Somewhere during the middle of November, 1981, I received a call from the father of a woman I’d dated earlier in the month. She’d been sweet, and demure, and I was respectful toward her. So I didn’t automatically think the call was about abusing her somehow.
Instead, I heard him tell me, “Hi there Chris. I’m a travel agent you know, and an avid golfer. I’m traveling to Hawaii at the beginning of December and I plan to play a lot of golf. Would you like to go along?”
I didn’t know what to say at first. I was barely making more than $20,000 a year at that time as a graphic artist in marketing for Van Kampen Merritt. I had perhaps $600 in savings in the bank. How much would a trip to Hawaii even cost, I wondered?
“It will only cost you $300 with the flight, hotel, and everything. You just need to bring some money for some meals. The golf is covered too.”
I’d obviously never been to Hawaii at that point in my life. The biggest trip I’d ever taken was a training camp to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons with the Luther College cross country team. But Hawaii? It sounded great.
So I accepted the offer. We flew to San Francisco for a short layover and then flew across the Pacific to the island of Oahu. I can still remember looking down at Pearl Harbor on a short holding pattern. The view of the island was sobering. The other reason my elder partner was visiting Hawaii was to attend a 40th-anniversary commemoration of the bombing of the Naval base at Pearl Harbor. He’d served in the Navy in WWII and was in Oahu on the day the Japanese attacked.
We checked into our hotel in Waikiki. Our windows and balcony overlooked the beach. I could see a rainbow slick of suntan oil slick on the water. That was the first hint that Hawaii was not going to be the natural paradise I perhaps expected.
Part of my eagerness to visit such a far-flung island was the chance to find some new birds to add to my lifelist. As I quickly learned, the native species had long been largely wiped out by residential development and agriculture, military bases, marijuana farmers, and golf courses. These diverse interests existed in uncomfortable proximity to each other, each with its own form of protection against intrusion. But the wildlife was shoved side or extirpated.
Most of the birds I found were exotic imports brought to Oahu through human endeavors. These in many cases outcompeted local bird populations. Add in the rats and snakes and other non-native predators and the island of Oahu was nothing more than a massive experiment in reverse evolution.
There were birds from Asia such as the Japanese White Eye, the Indian Mynah, Dyal, and Shama. There were also Brazilian cardinals, Ricebirds, and Strawberry finches. Most of these were escaped cage birds. On the beaches next to the golf course, I spotted a lanky shorebird called a Wandering Tattler, and a golden plover. Other than the feral species and those couple of oceangoing migrants, there was little other wildlife to see on the island of Oahu.
But the streets of Honolulu and Waikiki did have wildlife of its own. The first time my travel agent friend and I walked out of the hotel to get something to eat, we were approached by a stunning young woman of some exotic descent. Her dark brown eyes shone and her lips glimmered above a dress that barely clung to her lithe body. “Suck your d***?” she asked the two of us.
“No, we’re going to have dinner,” I reflexively replied. Then we kept walking. But the sexual invites kept coming. After dinner, we walked back to the hotel at twilight through another gauntlet of comely callgirls. Not that we were interested, but by that time of day we were feeling jet-lagged and just wanted to go to bed.
The next morning I rose early to go for a run toward Diamond Head, the big mountain that famously marks the eastern end of Oahu. The breeze off the ocean was refreshing, and the smell of flowers filled the senses. I trotted up the pathway and wound up running alongside the road. When I got out of town, the ocean started to look tempting for a swim. I ran past the famous “blowhole” where the waves burst up through a lava pipe, and crept down the embankment to go for a swim.
The ocean was beautiful, but also a bit intimidating. I had a sheen of sweat on my body by then, so I peeled off my shirt and shorts and was planning to go for a Pacific skinny dip when I heard voices right above me in the bushes. Apparently, I’d crawled along the beach far enough to land under a pulloff by the highway. Seeing people so close, I ducked under some bushes and pulled my clothes and running shoes back on. Then I walked out on the strip of sand and pretended to be nonchalantly looking at the ocean. I don’t think the ruse worked because I’m pretty sure someone saw the sight of my white ass down on the beach. But taking the advice of my elder girlfriend from the previous year, I fobbed it off and reasoned “Hey, it’s all in the recovery.”
After that, I ran a long ways up the road and realized I wasn’t about to circumnavigate the island, so I turned back and returned to the hotel.
That morning, we drove to the first golf course we intended to play. I thought I’d packed a decent pair of shorts, but it turned out that all I had were some tattered white cutoffs. So that’s what I wore golfing along with a collared polo short. My elder friend and golfing partner Warren was a distinguished and accomplished man in life. He was also too kind to complain that my attire was less than classy. But then things got even more awkward. I pulled my golf bag out the car truck and started removing it from the transport bag from the airplane. When the bag slid out of the bag, a giant mouse nest flipped out the top. Apparently, I’d laid the golf bag down during the autumn months and a mice family took up residence inside. When I tipped it back up, the mice could not crawl out of the bag and died inside the forest of club handles. I saw the pile of cotton shavings and mouse carcasses fall out on the tarmac and tried to kick the mess under the car. I’m sure Warren saw that, but again, out of kindness and golf club decorum, he said nothing.
We played golf every day that week. He was a brilliantly composed golfer, a national Master’s Age Group Champion, in fact. He hit the ball straight on his drives, played fairway irons with confidence, chipped with purpose, and putted with the best. I hit the ball inconsistently, and often tired by the end of eighteen holes, but my game steadily improved as the week wore on.
We drove carts on most of the courses. I was thankful for that. The Hawaiian sun beat down on our backs, and my skinny runner’s cap was not much protection as there was so little shade between the few palm trees lining the fairways. Sometimes I trotted between shots rather than ride the cart, and Warren didn’t seem to mind. His own son Larry was an ace long-distance runner that I’d grown to like quite a bit. I think that’s why he trusted me hanging out with his entire family. A visit to their home was always filled with laughter and good food. While I was a bit unrefined, he saw me as a basically good kid and decent company.
The only thing I noticed in playing golf with Warren is that he was a bit resolute about the constant presence of Japanese golfers on every course. Here we were, forty years removed from Pearl Harbor, and the US was reconciled to Japan in diplomatic relations, but having lived through the bombings on the very island where we played golf, I wondered how he felt about the overwhelming number of Japanese tourists. The male golfers invariably played with a female companion, who never lifted a club, but some drove the carts while their men soldiered on.
We toured the Arizona memorial one hot afternoon. The ship itself sits below the surface where it was sunk back in December of 1941. I stood there stunned that a thin rainbow of oil from the ship’s hull was still bubbling to the surface. I felt the stiff irony of Hawaii as a playground for the senses against its history as the place where the United States was forced into war with Japan.
We attended a Pearl Harbor commemorative ceremony high on a hill above Oahu. Warren was mostly silent, and quite solemn during the proceedings. A set of jets zoomed overhead with a roar, and an American flag was raised. The date was December 7, 1981. When the ceremony was over, Warren walked solemnly to our rental car. We both climbed in and he sat in his seat for a moment, staring out the windshield. Then he reached forward with the key, gave the ignition a firm start, and we drove away. Nothing was said on the way back to the hotel. I respected the fact that he might not want to talk about his experiences or his thoughts. My own father was a Navy man, but he didn’t served until 1945 when the war was over. His tour of duty took him to the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where he took photos of the devastation caused by the nuclear weapons employed to end the war with Japan.
A day later on December 8 I turned on the hotel TV to find news about the first anniversary of the day John Lennon was shot in New York City. While certainly not an event with the portent of Pearl Harbor, it was important to me as a member of the 60s generation. I’d lived through the period when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and his brother Bobby. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and now John Lennon. All essentially liberal advocates who craved social and moral justice even though their own lives were not perfect.
The shock of losing the first Beatle to a murderous gunman was disturbing to say the least. I’d grown up listening to The Beatles. I knew all their songs and lyrics by heart, and especially felt the irony of John Lennon’s composition Happiness is a Warm Gun. He was way ahead of his time in anticipating the fact that Americans especially would come to view their guns as symbols of happiness.
Happiness is a warm gun (bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
Happiness is a warm gun, momma (bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
When I hold you in my arms (ooh, oh, yeah)
And I feel my finger on your trigger (ooh, oh, yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm (ooh, oh, yeah)
Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is (bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
Happiness is a warm, yes it is, gun (happiness, bang, bang, shoot, shoot)
Well, don’t you know that happiness is a warm gun momma?
I also appreciated what Lennon tried to communicate during his anti-war sit-in where the song Give Peace a Chance indicted war and all the ignorance that contributes to military conflicts. I already understood that conservatives lamented the 1960s as a hopelessly idealistic and politically squanderous era. But you know what? Lennon was right. And when Lennon stuck the refrain War Is Over into his song about Christmas, he was serious as hell that we take too much of our lives for granted, and that war is in fact the opposite of what Christianity and human morality was supposed to represent.
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The war is so long
And so happy Christmas (war is over)
For black and for white (if you want it)
For yellow and red ones (war is over)
Let’s stop all the fight (now)
So I felt vindicated in mourning the death of Lennon in the wake of a ceremony commemorating the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He had the guts to confront the selfish instincts of the military-industrial complex and the corrupt jingoism of “my country right or wrong.” The people who fought World War II are often called The Greatest Generation. But realistically, they fought the war because they had no choice. The generation ushered in by John Lennon pointed out that there were choices to fighting wars, which is what Give Peace a Chance was all about.
Of course, decades later, America hadn’t learned its lessons, and the US chose to militarily invade Iraq without real justification. In fact, it was all based on lies. No chance was given for peace despite the fact that international inspectors found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and none were ever found once the US flattened the country. Thousands of American military personnel died or were maimed in that conflict of choice. All because those tin soldiers Bush and Chenery, each of whom evaded military service on their own, felt it was their right to send other people to fight and die.
I went for a couple more short runs from the hotel, but a part of me wanted to do a bit more exploring up on the highlands of Oahu. It was too far to run up there, so I had Warren drop me off at a path we identified on the map. We agreed to meet on the other side of the hills in a couple of hours.
The path took me up steep hills where Indian mynahs with their black shiny plumage and bright yellow bills lurked and shirked my presence. It got quieter and hotter the higher I went, but I kept climbing. Using the sun to keep my bearings in relation to the road, I tried to walk parallel to the quiet hum of traffic occasionally coming to me through the trees. Then suddenly the woods opened up and I found myself next to a pasture of sorts. That’s when I realized I’d stumbled on a giant marijuana farm.
I looked around afraid that I’d get caught on private property. There was no sign telling me that I’d left the public trail, but I’d heard enough even back then about pot farmers shooting people dead to know that I had better run, and run fast, to get out of there.
I saw a trail opening on the opposite side of the patch, which stood a few feet high, and I trotted with my birding binoculars banging against my chest. The footing was thick grass, and I tried not to trip. But I started to sweat, and had no water with me, so I concentrated on running as efficiently as possible.
Fortunately, the path did parallel the road fairly well. I kept trotting as the path narrowed and the woods thickened. I feared that it might all close in, and I’d be stuck, and have to retrace my steps all the way back through the pot patch and back down the hill. But then how would I reach Warren? We had no cell phones back in those days.
The trail didn’t stop. But I emerged in a dried-out field. By then, I was tired from running all that way, and decided to walk a while since the dangers of being shot by a pot cabal seemed to have disappeared. But then, I came to a short asphalt driveway. It led downhill and before I knew it, I was walking through a military base of some sort. My saving grace was the tee shirt I wore. It was dark blue with a big, white American eagle on the front. Along with my white cutoffs, I looked pretty patriotic strolling through the base. I walked right down the sidewalk past the gates, giving a nod to the personnel inside, who waved back, and had myself a bit of a chuckle walking across the grass expanse outside the base to find myself at the spot where Warren pulled up in the car. What luck! I thought.
I didn’t tell him what just transpired. “Did you find any birds?” he kindly asked.
“Just some junky ones,” I told him. “The invasive species have taken over. The native birds are all gone.”
We played golf again the next day. And the next. That was five days in a row, and my hands were blistered as I had not thought to bring a golf glove. Plus, I was dog tired and sunburnt from all that time in the sun. We were finishing up a golf round one afternoon when I chipped a shot onto the green and it rolled off the back side and kept rolling and rolling and rolling on the sand beach. I tried catching up with the shot but the ball disappeared into the soft surf, and I just laughed, threw down another ball and chipped back onto the green from the hard sand surface.
I stood there a moment in the calm shade of the palm trees. The course faced west and north from the island, and I struggled to imagine all the ocean that lay beyond.
That made me want to have a more intimate encounter with the waters of Hawaii. So Warren dropped me off to go snorkeling in a small bay. The fish were unafraid as I paddled around aimlessly. The bright ripples of sun fluttered all around me. Wearing only a blue Speedo suit and my big mask, I must have looked like a strange bug to anyone watching me from the shore.
I waited for Warren in a beach park. When he arrived, he said that he’d like to hang out by the water a bit himself. “Okay,” I told him. “There’s a body-surfing beach right over there. I can swim while you catch some rays.”
We set out blankets and I trotted my skinny body out to the surf’s edge. The waves looked bigger than I’d seen before, but not so big that I was afraid. I swam out from shore and was immediately caught up by an eight-foot breaker, tossed back against the hard sand and washed up the beach like a waterlogged branch. I lay there gasping, spitting and pulling sand out of my mouth. I could hear Warren laughing from somewhere nearby. “Are you going back out again?”
“Fuck, no,” I replied. “That almost broke my back.” And it was true. The impact nearly knocked the wind out of me. My ribs hurt some too. I was lucky that I didn’t lose both contact lenses when the saltwater bashed into my face. I had a pancake of sand wedged in my ass crack.
Back in the car, after changing out of my Speedo, I turned to Warren and admitted, “I just learned a lesson…”
He pounded his palms on the steering wheel and chortled, “I’ll say…”
A perfect 10
We drove back to the hotel on the last afternoon in town and he took a nap on the big king bed. I turned on the TV to find the movie “10” starring Bo Derek playing. I sat at the foot of the bed watching Julie Andrews cavort with no bra on, and Dudley Moore trying to make time with the likes of the woman that had captivated the world with her naked run up the beach.
I got horny and bored, so I grabbed the money I had left and went downstairs to wander the streets a bit. Not far from the hotel, I found a bar called the Blue Water Cafe. Everyone inside looked beautiful. The waitresses all wore plain white tank tops with no bra underneath. I was absolutely captivated by the whole scene. I ordered a drink, and then another, while sitting at the bar taking in the exoticism of an island watering hole. At that moment, a stunningly beautiful brunette woman sat next to me at the bar and ordered a drink. Empowered by the alcohol I’d already consumed, I struck up a conversation.
Dimly aware that I was in the presence of someone out of my league, about a perfect 10, I asked her what she did for a living. She told me the truth. “I’m a highly-paid female escort,” she explained. “I travel with rich men all over the world.”
“Really…” I said, a bit slack-jawed. “Well, I’m kind of impressed. And I can see why. You really are beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she replied, snapping shut her tiny black purse. Then she left me on my bar seat.
That encounter convinced me to stop drinking and head back to the hotel. What was a guy with $80 left in his pocket going to do to impress any woman on the island of Oahu? Who even knew what the callgirls charged? They were probably out of my league as well. I knew that I needed to save some cash for meals on the way home, so I walked back to the hotel.
Warren and I shared a nice meal together the last night in Waikiki. I ordered seafood. That cost me $40. Almost broke, I was glad to be headed home at last. But Warren was good to his word. The flight and hotel had only cost me $300.
We flew back to a cold and dark Illinois night. My Plymouth Arrow was parked at his house the entire week, so I drove back from Naperville at 5:00 in the morning. I arrived back at my coach house around 6:00, and then remembered that I’d promised my new acquaintance Linda that I’d meet her at a church service that Sunday morning. Fearing that I’d fall sound asleep if I laid down at all, I decided to stay awake and drive to church at 7:30. We met in the narthex where she gave me a hug. “I’m a little drunk or something,” she told me. “I was up all night partying with my friends.”
And there I was again, home free.
We sat together in the back pew, but before the service was halfway through, we both fell sound asleep leaning on each other. We awoke with a jolt when the organ music blared to end the service and people stood up to leave. I looked her in the eyes with raised eyebrows and we both laughed. “Maybe it’s time to go home,” I smiled.
She said “Yes, I think so.”