trouble and you’ve gotten through school and now it looks as if you’re going to take off on a cracker-jack career, a career I would have never dreamed for you. it’s an opportunity I may even be jealous of. Can you believe that?
“You’re a lot better off than your old man when I was your age. I was off fighting a god-damned war in the stinking jungles of the Pacific, kicking Japs off the end of my bayonet and your mother was home burning a candle in the window.”
Jeb Dearden finally sat down next to Warren who had been more or less staring straight ahead. Jeb let out a long sigh.
“Well, that’s at least what I thought . . . Have you ever heard the name, Larry Galvin? He was my best buddy way back then. We did everything together. He had a bum leg and didn’t have to go. Before I left for the Pacific I asked my best buddy to look after your mother. I don’t want to go into details, because it’s still embarrassing today and too painful, but you guessed it . . . yeah the obvious happened.
“What I’m trying to say, son, while baring my own soul, is that just maybe, well maybe you need to understand young girls get real lonely, so lonely I suppose they’re not able to think straight. I’ve soothed a few confused ones in my own time.
“Biologically every mushy cell in a young girl’s body is yearning for love and affection . . . and at that age it’s only natural. And once they’ve had a taste of it, well . . . Christ, they’re capable of anything. I’m sorry to say that your mother was no different . . .
“It wasn’t her fault—we all have limits . . . Well, Larry was who she turned to. The worst happened.
“After the war, I came home. They couldn’t hide it. Your mother told me I swallowed hard. But I didn’t want to lose her. Your mother and I never discussed the matter any further. I simply told her I was back for all eternity, and I would never leave her side again . . . and as for, Larry, well who the hell knows or who cares what ever happened to him? Fortunately, for me, after saying and threatening to do distasteful things I came to my senses, forgave your mother and have had a super marriage and a wonderful family life. If it weren’t for me swallowing my pride there wouldn’t be any beach house or any you for that matter and that would have been terrible.”
Jeb Dearden stood up to make his final point. He looked down at his brooding son.
“Look, you’ve met a beautiful-wonderful girl and you’ve both planned together. So, you went away and so something happened. Look, pal, it’s not the end of the world. It happens everyday. What about those poor kids fighting over in Vietnam? I don’t mean to sound cruel but I bet plenty of their babes are getting banged right now by the guy next door. Them guys too, same as me, and same as you, eventually come home, and eventually the truth comes out. Some will break up but most . . . they’ll probably have a big wedding and have a great life. Warren, you’ve got to put this incident behind you or you’re going to ruin everything. I know this girl. Holly would never want to hurt you intentionally. It was a weak moment. Warren, you were gone all summer. What do you expect a nineteen-year-old, sweet-looking girl to do—stay home?
“Forgive me, son. I understand that I’m intruding here on your life, but for your sake, your mother’s and mine, we want what’s best for you. Go to her son. Tell her you forgive her. For Christ’s sake, ask her to forgive you. You’re in communications. You’ll think of something while maintaining your dignity . . . On second thought fuck your dignity! Do it before it’s too late.”
Jeb Dearden said his piece. Other than the sound of Walter Cronkite’s monotone voice silence again filled the room. Jeb again, his eys downcast, leaving the same way he had first entered and similar to an actor whose speaking part has been spent, Jeb Dearden left the stage. Warren sat still, feet on hassock, arms folded and eyes straight ahead.
* * *
Unbeknown to the brooding Warren it was too late. The day before, about three hours after Warren refused to take her sixth call, she packed her things and went off to Hawaii with the same fellow she was caught smooching with at the Halloween party.
Those were the sorry facts Holly’s parents apologetically told Warren, when he showed up on her door mat with a dozen roses, candy and big balloon with “I’m Sorry” embossed on its surface.
Holly’s parents said the other guy’s family lived on one of the outer Hawaiian islands. Holly’s parents elaborated ‘because of the stress and her own heartbreak she left town with the fellow perhaps to escape.’ They did have an address and handed it over to Warren.
Warren solemnly returned to his parents Long Beach bungalow and composed a letter to his fiance:
First, I plead with you for forgiveness, especially for my actions on Halloween. I’m sorry, I lost my head, I was a fool. Let me try and explain. You see, Holly, you’re all I thought about for the last five months. Being away from you was hell. I’ve never been so blue.
Each night in N.Y. was at best, lonely. Without the thought of you my life is a void. Holly, you mean everything to me. Even Broadway and its great, white way’s magnificent brightness appear dim compared to the light you bring into my life.
While back East, each night before I closed my eyes I fantasized about our reunion. Over and over in my mind I played out my return. I’d come off the plane and you’d be there, running to me and I would be running towards you. I’d hold you and kiss you and you’d do the same to me. I needed so much to feel your touch and hold onto your sweetness. I’ve missed the scent set off from your soft hair and my ears ached for the sweet sound of that lovely voice. I hugged the pillow, squeezing it, caressing it, and closed my eyes and whispered into my pillow like some silly kid about how much I missed you and how much I loved you.
I realize now it was a giant mistake to show up the way I did. I thought the surprise would be auspicious. I’m so sorry for acting the way I did, and I was a fool, but a rage came over me seeing you in someone else’s arms and it clouded my logic, I lost control. I regret so much and desire to make up for it. It’s just—what I thought would be a triumphant return all seemed spoiled, and far from the way I envisioned.
Thankfully, my dad helped bring me back to my senses. He shed important light on the matter and frankly speaking, my old man is a lot smarter than I ever gave him credit for. I wish to salvage what we’ve built together. I’ll do whatever it takes. You are all I desire, all I’ll ever need. Remember all we planned? It was so perfect. It can be that way for both of us. I can’t imagine a productive life without you. Please reconsider. Please have the same feelings, the same feelings and desires you had before I left for N.Y. I know it’s shameful and a sign of weakness to beg, but I have no pride when it comes to our being. Because, if there is no us, then as far as I’m concerned, there is no world for me.
Please come home Holly and together lets begin what we had planned. I promise to be a fantastic, loving, husband, a provider for you and our children and a good man. I swear to you, you’ll never ever see again the mole of a man you saw on Halloween. Please sweetheart, please.
I’ll love you forever
Along with the letter Warren sent Holly a first-class, one-way ticket for a scheduled flight back to L.A., he’d be waiting at the airport and as far as he was concerned they would never again bring up the subject.
Warren stood nervously by the gate. One by one well-tanned travelers, returning from Hawaii came tumbling off the Boeing 707. She never exited the plane.
Warren began a dark period. He could no longer focus on work. He lost desire for surfing and drank heavily. He continued to brood, became strange and aloof, no longer the pleasant-boy next door. His shrinking good nature and nasty disposition got him into beefs at local bars down by the docks. He mouthed off toward the wrong dudes and placied himself in tight fixes, and if some stevedores hadn’t intervened—men who worked with and respected his dad—he would have gotten his ass kicked. Begrudgingly, his parents asked him to move out.
In another month he quit his once lucrative career. His Corvette: repossessed. He became a different person. The money was gone; the pain wasn’t. He no longer flashed a “gee-by-golly smile” and easy-going, California, surf boy demeanor. He carried scars. His future appeared bleak.
Once again his father came to him. He suggested he move away to the East Coast and stay with a cousin in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Deardens desired him out of the area. His dad handed him a thousand dollars as seed money.
On the way to the bus terminal with ten, one-hundred dollar bills in his pant’s pocket, Warren ran into toothless Freddie. Freddie’s toothless-ness had been a gapping fact when they were classmates back in high school. They weren’t friends, solely part of the same graduation class. Freddie, long before Warren began to waste his life away and hadn’t aspired to be anything, except a loudmouth lush, a leech, a lout and a lousy loser. Freddie, not one to miss a free-loading opportunity, with an never-ending thirst and the persistent ability to be a low-life, commenced to take advantage of someone in Warren’s state. He sold Warren, button-holing him after he stopped off for a quickie—harped on him to blow dough on booze and goofy fooling around. In a few days of weirdness the get-away money vanished.
“No problem,” said Freddie. “We’ll get work aboard a freighter heading to someplace on the East Coast. I’ve worked ‘em engine rooms before. It’s a no brainer. They’re always looking for hands. You’ll be able to fake it—just do as I do. Bullshit your way on, give ‘em some made-up steamer-company’s name . . . pick some phony names, say they’re the boats we’ve worked on. They won’t even bother to check.”
Within seventy-two hours both men staggered up the gang plank of the “Morey Younger” a rusty freighter shipping out and heading east, packed with imported oriental goods.
Aboard the freighter an old salt by the name of Jack Stollberg, who represented himself as the chief-operating engineer, hired both men as wipers with no fanfare. Wiper: The bottom of the barrel or hull if you will.
Warren, carrying his heavy heart and hangover soon enough found himself amidst the wear-your-body-out rigor which goes along with 12-hour shifts below a hot, noisy deck.
As toothless Freddie suggested he aped Freddie, doing much of what engine-room wipers do.
The first hours were hell, schlepping items, doing constant cleaning, like getting down on all fours, digging out gooey goop built up around miles of sweaty, scalding, steamy pipes, adding to his morose existence, were the skin burning sensations and dealing-with, his-own, scalding pieces of flesh. Warren had been handed a flashlight by old Jack and told to stoop underneath the pipes and boilers, and to go crawl and fetch tools, tools which may have fallen off the deck, deep within the maize of pipes and valves. He hated it! He loathed his life.
Overnight the Morey Younger docked in San Diego to pick up additional cargo. When it set sail again Freddie jumped ship abandoning Warren.
Jack became pissed about being short handed. “Your buddy is a piece of shit, so you’ll have to pick up his share of the muck. It better be spic-and-span all around the yarway, ya understand . . . and all the fuckin’ way-down shaft alley. By the time we get to Wilmington I might insist you eat off the yarway’s floor, or you just might not hafta ta get paid. Not one of your references check out and to dump you penniless in Wilmington all I have to say is that you’re a crummy stowaway and that will be that!
“You don’t know two licks about ship-life, mister. Sorry mate, that’s the way the anchor drops.”
Despite his lack of experience Warren caught on. He sobered up. Some of his own survival instincts came to life. He made a genuine effort to get along with the rest of the crew. The chief, as stated, had him pegged as an inexperienced landlubber but he didn’t care, he primarily desired an obedient crewman with a strong back who would do as he ordered.
Once at sea Warren dove into the work. By the time they departed from the locks of the Panama Canal into the Atlantic Ocean he evolved himself to somewhat of a seasoned seaman.
He crawled inside giant condensers to clean out soot. Warren mastered the mundane chores ‘which-had-to-be-put-up-with’ by a below-deck seaman. Because of his work habits he was promoted to fireman by ole Jack.
He finished all of what Jack asked for, did so before schedule and strictly on his own. For the rest of the voyage he remained inside the engine room, working with Chief Fireman Jeff Beckworth, a witty man with them drinking coffee together and with him keeping his eyes peeled, monitoring gages.
He came to understand the boiler-room process, a complicated process, which includes faith in the firemen, with him carefully mixing the fuels to create combustion, converting energy to heat, then seeing first-hand how energy stirs water, which boils and goes on to become steam, turning turbines to eventually be measured as horsepower that finally produces forward-moving knots. He saw the process as fascinating, moving thousands of tons of ship through the ocean’s waters.
A month and a half latter he walked down the Morey Younger’s gang plank with his earned wages and well-earned respect of Jack Stollberg and Jeff Beckworth. He found himself in Wilmington Delaware. It was February with a cutting rawness in the air, one which he never experienced back in California or in New York for that matter. There were no leaves on the trees. He could have been on the moon. Warren remained lonely and blue as he boarded a overheated, stuffed bus heading towards Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Warren found the beaten-up rooming house on Georgia Avenue. Gloomy might best describe a raw Atlantic City during February of ‘69. A cold mist enveloped the resort island. The buffetting winds skirting the shoreline and making their way inland from the stormy Atlantic cut into the bone and stabbed those who ventured outside. Hungry sea gulls cawed, scanning the almost deserted streets in search of scraps. Warren’s third-cousin, Scott, a winter-time caretaker for the worn-down rooming house, offered a so-so greeting.
Once inside he scanned his new home. The downstairs was a combination living-room-office with a winding staircase emptying into a nothingness. Perhaps during the summertime the front room offered more of a greeting but then it presented itself as a cooped-up, musty, dank and smelly place, a dump he’d rather not be in. After climbing two-flights of creaky stairs Scott offered Warren a third-floor, cubby hole, austere, with a single-bed and a splintered, wicker dresser.
Down a drafty-linoleum hallway sat a chilly unglamorous bathroom. A leaky faucet greeted bathroom goers with it plunking drops of water. The door jam was swollen from the year-round dampness; the door couldn’t be closed all the way for privacy. The rest of the porcelain was stained and stark. There was a single-light bulb dangling from a ceiling with peeling paint .
“Twenty bucks a week,” Scott said, as a matter of fact. “Your father called weeks ago. Where you been?”
“I took my time.”
“Your dad said you’ve been wasting plenty of time lately. Anyway, I got you a job if you want it. It’s down at Tony’s Baltimore Bar and Grill. It’s not much or exciting, especially for around here, especially during Winter, but the food’s good, three squares a day. You gotta watch Tony though, he’s the owner, he’s a son-of-a-bitch.”
“Whatever,” replied a blue Warren, acting disinterested as he flopped his weight on the cot and closed his eyes.
The next morning Scott escorted Warren to the grill and introduced him to its owner. Warren could sense that Tony as a hard man. Small, yet thick, Tony was an immigrant from Crete. A hiring took place—Warren would start promptly at nine as a table-clearing busboy.
The Baltimore Bar and Grill was always a bevy of activity. Despite a cantankerous Tony, the grill maintained a fabulous reputation. The establishment served a variety of food from 6:00 a.m. ‘til 3:00 a.m. Even during the bleak days of Winter, the grill was an establishment that thrived. Its patrons were mostly locals.
The grill offered a variety of tasty treats chocked with flavor at reasonable prices. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus snacks could be ordered off the extensive menu all day long. Items such as snapper-soup, fried-calamari and an array of pizzas, both red and white, plus too many entrees to mention that were also advertised as house specials.
Their rice pudding’s texture, soft and creamy. The bread pudding was punctuated with nutmeg and sugar, containing the right amount of crunch from the use of stale bread. Stale bread–Tony insisted such being used as part of his mandated recipe. A giant Dixie-cupped order of French fries for just 20 cents was touted by locals as the best in town. Only God knew why. Tony hardly changed the fryer’s oil.
There was something magic about the taste. Same was true for the famous, fried chicken, the secret: Alternating the frying oils daily that were broken down into two-separate rations which helped perpetuate them both. While one turned out the break-your-mouth, delicious chicken day-and-night, the other batch of oil sat in a calm, it refraining from being boiled while fermenting under a wet cloth, cooling down and going through a day’s worth of rejuvenation for the next day’s popping and bubbling run . . . . Some oil was added to replace what had burned off or evaporated the day before. That’s how Tony kept alive a distinct, rich flavor consisting of fowl and oil.
Before school, punky kids, with running noses stumbled in from the cold. They marched in four-and-five at a time leaving the grill’s door left open and letting in the cold while clutching onto two-measly dimes, as if the dimes were their most-prized possession—all for the smack-your-lips-goodness belonging to the deep-fried spuds.
The place had a bar out front and a diner atmosphere in the rear with its grimy flourescent lit kitchen in the middle. Almost around the clock the smoky joint stayed packed. The patrons jammed the diner portion during the daytime. They varied in makeup including retirees, young families and the business crowd. As the day progressed, the front bar would fill up with want-a-be wise guys elbowing out the meek. Smoking the way Bogart did on film and drinking like cowboys do in Westerns. They were often overheard boasting to any chump willing to listen about being connected.
The talk varied from the broads they supposedly banged to the winning bets they supposedly placed. Late at night, after midnight, cops, hookers, in-laws and outlaws made the joint a favorite watering hole.
The hookers counted on Tony’s as late night safe zone, where they could get their head back together and have coffee, perhaps a time after performing a weird trick.
Tony hired Warren with a grunt. In the back of the diner Warren was then introduced to a spunky, cheery waitress named, Kim.
Kim was about to become something special. She was 28, pretty, a petite, red head, five years older than the 23 year-old Warren. Her figure and skin were that of a teenager. Her gray eyes sparkled, somehow giving one the idea that they might be kind eyes willing to take the time to listen. For no special reason, it ran across Warren’s mind, those eyes possessed yet-to-be-tapped wisdom. Warren sat at the counter for awhile having a complimentary order of French toast before his shift kicked off.
Focusing in on Kim he watched her work. He noticed the many freckles. She sped back and forth from behind the counter taking orders and serving food. If Tony operated a machine (a machine, that’s how Scot described the hustle and bustle within the diner section,) if Tony owned the machine, Kim was a driving force.
Warren found it revolting how hungry for more than-pancakes patrons blurted vile statements toward the stunning red head, who boasted an hour-glass build.
Warren admired this Kim’s sueve faire. She was called by those sitting at the counter; doll, babe and sweetcakes. Overt remarks were often vulgur. She fielded the affronts with a direct certainty, as if she was a ball-gobbling shortstop, then pegging her throw backs and nailing the verbal tossing runners before they had a chance to reach first base. The great Pete Rose couldn’t have gotten on unless Kim dropped the ball which was unlikely.
Warren summed that Kim was probably tougher than a tow-truck driver. Yet there was an honest cheeriness that laviciously sprung from her spunky Irish self. It certainly complimented her feminine charms. Soon enough he determined there was a caring side imbuing. And at first glance and with the shake of the small femine hand he sensed as if something jelled!
She in turn viewed Warren as a young man with troubles, a challenge perhaps, and from day one she’d make no secret that she was intrigued.
Warren sipped on coffee and watched the clock. Kim took further initiative taking the rookie by the hand before Warren donned his work apron, whisking him away as Tony acted totally oblivious to his new employee as he went into a tirade, a screaming fanfare the entire place overheard. Tony exploded, snarling as he took a phone call from a short-order cook calling in sick. That’s when Kim made her play.
Picture meaty pawed, Tony, filled with venem, him pressing hard and spitting out his way of thinking into a phone’s receiver. “Youa, cocka-sucker , you! I hope you-a, so sick, you-a fuckin’ die! Don’ta youa show, see if I care!”
While that one-sided conversation took place, looking over her shoulder and speaking in a hushed tone, Kim asked Warren if he could fry eggs?
Tony slammed down the pay phone. “Fuck-ing bum!”
“Here you go, Tony, we have an egg fryer in our midst,” said Kim.
Warren was automatically elevated to the lofty position of short-order cook on his first day.
Kim escorted him back to his new, work station, next to a gas-fed, Wolfe brand grill where he’d be planted for eight hours a day. She returned from time to time to check on his progress. She warned him about the sudden, raw explosiveness of his new boss.
Frustrated at first, but after a week or so, Warren became familiar with Tony’s accent. “Take out the trash,” or “Hand me a knife,” sounded more like “Break out a rash,” . . . or “land me a wife.” Tony’s hands were marred with an unsightly rash, grotesquely spreading itself upward beyond his wrists. Tony’s demeanor: Boisterous and rude, an immigrant, whose green card didn’t boast people-handling skills—at least not polite ones.
“Get this! Do that! NOW!”
“You-a no awork, you-a no a money, you-a no a job! Youa justa one fucking bum like the rest,” were examples of his badgering and bantering.
Warren witnessed the bully fire then rehire the shaky dish washer in one graphic-filled sentence. He’d fly off the handle over nothing. If one didn’t have the stamina to take his gaffe they’d be gone.
If Warren was going to prevail he’d have roll with the punches or at least create an aura. He chose the aura part mostly by working his ass off seeing such actions taken by him as a remedy to curb Tony’s wrath. Warren’s temperament became numb soon enough becoming somewhat immune to the ranting.
He could have quit right then and moved on perhaps but he decided to take a stand and chose to tough it out as he did on the Morey Younger. After he hit rock bottom, back in Long Beach, and after examining his inner self, especially while at sea, in Warren’s summary, it was important for him to belong to something, to be attached and not alone. Maybe a place as stable as the Baltimore Bar and Grill could be that something. Then there was Kim, who was kind and witty, plus fabulous to look at and she may have been worth it to hang around for.
“Yes, boss!” he’d ‘yes-sergeant’ at Tony’s commands. After a few weeks, Tony’s keen insight picked up on Warren’s wish to survive. He created no trouble, offered no opinions and palled with no one. His work ethic pleased Tony. Yet relentlessly, Tony harped on Warren, to hurry up orders and talked down to him.
Warren’s assets: His platters’ presentations were picture perfect and more important to Tony, he portioned out the grill’s offerings with precise amounts the way Tony insisted. He mastered the art of preparing club sandwiches and other daily specials—preparing and assembling all the items on the menu from beginning to end.
In no time he mastered the recipe for cooking potatoes, including Tony’s famous home fries, the grill’s long-standing favorite. He sliced the potatoes, fry bacon, mix ‘em together, and then saute them in olive oil with garlic, garlic that’s been pressed, chopped and smashed, the way Tony said. Then by tossing in chopped-onion, peppers-and-chives . . . voila!—mouth watering and cheap. He put together a bad-ass pepper-and-egg sandwich, smothered with fried onions and melted American cheese, along with ketchup and mayo.
Preparation reigned supreme: The eggs fried soft and the sliced-green peppers properly steamed, done so in a timely manner, if not they’d fail inspection and stall the process as watch-dog Tony kept a discriminating eye on the preparations. Warren developed a knack.
For the next twelve years Warren labored between the bar and the diner! He’d do it mostly in the kitchen with its cracked white-wash plaster walls, a hot box that roasted all comers year round.
On that griddle he eventually would cook countless pancakes and pan fry a millennium’s worth of eggs. His ears eventually hardened, becoming accustomed to the irritating clanking noise created by colliding dishes and the inconsiderate slamming of clanging pots and pans.
In the summertime he gulped down quart-after-quart of ice water as relief from the stifling heat—during the bitter cold winters he’d deal with the striking contrast between working in the oven-like kitchen then exposing himself during the long walk home on wind-whipped, slippery streets.
His skin constantly was laden with greases and oils that assaulted him launched by the heat and cumbustion coming from the the crackling grill. Other gunk, consisting of popping grease balls sky-rocketed from the oily sea of the fryer, then to evaporate within his pores. Usually his existence wreaked of garlic.
Being reduced to a grill man never tripped his diligence. Over the years he’d come out of his shell somewhat, but not all the way.
Warren carved a life, not as a participator but as an observer.
With interest, Warren studied the petite, mouthy red head. He continued to marvel how she handled those jerks who perched themselves across the counter, who pea cocked for her attention while they twirled on their spinning stools the same way the black dude would in that Wakiki coffee house.
She served up her own specialty most of the time, ala, she slew provocatuers, especially those who pressed her relentlessly. There of course were those overtly expressive ones who shamefully offered her the naughty tastes in the form of come-ons–inappropriate invites from their own lurid menus. They needed to be put in their dirty-minded place, then minced, then squashed and finally canned. Their uncouth remarks were sandwiched with sexual innuendo. For the most part she ignored them. The schmucks didn’t get it.
Kim would grow silent, draw a meal ticket from her apron and give them just the time to say how they preferred their eggs. She’d spare them a few more seconds only to find out if they desired toast or fries. Soon enough they’d get the message.
As far as relationships: Kim remained married to small-time hood named Michael. Her husband was then rotting away in Lewisburg. Seems a few years back he and some other local thugs, all of whom were supposedly connected to the mob, decided to hold up a savings-and-loan in Vineland, New Jersey. After a ferocious gun battle they were overwhelmed by police and apprehended. Her man received a cool fifteen to twenty-five.
Despite the loneliness she remained totally devoted.
The true-blue woman spoke of Michael and she spoke often about the day he’d be a free man. Her favorite saying, “Hope springs eternal.”
There were no kids but there was a dog named Franklin.
The grill’s lover-boy patrons cried, “Ooh! That’s too good of a woman to go to waste.”
Warren’s ears were privy to the desires and the distorted fantasies stemming from her admirers from afar, and his ears and imagination weren’t spared from listening to the lustful yearnings about what those admirers supposedly had in store for her and what lewd acts they wanted her to perform on them.
During the twelve-plus years Warren remained employed at Tony’s Bar and Grill he could have chronicled an unsavory memoir, writing volumes about all those who longed for the slightest nod from the sweet, delectable Kim. Over time their illusions varied from the sublime to the ridiculous.
The hopefuls trotted up to the counter in all shapes and conditions, young, old, single, married, separated, fat and thin, the only qualification it seemed to get in the wanting-Kim parade was to have a swinging dick.
While drunk or sober they took their shots. Suitors ranked from truck drivers, wearing muscle shirts with battery-acid holes, to business execs dressed pin-striped suites. There were the clean shaven and the unshaven. Others were pompous asses. There was the greasy hair, or those with “dos” piled up high and mighty, shaped into flamboyant pompadours. Kim could count on even the non-confident taking their shots, balding milquetoasts trying to worm in for some action.
There was gold-toothed Gerry, acting so sure of himself. He owned the corner Mobil station and stopped by Tony’s three times a day. He tried to sell Kim his high test. He’d move his hands a certain way seductively and mumbled come-ons with a baritone voice—so low and so sexy.
While gold-tooth Gerry did his seduction routine he remained oblivious. A decade’s worth of auto grease was embedded beneath his mechanic’s finger nails.
In the back by the grill, Kim shared her thoughts with fellow waitress Donna and she couldn’t keep a straight face while saying, “The scum bag had the audacity to say he couldn’t wait to get his hands all over me. Can you imagine? Ugh! He gives me the creeps . . . and to think, just because he leaves a fat dollar for toast and coffee.”
Fat Sal, with three chins, and a never-ending lust for Boston-cream pie, attempted to spread his blubber and capture Kim’s attention. The fatso operated the schlock-jewelry store down the street. He boasted for years to anybody who would listen that he’d eventually get into her pants. “Sure-sure, let the others try and fail. She’ll come around. She knows the fat man paves a merry path and the fat man wields the big bucks. The fat man knows how best to treat a lady.”
He, same as the rest, spoke of her in public as if she were no more than a tennis bracelet. “The chic doesn’t even know it yet, she already owns 15% of my action!”
Even the cantankerous Tony drooled, “I-a show her. I-a show-a her what-a gooda fuck is. . . But I no wanna ruin-a gooda waitress. She never have-a Greeka prick I bet.”
Then there was handsome Larry. Never one to pick up a clue about how he offered nothing new except the same, sad-sounding diet of, “I’m the one for you, baby.” The same tired and and useless pitch came shooting her way everyday.
Larry planted himself on one of the stools donned in tacky bracelets and rings. His wrinkled-turkey neck with an actively moving and exaggerated Adam’s apple were covered up multiple gold-plated chains. Showing no shame or concern he’d stand while still straddling his counter stool, rubberneck, leaning over the counter to sneak a peek each time Kim bent over to seek out something in the bottom fridge. Other times he’d sit confident, bold, as if he had an inside track, perched smug like, wearing the junk jewelry the crumb purchased from fat Sal. He normally flashed a boyish, shit-eaten grin.
He gave lip service too, “So, baby, when are you and a handsome guy such as myself getting together for some fun? . . . You know, baby, you look exhausted . . . probably ‘cause you been running around like crazy inside my mind . . . How ‘bout it? You need to settle down a bit with, Larry. Ya know, dinner, dancing and a little oodi-ah-ah!”
Rumor circulated, Larry remained in hot water with his wife. Seems he and one of his employees, a woman who worked in his bait-and-switch, furniture store—well together, Larry and the woman filmed a home-made sex video for reasons never explained. By being careless the dufus left the smoking-gun of a video around the house and his wife and kids received the show of their lives.
He hadn’t a clue about how his provocative approach was such a turn off. Instead the fool and his conceit just showed his teeth and widened his bull-shit-brown eyes with fruitful anticipation.
Kim didn’t think he was so sexy:What a dweeb. She saw right through the seedy chump from day one.
Kim wasn’t judgmental about the stuff Larry and the rest of the Romeos were trying to pull off. She simply served them, accepted their tips, and didn’t hold it against them. She remained professional, not to fluster—that’s what made her a super waitress. She enjoyed her work and did well enough, at least for an uneducated woman whose husband was away in the big-house. She purchased her own home and drove a nice car. She filled their orders. If they minded their manners she’d give customers some time and even kid.
Once feeling she was dealing with gentlemen she opened, became considerate, warm, even damn funny and very much alive. Deep down she forgave them and held no grudges.
There were those suitors who were more subtle. Kim despised the sneaky ones and was fast to pick up on that particular get-into-your-pants strategy.
“At least fat Sal and gold-tooth Gerry are up front,” she’d mouth to Warren between pick ups while back in the kitchen.
Still, while manning the busy front counter she juggled the touchy situations, remained unflappable and handled the harassment with humor and grace. If either of those two disciplines didn’t work, she’d get down and dirty and without hesitation coldly say, “OK lover boy, knock off the shit! So, what do you want off the menu?”
Warren witnessed Kim wrestle and floor an endless line of counter-top contenders. The day in and day out exhibition emerged as a valid lesson for the young man.
As for Warren, he didn’t need a lesson. He had earned his own master’s degree, magna cum heart-break. He needn’t a further education, ‘cause he wasn’t about to make a pass at anyone. The idea about chasing pussy didn’t pertain to him.
Wring-your-heart-out, unfulfilled desire along with images of Holly, played over in his mind as an exclusive engagement. The nineteen-year-old’s glowing vision greeted him first thing each day. Her forever-young image remained the last frame he viewed just before and just after he closed his lonely eyes.
Strands of fond memories were merely lent to him for fleeting moments, sprinkled with slight tinges of optimism, placing in parenthesis, vignettes of a happy young couple united in an incredible bliss as both embraced re-pontificating love and promise. But sadly enough those visions of milk and honey gave way to bleak ones, clouded with grim projections.
A few weeks after Warren began working at Tony’s Bar and Grill, another sort was hired. His name, Ornament Accordian, a first-generation Armenian. Ornament was local, Atlantic City kid, who was once a fine athlete and popular in high school. He recently returned home from a controversial tour in the service.
The strangest aspect of his persona, other than the fact he dressed daily in former USMC combat fatigues, he remained permanently topped off by one of those silly, toy arrows, the prop kind, the kind comedian, Steve Martin, placed over his head!
Accordian worked away washing pots and pans with a metal band holding the arrow in place extended over the top of his head with the tip and feathers protruding from each side. He expressed no reservations about coming to and fro, taking the bus and working away while wearing the odd head piece. Old people gawked, kids pointed and teenage girls giggled.
To those who tried to knife out information he’s simply say, since his hitch in the service, he had deemed himself as a bona fide asshole. To those who pressed about, ‘just what the hell happened over there?’ he’d, just form a smile or give a wave of the hand and quietly quip, “Look, I’m an asshole,” indicating the arrow was his cross to bear.
Most saw it as comical, others, pathetic. Truth was he served in Vietnam and supposedly was a highly-decorated, combat veteran.
Before Ornament entered the Marines, he like Warren, was once a happy-go-lucky over exuberant teen. He changed drastically since his tour. No longer was he the outgoing athlete who once swaggered along the boardwalk with his buddies. Word spread throughout the beach-side community, that he somehow flipped out and that those circumstances mandated Uncle Sam to kick him out by issuing a medical discharge.
From what Warren heard, the circumstances regarding Ornament’s service record and discharge, were no more than unsubstantiated rumors. Other than being filled in that he had it extra tough, Warren wasn’t aware about what precisely happened to Ornament over there. The worse part: Scuttlebutt floating around said his former fiance, somebody named Janice, while visiting him in Hawaii, got shot and killed during a melee on a Waikiki beach. Supposedly Ornament was accused of pulling the trigger.
Warren had yet to sort out fact from fiction. Someone falsely said he killed a policeman. Others spread word that he strangled a tourist on the beach. Others told a tale that he took hostages, and still, others, swore ole Arrowhead was once taken prisoner and tortured. It was understood he served bad time. In any event he was eventually released in less than a year, primarily due to clinical conclusions regarding his mental state.
Some of those who claimed to have been his buddies and a slew of other put-down artists cruelly referred to him as ‘Back in Saigon,’ or ‘Arrowhead.’ Past acquaintances drifting in and out of Tony’s would snicker and inquire, “Is ole back-in-Saigon back there cleaning them pots and pans?”
Same as Tony it was assumed Arrowhead possessed powder keg potential. Even Tony seemed wary of him. Yet from what Warren observed he was docile. On the surface Ornament gave no hint of explosiveness. He remained affable, worked hard, and maybe he even worked harder than Warren as a non-stop, forever-scrubbing dishwasher.
He quietly labored over and dipped his hands into piping-hot, dish water, while dutifully cleaning dirty pots and pans in a jiffy, plus placing everything back in its proper order with little or no supervision. He never quit until his work was complete. He asked Tony for no days off and never asked for an advance. Those traits alone endeared him to the greedy Tony.
Both he and Warren were considered by the rest of the grill’s crew, other than Kim, as loners and odd-balls. Because of those comparisons and because they worked in tandem, plus being near the same age, it became natural for the two lonely guys to strike up a friendship.
After work they’d hang out at Ornament’s mother’s house and share marijuana joints late into the night, listening to music on Ornament’s stereo. They listened most of the time through ear phones, so not to disturb the rest of the household or the next-door neighbors. They shared the same interest in music—new music for the time—then circulating amongst the-then pop culture. They didn’t care for the Tom Jones’, Englebert Humperdinks’, or The Four Seasons stuff that “shooby-dooby-doed” from the jukebox speakers down at Tony’s.
They’d hangout and talked into the night in a cellar surrounded by plastered walls decorated with psychedelic posters, posters they pasted up. Beneath the plumbing an entwining of rusty, dusty water and heating pipes crisscrossing the basement’s ceiling, they inhaled lung-expanding tokes from their hand-held water pipes, becoming super stoned from bongs packed with weed. They did so while listening to the likes of Hendrix, The Doors and Cream.
During one-such evening, Ornament felt less vulnerable. Ornament pulled off his phones and handed Warren a fat joint, one he rolled up while listening and be-bopping to Zepplin’s latest.
“Here man, take a hit of this shit, it will knock your dick off!” Ornament warned.
After taking a drag of what Ornament called Lamb’s Breath, pot that supposedly originated in Jamaica, Warren caught such an immediate buzz he could hardly say, “Wow!” Instead, he coughed and coughed.
After about ten beats, “Hey, this is some strong stuff!” he finally was able to eke out once he stopped coughing. His own pair of ear phones after being jostled came to rest on the side of his head.
Ornament affirmed from the sound of Warren’s cough, “Yeah, they say it’s almost as good as Hawaiian, but I don’t do anything from Hawaii. Never will.”
Ornament’s honest, brown, ethnic eyes grabbed hold of Warren’s blues. Warren sensed the man’s insides were wired tight. His stature was short and stocky. He was thick, muscular and intense. His Armenian nature: An emotional roller coaster on the inside—if not braked it might be unsafe to say that the next stop could be volatile. Despite those noticeable attributes he remained calm and vowed with religious conviction to never be violent again. That night while feeling talkative, ole Arrowhead bared his soul.
He said he joined the Marines as a gung-ho recruit in 1966. He thought he wanted to help nip communism in the bud. Ornament never was told why. He shipped off to Vietnam. He shared with Warren what it was like to spend six months of heavy combat and how it had stamped out much of his boyish enthusiasm and innocence, including the squashing of his once optimistic nature. He said the only thing that kept him from going over the brink was the thought of staying alive, so he’d be able to get back to somebody named Janice. He said how he missed her dearly. Warren could relate.
He explained while stationed in a combat zone there’s a U.S. policy—at the half way point of a combat tour—GIs were entitled to four-or-five days away from the combat zone. The policy was referred to as ‘R&R,’ meaning rest-and-relaxation. For Ornament the official time out meant, four-blissful days in Hawaii with Janice.
He stated, while serving overseas, Janice wrote him daily, eagerly setting the stage about how she was planning their reunion. She explicitly wrote how she purchased a new wardrobe, consisting of shear, sexy teddies, and she told Ornament to prepare himself to see her model them while they tucked themselves away inside their Waikiki love nest. She arrived in Honolulu two days before him, preparing everything, hopefully guaranteeing all would be just perfect. As back up she packed some his favorite local foods and brought them all the way from New Jersey.
Ornament said as soon as he got off the plane in Honolulu, flying in from the horrors of Vietnam non-stop, that things didn’t wash. It wasn’t Janice he said, she was terrific. What he found back in the states was a mean-and-nasty, temperamental, fickle mood brewing from what he perceived as an ungrateful nation. That’s the way it looked to him.
Waikiki was packed with tourists. Ornament would later make a statement to a military psychiatrist, “. . . it was as if nothing was sincere. Punk kids strutted around Honolulu donning fought-and-bled-for battle ribbons, decorations they couldn’t have earned, decorations most of them couldn’t identify.
“Seeing some hippie creeps . . . ” as he called them, sporting purple hearts or silver stars made Ornament’s blood boil. It was inconceivable for the just-out-of-a-firefight gyreene to fathom such a party atmosphere at hand. After all history and geography taught him whacky Waikiki shared island space with Pearl Harbor, a place once sneak-attacked by the Japanese. In his eyes non-patriotic disrespect reigned while his buddies over there were earning fought-for decorations. His logic added that Honolulu was overflowing with fakes and irreverent pagan loonies who romped and frolicked on what he envisioned as lawless streets.
Ornament expressed how he was overcome with a concern, especially for his contemporaries who then seemed abandoned by an entire people. While in Honolulu, he said it was as if witnessing a selfish disinterested America, with Americans zooming around Honolulu in new cars, dressed in whimsical clothes and acting as if they were indifferently removed from the gumption, undertakings and dedication that’s essential to win a war. Ornament voiced he had given little thought about what to expect of his countrymen when he returned to their shores but he wasn’t prepared for the opulence and especially the ambivalence.
Janice sensed his uncomfortableness. He acted ill at ease throughout dinner inside the fancy restaurant, the one she especially chose for their reunion. Afterwards he tried faking but could hardly pay attention to the Don Ho review and the hula show.
Smiling hula girls, filtered through the crowd, in search of candidates for audience participation. They singled him out and attempted to entice him to go up on the stage for some hip shaking. He wasn’t gracious.
Back in the hotel he expressed to Janice about feeling guilty, guilty about deserting his buddies back in a foreign land, a land he referred to constantly as a world of shit. With tender love-making Janice was able to ease some of the pain.
The next morning she proposed they didn’t have to go anywhere but could just hang out in the hotel room and watch TV, and order ample provisions from room service. She was willing to model her new see-through teddies all day long if he liked and she volunteered to go rent X-rated films, something she’d never do in the past if only for Ornament, and to further spice up their afternoon.
Ornament in turn, while appreciating her sweetness, understood how much Janice loved the sun. Back home in Atlantic City it was mid-Winter. It was her R&R too. Thinkingly, he decided they could watch movies later and he decided to put on his best face and insisted they’d go to the beach, and he promised do his earnest to live up to the expectations of their reunion.
On the beach they rubbed on sun-tan lotion and lay down on the big towels with giant pineapples printed on them, towels Janice purchased when she first arrived. The sun was warm and the water crystal clear.
Ornament became fidgety. He couldn’t bite his tongue any longer, complaining to Janice that people seemed to be worrying more about their tan lines than the battle lines being drawn sixteen hours to the west.
“Honey, you have to realize people have their own lives. They may not have any loved ones involved in the war. It’s not their war. Perhaps it’s your’s and mine, but the war doesn’t have anything to do with them. They have their own problems and they’ve come to Hawaii like you and I, just to get away from them. Sweetheart, can’t you see they’re taking a break?”
His G.I. haircut and dangling dog tags I.D.’d him. The curiosity of a nosy man on the next beach towel got the best of him. The stranger began to query Ornament.
First, the query was of the norm. What branch of service?. . . Where was he stationed? . . . What started out as an innocent enough question-and-answer period began to degenerate into what began to sound like an intense interrogation.
The man’s tone changed from simply asking questions to accusing implications. A test of wills ensued and a shouting match broke out. The lean-on-you guy pressed Ornament for answers he didn’t have or answers he couldn’t formulate into words.
Ornament said to Warren, it seemed he wasn’t providing sufficient answers fast enough for the man.
During his recollecting Ornament regaled the moment. Telling Warren how the provacatuer had no idea what it was like to see a buddy’s face blown half-way off in one-terrible instant! The peacenik never saw a squad after its been captured by the VC, nor had the crumb witnessed the effects of torture! That faggot traitor’s ears never heard grown men cry out for their mamas!”
Politics didn’t matter to Ornament, he hadn’t given them much thought. Kids like him, kids who thought they were being raised back home to become decent, freedom-loving, God-fearing, generous Americans, found themselves scrapping out an existence in a non-forgiving jungle. Kids who rooted for the Dodgers, who only wanted to get back home for an education, or kids who only desired to be reunited with loved ones and to live a normal uneventful life were mostly the make up of the armed forces.
At that moment Ornament said, “They could have been up to their necks in mud . . . scared shitless, and dying left and right while defending somebody else’s country and here was this weak asshole putting them down!”
While embroiled in the argument Ornament fired back! “Fuck you jerk-off, and fuck the horse you’ve rode in on, ‘cause you’re a piece of shit! You’re just another one of them draft-dodging, sons-of-bitches with no fucking guts!”
His detractor became undaunted, perhaps taking delight his digs were getting under Ornament’s skin. He measured wrong, ‘cause the pressure-packed leverage would have Ornament blow his top.
The instigator, not yet on the defensive, blew condescending air through his weak lips and said, “Typical of what one might expect . . . my tax dollars being spent to pay and arm thugs such as you, to go over there and kill innocent people.”
Ornament couldn’t believe his ears.
And it didn’t stop, “Any real American would refuse orders to kill. Once you get out you’ll expect a handout!”
“I ain’t no fucking thug you, creep! Shut the fuck up! And you better shut the fuck up quick!”
The provacatuer bated Ornament more . . .“See, it’s the same with you gung-ho types. All you’re capable of is resorting to violence.”
Of course the wisenheimer didn’t say those words with total conviction until he noticed a bigger man coming off his towel, a guy who was his beach pal.
Ornament grappled for some sort of support but other bathers remained speechless. They looked away and didn’t wish to get involved.
Down in the cellar Ornament confessed he didn’t possess adequate verbal skills or a gift for debating and he couldn’t bring himself to properly articulate the issues. What he did feel, erupted from deep within, with no room for an apologetic explanation. He could only attack!
Janice’s ears could take no more. She told them both to shut up. Ornament told Warren, as much as he should have, he didn’t listen. He demonstrated how he pushed her aside.
Then additional onlookers nosed in—but not to Ornament’s defense. Another man acted as a go between, implying that it was Ornament who should back off or he would summon police and have Ornament removed from the beach.
A concerned woman rushed off to the life-guard stand.
“What fucking way? What’s with the way I talk? Haven’t any of you heard what this guy’s been saying? Call the cops, man . . . see if I give a fuck! Where am I, Russia? Haven’t any of you assholes been listening? Our guys are getting tore up over there. And this . . . ”
With those words, a shoving match broke out.
Just hours before, Ornament had been fighting for his life in the real jungle and there he was, surrounded, hemmed in, almost in the throes of a fist fight with three-or-four, flabby vacationers on the beach of Waikiki, and supposedly he was safe, back in the U.S.A.
Not taking anymore crap, Ornament snatched his main detractor by the neck. The enraged Ornament marched forward, his muscular infantryman’s calves chugged through the sand. The object of his ferociousness quick-stepped in the other direction, backpedaling in retreat. The man’s neck remained firmly clenched by the iron grip of Ornament’s right hand.
Janice, chasing from behind and continued to scream for Ornament, to set the man down.
Ornament’s body burst out in perspiration while telling the story, so did the cellar’s water pipes as he told Warren that he just didn’t hear or heed her pleads.
A few guys jumped on his back but with slight twists and the suntan oil they slid off.
Police stormed the beach charging the melee, waving batons, zeroing in on Ornament. He absorbed a number of swings but refused to let go. One of the officers drew his weapon and as the police and others tried to subdue Ornament. He inadvertently grabbed onto the policeman’s exposed gun. In the confusion the weapon discharged: Janice dropped to the sand.
The scene—awful! White sand sucked up enormous amounts of flowing blood. Janice was the only one hit. The suddenness and awful sound of the gunshot froze all participants. Ornament, the antagonists, and the police, focused their attention and attended to Janice. A hush came over the crowd.
In a panic, Ornament scooped up Janice and began to run. Her weight drooped beneath his blood-splattered forearms until they reached the curb side. A summoned ambulance couldn’t have been sooner.
They hopped inside but nothing would have saved her. The bullet was embedded in her lung. She drowned in her own blood.
At the hospital while surrounded by police Ornament became hysterical and needed to be restrained, first with handcuffs, then by a sedative and a few hours later he woke up from what he hoped was a nightmare. The reality seeped in. His free movements were bound by a straight-jacket inside a hospital’s psychiatric ward. He was crushed and in lots of trouble.
While telling Warren, Ornament was crying on the inside. He no longer could cry publicly. Janice was the only one he ever cried in front of. He clenched his jaw as he told Warren how he was turned over to the military and placed in the brig out in Kaneohe.
A court marshal was in order. The Marines assigned Ornament legal counsel. The Marine Major was proficient and better-schooled then most adjutants assigned to defend such a charge. Ornament lucked out. His defender argued and proved to a military tribunal that Corporal, Ornament Accordian, who possessed a perfect service record and how the young Marine suffered mental disorders due to his recent encounters. He hammered home to the military judges, who themselves had recently seen combat, that Lance Corporal Accordian was overwhelmed with extreme combat trauma and when a volatile situation erupted the battle-weary Marine possessed but one choice, to resort to what he was accustomed to—violence.
In addition, he argued there was no legitimate cause for the Honolulu policeman to remove his weapon from his holster. He was convincing while addressing the tribunal, telling the court how it was clearly printed inside the Honolulu Police training manual that the drawing of a police revolver is mandated only as a last resort. He read to the court in absolute language that the drawing of a weapon should only take place when facing a deadly force. Clearly, Ornament, who was cloaked only in a skimpy bathing suit couldn’t have possessed such a concealed-deadly force. He showed and proved the Marine was outnumbered and outgunned.
The court exonerated Ornament, ruling Janice’s death an accident. Sadly, since the terrible incident, Ornament Accordian wasn’t able to exonerate himself. That, he explained, his reasoning for the constant wearing of the silly arrow. He was more than willing to demean himself, if anything, to remind himself for the rest of his life about the tragic mistake he made back in Hawaii. Same as Warren, he couldn’t get over the loss of a lover.
Warren too was familiar with such emotions, and he took pity on Ornament’s hurt, a deeper hurt, more-debilitating than his, he reckoned.
“Hawaii man, it’s a bad place. Take it from me, stay away from there, it’s a place where you’ll find a lot of heartbreak.”
To both their relief they called a time out from the reminders of heartbreaks and they deliberately inhaled more needed tokes off the doobie without speaking further. Ornament flipped on the next LP and attempted to change the subject for the time being.
“Man, I’ll tell ya. Know it or not, I think this is the golden-age of music . . . . I’m talking about right here and now. If it weren’t for music and dope I wouldn’t be able to cope, man.
“I know there’s been great music in the past. I know about Bach and Chopin, and a whole bunch of talented motherfuckers, but for the life of me, I don’t know why their music hasn’t moved me.
“I hated that big-band stuff my parents listen to, it’s all noise with them screaming horns and shit. I do dig the melodic rhapsodies from some of that George Gershwin stuff and then there’s a few others. Ya know, man, that cool stuff they play in the Lone Ranger but you gotta listen to twenty minutes of boring crap before the neat part starts.
“Here, man, take another hit.”
Ornament removed another record out of an album’s jacket, and insisted they listen to a group called Thunder Clap Neuman and he played a tune called Accidents.
“You gotta love the guitar in this song, man. The guitar player’s a kid named Jimmy McCullough, he’s only fifteen man. It’s so raw man and the fucking sound-effects are awesome, especially when listening through the ear phones. . . Put ‘em back on, lets listen.”
At first Warren did not pay much attention to the guitar playing by Thunder Clap Neuman. The episode about Janice was so sad. His own fall was terrible enough. Still, he presumed, somewhere, hopefully—Holly was leading a productive life. Despite Ornament’s honest revelations, and because Warren remained fiercely private he dared not reveal his own heartbreak.
The two young men laid back stoned, with ear phones in place and they closed their eyes and tried to bury their past woes. Instead they grooved and listened to the hard-driving guitars, the raw rhythm and the dynamic sound effects projected by the LP. They let the blazing guitars float them away and they continued to sit quiet and listen until the last chorus of redundant lyrics punctuated their souls, lyrics which sounded as if they were being amplified through a megaphone: Life is just a game you fly a paper plane, there is no end . . . life is just a game you fly a paper plane there is no end . . . life is just a game you fly a paper plane, there is no end . . . .
Again it was Ornament who instigated the talk. “What about you, man? You don’t talk too much. You must have a story. What about a chic? I mean, I don’t see you chasing any trim. You’re no fag or anything are ya?”
Warren smiled, “No, I’m not gay. And if I were I’d have no problem telling you. It’s not to say I don’t admire woman, but I don’t admire any of them enough that I’d be willing to jump through hoops like other guys do for the affection of a woman.”
“So there is another. Someplace or somewhere, huh big boy?”
“And she broke your fucking heart and you believe you can never replace her . . . ”
“Who said Marines are block heads?”
“You got what I got. Only thing, I assume yours is still breathing.
“What about Kim, man? Ever think about her? I know she likes you and it’s been for some time, and you don’t even try to hit on her like the rest of them creeps.”
“Well, for one thing, she’s married, and as far as I know she’s still very much in love with her husband. And thirdly, let’s just say there is somebody else, someplace, somewhere and somehow, I’ve held back.”
“Yeah, but I can tell, you haven’t been in touch with that someone, someplace, somewhere in a dog’s age. If you were—my man would be back in California now and then. As for Kim’s husband—Michael—what a punk. We went to high school together. A sleazy snake he is, plus a show off. From day one he’s cheated his ass off on Kim. The guy’s scum. I’ll tell, ya, I’ve never been able to understand how some broads turn out to be such door mats?
“I’ve known Kim since the fifth grade. She must really be stuck on the guy. She was always too good for him and she’s been carrying the whole load while he’s in the slammer. You know they’re trying to take her house away.
“It has to do about irregularities on their mortgage application . . . about the possibility of a penalty, if one’s a convicted felon. Both names are on the mortgage. I hear they’re trying to say he lied on their mortgage application about his employment and all and that alone is supposed to be enough to recall the loan. On top of that the government has gotten in on the act, trying to prove that they were able to finance the purchase of their house due to the profits gained by his illegal activity. Some new law; the feds got it in for him. No wonder, he’s been a wise guy with the cops all his life.
“Christ, it’s fucking stupid; everybody around here knows that its been Kim who has worked her ass off to get that house. I even heard my mother talking on the phone about it. Loot sifted through Michael’s hands like it was water. He pissed away his hood money on gambling and broads. I hope it turns out OK for her, she’s a good woman.
“Come to think of it, you should take her out anyway, if only it were to be friends, she’s solid people. I know she’s lonely. And I bet she’s fun.”
Warren became privy to facts he wasn’t aware of and confessed to Ornament some affection for the woman. “I think Kim is a fantastic person. If it weren’t for her I don’t think I could have made it here while working for Tony and all. I mean, sure, she’s a knock out and you can’t help but admire her further, with all the gaffe she takes down at Tony’s. She’s acted confident fending off the blurts tossed toward her. I probably never considered, she’s like the rest of us, and I guess she too has to put food on the table.”
Both men grew quite again and smoked more and continued to listen to music. They took blasts through military-surplus gas masks, and listened to Janice Joplin and The Rolling Stones. Then the scene got heavier and more intense while listening to Zappa and The Fugs.
Ornament pulled off his gas mask and decided to speak more. He pegged Warren as a worthwhile listener. He respected and trusted the man. “You know what I regret, man? Well first, I couldn’t make it to the funeral. And then I’ve never been able to bring myself to call upon Janice’s parents or face her brothers and sisters. I’ve always wanted to apologize to try and explain, yet I don’t know what good it would have done. They’re hip to the circumstances. I’ve always wanted to tell them how fucking miserable I’ve felt, and how sorry I am. I’d beg for their forgiveness.
“Yet it was them who warned and tried to turn Janice against me. They ragged on her that I was too loud, too explosive, and they called me a wild jerk-off. I guess they were right. Warren, if I only could have that moment back. I’d let that little-puny prick spit in my face and stamp my ass into the sand, and I’d not lift up one finger against him.
“And it also bothers me that I never got back to my unit, to my guys.
“I’ll tell ya . . . they were twelve, bad-ass, mother-fucking, swinging dicks man; TBAMFSD, that’s what we called ourselves. We said the abbreviation like jigs: “Tbamfsd.” . . . Don’t fuck with the tbamfsd, inside or outside of base camp . . . Us tbamfsd hung tough . . . had been together and forged ourselves as a solid-fighting unit ever since boot camp, back at Camp LeJuene. Other squads, man, they lost as much as half of their guys. We only lost a spade named, Collins, during our first week in country because of a random mortar shell . . . just one of those things. Hey, shit happens.
“As a squad, one night while sharing some good weed we took a vow to watch out for each other and to become the “baddest” mother-fuckers in the jungle. We did pretty well too, ‘cause when I left for Hawaii, we hadn’t lost a single dude in over two months and we took out plenty. We saw other guys in other squads get it for one reason or another.
“Christ you wouldn’t believe it over there. . . . All kinds of strange shit happens. While under fire guys sometime read off the wrong map coordinates to Arty, and then they bring a heavy rain-of-hell down on themselves . . . in the heat of the battle squad leaders shout out to hit the ground . . . dumb fucks stand up . . . whamo, gonesville. Not us. When the shit hit the fan each of us knew our job and we went to work. We remained heads-up, no fucking around in the bush, bro.”
Ornament’s face maintained a far away look; he expressed how they didn’t smoke at night, made no fires and took enormous precautions not to get caught by Charlie while in the thick of things. “There’s no fucking around while at war, Warren.”
With masking tape they wrapped their dog tags which hung from their necks and taped their eating utensils inside their mess kits so they wouldn’t jingle in the jungle. They never spoke a word above a whisper while on the move. Ornament explained to Warren, that he made up the other half belonging to the squad’s rear guard with a guy named Atwater. They were a heavily-armed duo who protected their squad’s rear.
“Me and Atwater, man, he was a smoke from Detroit . . . Man, we’d be there to fuck up any fools trying to crawl up our ass. Atwater was a great Marine, man, and he was tough, at the same time he was seasoned and smooth as silk. He was disciplined enough while in the field, and he’d not play that Motown shit that he blasted constantly on his hi-fi back at base camp. Charlie wasn’t going to sneak up our asses if Atwater and I had anything to do with it. Back in base camp, it was another story, he was just another crow, you know, talking all that mo-fuck shit. In the field he was a marine poster boy.”
All during the revelations Warren sat spellbound, mostly because of the effect of the smoke but fascinated as Ornament explained the rear guard’s combat mode of operation and the life-saving action they’d be forced to orchestrate if they were to become ambushed.
Ornament continued . . . “The fucking dinks loved to ambush Marines man. They liked killing all Americans, but really relished a chance at knocking off leather necks. And God forbid if ya got separated from the squad and left behind dead or alive. If the little-yellow bastards got you, part of you became their calling cards, parts they cut from you, then you’d hope you’d be dead. We knew it, man. It can give a young guy a lot to think about while up to his chest in muck. Fuck, man, they tried to ambush us all the time.
“So, Atwater and I hung further back, maybe an extra 50 yards than what the book called for. If our guys got ambushed up front, me and Atwater were far enough back so we wouldn’t be caught on the inside of Charlie’s web. Our mission: React. In the midst of the confusion, me and Atwater would charge toward and down the enemy’s flank, heaving phosphorous-and-concussion grenades and raking their motherfucking asses with heavy bursts of automatic fire.
“At the end of the day or when we settled down for a bit, he and I planted anti-personnel devices, ya know, little howdy-dos and fuck-a-yous. . . . Know what a claymore mine is Warren?”
Warren shook his head sideways.
“They’re little howdy-dos shaped the same as a horse shoe. They’re a sleeping Marine’s best friend. They can either be detonated by a trip wire or remote. When detonated, pellet-size projectiles zoom outward, ripping-the-fuck-apart of anything sneaking up, either out front or to the fucking right and to the fucking left.
“That’s why they’re shaped like a horse shoe. It was standard procedure for G.Is. to set them around campsites, maybe 50 yards out. The sneaky little fuckers would crawl up and have the balls to turn them around. Then they’d rattle the bushes. When that happens, especially at night, the first thing a guy does is detonate his claymores. Guys, with experience make sure they lay flat, ‘cause if Charles turns your’s around, all that shit comes blowing back. I’ll tell ya, they were something.”
According to Ornament standard policy was for commanders to gather the gumption and throw caution to the wind while charging directly into the teeth of the gun fire coming from the ambush, rather than try to run away. Ornament continued . . .
“It was drilled into our heads, man, if our guys up front got caught in an ambush, then me and Atwater’s job was to high tail it. The rest of the squad would be counting on us while they themselves would be charging directly into the fire.
“If you’re caught in an ambush, usually you don’t have a piss ant’s chance . . . the one choice is to attack! It’s gutsy. You see the cock suckers have it all set up against you man and if you don’t charge the shit . . . if you run . . .
“If that happens what the ambushed squad is more-than-likely to run into is a field; a field of rip-your-legs-off, land mines or shit-covered punji sticks and heavier gun fire man—it’s all set up to kill your ass.
“The direction from which the fire is coming is normally the ambush’s weakest link. So, me and Atwater, man, we wuz ready for the little cock suckers no matter which way he came . . . We made up our own minds, if they tried to ambush us they were going to be even deader. Come hell or high-water we were going to keep each other alive, man, no matter what, man. . . That was our rule in the jungle.
“You’d think the catastrophe with Janice would be enough but there’s additional guilt. Not only was I responsible for losing Janice but I never returned to my unit. Because of my fuck up, I was wasting away in the brig in friggin’ Hawaii. With me gone the squad got a replacement. So, Motown got some new pimple-face for a partner, a smiling Johnny just out of boot camp. Apparently the new boy got laid on him the awesome responsibility to help Atwater cover the rear. That’s a big job for a boy who recently dropped in from the real world!
“Nobody’s alive who knows what happened? Billy G wrote me while I was in the brig. Atwater wouldn’t have dropped the ball . . . no way man. . . . That night Charlie came up their ass, man and took out Poppy Morgan, Swink and Longhi, along with Motown’s Atwater, plus my rookie replacement. I know it wouldn’t of happened if I was there, man.
“A few months later, two jerk-offs, who were supposed to be bringing up the rear got caught on the inside. They never charged down the flank. Only three of the original twelve ever got back home alive and one of them includes me.
“I feel guilty about that too Warren. I should have been back there. I could have given a fiddler’s fuck about what was right, or what wasn’t right about the war, man. I understand now we shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but when you’re in it, you’re in it. Number-one rule man . . . stay alive.
“That’s why I’ve sentenced myself to wear this stupid-fucking arrow man. So I never forget for an iota . . .
“I’m largely responsible for losing Janice’s life and partially responsible for the loss of my squad. I shouldn’t have fucked up.
“You know what happened? Before the trouble, our company’s old man put me in for the Distinguish Service Cross, imagine that. I earned a Purple Heart by being burnt all over my back from remnants from a phosphorus grenade, plus I’d been awarded a Bronze Star and some other stuff. Get this, they presented me the DSC while I was in the nut house. What do they mean to me? . . . Man, I don’t know. What really meant something to me was Sergeant Martinez, and Motown’s Atwater, Stan Lanias, a New York guy named, Delaney and Swink, who was a full-blooded Indian with blonde hair from Oklahoma, Longhi and Swifty Robby Christine, a one-time cross-country champion . . . then there was Billy G., an ex-surfer like you and Poppy Morgan. Kenny Rothman was a rich kid from Yourami, Babe Kozlowski and Travis Lee Carvalho were super guys, not like that piece of shit back in Hawaii. Only Martinez, Carvalho and I breath air today.
Ben Ridgeway drove his Toyota land cruiser up the long-steep driveway. The driveway was bordered on both sides by a thick row of green-needled, iron-wood trees. The villa was tucked away, at the far end of a cul-de-sac, in an exclusive Maui sub-division.
It was a beautiful morning in Hawaii, Ben listened to the car radio how the Mainland was experiencing an early-Spring snow storm. Nineteen Ninety-Four dealt a tough Winter on North America.
People who live in Hawaii realize there’s something unique about living in such a paradise and they’ll be quick to admit it’s more special residing in Hawaii when it’s Winter time. There’s a certain feeling of contentment, not having to wear a shirt and running around mostly bare foot in the middle of Winter, knowing the rest of the Northern Hemisphere might be knee deep in snow and a not-enviable freeze.
Even though Ben was raised in the islands he attended Columbia University. In NYC he trudged through slush and had to contend with the wet leather soles of his shoes from December ’til April. Ben experienced the entire Wintertime repertoire. “Lucky you stay Hawaii,” rang inside his mind.
Atop the property’s entrance was a circular driveway. A dozen-or-so cars were parked outside the white-tiled villa. Colored bougainvillea decorated the grounds. There was a grove of coconut trees to the right of the doorway with ripe ones ready to drop.
Once out of the Toyota he passed under a shaded walkway. After knocking on the door Ben was greeted by a polite house man. Ben identified himself, presuming the name Ridgeway would ring a bell.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Ridgeway, Mr. Citrone is not receiving visitors, he’s gravely ill.”
“Yes, I’m aware Mr. Citrone is ill and I apologize in advance for attempting to disturb him. Normally I wouldn’t think of doing so but I was hoping there might be a chance of me having a small word with him.”
“Is this a matter of some importance, sir?”
“As a matter of fact it’s of a personal nature but it’s very important to me, and I’d greatly appreciate if I could only have but a few moments.”
The doorman contemplated. Up to that time while Gallagher was employed as the house man for Mr. Citrone, and before Phil fell ill, Phil Citrone made it a habit to be accessible.
Back when Phil Citrone was healthy, which was only a few months before, he answered his own phones, opened his own mail and personally greeted guests. He’d make the time, primarily because of a deep-seeded curiosity and he spoke with almost everybody. He boasted to confidants, those attributes were intricate reasons for his success. Gallagher picked up on Ben’s sense of urgency. The house man asked Ben to wait.
He returned a few moments later to fully open the door. Once inside, Ben found the Citrone’s home tastefully decorated and filled with an assortment of people. By their attire and complexion a hodgepodge of fast-talking, fast-walking strangers were more-than-likely from somewhere on the Mainland.
Some were busy talking on cellular phones, others manned portable computers, while others milled around fax machines. Piled-high papers and huge port folios were strewn atop nice wooden furniture. A few sat out by the pool, pale and shirtless as they lounged on lawn furniture. The house man led Ben towards a woman, a lady Ben recognized immediately. It was Doctor Jane Kocivar, his own personal physician.
“Hello, Ben, it’s nice to see you. What brings you, here?”
“Jane, I didn’t know you were Citrone’s doctor.”
“Yes, I’ve been for sometime. Gallagher says you wish to speak with Phil . . . You know, he’s dying, he has AIDS . . . Contacted the virus from a blood transfusion, five years back. He’s not seeing anyone.”
“Who are all these people?”
“I’m told they’re executives from various corporations Phil’s associated with back on the Mainland. It’s sad. It’s kind of disgusting. They’ve been acting more like a bunch of vultures waiting for the end. God knows what they’ll turn into, once Phil passes. Their primary concern seems to depend on the latest stock quotes or the virtual stability of a concoction of off-the-wall enterprises and how they’ll hold up once Phil goes. He hasn’t much of a family. There’s talk of a son but other than Gallagher and I they’re more like a bunch of strangers.”
“Look, Jane, I don’t want to appear as ghoulish, but I was wondering: Do you think there’s any chance Phil will grant me a few moments? I won’t be insensitive, I swear.”
Jane understood damn-right well, if a man as powerful and as private, as Ben, who wielded financial clout and political muscle, urgently desired to have an audience with a dying man that something important must be at hand. Jane summed Maui’s Ben Ridgeway presented himself as a man with moxie and style. She excused herself and scurried towards Phil’s room.
* * *
Phil Citrone and Ben Ridgeway, two individuals who despite sharing a small spot such as Maui were worlds apart. They were two men who normally wouldn’t travel in the same circles.
Ben, the conservative, a kamaaina, a descendent stemming from an old, missionary family, a family whose roots had been solidly embedded in the islands for over a hundred-and-fifty years. Ben had different footings than Citrone as a pedigree, an Ivy Leaguer, refined, and a family man. Branded into him had been a stern work ethic handed down by strict missionaries. His interests: Ranching, commerce, retail, politics, polo and family, and he envisioned himself as a stalwart in the community.
He possessed but one hidden agenda!
On the other hand Phil Citrone, stood out as a relative newcomer, perceived by Maui’s establishment as a washed-up rogue, a flip model, who migrated to Hawaii during the influx of lulus who hugged their way to the islands during the ‘70s. In Ben’s circles Phil’s type merely contributed and perpetuated a disrespectful, irreverent and eccentric behavior. Ben presumed it would have been a stretch for Phil to recall something as simple as the name of Maui’s mayor. He didn’t vote.
Little information flowed about Citrone’s background other than he possessed vast sums of money. His reputation pegged him as more of a bonvyant. Frivolously, he frolicked around the island mostly with women, or should we say girls, at least twenty-years his junior. There were lots of hangers on and many parties.
Compared to Ben Ridgeway whose attire could be construed as preppy or casual—Phil’s look was disheveled with unkept hair and wrinkled clothes. Phil fluttered around mostly barefoot, outfitted in silky, island-style, aloha shirts—unbuttoned down the front, exposing a white-skinny torso and dangling from his neck, there were usually a couple of strings of sapphire beads. His shirt tails hung outside Phil’s usually droopy, string-drawn pants.
Notorious! Phil was noted for smoking marijuana in public. Ben remembered making light of the matter a few months back during an Upcountry, cocktail party, regaling how he passed by Phil on the road, seeing the goof at the wheel of his red Porche Carerra convertible, catching him red-handed placing a marijuana joint towards his lips.
He and Ben’s paths crossed a few instances during charity events. They spoke briefly. When healthy Phil attended Upcountry, polo matches. Not to admire the horsemanship but rather to rendezvous with some divorcee or to schmooze with a blossoming crop of daughters belonging to some of Ben’s closest contemporaries.
Ben viewed the whimsical man as somebody offering no validity to the islands, a man who didn’t seem to posses the slightest idea about what grit it may have taken to settle old Hawaii. From what he gathered, the man never met any sort of hardship and never lifted anything heavier than a fork full of fettucini Alfredo.
Ben possessed no knowledge about the man’s business dealings. It would have surprised him if the man could have placed a ‘blue box in the blue truck.’ Phil was considered a buffoon, of course a buffoon with tons of money.
Jane returned and asked Ben to follow her. She led him into Phil’s bedroom.
There laid a far cry from the roguish fellow Ben most-recently remembered. No longer was he the charming man with an unmistakable gleam in his eye, the bouncy lout who enthusiastically traveled about for the attention of young women.
Underneath the oxygen tent Phil lay a heap of skin-and-bone, emaciated, his face sunken. If pressed for a beforehand description, he once was perceived as man with strong features—features that then were strong no more.
Phil made a monumental effort to rise to the occasion. Gallagher mother-henned from behind, unzipping the tent, propping up pillows, doing all he could to make the weak-fragile man comfortable.
“Why, Ben Ridgeway, you’re one of the last of people I expected to see. A man should die more often perhaps—perhaps to open new horizons.”
He began to laugh but such merriment was stifled by the awful-sounding cough, snapping the sudden lightness of the moment. The howdy dos shifted, back to reality. Once Phil ridded his chest of congestion he paused and again he turned his attention towards Ben.
“You’ll have to excuse me, Ben. Time is running short. What can I do for you?”
Ben fidgeted. He’d prefer the others depart. Phil caught the gist and twitched his head somewhat for the others to drift away.
Ben Ridgeway began: “I’m told you had a house guest a few months back by the name of Warren Dearden.”
Phil perked up at the sound of Warren’s name. He gained a certain strength. “Yes, Warren, of course, he stayed here from time-to-time. Interesting man, something sad about him though, can’t put my finger on it.”
Phil, with his evaporating strength gave Ben a second-time once over.
He cleared his throat, “Forgive me, Ben, I’ll take the liberty and say something a dying man might be able to get away with . . . I’d say, after closer observation, our Warren’s a lot like you . . . Forgive me, it’s just a hunch, please go on, Ben, what’s your interest in Warren?”
Ignoring Phil’s initial insight or perhaps acknowledging Phil’s perception—undaunted, Ben pressed on with his agenda. “Well it’s like this, I received a letter from Warren just before Christmas.”
“You’re saying, ya received a letter from him or one from someone else, a letter Warren may have penned?”
“Well, that’s it of course—I received a letter. At first I had no idea Warren composed the letter. In all actuality, the letter came from one of my neighbors. My interest jump started when I discovered it was ghostwritten. The letter had an amazing impact, especially on me.”
Coughing, “Good . . . good! . . .” Coughing, “I’m glad it had an impact on you! I only wish the same goes for the letter he wrote for me.”
“He wrote a letter for, you, too?”
“Of course, he wrote a letter for me. And as I matter of fact, I know about two letters he wrote on other people’s behalf. He’s somewhat unusual. Yet he’s fascinating. Aren’t we all? . . . He tells me these letters are his sole source of income. From what I understand, other letters he has sent have had tremendous impact, same as yours. He’s got a sticht. A few years back I could have done something resourceful with his services, back when I was healthy.”
“How much more do you know about the man? “asked Ben.
“Not much. We partook in worthwhile chats. I met him through a friend. Realizing my days were numbered he became fine company. Like us all he has a past. I was able to pry some things from him. I found him interesting. Plus I’ve always been keen on off-beat ideas. I had the time, so we hung out a bit.
“Warren hasn’t done anything wrong has he?”
“No, as far as I know, he hasn’t. That’s not the focus of my visit . . . It’s just I’ve been curious. First I received a letter then discovered it was he who composed the piece. Then Mark, up at Haleakala Fruit Stand shed further light on the man. The earlier notice posted on the fruit stand’s bulletin board is no longer there. Mark recalled for me that he spotted him a couple of times and one time he was riding shot gun with you in your Porche.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but Mark said, he thought the man might be staying with you. I realize, you’ve been ill and word around the island is you’re pretty sick. I was hoping you could provide me with some information, information that might help me track him down. Perhaps you could provide me a forwarding address.”
Coughing, “You mean, you desire for a letter written by the man on your behalf?”
“If I felt better I might want to kick up my heels! Imagine, Ben Ridgeway, wants a letter! Why this fellow made some differences here on Maui! As I said, besides my own, I’m aware of two-other letters. There may be more. I have no idea where Warren’s heading or where he is now for that matter.”
“Do you think they may know his whereabouts?”
“Could be. Do you know Maka Miyasato?”
“Maka Miyasato, the taro farmer, out in Nahiku! I’d be astonished, if you’ll try to tell me he wrote a letter for Maka!”
“You shouldn’t be, same as you, Maka became a reciprocate of one of his letters. From what I understand a letter from his daughter, Wendy. Seems she wants to remain on the Mainland.”
“How did that wash?”
“From what I hear seems as if Maka came to terms with the situation.”
“He also wrote a letter for Tye Long. He’s a papaya farmer and Maka’s neighbor.”
“Don’t believe I know him.”
“Sorry I can’t help you more Ben.”
After the information given by Phil, Ben felt sort of silly and embarrassed about pressing a dying man for information, especially about a drifter. He didn’t desire to be perceived as a fool. A silence fell between the two men.
“Can I ask you something, Phil?”
“How did his letter do for you?”
“I don’t know . . . not just yet anyway. Actually I won’t find out until it’s over . . . if you know what I mean.”
Ben was saddened seeing Phil lying there wasting away in such a state. His own pathos regretted never having taken time to establish some sort of casual relationship.
Phil became further intrigued, “Say, Ben, since you took the time to seek me out . . . and since I’m the curious type, why not honor a dying man with a request? Would you entrust me with the nature of your letter?” Phil forced a smile. Then he added, “If you tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine. I promise not to tell anyone.”
Ben stiffened somewhat. Because of his status he normally revealed to whom precisely and solely what he wished. He never felt hard pressed to unveil his inner thoughts towards anybody.
Ben recognized Phil’s sense of power. He determined when Phil was healthy he must have possessed a massive persuasive nature. He concluded before he committed himself further to ferret out this Warren Dearden it might not be a bad idea to run his premise by someone, perhaps a disinterested party even if it be someone so different than himself. It could do no harm to reveal his secret thoughts to the dying, Phil Citrone.
Phil, sensed Ben’s desired to reveal more. His strength increased. “Why don’t we have Gallagher bring us some tea. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to fire up a little doobie here. I imagine you don’t partake in the stuff but forgive me for doing so in your presence, it’s sort of a sacrament of mine. Plus it helps with the pain.”
Ben waited for Gallagher to bring the tea and for Phil to fire up a doobie that teeter tottered on a night stand, one earlier rolled up for him by his main man Gallagher. Ben went on to explain the circumstances surrounding his letter from Leroy Perierra and how it ignited something inside him and how he found it astounding one could be persuaded to change one’s, made-up mind and reverse an adamant stand.
Ben figured any secrets he might reveal would rest with Phil. “It must be obvious to you, Phil, my attorneys are the only people of whom I request letters from.”
“The letter I need to be composed is that of a personal nature. To cut to the chase: I need for my wife to be aware of certain feelings I’ve carried within me for sometime . . . Hopefully, you’ll understand. I love my wife very much. I can’t express to you how much I love her. I mean, I adore the woman. I love her grace, her beauty, and I’ve admired her patience and tenderness. She’s raised our children to be outstanding citizens. She’s always been there for me, supporting my every cause, my every move. She takes time with others, even small people who have no factor on our lives whatsoever. She’s done those things in a cheerful-giving manner . . . and at the same time I’m positive on the inside she isn’t happy.
“I believe somehow I’m the negative focus and the reason she hasn’t had total happiness. It may not be my fault directly, but somehow she’s not content and I’m sure it has something to do with me. Oh, I can’t pinpoint an instance. I’ve done every conceivable thing I can think of, to see she has everything. I’ve made an effort to give her time and comfort but still . . . something’s missing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s my best friend and I’d trust the woman with my life but there’s been that something which has been missing.”
“How are you able to tell?”
“Well . . . ”
“Well, it’s in the love making.”
“You mean, you don’t screw?”
“No, we do make love, but its rarely been the deep, satisfying love making I’ve yearned, nor the type of passionate love making I desire so much, a making of love of which I’m sure she’s capable of giving. She’s far from a prude. The woman’s always been up-beat when it comes to spontaneity as-far-as sex has been concerned, but still, she somehow has remained aloof during the most intimate moments and in her own way she’s laid out a certain distance between us. I can’t put my finger on it but I feel as if some-other force other-than my passion has invaded her soul during those moments, and it’s as if this unknown force has her riveted to the spot, having her more or less just going through the motions . . . it’s as if she has spaced-out somewhere. I’m positive that deep inside she’s passionate, healthy and capable of giving me more but for reasons I can’t explain, and I strongly suspect, she’s holding something back.”
“Why don’t you have a talk with her?”
“To tell you the truth I’m apprehensive. I’ve shuttered at the thought . . . it’s a notion, but maybe, if I bring it to a head, she might express her true sentiments, perhaps she’ll express hidden feelings, feelings I’d prefer not to hear, and then there’s a possibility I’ll lose her forever, even more so now since the kids are grown and gone. I fear while I’m on the tender subject, I might say the wrong thing, flub the words or who knows what other spooks might get aroused? I’d rather have things remain status quo rather than rock the boat and then risk losing her altogether, but maybe, somehow . . . it’s too weird . . . well, I’ve given it deep thought and maybe, a well-written letter could put into words my sentiments and bring her out of this shell.”
“Do you have any clues? Could there be somebody else?”
“I don’t think so. Like I’ve stated, she’s been the perfect mother and loving wife. I can’t envision her having a cheap affair.”
“How long has it been like this?”
“Almost our entire marriage. I’ve wondered at times if it stemmed from a past relationship. You see, when I first met her in California, she was going with this young-advertising executive who was back in New York! He was away for the summer working, and we all of a sudden sort of hooked up. The fact is: This guy eventually returned unexpectedly, from New York, and caught us in an embrace one Halloween. I figured, she’d go right back to him, I mean during our entire fling he’s all she spoke about. I assumed, I’d slip out of the picture and return here to Hawaii. Next thing you know she decided to come back to Hawaii with me. I was in awe. I mean, I was sky high. She was such a babe, and all I wanted to do was make her mine.
“So, I brought her back here. She fell in love with the place. I grew to be crazy over her.”
“Did she ever hear from the other guy again?”
“No, except back in the early days. I intercepted a letter to her from him. I was young and afraid of losing her so I shit-canned the letter and I don’t believe she ever saw it. I suppose I’ve carried a certain guilt and maybe such guilt has transformed into something sinister and that has contributed a certain negativity in our relationship.
“I realize it sounds crazy but maybe this individual, Warren, will be able to explain, and maybe he can figure a way I’ll be able to ‘fess up about the shit-canned letter and then maybe we might be able to spend our remaining years the way I’ve always envisioned. I mean, Christ, we have everything; even some youth remaining, plenty of money and now, what’s more important we have the time. I’d just prefer to love her and have her make love back to me with no holds barred. It’s driving me crazy.”
“Why, Ben, that’s some story. Sounds to me, from my own conversations with Warren, that his services are right up your alley. There’s a similarity between you both you know, as if you’re both from the same tribe or something.
“Warren has his own past. We did quite a bit of talking once I was able to get him started. Sometimes we talked well into the night. I did most of the talking, which I normally do. He was a fabulous listener. Yet he opened up now and then and returned eye-opening insights, nuances of life which is non-common coming from the mouths of most men I’ve come across. There lingered a refreshing humility exuding from the man with him far from being self centered, and he didn’t seem to possess or flash the thirst or ambition so many other men do.
“You know how it is. You’re a man of means. There’s always opportunists coming out of the wood work with outlandish ideas, parasites who want guys like you and me to finance bird-brained schemes . . . most times they lay it on a little too flowery for me. Not Warren though, he’s not that way. Maybe men such as Warren have been ignored too long. They’re a different lot. I’m not sure of their place or goals but I’d estimate they’re noble.”
Ben, then engrossed in the conversation, “I don’t know Phil. It beats the shit out of me, and as I’ve said, this letter from my neighbor made an irreversible impact on me, and as I’ve stated, I’ve been tormented.”
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll do some checking around and see what I can do. I’ll try and help you as long as I’m still breathing.”
“Thank you, Phil, and God bless you. I’ll stop by again if you don’t mind.”
“Anytime, Ben, anytime.”
Ben began to move away from Phil Citrone’s sick bed. Before he departed he looked back. Phil flashed Ben a shaka sign and a weak smile.
Within the month, at Phil’s request, he would be gurnied out of his bedroom by Jane and two attendants towards the main room off the foyer amongst the constantly ringing telephones and paper-pumping, fax machines and in the presence of twenty-or-so underlings.
There Phil Citrone, would hold his final court. He’d smile toward Gallagher and squeezed Jane’s hand with his last ounce of strength. He’d slip Jane a plain-white envelope with Ben Ridgeway’s name scratched on it.
Respectfully, his subordinates continued to carry on their corporate duties independent of one another.
Once he breathed his last breath, billions of dollars worth of assets would dramatically shift. Thousands of peoples jobs would be affected. There’d be more than a rippling effect on the economy. Phil, despite his irreverent zany nature and pot-smoking Hawaiian lifestyle, and despite those supposed flaws, Phil was a heavy.
At high-noon, on May 7th, Phil looked to the sky. Those who were present said a magnificent glow came over the man, his face lit up, and before he closed his eyes for the final time, his withered face flashed a boyish smile. His final word: “Mother.”
For Warren, time passed slowly. At Ornament’s suggestion, Warren gave Kim more time and a particular attention. Warren took the initiative. She in turn, as she did from day one, flirted and kidded. She trusted him. By then they’d worked in tandem for some time. In her eyes, there was something special about the sad-sack Californian.
She took notice how Warren’s eyes lit up when talk between he and a food-delivery man turned to surfing. The talk set off a light bulb in Kim’s brain. Kim, who was athletic, showed genuine enthusiasm when Warren invited her to give surfing a try. She wondered about the feasibility of riding the crest of a wave. She said, if he was willing to teach her . . . she’d be willing to try.
An old surfboard collected dust in her garage. The banged up board was checkered with dings. Warren purchased liquid plastic and surf-board wax. During spare time he revived the board making it sea worthy.
They began sharing off hours together. She remained easy to talk with, and they chatted, similar to the way Warren and Ornament did late into the nights. At first, the talk was mostly about the goings on down at the grill.
He revealed little. She revealed everything. She said when she wasn’t waiting on customers she spent spare time reading. She spoke incessantly, mostly about Michael and the fast lanes they traveled before he was carted off to a federal penitentiary.
For Warren, the conversations of which he partook in with Ornament, about the woman’s husband sketched a different picture of Michael than the one painted by Kim. When she spoke of Michael she became starry eyed, stating that he was kind, gentle and romantic. She admitted he was considered by some as a bad boy but she discounted those assertions to say, “All that stuff was exaggerated and built on guilt by association, mostly because he hung on the fringes of a bad crowd.”
She did confess a certain excitement stirred because of Michael’s alleged naughtiness that the initial lure perhaps that drew her closer toward him.
She explained, “Michael had a particular panache even back in high school, he was so unlike the other boys. That was the difference perhaps . . . in high school the others were merely boys. Michael was a man trapped inside a boy’s body. No matter what they’ve said he’s done, or what he supposedly did, they just don’t matter in my view. I’ve looked past all that. I’ll be here waiting for him, once he gets out . . . whatever . . . that’s if we still have a place for him to come home to. You know what I say,‘Hope springs eternal.’ “
Warren didn’t hide that he was aware of her supposed situation, including the problem with the mortgage company and those dealing with the authorities.
Warren cleared his throat and said, “Ornament mentioned to me about your real estate problems.”
Kim, made a funny face, perhaps showing a certain disdain at the idea of her life being discussed on the outside. She shrugged it off then pressed Warren somewhat, about how much more he understood about her situation.
“That’s all I know,” Warren said. “Isn’t there anything more that you’re able to do?”
“I guess . . . Well, I guess I’ll have to cross that road when I get to it. I suppose I’ve been more like an ostrich with my head in the ground. I mean, I haven’t given up. I do have confidence and I do pray to God everyday that something positive will happen. It’s like it’s a test or something.”
Looking clearly into Kim’s peepers Warren said, “Have you spoken with a real-estate attorney? Surely they know the dos and don’ts . . . maybe one might be able to help you.”
“If I could only afford one. Right now I can barely make ends meet. I can’t even talk with Michael’s lawyer anymore. Ian Rosenberg, that’s Michael’s lawyer;,he’s still having a nervous breakdown because we owe him money. I send him a check each month. It isn’t much. I should have him paid off by the end of the century.
“You should have heard our last conversation.”
Kim laughed gently. “It’s funny what people say to one another sometimes and how mere words can tick people off. . . ya know, like when they’re arguing.”
“What do you mean?” asked Warren.
“Well when you talk stuff, the issues sometimes become lost in the heat of battle. I always say you should write things out beforehand. Well, it’s like this . . . So there I was on the phone with Ian Rosenberg. As best I could I was trying to explain some of my own pressures . . . so while I’m telling Ian how I’m trying to make ends meet, I could tell Ian was hardly paying attention to my own situation or my explanation, and he kept on repeating, ‘But you owe me money!’
“I begin to take into consideration how I just saw the fat crud the week before cruising the back inlet, cruising around the bay in his new-spiffy Criscraft. With those thoughts it’s me doing the listening when he’s going on and on about his dag-gone money. Then I think about how his fancy Mercedes was parked back on the dock and how he lives in a half-million-dollar, Linwood home.
“Oh, I suppose I’m jealous alright but there I was, forced to listen to this man over the phone, screaming at the top of his lungs, over money no less, and he’s going absolutely ballistic. While that was going on, I’m getting angry in my mind, thinking about him and his boat, and his house and all. I’m thinking further, how my Michael rots away in that awful prison. the very prison Ian was supposed to keep him out of.
“I wanted to come back with something, ya know, something intelligent, something to shut up the Ivy-league pig, he being the type a creep who never lets you forget for one minute he may have once done you a small favor—even if it was way-back when.
“I couldn’t think of what to say and he’s going on and on. So, I sez, ‘Hey, Ian, why don’t you just take a pill.’
“All of a sudden there was this incredible silence. . . .
“‘Take a pill,’ he sez, ‘whatta ya mean take a pill? What are you trying to imply, Kim? What’s with this pill stuff all of a sudden? Why, you don’t know me! . . . You don’t know anything about me! . . . You had better watch your Ps and Qs, Kim, or else there could be trouble. . . You’re just like your husband aren’t you?’ he sez. ‘You guineas are never satisfied. . . ’
“Hey, Warren, I’m not even Italian. He screams, ‘you guineas aren’t satisfied unless you get your pound of flesh—OK, you win, Kim,’ comes out of nowhere, ‘just keep your fucking money! See if you ever get any court records come parole-hearing time!’ And just like that—he was gone.”
Kim chuckled more, her skin flushed, as if her peachy-freckles melded in with the rest of her. Her thin lips became moist and pursed in a sexy sort of way.
Warren couldn’t remember seeing her so relaxed, sitting on the floor of her one-story, modest, furnished rancher, sitting in a lotus position. Sure, she laughed enough around the bar and grill, she even cracked up from time to time, more like knee-jerk reactions, reactionary Pingpong sessions doing so with pushy suitors, or by letting out nervous energy while exchanging barbs. Her chuckle and story about her own dilemma were both deep and sexy. In Warren’s view she showed herself as all woman, telling a real-women’s story. Warren cherished the tone of her voice.
“It’s crazy. I can’t get over it. I’ve ran my ass off behind that counter, working for Tony, since I was 17. I’ve scrimped and saved so we could buy this house. I planted the lawn and garden. I put on the new roof, lugged the stuff up the ladder by myself, and I hammered in the shingles. It’s been my salary that’s carried this place. Michael had other investments to cover.”
Warren couldn’t help himself, “What, like the track?”
“Be nice now. He never wanted the house in the first place, said he was happier in an apartment. Michael’s a city boy, he’s not one to mow the lawn or take out the trash. He’s not very handy.”
Kim lowered her eyes somewhat, not to directly meet with Warren’s. “Doesn’t sound promising does he?”
Warren listened closely and waited for his turn to speak, “Surely you ought to be able to do something, write a letter, get somebody on your side.
“One doesn’t have to be a brain surgeon to see its been you who has put this place together. Just because your husband gets in trouble and breaks the law shouldn’t mean that you have to be punished. You haven’t broken any laws have you?”
Without hesitation, “No, there’s been no reason for me to break any laws. I suppose I could write a letter but I wouldn’t know where to begin, or what to say or where to send it.”
Warren pondered. “Why not tell them the truth. It’s worked for me. I mean, it makes common sense. You didn’t try to rob any bank; you haven’t profited from that sort of activity and you have a job, and from what you say, your salary alone qualifies you for a mortgage.”
Three beats of silence between them. . .
“Hey, why not let me take a stab at it. I might be able to convey your situation towards the mortgage company. Maybe I’ll be able to point out how they are trying to give you a bum steer. We can gather your tax returns and compare your income, assets and credit reports with others who have been leant money. If you fit the criteria, same as other mortgage holders, I’d say they don’t have a justified case against you.”
Kim’s face lit up. It was the first time she gave any sort of credence to take action against the forces mustering against her.
Warren remained convinced he’d be able to plug one hole, “Now, what about those henchmen down at the prosecutors office who are trying to railroad you? If my sense of justice clicks, the government has to prove, and implicate you with criminal activity. Once we jump over the hurdle put up by the mortgage company, well, then, we have ammunition to go after the authorities. You have no criminal record . . .” She agreed.
“Well, then, if you qualified for a mortgage, and you’ve paid the bills, and they can’t find any traces of money going into your account from Michael, well, then, I’d bet the government can’t prove jack shit.”
“Ooh my God, stop it, Warren! You’re scaring me. Where’s all this Action Jackson stuff coming from? What you been smoking? I’ve never seen you so enthused. You weren’t this gah-gah over that fresh-crab omelette you whipped up for Ornament last week.”
Warren moved his hand through his mane and stared downward acting somewhat embarrassed.
“Sorry to be out of character, Kim. I suppose I got a little stirred up. Funny, that’s the way I used to react to things, once I became enthused, but that was a long time ago. Maybe, it’s you I’m enthusiastic for . . .”
She looked away, Warrenn summed, “Oh, you can relax, I’m not trying to jump your bones or anything . . . well, not at this moment anyway. It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, but right now it’s not my intent or motivation. I’m only trying to help.”
Feeling secure, “To tell you the truth, Warren, don’t you go ahead and worry about wanting to jump my bones. I realize most of you slime buckets want to do just that. But I’d like to think, that between you and I, that we have something more here . . . and you know you mean a lot more to be than somebody who merely wants to yank on my body parts.
“I think we’re beyond that, and I want you to know from the bottom of my heart I appreciate your concern. And I value our friendship . . . Just don’t get too mushy on me.
“I have to say, listening to you speak wants me to light a fire under myself. Both of your suggestions sound as if they have merit. And up to now, let’s face it, I’ve done nothing about my own dilemma. You just might be the swift kick in the back side I need. And I might have to take you up on your offer. But I insist you charge me.”
Warren smiled and said, “Well, maybe we’ll be able to work something out.”
During the summer of 1972 Warren’s letter writing began in earnest.
Between 1972 and 1974 Warren put together at least seven letters on Kim’s behalf. He wrote to the mortgage company peppering them with reason. He drafted letters to Atlantic County and the Federal Prosecutors Office, and then he wrote further to New Jersey’s Attorney General.
At first there was no response, but because of his advertising experience, he began to send letters certified, and directed them to the specific individuals with jurisdiction over the matter. After two and half years all parties finally relented.
Kim, totally on the up-and-up, kept the imprisoned Michael informed about Warren’s efforts, over the phone and during her visits to Lewisburg. Kim spoke much of the quiet man to Michael. In her straight-forward fashion she reassured Michael. She spoke dearly about the sad man. She admitted they spent time together, told Michael she was lonely and of how Warren was different.
Warren accompanied her to Lewisburg, taking the opportunity to meet Michael. Michael expressed he was grateful for Warren’s help, but a cool stand-off reigned. Despite the thanks from Michael an uncomfortable breeze blew in Warren’s direction. Warren understood. He accompanied her primarily on Kim’s behalf and there wasn’t much the two men had in common.
Warren and Kim began to depend on one another. The relationship remained strictly platonic. During days off they strolled museums, attended professional hockey and ball games. They stood on curbside and watched parades and they picnicked. They traveled on day trips, to near-by Philadelphia and up to New York and down to Washington D.C.
They explored the Jersey coast, taking long walks on the beach, and partook in a few skiing adventures in the Pocono Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. One of their favorite get-aways—they shared what should have been romantic meals at a particular fancy bistro on the banks of a canal in New Hope, Pennsylvania. They rarely stayed over night and Warren never bunked at Kim’s home.
Despite almost overwhelming temptations they never kissed passionately. She’d hold his hand and place her forearm through and hook onto his escorting arm as they strolled down the boardwalk on moon-lit nights. Warren became her exclusive escort, especially while attending work-related events, weddings, or funerals. To most, they were considered a couple.
Warren futzed in her garden and simonized her car. They heard the whispers behind their backs. Tony, fat Sal, gold-toothed Gerry and handsome Larry acted like jealous school boys and wondered aloud. Those men presumed and complained, why she’d put out for a down-and-out Warren.
In Kim’s retrospect she wouldn’t give them the credence, nor would she demean herself by making an attempt to defend or deny anything. She wouldn’t play into their hands. She sufficiently expressed herself long ago . . . they should have gotten the message. Long before Kim made her life-long commitment to Michael, doing so as a devout Catholic. Despite her work schedule she attended mass almost every morning, and there was not doubt that she wouldn’t be the one to go back on her wedding vows.
Worse, she couldn’t think of insulting Warren, or possibly hurting him. On the other hand she had so much respect for him she couldn’t conceive him making a cheap move on her, or would she torture his heart and pull one on him. Even when both participated in what might be construed as too-good-of-a-time they somehow wheedled the inner strength to break away from the temptation, moments that could have led to trouble.
Eventually, Warren filled in Kim about Holly. As time passed, he voiced the whole story. He still thought about Holly. He did so everyday and continued to wonder himself what it may have been like.
Warren began to compose letters for others. Encouraged by Kim, he developed a solid, letter-writing reputation. When one of the other girls went head-to-head with the electric company, or whatever, and if they couldn’t get anywhere with the essential parties over the phone they’d call upon Warren.
He unveiled a knack to cut through the muck and reasonably express the issues at hand. When Tony sought needed immigration papers for a bank loan Warren’s words on paper expedited things and his letters to the finance company won Tony the loan.
His track record was incredible. It was uncanny. Not once did any of his letter-writing requests fall short. On occasions it was necessary to send back-up criteria, but all-in-all, magically perhaps, each and every request he penned happened as long as his subject told the truth.
Warren and Ornament still hung out, smoked joints and listened to music. During his off hours Ornament remained a homebody, placing himself on the cutting edge of new technology, that’s after he began to subscribe to the latest in hi-tech magazines. Soon enough Ornament became a hacker on computers and the proud owner a brand new Tandy.
He and Warren fooled around with Ornament’s new computer, mostly with the Pong game. They spent a good deal of time discussing the aspects of the technical future and how computers would take on more responsibility.
Ornament coaxed Warren into ordering his own word-processing system.
Warren’s letter writing brought him out of his shell along with the close relationship he had struck with Kim. Those two occurrences were offering him a new lease on life.
He began to thrive on the idea of helping people, people with problems. Folks were seeking him out—folks he didn’t know. He saved enough money and purchased his own printer rather than rely on Ornament’s. Warren practiced, making drafts, in order to produce picture-perfect letters.
Warren intently listened to his client’s sentiments and the make up of their problems but he remained adamant that the final product had to consist of his own words and that within the composite of the letters, they’d be presented the way he saw fit. Once he possessed the facts, he wouldn’t permit or adhere further input from his commissioners.
Warren educated himself further, by purchasing ‘how to’ books, having to do with subjects such as hard-nose negotiating and improving one’s vocabulary. Kim lent him novels—at times they’d read together for hours on end, laying on the living-room floor inside her suburban rancher without uttering a word to one another.
Ornament too came to trust Warren and revealed more of his inner thoughts. Ornament decided to take a stab at rectifying circumstances with Janice’s family. Ornament requested Warren write her family, then pen a letter to the survivors from his squad, then he wrote another to the families of those who didn’t make it back home.
Kim touted Warren. Down at Tony’s she bragged, how the man was able to formulate words so, and how convincing his letters were. When the time came that Michael would be eligible for parole, it was Warren who plotted and planned the epigrams and he who forwarded them to the various state and federal authorities.
Kim did the research. She’d travel to the Atlantic County legal library, digging deep into the appropriate texts. They investigated case after case, paying strict attention to detail, while learning how to prepare the proper motions, motions which, for judicial reasons,that had to be typed out in a precise font and size, nailing them to the “T”, right down to seeing to it the briefs were signed in black ink. They waded through the legaleaze, conquering an additional array of complicated, bureaucratic, red tape, without the assistance of a lawyer.
Like one long string of uncomplicated events, Christmas’ and Thanksgivings, and 4th of Julys came and went. Our cast of characters existed from day to day the way the rest of us do. As for Warren’s daily there was the job, dealing with Tony, who over the years mellowed somewhat. Still though, after all those years, a daily excitement prevailed and he was comforted by a warm contentment while working with and being near Kim. Together, as a couple, they ventured somewhere or did something special at least once a week.
Further ambitions and opportunities for Warren were mostly nonexistent other than him offering a helping-hand to poor schmoes. He did earn some decent side money while penning those peoples requests. But opportunities on a high scale and his once earlier motivations as a youth lay dormant. Instead, he appeared relatively content with a simple living, driving a beat up car, and renting a modest flat in a rooming house.
His off time was spent mostly bumming around; half as company with Kim, and the other half as an night owl hanging out with Ornament, playing chess, futzing on the computer, smoking joints, and watching the late show.
As for Kim: her contentment surfaced from the satisfaction she received decorating her home, in her garden, the beach, and the daily. She still read a paperback or two on a weekly basis. She’d bide time until Michael was released.
On the job, Warren’s work station represented a comfort zone for Kim. She relied on him so-much-so, she whistled through her thin lips a tune of confidence knowing Warren would be at Tony’s standing next to the grill—usually with spatula in hand.
For the spunky, trim, red head his work station represented a safe haven, especially when things became too hectic out front on the counter or while escaping from Tony’s bickering. Sometimes the fat Sals and all the handsome-Larrys rhetoric became too much.
It wasn’t merely the innuendo and sex stuff either; she had to cope with complaints about cold toast, lukewarm-oatmeal, and alleged, runny eggs.
She may have taken Warren’s daily presence for granted—because in actuality, they were to be fleeting times that would soon enough turn lonely for her and become nothing more than precious long-ago memories—moments of which she sorely-sorely would miss.
After Warren suddenly departed, she would recall fond memories when she was bubbling over with news of this or that back when she couldn’t wait to rush into work while gushing to spill them out for Warren’s benefit. Mostly they were trivial, but at the same time they were revealing. With the unraveling of emotions, that at times were so delicate, she discussed them exclusively with the kind, patient and mellow Warren.
Kim didn’t have a clue that someday she’d have to exist without him. She never considered Warren might not be present to listen her out.
Instead of peering far ahead she preferred to meander in the status quo. If there were unanswered questions they spun around inside that red head without addressing them, the same way she had about her real estate problems. Eventually she caste doubt aside and remained fixated on the idea that hope springs eternal, while biding her time and waiting for Michael’s eventual release.
As for our friend Ornament his life turned to a plus. He still wore the arrow and stayed put at Tony’s laboring over the greasy pots and pans. His work: Satisfactory. His worthwhile relationships: He shared exclusively with Warren, Kim, and his parents. Those relationships were the corner stone of his therapy. Same as Kim and Warren, Ornament learned to deal with the eruptive Tony.
Life for the ex-marine had become less of a pressure situation. The man was intuitive enough to think deep, sorting out the complicated, while trying to heal the wounds.
Janice’s family read the asking-for-forgiveness letter. All was forgiven. He accepted a Thanksgiving invite and was offered a platform so he was able to express his guilt in person and share with them openly of his lost love while maintaining his dignity. With arrow and all they warmly accepted and treated him as if he were one of their own.
Janice’s parents living room was crammed with the whole shebang of the clan. There were affectionate hugs, solid handshakes, appropriate tears, sincere smiles—along with meant-to-be keep-in touches.
Once outside Janice’s family’s home by himself, while on his way home, Ornament took in a deep breathe and inhaled a lung-full of the November’s evening chill. The air was cold and refreshing. The breathe offered his inners a utopian sensation, a sensation so good, so good he couldn’t recall feeling more cleansed. He looked to the sky.
“Man, Janice, thanks for hanging in there. You’re a one of a kind babe. If you can wait, I’m finishing my business here. If there is a someplace else . . . well maybe you’ll hang in there and wait a little longer. I love you.”
The next day Ornament, through the help of Warren, had arranged to have a reunion with Sgt. Martinez and Travis Carvalho, down in Washington D.C. In the later part of November, during 1982, Ornament insisted Warren accompany him, to see the wall in Washington. The then controversial memorial had been recently dedicated to Vietnam veterans.
They boarded the Amtrack local from Atlantic City to Philadelphia, and then transferred onto another train bound for Washington. They checked in at a Holiday Inn near the monuments.
With the arrow and all (Ornament wears one of those Steve Martin type play arrows that looks as if it goes directly through his head) Ornament drew a fair amount of attention on the train. He was wearing his old dress uniform with a chest-full of combat ribbons, decorations that Warren insisted Ornament wear for the outing. Ornament said he thought he looked more like something out of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band.
A fitting reunion took place between the three vets. Ornament introduced his friend to his Marine buddies. Because of the stories, Warren was able to relate and when reminiscing was called upon they all had a nice time too.
* * *
Emotions may or may not be stirred during a first-time walk-by of the Vietnam War Memorial, emotions might tend to vary depending on one’s connection with those alive during the Vietnam era. Some, to this day, remain oblivious to the conflict and remain oblivious to the impact the war may have had on individual families.
Nevertheless, if one passes by the wall a second time, the enormity of the conflict kicks-in within most mind sets even within those who may have been oblivious. If compared: The Wall’s design chronicles the pace and escalation of the war. Back then society paid little attention. It wasn’t until the cries rang out to stop reached a fever pitch that that particular war deescalated.
The wall’s length and stature is laid out in such a way. The wall sums up stories belonging to those kids. Back in the USA. they were screeching for the Beatles, admiring, Twiggy, and hardly anyone took notice to the scary and bumpy ride the nation was taking; that’s until the wheels began to come off. It was only when too many families had become blood-splattered that the government begrudgingly chose to back off from the war, a war its leaders never intended to win.
Onlookers of the Wall often express how they become stirred, even moreso, after choosing to give the wall additional scrutiny, perhaps the wall echoing the way an unjust war shook a foggy homeland, rocking the peoples’ sleeping conscience—that’s after realizing the nation was in for the fight of its illustrious life.
At first when one first approaches the wall memorial, no matter if your approach is from either end, the memorial appears as somewhat inconsequential and not that much of a memorial. Yet the wall inches upward, one black slab of marble placed next to another and another and another, with all “anothers” slightly higher, only separated by perfectly-carved, black marble seams. The wall climbs higher in a methodic manner far from the starting point with modest beginnings. That aspect is an intricate part of the memorial——lulling in casual observers while having onlookers anticipating some main attraction at the end of the line, yet the wall of doom inches upward with additional names and all of a sudden one is dwarfed by the wall.
That’s the way the war escalated from a small flame of a skirmish inching higher growing into an out-of-control inferno. The fire storm gained an appetite alright, a nasty hankering fueled by our boys and girls tossed into an incinerator of death and destruction with countless residue left over for decades in the form of cripples and nightmares.
Before a disinterested society took stock the lion’s share of death certificates had already been signed for those eternally marbleized; actual heroes yet sentenced, never again to ride a wave or mouth Merry Christmas or happy birthday or to voice a cheery ‘morning, mom,’ and never again, to do anything but simply be remembered.
It dawns upon the thinking that those names on the wall remail still on duty, day and night, where the rain will fall and the sun will shine and snow will stick . . . . a silent duty as they’re eternally posted there as grim reminders as just lonely sentries for all of us.
Pre-Vietnam war memorials honored those of another era. If alive, most of the names on the Vietnam Wall would have been entering their prime when the memorial was unveiled.
The wall becomes too tall to peer over, crammed with the names of over 58,000, once young, and now dead. At the mid-point the wall reaches its pinnacle as the war did. The wall of carved names takes a 90 degree turn in another direction. Again, just like the war itself, the wall begins to slope downward, sinking at the same rate as developed beforehand on the other side. The wall just dwindles down to an unimpressive end, with fewer names on each shorter slab, just as modestly as its humble beginning. The same way it ends, is the way it began.
* * *
The reunion was bittersweet. It was as sad and as melancholy as need be. Funny as hell, too . . . and damned-irreverent. Sometimes the events presented themselves as awkward and there were moments of silence.
Martinez and Carvalho had their picture taken with old Arrowhead, they playfully tugged on both sides of Ornament’s arrow. The waiter, while keeping with etiquette, served Ornament from the left, gingerly avoiding the pointed side.
Warren and Ornament departed the swank Georgetown eatery. It had been a full day. It began to snow as they walked towards their hotel. They strolled in silence, Ornament flashed Warren a high sign—he’d meet him back at the hotel, later. Warren said nothing, Ornament had a letter to deliver.
The ex-marine headed in the direction of the monument, back to the polished ebony memorial they had visited that afternoon. He halted at the very slab which had etched into it the names belonging to his old squad.
Snow fell, laid and covered the tended to flower bed, directly beneath and in front of the wall, yet it melted away on the cement walkway. After standing there awhile, staring up, Ornament ignored the snow and sat down and nestled right up against the wall near the names of his buddies. He clutched a letter, one written to the entire squad.
A present-day Marine guard approached Ornament. The smartly-dressed sentry wanted to know the man’s business. Two other Marines, and a sergeant, moving in snappy precision also marched in quick time towards the spot. Ornament lumbered to his feet. He straightened up—braced at attention—initiated a snappy salute. He stared straight ahead. It was snowing like the dickens.
The straight-faced Marine sergeant gandered at Ornament’s chest full of ribbons and whatever the hell that was sticking out of his head..
Loudly, “Lance Corporal, Ornament Accordian, U.S. Marine Corps, A Company, 1st, Expeditionary Force, First, Marine Division, sir: I hereby request permission to spend the night, sir . . . just one last night, sir, out in the dark with the rest of my squad . . . you see, sir, together, me and my brohs, here, well, it’s like this, we retook Hue City, sir. . . I got some unfinished business here tonight, sir!”
The Sergeant of the Guard re-scanned the ribbons again. He studied Ornament closer, peering into his eyes. He took another gander at the ridiculous-looking arrow. Scanning him with a no-nonsense glare, sizing him up, determining in his mind, if he was the real-deal or a monument-intruding, sacrilegious kook.
The sergeant twitched somewhat then he properly returned a crisp salute of his own. “Permission granted, Marine. Have a good night. They’ll be a guard on duty if you need anything, corporal.” He and the other three Marines maneuvered a precise about-face and left Ornament alone.
Ornament crouched back down as if he was in a fox hole. He held on tight to the crumpled letter and parts of it both squished in his fist and part inched out of his fist from between his fingers. Then with both hands he folded the wrinkled envelope and placed it back into his pants pocket. But nonetheless he was going to have one last conversation with his old squad.
Back in the bush, during 1966, the squad relied on the fast-talking, tough-spieling audiophile, the kid who could tell them how many games the Phillies were out of first place by, what Mays and Yazstremski were batting, the kid who knew what record was on the top of the charts, and what film had just won the academy award. Accordian had always been the reliable information source for the other guys, back then in the world of shit. Slowly, in a hushed tone, with a husky voice racked with emotion:
“Hey brohs . . . how the rest of you TSDBMFs doing? . . . It’s me prick faces, Accordian, remember, the man from AC . . . the slick motherfucker whose already played Charlie’s hand. . . . Did ya think I forgot about your sorry asses?
Looks as if you guys earned a real doozie of a monument down here . . . Yo, I just came from being with Carvalho and Martinez. They look great man . . . little older . . . little heavier, they got kids and all that shit.
This is really something . . . a lot more spit and polish than I expected.
Look . . . I was gonna do some apologizing and some shit like that . . . Christ, I even wrote you guys a friggin’ letter, but I figure, it’s just better I say my piece, up front, like a stand-up guy.
. . . things got a little fucked for me, I went off the deep end. Don’t think I punked out . . . but I was crazy man . . . crazy from the bush . . . crazy from the dinks . . . crazy to see my chic . . . and I wound up fucking up everything anyway.
You should have seen the faggot-putzs running around Honolulu. It was like we were fighting for nothing, man. I didn’t mean to leave you guys in a lurch, but you know, shit happens. Hey, shit happened to, you, didn’t it?
You may not be missing much back here anyway. To tell you the truth, things are fucked. The music sucks . . . I mean, Atwater’s Mo-town shit was a lot better than this rap crap they’re playing. And Christ, the chics are gah-gah over guys with haircuts looking like they just got out of boot camp, only thing is, the guys these days wear pierced ear rings . . . now they’re wearing rings in their friggin’ noses and shit. . . . Nobody looks like Elvis or the Beatles. Elvis is dead anyway, the king died on the throne alright . . . taking a fucking dump . . . and then some crazy son-of-a-bitch, shot and killed John Lennon.
Nothing good gets recorded anymore unless some Hollywood faggot thinks it makes a good video . . . You don’t get a chance to formulate your own idea about music anymore either . . . that same Hollywood faggot decides what the song should mean . . . I can’t figure it out, they spoiled everything . . . theres no more albums, no more album covers, it’s all this CD stuff. It’s all part of some giant, corporate conspiracy I guess.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, shit it don’t taste like the Colonel cooked it no more either, it’s more like its been fried up by the prick cook over in Company B. The whole thing is bullshit . . . like what got us guys sent over there . . . at least they put guns in our hands, now they’ve taken the guns back . . . now they got their hands in our pockets . . . bad news, you might need a gun, if your were back in your home town . . . it’s a jungle back here.
Cars ! . . . they stink too, no more GTOs . . . Dodge Hemis’ . . . Grand Prixs, with four on the floor . . . Caddies are a joke . . . everything’s compact, made by Japanese . . . the Arabs got all the money . . . ‘cause they got all the oil . . . The young guys ain’t got jack shit, only old guys can afford Corvettes, that goes for Harleys too. Ya can’t go more than 55 anyway, ‘cause the cops got all kinds of radar . . . and ya gotta wear seat belts, it’s the law . . . in most places, even bikers gotta wear motor-cycle helmets . . . imagine that . . . God forbid, you get pulled over after three beers — $1000 in fines —$1000 in legal fees — suspend your license, then ya gotta pay 3-grand a year for insurance, man for the rest of your fucking life—on top of that, ya got these Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers pounding your door. Where the fuck were these broads in 66? We coulda used them.
Hey, the government says they’re doing all this stuff for our protection. Where were they when us guys needed to be protected?
All the kids are turning into sissies too, they got ‘em wearing helmets riding their god-damned Schwinns and Huffy Convertibles. Christ, that’s if Schwinn and Huffy still make bikes. Everything’s Korean or made in Taiwan. Fuckin’ Yamaha makes everything else.
They’re not looking to protect anybody, man, they’re selling seat belts, and helmets and insurance, and Sony shit. Hardly anybody’s plays tackle football anymore either, they got ‘em playing god-damned soccer, and ya gotta have a girl on your team, man, or there ain’t no team.
I’m telling ya, things went weird. Guys like Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel mooched in on our shit. They sing these songs like Born In The U.S.A acting like they wuz over there? . . . and that Stallone, pretends he’s some Rambo guy. . . the guy was hiding out in Switzerland.
Only Jack Nicholson gets all the pussy.
I’m not kidding. Try to imagine this. . . . Imagine: if some dudes showed up from outer space, from Mars or something, and if the aliens were in your living room while a Laker game was on . . . and you would point Nicholson out, and there’d be Jack, sitting at court side . . . in them glasses, looking like Barney fucking Googles . . . and then a guy like me, tries to sell them curious Martians on the idea, that Jack sitting there is America’s, number-one, male movie-star . . . can you believe that shit? . . . I mean the guy has banged them all since you guys been away; Ann Margaret, Michelle Pfieffer . . . sure he had to bang Shirley Maclain when she was beat, but so what. One other thing, she went weird too.
Now, don’t you assholes go wishing you was Jack just yet . . . ‘cause you’re not going to believe this one . . . but Fucking got dangerous . . . worse than dangerous man. Its become downright lethal! Worse part, by putting “the meat” to the wrong chic, even if it’s just one time, even if she doesn’t have sores all over her ass, or even if her pussy don’t stink . . . well that’s no longer a green light . . . Christ, that trim could taste, smell and look as pure as Coors Beer, and you can still wind up dead from this new, fucking thing that’s going around . . . and you can’t gauge when it‘s going to take you out either . . .
Hey, remember our trip to Tijuana, just before we shipped over to Nam? Man, it seemed like we slaughtered every hooker in the friggin’ town. Swink, you got an itch. . . remember? Hey, the way things are going these days, catching the clap is a blessing. . . go to the doctor, Christ, Syphilis is a god-send!
Ya know what? Everything’s bad for ya nowadays, the surgeon general’s down on cocaine, caffeine, sugar, fat, the even the air, all bad. Guys are actually selling bottled water and making millions. . . imagine paying for something you could get for free out of the tap. God forbid you light up a Camel, they sic the West-fuckin’ mounted police on your ass..
I’m telling ya, the country’s so fucked ya wouldn’t even want to be a Santa Claus this coming Christmas, no way, man, ‘cause one false move . . . give a little kid too much of a Santa-hug. . . as fast as that . . . they’ll throw your ass in the stern, and nail your ass with child molestation.
Hey, Atwater, can you hear me, ya friggin’ tatsoon, hey, ya can’t tell any more jokes about spades, man, your cousins get indignant, man, that goes for Jews too. Hey, Rothman! . . . Ya cheap, bastard! . . . the whole-friggin’ country is paranoid, and everybody’s gotta watch it, and try to act out this new phony thing called politically correct, and if you fuck up, somebody will sue your balls off. Nah, tell you the truth, I might be a little jealous of you guys. It was simpler back then.
If ya decide to cold cock somebody mouthing off, they haul you off. I won’t begin to tell you how . . . most of the cock suckers I’ve ran up against since I’ve been out ain’t worth two shits.
Say this is getting out of hand. I’m pretty loaded here. I gotta get some sleep. But yo, hey, Swifty, Swinker, Billy G. . . . the lot of you sorry asses . . . you were the best, man, and I’m proud to have served with you guys, even if it was for half a tour.
Anyhows, I don’t wanna wake no one up. God bless you guys, I think about you every night.”
By then Ornament was spent. His outer coat was coated with snow flakes. He smiled. Crows feet spread from the corners of his teared eyes. He gathered his wherewithal. He seemed satisfied. Ornament the warrior, laid back as to continue his vigil. He smiled and looked up one last time, “Go ahead prick faces, don’t worry about any spooks in the jungle, sleep safe buddies, Accordian’s on watch.”
* * *
While Warren and Ornament were on their way to Washington, Kim received the long-awaited word from the Parole Board. Michael would be released from Lewisburgh, on December 31, 1982, at 4:00 p.m.
The news was marvelous for Kim, and she couldn’t wait to get to work to inform everybody about Michael’s return.
It was decided by Kim, a combination New Year’s Eve party and a Michael’s return from prison celebration, would be held at the Bally Grand. Lou DePrinza, Bally’s director of rooms, ate in Tony’s everyday. Kim usually served him. He too had been a one-time suitor, he’d be more than happy to kick in a couple of suites for Kim on New Years Eve.
Warren arrived at Kim’s on Christmas Eve schlepping the Rodin reproduction—his holiday present to Kim and Michael.
A few couples from Tony’s were on hand including, Ornament, who was accompanied by Janice’s younger sister, Jeanenne. They sipped Kim’s, home-made Egg Nog with a special yule tide gleam. The two had been seeing each other since Thanksgiving. Seems Jeanenne was into computers too.
Warren tried to be festive but he couldn’t shake the blues. He came to the grim conclusion. They would still be close friends but on a different scale. He’d soon be losing her. More than likely it’d be the last Christmas,where it would be only the two of them. Kim served the Egg Nog. She kidded and teased and carried-on under the mistletoe. Warren fooled around, but on the inside his guts tightened. “. . . good cheer rang out . . .”
Warren sunk to miserable.
Kim too was aware of the gloom, ‘cause down deep, she experienced a roller-coaster ride’s worth of emotions. Those ebb tides became contagious. Other than the Christmas tree lights the room was dark and guests danced to Al Green’s voice coming through the stereo’s speakers, as he sung a rendition of the Bee Gee’s hit, “How Do You Mend A Broken Heart.”
Warren and Kim danced. An uneasy feeling overcame those hip to the circumstances. They too were saddened. By 10:30 p.m. the yule tide guests, one by one, excused themselves, leaving Kim and Warren to their own special brand of mistletoe misery.
Both having too much to drink staggered to a vulnerable and unstable state. While slurring, they made lame attempts and miserably failed to say their piece. Proper explanations got way laid—eventually, they erupted into a bunch of excuse-filled, sorry-assed, “ifs.” A sordid session unfolded.
It all came vomiting out how they both dreaded the forthcoming day. They tossed accusations and lamented about their-own predicament, spitting out a litany of “becauses” and “whys.”
Kim threatened to become explosive stating how she had heard enough! She stormed off towards the darkened bedroom. Warren wasn’t finished, rather just revving his engines and in hot pursuit as he brought up the rear and continued the filibuster. Kim tore off her red-silk Christmas dress in a rampage, screaming and shrieking as loud as she could—tears flowed. After almost ripping off her dress she tossed it into a corner caring less about the wrinkles acting as if she could care less about anything.
Not to be out done Warren removed his sweater, a Christmas present from her, a sweater he had proudly modeled only an hour before. She kicked off her red pumps in defiance. They banged up against the wall before dropping to the floor. Warren yanked off his desert boots as a touche’ and he too threw them against the wall matching her fury. The disrobing didn’t stop. They didn’t stop screaming and didn’t stop undressing until they were both stark naked.
It was ironic, the nakedness developed not because of raging passion . . . not by seductive suggestion . . . but primarily by up-man-ship. They never had been naked within each other’s presence. They never before acted pissed off towards one another. The ridiculous; hopeless, frustrating, no-win situation had boiled over.
With the insults running their course, they exhausted themselves.
If we were flies on the ceiling we’d see them; we’d see them just after the poisons flowed. Nocturnally while clinging upside down we would have been able to observe the two victims, both secluded together, yet alone with their own thoughts while inside the obscure-lit room with a tinge of blinking reds, blues and yellow light reflecting off of the bedroom walls coming from the living-room’s lit Christmas tree.
They laid there on their backs and still naked. If we were still hanging we would have seen that their eyes were reddened, filled with a wetness, a wetness sizable enough to spawn mosquito larva, larva for us flies to feast on. But out of fly pity we flies would have stayed away.
Their hands tightly clutched onto each others, so tight, that perhaps they were afraid to let go. In their free hands resting down at each others sides, they monkey-wrenched the chunky-drinking glasses with their other hands. The glasses watery content had already done the damage. Each glass contained just a sip-full of Scotch.
They stared straight ahead, wrapped up in their own soap opera. They wouldn’t have paid any attention as to notice the peering-eyes of us ceiling-clinging flies. They were talked out, totally spent, with nothing more to say. For what it’s worth, they were somewhat content, having said their piece, and had lifted some of the weight off their heart-broken chests, clearing somewhat their clouded future.
Some of what they said were lies, nonetheless they said them. With it all spilled over, like many people do, in calm voices they softened their stand, reasoned somewhat and saved some face. Taking the next step, they got around to compliment each other, thanking one another for making each other better people, and finally, by being both tender and honest they acknowledged they were tormented and petrified about it being the end.
If we were those flies and still on the ceiling when Christmas morning rolled ‘round, with the dawning light, we’d have found them still in place, still coming to grips, savoring the moment, holding true to a mutual cease fire, with their hands still clenched and their sad eyes closed while deep asleep.
By 1993, twenty-five years passed since Holly broke Warren’s heart and fractured his life. The twelve-plus years in Atlantic City presented some bright moments. Looking back—his time was spent mostly in denial, lamenting and spinning wheels while reduced to a mundane existence assembling sandwiches or frying eggs.
The years passed slowly yet they hadn’t. No doubt he was deeply in love with Kim. He’d been tempted to go for her but the chivalry within him mandated he postpone his quest.
In his mind the match-up coming between he and Michael should take place on an even playing field; he wouldn’t make a firm move on Kim until Michael was released from prison.
The toe of Warren’s fragile libido had tested her waters, at least enough to have earned him a fighting chance at capturing Kim’s heart. Regardless of Kim’s pledged allegiance he figured that he and her were on the same page.
She too suffered, heart-cuffed by some sort of bullshit sense of blind loyalty. He’d pick his spot at a later time. . . But hold on here . . . because all that burning speculation, those ‘what ifs” and “we’ll sees,” all came to an abrupt end after his sudden departure.
* * *
By 1993, he rarely flashed the characteristics once displayed by the youth who at one time shot out of the gate with a red-hot start. Those characteristics were long snuffed along with the once-burning ambition, and a curious nature and by then they were an almost wiped-clean slate. Those ambitions lie dormant, like a clump of scorched logs mildewing away in a cold, damp, fire place. His emotions sat frozen in time.
By 1993, his melancholy ears hadn’t been lavishly treated to the hoots, peeps and quips coming from the small mouth of the spunky, kind Kim. It had been almost eleven years.
Since he departed Atlantic City, and during lonelier moments, which was just about all the time; it wasn’t solely just one lost love, but two. By 1993, two women’s images vied for equal time. The images came and went like placards, showing up in his mind for brief periods and they would transcend themselves, Kim—Holly, Holly—Kim, so forth and so on.
Holly’s image nudged over without fanfare when making room for Kim’s.
Many times he questioned the logic of such images. Could he send them away? Did he want to? Would he? There were tender moments of solace perhaps yet those lingering images remained his Waterloo. During insightful moments they posed as monumental loves—he’d think of them as blissful.
After a reality check he flat-lined those once-tangible fulfillments that had eluded his grasp—two-sterling opportunities lost. It seemed his wants ran in hopeless circles. He’d remained unable to pluck those golden rings of togetherness from the merry-go-round of life.
He’d rewind and replay the treasured instances; the carefree days on the beach, cruising around the gold coast in a youthful time, in a young-and-innocent, sunny California, in the ‘vette—sadly culminating with an intangible framed image of he and Holly surrounded by their own make-believe happy family.
He’d replay the the scenarios, savoring the way the two, bright-eyed teenagers once breezed through the rites of young love. He’d strained further—unsuccessfully—to bring back the sensations of youthful love making. The mental process both soothed his psyche and tore at his heart.
Once he established the past, he’d flip channels and fast forward, as his beleaguered scattered brains oscillated between thoughts of Holly and those of Kim.
With Kim, it was a different show. Holly played as innocent as beach party bingo. Kim remained a drama. Yet they were both tragedies and those relationships with Kim and Holly were more real than a make-believe, daytime, soap opera.
On the flip side things were much different with Kim. Highlights of their courtship found a somewhat older-and-wiser Warren.
She calmed him. She projected a body warmth which radiated and jumped across the abyss encircling Warren making him feel ever so cozy. Warren realized she reflected the same warm effect over most people, but he was sure no one else felt the rays such as he.
There was the certain way she sat, nestled beside him when taking drives. She’d nudged just close enough to him without the satisfaction of a touch. She smelled nice, her moves were silky and sleek while her features languished in Warren’s mind like some Sheba, and she was so unassuming.
He remembered while in her company that while purveying the slightest of items he never acted awkward in a way which might be considered as dumb nor did he perceive himself as a second Johnny. With her he exercised a panache that he hadn’t brought to life in years; he took command, remained in control whilst opening a car door or ordering coffee or ice cream, or asking for directions. In her presence, Warren remained keenly thoughtful, acting wise and feeling strong.
The glue of their relationship—they asked nothing of each other. The steadfastness of her fabulous company became what he relied on. He enjoyed sharing coffee, playing parlor games, and found a certain satisfaction laying on the floor reading the newspaper in silence. With those sterling attributes Kim bloomed as luscious, a head turner.
The major difference between his relationship with Holly and what he had achieved with Kim—he and Kim never consummated their love. Privately and individually they harbored corresponding desires to set sail around the world but they never pulled up anchor and headed for the friendly horizon.
Both his love and memory of Kim equaled that of the exquisite Holly’s; the particular memories and individual shots varied. Other than inside of his thoughts he hadn’t a glimpse of Kim since he bolted out the hotel suite, on New Year’s Eve 10 years before.
“Mikey! You son of a bitch! You look fucking great!” The tough-talking, bald-headed, fat man blurted out, ignoring Warren as he leaned on his back to plant a kiss on Michael’s forehead. He knocked over and spilled glasses with no regard. Besides ruining a few drinks the rude man in a cloud of smoke had his cigarette ashes drop all over Warren’s new suit as he continued to make a fuss over the recently-released jail bird.
The grand-ball room of Bally’s was packed with the New Year’s Eve crowd. The congratulatory fat man stayed awhile. He swayed and raised his glass a few more times. The head table continued to attract hordes of Atlantic City types who stopped by to pay homage.
Good reason; Michael had not sold out. When the deal went down, and when Michael fell into the gear works of the federal, criminal, justice system, most in the know could have predicted how Michael would be hard pressed by both state and federal authorities to squeal on his so-called associates with the mob.
The word filtered down and dripped off the lips of the guys who ran things around town, and the word leaked its way to underlings, to the bookies, and the pimps, and strong-arm men. Word of his stone-walled silence was known by the wives of the bosses, the mistresses, and the hookers.
The word about silence’s gold spread to everybody whose asses walked down Pacific Avenue, from the old head to ten-year-old, pip-squeak hooligans. The whole fucking town was aware that the serious charges served up against Michael may have been scaled down to lesser if Michael would have been willing to sing a little. Not him though, they could have used electric prods, yanked out finger nails, he went by the code.
Respect on the street has to be earned and can’t be bought.
* * *
Most of the toasters were no more than gussied up street punks, out with the old-lady while dressed in $400 suits, $150 shoes and what looked like 50-cent ties. The town flip-flopped into a different place in 1982, rather than the deteriorating eye-sore it had been when Michael was sent up-the-river back in the mid ‘60s. Back then, the city on the ocean was no longer perceived as the ‘queen of resorts.’
Urban decay plagued the resort town since the jet age came into vogue, lofting tourists further south toward Miami and other warm-climate resorts. During the mid-’60s, stirred an unrest, a ruthless competition, with a shrinking tax base and too many blacks. It was as if the rest of the world had deserted Atlantic City. Only the old-Italian section held out as a bastion in the form of an 8-square-block area.
As youths, Michael and his buddies grew up as hustling hoods. They branched in the wrong direction, entwining, and then straggling the shrinking competition. They became cynical, hard and bitter. Their reasons made hoodlum sense, ‘cause he and his boyhood pals felt abandoned. Sinatra didn’t sing at the 500 Club anymore. Tourism plummeted. AC. became a forgotten destination. So rather than doing a boardwalk hustle, like during the glory days, the same as their wise-guy fathers, uncles and cousins had, instead, they were reduced to summer-time, night-club doormen, as nothing more than waiting muscle who perched themselves for hours on-end outside dead-beat clubs. Some became used car sales guys or part-time thug emissaries for the man, if only to kick the Julius out of chumps, chumps who got out of line, chumps who welshed on bets.
For twenty years they hung tough though lurking in the shadows and waiting to pick up the pieces to perhaps one day, muscle back in and take advantage of the weak. Most of the kids Michael grew up with had armed themselves with a street-smart sense of survival and chose to either roll with the punches or become a thug or be a cop.
But Atlantic City in the early ‘80s, reemerged, and began to stand on the ruined shoulders of the crumbled Atlantis. Things eventually came full circle. The city resurfaced. The vermin they were just wiped themselves off as they rose from the heaps of garbage. There was some new easy pickings to be had.
The ‘80s became boom time. Events dictated that the thugs and cops merge, merge to fleece newcomers. Atlantic City again became their board game, not Milton and Bradley’s. Those who kept the faith were back in control and mandated the events which went down on Boardwalk or Park Place. They decided to pass “Go” as if entitled by association to just snatch the $200 without rolling the dice.
Because of a state-wide referendum, no driving force placed into effect iron-clad, sweeping regulations to curb the corruption. The coast remained clear. State Gaming Commissions and other so-called watch-dog agencies were considered a joke.
The neighborhood guys closed ranks, mooched in and devoured the weak and the assets belonging to developers, contractors, unions, sorry-ass-addicted-gamblers, and the casinos. Happy days were there again.
* * *
Both thugs and cops forgot their differences for New Years Eve and perhaps a millennium, shook hands and flaunted their new wealth in the ballroom of the Bally Grand that December 31, 1982.
Kim looked radiant and happy. She had come to terms. Michael held up damn well for a guy who spent the last fifteen years behind bars—damn good and appeared as fit as Hoover Dam. The former inmate lifted weights out doors everyday. Christ, it was December, and the guy looked as if he recently returned from two-weeks in Barbados.
During the course of the evening, Michael became out-of-this-world drunk. Warren had been his usual quiet self during most of the evening, and he directed most of his remarks towards Ornament and Jeanenne, who were both seated with him at the main table. The obnoxious man still hung around. The remarks began to fly.
“Hey, Mikey, who the fuck’s, Tonto, here?”
“Why, he’s Mr. California’s asshole buddy. Forget about him, Ears. Mr. California is the guy you should be fuckin’ talking to; the prick can write like a bitch . . . go ‘head, say, hi, make friends, he might even be able to write, ya some-new-fuckin’ hair ya bald-headed son-of-a-bitch! ” Michael belly laughed at his joke.
Michael slugged down another Johnny Walker Black in dramatic fashion. He had a wild look and he leaned on his forearms facing Warren, offering only a sardonic smile.
“Everybody should thank Warren, here for taking care of the Queen, while her hubby’s been working for the governor. It’s not every man sent behind bars, who’s fortunate enough to gain such a pal.”
“Michael!” blurted out a startled Kim.
“Ah, I’m sorry. Whatsamadder, sorry and all broken hearted that you’re gonna have to break up with your boyfriend?”
Michael swayed and he began to lose his wherewithal. His eyes were glassy and when he attempted to adjust himself on the chair he fell over. Warren and Ornament, moving fast saved him from tumbling to the floor. The crowd laughed. Kim decided enough-was-enough, and it be better he be escorted back to their suite.
They assisted him to his feet and escorted the drunk out of the ballroom onto an elevator, and then toward the designated floor. Once inside the suite, Ornament and Warren lowered Michael onto the king-size bed. Kim trailed after gathering up their things. Ornament departed the suite. Before returning to the ballroom, Warren decided to use the suite’s rest room, saying, to Ornament, he’d be right down.
When stepping out of the bathroom, while returning to the suite’s main room, Warren found that Michael had regained his lucidity. Then Michael erupted into a horrible rage. He appeared bug eyed and screamed at Kim, calling her a liar, a slut, and a whore!
Michael’s words and actions instantly brought on flashbacks of Warren’s own fateful night, the night he last saw Holly. At first Warren took no action, as he was nailed in place or stuck in the fly paper of another time.
The thug displayed additional aggression. Michael sprang for her, going for her neck! He pinned Kim up against the suite’s window curtains, which were violently being tugged between Kim’s body and the full-length, glass window.
Warren stayed frozen. Then Michael violently swung her from the glass to the side wall, knocking over the TV, while slamming her head into the adjacent wall.
Snapping out of it Warren bolted across the room to pry Michael off Kim. Warren’s interfering paws could feel the wild man’s rippling muscles bulging with rage beneath his new suit. There was no chance he’d be able to break the strangle hold belonging to the weight-lifting enthusiast.
Kim’s pink complexion turned blue. Realizing the futility Warren quick-stepped backward and opted to go with ‘Plan B,’ as a crazy Michael continued his death squeeze. Dial the hotel’s front desk— it might be too late.
Frantically, he scanned the room for his third option. Without hesitation he dead lifted a sturdy, Formica, vanity stool, which sat in front of the bedroom’s dresser. He swung the stool high over his own head, and slammed it down on Michael’s head!
Michael dropped to the carpet. The suite’s door had been left ajar, and unbeknown to the bickering occupants, passing hotel guests, while seeing the ruckus, called security. Kim came around. A uniformed young man raced into the room. He attended to Michael as Warren helped Kim to her feet.
“He’s dead,” said the security man!
Warren stepped back. He glared at Kim, who buried her face with an expression, punctuated with an, “Oh my God!”
He looked back towards the security guard whose upper-lip was dripping with perspiration. No one uttered another word.
Warren became overcome with anxiety. Decidedly he stormed out of the suite. The elevator’s doors stood open. His focus became a blur, only to understand that the vehicle was going down. Outside, he sprinted down the street, without a coat in the December night and found himself in front of the Atlantic City bus terminal. He bought a ticket to: who-knows-where, mumbling to the clerk he needed a ticket on the next bus out. Within seven minutes he sat there alone suddenly cast as a refugee, crouched in the dark, on an express, speeding towards Wilmington, Delaware.
The time 10:30 p.m., New Years Eve, and what Warren soberly comprehended was that he had to get out of town as fast as possible. The sudden turn of events were sinking in—less-than-a-half-hour before he actually killed a man with one, sickening, devastating blow! His sole possessions: the clothes on his back and maybe $150 in his pocket. Warren summed up his unenviable situation.
Christ, he thought! Michael was connected with the local mob. More than just connected! Warren had observed all through the earlier part of the evening how they flocked to Michael’s table to pay homage, to place him on some sort of pedestal as if he was a god-damned martyr.
The way Warren had come to understand, especially since living in A.C., ruthless forces wouldn’t accept any sort of explanation; the bunch thrived on vengeful acts. He overheard the wise guys mouth off in the past how certain guys had been taken out—never a hint of remorse—he’d be a dead man for sure. If anything, they’d have to make him an example.
Then, also, he couldn’t ignore the power of the law. While researching legal cases Warren discovered that New Jersey was notorious for aggressively prosecuting 1st-degree, murder cases, in cases when the actual crime committed maybe should have been deemed as no-more-than a manslaughter case at best. He could almost hear the testimony at his trial. He’d be accused of being the jilted lover who couldn’t take the idea of Michael’s new-found freedom. It didn’t take much to figure out how some conviction-hungry prosecutor might want to score points, and accuse him of planning to get rid of Michael at the first opportunity. Warren had no other choice but to take his chances, and go on the lam. Fear overcame any sense of logic.
A couple of drunks awoke and celebrated 1983 momentarily, before passing out again somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike. The bus pulled into Wilmington’s down-town, dingy, bus terminal at 1:15 a.m. It was cold to the bone. Warren wondered if police might be waiting at the terminal.
There were no cops. Bus riders scampered away into the freezing black night. The terminal became pretty-much deserted. Not wishing to attract attention, by seeking information Warren began to walk. He spotted the word Hotel painted in large, white letters, on the side of a brick building, in the distance, down by the river. Exposed to the elements he stuffed his freezing hands into his pockets and quick-stepped towards the hotel.
At a littered intersection, the sorry spot, where the hotel sign was printed he discovered, if there had been a hotel it had long-ago closed down. The structure lay dead merely an abandoned building.
The entire neighborhood seemed desolate. Without comforting thoughts another bone-chilling, uneasy feeling crept into his already topsy-turvy world. A couple of seedy men appeared out of the darkness. He didn’t care for their pace and direction. Coming near Warren saw and heard one of them come further to life and shout out, “Get him!”
Without as much as a nudge, Warren took off across the wet, slippery, cobble stones, and bolted his way along the river bank. With no time to stop and count at least four-or-five men chased him in hot pursuit. He twisted his head back once for a quick see and saw one of them wielding some sort of club. The irregular terrain made for difficult maneuvering, without the time for him to carefully watch his landed steps, in the dark, especially while skipping across railroad tracks.
Not being able to choose his steps, Warren sloshed his dress shoes through cold mud and turned hard on his ankle. He ignored the pain and kept going. The men chasing, surely were desperate, nothing he could say or do would stop them.
Ahead, he spotted lights and a trace of activity, there might be help. So far the entire waterfront seemed deserted. A car’s lights approached, Warren waved it down but the driver looked scared and didn’t stop. The ankle ached, shooting pains up to his shins with each step, and he wasn’t sure how much further he could go. His ears picked up frightful macabre grunts coming from the vagrants frightfully breathing down his neck. The men were gaining on him!
On the run and in his desperation he gazed upward and could hardly believe his eyes. Like a divine interference the words Morey Younger, were printed on the side of the rusty tanker sitting in port with black smoke bellowing out of its stacks. Its gang plank extended outward onto the naked pier like a helping hand. Without hesitation Warren sprinted right up the gang plank and was shouting out.
As if it were seemingly another night, and while returning from ship’s leave Warren found standing at the top end of the gang plank, (a calm, older, pipe-smoking Jeff Beckworth.) It was Warren’s long-ago, fellow fireman, the man, who on that very ship became his mate, all the way to the East coast during his maiden voyage.
“Christ, is that you, Warren?” said a baffled Jeff Beckworth, surprised to see him, and even more surprised he could remember the guy’s name.
“They’re, after me! . . . Hide me!”
“What do you mean? . . . Who’s, after you?”
“Please! . . . Just, hide me, now!”
After all those years, remnants of old Jack Stolberg rubbed off on Jeff Beckworth, and he remained every-bit a man of the sea. Within a career of travels he witnessed how on-leave shipmates arouse the attention of locals, in places such as, Hong Kong, Bombay and Rio. Beckworth spent his share of rowdy shore leave as a younger man and on occasion had found himself in tight spots. His seasoned, seaman’s sense and marinated loyalty, saw Warren as desperate, and he opened a ship’s cabin door for Warren to duck through with Beckworth asking no further questions. Jeff directed Warren inside a storage area where he wouldn’t be sought after.
Jeff, by then, had become the 1st engineer and the duty officer on the eve of the departure of the Morey Younger. He locked the door, locking Warren in. The men in chase, observing Warren making it safely up the ramp broke off the chase, backed-off, pondered, and then searched for another victim.
Warren settled down, if just a bit. Despite being in quite a fix, his racing mind slowed. Soon he closed his eyes. Fast asleep he never felt the freighter’s budge. When he awoke daylight showed itself outside of a porthole. The ship was afloat. The offing was his sole perspective. He was at sea. He remained locked in the room.
Feet shuffled outside the cabin door. Jeff Beckworth showed. He served up hot coffee and Danish.
“Sorry, Warren, you caught me last night at the end of my watch. You were in such a state.”
“Christ, Jeff, we’re at sea!”
“I know, damn right we’re at sea. I tried to tell you last night we were about to ship off but you were freaked about those guys after you . . . well I just hid you out. What you do, kill somebody?”
Warren stood silent.
“No need to answer.”
Warren wished answers to questions of his own. “Where’s this tub heading?” accepting the fact he was aboard for the ride, probably a cruise toward Florida or maybe as far as the West Coast.
When Beckworth uttered the word ‘China’ it hit Warren like a tidal wave.
“China! You gotta be fucking kidding me, Jeff!”
“Nope —not kidding—been there, done that. Surer than shit, we got 17,000 barrels of chemicals, loaded back there in Wilmington’s port, barrels right out of the Dupont plant. Liquid nylon: liquid nylon so them little yellow fellahs over there will be able to manufacture lots a panty hose for Barbie dolls. I’m not kidding my friend.
“If that doesn’t suit you, I figure if you could jump ship right now, and swim that-a-away. You might be able to hit the coast of Virginia after about 30 miles. Other than that, I got to figure out what we’re going to do with you.”
Since his sudden departure from Atlantic City he traveled. It wasn’t until the Morey Younger docked in Manila, in the Philippines was the truth known. After a long-distance phone call to Ornament he found out that he hadn’t struck Michael with a lethal blow. Instead, the severe whacking created no more than a major headache and a hefty bump on the top of Michael’s head. The hotel employee had misdiagnosed Michael’s state.
The serendipity news brightened the woeful look worn by Warren during the voyage. With passed anguishes his boyish looks had withered, nevertheless he still maintained a lean surfer’s body and what remained was a glint of sparkle twinkling inside his honest-blue eyes.
He never returned to his boyhood home of Long Beach. During the period at sea both of his parents had suddenly passed away. The news of Michael’s survival was as a thread of a thin, silver lining after Ornament informed him about the sad news concerning his folks. No one in Atlantic City had any idea where he had gone.
* * *
We pick up Warren’s life in late, 1993, in Amherst, Massachusetts, inside the state university’s cafeteria.
He’s sitting at a small, round table, his curly hair has tinges of gray, he’s sharing a Snapple with a young coed named, Wendy Miyasato.
* * *
Talking about looks, Wendy’s looks were striking! Wendy’s bronze skin stood out like a tropical sunset—looks that had thawing power during the bleakest of a New England Winter.
“Guaranteed. Smooth to the touch!” Graphic artists and people in advertising may have come up with that sort of ID if for some reason Wendy’s image would have appeared on the front cover of a fashion magazine. The golden-color and texture said her family origins were more warm and exotic way-way more than those belonging to the mostly pasty, white kids scurrying around the crowded college canteen. Even the sprinkling of Afro Americans couldn’t be compared. Their complexions had been reduced by remaining mostly indoors to a dull, Wintertime ash.
A bevy of pretty coeds passed their table wiggling their hour-glass bodies. Since the loss of Holly, and his abandonment of Kim, natural urges that flow through a healthy men were no longer part of Warren’s make up. From his point of view intimacy with somebody, while in his funky state seemed impossible if not ridiculous, especially without the emotional involvement of a caring partner. Yet, Warren couldn’t help but admire Wendy’s absolute beauty.
He wasn’t only struck by Wendy’s, Oriental-Polynesian features, or her terrific smile, the alive, warm eyes and sculptured, tight body but she beamed with an uncorraled energy and childlike enthusiasm.
With both hands clutching the bottom end of the Snapple bottle and while his focus remained squarely on Wendy, Warren said, “So, you say, you come from Hawaii?”
“Oh, I’m just a little hula girl alright, a brownie from Maui. For the time being I’ve stored away my grass skirt and shell necklace. Disappointed? ” She laughed.
“Maui! . . Yaozah! . . Sounds exotic to me. I’ve only seen travel films. I understand it’s beautiful. I guess it’s quite built up these days with the resorts and all?”
“That’s practically true. But thank goodness it’s not that way where I come from. I grew up on the windward side of the island, it’s more remote. It’s lush, my family owns a property there. Don’t laugh, it’s a taro patch. Are you familiar with taro?”
Warren removed his hands from the base of the bottle and sat back as if he was then willingness to learn, and he said, “Taro . . . why not really.”
“Well then, I should educate you,Vern. Taro’s a root and held in high esteem once considered the very substance of peoples lives back in the days of old Hawaii.
“You’ve heard of Poi I’m sure?”
“Poi. . . . Well, it’s derived from taro. “
“How does it grow?” Warren asked inquisitively.
“Taro grows, in what most people perceive as rice paddies. It flourishes while partially submerged in fresh water that’s moving. The harvesting process is tedious. It has to be harvested by hand. They’ve yet to devise a mechanical process that won’t tear up and ruin the patch. After the harvest Poi-pounders crush the root and it eventually becomes a purplish mush. Then, you just mix it with more water and it’s whipped to a puree.
“One down-side with poi business, it’s perishable and it needs to be eaten right away or refrigerated, but then, with refrigeration, it loses flavor. While fresh it’s ono . . . ono means delicious in Hawaiian. Having a taro farm on one’s property meant we had plenty of fresh poi for dinner.
“You know how Orientals always eat rice with their meals, and Italians have pasta, and by the sound of your last name, I’ll guess that your ancestors ate plenty of potatoes. You look Irish, well anyway, Vern, we had choke poi.”
“Well it appears it’s agreed with you,” Warren interjected. “You look healthy. And, it is true, we Micks at the Dearden dinner table had potatoes almost every night.”
“Some local folks find poi more full of flavor right after it sours. Poi’s the first thing tourists ask for,Vern. You should see their expressions change after their first taste, usually they make an awful face.
“I’m told by haoles, after they’ve developed a taste for poi, it’s considered as a food enhancement, something you eat with your kalua pig and not by itself.
“Rice and pasta would be junk without soy or marinara sauce. Are you able to imagine eating boiled potatoes without butter, sour cream and chives? . . . Oh my God! I’d kill for kalua pig and poi right now . . . ooh, just talking about it makes me drool.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to to give you a lesson in Hawaiiana, nor did I desire to reveal my appetite. Sometimes I get carried away, you know, a savage just out of the jungle, sorry, it’s embarrassing. And I apologize I called you, Vern, I know it’s demeaning, it’s just something with me right now, I can’t help it, I like calling people, Vern, it’s my way of playing.”
She wore the cutest of smiles.
“No, no, go on, that’s alright. I find it interesting . . . Don’t worry about the Vern stuff, I’m already on to you. Besides, it adds a certain flavor. I hate vanilla myself . . . But about Hawaii and all . . . Poi, . . . hmm, all I’ve heard is it tastes like wall-paper paste.”
“Nonsense . . . that’s a misconception, why it’s delicious. I’ve been around poi all my life. I love it and always have. You have to be careful, once you’re no longer a teenager, it’s mighty fattening. If I were back in Hawaii, I’d still be eating poi everyday and I might be one fat tita by now.”
“I’ve heard it’s considered sacred. Is that true?”
“Poi has strong cultural ramifications within the Hawaiian community. As you’ve probably been taught, Moses had manna in the desert— so therefore the Kanaka Maole had poi. Poi stood as the primary staple of the Kanaka Maole, that’s before the white man came along. Propagating its existence is a sacred tradition, along with eating it.”
“Who are the Kanaka Maole?”
“Kanaka Maole are those who evolved from the original peoples of Hawaii whose primary blood lines are traced back to the early Polynesians . . . who first arrived in Hawaii from Tahiti, back in the Eighth Century. Poi was considered by the Kanaka Maole in a category of its own, so thousands of acres belonging to royal lands were put aside and irrigated solely for its cultivation . . . I understand, through my father, today, there’s less than 300 acres being cultivated and that’s throughout the Hawaiian Islands. My father has worked taro all of his life, same as his father had. He works hard on the ain everyday, and he works mostly with his hands and back.”
“Sounds fascinating to me, sounds as if you had an enriching childhood. A lot more than most kids today. It’s a shame how our society is becoming homogenized with a McDonalds or a J.C Penny in every town, and these days our country is losing a lot of its heritage. In your case, you’re still holding onto your ethnic pride.”
“That’s so true, but at the same time, being an American and growing up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean we wondered and brooded, as if we were missing out. Especially when we finally got cable TV. It was as if other kids were doing much more stuff and we were far away from everything.”
“Wendy, being a Hawaiian girl, how were your living conditions while growing up? I bet they were a far cry from the kids growing up around here?”
“Well, Warren, I hate to disappoint you, but I wasn’t brought up in a grass hut or anything like that but by the standards around here, my house might be considered as merely a shack. A cane house they call them, named after the type designed to house sugar-cane workers. That’s the type of house I was raised in, you know, one floor, affording enough space for a small family. I had my own room, so did my sister. It was only my father, my sister and I. Our mother died when I was six.”
“That must have been tough. Did your dad ever remarry?”
“Goodness, no. After mother’s death he only made room in his heart for taro. Of course my sister and I know he loves us dearly, at the same time, he remained strict but fair. I kinda wish he would have found somebody, especially since I’ve gone off to school. My sister married and moved over to Honolulu, but after my mother he never seemed interested in anyone else and I suppose romance wasn’t in his tea leaves.”
Warren reflected. For some reason the cliche “to have loved and lost, rather than to have never loved at all,” drifted within his thoughts.
The young woman presumed he could relate to her dad. “I don’t know how many woman would be willing to put up with my dad . . . he’s set in his ways.”
The thought of her father brought on a soft smile, her staring down somewhat. She pressed her lips to restrain herself from breaking out into a full grin.
“You should see him—my father—he’s something. He’s an extremely proud man. He’s still a handsome buggar, some looker, salt and pepper hair, and a body like a surfer. And he’s equally proud of his Hawaiian heritage, though part of us is made up of Japanese. His grandfather, on his father’s side, came from Okinawa, but all-and-all he’s considered Hawaiian. They call him Maka, that’s eye in Hawaiian. He’s got great eyes. Actually I’m more Hawaiian than my father. My mother was pure Hawaiian.”
“I understand pure Hawaiians are becoming extinct?”
“Today they’re a rarity. Almost everybody in Hawaii has other blood running through their veins. Hawaii’s become hybrid.”
“From what you’re telling me your part of Hawaii is way different than what we’ve seen on Hawaii-Five-O or Magnum P.I.”
“Definitely! My father’s spread is located in Nahiku, a remote village on the east end of Maui. We had eighteen families in our village. Funny, I say village, I would never use that term back home. Once a week we went to Kahului, a town which back then wasn’t much of anything except a place to shop for groceries and go to the movies. Can you believe until seventh grade I attended a one-room school,Vern? And when the sun goes down the party’s over.
“Once tourists arrived in greater numbers other modern conveyances things weren’t far behind. With the influx my father wanted me to attend a Hawaiian school. At twelve I attended the Kamehameha School over on Oahu, in Honolulu. It’s a private school exclusively for decedents of the Kanaka Maole. It’s a good school.
“I could have attended Seabury Hall, my father had the money and I had the grades. Seabury is Maui’s only college-preparatory school and I could have gone with my best friend and classmate, Olivia Long, she’s from the next property over but I didn’t. Now she’s s senior at Brown.
“Actually, Kamehameha offered a better art program. At a young age I fell in love with those French impressionists. I later concentrated my studies on Gauguin and have attempted to match his techniques along with the styles of other masters with my own. I suppose it was a good move and fortunately for me, my impressions have received recognition. My art became proficient enough for me to get a full scholarship here at UMass.”
The talk of French impressionists rekindled memories of New York. He told Wendy he too became awe struck by those painters who used bright vibrant colors, colors which in the past had never meant much to him until he saw how the hues warmly off-set one another and created a world at peace with tranquil scenes of nature.
He reeled out more, slipping somewhat, expressing how he used to enjoy day trips with a lady named Kim, trips to Philadelphia and Washington, and how they scanned the art galleries discovering a certain essence. Warren beamed when he recounted how he turned Kim on to those same French artists, artists that evidently the bouncy Hawaiian girl admired.
He expressed himself confidently when he spoke of Rodin, and shared with Wendy how Kim was so taken by the bronze and marble sculptures molded by the Nineteenth Century Frenchman.
He began to speak further of the artist.
Not waiting for Warren to set the stage, Wendy interjected, overflowing with bright-eyed enthusiasm.
“When she found out about how he once was disgraced . . . when first judged in Paris. You told her how those so-called experts accused him of being a fraud, right?”
“You’re pretty sharp. So, you know too?”
“Sure, about his work being so precise they actually said Rodin’s sculptures were too perfect and how he must have used real-life subjects as molds.”
“I see why you’re an art student.”
“You know, he took on a young Oriental lover? Too bad I was born a hundred years too late.”
Warren and Wendy exchanged additional information, how Rodin became so incensed by the accusations, that for the next few years he produced only larger than life sculpts at least eight-feet in stature, insuring that no one could ever again accuse him of being a fraud.
Warren didn’t share with Wendy that it was at Philadelphia’s Rodin Museum where he first realized he had fallen deeply in love with Kim.
He fixed the past image of her in his memory. He let himself drift further into the memories for awhile, trying to rekindle her warmth. Within his flashback, he remembered how she had gandered up at “The Thinker.” How radiant and stunning she appeared, vulnerable, delectable, yet his mind ordered a, “never mind,” so he could focus back on the present.
“Your speech doesn’t show any tinges of a pidgin. I thought people from the Hawaiian Islands spoke with a pidgin accent.”
“Ho! So what brah, you no tink dis wahine can talk like one haole chic?”
“Touche. . . . Your father must be proud of you, you being bilingual.”
“Yes, he is. But daddy insisted my sister and I speak good English. It’s ironic, ‘cause daddy normally converses strictly in pidgin. I love it. We love speaking pidgin around the house too, but on the outside or in school, and when conducting business on the phone my father laid down a mandate and he always stressed that we should conduct ourselves as if we’ve been properly educated. I miss talking local. Nobody stay ’round here who talk dat –kine stuff. Eh bruddah, we like talk da-kine lingo in the islands. We no like talk dat haole-kine stuff.
“My father’s old-fashioned Hawaii. He wasn’t thrilled about me leaving the state to attend college on the Mainland. He’d prefer I’d be close by, so to take over the family taro patches.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Well, that’s the primary reason I jotted down the phone number on the bulletin board.”
“You see, I have this problem. Well, I made a vow to my father: If he permitted me to attend school on the Mainland, I promised to return home once my schooling was complete.”
“So, what you’re about to tell me, is you don’t want to return to Hawaii after graduation.”
“Correcto mundo senior. You see, Warren, I’ve attained so much here, I mean, in knowledge. Now I have a burning desire, it’s more than that, it’s a craving to make it further on my own. I yearn to prove to the world that an island girl, someone of Polynesian heritage, might be able to walk with the masters.”
Her eyes widened as if she presented a challenge to fate. Smiling, “Just because we come from the islands doesn’t mean we can’t rock and roll.”
She’s was too cute and grinned, then turned more serious, “Of course, I love my father. I love Hawaii . . . and as I said, I promised my dad I’d come right home after college. I do hope to return one day but somehow, I feel compelled to make my mark here. I’ve been given an opportunity, which includes living in New York City. You said you once lived there, right?”
“It was a long time ago. . . I suppose, you wish for me to write a letter to your father.”
“I can’t bring myself to phone him. I couldn’t formulate my reasons into spontaneous words. He wouldn’t listen. And I don’t have the nerve to return to Hawaii, to tell him so. Once back, he has the power to intimidate me and persuade me to stay. I wouldn’t be staying for the right reasons. He’d put me on a guilt trip. Plus, I’d have to worry about slipping, and maybe calling him, Vern. . . . Oh my God! On top of that, if I did take a stand and go to New York, I’d have to pay for my return ticket. My new job starts right after graduation.
“As far as I remember, I’ve never let my father down. I’ve given my word . . . I should tell you he is absolutely emphatic about my return. One side of me wants to please my dad. Who knows? I can’t be sure how long he’ll be around; He’s not getting any younger. Then there’s that rebellious side that desires to accomplish a dream and not permit anything to get in the way, even if it’s the sentiments of my father. I’m afraid he might not forgive me. . . When I saw the way your notice was worded, I thought . . . I thought, perhaps you could put into words . . . Maybe you could explain, as a neutral party my desires and profess my genuine love for my father and the aloha state, and that those sentiments might make him understand all of those reasons. Perhaps he’ll come to respect that I have a different agenda than being a taro farmer.
“So, Mr. Letterwriter, what does your service cost?”
“Costs? Well, that depends. I’ve charged people as much as a thousand dollars for a single letter. Then there’s been times I’ve taken a dollar, but I never write for free anymore.”
“That’s quite a spectrum, probably as diversified as your clientele. I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t have much money. Would you be interested in a one-way ticket to Hawaii?”
Warren didn’t answer.
“You’re saying, Wendy, you’d like to barter with me.”
“Well that should solve part of the problem. Hey, you could visit my father. Stay with him if you wish. My room is open. Oh,Warren, the gardenia will be in full bloom. Have you ever smelled a gardenia, Vern? It’s probably one of the most romantic aromas on Earth.”
She suspended her negotiating. The soft-brown eye lids of the 23-year old, Hawaiian girl closed. Her long beautiful lashes looked more like the ends of miniature cleaning brushes and as if they were ready to do some serious sweeping. In front of a captured Warren she maintained a sweet smile with eyes still shut. She inhaled taking in a deep full-blast of air through her nostrils as stale blasts of air lingered through the cafeteria—making believe the whiff she was taking in was that of sweet-smelling gardenia.
“Ah it’s just delightful, Warren. Go ahead, take a snootful.”
Warren played along. He closed his eyes and took a good sniff. “Yeah,” he said in jest, “I’m able to smell it, Vern. It’s marvelous!”
Pleased with his play along Wendy played the fantasy out a little further. “Now, keep your eyes closed.” She adjusted in her seat, eyes closed, lashes pointing down and her full lips on the outskirts of her soft mouth were still formed into a pleasant smile. “There’s this gravel path, which leads to our house from the road. Both sides of the path are lined with gardenia bushes. See ‘em? You’ll love walking amongst them, especially when they’re in full bloom which is about half the time. Then, imagine, there’s those clear exhilarating mornings; your ears will be able to pick up the roar of the ocean nearby with the waves pounding the reefs . . . its sunny and the days are lazy and grand and there’s the sunsets.”
Her eyes opened wide. She spoke fast.
“Warren! . . . There’s a utopia waiting for you in Hawaii! You’ll love my dad. You’ll be able to eat all the poi you desire. Don’t let me scare you about my dad . . . he’ll act kind of tough at first but he’s a cupcake, a very sharing man. In no time he’ll be making a Hawaiian out of you. In no time he’ll be taking you to incredible water falls with clear pools, for afternoon swims. You’ll be eating papaya,brah. He does the same to everybody from the outside. He might play the guitar or ukelele for you. Oh, he loves to play Hawaiian slack-key guitar and he just loves to sing Hawaiian songs. He’ll teach you aloha. There’s lots of aloha in Hawaii, after all, we originated the word.
“See, in Hawaii even during this time of year you’ll be able to surf your brains out.”
Warren told Wendy, he had already established traveling plans and had just been passing through Amherst. He’d been visiting Montreal but had had enough of the cold and then, he was on-his-way towards Florida.
“Then, Hawaii isn’t out of the question?”
“I never stopped to think about it. I don’t know.”
“Then, maybe you’ll think about it?”
“So, Mr. Letterwriter, is this what you do, or is it a part time thing.”
“I have to say it’s full time.”
“So, you drive all over the country. How do you get your clients? Same way you’ve roped me in?”
“Well, first, I don’t usually drive. I hop a bus, or plane. I’ve been known to hitch-hike. I do rent cars from time to time, but it’s expensive.”
“So, let me get this clear. You and your portable . . . what is that, a Mac Powerbook? . . . So, Vern here with his Mac Powerbook roams the country PAGE \* Arabic 182
and listens to peoples stories, and then he writes the letters.”
“Correcto mundo, senorita.”
“Cool, that’s too cool!”
“Let’s say, it’s a living.”
“So where’s a person such as you start off from?”
Warren told Wendy, about being originally from California, and then, about moving to the East.”
“Oh, that’s when you lived in N.Y.?”
“No, I lived in N.Y. before I moved East. It’s kind of complicated.”
He sorted it out omitting the difficult parts.
“What about women?” I must say, you’re not my type, I like fellows my age. That vintage stuff is for girls who never had a loving dad perhaps. But you’re a mighty good-looking man, and you must have been one stud when you were in your twenties. Hmm, let me take a closer look . . . I’ll say. We have lots of California surf boys who hang out on Maui. I’ve seen them . . . some hunks. I bet you were just like them.”
His sense of modesty had Warren embarrassed but at the same time he almost smiled.
“So, tell this little Hawaiian girl about your loves?”
“Oh . . . I’m afraid there’s not much to tell.”
“Oh, that’s not true you fibber. You let it out. You said there was somebody named Kim and somebody named Holly?
“You tell lies haole man. You stay choke with wahines. How come you no tell me? P-L-E-A-S-E,” she spelled. “I like know—I like know!” She pleaded and then further play acted.
Wendy stayed cute, turning out to be quite a tease. Warren hadn’t met anyone as enchanting as her in some time. And when she discovered he was then rooming in a cheapy hotel on campus she insisted he come back the big house off campus that she shared with other students.
“Most of the kids have already left for the holidays. Why not stay at our house? We have plenty of room. The other kids won’t mind, it happens all the time.”
With the Christmas season his demeanor usually sunk more so than usual. The cheapy hotel on the UMass’s campus was noisy and cold. He thought,‘what the hell.’
They both returned to her college house. Warren met her house mates, nice kids and bright. He sat and talked story during a family meal. Later, he enjoyed a cozy fire place.
The island girl possessed a one-in-a-hundred personality with a spunky honest demeanor. He perceived her father did a hell of a job raising her.
The intuitive girl picked up on his vibe.
“Something tells me, Warren Dearden, has listened to many peoples stories, but what about Warren’s story? . . . Your focus is so much about honesty. Are you honest? Can you tell me your story? C’mon, Warren, I have the time.”
“Nobody has asked me to tell them my story, perhaps my persona isn’t all that intriguing . . . at least it hasn’t been so far.”
With the help of a few glasses of wine and feeling comfortable, Warren slowly opened. He unraveled for Wendy more background, including the details about what had him banished from Atlantic City, so to wind up as far away as China and then, back to America.
He talked how he had traveled. He paved the story, going back as far as Mr. McGee and of surfing and of Holly.
“ . . . It had been an interesting an insightful twelve years living on the East Coast, a place I may have never acquainted myself with unless I actually lived there. Perhaps it evolved as a blessing in disguise. There’s a certain, no-beating-around the bush, a coiled energy, including blunt honesty coming from people here in the East. I developed a taste for local foods too rather than just West coast stuff, and I suppose it’s the same way for people who decide to stay in Hawaii and how they might develop tastes for Hawaiian foods. Hmm, every time I’m in this neck of the woods, especially the mid-Atlantic states, I sample snapper-soup and fresh, Maryland crab, hoagies and cheese-steaks and I hafta tell you, there’s no pizza like boardwalk pizza. But still more than anything, I’ve learned to appreciate the spirit of the people from this part of the country.”
Warren spoke further of Atlantic City and Kim, and what happened that New Year’s Eve.
“ . . . The news about Michael being alive tasted bitter sweet. On one hand I remained grateful I wasn’t a killer even though, if need be, I would have become one in order to save Kim’s life. On the other hand I figured Atlantic City’s off limits.
“Besides, I couldn’t face the idea right then of returning to America inside the bowels of a ship. I stayed on the boat as far as China and I thanked Jeff Beckworth, the captain and the crew. I wired Ornament and asked him to wire money, telling him I had dough in a savings account in the bank I had saved up. I suppose I celebrated a bit. The fact I wasn’t responsible for taking a man’s life became an immense relief. So I stayed some. Of course the language barrier remained difficult, but it’s a magical place, and I met a few other expatriates and some other misfits who spoke English. And as I said, I found the place fascinating.”
Wendy sat all ears. Her eyes opened wide as if they were listening too. While he talked she wrapped her brown arms around her up-lifted knees and rocked to the rhythm of his voice
“It was during my stay in China I became free, well not totally exonerated, there’s baggage that I still carry from unfulfilled love, but I saw myself as liberated from fear and free from fearing the truth as well. I supposed what happened to me in China, if you will . . . I suppose I became enlightened.
“I’d been fairly mellow as a young man yet I had come to realize I possessed a warrior’s demeanor. I suppose it’s only natural: young men have that testosterone built up in their systems and they seem to be readying themselves for combat; I suppose that’s part of the process. I guess I came on as abrasive in my own unthreatning way. It’s incredible, but not much of a inner perspective came to light until I befriended, Mr. Hao, in Shanghai at a chess club no less.
“Mr. Hao was taken with Americans. At first we just played chess, a game I picked up from Ornament during our many, long nights in the cellar. Mr. Hao spoke of his own past, especially when he lived in America.
“He invited me to stay at his villa, a spacious spot, carved out on the inside of the overcrowded city. Hey what the heck I had no pressing itinerary and no real place to go. I was Shanghaied in Shanghai. To a certain degree I remained miserable and love sick. Intelligent, fertile-minded company and yummy Chinese cooking helped band aid some of the pangs. Mr. Hao always insisted that I eat.
“While there Mr. Hao show cased his fabulous generosity and wouldn’t permit me to spend a dime, or I should say a yuan. During nights and some of the day we pushed pawns, castled rooks and kings on the chessboard inside his study. When the weather turned nice we played outdoors under cherry blossoms. Mr. Hao spoke about everyday life and its pitfalls.
“At his exquisite but simply-furnished home he employed many servants and fabulous cooks, but at the same time, one couldn’t ignore that something, that quiet but effective tour de force that was ever-so humbling that remained bubbling beneath the exterior. He never acted as if he was a wealthy man. As for China, even a mush head like me understood the place remained very much a Communist country. Mr. Hao’s holdings and free sense of enterprise seemed immune from the stringency which goes with a collective society and a repressive regime. We had many western items in the household, items unavailable anywhere else, yet he remained mostly oblivious to the uniqueness of his situation.
“The experience unfolded as something out of a Kung Fu movie. To tell you the truth, if that old sage would have called me ‘grasshopper,’ I wouldn’t have flinched. We kidded about that sometimes too—he had never viewed the popular, TV series but he was intrigued by the show’s premise. He stood head and shoulders above the wisest men I ever met!
“Mr. Hao revealed, that he had attended the United States Military Academy in the late ‘30s. His father was sent overseas as the Chinese Ambassador to the United States and Mr. Hao mastered English at an early age, but when Japan invaded China, they both returned home to help. His father died a hero fighting the Japanese. During the great Chinese revolution the Hao family held onto their respect and escaped the atrocities doled out by both sides. After the revolution they became exempt from losing their property and were permitted by the Mao regime to keep much of their wealth and prestige.”
Wendy leaned back, crossed her legs and permitted Warren to tell his engaging story by refreshing his wine glass from time to time. She sat spellbound. The fireplace’s glow flickered flames swooping to and fro and they bounced to the tone of his voice. The hearth’s flame reflected off her face. With the ambience Warren’s back felt covered by the warmth of the fire. Its steady flame thawed some of what lay frozen inside him and perhaps it coaxed him on to say more.
He told how Hao, along with his familiarity with American culture, enjoyed sharing his impressions with Warren.
“He was so into American culture, especially American-Jewish culture. The Hao’s, while living in America, resided in Brooklyn, where Mr. Hao became familiar with many Jewish traditions. For some reason the elder Mr. Hao chose New York over Washington, Hao said, because New York had a larger Chinese community than D.C. Still though they resided in Brooklyn. The Jewish neighbors invited the polite Chinese family to their homes for celebrations, especially Chanukah and Passover. The lone Chinese family and the Brooklyn Jews, back in the Thirties, were perhaps in sync and recognized during the great depression how education held the key to success and the way out of the gutter. ‘It was no different in Asia, than the U.S.,’ he’d say.
“‘Whenever you have a problem, Warren, think Jewish!’
“Clever! Hao was a master at mimicking and he could imitate various dialects of ethnic Americans.
“‘So, you’re, sick . . . So, what’s the big deal? . . . Go see a doctor.’
“‘What’s the matter? . . . You lose all your money? . . . What’s the big deal? Go make some more.’
“You lost your girl friend, think, Jewish, Warren. What’s the big deal? Go get another one. Think, Jewish,’ he persisted to say.
“He said Jewish people were practical and simple and he professed and defended American Jews saying, what many Americans perceived about Jewish people as being misers and cheapskates and that those presumptions were bogus. ‘They aren’t tight with their money. Jewish people love to spend; They just love talking about money. Very oral people, the Jewish.’
“Besides being silly, the Chinaman’s emphasis remained keenly fixed on truth and how its fire-tested power is incredible. If one expressed truth there would be no long-lasting pain, regardless of how it might first appear . . . explaining to me in specific detail, Mr. Hao revealed, by professing the truth its initial impact might have the tendency to set one backwards a few steps, but in the long run, if one told the absolute truth one will always be ahead in the game of life.
“Mr. Hao would say, ‘Lying brings on a turncoat guilt and guilt runs deep and festers a lack of confidence and fortitude,’ he’d become overly didactic when he’d profess, ‘One who lies can’t remain calm or diligent, especially with deceit brewing beneath their skin. With guilt they’re doomed to failure, Warren. Their bodies will no longer be temples of truth and therefore he who distorts the truth is doomed and cast into an oblique world of decay and then they have no choice but to become a dilapidated, crumbling tomb from within.’
“Hao held onto other interests and pontificated tidbits of the esoteric. He compared he and I, saying he and I should be proud since we were both Roosters, me, because, I was born in 1945, and he, because he was born in 1921. Chinese Astrology was what he was talking about, a subject he proclaimed himself to be a self-professed expert. He cockled, we Roosters, like China, are in all actually the ‘center of the Earth.’ Our need, both he, mine and China’s he said, are not that of expansionists but the masses of the world will eventually come and seek us out in search of uncompromising wisdom.
“He professed Roosters possessed a special spiritual healing and they certainly help out others with chanticleer surety and he professed we Roosters wheedled intangible power. The wise man referred to Chinese Astrology often.
“He painted examples: How Marco Polo, the exploring Goat, and how he ventured to China during the Year of the Monkey, and Columbus, another exploring Goat, discovered America in 1492, a year Mr. Hao referred to as the Year of the Rat. He spoke of Hitler, saying something about him being born in an Ox year, ‘dictatorial they are! . . . ’ He gave other examples, ‘Napoleon, Cortes and Tojo were other strong-willed and arm-twisting men, including America’s Vince Lombardi, all Oxen.’ He focused on additional thoughts and most-recent scenarios, including the U.S.’s lack of conviction in Vietnam and how the Viet Cong had chosen to escalate the war and pulled off a stunning attack on the first day of Tet in 1968, at the very beginning of the Year of the Monkey.
“His consistent message: ‘Seek the value of truth.’ Mr. Hao further said, ‘An enlightened man will be able to see through liars and one who is enlightened can never be duped. ‘You can’t cheat an honest man,’ he professed.
“In a short period of time, Mr. Hao deluged me with enlightening tidbits. I’m proud to say, some stuck. Perhaps it has always been the same for me, like when, and the way it was back when I was hanging around Mr. McGee. He bequeathed special exercises to curb one’s runaway emotions. He offered a mantra and taught me the art of Transcendental Meditation, and showed by example the value of spinning one’s body, how simple twirling is able to toss off anxieties. He spoke of negative and positive ions.
“He’d state that one isn’t mandated to answer thought-provoking, challenging questions right on the spot, especially when confronted by nosy inquisitive types and if one’s not feeling up to it. He said further, ‘It’s much better to remain silent than answer falsely. Gather your thoughts carefully and ignore pressure . . . you’ll answer those inquiries if and when you’re ready. Besides, it isn’t anybody’s business what you think or where you’re going.’
“He had a sensational sense of humor too, you’re probably able to pick up on that part of him, by the way he kidded with me about ‘thinking Jewish,’ and Mr. Hao taught me to laugh at my own short-comings and implored with me not to take myself too seriously.
“Up to that point I saw my own desires, my fall, and misgivings, as the most paramount thing going on in the world. I remained consumed within my own theater and if I performed any sort of service such as offering a helping hand, I guess I expected something in return.
“What Mr. Hao was telling me in an indirect manner was that I kept score!
“He straighten me and forged me into prospectus, perhaps teaching me to appreciate life for what it’s worth and further, he implored to accept the hand one is dealt.
“Mr. Hao insisted, we receive almost precisely what we really desire. If we are to live lonely lives, we will. Mr. Hao, who had an appetite for the unusual, insisted I’d share with him more about this letter-writing thing. He thought the craft showed the potential to evolve into an honorable profession, and he predicted I possessed the right temperament for such a calling. It was he who instilled the truth-serum aspect into my letter-writing pitch.
“He professed, he was giving me an indelible gift, a gift to purvey, a gift to provide others, perhaps the greatest riches of all, to provide for others peace of mind.
“He implored to insist on the truth from my clients or whoever. He unfolded and instilled a mammoth piece of the missing puzzle. If I didn’t feel clients were telling me the truth there’s no way they could achieve their requests. The sure lock only kicks in when I’m told the truth.
“Of course there are instances when I never checked back. I don’t keep records. But again, periodically when I across my clients, of whom I wrote for the perfect track record still stands.”
Warren stopped talking realizing he had gone on. He held up to give Wendy some time. Immersed in the story she could have let him go on, but obliged his pause by contributing.
“Wow, you speak of him so reverently, as if he is some sort of shaman. I bet he is!” lent a big-eyed taken by it all Wendy.
“Funny, Mr. Hao taught me not to dwell on the larger questions, the whys, how comes and what ifs. He cast light on the theory that it’s bigger than both of usand and when confronted with reason that old sage spoke about the millions of planets, twirling, thousands-of-miles-an-hour, in hundreds of thousands of galaxies and then he compared, same as that grain-of-sand theory, you know, and I’m sure you heard the theory about sand spread over on a beach and how it’s virtually impossible for us beings existing as just one of those grains of sand and that we’re privilege to be the sole and mere intelligence existing in the universe. He insisted, it’s written in a big book somewhere deep in space. He restored my belief in God . . . ”
“Of the information you received from this man, Warren, what was the most significant?”
“The main thing I suppose that I gained on my own, is that a lifetime on Earth is primarily a blink in time. . . The most significant revelation; I ferreted out, of course, was with Mr. Hao in mind. Well, it dwelled upon me, if I didn’t love myself, I could never receive love.
“Even though you’re young Wendy, I’m sure you’ve heard such words before. It’s an easy enough cliche to say, but not always one that’s so simple to understand or to act upon. . . I’ll tell you how I came to the conclusion, and I’m proud to say, Mr. Hao didn’t point it out, even though he jump-started my infant logic.
“You see, after my tragic loss of both Holly and Kim, I had yet to get it. I graduated college. I had fallen in love, and I had excelled in my work. I traveled across the country. I’ve made it to China. I had yet to be enlightened.
“It’s like this. When you’re first born, special, caring people take care of you, such as your parents, people who love you unconditionally, not for who you are, or what you’ve done or who or what you’re about to be, but because it’s parental. I had such love.
“You have such love.
“As time goes by, if we’re deemed fortunate, we might find a few others who’ll love us unconditionally. Mr. Hao professed, in Confucian-type language, how it’s an immense comfort for human beings to know, while playing, or going to school, or working . . . that somebody’s back home, is humming in the kitchen perhaps or somebody’s at work, loading freight on freighters like my own father did, or whatever and we’re comforted, realizing they’re thinking of us, with us being the major focus of their affection. It’s our welfare that’s nestled within their thoughts.
“That’s the way it was for me I suppose. And I suppose, that’s the way it is with you with your father.
“Even though I remained far away and didn’t stay in touch, I was confident I remained snuggled in my parents thoughts. You, yourself realize, even at this very moment; your father might be bent over on his taro patch, and it’s a comfort for you knowing you are on his mind. I’d be willing to bet Maka Miyasato is thinking of his Wendy from time to time, the same goes for your sister. When I moved to N.Y., as a young man, I was sure I remained strongly in Holly’s thoughts. And I felt secure Kim was constantly thinking of me, way back when I was living in A.C.
“So, there I was, sitting in China with the knowledge of my parents death, and far from Holly, in mind, body and spirit, and far-far away from Kim too.
“Presto! . . . It came to me. Maybe nobody loved me!
“Wendy, for the first time in almost forty years I came to the conclusion, the possibility existed that nobody, and I mean, not-one-single-living soul on this Earth, . . . not a one . . . that is that no one loved me unconditionally!
“I was on my own . . . and I saw such a void as mind boggling! Yet those self-determined revelations came unfolding and became the cure. If nobody loved me I would learn to love myself. That was it.
“I suppose the comprehension unleashed the remedy. All along I suspected something was wrong. Something was . . . but at last I was free and on my own. I believe at that point I began to be enlightened. I shared my revelation with Mr. Hao. He smiled with satisfaction.
“So, what the heck . . . Sorry to say, besides Mr. Hao being a heavy-duty cat, Mr. Hao was a heavy-duty cigarette smoker, and sorry to say the days I spent with him were the last days of life. Shortly after my metamorphosis he died of lung cancer.
“He left me a note and $20,000 in American money. In his note he told me to go out into the world and write the truth. He desired for me to act as the vanguard who was then armed with the power to go and erase troubles belonging to the unenlightened and to assist the blind who wished to wander out of the dark. He wished me health and happiness. The final passage from the Chinaman mentor, one of wisdom and wit: ‘Always think Jewish, grasshopper.’
“With his memory in hand I worked my way back to the U.S. At first, I lived in San Francisco, in North Beach. I applied for a job as a clerk in a Computerland store. I wired Ornament the money I owed. I was able to get a considerable discount on a portable computer and printer. You see, when I left A.C. I left my possessions behind.
“Somehow, in the city on the bay, I heard the call of the wild, and since late in 1984, I’ve been on the road and not looking back. I’m relatively happy. I’m sure somewhere deep within me, I’m still in search for happiness, and perhaps the love of a woman. Yet, I have my pack, my computer and my little printer here, and I’m able to drum up enough people who need letters of urgency, enough at least to get me by. I see each day is a new one.”
* * *
Two days later Warren found himself seated on the United Airlines jumbo jet zooming towards Maui. He was both excited and enthused about finally making it to the 50th State. Besides Alaska and Hawaii, he’d been through them all. The plane was crowded with a horde college students heading home for Christmas vacation. Warren would deliver a letter from Wendy, addressed to her father Maka Miyasato.
The big plane banked. Out of Warren’s airplane window he saw the large face of the mountain. Wendy had said its name, obviously something Hawaiian, and too hard at the time to remember. Around the huge mountain’s base were fields of green—of what Warren wasn’t sure? Some cloistered communities were sprinkled here and there along the mountain’s island-wide face.
Inside the terminal, active and busy. Returning students were being greeted by loved ones who draped them with sweet-smelling flowered leis. Looking around he found it apparent, Maui showed itself as a mixed-blood society. Even the Caucasians had a certain twitch to their eye.
The first night on Maui he stayed at a small, sea-side hotel on the local side of town. In the morning he found, “Word of Mouth Rent A Car,” a place Wendy recommended. He rented one of those Volkswagen Things’ painted canary yellow. The top looked beat and tattered—permanently fixed in the down position.
“What if it rains?” Warren inquired to, Ernie, the guy who owned and operated “Word of Mouth.”
“More than likely it will if you’re going out to the Hana side. You can live with it, the sun always returns and will eventually bake you out.”
That was that! By the looks of the rusted linkage attached to the German designed convertible’s top, the Third Reich might rise again before the jeep’s top.
So, Warren began his Hawaiian adventure, and began to motor his way toward the east side of the island. He drove out of Kahului and crossed over the Haleakala Hi-way, the hi-way which would have led him Upcountry, and past the cane fields, and toward Ben Ridgeway’s estate. At that time Warren never heard about Upcountry, or somebody named Ben Ridgeway.
He drove further down the Hana Hi-way, through Paia, once a hippie haven which had gone through a metamorphosis of its own and then had blossomed into the wind-surfing capital of the world.
Along the coast he felt compelled to pull over and sit on the front hood of the Thing to watch surfers surf at a beach called Hookipa. Warren marveled at the enormous size and the consistency of the waves.
At least forty surfers were beyond the water’s break, most of them brown bodies, sitting or straddling their boards. Six-foot, glassy waves rose from the deep and unfurled from the wet rolling blanket of blue. A few surfers paddled swiftly to catch the incoming heap and they hopped to it, springing up from a touchy squat to a precarious stand. With the balance of tight-rope walkers they’d sensed the glory and rode with courage, as they swooped down the tumbling face of powerful waves with white water nipping at their heals.
Surfers will tell you, if dumped, especially in Hawaii, the heavy surf holds one under for what seems like an eternity. It’s as if they’ll never surface to gasp a breath. With the washing machine effect torturing their bodies and the shortness of a wind supply choking their lungs, there’s the temptation to panic. The main thing is to gulp and swallow at least one breath and begin to get back to safety, ‘cause right behind that one, another immense wave is on its way, ready to slam the victim all over again and hold them under and fuck with them a little more. The sequence of imposing waves might occur two or three times before an exhausted surfer wades back to where he or she is back in their element. Some say that once back on the beach, Elton John’s lyrics of, “I’m back on dry land once again . . .” comes drifting into their mind set.
Then, with the way surfers are, those lulus will paddle back out beyond the break . . . only to do it again.
He could have stayed all day but he would have had to borrow somebody’s surf board and get out there himself. The thought remained tempting, regardless he hadn’t been on a surf board in years.
He’d seen enough and started the Thing’s Volkswagen engine and continued. With each turn of his vehicle the scenery became more enchanting. There were rocky cliffs with jagged rocks protruding from the mountain side of the road. On the other side were spectacular views with the ocean pounding reefs below forming pools of foam. Deep gullies and rocky ravines were decorated with exotic vegetation. Flora, halaconia and fauna lay off to the side. The sky and the clouds and the mountain tops converged as one setting off a brilliance of nature.
Soon, he drove beneath a branch-made tunnel of clutching trees, with branches extending out as they stretched to shake branch hands with trunky neighbors stemming from both sides of the roadway.
There was a freshness that drenched his exposed skin. Aromatic aromas and sweeter smells from fruit trees and flowers flooded the air around him.
Ripe papaya, guava and avocado hung heavy and it was December. And it did rain, as Ernie forecast, but it didn’t matter, the rain wasn’t inhibiting but rather refreshing. He discovered, if he maintained a motor speed of at least twenty-five miles per hour he wouldn’t even get wet. Somehow, he couldn’t quite explain but he eluded the raindrops. And ‘holy cow’ came dripping off his lips, real slow when he turned a bend and saw, not just one, but a double rainbow, like something out of a storybook!
The phenomenon! Two rainbows with their spectrum colorfully arcing across the blue sky. It was they were there just to greet him. Warren gave into the temptation and the thought ran across his mind that perhaps he fast approached his own pot of gold. The surroundings became more rural. There were hardly any cars. A few peeked out and winked at him, as they were tucked away near the cane houses as Wendy had called them. When they peeked out their autos grills formed a smile. Perhaps they were saying “Aloha,” as he drove by.
Perched on top of rural mail boxes were fresh-cut ginger and star fruit. The goods sat on little stands near their carpentered, framed homes.
They were offered ‘for sale,’ quietly solicited by a money-collecting, honor system. A mix and bills and change had been left by passing motorists and with the nature of Hawaii, it was almost guarans they weren’t about to be disturbed or pilfered.
He made his way around the nifty, spine-tingling bends. Over the phone Maka gave instructions he couldn’t understand. As back up Wendy provided landmarks to look out for in the form of mile-markers fixed to telephone poles. His eyes were on the lookout for mile-marker, #27, a landmark that said be on the watch for the next cloister of mailboxes, and then turn left, follow the dirt road and search for a huge mango tree on the left. The Miyasato house was supposed to be just across from it, with the spoken of gravel path sitting to the right. There it was.
Unwinding from the ride,Warren exited the Thing. As advertised by Wendy stood the gardenias, his honor guard, with an unmistakable aroma entering his nostrils, He inhailed the freshness of the blossoms, the way Wendy had back at UMASS. He strolled towards the modest, Miyasato home. The area was backed up with unidentifiable flowers and various bushes placed strategically around the neat, small home.
He remembered, that back in his mother’s living room, smaller-versions of many of the plants he then saw were there in a magnified size. Outside the front-screen door were a gathering of boots, rubber slippers and tabbys. Warren gingerly rapped on the door.
“Ho!” came the deep voice from inside.
Before he had a chance to answer, Maka Miyasato opened the screen.
The man, to the “T,” same as Wendy described. Most of his hair was gray and cropped close. His age; fifty-to-sixty. His body, fit. His brown forearms were crisscrossed with bulging, blue veins, puffed up permanently by a lifetime from tugging taro stalks from Mother Earth. He stood Warren’s height—lean at the waist. Warren could see from where Wendy inherited her skin’s texture. Maka glanced down at Warren’s feet. He remembered China—remove shoes before entering.
Taking care of business right after the introduction, Warren handed over the letter. Before opening the letter, Maka showed Warren to his room, and saw to it he had a cold beer.
Maka found his reading glasses and took the letter out to the lanai to read it in the natural light. When finished, unemotionally, he placed the letter back inside the envelope and filed it away with other papers. Warren hadn’t volunteered to Maka knowledge about its content or that he penned the passage.
“You like see the taro?”
Both men strolled a much used trail, a trail which led towards the patches on the farm. Along the path Maka spoke of the aina.
“Here is like no other place, brah. The Mainland wen’ fill up since Columbus. Still, they have plenty room. I’ve driven across it all plenty, with big Arizona and New Mexico, brah, even wen choke with people, there will be room, brah, and plenty room left over. Here stay different, there’s just precious amount of aina, no matter, people wen come. Other than my two daughters this is what’s close to my heart. I wish to preserve it for my daughters and for theirs. But the way things go . . . I wonder.”
After a modest meal, which of course included poi, rice and freshly caught island fish; Warren became fatigued, beat from the flight, and retired. Maka Miyasato retired to his own room, sat in his chair, and reopened and reread the letter from his daughter.
You’re able to guess by now, I won’t be returning home for Christmas this year. And further more I won’t be home for some time. I wish for you to understand; this is a difficult letter. The last thing I’ve ever desired to do is disappoint you. I know how much, you, love me. And I realize how you’ve worked so hard, and how you have cared for Sara and I. And, daddy, I know of your love for Hawaii and the aina, and for the uninterrupted continuance of the taro farm.
First, I too love Hawaii, and have tremendous respect for the aina, respect you taught me. I’m strong for the perpetuation of our culture and I believe you are one of those unsung heroes who by doing good-deeds, sharing and spreading the aloha spirit, you’ve been one of those who have made Hawaii a special, special place.
At the same time, like it or not, you’ve taught me to be a modern woman. Right now I believe, I can help make a difference, and become a lot more than what we Hawaiians might be perceived as by the outside world. I’m apt to prove to them all we’re a lot more than just pineapple heads . . . of which you’ve said many times, and we’ve proved it, Daddy I feel a calling, as if I have a special talent to share with the outside world, and the only problem is I need to launch it off a pad that’s so far from home. Once that dream is accomplished I’ll long to return to our home.
I need for you to understand. Ever since mommy passed away, I’ve tried to do everything necessary to be a loving, faithful daughter. And, daddy, you couldn’t have been a better father. You’ve taught me love and respect. You’ve shared with me too many things to mention as to appreciate life better. You protected and gave me your time whenever I needed it, and you’ve denied me nothing. I’ll be forever grateful for the true love you bestowed on me.
Closing I can only make you proud of me . . . and be nice to Warren, remember the stories you told me about slaying the message bearer . . .
Love You, Aloha
P.S. I’ll call you right after the New Year.
* * *
Maka shook Warren out of a deep sleep.
“Sorry for bother you. My neighbor have one problem. His wahini wen’ call. The Mr., he no return. She say, he wen’ go up the mountain and he nevvah come home. They might need help. You like come?”
On the short walk over to the Long residence, Maka’s immediate neighbor, Maka brought Warren up to date on his neighbor. He cast him as a family man, and a damn-good guitar player, expressing he had come to like and respect the entire family.
“I believe Wendy mentioned, she went to school with a neighbor.”
“Olivia, that’s it.”
“She akamai, goes to one Ivy League school, big bucks, brah!”
“Does her family have money?”
“Her father has one, good, papaya business. He owns his land. I nevvah know, if he wen’ make enough for such schoolings. But I know he grows da-kine, pakalolo.”
“Pakalolo! What’s that?”
“I wen let you figgah . In Hawaiian, paka, means weed, lolo, means crazy. You get picture?
“I figgah, Tye, he wen’ go up the mountain for da-kine. Hey, brah, it stay dangerous up there. Sometime radical weather. One slip, you stay maki. Maybe we go take one look.”
Tye Long trudged up the island’s fresh-water stream. He ached from the weight of the back pack tightly stuffed with plastic bags of moist fertilizer. Tye’s mid-section boasted a good-sized stomach. The middle-age hiker perspired and breathed heavy. He’d been at it for over four hours, a slow going, through thick jungle. Walking in the middle of the stream at least provided additional oxygen.
His feet sported tabbys, rubber-mittens, foot protection against painful pinches from errant pebbles and other sharp objects his eyes couldn’t detect on the bottom of the stream bed. There were other advantages by wearing tabbys. If he stepped gingerly from smooth rock to jagged, once the moisture dried there would be no trace of a trail.
Hopefully his marijuana patches stood unmolested 45 more minutes away. The rest of his dope-grower’s regalia consisted of an entrenching tool, a machete and rain gear. Tye wore an long-sleave, olive-green T-shirt along with camouflaged army trousers—topped off with a blue-wool, Boston Red Sox baseball cap. His pock-marked cheeks—covered by a thick, flowing, naturally-wavy beard with its chestnut flow was sprinkled here and there by stranges of gray.
Tye had been growing marijuana on Maui since he was eighteen—some time for a man who had recently turned forty. Back then he hardly shaved. In the old days way before anyone ever mentioned “Maui Wowie,” Tye planted his herb just about anywhere he desired as a squatting camper on the East side of the island.
Before the Seventies only those in the know paid homage to the unique, vibrant, green colored vegetation belonging to Maui’s special, sprouting buds.
By the Nineties the tides had changed. Adverse forces had mustered against growers. By 1993, most of the pot growers, especially the mountain men, were long-gone, run off or incarcerated. Well-organized police patrols searched for pot patches. Enormous amounts of federal funds had been allocated bolstering the local police department to fight and eradicate Hawaii’s drug cultivation.
All the publicity about Maui’s world-famous pot hadn’t helped. Helicopters provided by the Hawaii national guard were manned by the local vice-squad agents. They employed new-technological tools to seek out and find the most earnest of camouflaged patches.
Space-age, nitrogen-seeking devices detected oozing air-bound atmospheric heat that rose above the earth, because of fertilizers. Those devices honed in from as high as three-hundred feet. Also, roving bands of dangerous thugs scurried the jungles in search of unguarded patches, a money crop which lay naked without protection—money growing on trees.
With the street-market price of the yet to be smoked commodity spiraling, then commanding as much as $500 an ounce—pirating somebody else’s patch became a worthwhile endeavor. By 1993 the price of an ounce of the cultivated trimmed buds had sky rocketed and was valued more than the price of gold. Go figure.
Because of the times Tye had to trek deeper into the jungle and further up the mountain. During his tenure on Maui the art of growing magnificent pot had evolved from a novelty to a profit-making, cottage industry. By then the syndicate and sugar cane workers had gotten into the action. Things became out of hand. Post offices wreaked with the smell of marijuana. Soon enough, it was considered a despicable felony. If caught, indicted and tried, one could net twenty years inside the can.
The popularity of Hawaiian pot burgeoned along with the national debt, crime and the imbalance of trade during the boom-time Eighties.
The Reagan administration chose not to balance the budget or decrease the debt, but rather,it attempted to squash the cultivation of marijuana. The government enlisted the heavy-hand of the law . . . only after they changed the laws to their own liking.
The government employed other techniques: By granting immunity to caught small-time cultivators, then by cutting special deals for turning state’s evidence they parlayed those caught in the web into squealing witnesses. They orchestrated such while stamping out civil rights. They forced the issue and insisted upon delivering mandatory jail terms, sentences that cared less about the weighing out of justice, sentences so severe they trashed loyalties and melted away long-time working affiliations. The rulings were harsh. Prosecutions stripped away the protection of the constitution. The Government in bully fashion further checked the ability of the court to delve out wise, case-by-case decisions, decisions which could have been doled out by King Solomon-like judges.
Despite the forces rising up against him, in Tye’s mind, he owed everything to marijuana. In the old days he grew pakalolo openly, anywhere he preferred. Wisely he placed the profits on a small property and cultivated the money-making herb on his own land.
With the law changing he had to resort to take his crop out of sight and way-up the mountain. The facts: The government could legally confiscate one’s property for growing da-kine, and then auction the grower’s assets off to the highest bidder. Those aspects alone forced Tye Long to change his pot-growing methods.
With foresight he parlayed the revenues from his pot sales, investing them into a legal enterprise. After purchasing the land, he and his wife, Sheila, a partner of twenty years, farmed and operated a small papaya business.
By the late Eighties the Longs developed a reputation for producing the finest-grade papayas on the island. His orange-and-yellow, good-sized, juicy papayas were sought after by trendy restaurants and hotels in tourist-packed Kaanapali and Wailea.
Some of the finer health-food stores and gourmet markets throughout the state carried atop their produce shelves the Longs brand called: Nahiku Papayas.
Pot growing was no longer essential in order for Tye to earn a decent living. Never mind, in his view the cultivation of marijuana wasn’t a living but a way of life. Tye wasn’t religious but holy smoke elevated itself as his sacrament.
So for back up the Longs created a homestead and a legitimate business on that mighty-prime piece of real estate on the pristine east coast of Maui, a place called Nahiku. Six acres were planted on a special place where fertile soil, with the right nutriments, nestled in the right climate,along with the perfect amount of sun and soft rain produced the finest-grown items known to man.
He and Sheila built a comfortable, loving, island home surrounded by bushes of sweet-smelling gardenia and tuber rose. Coconut, banyan and wisteria trees checkered their estate. A couple of forever bent-over-at-the-neck, munching goats kept the grass trim.
There was a grown daughter named, Olivia, a brilliant bundle of loving energy who then attended Brown University in Rhode Island.
She and Wendy Miyasato attended grade school together. Some years before, when Olivia reached school age, the net proceeds from both pot and papayas covered the tab for her to attend the island’s exclusive, college, preparatory school Seabury Hall and further subsidized her onward to the Ivy League.
Tye saved money. Five years before, Sheila surprised them both, by presenting him with a son, named, Joshua. He was almost a content man.
The small devoted family was united once again with Olivia home for Christmas break. Within the confines of the close-knit family little was hidden, especially the many bags of marijuana laying about the kitchen as common as table sugar. Regardless, his daughter remained a straight-laced, honor student.
The bright, Ivy League coed understood how her father walked the line. “You have to be careful out in the jungle these days, Daddy,” she warned as he unwrapped his early, Christmas present, a pair of camouflaged trousers.
Tye instilled decency and respect and professed; as far as he was concerned he didn’t have to go along with what people said. As far back as she could remember dad said she was free to chose her own destiny. After a brief flirtation with drugs she chose to forgo from getting high.
Growing up and fraternizing with families, mostly made up with pot-smoking hippies, young Olivia sorted out her-own sense of right-and-wrong. She didn’t care for drugs but she refused to condemn them.
In her mind her father was a decent man who never abused, who provided plenty of love and sharing and who possessed a great sense of humor, plus she was afforded a full education. Concerned for her dad’s safety she purchased the camouflage pants as a Christmas present. .
Tye moved on—lamenting to himself about becoming old. It wasn’t easy being a jungle man. When young and spry climbing the mountain had been duck soup. He actually looked forward to the difficult parts back then. That morning he couldn’t remember the climb being tougher.
He splashed and trudged his way out of the stream bed and onto a wild-bore path running up the middle of a bamboo forest. Once inside the clump of bamboo it was almost as dark as night. Only traces of the above-blue sky could be scene through the cracks in the forest’s canopy. Bamboo shoots formed a sprouting jungle, them shooting straight up from roots clutching and dug into just a few inches of the jungle’s floor. Eash shoot was only inches apart. They caged Tye inside an eerie place! Hundreds-of-thousands of bamboo shoots jutted skyward. Each stem was six-to-seven inches in diameter. They sprung up to thirty-to-forty feet high non-stop without any lower branches. Inside a bamboo forest is similar to being in a temple of reverend greenery, only thing, it’s spooky, dark and dank with a moist carpet.
The demeanor off the pig trail appeared foreboding.
Tye always chose the harder route, deciding it be just as foreboding for others to scamper. His focus remained steady, to get through, and get out. The eerie quite was only interrupted by the wisp of the wind. He heard his heartbeat. His exhales sounded like a freight train. Besides the wisp of the above wind all remained still and quiet. Despite the countless trips the place still gave Tye a case of the willies.
A tinge of light permitted one to anticipate an opening ahead. A faint light set off a twilight in the jungle. The time, just past noon. Meaning beyond the bend, he’d be welcomed by sunshine.
He was close. His holy plants waited.
Same as on his papaya farm: Perfect climate, perfect location, perfect conditions and nature produces perfect pot. Yet, there’s a lot more to raising potent smoke rather than being some Johnny Appleseed and just plunking seeds into the ground.
If one wanted to cultivate da-kine killer pot one must use diligence and take the time to make it all it can be!
In the ‘70s and ‘80s kick-your-ass, lung-expansion, bubble-gum-smelling, skunky, sticky, green herb was widely sought after by pot-smoking connoisseurs. For a grower to supply da-kine buds, well manicured, taking on the form of contoured-miniature Christmas trees certain procedures needed to be carried out.
During the growing process a green-thumbed pot grower selectively rips away the turned-yellow leaves that at first identifies the male plants. The green ones left on the branch act as reflectors, spreading the bounced-off energy from the sun’s rays and radiates the buds. Then the bud man must make an effort to fertilize and to eventually produce, tight, dense, seedless buds.
Male plants sprouting up amongst the females need to be separated and cast away, at least far enough as not to be lured back by the females beckoning . . . and done so as-soon-as the male plants sex is determined. Tiny, fuzzy, baby testicles identify the plant’s sex.
Upon maturity and while separated from the male plants the primed female evolve to the highest degree of botanic estrus.
The denied one, after a series of transformations, will eventually produce a one-shot generation. For example the females exude an unequivocal passion, so much so the forced-into-chasity nymphs sprout pubic-like-white hairs. Further denied marijuana females, like simmering crock-pots, then sprout red hairs. After more denial a crystallized semen oozes and coats the deprived female’s hairy coat. The sticky properties permeates and glazes the entire plant. Those turned-colored hairs are chockful of staggering doses of THC, the chief chemical ingredient responsible for giving a toker an incredible buzz.
Oooh, baby, it’s sex and sex and sex and sex !
Marijuana is a very sexy plant. The long tedious process of bending stems in sync with the movement of the sun, then the separating, trimming, fertilizing, and those other pot-growing ablutions taking place many times over during the four-month ingestion period of which nature and the grower partake in are essential methods absolutely necessary to cultivate great pot.
During that instance Tye’s mission was to pluck the last of his October crop and then fertilize the soil for the forthcoming May’s planting.
Inside his butt pack he carried seeds, seeds from plants he cultivated during his last harvest when he permitted a sampling of males and females to mix amongst themselves. This trip he would plant them in small pots, add fertilizer, and get ‘em started.
With the help of mother nature he’d raise a healthy Winter crop, one he’d harvest in May, just enough for his personal stash which would last til the following September.
Tye moved to a clearing. He braked and removed his pack. The day was beautiful. After the ominous trek the clear-blue sky, along with an array of post-card vistas, was Tye’s welcome mat to the upper parts of paradise.
Puffy clouds in no particular hurry plopped on and cloaked part of the mountain. To his right a sea of green unraveled down hill only to be interrupted by the blue Pacific stretching out to who-knows-where.
He futzed around in his butt pack and fished out one of those film canisters. Tye removed the gray, plastic top and put the canister to his nose to smell its contents.
“Ah, the reason for taking long walks,” he said aloud.
Tye sat down gingerly still stiff from the walk.
Inside the film canister were buds—sweet-little clusters of buds. He sniffed them again taking pleasure that it was he who brought the little-green buggers into this world and soon enough it would be he, who was going to hand-roll one of them up inside one of his Modiano -brand papers.
Like a maven he ripped a slight edge off the glueless paper and crushed the aromatic bud between his thumb and finger into the other hand. He cleaned away stalks and residue and then convincingly rolled it up. With a flick of his Bic he began to make himself dinky-dow.
From where he had no idea, but right over him, in less than a-hundred-feet of thin-mountain air an awful-sounding, olive-green copter came screaming out of the sky!
Freaked out! Tye hopped to it. So did the copter.
As much as the copter unnerved Tye his own presence on the mountain shocked the flight crew. The Huey rolled radically to the right, trying as fast as possible to reverse itself and turn back to get another look at their new-found pork in the jungle.
Tye violently snatched up his pack and sprinted off; he bolted towards the bamboo forest. Tye had a hundred yards of open field before he’d be able disappear back into the bamboo. Gathering his thoughts while on the run, it was important not to lead them towards his patches despite them being camouflaged. If he were apprehended there would be severe repercussions. He’d prefer not to have the exposure by connecting him with what could turn out to be what some prosecutor would call incriminating evidence.
There were considerations, considering his family, negative feedback within the business community, so he ran like hell.
The constant roar of the copter broke the peace of the mountain. Its Pratt and Whitney engines bore down. They sounded angry. They could have been chanting, “We’ll, get you, Tye. We’ll, ruin your ass! We’ll, get you, Tye We’ll, get your ass! ”
He stretched out his middle-aged man’s legs. With each precarious leap and landing, pains shot up from the balls and heels of his feet. He had rickety shins. His unstable knees hurt too. The copter turned again as it continued bearing down.
He hadn’t gone fifty yards and he was plumb out of breath. He made animals noises while trying to grasp air. The insides of his mouth were bone dry and he was almost chocking as if his throat was filling with sand. He wanted to quit.
“Vice squad!… Vice squad!… Stop! We are ordering you to stop! Stop immediately!” The police bull horn blared. So powerful was the megaphone’s amplification it almost knocked Tye down. The bull-horn’s chilling tone shouted out with absolute authority a menacing and frightful sound it was potentially paralyzing. He almost stopped his tracks. While still on the run, a run that by then that had slowed to a routing stagger, Tye could hardly maintain his balance. He was petrified.
His maturity kicked in. He got a grip. “Fuck ‘em, they can run me down . . . I gotta make the jungle.”
The copter swept over again and the whoosh of its power had all the bushes around him doing a hula. Tye’s exposed skin felt the hot storm created by the twirling rotors. He’d dare not look back. Tye shielded his face as the enormous hideous might of the copter further beared down on him.
The copter swooped down so close during the next pass the magnitude of its power sent his bulk tumbling with him rolling, and creating a heap of dust. His right-kidney slammed into a slumbering rock. Something else hurt near his elbow—no time to check it out. He bled from somewhere. He wasn’t afforded time to inspect the damage . . . up and running again . . . the relentless copter orchestrated another hard turn and was spocking out a place to land.
By the time he reached the edge of the jungle—bad news. Another chopper joined the chase. While on the run, he moved in serpentine fashion inside the cover of the jungle. Out of the corner of his eye he viewed the other chopper landing about 200 yards away. After it landed, the distinct sound of the copter’s engine gearing down and the slower whirling of its blades tipped off Tye the chopper was dropping off para agents.
The jungle remained damp. Tye sensed its moistness on his skin as it mixed in with his scared-to-death perspiration. He had dirt in his eyes. He ached but right then the situation deemed it essential to get deeper into the jungle, seek out a hiding place and wait it out.
Tye pondered, he knew cops, they didn’t make it habit to beat the bushes, rustling up centipedes while looking for a sole, suspected, dope grower. Besides, the time of day was too close to lunch.
He came across thick foliage on the edge of ravine. It offered adequate protection and a chance to further scope out the archaic situation. Confident he couldn’t be detected by the air, Tye, stopped, looked, and listened.
If they came too close, an escape rout lay to his immediate right, which would have him scoot down the ravine and across a stream. If they persisted he could jump the falls into a pool below. If they still followed . . . Tye prayed to God or who ever that it wouldn’t come to that. He might have to go for it.
Tye burrowed himself inside the foliage. He laid still, despite the mosquitoes, listening to the one copter circle above while the sound of the landed one’s blades continued to slowly whirl.
Cops began to enter the jungle. Their persistence irked him and touched on his curiosity. The notion ran across his mind that maybe they were in search for an escaped convict?
“Why not fess up?”
That wasn’t the answer.
An hour lapsed, additional tingles of anxiousness rippled up and down Tye’s curled-up hulk.
“Christ,” he thought. “What’s the point?”
While he hid like an animal Tye reflected. He looked back on the circumstances responsible for thrusting him thus far.
* * *
He was born and raised far away, to the east, in Delaware, the third son with two younger sisters. He came from old money. The Longs were distant relatives of the Duponts, in Delaware, of the Dupont Chemical fame. In addition they were closely related to the Duponts in business. The family business: Long Synthetic, a firm that had ridden the coattails of the chemical giant providing his family with a fortune for years and up to the dawn of the Twenty-First Century.
His family’s name had a ring. A ring that echoed within certain aristocratic circles, a stodgier moniker that preached wealth and a so-called dignified heritage.
His father, uncles and brothers attended prestigious schools as most Longs had for generations. Dobson P. Long the IV, Tye’s father, attended the George School in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He was once a student of the famous author James Michener. Then his Dobson IV went on to attend The University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. Uncle Harry F. Long boarded at Choate in Connecticut and he then became a Princeton Tiger and room mate of a future Secretary of State. Then, Uncle Stephen attended The Boston Conservatory then dashed over the Charles River in order to achieve his degree at Harvard.
The sprinkling of male Longs throughout affluent society became a calculated grand tradition, a tradition contrived on purpose. It was Dobson P. Long I, Tye’s great, grand-father’s original idea, to send the boys off to network their surname and further mingle the Longs with offsprings belonging to other grand-named tycoons of the day.
Another tradition initiated by the aristocrat, a self-determined one, coined by old man Long himself as ‘The Right of the Long.’
Seems old Dobson’s boyhood hero had been George Washington. The, I cannot tell a lie thing implanted itself as a life-long impression and that sentence was the keystone for his Dobson I’s brainstorm.
Starting with his first son, Dobson P. Long II, and then along with his forthcoming sons, including those belonging to his younger subservient brothers–it became the senior Dobson’s mandate, that each-and-every worthy Long boy participate in ‘The Rite of the Long.’ . . . And by Jove, there’d never be any Long boy who wasn’t worthwhile enough to take ‘The Rite of the Long.’
Behind walls built of New Hampshire granite on the exquisite estate, a landmark of a structure estimated to be worth the most that big-time, industrial money could buy stood the stage for such a rite. . . a temple, especially outfitted for such a ceremony. Underneath the thatched, hand-fitted, cedar shingles and way deeper, deeper inside a holier-than-thou, marbleized vestibule . . . baby-faced, innocent, Long males took the solemn pledge.
The pledge, simple enough: “Never lie!”
Tye summed years later, about old-man Long, and actually blessed his manipulative, conniving methodology, and saw him as a one-of-a-kind icon who must have been a true master when it came to PR.
Just as the old man envisioned, the Long name would soon enough drip off the lips of well-connected people and the proper households throughout the established communities of Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania. Word spread: Long men never lie. The spread-word filtered into corporate board rooms.
It was perfect.
Of course, as year passed and events surfaced, the self-proclaimed inference became more of a window-dressing, a smoke screen, simply a guise. The pressures of Twentieth Century, the lust for power, and the never-ending greed for more leaned on the male members of the family, along with some other sticky issues that tested the Longs inner courage. When things became complicated and scruples came into play, and the deals became larger, and more was at stake, the ritzy, spoon-fed, Delawareans played ball.
Regardless they stilted their prestige and flaunted the image—so the Long Corporations felt compelled to pay others to conspire and lie for them. Money and power had long before corrupted the Long family to the extent of such that corrupts most monarchs.
Despite the hushed up conspiracies, the notorious scandals, the under-hand pay offs along with the willful poisoning of the environment—despite the messy divorces, the stealing of land, and the cheating of wages—the imperialistic Longs, perpetuated the lame tradition. The elders became a glowing mockery, laughable, figured out in no time by the next generation cropping up.
After well-scrubbed, well-mannered, just-out-of-diapers male-Longs’, sixth birthday the big ‘to-do’ came to be.
All the lineage gathered in their wealth and splendor and witnessed a Long child be enshrined as a made man.
In Tye’s instance, Dobson P. Long the IV, Tye’s father, on the day of his induction, abandoned some of the ceremonial aspects. While lightening the gravity he scoffed, “The papes have their kids take first-holy communion at seven . . . and the Jews have their sons Bar Mitzvah at thirteen . . . We Longs beat them both to the punch.”
Wilmington’s Press, displayed on its society page a beaming photo of Master Tye, him taking his oath on May 6th, 1958. Tye Long participated in the ritual, as had his older brothers, cousins and uncles. At six, there was no doubt inside Tye’s young mind, no Long boy before him ever lied. We should take into account that then young, Tye, believed whole hearted in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
By his second bite into the next twinkie that had been waiting for him out in his grandfather’s kitchen, the seriousness of the rite wore off. While his aunts and uncles drank their Scotch, he and his brothers and sisters and cousins ran wild while gobbling up ice cream and cake.
Tye’s early passion: Music, especially the guitar, especially, flamenco guitar. An appearing combination of Elvis and a nameless flamenco guitarist were both broadcast one night on the same Ed Sullivan Show. The one-two punch prompted his hands to pick up a guitar.
Through his own manipulation and coaxing, plus a steady persistent lobbying effort provided by his mother swayed his dad, persuading the image-conscious father to relent and permit him to attend New York City’s, Julliard School of Music back in 1967.
Tye’s initial impact on the prestigious school—he fitted in with the other freaks. He was Icabod Crane-like, with a frame best described as a bean pole. His skin was ravished with acne. The wire-rim style of glasses he had worn since sixth grade hung off his pointed nose—a bent, gaunt posture didn’t boost any machismo.
His older relatives had immersed themselves in varsity sports and then went on to excel in family business. After careers and civic achievement, most involved the later-part of their lives in public service, usually in Delaware. Long men served inside presidential-and-state government administrations and in a myriad of official capacities.
He may have been the first Long in three generations not to captain a sport’s team. He had summed without announcing to his parents he would be the first Long in four generations not to involve himself in the family-chemical business nor did he ever intend to work for the State of Delaware.
By 1968, Dobson P. Long the IV, had huge aspirations. He was chosen by Delaware’s Republican Party as the state’s gubernatorial standard bearer.
With the full backing of Dupont the then present-day patriarch revved his engines and planned a campaign to take he and his family to the Governor’s mansion in Dover.
So while Tye pursued music appreciation up in NYC., by practicing on his Spanish guitar his dad danced to the tune of Nixonites and the law and order crowd, back in the home state.
During evangelical-fueled campaign speeches, Dobson P. Long IV preached with fervor. Decent-type folks of the nation, he cried, must have felt humiliated and appalled by the scenes hooligans storming the streets of Chicago while trying to disrupt the Democratic Convention.
To the Long crowd’s dismay people from their community were burning draft cards. He stated that our Army ran amuck and the force didn’t have the will to win while attempting to preserve freedom in Southeast Asia.
Dobson P. Long IV was angry. He stumped toward every red-blooded American that they should be more-than-willing to serve and perhaps die to preserve freedom and the American way.
He never bothered to mention that no Long boy served in the military during war or peace.
As he spoke to $500 a plate dinners he struck fear and concern into the hearts of the cumber-bunned, conservative set with substantial means, who toyed at their chicken and peas. “Inside bigger and nastier states, such as neighboring Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland,” he brayed, “long hairs infested communities . . .” He further warned that what-he-called scum were popping up within the confines of their fine families. Scum were dating their daughters, scum using filthy language, scum were introducing their darlings to psychedelic drugs and having them listening to scum-bag, weird, far-out music. According Dobson P. Long IV, those types needed to be weeded out and weren’t fitting for the good people of Delaware.
He cried, “In the treacherous past when America has been threatened with pestilence . . . Industry has developed means to eradicate vermin and I have a hunch there is a vermin infestation in America today . . . I am such an eradicator. Elect me, and as, your, industry, and as your elected official . . .
“In America there is a Communist conspiracy nipping at the fabric of our great nation . . . ”
Julliard has always been an institution on the cutting edge of new-social behavior and liberal attitudes. Tye and his self-proclaimed sophisticated buddies were swept away with the impact of the Beatle Generation.
Forewarned by his father during that summer, about his hair getting a bit long, prompted his father to bark rather than explain how he was running for Governor and Master Tye had better tow the line or daddy Long would yank him out of Julliard. If he began to mimic some of the crazies his father observed hanging around the city campus he’d soon-enough find himself back in Wilmington.
Tye appeased his Draconian father by getting a fitting haircut and promising to be of no special problem especially when he returned to class that coming September.
As the times dictated Tye became introduced to pot. Soon thereafter he and his buddies were smoking joints in the dorm, primarily on weekends.
The aroma of burning marijuana wafted though the corridors of Julliard’s dorm. Tye and four other of his classmates were accused of smoking marijuana, a crucial moment, just one month before the November election.
* * *
Tye lay in the thick of the jungle retracing those events and when it was said and done those instances and events had washed him ashore in Hawaii in the first place and that was twenty-two years before.
With the oncoming darkness the mosquitoes came out. Tye shifted his position. His right hip experienced that pins-and-needles sensation. It had been some time since he heard the beating of bushes, still there had yet to be an all-clear signal, like the sound of helicopters taking off. He’d have to wait them out. He’d stay put for a long night. Tye delved further, thinking about his life, and he touched on events.
* * *
Back in ‘68, five, Julliard students were accused by an upper classman of smoking marijuana. Reported to Julliard’s principle, the aroma of marijuana had been permeating from Tye Long’s room. At first the accusation wasn’t taken seriously. Pot smoking had gone on at Julliard for years. With the advent of the times students were becoming more overt. A liberal attitude prevailed amongst the hipper echelon of students who eagerly attended school for music rather than an institution to test one’s convictions.
Once word leaked that the State of Delaware’s gubernatorial candidate’s son emerged as one of the suspected pot smokers a nosy press got wind of the situation and a stench rose and the events escalated to the next degree.
A hearing was in order in the principle’s office.
Tye invested considerable thought to the situation. He lay in his dorm’s room the night before contemplating his next move. He measured the proportions of his supposed crime and weighed the eventual repercussions. His Julliard cronies concocted a defense. They had decided to deepen the conspiracy and to stone wall the accusations.
The facts were: None of them had been caught first hand. That alone substantiated a defense. Accusations were strictly circumstantial. What about Zarita, the foreign exchange student from Pakistan, the sitar player across the hall? He cooked that curry stuff and burned incense. They’d proclaim in a one-for-all unison, the upper classman had to be mistaken and the aroma was not pot and he must have jumped to conclusions. Nobody was smoking pot.
Privately Tye thought things out from another slant. During his stay at Julliard he became captivated by the idea of pot and flabbergasted by the expansion of one’s mind while under its influence. He’d been warned about what people called the evil effects of the drug. He had been forced to watch “Reefer Madness.” As a music student he recalled how Gene Krupa, the famous drummer, had been ostracized for being caught smoking the drug.
His original logic before first becoming stoned, he couldn’t believe one could take a few puffs off of an itty-bitty cigarette and its smoke might have the slightest effect or that the drug could have had any capability whatsoever. Those assumptions alone tempted him.
After indulging for the first time he and his school chums became giddy . . . goofy. They became overwhelmed and mind-fucked themselves with illusions of, “wouldn’t it be neat,” or, “isn’t it amazing,” along with other harmless analogies. The buzz would be gone after a few hours with no apparent hang over like from the effects of alcohol. No violence. Nothing bad happened. No one grew a tail. (If he laid off it a couple of days he didn’t feel obliged to smoke more or feed a habit, therefore he didn’t feel he was becoming some sort of fiend.)
Tye saw marijuana a magnificent substance and not an evil thing. His teenage sense concluded our so-called leaders should be taking such stimulants rather than condemning them. He became a sold advocate, and if somebody had to step forward, he’d proudly become a standard barrier.
Remaining idealistic he decided not to lie but to be forthright and not bother to defend himself. Bearing in mind, about ‘The Rite of the Long,’ he wasn’t about to break his family’s vow over something as trite, benign and benevolent as smoking pot.
Such convictions proved for Tye Long as to be a huge mistake.
* * *
It wasn’t until after dark that the copters engines ignited and left. The time, too dark for Tye to trudge back down the mountain. At the crack of dawn he’d chance it, make it over to his patches then get out, and back to the sanctuary of his papaya farm.
He was well aware Sheila and Olivia would be concerned. They knew he sometimes camped by the patches yet he hadn’t camped out in the bush in a long time. The day before he guaranteed her different, promising to be home before dark.
Tye shuffled back to Long’s, Nahiku, Papaya Farm in the early afternoon. He softly explained his close call with the law. He played it down, left out the cat and mouse game and just said he played it safe by staying away and it was nothing, just stuff which went along with the territory.
“You have company in the yard,” expressed a relieved Sheila.
Sitting around a picnic table behind their house sat Phil Citrone and Maka Miyasato, a most unlikely duo, and another man, a man who Tye didn’t recognize.
Sheila stated the man was a house guest of Maka’s. His name was Warren.
Because Maka Miyasato had always been Tye’s good neighbor, when Tye hadn’t returned, Sheila felt compelled to call Maka.
Maka lived there all his life. He possessed knowledge of the mountain. In the years Sheila had never ventured up the mountain’s grade.
In Sheila and Tye’s view Maka presented himself as a worthwhile neighbor. His daughters Wendy and Sara Miyasato were best of friends with their Olivia. She and Olivia talked it over and decided if Tye hadn’t returned by noon somebody had to go up the mountain in search of him. Better it be Maka.
When it came to Tye’s cultivation of marijuana, Maka gandered in the other direction. Maka the farmer, respected farmers and couldn’t help but admire Tye’s growing techniques and had done so as far back as twenty years before when Tye held title as a road-side cultivator. Maka admired farming. Tye’s efforts were tedious, employing a no-short-cut methods of potent cultivation.
As stated years before, new laws persuaded Tye to shift his growing locations, shut down his home-grown operation and convert his fertile property into a papaya farm. Tye quit growing on the property. Out of respect for the Miyasatos Tye hadn’t grown pot anywhere in the vicinity for over ten years.
Maka breathed a sigh of relief when Tye transferred his plant-growing activities someplace else primarily because his daughters were growing up, at the same time he made the man’s occupation none of his business. Maka respected having the Longs as neighbors. In his opinion they had paid their dues and what may have endeared them closer to his Hawaiian heart, they respected the aina, and the culture of Hawaii. Maka and his small family enjoyed their company.
Maka had been waiting at the Long residence since morning. His house guest Warren Dearden had accompanied him. The other man at the picnic table was Phil Citrone, Phil recently showed up on spec. The eccentric millionaire, who lived on the other side of the island, stopped by the Long place to procure buds from Tye.
Sheila had spoken to Phil about Tye being missing. With concern Phil insisted upon staying and would have been willing to go up the mountain with Maka or summon help, or whatever. Sheila wouldn’t have it, aware of Phil’s failing health. He said he’d stay anyway.
Tye, all smiles entered the yard and joined the three other men at the picnic table.
“Jesus, Tye, you gave us a scare,” kidded Phil Citrone. “Where else, would I procure my stash?”
Tye eyed Maka sitting there and then the other man who he didn’t know, and he went on to respond, “Oh, have I told you, Phil, my neighbor, Maka here works for the DEA?”
“Did I commit a faux pas?”
Maka came to life and interjected, “Nah, nah, I know, nothing, brah.”
The men laughed. Tye warmly welcomed Warren to his place.
Tye brought them up-to-date doing so just above a whisper, as not to worry Sheila and Olivia. Tye talked of his close call.
“It’s just getting too weird, man. The forces are getting more awesome, leave it to the government.”
Sheila and Olivia brought out cold beer. Tye broke open some buds, He and Phil rolled up a fat joint. After a few tokes Phil became animated. After a few beers, Maka and Warren caught up.
Maka turned to Warren, to share with him some information about the pot grower Tye. “Eh, Warren! Dis brother wen’ know-how for-play one-sweet guitar, brah, and da buggah can sing some kine of sweet Hawaiian . . . So what, Tye, you like play?”
The bearded man, short on sleep, who spent the night in the damp jungle cowering from the cops, but once home-sweet-home and with the good company of Phil and Maka felt secure and relaxed and perhaps wanted to take the time in the form of song to count his blessings. With the help of a-couple-more beers and a doobie he enthusiastically headed for his house to retrieve his acoustic guitar.
Maka, excused himself also, to run back to his place and get his-own prized ukelele.
Tye returned with a fat-bottom job. He adjusted the strings and began to warm up.
“Oh, that Maka, here’s a man’s man . . . . he grows his taro on his own land . . . he works so hard . . .
Tye ceased his playing and singing and said, “How’s that, fellows?”
“Not bad, not bad,” cooed Phil, “but is it a real song or something you’re just making up?”
Tye, still adjusting the strings and doing some random picking, as to further fine tune the instrument, “Oh, sometimes I make up stuff on the spur of the moment. Just fucking around . . . I’ll tell you though, the words of the made-up song are true. That’s some man who’s coming back. I’d trust him with my family’s life. If I wanted anybody coming up the mountain after me it’d be Maka Miyasato. . .
“The man works, hard. Hey, I thought I worked hard, but, Maka, at his age, I mean, right now, today, he could still outwork me and probably be able to outwork me even when I was a young buck I’d bet and you’re looking at a non-stop, working motherfucker! . . Hey, Phil, ya think them buds of mine just grow on trees?”
Phil inhaled hits off the fat roach that laid dormant in the ash tray.
After a big hit he coughed and eked out in a high-pitch wheeze, “Mighty potent herb my friend . . . Yeah, your neighbor there, Maka, I like him; as you said, just one look I can tell he’s a good man.”
Tye turned his attention towards Warren. “What about you, Warren, have you known Maka for a long time?”
“Actually I met his daughter, while I visited UMASS. She’s the connection.“
“Wendy! Sweet kid, I love Wendy. She and my daughter Olivia were class mates and are best of friends.”
“Wendy mentioned her to me back in Massachusetts. I think it’s fabulous she attends Brown.”
“She’s made us proud of her.”
Phil interjected, “Is Wendy the fabulous-looking Hawaiian girl who I’ve seen paling around with Olivia? . . Oh, she’s sensational! Too bad I have to come around here for my boo . . . then, to think, with her dad and all, I don’t think I’d want any Makas leaning on my ass. Besides with my health, I’m better off. . . ”
“You’ve been sick, Phil?” inquired Warren.
“Yeah, getting old, I suppose. Well, actually, it’s a long story.”
Tye began strumming his instrument as if to break off the conversation and Maka walked back into the yard with a smile with his ukelele under his arm and a tray full of poke, (seasoned cut-up, raw fish) and, opii, (Hawaiian mussels).
During the course of the afternoon Warren and Phil were treated to some top-notch guitar and ukelele playing.
Two men: Both products of diverse distant origins sat in Tye Long’s backyard. They played and sung their hearts out delivering a medley of Hawaiian favorites and as Maka forecast when it came to the singing parts, Tye sung and belted out the lyrics as if he was native to the islands. His enunciation of multi-syllabled Hawaiian lyrics were with-out flaw.
Maka strummed “like hell,” and produced the distinct, tinny sounds coming from his small instrument. His energy was huge. He gleefully sat with the keepsake teak-wood ukelele held tight to his chest. He sported the friendliest of smiles and closed his eyes, raised his head slightly, then swayed from side to side with the island-style rhythms. When Maka’s cue came to sing,he did so classically and spirited. He appeared religious, more reverent than religious.
Warren studied the Hawaiian man who farmed taro and who raised two-fine daughters on his own. Oh, he certainly took on the look of a hard worker.
Back when he returned home to retrieve his instrument, Tye said he’d be at it on his farm, six to seven days a week, especially since the girls left, home, from first light to sun down taking only short-breaks for light lunches.
The music brought forth such a liveliness, a liveliness hardly witnessed by most men anyplace. On Maka’s head rested a tattered straw hat. From the waist down in swim trunks the taro-farmer’s legs were extended muscular thighs and below were a pair of bronzed calves. If one hadn’t looked into the face or the top of his head one might think those piston-like calves belonged to an athletic teenager. His feet were slipped into rubber slippers. While he played the heal and ankle of his left foot lifted upward from the instep towards the heel and the movement of the foot timed itself to the beat of the music.
Tye himself played flawless guitar, unplugged, precise, and his left-hand’s fingers tap danced along the instrument’s neck as if on ever so familiar turf.
The two played in sync. Tye then did a hot solo, a solo that could have had geriatrics rocking in an old folks home.
The songs ran the gamut.
I want to go back to my little grass shack in, Kealakekua, Hawaii . . . I want to be with all the kanes and wahines that I used to know . . . I can hear the old guitars playing on the beach at ho-o-nau-nau . . . I can hear the old Hawaiians saying, “Ko-mo-mai-no- ka-u-a i-ka hale wekahao.”
It won’t be long ‘til the day my ship will be sailing back to, Ko-na, . . . A grand old place that’s always fair to see. (You’re telling me.) . . . I’m just a little Hawaiian and a homesick island boy, I want to go back to my little grass shack in, Kealakekua, Hawaii. where the hu-mu-hu-muku-nu-ku-a-pu-a-a, goes swimming by . . . Where the hu-mu-hu-muku-nu-ku-a-pu-a-a, goes swimming by . . . gonna get myself a little brown girl in ole Hawaii, and put her in a little grass shack with the humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua’a . . .
“Whew!” rang up from Phil and Warren.
Phil said, “Wow, that was a hot number!”
Then further on . . . from the larynxes of both men came a deluge of the sweetest of melodies Warren’s ears had ever heard. They sang about other Hawaiian islands and other precious, sacred spots throughout the island chain.
Maka could flux his voice into a high soprano when singing a song about limu, Hawaiian seaweed, sounding more like a woman than a strong proud farmer. That guy on TV, the one who goes around to visit the rich and famous? Why brothers and sisters . . . he ain’t seen nothing.
Sheila and Olivia, hearing the music came out of the house barefoot, they joined in. Mother and daughter in unison, danced an authentic hula, swaying their womanly hips while their feet did a close-quartered rumba, and their arms and their hands gracefully moved in other directions yet it all tied in.
Young Josh on the other hand, why his movements were more in line with the tunes from the John Phillips Sousa era, totally out of beat as he marched around, stomping his feet like a soldier, wearing a cap with a stick in his hand.
The men took break and continued to share beers. Maka began to speak. “Eh, you ever wen’ see that show on TV, da-kine ,The Odd Couple?”
The men nodded and said, “Sure.”
Maka, continued. “One time, brah, I wen’ watch dis guy, Roy Clark. He wen’ make one-special appearance on that show. Brah, he wen’ crack me up. Anyways, I figgah, he one country-and-western singer. He used to be on watchamacallit . . . Hullabalu . . . someting like dat. I wen’ tell, you, that PAGE \* Arabic 234buggah play one-mean guitar.
“On dis one show, he wen’ surprised me brah!
“Da guy wen’ play one-Spanish song, Malaguinna, or someting like dat. It like noting I nevvah wen’ hear before. That hillbilly—I know he one-good guitar player—I nevvah know he wen’ play dat-kine music. It stay awesome!”
Almost on cue, Tye began to pick at his guitar.
He possessed in his repertoire, his own rendition of Malaguinna . Everybody, including Josh, sat spellbound as Tye played the intricate chords and delivered the astounding sounds made up the Spanish classic. When finished, all broke out in applause.
The group spent most of the afternoon doing much the same. The goings on were therapeutic for Phil, who made a yeoman’s effort to stilt his poor health. For Maka the singing eased his concern and disappointment, concerning the non-return of his Wendy. For Sheila and Olivia, their family was united again. Tye felt marvelous, especially after escaping the dragnet up on the mountain. And Warren enjoyed having an opportunity to observe culture and family, far, far from his own roots.
The moon was full and Warren decided to take an after-dinner walk in order to take a night-time look at the mountain and sea. He strolled on past the blooming gardenia whose white flowers brilliantly reflected the lunar light. Out on the roadway while on higher ground he’d have a better chance to have a panoramic view of the nightscape.
Tye Long was also out and about taking his own-evening walk seeking solitude too admire the nightshade. Both men ran into each other.
“I can’t get over how beautiful it all is,” marveled Warren, after receiving a neighborly aloha from the bearded man. “And imagine, it’s December.”
“That’s right,” affirmed Tye, “‘Geez, think of it, 93’s almost gone and 94’s about to begin. Why my Josh makes six this coming year.”
Warren flashed on his own thoughts shelving Tye’s sentiments for the moment. He’d been on the road almost ten years and the sights of those glorious vistas such as that evening’s beckoned his senses and reminded him someday he might wither a bit and become too fragile and fatigued from the travel. The thoughts of passing years substantiated that some day he’d have to settle down. Sights such as Maui soothed his weary eyes, still sad eyes that hadn’t sparkled much in ten years.
With what had been the usual, a lingering longing crept back into his psyche, doing so before he could focus back on what Tye said, regarding his son, Josh.
Warren took stock: 10 years without the sight of Kim: 25-years since he looked into those blue eyes belonging to Holly.
Breaking his spell, “I’m able to see why you’ve settled in a place such as this. I mean, my eyes and nostrils can’t help but being stimulated!”
“Yeah, that’s the same way I felt when I first washed up in Hawaii. I suppose I’ve been fortunate to have found it in the first place. Sheila says, when you arrive in the islands it’s like your whole body is receiving little moist kisses, it’s the air, there’s no place like it. It’s funny, funny how things turn out sometimes, like in my case, you know . . . turning a negative into a positive.”
Both men with hands in pockets strolled the path and admired the essence. Tye and Warren then began an evening’s-worth of conversation. Tye whipped out one of his miniature Christmas trees, a special one he’d been saving for perhaps such an occasion.
Tye, for Warren’s benefit, spilled out the accounts about one-time being a music student and how his father ran for governor and especially what it PAGE \* Arabic 236meant to subscribe to the ‘Rite of The Long.’
Tye began to answer questions, questions which may have built up in Warren’s mind. “So how does a conservative candidate’s son, who only speaks the truth, go from an aspiring music student to become a renegade pakalolo grower way out in the jungles of Hawaii?”
Tye reflected how when he chose to admit in front of the principal, in so many words, how he smoked pot and how he thought it be foolish to tell a fat lie.
He chucked, while sharing with Warren, how he must have been naive fool and then Tye filled in the blanks with circumstances, a confession which set roots between the men and a certain belief in one another began to galvanize.
He said, “You know living with the cushy world, and looking back at a prep-scholars life, one of which I once thrived in . . . why, Warren, in a night and a day it all exploded, . . . . the ridiculous experience scattered and broke me into so-many pieces, so-much-so my life could never have been patch-worked back together again.
“After the press got wind of my stand, I was expelled. Four, prick attorneys and two quack doctors rushed up to New York from Wilmington. I trembled with fear hearing that my father freaked—he panicked big time—precipitating my getting-caught—those actions by me could have a negative effect on the election.
“ . . . With power-of-attorney; they were supposedly from the Long Corporation. I couldn’t understand . . . why wouldn’t anyone . . . my mother . . . my brothers or any of my favorite uncles, why hadn’t any of them come to my aid?
“I was forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital in Pennsylvania. My family didn’t bother to contact me. Nevertheless to save face my folks were quoted in the press that they loved me and that they had me tenderly placed in the best of care . . Shit man! I was cooped up in a loony bin, doped up, while under strong medication and the phone was off limits.”
* * *
Tye painted the sordid picture of a sixteen-year old ostracized by his own. Later-to-come trauma brought on addition flack sunk Tye’s and placed his life into what he perceived as an irreversible tail spin; “Dear old dad lost the election . . . suffered a nervous breakdown . . . and blew his brains out by Christmas of ‘68.”
Tye wasn’t permitted to attend the funeral. Family members cast a ‘grata non-persona’ spell on his spirit. He was loathed.
When he turned 18 he checked himself out, didn’t look back, and entered a different world. ‘Difficult at first.’ he said, yet he was free.
* * *
Warren felt compelled to interrupt during a pause!
He recalled for Tye how in all actuality he had worked on his father’s gubernatorial campaign when he worked in New York! They both shook their heads with amazement and mouthed almost in unison, “Imagine! . . after all those years!”
The way Warren remembered the fiasco, Tye’s father’s run for governor appeared as hopeless and that Dobson Long IV was a beat horse before he got out of the gate.
“If anything,” Warren lipped, “the marijuana incident heightened Long’s popularity.”
Tye took over the conversation and told Warren it was a defining moment with him electing to embrace a marijuana lifestyle, plus vowing to become adamant when it came to telling the truth and swore to do so with a renewed conviction and instead of leaning the other way, to continue to embrace the value and merit belonging to The Rite of the Long.
In addition Tye educated himself regarding the cultivation of marijuana. He drafted himself into a corps and a dedicated mission to cultivate Maui Buds. Right then they were the best known buds in the entire world. Pioneering growers such as he wrote the book when it came to “High Times.”
The old days on Maui found lone-rangers growing stony pot without recognition, no threat from adverse forces and the non-disturbed, roadside gardens paid off. A pot growers existence had him living out of a bed roll, staying with other pot heads, usually sleeping on a floor or out back in a deserted shed. He pitched a tent, if lucky, he’s share a house.
The silver lining . . .with absolute poverty came a fellowship, mere acquaintances grew faster than the buds and their sentiments lassoed on to one another. What emerged, became a brotherhood. He met Sheila. His life turned around.
Young and sweet the calm girl arrived on Maui with similar conditions as Tye’s. She, a product of proper schooling and a sense of household, raised in Napa, California. She too was caught smoking pot. The consequences surrounding Sheila’s situation weren’t as circus-like or austere, yet she wasn’t spared the ostracism from her family. They fell in love and married. He professed and guaranteed perpetual love to her back in the hippie days.
In front of Warren, without reservations, Tye said he still felt the same . . . and mentioned how they’d be married twenty years come March.
* * *
By the mid-’70s, he was pulling down as much as $90,000. The IRS received none. Sheila’s radar foresaw what might be the future. Her hunch: The high times could quickly come to an end. She convinced Tye to place part of the pot profits on the piece of property next to the Miyasatos.
Smart thinking. At first, he raised his crop on the new property, but the changing tides of the law, and then thankfully his growing tactics and demand for papayas had further success coming their way, but gradually. Pot growing would have to take place elsewhere—up high in the mountainous jungle.
With hard work by 1980 Tye earned $30,000 a year growing papaya. By 1993 the Longs were lining their pockets with almost $100,000 per year and Tye still harvested a pakalolo crop, much smaller though, his private stash and a bit more for old-time customers. The price of pot had gone from $75 an ounce back in 1970, to a dizzying, pocket-emptying $500 an ounce by 1993.
The federales chased off most of the original mountain men, hardly anyone took the risks growing the herb on their own property, fearing a conviction could lead to confiscation.
* * *
Both men after their moon-light stroll wound up in Tye’s, neat, quaint, Hawaiian kitchen. They’d have coffee. Sheila was present, so were Olivia and Joshua.
Sheila could have been described as an Earth mother to the umpteenth degree, friendly, genuine and sincere. The daughter Olivia posed as a beautiful, bright, full-of-life, caring daughter. Joshua P. Long, bounced about as a hilarious card, a precocious trickster and noise maker one who amusingly caught Warren’s astute ear. The kid trudged around the kitchen, proclaiming himself as the mightiest “ power ranger.” Pretending, aping, and speaking funny, using a who-knows-from-where, a deep and contrived voice.
Two cups of Kona coffee sat on the blue-plaid, palaka- woven, table cloth. Tye continued his story:
* * *
In Warren’s view Tye was a unique specimen, frightfully honest. Warren could tell! Tye never bothered to change up nor did he alter the tone of his voice or the order of his story while joining the others when returning from the outside.
When Tye came within earshot of family they could hear and understand every word being said. Warren recalled to himself while in the company of others and normally whenever the wife or the kids, or whoever came within range the tone of the primary conversationalist sometimes shifted. Yet, inside the Long household Tye’s stated facts, his tone or memberance of a cast of characters never altered an iota. Warren reckoned when in the Long household it had always been that way.
Tye’s clear, brown eyes blazed with root-beer honesty. They matched his pocked and righteous face and those eyes complimented his long honest beard, pure lookers they were that co-signed for a scrupulous demeanor. Over a time they had never wavered from the bright eyes of an idealist, those of clarity, wisdom and objectivity. If those brown peepers didn’t sell, for back up stood an array of family portraits lovingly decorating the top of the TV, while other photos sat atop the fireplace’s mantle. The man, his eyes, his voice, along with the poses on the faces his happy family hummed an honest sentiment throughout the kitchen. Those were testaments stamped inside the Long family brochure. His wife and kids beamed—Abe Lincoln didn’t have a thing on the man.
Tye leaned back hard on his wooden, kitchen chair, balancing himself on the chair’s back legs. He rocked! He talked. He rocked!
Ooh, that Tye Long let it fly! . .
“You see, Warren, we have a good life here. . . I’m a fortunate man. . . I’ve looked back into the time capsule trying to remember what it was like back when I was a little, rich boy. It’s hard to do with the passing of time, but back then I probably considered people without means as clods, beneath me. . . thank God I’ve shed that pompous bullshit . . . and thank God or whoever I lost everything only to become worthless . . . so with that part out of the way I’ve been able to eventually become a wealthy-wealthy man . . .
“Looking back or maybe forward, by now an older, high-society jerk-off would have probably sold out and been well on their way to the road to misery . . . or, I could have been a corporate robot, a Mercedes-driving, country-club, burn out—that’s if I were back in Delaware! . .
“Who knows what would have happened? I read the newspapers and get news from time to time. . .
“Both of my brothers have been divorced; I should say sued for divorce, only after their wives caught them cheating. Two of my first cousins have been indited, one’s convicted.
“The acquitted one prevailed on a legal technicality paid-for by the best defense money can buy. The convicted one, lost of a lot of nice people’s money when he slivered down the drain during the savings and loan scandals.
“So, you, see, I’ve been lucky. I own my home free and clear, and I have a family, a good family, a damn good one and more important, I’m not PAGE \* Arabic 242corrupted by by the opulence like the nasty addiction that’s infested the so-called, illustrious, Long family of Delaware. . .
“I’m sure, my brothers and cousins yearn for something more. They certainly lack from personally-gained satisfaction of carving out one’s own livelihood. The poor sons-of-bitches make no decisions, they’re basically do-nothings, deadweights stuck on some bullshit corporate board, knowing they’re in line for nothing except cashing in the monthly handout from upstairs in the form of a fat check. None of them have tried to set out on their own! So when I make comparisons here, why I’m almost a content man.
“So my friend you see I owe my entire existence to marijuana. If I weren’t caught smoking I may have never escaped. I washed up ashore and its provided me with a livelihood, built this house, and sends my daughter off to college. And, my man, I can’t begin to tell you how the smoking of “boo” has kept my head together. . . ”
* * *
When it was Warren’s turn to speak he expressed ambivalent feelings towards marijuana, never understanding all the fuss. He wondered aloud about alcohol and the awful effects chronicled by its devastating properties and how on fact alone booze was more damaging than the smoking of grass.
He shared with Tye the tender memories, of evenings spent with Ornament Accordian. He spoke fondly of his old friend Ornament and he spoke about ole, arrow-head’s tragedy, his turn around, and his triumphant comeback.
Tye listened attentively and belly laughed and got a pot grower’s kick about the idea of the arrow, said with sincerity that he sensed a link and then stated further . . . “The man has heart!”
With the talk of his ole buddy Warren would have relished sharing one of those potent Hawaiian buds with Ornament, then he recalled how Ornament saw Hawaii as such a turn-off. If possible he’d ship him a sample anyway and remain mysterious about the origin of his gift and fib saying it hailed from Tahiti or someplace else rather than Hawaii.
“Imagine, Warren, there were 400,000, pot smokers at Woodstock, and not one fist fight. . . Could you see 400,000, Scotch drinkers together round the clock and drinking for 4 straight days? They’d have to send in the Marines.
“They’re testing everybody. What if I had to get a job? Who they should be testing are the cops, the judges, airplane pilots and doctors.
“Another thing! . . . Ask my daughter, now she’s a Brown girl, ask her if pot has a negative effect on me?”
PAGE \* Arabic 244Overhearing her father’s statement Olivia’s eyes smiled, then rolled a bit. They sort of ‘sure-sure daddied,’ while maintaining a doubting subtleness. Then she teased, “Oh, since we’re being so honest, daddy! Have ya told, Warren, how when you’re stoned, you have the hots for that Lynn Russel, on Headline News.”
A working-in-the-kitchen Sheila’s ears perked up. She came to life. Sheila smiled, perhaps at the sell out by Sheila, or perhaps the nature of things envisioning pot-bellied Tye putting the make on the TV anchor woman. Good-natured like she tightened her eyes, waved a finger and mouthed a, ‘If-I ever-catch-you’ with a wink.
“What?” Tye barked at Sheila, then turned to Warren. “She’d be happy for me for Christ’s sake! Ooh, I bet Lynn Russel has a great pair of legs! That’s OK, Warren, I can’t get in trouble, you see, we have this thing around here. . .
“I’m permitted to fixate my lust on one woman that’s other than my dear wife . . . But she can’t be from around here and my dear, Sheila, here has been gracious enough to allow me to do so vicariously.
“Before my Lynnie, I had the hots real bad for Jessica Lange. . .
“Sheila plays along . . . Don’t ya honey? . . Believe it or not she has her own heart throb. You’ll never guess who? . . It’s not Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise . . .You’re not gonna believe your ears, she’s got it for George Seifort! Ya know, the guy in sunglasses, the head coach of the San Francisco 49er’s! She actually thinks he’s a stud!”
Sheila stuck her tongue out and then dead-panned, “Tye, honey, I still think you’re a stud!”
“OK! . . OK! Let me finish my point. . . . She’ll tell ya, and so will she.” Tye nodded toward Olivia for substantiation.
“I’ve smoked pot everyday for over twenty years. My brain’s fine. I’m able to remember a lot more than these kids today, even the college ones. I’ll tell ya, I’m still able to kick their butts in Trivia Pursuit and til this day, I’m still can rattle off every capitol for every state in the union . . . Go ahead, try me?”
A few beats passed as if Warren had decided to pass up on the challenge.
Tye looked as if was ready for a challenge but Warren seemed as if he wasn’t up for it.
“That’s OK Tye, I believe you.”
“C’mon! Try me! . . I’ll show you! . . I’m no mush head you know! C’mon!”
“You better appease him,” warned Sheila, as if she had witnessed similar scenarios before. “Tye used to be able to write down all fifty states, in alphabetical order, including their capitols, doing it in as little as fifteen minutes. For years he had a standing fifty-dollar bet with anybody up for the challenge.”
Tye retook the reigns of the conversation. “Tell him. Remember, Olivia, honey? Remember how your dad took ‘em at Charlies Bar.”
“C’mon Warren try me.”
What the heck!
“OK, I’ll humor, you, if you insist . . . Ok . . . How ‘bout, Delaware?”
“Oh! What-a-fucking wise guy! . . Dover! . . . C’mon! . . You know damn-right well, that-that-one was a gimmie! C’mon, my man! Give me a tougher one! Just one toughie and I’ll leave ya alone; I promise!”
Warren reached back, “OK! . . . Let’s see! . . Hmm . . . How ‘bout, Kentucky?”
“Oh, boy, the-guy’s-getting-pretty-tough . . . pretty-tough, I must say . . . da-da, Frankfurt!”
Wearing a smile that said this is a little silly and I’m not that competitive, Warren complimented Tye’s geographical diligence. He did have his own story to tell about state capitols. “I’ll tell you something, Tyler P. Long. You might be surprised to know, but while aboard this ship, when I got real lonely I’d sit on my bunk and study that map, thinking that maybe I’d might be on Jeopardy some day. I’m not sure if I’d be able to rattle them off today, but I memorized the capitals once myself.”
Tye smiled at the nexus. “Yeah, I know just what you’re talking about! I’d like to take a shot at that Alex Trebek guy myself . . .”
Tye peered towards his family, “Hey gang! This fellow Warren is OK. . .” Then back to Warren, “I’m able to see why Maka has you as a house guest . . .
“Hey, Warren, lets smoke another joint. And how about another cup of coffee gang? . . . And how ‘bout some of my daughters world-famous, peanut-butter cookies? C’mon, Sheila be a sport! How ‘bout rolling us up a joint . . . get out the board, Olivia! How about some hard-nosed, smashed-face Trivia Pursuit? What will it be? . . Warren, Josh and I, against you two gals!”
* * *
Warren spent a quality evening with the small family. He didn’t return to Maka’s til 3:00 a.m. Sheila, Olivia and Josh were in bed by 11:00. Tye kept Warren awhile. He wanted to know more about the letter-writing thing.
* * *
“You see Warren, I’ve never desired anything from them. And the best part . . . I don’t need anything from them. Those aspects make it sweeter. Between you and I, I feel more successful. At least I’ve earned mine. Oh, sure it hasn’t been conventional but at the same time it’s been enterprising.”
Leaning close, “Now enterprising! . . . That’s something them bastards back in my family are hopefully able to appreciate . . . Why, enterprising minds are what all the Longs have supposedly been blessed with. I’ll tell you, if any of them had the courage and belief in the system that I do, they could have done the exact same thing as me. But no, they’re still clinging to the family’s coattails. None of them has done anything on their own.
“You see, I’m not from outside the system. Oh, at one time I was . . sure I was . . . I was the rebel! The one who defied laws. Yet at the same time I do follow laws. laws of logic. I follow laws of nature. I embrace the laws of the heart along with my own sense of logic. I’ve been fortunate never forced to lie, not to-one-single human being and especially to no one sleeping under the roof of this here house. That’s a lot more than most of my relatives are able to say!
“Of course, I can’t go around confessing things, especially because of what I do . . . and I have been known to avoid answering pertinent questions, it only makes common sense. I mean, why rock the boat. . .
“A truth sayer isn’t necessarily a confessor. Hey, there’s a certain mystic about being coy . . . but outright lying . . . never. I’ve learned my lesson, long ago.
“Still though, I have one bug up my ass and that’s what I want to talk with you about. You see Sheila surprised me over five years ago, and blessed me with the birth of Joshua. Don’t get me wrong! I felt plenty blessed with Olivia, especially the way she’s turned out, but they say every man secretly desires a son.”
“Do you have any children?”
Warren nodded, no.
“Sorry, anyway, for the two of us, especially at our age, especially now, when times are easier . . . well, its been a blast having Josh. You’ve seen him, he’s fun. As I’ve already said, Josh will be six next year. And as strange as it may seem to you, what I believe in is my right . . . Because, if anybody in the entire world or at least, inside the high-to-do Long family . . . if anyone has lived up to old Dodson, P’s ‘Rite of the Long’ . . . its been me.
“I’d say my Josh deserves the right to take that ‘Rite,’ and we both deserve to call for some sort of Long-family quorum, a coming to terms so to speak!
“Only thing how do I break the ice? I probably couldn’t get through to speak to one of my brothers but I suspect they’re such pompous asses they probably would wonder who Tye Long was on the other end of the receiver.
Tye inched himself towards Warren as to command his attention.
“Warren, back at Julliard, I just didn’t tell the truth to uphold what I mistakenly thought was a strict-family tradition, a tradition seen today in the light of modern-man’s logic as a total sham, a publicity stunt, a set-up for lame assholes. I told the truth because it felt good! ‘The truth will set you free.’ Isn’t that was us suckers have been professing for years?
“But you know what Warren? . . . What is the truth? As far as I can see, and after trying for years to figure it the fuck out—we are the truth! This family! My family, right here, in Hawaii, represents the truth! We live the truth! It’s not a problem for us and I can only wish my son the same.
“So while we been sitting here . . . Maybe you might want to try and help? So maybe with this letter-writing thing of your’s, maybe one of these letters could be written on my behalf. Maybe you’ll be able to put my words down on paper, ‘cause this May, I’d like to return to Delaware and have my son Josh take that oath!
“You know what else? My loving wife Sheila who’s a beautiful, articulate, kind person, well I want her to stand amongst the other Long women and give them a first-hand opportunity to meet Tyler P. Long’s long-time wife and for them to be properly introduced to my daughter Olivia, and for all to see that they’re both vibrant and alive, a product of true love and honesty . . . and I wish to be visibly present to get my due.
“There’s something in it for them! Long men should observe that we Longs do have spunk in our veins and an inert will to survive, along with the Long drive to prevail if put to the test. Perhaps I can offer a lesson, a schooling that states even if our riches are taken away. . . there’s more to life than enormous wealth and power. And then why do I really wanna go back . . . I probably just want to see the look on the sons-of-bitches faces!”
Warren took a short sigh, slapped his hands on his knees, indicating he had to leave and get some sleep. Before he rose he stared down at the open bag of marijuana. “Say Tye, let me ask you something, how much you charge for an ounce of those buds?”
* * *
After easy research, finding names and addresses from a cooperative Long cousin, twelve, identical registered letters were penned and mailed.
That forthcoming May would find Tyler P. Long, standing proudly, decked out in a suit and tie next to and while sponsoring Joshua into the ‘Rite.’
The once exiled one had come home. Young Josh took the old oath. Tye stood tall and proud.
In turn, Joshua stole the show, bending over his uncles and cousins with laughter after displaying an fabulous wit speaking in island pidgin.
Tye was presented with a substantial check made up of old trust money. The money would be spent cautiously. Some would go to home and land improvements, a few luxury items, Josh’s schooling and some foundations close to Sheila, Olivia’s and Tye’s heart. NORMAL (Nation Organization to reform marijuana laws) received a good-sized amount. And Sheila mingled. Her new-found, in-laws were extra curious about Hawaii and their lifestyle. Olivia met with her cousins, and discussed college and her upcoming-marketing career. In no time she’d be promised, if she so wished, a junior-executive’s position inside the public-relations wing of Long Synthetics.
Inside her head, she was saying, “I don’t think so . . ”
The once exiled Longs returned to Hawaii full-fledge members of the aristocratic family. Maybe more important they decidedly made the rest of the Longs, back on the Mainland, members of their family.
During their initial meeting at the Long spread Phil Citrone invited Warren to stop by his place when-and-if the time arose. Said he’d be willing to show him a bit of Maui. With no one hanging around the Miyasato residence, with Maka working on his taro patch. . . in turn, Tye stayed busy with papayas.
Warren was a man with no-set schedule. Survival funds were always a priority as usual. He’d scouted the island in his rented Volkswagen Thing.
He set up a calling number with a local-answering service and tacked up notices. While on Phil Citrone’s side of the island he gave him a ring.
Phil’s previous invite seemed sincere and when Phil answered and heard Warren’s voice the sincerity hadn’t wilted.
The directions were simple. After driving up the driveway, the one bordered with iron-wood trees, Gallagher greeted him at the villa’s entrance.
Citrone’s cement-tile home—impressive.
The house was tastefully decorated. Once inside Warren noticed the knickknacks and keepsakes set on glass shelves. There hung an eclectic collection of art. He recognized the name of Andrew Wyeth, a landscape showing a blonde-haired woman sitting by a red barn and she was surrounded by stacks of hay. The far wall was made up of a full-length bookshelf.
Volumes leaned upon one another, some dealing with finance: Galbraith’s; Money and one authored by Peter Lynch. There were a line up of other stock-market guides. Running the literary gamut, a shelf of Edna Ferber, Ayn Rand and Mary Renault.
The furniture: high-glossed, antique, mostly wood. While walking through the dining room with the high-beamed ceiling, Warren admired the oak side-board and the sturdy hutch with a matching table.
Inside the hutch glistened crammed with an assortment of crystal and china. Warren scanned items through the glass doors. He recognized Dalton Originals and a colorful collection painted Boehm’s ceramic birds. Czechoslovakian crystal beamed. The furniture pieces were massive and grounded, held up by carved, ornate, Dunk-and-Fife feet. They stood firm, like proud-wooden sentries on a slippery-looking polished, Spanish-tiled-floor.
Gallagher led Warren towards a stately room graced with soft-looking, maroon-leather furniture. The room leased out more room to book shelves. He further scanned the titles and authors, such as Jerzey Kisinski, Bucowski, Dickens, Hemingway and Henry Miller. Gallagher offered Warren something refreshing. Warren looked over a Hawaiian paperback written by an obscure writer named, Lou Christine. The cover was interesting, depicting a dramatic scene of a Hawaiian volcano blowing its top.
Citrone showed, dressed in a tank top and bathing trunks. The man didn’t look well. Sheila filled in Warren about Phil’s illness. It became apparent how his affliction was taking its toll. Despite the dreary prognosis, Phil acted enthused about Warren’s visit.
“Warren, I’m glad you called, I’m going to be taking a drive over to Lahaina and have some lunch, then I have to go Upcountry. You, my friend, just might be the worthwhile company I hoped for. Would you like to tag along?”
“Sure, if anything to tack up a few notices, perhaps you’ll be able to clue me in which locations might be best.”
“Oh, the letter-writing stuff, sure . . . sure . . . I’d be glad to. You have to tell me more about this letter-writing hobby of yours.”
“Actually, Phil, it’s a living.”
“That’s right, a living . . . fascinating.”
Both men entered Citrone’s Porche, sped down the drive-way and off for a Maui adventure.
Shortly Warren would be able to attest that traveling with the rogue Phil, must have always been an adventure. Regardless of the man’s failing health he still clutched onto a certain zest for life. With an audience such as Warren his spirits rose.
Gray poupon! A doobie was dangling off of his lips within seconds. Phil said he chose Maui as his home-base for the past seventeen years. He acquired serious money, first in real-estate, then by brainstorming, setting into motion a myriad of avant garde enterprises.
Avant garde! . . . Outrageous, would be a more appropriate term.
Warren on the most part had kept out of the mainstream of enterprise for the past 10 years. He didn’t watch much TV, plus, he hardly read the newspapers. He hadn’t kept up on trends, not like when he was a young advertising executive.
Phil explained his scams. Warren at first fathomed why this Phil guy had to be putting him on as Phil described his businesses and the methods of his efforts which helped bolster the man’s staggering fortune.
Yet Phil remained straight faced, well Phil never remained totally straight and he presented to Warren in verbose fashion his body of work, doing so with dashing humor.
* * *
The man originally hailed from Santa Barbara, California—from an upper, middle-class family. He stated that his father earned a good living as a road contractor. He traveled back east for his formal education at Cornell where he majored in hotel and restaurant management. Once graduated, when back home, he said he bummed around, sold some advertising, hustled insurance and then branched out on his own.
Back then California boomed. He hooked up with another maverick, a high-roller named, Beaumont, and together they gobbled up bunches of what-seemed-like worthless desert outside Palm Springs. He scored his mother load and got out.
According to Phil it wasn’t until then, that in all earnest, did the real fortune-spinning begin. Citrone fantasized and set his sights on owning and operating a theme restaurant.
Once, while in Washington D.C. on business he said he dinned at a particular, four-star restaurant where the waiters sported roller skates. He saw it as a gas. He wondered about the place with the roller skating waiters and promised himself, if ever given the chance, he desired to take that particular theme a few-thousand steps further.
He named his eatery, Walkers.
He was precise while explaining to Warren about the exact make up of his restaurants; he explained in detail about the out-front sign and the company’s themed logo.
“You know, we had ‘em, that’s the signs, manufactured as illuminated script made up of large-white, plastic letters spelling out Walkers. . . . Only thing, right behind, and above the “R,” like the spot where one would place an apostrophe, there’s a drawing showing a walker . . . not the kind old people use to be a pains-in-the-ass, slow pokes while blocking the aisles of airplanes.
“Ever see a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, you know, the Scotch? You know there’s a picture of a character on the bottle’s label. On my sign I’ve taken that particular character and expanded have that caricature somewhat.
“He’s strutting forward and there’s a tray’s held high over his head. Well anyways. There’s an image just like that between the “R,” and the “S.”
“I opened the first one is San Fran. I figured, it’s a cosmopolitan place where people appreciate sumptuous food and of course it’s a place that has always appreciated the touch of the unusual.
“Here take a hit of this shit will ya, you’re making me feel like a fiend . . . which I really am.” Phil laughed his ass off at the thought for a moment. Warren obligingly took a hit.
“So now when you go into one of my joints ya see, you got walkers, serving the food not waiters . . . Say, you sure you never patronized one of my joints? Christ, they’re famous and we’re all over the place?”
Warren looked down, “Sorry, Phil, I don’t believe I have, but go on, perhaps further mention will ring a bell.”
“Anyhows, here’s the sitchyation. Another reason I went to Frisco . . . ‘cause I figure they got some pretty-good dance students there. I’ll get to that part in a minute. So I bird-dog for locations, maybe one sitchyated right near the city’s best dance school. Like I say, when you step into a Walkers, we don’t employ waiters, ‘cause instead we got “walkers.”
“Still with me? That’s the difference: Our wait peoples’ title speaks for itself. Only thing . . . now follow me, coming smack down from the second-floor kitchen, right in the middle of the restaurant, now we’re talking about good-sized joints here, at least 5000 sq. feet. . . well anyway, there, coming down are these ramps from the upstairs kitchen. They’re long-wooden walkways, each about a good yard-and-a-half wide and they’re three-feet high off the floor and at the center of the restaurant, they all branch out and head into ten different directions and they’re spaced out evenly, extending all the way out onto the serving floor like an octopus’ tentacles. There are ten extensions, rather than eight on an octopus though.
“Not only are they walkways, on their outer fringes are set sitting spaces, spaces with stools which act as place settings, you know the seats where the diners are served once they eat. We have a place setting every, let’s say 36 inches or so. So the diner sits right up to the wooden walkway, the way you do at a counter.
“My idea about dancing school now comes into play. I want to hire these dance kids, so to work the floor, and since these dance kids have all kinds of body control and grace, and hopefully some originality, I give ‘em carte blanche to do their thing, ya know, to show their stuff, and I’ve personally encouraged each walker to show case a distinct creative walk, that’s while they’re serving customers dinners.
“The reason I got ‘em up on the walkway, ‘cause while they’re doing their thing I don’t want any drunks bumping into them. All I need is somebody getting burnt with a sizzling flambeau.
“I’m telling ya, overnight the whole fucking thing’s a sensation. I mean the place is packed. Everybody loves it. The clientele ate it up. The food is tasty, and on top of that, to our delight, what we could clearly hear being said around the joint were customers saying,‘Walker, could you get me, this, or walker, could you get me, that.’ That’s plus sales, add ons, other entries and the only reason they are ordering more stuff is so they’re able to further dig-on the gaits of these talented kids.
“You should see the kids, Warren. They’re amazing. Some of them goose step, others glide, some prance or frolic, doing god-damned moon-dances and James Brown shit . . . rarely does any of them drop anything. And if they do, who cares?
“Remember, I only open ‘em up where there’s a first-rate school for the performing arts. If you get a chance, go see for yourself—go the next time you’re on the Mainland. Call me. Don’t worry about it, everything’s on me, bring who you like. I’d have one here on Maui, if they had a dance school.
“Warren, the kids love it, they’re making fantastic tips, it’s a real-fucking show. At last count there’s 62 Walkers established from coast to coast.
“ I’ve done some other shit too. Once the restaurants got rolling big time I had already settled out here in Hawaii. So while watching plenty of TV, I notice the whole-fuckin country’s crazy about fat.
“Everything today has to be fat free. Weight reducing is big business, Warren. So while I’m living out here in Hawaii. Well I’m the type of guy who notices things. I’m curious, the same way I’m curious about you, and your letter-writing thing. We’ll hafta talk about that later.
“Anyways, so I notice Filipino people, I’m telling ya, they eat starch and fatty meats, and sugar, and the buggers never seem to get fat. They’re petite and straight up-and-down on the most part. I take notice, and because of my investigative techniques, I come up with an angle.
“Ya see, I notice the ones who speak exclusively in Illicano are the least likely to gain weight. I’ve spent a lot of time walking around Ooka’s, that’s a grocery store which caters to Filipinos in Wailuku, I’m not bullshitting, I’ve checked these people out! At first I had to drum up some conversations. Filipino’s are friendly enough, it wasn’t hard. So, as I say, it seemed the ones who didn’t speak English didn’t gain weight. They stay as skinny as a rail for Christ’s sake, no matter what they eat. But the others, the ones who begin to master English, well my friend, my not-so-scientific study discovers those types start to pick up substantial weight.
“So, here’s what I do. Just to see—I send for a few broads from the Mainland, ones I know from the joints—ones I’m familiar with who are kinda chunky. At the same time, I have this long-time gardener, he’s from the Philippines, and he’s got a cousin who’s recently immigrated to the U.S., a school teacher no less, from Manila, and of course the cousin needs a job. So, I make a deal with my gardener and I hire the school-teacher cousin, and I hire him to teach these three chubby, girl friends of mine how to start speaking in Illicano.
“Now, here’s my deal with the broads. I’ll give ‘em each $1500 a week. I let them hang out at the pool . . . shop til they drop, whatevers. Only thing is they gotta start learning the Illicano dialect. Lessons are three hours a day and once they start the lessons that’s all I want them to speak.
“If they start slipping up they’re out of here. I got Gallagher monitoring them. I mean, they’re good-girls, nice kids, motivated, and what the fuck, they’re living in Hawaii and making decent dough while painting their nails and sunning themselves around my place. Well, low-and-behold, Warren, after about three months, I mean the weight starts melting off. I mean, I’m starting to get turned on, ya know having the broads hanging around my pool. They started to dig on themselves. Their bathing suits got skimpier and skimpier. At first I was a little worried, concerned my buddies would begin showing up, spreading the word around the island, that Phil Citrone’s gone overboard for fat chicks. I’m telling you, Warren, I figured I’m on to something here. Now we’re keeping track of everything, we start weighing the girls everyday. Hey they’re eating like queens, but they’re dropping weight while constantly conversing in Illicano.
“So, I hire this fat specialist from Stanford, fly him in, give ‘m 30K to do a fat study. I mean, this Stanford guy is blown away. He says he can’t figure it the fuck out. Only thing he’s able to figure, that speaking in an Illicano dialect in likelihood, well, it probably vibrates the larynx in such a way that somehow, well, maybe miraculously, who the fuck cares . . .the vibration of the vocal chords speeds up the god-damned metabolism and shit, just like that, the weight drops off.
“According to him, after studying the girls chromosomes, they have metabolisms equal to those of skinny-assed marathon runners or fucking water-polo players!
“So you know what I do? First I put the Manila school teacher under contract. Then I sign up the specialist to a long termer. I recruited about 75, light-weight, Filipino teachers and like gangbusters, I start opening weight-loss salons all over the country. Hey, Warren, today we’re mammoth. You should have seen the first week we’re open.
“We named ‘em “Yackitoffs,” catchy huh. Of course we gotta open our initial location on Rodeo Drive. I mean, where else? Lord have mercy, ya got teams of these fat broads all piling in. Ya know, with bee-hive hair dos, and sporting gold-lamet slippers on pig feet . . . best part of all they’re paying $300 bucks to sign up for Filipino-language lessons. Christ, they’re like choir girls, standing in class and up front you got this five-foot-tall, Filipino teacher, real serious like and he’s chanting the enunciations belonging to the Filipino alphabet‘beeding, beedung, beedang,’ and each and every student is repeating—‘beeding, beedung, beedang,’ like some god-damned mantra. I can still see and hear the little fellah‘beedong, beeding, beedanging.’
“I would have taken the course myself in the old days, but I don’t need to lose any more weight. Hey, don’t laugh, last year Yackitoffs did 157 million. Hey that’s talking turkey. Or should I say, that’s talking Illicano.
Warren hadn’t budged nor had he said a word during both dissertations He sat spellbound.
* * *
“Doggie Delight,” now that’s turning out to be a good one too. You know people are scared with crime and all, especially in the cities. So they buy a dog, especially if they live alone. Plus pets are decent company. So we figure: a guy or gal gets home from work, they’re beat and their asses are dragging and right away the dog starts to act up, begins bitching, wants to do three things: eat, go for a walk and take a dump.
“So we figure, why not set up dog-eating places, strategically locate them, like, you know, near downtown parks or squares where there are large congregations of dogs on leaches. This way the poor sap who owns the dog doesn’t have to worry about stopping on the way home to buy dog food. We have these doggie stands set up for them, no muss no fuss. We’re open from 3:30 p.m. til 8:30. p.m. Shit, for 50-to-75 cents, that’s half-a-buck for the little guys, 75 cents mutts like Great Danes . . . But, dig it, Tuesdays, there’s all they’re able to eat for a buck . . . What do we do? We give ‘em a dog-gone doggie delight. That’s what we call the franchises Doggie Delight.
“Everybody’s happy, there’s no mess around the house or apartment. The animal got its exercise. Hey there’s a social aspect too, like places to meet other pet owners too. You should see some of the broads who own dogs. You’d like to be on the other end of the leach. Of course we gotta have rules and have to post signs, ya know, like, no fighting or ass sniffing, ya know, that kind of stuff. They’ve taken off. Ever hear of them?”
Warren felt lost, he stated he was sorry to say, he never had heard of Doggie Delight, or the Filipino-talking weight-reducing clinics called Yackitoffs, or Walkers, for that matter.
“C’mon, Warren, where the fuck you been, China?
“We were thinking about some cat-eating places called, Meow Now, but forget the god-damned cats. They can’t be accounted for. We tried a prototype—stray ones showed up and mooched in, pissed around the area . . . and talk about fights. One of my main guys wound up with claw marks all over. The pooches are much more controllable. The cats are more like broads, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry, Phil, I don’t know how to break this to you, and I’m sure, if you say these places exist, I believe you, it’s just——”
“Hey, you’ve heard of,“Hey Louie?”
“Hey, Louie? . . .” Warren’s face still drew a blank.
“Yeah, you know, Hey, Louie! Hey, Louie! . . . downtown parking, no muss no fuss, Louie’s the man you can trust.”
“Can’t say I have.”
“Next fucking thing, you’ll tell me, you don’t know what-fucking-sign you are.”
“Oh, I know that. I’m an Aquarius. An on top of that, I was born the Year of the Rooster.”
“Yeah, well that’s just fucking peachy keen.” Phil pasted a forlorn look on his face.
“You been to New York, San Fran, Miami . . . How ‘bout Boston, Chicago, Philly . . . L.A., Houston, Honolulu, or any of the other 35-or-so major-downtown areas in the United States of America and all of its fuckin’ territories in the past 8-fuckin’ years?”
Warren, who was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable. “I think so.”
“You ever drive?”
“Well, there you have it! If you drove downtown youda heard of Hey, Louie. Like I say, Hey, Louie, . . . no muss . . . no fuss . . Louie’s the man you can trust.”
“You see, I got the restaurants going and the weight-reduction clinics, and Doggie Delight, and when I used to visit those places, I usually can’t find a parking place, that’s probably because most of my joints are in center city, you know, where there’s traffic. That’s the name of the game, Warren, location, location, location. You pay big bucks to be where the traffic is.
“I don’t like to fuck around, but one of the holes-in-my-own-donut is illegal parking. I can’t help it. If there’s a weakness, well there’s lots of them, but the one that has given me grief is due to where I park.
“Fire hydrants, school-crossing zones, I just don’t give a fuck. I mean, who says only the handicapped should get the best, god-damned, parking spots?
“Anyhows, after I get a couple of dozen rentals towed away and rack up a couple of ten-or-so thousand dollars in parking fines, along with the bullshit . . . Look, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a fuck, my accountants pay the fines. And usually I could give a shit if I return to my parking spot from some meeting and the rental’s gone—I just grab a cab and leave the tin can.
“Anyways, my people start coming to me, and they start saying that my illegal-parking is beginning to create problems, problems not looking good for the company’s image.’
“Look, I don’t permit anyone chauffeur me. I like to do my own driving. I don’t like to depend on anyone. But at the same time, down deep I’m a company man, Warren, doing company things. I might be a jerk off but when it comes to my companies, I’m as serious as the telephone operator. So I figure . . .”
Phil relight the roach sitting in the ash-tray. He flashed Warren a teasing wink of the eye.
“You’ll love this one. I do a study. Yeah, I’m back to studies.
“Let’s say you go to any downtown area around the country. We’re talking before the notion of Hey, Louie. First of all, to park your car downtown, anywhere near where you hafta wind up is a pain in the ass. There’s those signs everywhere, saying, ‘No this’ and ‘No that . . .’ Christ, it’s impossible. So lets say it’s raining, it’s dark, it’s a bad neighborhood, you’re with a broad, fact is you have to be careful where you park these days—you have to consider, if you come out of joint and it’s two in the morning and you’ve caught a buzz . . . Who wants to deal with the riffraff?
“So, what’s a parking ticket, $35, $45, $55 . . . depends, right? You might be willing to take that risk but worse, what if the bastards tow you away. Then you’re looking at a buck, a buck-twenty-five, a buck-thirty-five, hey, maybe even a buck-seventy-five, maybe, even two-hundred, plus the aggravation.
“Well anyways, me and my top people get together. Where do we figure to go first? Gotta be the place that’s the most congested and the most expensive to park . . Manhattan, right? I figure Times Square is prime.
“First thing I do—start making deals, deals on property five and six blocks away, off the beaten path, far from the main thoroughfare. I start making deals with guys who own parking lots and guys . . . (I’m talking volume here) I start looking up guys who own barren fields and lots, not that there’s many ‘round Manhattan, but theres spots. I start making deals over on 11th Avenue; I make deals with the city, for space under overpasses and hi-ways. I get a sweetheart deal, Warren, or it’s no deal. I fence them up and put in lights and security.
“Then, I buy a couple of trams, ya know, the kind they use to ferry people around Disneyland. I place want ads in The Times, The Post and Daily News. I even placed adds over in Jersey. I start hiring guys. There’s a certain criteria the applicant must fit. They gotta be able to be bonded. They hafta to be somewhat clean cut. We insure them, give them training, plus a distinct outfit, topped off with a plaid vest that looks good and can be worn in both winter and summer. I also have ‘em wear special I.D., ya know, picture, serial number . . . all that stuff. And then I flood the Times Square district with Louies.
“So picture this. You and your wife, and lets say another couple, want to drive into the city, lets say, from out on the island. You figure you’ll have dinner, maybe go to the show. Let’s say you dine at Walkers, it’s off 57th and Broadway. So you park near the restaurant. You know what parking cost in that neighborhood, even if it’s only for a few hours? Why, it can set you back $25, plus the tip. But the show’s on 52nd, and you’re parked in a garage on 57th, ‘cause you weren’t about to get a nearby spot, one right next to the curb. So after dinner you guys might decide to hoof it down to 52nd street. But what if the weather stinks? What if it’s late when ya gotta return? Who wants to duke it out with a couple of night fighters who could prey on your skinny ass? Plus, don’t forget, you got the old-lady with, ya and the other guy’s broad. Whatevers . . .
“After we settled Manhattan, mama mia, why today we got Louies running around Chicago’s loop, Collins boulevard in Miami Beach. In Hollywood, we’re set up around Sunset and Vine, and we’re back in New York with another location down around Wall Street . . . you got the picture, name a hot spot we got Louies handling the parking action. My people are negotiating a deal as we speak in Europe, around London’s, Piccadilly Circus! Imagine that.
“So figure for yourself, wouldn’t it be a lot easier to pull up in a six-or-seven, square block area. Get out of the car, close to where you’re going and holler at the top of your lungs, “Hey, Louie!” One of my guys comes running up and takes your car off to be secure.
“Whenever you’re finished your business theres a slew of Louies cruising the blocks on foot, more than yellow, taxi cabs combing Manhattan.
“All ya hafta do is hand over the stub. That stub identifies which Hey, Louie parking facility your car is being stored at. The new guy takes a new-customer’s car to that very lot, where your’s is stored, or he hitches a ride on one of our constantly-circulating trams—remember the trams, Warren?
“Well, the new Hey, Louie guy retrieves and conveniently returns the car to you in no time, safe and sound. Ya can go back into the restaurant and have an espresso. The fee for such door-to-door service matches the market’s municipality fine for illegal parking. Hey, it’s worth it. And the downtown merchants and the city governments love us.
“We’re bringing people back downtown at all hours. People don’t have to worry about parking anymore or returning to their cars in bad weather, or having to lug heavy packages for blocks at a time or getting their asses kicked in the middle of the night.
“People leave the guys good-sized tips just like Walkers, plus they get a decent percentage from the take. Warren, I’m absolutely flabbergasted you never heard of Hey, Louie. Everybody in the world I thought knew about Hey, Louie. I mean, we’ve been written up. We’re on CNN. Saturday Night Live even did a parody about us a couple of weeks ago.
“Say, Warren, you’re in for a treat, ‘cause up here in Lahaina, you’re going to see Hey, Louie in action. We recently began servicing Front Street. It won’t be a fair judgment, ‘cause everybody knows who I am, and they’ll be kissing my ass and all. Big shit, you know, the founder of Hey, Louie .”
* * *
Sure enough, as Phil predicted, a guy in a plaid vest came running up and the name Louie was on his name tag. Both men ate lunch at Longhi’s, a popular Maui establishment by its own right.
“Have some more pasta, Warren. Hmm, that’s what I like about this place. They don’t use any short cuts nor do they chintz. I hate to admit it, the food here might be better than Walkers. Now, let me ask you, what’s with this letter-writing stuff?”
Warren was still making some attempt to absorb the ideas stemming from the whacky-sounding, eccentric nest of enterprises doled out by Phil, during the ride over.
* * *
Warren’s thoughts shifted from the talk of business and turned towards that of a personal nature, in regards to the vibrant man sitting across from him. He marveled. Warren couldn’t conceive himself contributing anything unique towards the conversation. At Phil’s insistence Warren pieced together scattered parts of his life for the asking, with Phil permitting him to color in the rest.
At the same time compassion stirred Warren, seeing up close how such devastation was destroying such a dynamo. Yet those gleaming eyes blazed with the life still very-much aflame. After providing Phil with a condensed version of his beginnings and his letter-writing livelihood, Warren sat back.
“Fascinating, Warren! What a scam! I’m almost able to see a god-damned letter-writing kiosk in every mall in the country. . . . like little fucking confessionals. You say you were in advertising. I like that. What would you say was your most-significant contribution in that area?”
“Well, I’ve told, you, just about everything.
“C’mon, Warren, there must be at least one significant hunk of pizzazz you’ve added to our culture . . . Think back.”
“There is one thing . . . oh, it might have had a small impact.
“You ever scan over wrist watch ads such as Boliva and Timex? Mr. McGee and I must have taken hundreds of photographs of Bolivas and Timexes, with the watches hands fixed in every conceivable configuration.
“We studied the positions of the dials. We came to the conclusion, the most-effective angle was for the hands to be set in such a way.
“Nine-minutes past ten, that’s what we came up with! . . . Mr McGee insisted that, that spread-eagle configuration was full-bodied. For years there has been a perpetual vision of Mr. McGee planted in my mind—him standing with arms stretched out, pantomiming, that nine-past ten look.
“I agreed with my contemporary. Yet you have to understand that both Boliva and Timex were clients. They each wanted us to come up with a distinct image. We allocated Boliva ‘the nine-after-ten look,’ and then set Timex’s ads, big-hand between the ten and the eleven, little hand approaching the two. Timex then held claim to the other side of the watch’s face.
“The two watch companies were satisfied. The entire industry picked up on the ‘nine-after-ten display.’ Even watches with digital faces, why, their ads either in print or on TV still showcase our original configuration.”
Warren turned his head somewhat, as if he was thinking to himself. “I guess I do still pay some attention. Anyway, I suppose that’s part of my stamp on time.”
Phil swallowed down the last of his ice tea and broke out in an approving smile, “I love it. Imagine, that.” Phil was peering down at the watch on his own wrist.
A smiling Louie delivered Phil’s Porche. Phil tipped him a twenty. They began the second leg of their trek back across the island and headed Upcountry.
At the Haleakala fruit stand, Warren tacked up a notice, a notice Leroy Perierra would eventually pick up on.
It was late when they returned to Phil’s villa. “Say, why don’t you stay over. I’ve got 6 bedrooms here and I live alone. Take your pick. No need to go around those hair-pin curves back to Nahiku in the dark. Go back in the morning.”
With Warren’s accommodations settled, both men stayed up a bit. Warren seemed to ignite a certain energy in Phil. Phil smoked more joints and then spoke of himself, this time in a personal nature.
“You know I’m dying, Warren. This AIDs thing is going to take me out. It’s amazing, I’ve seen some of the best guys in the world, and for the life of me, and with all I got, in the form of dough, I’m helpless.
“I’ve been thinking about your letter-writing thing, and I got a letter I want you to write. I want you to write a letter to my mother, Natalie, only thing there’s a twist. You see, my mother’s been dead for over 57 years. She died eight days after I was born. Just one of those things I suppose. I was raised by my aunt and my grandmother. My dad was always off paving some road. Anyways, all these years I haven’t given the very woman,who’s primarily responsible for my existence much thought. It’s probably not fair but I’ve been self centered. I never experienced any sort remorse, or any sense of loss, probably because I was too young when she died. I suppose psychologically, there’s scar tissue but I never let it get me down.
“Now, today, my concerns are: when I show up and have to jump through the hoops for St. Peter he just might want to grill me a little. So I figure there’s a chance I might get past those pearly gates and all, ‘cause when it’s said and done I haven’t been all that bad. Oh, I banged a lot of broads but I never did anybody any harm. As a matter of fact since I’ve been afflicted, I’ve remained celibate. I’ve just like surrounding myself with pretty girls. I couldn’t trust condoms. God forbid if I hurt somebody.
“Let’s just say, my worst sin is, I’ve been a simpleton. One who’s been lucky to have made a couple of bucks. But I have this tinge of guilt, especially about never taking the time to talk or pray to my mother. Even back when I was a kid, I never prayed to her. Its been as if she never was, and Christ, she’s the one responsible!
“Right now I’d like to break the ice somewhat, so maybe the both of us might be able to develop some sort of a rapport, and maybe, just maybe, she’ll whisper something into St. Peter’s ear and tell him I’m not such a bad fellow. But more than that, I want to ready her, ready her for me. I also want to apologize. Will you be able to do that for me, Warren? Do you think you’ll be able to pen one of those letters of your’s—one to my mom? I’ll give ya a thousand?”
…Warren was somewhat in awe. The man, if what he said was true, why he was worth millions, an icon with tremendous foresight! Warren couldn’t fathom providing the man with anything tangible, “Do you think, I’m the man for the job?”
“I think, you’re god-damned picture perfect. You have a talent, my man. You know what I’m talking about. I understood from the first moment I laid my eyes on you that there would come a moment when you’d be of some help to me, and when I found out about the writing stuff, well . . .”
“So, Phil where would I mail such a letter?”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. You can send it to Heaven, if you like, that’s if you know Heaven’s address. Right now I’d prefer you just write it. Then, I’m sure she’ll get it somehow.
“Oh, you don’t even hafta mail it. She’ll still get it; she’s probably getting it right now. But I may as well stay consistent to the end, I’ve always been a stickler for paper work and I figure if ya have anything important to say ya should have everything written down. When you’ve finished composing the piece just drop it off down at St. Theresa’s. I’ll give you a couple of hundred to put into an envelope. Drop it in the poor box and light a candle. They’ll know how to make use of it.”
Tenderly, Warren provided Phil the entire run down about what it takes for him to compose a letter. Phil agreed to every term.
Warren spent a couple of days a week hanging with Phil. Over time he discovered a richness, more than he being an irreverent, enterprising, rogue who may have smoked too much pot. He found a dynamic trail blazer full of life and despite his date with destiny he projected a soul full of promise. The world would certainly lose somebody special, who if given the chance, could have possibly parlayed such a talent to better use for all of mankind.
It’s been a long time. So long, I can’t remember that last instant when we were together. I can’t for the best of me recall your image for that matter, sorry. Of course I know you understand. And I have gandered at picture but only a few. Your sudden, tragic death and the sad fact that you were taken away from me when I was just eight-days old was an inauspicious start in itself. As much as it was a beginning for me it was the end for, you—you were so young— only 26.
For what I always perceived as cruel reasons we were taken away from each other during what was supposed to be a precious and private time, those bonding moments reserved for infant and mother. Both of us were deprived of a mother-son relationship. I have to say over the years I have wondered, and I’ve wondered plenty. I’ve wondered about you. I’ve wondered about the sound of your voice, a voice I can’t recall, and I’ve wondered what it would have been like to be hugged, cuddled and rocked to sleep in your motherly arms. I’ve had to rely solely on the memories, memories belonging to others, so to find out about the type of person you were. Grandma and aunt Dinny portrayed you as a wonderful, loving person. They called you a saint. Too bad I never had the opportunity to find out about you first hand.
I should tell you, despite the fact grandma and aunt Dinny did what they could, their attempt at motherhood wasn’t the real-McCoy, still they offered plenty of love and a good upbringing. Because they too are gone now, hopefully you are all together wherever that might be.
I’ve reached the age of 57, mommy, and I’ve come to wonder if there is a hereafter and the feasibility we might finally meet. I’m writing this letter to you to break the ice so-to-speak and melt away the distanc so our initial encounter might not be too awkward. Of course, in reality, I don’t know what to expect, if anything.
Mother, you left behind a loving legacy. The family, neighbors and nuns at school praised you to the high heavens. At the same time I’ve moved on with my life and have to say, with the hustle and bustle I never gave you much thought since my childhood other than the wondering. Looking back I like to think I turned out OK. On the other hand I’ve had my own crisis’, but they’ve been character builders. You probably know I have four children and you have two, neat, great-grandsons, both of them who I hope you’ll be proud of. You realize they are neat people because of the sterling attributes they possess have been passed on by you.
My time is drawing near. If there’s a chance you can lay some groundwork for my arrival by telling grandma and aunt Dinny, I look forward to the time when we can all be together again and maybe this time we will be able to get a decent chance to be a united family again and have an opportunity for more than an abbreviated lifetime.
Mother, thank you for giving yourself and nurturing me, and let me say one thing which perhaps should go unsaid, your sacrifice stands as the ultimate and it’s only now I’ve come to realize its magnitude.
Your Loving Son
It wasn’t everyday Warren penned letters to the dead. Don’t forget, Warren wrote the letter for Ornament’s squad. After listening out Phil’s story, Warren’s enthusiasm for the project heightened. Then, Phil would have said, ‘business was business.’
Phil’s mother passed on because of an undetected blood clot. The life-taking embolism stirred and shot from her leg through her veins and blocked the life-support of arteries piped to her heart. Ironically, the attack came while she recuperated in the maternity ward, eight days after baby Phil’s birth.
Phil spit out how his father had all but abandoned him, ‘cause the panderer was married to another woman with a needy family of his own. Phil said he never met him, and as time passed he lost his desire for such an introduction.
The story about his father being a road contractor was true, but from afar. A saving grace, his father provided set-aside money for Phil’s education. On the surface Phil embellished a sensational father-son relationship. It was a lie.
As stated in the letter a grandmother and aunt picked him up at the hospital. Both co-raised young Phil as their own. Their effort traveled beyond the adequate terms, yet in Phil’s eyes the stand-in parents weren’t what he yearned. Being both, motherless and fatherless left scars. From the get-go Phil experienced the glaring differences setting him apart from other kids. Because of the inauspicious start he felt as if cast into a unenviable role, perceiving himself as an outcast.
Phil grew up, married and as if operating from high-wire he led a productive life. After puberty and a taste of success, rarely did he dwell on his squalid beginnings. It’s been stated in this story Phil suffered from AIDS, and the prognosis forecast that the end was near.
Doctor Fletcher at the Rochester Clinic solemnly predicted he probably wouldn’t last another year. There was nothing he could do. The blood transfusion after the car accident, thought to have saved his life, but instead the designed life-saving technique stood as his demise.
* * *
Warren grew to affectionately care for the likes of Phil.
His affections rose for the man and for the spirits belonging to other known Stirling men; “those who are the salt of the Earth” types such as Warren’s dad, and Mr. McGee, Jack Stolberg and Jeff Beckworth, a worthy valiant stock you could go with to the proverbial wall and like those such as, Ornament. How could one measure such a diversity like the powers springing from enormous encouragers such as, Mr. Hao or true-spirited Hawaiians, the likes of Maka Miyasato and righteous men such as, Tye Long, and even the gritty, passionate, sometime-nincompoops such as, the Leroy Perierras? They were staunch warriors of fate who stood their ground and didn’t put on airs. They were the type of men Warren Dearden endeared himself toward and endeared himself to their ways of thinking, ‘cause when it came down to the bottom line or judgment day, or whatever, those were the make up of rock solid men. Warren might wish to align himself, shoulder to shoulder with such people, during what might be projected the end of the world, men clearly with the right stuff! He pinned Phil Citrone as being worthy to join those ranks.
Perhaps because of the sadness a burgeoning kinship ignited. During their last visit together they lounged around Phi’s pool. Much conversation had gone down between the two. “Why do you write letters?” inquired Phil.
“I’m asked that same question many times over. Its only been recently that I’ve formulated, what I’ve concluded as a proper explanation.”
“Well, Phil, I’d say we’re both from the same era, and I guess while growing up, you, like me have watched plenty of TV and movies. Remember those old Bogart, Cagney and Jimmy Stewart movies?”
“What about them?”
“Remember, how Bogart used to spiel off dialogue, hammering at his co-stars? . . . Cagney used to do the same, so did Jimmy Stewart and Hank Fonda. As I remember the objects of their verbalage stayed still, frozen like mannequins on the screen while guys like Bogart laid a rap on them.”
Warren rose up from his lounge chair. Warren dropped his personality’s reserve. He became animated for Phil’s sake, “‘Listen, you dirty rats, this is how it’s going to go down. Bugsy, you’re a chump and you couldn’t make a pimple on a good-con’s ass, so listen up and listen good, ‘cause I ain’t going to stand up to a pug like you . . .’”
Clapping his hands, “Say, that’s some act,” Phil interjected. “Do that point the finger thing again, will ya . . .”
Warren laughed a little embarrassed, but at the same time, somewhat impressed with himself. “Well, anyway, that’s how I sort of remembered it. Only thing is when I eventually entered the real world every time I’d have a verbal confrontation or try to exercise a frank discussion by airing my thoughts, the target of my rebuttal becomes emotionally involved, they stop listening and then start sounding off their own rhetoric . . . the issues become lost within a verbal scuffle and then they drown in the emotion.”
Phil reminisced, “I see what you mean. Before I accumulated enough dough, so to call the shots, the same thing used to happen to me, yeah, many times over.”
“So the way I see it, and what seems to have a higher-success rate is the system I’ve gone by, doing so by the magic-and-power of the pen. A letter sender has a unique opportunity to take advantage of the process and captures their subject’s undivided attention and conveys concise information while shedding true light on the matter in whatever chronological order the author of the letter prefers.
“In the heat of a verbal confrontation, a wrong use of a word, or even a mispronunciation can be disastrous. . . . I know, if you realize, once something like that occurs it’s usually almost impossible to get issues back on the right track. With a well-thought-out correspondence, the goal has been set forehand . . . that’s the bottom line.
Ben and Kuuipo Ridgeway sat in their kitchen. It was Saturday, an opportunity for both to enjoy a leisurely second cup. The phone rang. Kuuipo answered.
“Why, Jane, how are you? . . . Sure, he’s here . . . Time to remind him to come in for his annual? I’ll hand him the phone . . . Don’t forget to stop by some time.”
Ben took the phone from Kuuipo, somewhat surprised by getting a call from his doctor.
“Hi, Jane. What can I do for you?”
“Ben, sorry to bother you. Thought you might like to know, Phil Citrone passed away last night. It was sad. He was a very special man, one of those people whose life should be chronicled . . . somebody should write a book.”
“Is there going to be any sort of service?” Ben was curious.
“No, they’ve already sent the body off to California. He’s going to be buried in a cemetery his company owns. Some sort of cemetery exclusively set up for old-time football players. Sound’s typical Phil. Right now his place is crawling with accountants, actuaries and lawyers. Remember how it was when you visited. There’s twice as many now. Gallagher must be going out of his mind.
“Which reminds me: The reason for my call. Well, of course I presumed you would appreciate being informed and I felt compelled to call . . . Phil really liked you. He mentioned your name often after that day. You must have left an impression. Just before Phil passed he pressed into my hand a white envelope with your name on it.
“I don’t know what it is, other than in its upper corner, it says, in print, Walkers Restaurants . . . and there’s a sketch of a Jiminy Cricket-type caricature carrying a tray of food. Look, I’m heading by your place on the way to the fruit stand. I’ll drop it off, OK?”
“Yes,” affirmed Ben. “I’ll be here all day. Thanks, and sorry to hear about Phil.”
Ben hung up. Kuuipo had been listening in and said, “Somebody die?”
“Why yes, Phil Citron.”
“Phil Citron, isn’t he or I should say, wasn’t he that little Casanova-type, the one who was chasing Doc Winton’s daughter around for awhile?”
“Yes, that’s him. He died of AIDs.”
“Well, that explains it.”
“Actually they traced his AIDs back to a blood transfusion.”
“What’s your connection?”
“Oh, not much, he once invited me down to talk about sponsoring a polo team. Some passing fancy I suppose We spent an afternoon together and we talked some story.”
“Enough to merit a call from his doctor upon his passing away?”
“Well, I suppose. Jane says the man took a certain fancy to me and that he left me something in an envelope. She’s going to be dropping it off.”
“Well, I certainly hope it isn’t as Earth-shattering as the letter we received from Leroy Perierra a few months back.
“Speaking of Perierra—I was speaking with Sissy Gonsolves. She tells me Leroy’s on the wagon. Hasn’t had a drink in over 3 months. She said after our Christmas party Leroy went home and took a good look at himself in the mirror. Decided to straighten up and fly right. And get this, he’s dating Judge Ricecheck’s ex.”
“That right! He’s supposedly on his best behavior. Lost weight, takes her riding. Word is he’s become the epitome of the perfect, Upcountry gentleman. And Julie Ricecheck says, according to Sissy, he’s offering her a lot more than the judge ever could, when it comes to ‘you know what.’”
From the upstairs, Ben heard the voices of Jane and Kuuipo downstairs in the foyer. He sat anticipating wondering what he would say to Kuuipo when she’d ask about the contents in the envelope. He eased down the staircase after hearing Kuuipo’s footsteps lead to another part of the house. He saw it. The envelope sat on a small table, near the umbrella rack. Light-footed he hopped to it, snatched the left-alone envelope, the one with Walker’s Restaurants printed in the upper right-hand corner, He dashed back to the privacy of his office.
He grabbed the whale-bone opener. A single, folded, sheet of paper and a theater ticket sat inside. Below the stationary’s printed heading advertising Yackitoffs,Weight Reducing Clinics He read a scrolled note.
Warren and I had a date come May 15th. Looks as if I won’t be able to make it. As I said earlier, I haven’t known his whereabouts, but I know Warren will be there. Here’s my ticket, use it if you wish. Best of luck to you. Ben.
Ben spun in his chair to check the calendar. The date, May 8th, the note stated the 15th.
All the other leads had dried up. At last, the feasibility.
Maka Miyasato confirmed Warren stayed with him out in Nahiku, said it was but only for a few nights. Maka believed he’s still in the state.
Tye Long wasn’t much help. Ben couldn’t put his finger on it but Tye seemed somewhat protective of Warren. It wasn’t as if he was lying, but in Ben’s light the man was elusive. He did promise to relay a message toward Warren.
Ben read the serendipity final dispatch as concrete. Ben again peered at the sent ticket. It was valid for one night only for a Don Ho review at the Waikiki Beach Comber in Honolulu for Saturday-night, May 15th, one week from that day.
Odd, Ben thought, two men such as this letter-writer Warren Dearden, and Phil Citrone both attending a tacky Don Ho review. Nevertheless, those were moot points. He’d be there.
Kuuipo inquired about the contents of the envelope. Ben played it down saying it merely a note from a polite dying man who wanted to say he was sorry nothing would come about from their polo discussion.
“How sweet and endearing, imagine for a dying man to care about wrapping things up. I’m sorry we never had a chance to know him better. Sissy knew him, said he was quite a character.”
* * *
On Thursday he came to Kuuipo. “Say, I’m going to be going over to Honolulu this weekend, well at least Saturday.”
“Oh, really, maybe I’ll tag along.”
“That would be great. Only thing, I’m going to be mostly on the road. I gotta go out to the North Shore, then I have meetings all over the place downtown.”
“That’s OK, I’ll just get a room at the Hyatt. I’ll shop, while you do your business. We’ll be able to hook up later.”
“Well to tell you the truth, it’s not that easy. The conference’s itineraries haven’t been set. As of this minute I don’t know where I’m going to be laying my-own head down. I may stay out at Turtle Bay, then I may drive back and stay downtown. If I wrap things up soon enough I might just catch the last flight out, come home and sleep in my own bed.”
“Well, have it your way. I thought it might be a chance for us to be together without any outside interference, maybe even a little . . .”
“Look sweetheart, permit me to have a rain check? I’d like that very much.”
“Sure you don’t have a little China gal hidden away over there for the weekend?”
She’s smiled, and never appeared more beautiful.
“Whatta you think?”
“I don’t know, Ben Ridgeway, you’re normally quite predictable. You’re acting a little coy here.”
“Kuuipo, you must be imagining things . . .”
He subtlety escaped before any further interrogation by an inquiring wife.
* * *
Saturday couldn’t have come fast enough. He boarded the inter-island jet to shuttle over to the bright-lights of Honolulu. While flying over the channels and over the outer-islands of Lanai and Molokai. In lieu of gazing out the window he practiced his pitch towards this Warren Dearden fellow.
Ben checked into the Waikiki Prince.
Ben braked his rental in front of the Waikiki Beach Comber. He handed his car over to a new-parking service operating out of Waikiki. The smiling fellow who took the Maui man’s keys said his name was Louie.
Tourists scurried. It was the usual, boisterous tourists shouting things like; “Hey, Ethel, ya got the tickets? I thought you said, you was going to bring them . . . oyvey.”
Ben cringed waiting in line. He’d considered going to the front. His name surely carried enough weight to permit him by-pass the hoipolloi. At the same time he didn’t desire to focus attention on himself.
He became somewhat paranoid. Attending a Don Ho show . . . What if he was spotted? What if news of his standing in line alone circulated amongst the members of the so-called Punahou-mafia?
The Punahou crowd for some reason always insisted upon explanations and were a close-knit alumni made up of Punahou graduates. They included Ben. The institution served as launching pad for Hawaii’s elite, a prep school of which would have been to the likings of ole Dobson P Long. It was situated on Oahu—during 1993 an unofficial gang pretty-much ran things throughout the aloha state whose membership acted as a conduit, from which juicy-gossip circulated amongst the upper echelons of who’s-who in today’s Hawaii. What if the governor hears?
After presenting his ticket Ben was led to table-clothed setting for two. An empty chair sat across from the one he chose to sit in. At first he told the waiter he’d prefer nothing, then on second thought asked for a shot of Johnny Walker Black, on the rocks. He remained nervous.
After fifteen minutes, casually moseying up to the table, while checking out the table’s number stood Warren Dearden.
Ben placed down his drink and rose. With his best Ivy-League manners he warmly shook onto Warren’s hand and introduced himself saying he hailed from Maui. Ben revealed he received a surprise note after Phil’s death, including the complementary ticket from Phil.
Warren saw the invite and Ben as sort of strange but then again, it was perhaps Phil’s way, one of those eccentric pranks Phil may have chosen to pull off before he passed on.
Warren shelved his curiosity and went on to explain. “I was expecting, Phil.. . . . Actually, I was expecting no one. I read this past week Phil Citrone passed away. I suppose you read it too . . . that was some story in the Advertiser— did you see it?”
“I would have flown over to Maui to attend a funeral or memorial service but Gallagher filled me in. Phil wanted it that way I’m told. I suppose, I was startled at first seeing you sitting here. I was worried they may have sold his ticket or something. Are you a friend of Phil’s?”
“I would have liked to think so. I’m sorry to say, I didn’t know the man all that well.”
Despite his insides bubbling over, Ben held back. With his experience, Ben had negotiated many-a-contract over the years. His training disciplined him, making sure never to rush into an important issue without setting the pace and tone. He realized issues presented properly and with proper timing would eventually favor his side.
“Why do you suppose there was no memorial service?” asked Ben.
“I suppose . . . knowing Phil as I think I do, or did. He wouldn’t want anybody sniffling over him.”
“They flew the body back to California.”
Warren acting as if he had discussed the aftermath with Phil beforehand, “I figure they’d do that. Phil had just involved himself in a new venture. Ben, do you know about Phil’s business ventures?”
“Can’t say I do, only from what I’ve heard around the island, and from what the paper said about them being extensive.”
“Phil, told me he played a lot of sandlot football as a young man. ‘Other than combat, a closer bonding can’t be forged by men and boys than by playing hard-nosed, tackle football,’ that’s what Phil said to me.
“Phil said when he learned of his own oncoming demise, a brainstorm flashed, ‘When old football players pass on they might prefer to be buried in a cemetery reserved solely for old-time players.’
“One day, Phil offered me a run down, of course in his-own off-beat way as he unfolded his plans for a new type of cemetery. ‘We’ll have stats etched out on the head stone just the way they do on Football cards, the kind with bubble gum. We’ll have their team name plus any other pertinent information pertaining to the said footballer’s career.'”
“You’re kidding!” Ben was quite taken.
“Afraid not. He said he had four or five of them already on the planning board in various spots. The last time I saw him he told me he had pre-sold a number of plots. Final Score, that’s what he said he was going to call them.”
Ben fidgeted, “For myself, I must confess, I visited him only on one occasion during his last days. Terrible, he being saved from the car accident then with the blood transfusion which saved his life . . .”
“Yes, it’s too bad. Well, here we are, Ben, you a Don Ho fan?”
“Not really. It’s unusual perhaps, I’ve lived in Hawaii just about all of my life, don’t believe I’ve ever taken in a Ho show. Interesting that I’m here though . . . Tell me if you don’t mind, Warren what’s the connection here? Why would you and Phil plan to hook up at the Waikiki Beach Comber to see Don Ho?”
“You had to know, Phil. Well one night, Phil and I talked, you know the man consumed a lot of marijuana. Still he was a neat guy to talk with. I was brand new to the islands, asking questions, actually we were talking about the first day we met out in Nahiku and about how we both listened to sensational, guitar playing. I was saying how I was impressed with the authenticity belonging to the island sounds. He said, music and singing were something extra special throughout the Hawaiian Islands. He beamed saying whenever one attended any-sort of social affair, regardless if it were a big-to-do or just a bunch of small fries, there always seems to be a candidate willing to pick up a guitar or ukelele. He said ‘it’s a Hawaiian thing,’ more so perhaps than anywhere else he’s been . . . I concurred.”
Ben nodded his head up and down as he affirmed, “True . . . how true.”
“Phil beamed when he said how the Don Ho Show represented one those fixtures in the islands, a must see and he confessed for reasons he couldn’t explain, he had yet to take the time to go see the man, a man he considered an icon when it came to Hawaiian entertainment. Take into account with Phil being cognizant how his time was passing fast . . .
“Phil Citrone respectfully spoke of Ho. Phil, the quintessential marketer said it was Arthur Godfrey who got tourists to come to Hawaii in large numbers, but Don Ho made an everlasting impression. Phil said it was Ho who coined the expression, hang—loose, rather than surfers and it was Ho who promoted the shaka-sign. Phil demonstrated one for me. I can still see him folding in his three-middle fingers inwards, pressing them against his palm, and then letting his pinkie-finger and thumb wiggle on the outer perimeters of his hand from side-to-side, a movement made with the twist of the wrist. He was smiling. . .
“But what Phil really admired about Don the most was that he operated souvenir stands outside the ballroom. And Phil heard through the wireless coconut that Don Ho saw to it that the maitais served during his variety show possessed a healthy blast of mind-scrabbling liquor. And during the show he’d kid with the audience and say . . . ‘suck ‘em up brah’ . . . and subsequently the drinking glasses the tourists gulped down their tropical drinks in were called . . . ‘suck ‘em up glasses ‘. . . they had Don’s image embossed on them and Don sold a ton of the suck ‘em up glasses out of his shops. Phil said such a facet proved brilliant and the locals went big-time for the drinking glasses. Phil became impressed how Don was one of those crossover artists who touched both the tourists and the locals. Phil thought Don Ho was a genius.”
Ben said, he heard similar remarks about the man but never paid it much mind.
“Phil Citrone possessed a certain magic. You know, Ben, he’d tell you a story, then he’d expect you to tell him one back one. He had quite a persuasive nature. I’d feel compelled to tell him something about myself. In actuality our trading of stories became more like a Ping-pong match, and eventually our mutual storytelling became a Mexican standoff. He called for a truce—said if we kept going about revealing our past he might feel compelled to tell me everything . . . and the fact that he was soon getting off this Earth that there may be some embarrassing skeletons in his closet. . . . I don’t believe he had any.
“And you know, Ben, his methodology worked. Those proddings by him sparked something in my own memory. I have this friend, well actually I haven’t seen him in years. That old friend of mine once told me when he was back in the service he once attended a Don Ho show while on R&R.
“My friend wasn’t that taken by Waikiki. As a matter of fact, he got into a lot of trouble here. While stationed back in Vietnam his buddies insisted when in Hawaii to go see Don Ho. His marine buddies said Ho made an extra effort to be considerate towards GIs, especially during times when they were mostly ignored, or worse, shunned. The returning to a combat zone military men praised Don. They appreciate how Ho singled out service men, with Don insisting the Waikiki audiences stand up and applaud. Ho sincerely thanked them for their personal sacrifice and for sticking behind the country. Once my friend arrived in Honolulu he attended the Don Ho Show, and til this day I bet, it’s the only good thing he says about Hawaii.
“So with that in mind, Phil said he ordered our tickets. He provided me with mine the last time I saw him. We made a commitment. He was pretty sick at the time, us realizing he might not be able to attend.
“Phil had me promise to come anyway, no matter what . . . said if he couldn’t make what he called ‘the Tiny Bubbles routine,’ at least, I’d be here for him, so, here I am, living up to my end of the bargain. Funny, huh? . . . How ‘bout you Ben, why are you here?”
Ben unfolded his hands, mitts clutched tight while listening to Warren. He reached up and touched his mustache.
“Oh, it’s that time is it? . . . . You know; enough about me, what about you? I presumed you’d get around to that from what Phil told me of you. The truth of the matter is . . . it’s like this. . . . In all actuality, Warren, I’ve been in search of you!”
In the present.
Ben scoots his chair closer. He hammers down the last slug of his Scotch and spots a passing waitress, lifts his empty as a signal, for her bring him another.
“Well, Warren it like this—”
Suddenly, the house lights dim, a hush comes over the crowd. Ben holds up, rather than shouting out where he might be audible to those near.
The stage brightens.
“Laydees and Gentleman! The Waikiki Beach Comber proudly presents: Mr. Waikiki himself, Hawaii’s-own goodwill ambassador . . . entertainer of presidents, potentates and royalty . . . ladies and gentlemen . . . Mrrrrrrr. Donnnn Ho . . .”
The band strikes up. Hawaii’s most-famous, native son strolls out onto the ballroom’s stage.
Ben grinds to a halt his jet-engined take-off. He feels obliged to shelve his sales pitch for the moment.
Ho’s no worse for wear. Perhaps a reminder of Dick Clark or some-other ageless wonder. His hair, jet black and combed straight back. He wears glasses. He fingers his cordless microphone and bathes in the stage’s lights. Ho handles the essence with savvy, savvy only able to be earned by hoofing it night-after-night, year-after-year.
As Don hits the floor he’s swinging his free arm while singing a snappy lead-off number. After the opening song the material varies from Hawaiian standards to originals. Then the man situates himself comfortably on a wooden stool as if he’s right at home. Don Ho takes impromptu time out to jaw with the audience. Then he sings more.
Ben can’t wait any longer. About a-third-of-the-way through the review Ben leans over and begins to dominate Warren’s ear.
Don Ho’s singing, Ben’s talking, and talking, talking fast!
At first Warren’s perturbed ‘cause he desires to take in the show, but suddenly lightning strikes! An awakening pinches a raw nerve, especially with the mention of Long Beach . . . and Holly . . . and 1968.
Warren’s attention is strong-armed away from the show, and he’s listening . . . listening . . . and listening!
The brass section blares.
Up on the stage Charlie Chop Suey is whacking the drums. Don’s singing. The piano is sizzling.
Over the noise Ben continues. They’re both sitting in the first row directly in front of a the noisy-horn section, yet the horns are merely background muffles compared to the explosions and fire works going off inside Warren’s head.
Ben spiels on. His rancher’s hands make self-incriminating gestures like he’s some prodigal son. At the same time Don’s just about on his knees in front of them both. Ben further confesses while ignoring the songster who by then is only inches away. He saying how . . . how it was he who tossed away the long-ago letter, the one post-marked from California, the letter addressed to Holly Wilder.
Warren’s brains become scattered like an-all-of-a-sudden broken, tight-rack of billiards, right after they’ve been slammed into by a hard-driving cue ball.
Despite the emotional impact, despite the flood of emotion, he holds tight.
It’s inconceivable! Something disastrous happened to him 25-years before, and the it is sitting there within spitting distance directly across from him. Ben the oaf doesn’t possess a clue. Warren is the king-of-heart-break and he’s actually sitting with the guy he once wrestled to the floor on a long-ago Halloween. Yet, it is happening.
His nervous system is forced into shutdown. Warren’s circuits black out. If his system doesn’t mercifully shut down in the midst of the Waikiki Beach Comber, Warren might have to go for the guy’s throat and no longer be the gentleman and the supposed enlightened one he is, and the very one who has worked so hard to become pragmatic and he will no longer be the reawakened one who believes he’s honed himself into a worldly sage chocked with unemotional understanding . . . yet if he doesn’t hold on tight he’s likely to be flung into another dimension and tossed out perhaps extinguished forever as that of a lost character. If he doesn’t shutdown he might be apt to begin and vibrate and growl, and then viciously spring into a bone-chilling rage and maybe start turning over tables.
First, he’d turn over he and Ben’s, then the one right-next to them, and such an uncapped brewing over of emotions would erupt into violence and certainly would startle the next table’s occupants. He’d rattle everybody and then he’d go on and turn over the next one and the next one, and continue to work his way across the room and press on with his table-turning-over rampage—and he might ruffle Don’s feathers and the band’s. Perhaps his violent rage might echo that of Ornament’s rampage, a long time ago, and bring on a troop of baton-swinging police.
Warren conjures up Ornament’s long-ago dilemma and the thought of Ornament’s long-time sufferings. It was Ornament who warned, twenty-years ago. Ornament’s voice, ‘Hawaii’s a bad place man.’
He stops listening to Ben’s lament, who continues to and who has no idea what emotions and memories are being stirred.
Sitting in front of Warren is a vivid picture. It’s not of Ben anymore, spilling his guts. Why it’s a vision of his old arrow-through-the-head buddy. The music and audio has been reduced to static.
Surprisingly, he’s able to think.
Surely Ben has no idea about my past affiliation with Holly or Kuuipo, or whatever her name. Phil, that rogue must have pried the story from him and here he thought I’d be his salvation so he passed him on the ticket.
Ben is so busy unraveling his own emotions he’s oblivious to Warren’s volcanic inners. He doesn’t notice Warren’s show casing an awkward form of spastic, antzy, body language. Ben’s figuring the man takes on such a demeanor when hearing other peoples stories.
Don Ho’s still up on the stage singing his ass off. He’s singing a ditty, about . . . where’s the lolo who stole my pakalolo.
Ethel and Herb from Neptune, New Jersey, sitting at the next table are singing along, having no idea about the lyric’s meaning . . . also they’re oblivious to everything that’s happening between the two men sitting next to them in the front row. A few feet away the horn players blow their horns and they too are oblivious about the sudden reunion, and also oblivious is the pretty hat-check girl who’s observing the two men and she’s eying up Warren.
After shutting down, Warren’s goes into free fall. His hands grip the table’s end and they begin to tug and stretch the table’s cloth. If he tugs a few more inches the glasses, pu-pu- menu, lit-candle, and the rest of the tableware will tumble onto the floor.
Once again, at no prompting of his own, Warren’s forced down memory lane.
He has found her . . . and imagine he wasn’t even looking. In front of him is the very man! The cut throat, the scalawag, who is partially responsible for what has been awful. And here’s the poor sap recanting, almost in tears, begging, offering whatever amount of money it might take for Warren to convey his urgent message to his wife—to the very woman who scattered Warren so far behind the eight-ball, that when that tight rack was scattered by the force of the hard-driven cue it knocked him so fucking hard, so fucking hard it’s rocketed right the fuck off the green-felt table as if it had him bouncing on the floor with a sickening thud and he rolled right out the pool room’s door getting further scuffed up while on his way, on his way down the sidewalk of life, and then its been like being attached on a tortuous rolling rack with him glued to the sides of that billiard ball and he rolled further away from salvation and rolled right down the fuckin’ gutter.
Warren remains helpless, if called upon, he couldn’t write a word, utter a grunt, make a dash or post a dot.
Don’s still knocking out sweet tunes and sharing the essence of Hawaii, and the sound of his voice is putting lumps in the throats of some those chumps just in from West Oshkosh for a few days. But on the most part the rubes are picking their teeth and looking to settle their tab to avoid the rush after the show. One guy’s looking over at Warren and Ben but he can’t hear what’s being said.
No matter to Don, he’s performing as if Princess Di is sitting in the front table rather than the skinny broad who’s puss is marked up the crooked-lined lip stick.
Ben goes on. Warren’s some place else. He’s way back: Back to that Halloween night, back to sitting within his boyhood room in front of his confessing dad, he can almost hear his dad consoling him, he then sees himself, as if he’s peering over his own shoulder and seeing himself writing that heart-felt letter and he tries to remember what were the written words. He looks at back at Ben. Don’s still singing.
In Warren’s view, Ben’s features begin to change and he morphs out to become a way-back image belonging to that of the worthless, toothless Freddie. Warren looks away then looks back, sitting there is nasty Tony, ‘Ia throwa gooda fuck into her, but I no wanna ruina a gooda waitress.‘ And then Ben’s likeness begins to take on other forms and the Baltimore Bar and Grill’s notorious, Tony’s, Greecian features and stocky build alters and he transgress into the small, perky, likeness of Kim.
She’s wearing that cute little smile and she’s saying, ‘Hope Springs Eternal.‘ He sees images, a flashback of Ornament, storming the beach making the mistake of his life. He hears Ornament’s forewarning words, ‘ . . . Hawaii, man, it’s a bad place, there’s heartbreak in Hawaii.’
Warren sees himself in his own mind, his head is on his pillow, he’s lonely, he’s closing his eyes each night with no one. He puts into re-run that weird night between he and Kim on Christmas Eve. He tries to remember, Holly, but can’t. He freezes the frame brings back the instant he slammed Michael over-the-head, he sees him lying on the hotel room’s floor out cold and then he can almost feel that cold chill which ran down his spine and added to the chill is when those men chased him across the railroad tracks back in Wilmington.
Ben’s still going on, Warren’s still isn’t listening. Instead, he’s participating in a chess match with Mr. Hao, and Mr. Hao’s glorious image is smiling back with that all-knowing smile and he’s saying, ‘think, Jewish,Warren, remember, think, Jewish.’ Then there’s Wendy Miyasato, as precious beautiful as a blooming gardenia, she’s predicting, ‘who knows what you might find out in Hawaii?’
And he thinks and thinks not listening to a god-damned word the man‘s saying, ‘cause he knows by his experience he can almost predict almost every syllable that’s about to come rattling off the sorry man’s lips, it doesn’t matter. He hears Tye’s words instead of Ben’s, ‘a truth sayer, isn’t always a confessor.’
This Ben, who is bleeding his heart might be sinking himself, but Ben’s just a talking head who hasn’t morphed back. Ben’s still an assortment of morphs and those images continue to vary. One glance, he sees Vicky, then there’s Phil, and then there’s 20-years worth of whoever, whoever at one time sat in front of him exacerbating their woes.
Finally his spell is broken, perhaps, because the audience erupts into hand-clapping, while jumping to their feet giving Don a resounding applause. Local people are stomping and shouting out, ‘Hana Ho, Hana Ho, Hana Ho,’ meaning, more work—a Hawaiian colloquial for an encore.
Don’s taking bows, waving to the wings, throwing kisses. He’s draped in a number of flowered leis offered up by the adoring crowd. A shapely young woman rushes to the front, while bringing to Don, her-own, hand-made lei. She wraps her arms around Don’s neck and delivers a tongue-enforced kiss. Don takes the full brunt of her face then breaks it off and he playfully wags his index finger towards the diva but like the true professional the man is he lets it go at that.
Ben is still leaning close to Warren.
“You see, Warren, when I received that letter from Leroy. When, I heard accounts from others. When, I spoke with Phil, I summed you had to be the man. I sensed Phil, realized it too. That’s why he sent me his ticket. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ve been on this long quest to find you. That’s why I lied to my wife to be here tonight, to huddle with you. Will you help me?”
Warren mind settles down and he has almost returned to reality, yet in a strange sort of way, Warren just sits back and crosses his leg. He stares into Ben’s begging eyes. There’s still is an enormous ruckus going on around them.
Don gives in to the applause and has yet to leave the stage. He begins his encore. But in the midst of the encore he stops, and he then decides to converse with the audience:
You know, folks the Hawaii Islands are a precious-precious place . . . they are magic isles . . . Undoubtedly since you’ve been here, you’ve heard this word: Aloha . . . Aloha; what does it mean? Is it hokum? Or perhaps it is a simple enough goodbye or hello, or until we see each other again. Yet to the real-Hawaiian peoples, it wen’ mean so much more.
“Anthropologists say it takes only three generations for a culture to become completely homogenized. Homogenized, you might tink . . . that one big word for one-island boy such as myself for say. . . You see . . . Hawaiians no need for say any big words to show Aloha.
“And, braddah, I wen’ tell you, we Hawaiians have done some big-time sharing. When the white men wen’ come . . . We wen’ give ‘em everyting, we want noting in return. And he wen’ take, he take plenty . . . Now, there is little left to give away . . . . We know we’re wiped out. Soon us Hawaiians will be no more, the Hawaiians will be gone forever, the same way as some bird, or some plant you hear about back in your home state. I believe the haole word for that sort of wipe out is called extinction.
“Sure enough, it’s happening to us right now. As for we Hawaiians . . . well, we’ve faced the facts, so we figgah, what can we as a people leave to the future on this planet? We one little place, a simple people. We no have old stories such as Aristotle or the Roman Empire or the Pyramids. . . . But in our own time, from way back to the times the Alii, the nobility, who ruled these islands, well, we’ve chosen to give Aloha . . . and Aloha, believe it or not is more powerful and endearing than those Pyramids and even more beautiful than Cleopatra herself. Aloha is true love gang . . . not any maka make-up on Cleopatra’s face! Hey, we Hawaiians practiced free love way before the saying was invented . . . with no holds barred, brah.
“So I say to you ladies and gentlemen, before I sing my last song. While here in our islands, stop your lives, if only for a moment, and give love . . .
“So if da guy wen’ next to you, he wen’ push . . . he wen’ shove . . . he know no bettah, my friend. So what brah . . . you just smile . . . say, ‘hang loose bradduh,’ no need for worry, you stay Hawaii now. Hey brah, just suck ‘em up . . . just suck ‘em up and have one more Do Ho Maitai, you wen’ keep the glass. . . and you tell that buggah, go ahead brah, ya got the right of way braddah and that’s it . . . simple huh?
“It’s up to each and everyone of us to show true Aloha. So before you wen’ go on that big bird in the sky, rather than taking back that flowered shirt or box of macadamia nuts, or whatevers you’re planing to take back to big-Chicago or big-Dallas, or big-where-evers, why not tink further for one moment, and think about taking back a tiny bubble too . . . a tiny bubble of love and one filled with precious Aloha, ‘cause it’s so fragile that bubble as it floats through the air and remember, it’s up to each and everyone of us to no let ‘em bust. . . .
“Aloha and mahalo ladies and gentlemen, it’s been my honor to entertain you.”
The crowd is somewhat spellbound. And the orchestra strikes up one more time the familiar notes unmistakingnly identified. Tiny Bubbles comes off the lips of Don Ho masterfully for who knows the how-manyeth-time. Yet Don flashes such enthusiasm it’s as if it’s the first time he’s sung it.
Ben appears moved, and hides his own eyes from Warren’s.
Warren can’t figure if it’s Don’s touching spiel or an outpouring of emotion from what the Maui rancher has just gotten off his chest. Warren takes but a few more moments to fathom. All around them is singing.
Gravel-voiced Ethel from Neptune sings out, despite singing out of tune. Kids and local people sing along with Don those familiar lyrics. There’s a magic in the room.
Don’s words have filtered through to Warren. He fathoms further. So far he conjured that during most of his life, when he came upon a crucial crossroads, almost always he reacted on emotion . . . usually in tune in order to match his own desires. Sometimes within the cross hairs of those emotions have been cloistered fears and of course in the past they’ve been in accordance with his own agenda. And there is Warren Dearden with all that’s been said by Ben, finding himself same as during other crucial times without any sort of forecast that such could happen while on the precipice at another one of those precarious crossroads.
Perhaps surprising himself, with Ben’s revelations, he chooses to take a direct route. Perhaps it’s the time. He’ll take a route only be taken by a truly-enlightened man,. He chooses to make a gesture—he culminates his thoughts and desire and decides to make a priority, a selfless priority that belongs to another’s agenda.
Warren looks directly into Ben Ridgeway’s wishful eyes.
“Ben, I’ll have to sort this out in my head. Evidently there’s much history here. I’ll write you your letter. I believe everything you tell me is true. I believe you truly love . . . how is you say it; Ku-u-eepo.
“I’m going to be on Maui next week. Here’s a number where you’ll be able to reach me. I’m house sitting for Long family out in Nahiku while the family is back East. Call me on Monday. I’ll get from you the essentials, and tell you my price.
(author’s note: please forgive the previous passage for being in the present tense. I realize I’m breaking rules but since you’ve been following the story faithfully. I wanted both of us to be there; with Ben, and Don, and Warren. In my mind it was happening right then, hopefully you’ll understand and pardon my intrusion.)
* * *
Back to the past.
Homer Fuentes, the longtime Kula postman motored his red, white and blue postal Jeep past the mature pines and up the Ridgeway driveway. Once in front of the mansion, he unloaded the daily mail and the other parcels of all sorts, most addressed to the various Ridgeway enterprises. Once it was stacked on the curb he leaned into the jeep and fished into another canvas bag. From it he pulled two envelopes marked “special delivery;” certified by an official government seals.
With weather in his favor he left the parcels on the curb side and he proceeded inside the Ridgeway mansion making his way to Leilani’s desk.
“Two of them . . . ” he said, holding them up for Leilani to see.
“One for the lady of the house, the other for one, Holly Wilder.”
Leilani accepted the documents in a-matter-of-fact manner, her sense of duty didn’t give the postman the slightest hint, or did she act surprised or curious. She had been employed at the Ridgeways for years and was aware of Kuuipo’s maiden name. From time to time items showed up, addressed to Holly Wilder.
“I’ll get the hand truck from around back and bring in the rest while you’re getting the signatures from the Mrs.”
Old Homer, because of his postman duty, felt obliged to procure the signatures and it was his official duty to witness those signatures. He knew damn right well and understood once Leilani ventured behind the massive koa doors which led into the Ridgeway inner sanctum, that when she returned with the signed yellow slips that would be good enough. He’d never be the public servant who would question the Ridgeways.
Ben attempted to act nonchalantly while signing both. He wasn’t coy enough to fool Leilani. She was too sharp. Besides, the man turned stark white at the sight of the two-sealed envelopes.
Two god-damned letters! he thought. As he remembered, that wasn’t part of the deal. He expected just one, his letter to Kuuipo. One of the two letters, the one addressed to Kuuipo had printed on it the words, “open first.”
Ben became perplexed. Still, he felt compelled to follow Warren’s request. As if on cue Kuuipo returned from down country.
“I understand from Homer, who I just ran into down the hall, that I have some special mail coming my way. Where is it?”
Ben, masking his nervousness shyly handed over both letters to Kuuipo.
“Did somebody die or something? Are we being sued? Leroy Perierra, isn’t up to his old tricks is he?”
“Frankly, I don’t know. I suppose you’ll have to find out yourself.”
Without much fanfare, Ben excused himself saying Kimo Kaupo was out in the garage waiting for him.
“We’ll discuss the mail latter.”
He offered a quick peck and a modified hug and split for the garage. Kuuipo, filled with a certain sense of excitement dashed upstairs to run a bath. There while soaking in a hot-bubbly tub she would read the two unexpected letters.
Kuuipo tossed off her cotton dress and under things. She hummed a favorite tune, picked up the letter with “open first” instructions. Then she stepped into the white-porcelain bath with the 14-carat, gold fixtures. She slowly lowered herself into the hot, soapy water with letter in hand.
After reading the first two lines she bolted to the the last page, to learn who’s signature made up the salutation. Reading further she almost fainted. Only her burning desire for more revelations kept her lucid. Tears streamed down her pretty face. It was more like a deluge.
Her exquisite face remained beautiful despite the fact that its exquisite natural make up was distorted by emotion. She read on, reading each word. When finished she laid back in the tub letting go and permitted her limp body soak up the heat while the blues of eyes stared straight ahead, her feminine hand and arm extended beyond the perimeter of the tub and the letter hung from her graceful hand— finally letting the letter go, it dropped onto the white-marble floor.
She had to think—she thought . . . No! . . . She couldn’t think, not then, she had no desire to do anything further and lost her curiosity to open the other letter at least not just then and maybe never. She canceled any itinerary and chose to cancel anything else. She soaked.
The lukewarmness of the water brought her back. She peered down at the letter addressed to Holly Wilder. Slowly, half-knowing its content she picked it up and hesitantly opened it.
Dearest Holly, aka Kuuipo:
Hi, its been some time. I suppose you’ve read your letter from, Ben. It’s somewhat of curiosity for me wondering how you might react after certain accounts have come to light. I have a hunch how you may feel right now, but I’m not totally sure.
First, I should tell you I am healthy and relatively happy. I wish the same for you. Actually I wish you more. I understand you’ve read the letter I once wrote for Leroy Perierra sometime back.
Strangely enough, that’s what I do. I’m sorry you never had the chance to read the letter I sent you years ago. Ben told me of course, and I suppose the recent revelation about how he eighty-sixed it is now somewhat of a shock to you. Then again, perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps you suspected him all the time. As he expressed in his letter, he suspects the letter still got through to you somehow, he thought he once heard Aunt Edna slip and mention it to you. She tried to it cover up but as you know, he still isn’t sure and neither am I.
I can’t begin to predict what would have happened to us, if you would have adhered to that letter I once sent, and what may have happened if you returned to me back in California. Who knows where we’d be today? One cannot measure such things.
I can tell you . . . through the years . . . I thought of you many times over, and I suppose I’m risking here what might be perceived by you as conceit, if you in turn during the past years couldn’t have helped but to think of me now and then.
From what I’ve heard from Ben, I have an inkling, about what went on between you and I in the past and it may have had a lingering effect. Remember, and please let those sentiments nail themselves home, because, what your eyes have just taken in is from Ben, and are his true sentiments. I only acted as a conduit, Holly. he’s felt guilt all these years, first about stealing you away, second, by trashing my letter and thirdly, by corrupting you; corrupting you with money and power to keep you in the islands. He was quick to give you children and responsibility. In a sense he forged you into place the last twenty-five years. No mistake about it, you were manipulated, and held down, even if it were by a velvet glove.
Knowing you as I think I do. You were aware of these actions during every turn. You let it happen, Holly. You’ve taken the prestige, you’ve taken the perks which go with being Mrs. Ben Ridgeway, but you’ve taken those things perhaps, many times over, accepting them in an insincere manner, ‘cause its been my image who has always been there to haunt you and stir your inners.
How can I say this you ask? . . . Because Ben told me, not in so many words, but because you’ve denied him, you’ve denied him what he thought he had earned through loyalty and devotion. You thought you had missed out on me and missed a love and a lifelong dream you may have thought of as colossal. All during these years it was your cross to bear, one you would silently carry and to never complain. Know it or not, you’ve complained plenty, ‘cause for twenty-five years you denied yourself true love from a man who worships you. You’ve denied yourself your own opportunity perhaps, one on a higher plateau, and denied yourself a selfless opportunity to love back.
All during your marriage, even during the tender moments you could never allow yourself to see Ben’s loving face facing down over you . . . ‘cause you viewed my face, a lost face, a face you could no longer caress, a face you couldn’t kiss, a face you couldn’t say you were sorry toward, and those aspects paralyzed you; paralyzed you from giving, paralyzed you from knowing or wanting to understand the truth, and the flood of feelings which come by expressing true love and you became paralyzed and frozen, and began to grow cold and not care. Yet, you’ve gone through the motions all of these years.
Holly honey, I don’t believe it’s too late for either of us. Not for us to ever be together again as a one, or as a team, or anything we used to fantasize about as love-crazy beach kids back in Long Beach, but it’s not too late for us as a whole. You have a loving, powerful man who worships the ground you walk on. You should look at him closely, and take a gander into your children’s’ eyes and stop boo-whooing if you will. The world is a beautiful place and you live in a magnificent place, and have possibilities to be happy beyond your wildest scope.
No need for you to feel guilty; guilt you’ve paid for over and over. Holly, I forgive you, I forgave you years ago. I still love you dearly, and will all the way to my grave, but you have a real man whose love is greater, more-powerful, more-potent, and more-sincere than mine could ever be. A man, who by his tone and grit wants you much more than I ever did. Don’t you see Holly, if I wanted you wholeheartedly, wouldn’t I have come to seek you out somehow despite the distance?
It has taken much of myself to come to grips with such a notion. Yet, it was Ben who went all out to seek me out, having no real idea just who he was seeking out. I think I know both, Holly Wilder and Kuuipo Ridgeway and in my opinion neither of those two women are a fool.
Kuuipo’s upper teeth bit into her clenched fist. Maybe then her skin was more like a ceramic bird than ever, ‘cause her skin couldn’t feel the tub’s water, water which had lapsed to iced cold.
Half an hour latter, Ben fiddled in his office. He sharpened pencils and tried to focus as he cleaned up his desk. He turned on CNN. He thought about building a fire in the fire place. He marched to the staircase and looked up the empty stairway. He returned to his office.
He sat back, into that teakwood chair of his and spun some. His private line buzzed.
“Yes, Ben Ridgeway speaking!”
He placed down the receiver, and abandoned everything. His gait quickened and he sped through those koa doors.
Our last image of Ben Ridgeway has him climbing the stairs, his fist is clenched in exhilaration. He’s going upstairs to be with his wife.
Warren was back visiting Maka’s eating a poi and fish dinner. He finished up, telling Maka he’d be back over for a nightcap but first he had letters to pen.
After being in Honolulu he returned to Maui’ Long residence where he was house sitting. On the other end a surprise! It was Ornament. He hooked up with Tye, while the Longs were on the East Coast. At that very moment Ornament said he was sampling the special da-kine care package Tye had especially taken East for him. “Man this brings back some memories.” He gave Warren some additional news, recently he married Jeanenne. “Imagine, after all this time.”
They had yet to take a honeymoon. Tye insisted they go ahead and come out to Hawaii to visit Warren, and stay at his place too, while the Longs were still back East.
“Jeanenne and I talked it over. She said; ‘out in the middle of the Pacific is where it started to go bad for me.’ She wants to come out to be where Janice spent her last days, it might be a good move, perhaps a final therapy for me. I think I can handle it.”
Three days latter Warren drove the Volkswagen Thing into town, to the airport to pick up Ornament and Jeanenne. He stood near the gangway. Ornament was the first to appear. The bugger was still wearing that arrow. Jeanenne appeared almost simultaneously and appeared as if she hadn’t aged a bit. Surprising Warren, just peeking around the two on the jet’s doors came of all things, a smiling Kim, dressed in a pretty pink dress!
All flashed gigantic grins, especially after seeing the out of this world sight of Kim that completely altered the look on Warren’s face. Ornament rushed and hugged his ole buddy and then Jeanenne.
Kim waited for her’s patiently with her hands placed behind her back, ‘cause she wanted to hug him extra long, hug ‘em and squeeze him and wipe his face and look up into those deep blue eyes again.
Ornament and Jeanenne stood back and beamed, savoring thoughts of “Hope Springs Eternal.” Kim cooed, as she still held tight, closed her eyes, and kissed his neck.
They drove back to Nahiku. On the way the new arrivals marveled at the splendor. Kim stood up in the Thing convertible and shouted, “I can’t believe, I’m here! Yahoo! Yahoo!”
Warren wore awide-wide smile which hadn’t shown itself in years.
Ornament spoke, how he opened his own computer store back in A.C.. Kim divorced Michael shortly after the episode in the hotel’s suite.
She hadn’t worked at Tony in years. She further pleasantly surprised Warren, by telling him she opened her own art gallery, eight-years before, in one of the Atlantic City’s casino hotels, and as of then she owned three-additional outlets, and they just about operated on their own steam. She revealed that they sold a slew of Rodin reproductions.The Thinker was her best seller.
Once back in Nahiku, they shared their first sunset together in years. Inside the comfy confines of Tye Long’s living room they shared a couple of bottles of wine. Warren sat on the sofa. Kim was curled up close with her feet under her like a purring pussy cat. She twiddled with Warren’s curly strands as they talked.
Ornament breezed through Tye’s solid record collection. “Hey look at this, the guy has Thunder Clap Neuman’s, Hollywood Dreams! Let me put it on. Remember, “Accidents,” Warren? I’m glad to see Tye still plays albums. Hey that Tye knows a lot about the guitar, we did some talking. Look here he even has 10cc albums, he’s our kind of guy. He’s a nice man. Boy that Josh is a trip, a real comedian.”
Ornament then changed his demeanor somewhat and he became both nervous and serious at the same time and then said he had an announcement. But first he wanted to say something directly towards Warren.
He strolled over towards a mantle, and pulled down from over it, a saber, one hanging over the fire place. He did a sort of Errol Flynn imitation. “Remember Robin Hood? Errol Flynn, Alan Hale and Basil Rathbone, way better than that Kevin Costner bullshit.
“You know, pal, I thought of you plenty.” He’s bent the sword’s blade, testing its strength. “Warren, I’ve heard your voice inside my head many, many times over all through the years. I’ve listened to that voice of yours, same as I’ve listened to10cc, Thunderclap Neuman, Procol Harum and Pink Floyd. And you know what? Same as Elton John sings, we’re Still Standing. . .
“And, so, Warren, all this time, you’ve lent a voice, a voice for others, and even a voice for me, but I figure that voice of your’s hasn’t been heard enough, especially by others. Tye and I talked it over back on the Mainland.
Of all the guys I know, it’s you, man, who has something to say . . . I’ve thought about everything, and now I’m here, I want to tell you something.
“I think you should write about all this stuff. About you and Holly, and about Tony’s and Kim here, and my story too, and what happened, and how your ass wound up in China. And I think you should tell the world about these letters you’ve been writing, and the effect they’ve had on some peoples lives. Christ, you could do it here in Hawaii. I’m sure Kim wouldn’t mind keeping you company. She doesn’t have too much to do. Christ, it could be a best seller. And when I think about what all of us have been through, well gang, its got me thinking so much, why, I . . .”
Ornament put the saber back over the mantle.
“Ya know, here in Hawaii is where I started out to be an asshole. And as of right now, this is where I stop being one.”
He reached up to his head. Ornament yanked the arrow’s band from around his head. He looked down at it for a moment then he dramatically broke the long-worn headpiece in half.
Jeanenne gasped! Kim placed her hand to her mouth, and Warren eyes became larger.
“So, look, I’ve done it. There you go. I’m no longer a bonafide asshole!
“And ya know what? You know, what I think you should call that book of your’s, Warren?”
“Jeanenne blurted, “Broken Arrow?”
Kim screamed,“Hope Springs Eternal? . . .”
Ornament moved back across the room and stopped again in front of the mantle . . . He pulled the saber back off the rack.
“No, man. . . Just call it . . . Mightier Than The Sword . . .