The International Writers Magazine: Hawaii
James C Clar
"They were nearly all Islanders
I call such, not acknowledging
the common continent of men, but each isolato living on a separate
continent of his own.
Yet now, federated along one keel, what a set these Isolatoes were!"
It was one of those
nights that the word balmy was simply born to describe.
The palm trees shrugged their shoulders and rustled overhead in the
light trades as I walked my dog east along Ala Wai Boulevard. The lights
from Moiliili to my left reflected wanly in the inky waters of the canal.
Up ahead the sere sides of Diamond Head shimmered in the moonlight.
My dog raced ahead. He had spotted a couple of the small rats that are
found in such profusion here in the evening. They scurried up a tree
as he barked and wagged his tail furiously at its base. He quickly lost
interest as other sights, other scents, occupied his attention the closer
we came to the hustle and bustle at the corner of Kapahulu Avenue. Every
time he barked, however, the sound made me recall a very similar evening
nearly two-and-a-half years ago. Association and Memory; together they
can lift the spirits or pin you down and smother you. Either way, they
are living, breathing things that shape the present and give rise to
I had been writing a review of a new novel by best-selling author. It
wasnt bad, just repetitive; variations on the same old plot, the
same stale dialogue and the kind of exotic setting that had been done
to death. I was certain that the book was going to be a commercial success.
Why not? It had the predictability, the stability, the sense of comfort
and security that comes with the familiarity that people are looking
for. I needed a break and decided to do something I had long been avoiding.
I shutdown the computer, grabbed my cap and headed out the door. On
that evening, too, the moon was nearly full, the trades were blowing
gently and there was a scent of plumeria in the air.
I walked up to Seaside, turned left and soon found myself confronted
by the madhouse that is Kalakaua Avenue after dark. As soon as the sun
sets and the beaches empty droves of people take to the strip in search
of fun, excitement and the kind of memory that lasts a lifetime.
What makes them think there is any other kind, I wonder? I jostled my
way through the crowd until I came to what used to be the ass-end of
Lewers Street, the slightly seedy, always kitschy and somehow endearing
heart of old Waikiki. As I said, I had been avoiding this. On the bus
or walking I had averted my eyes, looked the other way or found something,
anything to distract me until I had made my way past. The Lewers Street
that most of us those born here or, like me, ex-patriots from
the Mainland who had been washed ashore by the tides of life
knew and, yes, loved, was a thing of the past.
Gone were the quaint restaurants, the tacky souvenir boutiques, the
small coffee shops, the pamphleteers and coupon hawkers, the Pedi cab
drivers. Lewers Street had been reborn as the Waikiki Beachwalk, a chrome
and steel paean to the chain eatery, the high-end clothier and to commercial
travel. Even the venerable Halekulani looked somewhat out of place or,
rather, displaced in time. It was even worse than I had expected. I
turned around and headed back to my apartment.
Back on Kalakaua I was suddenly gripped by the urge to stop in at the
Moana Surfrider and have a glass of wine under the famed banyan tree.
I could use a drink and anything that had roots and a sense of permanence
would be welcome. In a few moments I mounted the steps between the white
columns and the royal palms and crossed through the open-air lobby of
the Moana, the "First Lady of Waikiki" and the oldest hotel
in the islands. I found a table near the beach-bar and settled in to
listen to a small combo playing a lively mix of traditional and contemporary
Hawaiian music up on the Banyan Veranda stage. I sipped my wine, closed
my eyes and listened to the sounds of the steel guitar and the ukulele
blend with the clink of glasses, the soft tinkle of ice, the murmur
of voices and the rhythmic pulse of the waves that crashed ashore only
a few feet past the retaining wall that separated the bar area from
the beach. This, I thought to myself, is what Hawaii is all about. Asian
contemporary design and corporate eateries be damned. I hadnt
been to the Moana in months, maybe even a year. I vowed to come back
About an hour and three glasses of wine later I got up to leave. As
I made my way up the steps and back into the lobby, an elderly gentleman
ahead of me stumbled and nearly fell
age perhaps or maybe the
effects of too many mai-tais. I reached out and steadied him as he readjusted
his glasses and rearranged the shell lei that he wore around his neck.
"Thank you, young man," he said once he had gathered himself
and his ship was again safely afloat. "I come here every Thursday
night, have been for nearly twenty-five years. Once or twice a month,
it seems, I manage to trip on the very top step there. One would think
that I could negotiate it unscathed by now. My name is Wallace, by the
And you are?'
I am not anti-social by nature, really, but I had been on my own for
nearly two decades. I was a writer and, generally speaking, preferred
to say what I had to say by means of the printed word. Also, theres
something about the salt breeze, the warm weather and the festive atmosphere
of this place that loosens peoples tongues. In Hawaii, especially
at night, total strangers will, with the slightest encouragement, pour
out their lifes story. I was not entirely sure I wanted to give
this old duffer that opportunity. Still, there was something about him
that interested me. There was a light in his eyes that was almost beguiling.
The fact that Wallace, too, probably remembered Waikiki the way it used
to be when I first arrived here in the late 70s and early
80s almost immediately disposed me favorably toward him and created
a nascent bond between us.
"Im Declan," I said, "a pleasure to meet you."
"Declan, thats a name you dont hear very
often." he responded. "Funny, you dont have a brogue."
"Well, my parents were from Ireland and they most certainly did.
I was born in New York, though, and grew up there."
"I see," Wallace remarked as he fiddled idly with his lei.
"Have you been in Hawaii long? Theres something about you
that says you somehow belong here. My guess is youre not a tourist."
"No, Ive been here for just over twenty years. And Ill
take the compliment, by the way. When I hit the ripe old age of thirty
I suddenly felt the need to simplify my life and I lit out for
the territory ahead. This is where I ended up. The weather was
great, the people were nice and the living was, as they say, easy."
Wallace shifted his weight, took his glasses off and began to clean
them with his handkerchief. The band on the stage to our right had taken
a break and had been replaced by the sounds of classic slack key guitar
maybe Ray Kan_ over the speakers. "This has always
been, and maybe always will be, a place for people to reinvent themselves,
thats for sure. Between the two of us we have certainly seen some
changes here over the years havent we? This is one of the few
places," the old man stated as he replaced his glasses on his nose
and used his arms to encompass the grand hotel where we stood, "that
has resisted more or less and its why I fritter
away my Thursday evenings here reading the paper and drinking guava
I explained about my sortie down the new Beachwalk and I was pleased
to see by his expression that he shared my opinion of what had been
"You know," he ventured, "that end of Lewers Street really
did need to be cleaned up. But dear God, theres nothing whatsoever
Hawaiian about what theyve done over there. I cant
tell you how often I used to sit and listen to the piano in that little
place there with the Glouster Fisherman out front. What was it called
"Lewers Street Fish Market or Fish Company, something like
that. I think I still have matchbooks from there. Its gone, of
course, as are Pieces of Eight, House Hong, Chucks, Buzzs
and, maybe the place I miss most, the Islander Coffeehouse."
"Goodness," Wallace sighed, "a trip down memory lane.
When you get to be my age you live in the past, after all. What else
is there? No future to speak of, really. Oh well, Ive taken up
far too much of your time. Thanks for the hand and also for the conversation.
Perhaps our paths will cross again. Do you live in Waikiki?"
"Yes," I told him, "in a little place on Ala Wai."
Something, who can say what, overcame my natural reticence and I asked,
"Say, are you interested in a nightcap? I know a little place around
the corner that has live jazz."
"I think I know just the place," Wallace answered, "but
another time for sure. Right now I need to get home. My dog is ready
for his evening walk."
"Well, good night, then. It was nice to meet you and to chat for
a few moments," I said, and meant it. "You could be right;
maybe now that weve met well bump into one another again.
There really cant be too many of us castaways left on this rock."
I shook Wallaces hand. He turned and, passing the base of the
grand staircase, headed toward the exit. "Excuse me," I said
a little too loudly as he reached the front stairs above the bell desk,
"whats your dogs name?"
"Hes a little Jack Russell," Wallace announced proudly
over his shoulder. I call him Starbuck. "
"Wonderful," I replied, "First mate on the Pequod, right?"
"Bravo. You are just about the first person to catch the allusion.
I should have realized you would from your reference to Huckleberry
Finn earlier. Sadly, most people today assume hes named after,
well, you know. Aloha."
With that he turned and continued down the stairs. I watched as he crossed
Kalakaua at Kanekapolei. He was soon lost in the crowd.In the weeks
and months to follow I made it a habit to drop in at the Moana on Thursday
nights. Wallace was always there at a table under the banyan near the
swimming pool. Wed sit together and reminisce. After about an
hour or so, hed get up to leave. It was always time to take his
dog for a walk. Our relationship was a strong one, in its own way, but
it was unencumbered by demands, expectations or any of the other issues
and trivialities that can cause tension or conflict between people who
grow close. We were just two isolatoes as Melville might say
who came together from time to time. Wed warm our hands
briefly over the fire of human contact, as it were, and then each go
his solitary way.
I knew where Wallace lived and he seemed to know where I resided. At
least I would often see him walking past my apartment from time to time
while I sat on my lanai. Wed wave, just that, nothing more. It
was almost as though we were afraid to alter or tax the parameters of
our association. Our contact was limited to Thursday nights under the
stately banyan tree. The truth is I had no idea whether Wallace
was actually his first or last name. I did learn from him, however,
that he had been a Physics professor in California. His son was killed
in a tragic accident when the boy was a teenager and his wife committed
suicide shortly after that. When Wallace retired, having nothing to
keep him on the West Coast, he pulled up stakes and moved to Hawaii.
Its amazing, really, how many stories like that one hears
or at least used to hear around the islands. As the only land
mass in, literally, thousands of miles, it stands to reason that all
sorts of human flotsam and jetsam would be carried ashore here by the
convulsive currents of life. Thats always been the case. Not even
rapid air travel can change the fact that this is one of the worlds
most remote island chains. Nevertheless, Oahu is still known as the
Wallace was interested in my work as a freelance writer doing book reviews,
author interviews and features. One of his passions was reading the
classics, something he never had time to do during his years
teaching. Our love of literature was yet one more thing that brought
us together. One starlit evening our conversation turned to the way
in which islands seemed naturally to attract all manner of scoundrels,
people with all sorts of outrageous schemes and dreams and characters
of one sort or another. Literature and, in fact, history were full of
"Declan, youve been here long enough to know that Hawaii
too has had its share of oddballs, eccentrics, people with stories so
colorful that not even the most creative author could invent them. Does
the name Annette Nahinu mean anything to you?"
I thought for a moment as a family of four carrying wet, sandy towels
and a boogie board made their way through the bar area. Their sandals
and flip-flops made a sucking, adhesive sound as they passed
the sounds of vacation. "Annette Nahinu. The name sounds familiar
for some reason. Wait a moment, doesnt she own that place out
on Sand Island? Whats it called again?"
"Yes, shes the one," Wallace nodded as he sipped his
guava juice. "And the name of her place is La Mariana. Do you know
what that means? If Im not mistaken it was her maiden name."
"Well, certainly it has something to do with the sea.
Maybe a diminutive form, little sea or some thing like that?
"Precisely, little sea, what an utterly appropriate
name for a place by a lagoon. Have you ever been out there?"
"No," I said. "But Ive always wanted to go."
"Did you know," Wallace continued slipping into what I had
come to recognize as lecture mode, "that, like me,
Annette is in her mid-nineties and she still runs the place? Shes
been married three times and, as far as I am aware, has repeatedly refused
to sell off to the Japanese. She once told, unless I die, Im
here. I guess thats my motto too. Anyhow, we really do need
to take a field trip out there. The food is so-so but the ambience is
remarkable. Its the last old-fashioned Tiki-bar and restaurant.
The real thing, I mean. She has vintage memorabilia from the days of
Matson, the Pan-Am Clipper and, God forbid, Hawaii-Five-0. You get the
picture, Im sure. The whole thing is over-the-top but, lets
face it, its the kind of place that you just cant find anymore.
Who knows how much longer she can carry on? Once shes gone, well,
it will never be the same."
And so, to Thursdays at the Moana were added the occasional Saturday
evening out on Sand Island at La Mariana. Time passed as it usually
does in Hawaii, gently and uneventfully. One Thursday I arrived at the
Moana only to discover that Wallace was not there waiting for me. I
sat down at our table, ordered a beer and watched the lights of a container
ship round Diamond Head and disappear. After ninety minutes I really
began to worry. Nothing, and I mean nothing, prevented my elderly friend
from making our weekly rendezvous. After checking with the bartenders
and wait staff all of whom knew us by sight and by name
to see if Wallace had left a message, I paid up and left.
My uneasiness grew as I walked down Kalakaua to Ohua Street and turned
toward Ala Wai. I wont bore you with the details of how I knocked
on the door of Wallaces condo only to be greeted by the frantic
barking of his dog. I didnt have a key so it took some doing to
convince the concierge to open the door. When we walked in we found
Wallace dead in his chair, a copy of Lord Jim on his lap. His beloved
Jack Russell retreated to the far corner beneath the bookcase. His barking
had been replaced with what seemed to me to be a disconsolate whimpering.
Once the ambulance and HPD arrived, and Wallace made his final journey
down the outside stairway of this building, I bent down and picked up
his dog. Predictably, inevitably, he had a patch of black fur over his
left eye. The two of us descended those stairs for the last time as
well and moved off into the warm tropical night. Since then, Starbuck
and I have settled into a companionable routine. We make very few demands
on one another. Weve each learned to deal with our loss in our
own way. Were just a pair of isolatoes thrust together by the
eddies of dissolution and memory. Hawaii continues to change around
us, reborn again and again in the warm amniotic waters of the Pacific;
sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Either way we endure, holding
onto the past and, at the same time, embracing an uncertain future.
What else is there? What else has there ever been?
We turned around once we reached Kapahulu and headed back toward home.
A young couple with Australian accents came toward us. They were consulting
a map and arguing about where to go, what to see, during the remainder
of their stay. My dog raced toward them. "Starbuck," I said,
"Isnt that cute," the woman remarked to her partner
as they passed, "that bloke named his dog after Starbucks."
© Jim Clar
- Jan 2008
James C. Clar
“Excuse me sir, are you the caretaker here?”
My inquiry was met with the kind of deep silence that only the Japanese have truly mastered.
More Life Stories
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.