Monday, May 13, 2013

Molokai Style

As the weather warms up and summer approaches, I have to tell you a Summer Story. It was twenty-five years ago this summer when my dad moved us to Hawaii.

It all began one night after dinner, circa 1986. My dad sat us all down and, unassisted by alcohol or peyote, told us that we were going to sell our house, buy a boat, and sail around the world. He had seven children, a flourishing CPA business, and apparently, a low tolerance for living out his days in Middle America. I was 15 and not impressed with this plan. If I could go back in time, I would smack my 15-year old self, because of course it would be incredible to live a life of globetrotting; but at the time, I was not thrilled with the dangers of the high seas. Sharks, pirates, and a lack of church dances left a bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, I had a plan. I suggested that before we do anything irrational we should probably rent the Harrison Ford movie, Mosquito Coast, wherein an eccentric and dogmatic inventor sells his house and takes his family to Central America – by boat – to build an ice factory in the middle of the jungle. He goes completely crazy. At least…I think he does. The movie was kind of slow, so most of us kids left my parents watching it while we went into the other room and watched a rerun episode of Who’s the Boss?, starring a pre-skanky Alyssa Milano and small screen sensation Tony Danza. Riveting.

The plan must have worked, and Dad must have recognized the dangers of going crazy at sea (as well as the dangers of assuming that every Harrison Ford movie would be sensational—anything post 1995, I’m looking in your direction), because he never brought up the plan again and simultaneously stopped insisting we answered him with an “Ai, ai, Captain” whenever he asked us to do something. Who’s the boss now?

But he was still restless.

Fast-forward to 1988. 

We had another Family Meeting. This time, Dad explained that we would be selling our home and leaving all things glorious in Southern California for the opportunity to move to a tiny Hawaiian island by the name of Molokai. While there were decidedly fewer opportunities to be attacked by sharks or pirates while on land (equal opportunities for church dances), I wasn't convinced this was a great alternative. However there were zero movies starring Harrison Ford about a man going crazy in Hawaii. Unless you count the original screenplay for Temple of Doom, which was supposed to take place in Hawaii instead of India. Which also, I just made that up.

I had no way to thwart my father’s plan, so in August of 1988, we moved from Westlake, California to Kualapu’u, (pronounced, no joke, koala-poo-oo), Molokai, Hawaii. An island only six miles wide and thirty miles long.

When you tell people you lived on Molokai, you get one of two responses. “Never heard of it” or “Isn't that where the lepers are?” You are correct on both accounts. For the most part, even people who live on another Hawaiian island raise their eyebrows and are most surprised to hear that there are people alive and well on Molokai. In short, you will not find Molokai in your Fabulous Hawaiian Vacation brochure. Unless you were hoping to see the lepers; but even then, there isn't much left of them. (Zoing! Thank you, I'll be here all week.)

August 1988 was the month before I started my senior year in high school. Do you know how hard it is to move out of the state just before your senior year in high school? Not nearly as difficult as it is to find people who feel bad for you, since you are moving to Hawaii and they are not.

To pass the time on our flight from L.A. to Honolulu, I did a great deal of blubbering. I blubbered over the girl I was leaving in California; I blubbered over missing the suburb where I grew up; I blubbered over being an entire ocean away from In-N-Out; I blubbered over the in-flight movie (Three Men &a Baby, an emotional rollercoaster of love, laughter, and life lessons); and I blubbered over the hits-of-the-day tunes on my Walkman, including Cheap Trick’s The Flame, Guns n’ Roses Sweet Child of Mine, and Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry, Be Happy. (I've never wanted to throat-punch somebody more. Honestly, Bobby. You should worry; because if we ever meet, I am going to slap the “happy” right out of you.)

We spent a few days on Oahu doing all the touristy stuff we could manage to cram into our mini-stop – including the Polynesian Cultural Center, cliff jumping at Waimea Bay, walking Waikiki, flying in a glider plane, and touring the Dole Pineapple Plantation. It sounds like we were sitting in the lap of luxury, yes? But you forget. My dad had just taken a leave of absence from employment, he had seven children, and all these fun activities cost a ridiculous amount of money. How do you fund such an outing? Well, you do away with hotels and three square meals a day. That’s how.

We spent those first four days on Oahu in a minivan, my friend. We subsisted on bread and fresh fruit, purchased each morning. We spent the bulk of each day swimming at the beach, then driving around in wet swim suits, with wet towels (because nothing ever completely dries in humid places such as the Islands). By day four, I can’t describe the odious funk that permeated that minivan. Mildew-saturated towels and clothing, combined with old fruit rinds, combined with teenage body odor.  (Man, I missed church dances.) 

The nights were the worst, really. Dad would drive around until it got late enough that the police stopped patrolling the beaches.  Then he’d pull over and some of us would throw our towels out onto the sand and sleep, and some of the more fortunate souls called dibs on the seats in the van. It was a catch-22. Van seats weren't comfortable, but you ran the risk of being eaten alive by mosquitoes outside. I was so impressed when Dad handed that minivan back into Alamo Rental with a straight face.

Eventually we flew over to Molokai with about a week and half until school started. Here I have listed a few of my first impressions about Molokai:
  • It smells fantastic.
  • The dirt is red.
  • There are no stoplights.
  • There are barely any stop signs.
  • Nobody pays attention to the stop signs.
  • Everyone leaves their keys in the car ignition, because everybody knows which car belongs to whom. (Population: 6,000 folks.)
  • Everyone picks up hitchhikers.
  • The east end of the island is lush, with lagoons and an almost jungle-like feel; and the winding roads to get there make the trip longer than anywhere else you could go on the island. The west end is almost desert-like until you reach the coast, where the white-sand beaches are amazing. The north end holds the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest sea cliffs – and at the bottom is a peninsula, where the lepers live. The south end of the island has the wharf, groves of palm trees, and some restaurants and residential areas.
My brother and I eating octopus that had just come out of that water right behind us. 

Some things that made life easier:
  • I got to visit another island almost once a month, for some school, church, or family-related activity.
  • The local grocery store owner had Haagen-Dazs ice cream imported weekly just for our family.
  • The first video store on the island opened the same week we moved there. Coincidence? Not hardly.
  • I made friends that were more accepting than I had ever anticipated, and they kept me sane.
  • The beach, the beach, the beach.
I knew I was becoming localized when:
  • I ate sticky rice, poi, Portuguese sausage, and raw squid at 6:00 a.m. at Seminary Breakfast Parties.
  • I left my keys in my car ignition at all times.
  • I didn't always wear shoes to school.
I was only there the one year – my senior year of high school. After that I left for college and my parents later moved to Lake Tahoe while I was on my LDS mission. But Molokai will always a hold a special place in my soul. And Harrison Ford will always have a string of blockbuster hits to distract us from Hollywood Homicide.

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