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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Story about Holiday Street, Honolulu

The Real Heroes
Judy Radano

The old man told stories the boy only half listened to until one day he told a whopper that grabbed the kid by the neck.  All old people have stories, the kid knew.  Sometimes listening to them helped pass the time while he was putting the groceries away or changing the cat litter in the kitchen corner. 
Pic: © Alberto Vargas

Sometimes the kid was too impatient to listen.  He wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible after football practice.  Go home and call a girl.  Get homework out of the way.  Hook up with friends and make plans for the weekend.
            The old guy watched from the table where he sat, a frail scarecrow propped up in a chair. “You still seeing that little McClatchy girl, Tommy Boy?”  The scarecrow  threw out the question like a fishing line.  The kid hated being called Tommy Boy.
            “Molly.  Yes I am, Mr.  Hill.  In fact, we got a date tonight.”
            The old man settled in, knew the kid would feel obligated to talk.  It came with the territory.  He paid the kid decently to run a few errands each week, do some chores around the small house.  It wasn’t anything backbreaking and the kid could do the work around his school schedule, practices and social life.  It wasn’t too much to expect a little conversation now and then, the old man thought.
            “Whaddya think, Boy.  Is she worth it?  Your time and attention?”
            “Well, sure.  She’s nice.  You know, fun to be with.”  The kid relaxed, figured it was man to man, after all.  Feeing cocky, he opened up a little.
            “Some of the guys would say she’s a real fox.”  Tommy smiled now, paused from reorganizing the cupboard after squeezing in two more cans of coffee from the grocery bag. If ever the medical profession needed evidence that caffeine was addictive, they could come here and watch this old buzzard drink ten and twelve cups a day, Tommy thought.   Turning around now,  he looked directly at his employer.  “But you know how it is.  I just wanna have a good time for now, you know?”
            “Oh, sure.  I know what you mean.  What are you now, Tommy Boy?  Sixteen? Seventeen?”
            “Seventeen two months ago, Mr. Hill.  Can you believe it?  I’m getting old.”  Tommy chuckled.  The old man took in the kid’s lean frame, smooth skin and guileless face as if he were seeing something else, something vaporous and difficult to discern. 
            “Seventeen, eh. I was just seventeen when I first put on white bellbottoms and a sailor’s hat, boy.  Tied a blue scarf under my collar and shipped out with the fleet to fight the Japs.  You think you feel old, do you, Son?  Well I was just a kid from Idaho, straight off the farm when I found myself on a destroyer in the middle of the goddamn Pacific Ocean.”
            The old man’s tone changed just a bit, got a little quieter as if it were coming from a different place, almost talking to himself.  “They put me in front of a mounted gun--- antiaircraft, torpedo, any goddamn thing available --- and told me to be ready to shoot.  Just a green kid off the farm.”  He inhaled then and shook his head, as if he couldn’t quite believe something he knew to be absolutely true.
            The kid broke the mood. “Jeez, Mr. Hill.  It actually sounds pretty exciting to me.” Tommy wasn’t really looking for a story at that point but didn’t feel like letting the old man get away with one of his you-kids-don’t-know-how-easy-you-have-it-today remarks.
            “Sure it’s exciting.  Until you see a ship blown out of the water and see bodies fly through the air like dust particles.  Until you see airplanes shot up, burst into flames and land in the water just yards from where you’re standing.  It’s exciting all right, because you’re just a kid and you’re fighting for God and Country and your mother’s homemade apple pie and all that crap.  You’re there because that’s where you have to be and even when you’re scared shitless, you try and remember that it’s all for a larger purpose.”
            “Well, it was, wasn’t it?”  The kid meant it offhandedly.
            The old man shrugged a bit, quieted, like he was searching for the right memory to snatch up and lay out on the table.  “Yep, it was.  And the way you got yourself through it was by looking forward to pulling into port.  Hawaii.  Holiday Street.  It was all worth it for a few minutes on Holiday Street.”  He almost chuckled then.
            “I never studied about Holiday Street, Mr. Hill.  What was Holiday Street?”
            “Oh you won’t find Holiday Street in any school book, Son.  Holiday Street was a secret from all the good folks back on the mainland.  And let me tell you, boy,  it was big.  Sure we went to war for the flag and Main Street and all the things the good old USA stands for.  But if you wanna know the primary thing on the minds of all of us poor bastards out in the middle of the Pacific dodging bullets and bombs, it was getting on with the job so we earned our R and R and could get back to Holiday Street.”
            “What, was it like a carnival or something?”  The kid had to ask, couldn’t help himself.
            The old guy snorted and gave off a crotchety laugh that rattled the mucous around in his lungs.  “Christ, kid.  What do you think, we were out there laying our lives on the line for some kind of block party?  No, you docked and followed the crowds of white uniforms... and I mean crowds, boy... it seemed half the fleet came in at once... and we were all headed for the same place.  Holiday Street.  You found a line and you stood in it.  Sometimes the line was as much as two hundred men deep.”
            “What were you all waiting for?”  The kid was getting impatient.  “What the hell was on Holiday Street?
            “Brothels, Boy!  When you’ve been out to sea for six months, what the Beejesus Christ Almighty do you think is worth standing in line two or three hours for?”
            Tommy was interested now, wanted to keep the banter going.
            “Women, eh, Mr. Hill,” he said with a laugh.  “But do you think they were worth it?  Waiting two hours in line?”  Tommy didn’t have any experience with prostitutes, but his idea of them wouldn’t have made him eager to stand in line.  He pictured middle-aged, over-fleshy females hardened with too much makeup who probably smelled none too nice.  Lines of men before you?  The guys all joked about the black hole of sex but never before did he think of it so literally or looming so largely.
            “These women were worth it.  They were beautiful.”
            “Really?”  Tommy couldn’t keep the doubt out of his voice.  “But, Mr. Hill, how many were there?  You said a line could be two hundred men deep.  You also said ’lines’, plural.  So how many women were there.... about?”
            “There were about thirty women who serviced the entire fleet.  They each took care of a couple hundred men a day.”
            Tommy sat down on the other chair and settled in.  He felt challenged.  There were some things you just couldn‘t let old people get away with. “Oh, come on, Mr. Hill.  You can’t ... you just can’t ... expect me to believe that.  That’s not possible!”
            “No, and it’s not possible to take a bunch of kids right off the farms and out of the factories and mines and their mama’s kitchens and turn them into the world’s mightiest fighting force, either.  It’s not possible to put a gun in their hands and expect them to shoot to kill in the service of their country when some of them had just learned how to wipe themselves.  How the hell is it possible to take a youngster who never before left Idaho and put him on a ship and expect him to stand up straight?  Boy, you don’t have any idea what’s possible until you gotta do it.”
            “Yeh, but it’s just sex.   We’re not talking about the big stuff here, Mr. Hill.”
            The old man turned his head slightly, a movement that appeared to help him refocus.  He studied the pattern in the wallpaper and snorted again.
             “Just sex, he says.  I guess it’s just sex today when every kid has a car with a back seat, you see half-naked women every time you turn on the TV and they display rubbers in supermarket aisles.”  His voice accumulated volume once more.  “Christ, it was never just sex to us.  It was a goddamn driving force, the thing that could tip the balance between fighting for your life and wanting to just... just... say to hell with it.”
            The kid pondered this a bit, tried to imagine himself in sailor whites and looking at the world through the crosshairs of a gun or from the back of a long, hungry line.  It wasn’t easy.
            “So, okay then.  There were these brothels.  Was it all out in the open?  Was it legal?”
            “Controlled and regulated by the U.S. military.”
            “No shit.”
            “Hawaii was under martial law after Pear Harbor.  There were strict rules.  All the cat houses were on Holiday Street  ’cause they didn’t want ‘em mixin’ with the civilian population.  Some men had their families on the island with them.  Oh, you had to keep these things separate, Boy.  The girls themselves, why they were treated as if they had ‘Government Issue’ stamped right on their rumps.  They couldn’t go out in public or own property.  Military doctors checked ‘em, made sure they were clean and healthy enough to work.  Why, they couldn’t even set their own prices.  They were inspected, sorted out, cataloged and tagged, just like any other merchandise.  I think about it now, and I don’t know they kept it going day after day... the women I mean.”
            Tommy was silent for a minute.  He let the old man catch his breath and worked to keep his own physical impulses in check.  The story stirred him in ways he didn’t want to own up to.
            “You’re not saying the ladies were actually employed by the military, are you?”
            “Jesus, no.  They were private businesswomen.  And they finally got sick and tired of having their rights trampled on.  They paid taxes to Uncle Sam and graft to the local police and were harassed by low ranked officers.  Some of  ’em wanted to buy houses, go shopping without being arrested.  But what really made the brass apeshit was the time they raised their price from three to five bucks.”
            Tommy laughed, couldn’t help himself.
            “Five bucks was a hell of a lot of money to a swabee who got paid twenty five dollars a month, Boy!  The military wouldn‘t hear of it.  Told the women they had a duty to perform. The ruling officer ordered them to drop the price back to three. But, Christ, you couldn‘t blame for wanting a decent wage.”
            “So, what happened?”  The kid had long abandoned his air of half-interest.
            “Well, whaddya think?  It was kind of a national emergency that they come to some resolution.”  The old man grinned and showed his yellowed dentures to full effect.  “Three dollars for three minutes.  That’s what they agreed on.”
            “Hey, after six months, it don’t take long.  So that‘s when the girls set up the bullpens.”
            “Bullpens?  What the hell....?”
            “They were suites of rooms, sort of.  Think of a bicycle wheel.  In the center was a room with a door on each wall that opened out to other rooms.  The girls did their business in the center room while the men were either taking their pants off or putting them on in the other rooms, depending on if they were getting ready to go or finishing up.  Can you imagine it, Boy?  One after the other.  All day long.  I bet you never thought about serving your country like that.”
            Tommy couldn’t answer.
            “Oh, I know what you’re thinking.  They were just prostitutes.  Shady women.  Let me show you something.”
            The old man got up and went into the small bedroom.  Tommy heard a drawer open, some rustling sounds.  He used the time to adjust his partial erection. Then the old man returned with a cigar box.  He removed a creased black and white photo from it and laid it on the table before the boy.  Tommy saw a voluptuous figure belly-down on a bed of cushions.  Hills and valleys of naked torso and legs were wrapped in flawless skin.  A Marilyn Monroe face that was framed in a luscious halo of drooping dark curls teased the camera. 
            “That’s Lily.”  There was reverence in the whispered voice.
            “What happened to her?” the kid asked quietly, when he was able to speak.
            “Wish I knew.  Actually, once martial law ended on the islands the women were put onto boats and sent back to the mainland like, some sort of equipment... or a battalion or something... that needed to be deployed elsewhere.  Word got around that some of them eventually married.  Raised families.”
            “So, then... you never saw any of them again.”
            “Oh, no.  No.”  The old man shrugged again.  “That’s not the way it worked.  The women were there doing a job, Son.  If you ask me, we were all over there just trying to take care of business.  If we were heroes for going to war, well then, they were heroes for helping us get through it.  When it was finished, we all went home.”   
            Tommy finished up and left.  On the way home, he stopped to buy condoms and a six pack from some guy he knew.   He kept picturing a beautiful woman with slopes and curves he could get lost in.  He had a strange vision of himself dressed in whites standing among hundreds of others just like him.  And he thought then of how funny and strange life is.  And how fleeting.
            When he got home, he called Molly.  She was a great girl.  He liked her a lot.  But he couldn’t picture her lying on cushions and glancing around at him with dark glossy lips and eyes that told him he could forget about everything else for a little while. 
            “You know, I think I’ll go out with my friends tonight.  I need to blow off some steam.  Call you sometime, okay?”
© Judy Radano Feb 18 2005

*A history of prostitution in Hawaii link

See also A Fallen History by Judy Radano

More Fiction in Dreamscapes


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