Excerpt from ”Da Word” (Bamboo Ridge Press, 2001)
Special to Da Hawai‘i Herald
Editor’s note: Mahalo Lee Tonouchi for allowing the Herald to reprint this excerpt to share your story to heal our hearts, even if for a little while, pained from the devastating loss caused by the recent Maui wildfires.
My faddah from Lāhainā sai. Ass wot I tell my friends wen dey all ass me hakum we going Maui. ”Maui?! Why you going Maui fo’?,” dey all ass making faces. Nobody stay jealous. Dey say, ”Mo’ bettah go mainlaaaand.” I tell ’em, ”Cuss, at least we going someplace, bully. Going someplace is beddah than going no place. ” Sometimes I wish we wuz rich like Steiler Shintani guys who go like Disneyland like every oddah year and Disneyworld like every oddah oddah year in between. Wot’s wrong wit Maui? Good Maui. Maui get Planet Hollywood now. Ass wea my Uncle Stoney guys ran into da Barbarian Bruddahs lass year wen dey went right aftah da special openings. Maybe, if da timing correck, if eh-ry ting wuz all synchros, maybe me and my faddahs might bump into Bruce Willis, or dat ”Sly Guy” Sylvester Stallone, or maybe even Ah-nold–da box office behemoth himself. And das like ten thousand times way mo’ bettah dan da washed up has-been Barbarian Bruddahs. Wotchoo tinks, cuss?
My faddah sez da plane ride going take only like twenny-thirty minutes. And dis flight attendant stewardess-man is jus one rude dude, cuss. Ees like he tink I looking him wot, so he looking me why, only I not looking him wot, I looking him, I THIRSTY WEA MY DRINK, cuss. My troat stay all dehydronated.
Pre-soon I could see Maui and my faddah wen reach over and point out da plane window, ”Sonny boy, look ’em look ’em, dea Māhinahina. You see Maui grandma’s house?” I get all confuse, bu’s, ”So if you wen grow up Māhinahina den hakum wen people ass you wea you from you always say Lāhainā?”
”Cuz moss people dunno Māhinahina. If you say Honokōwai den maybe dey know, but Māhinahina, da strip is only about a mile long. You blink your eye, you pass ’um. Māhinahina, Honokōwai, Ka‘anapali – das all part a Lāhainā,” my faddah sez pulling out one map from insai da airplane magazine. ”See stay between da two rivers–da boundary go from da mountain, to da ocean,” he sez pointing wit his finger.
”Aw, das jus like da ahupua’a system, yeah?” I wen go add-on, making all intellectual cuz das we wen learn last year, seven grade Hawaiiana wit Ms. Aipa. Ho, I know ’em ah cuss. Badness.
We wen touch down and my face came all frown cuz my faddahs. I dunno how we wuz going make all style profile in dis sorry-sad looking blue-grey, Geo, no mo’ powah, junk-a-lunka rental car. I wuz hoping fo’ one ultra-bad, ultra-rad, spitfire red Pontiac Sunbird convertible fo’ make da kine full-on fo’ sure tourist kine action, but my faddah sez coss too much, gotta save from now. Aftah we wen pass through Lāhainā town, mostly had jus sugarcane. Ten thousand miles and miles of sugarcane-sugarcane and ocean. I tot wuz going have some sights fo’ see and I had my camera all reddy spaghetti, but nevah have nahting fo’ shoot. Sadness.
My faddah grew up in da lime green house right by da beach. I only went dea couple times wen I wuz small. I only remembah going down da beach and picking pipipi while my faddah guys wen mo’ down fo’ catch eel.
”You remembah da time you caught one ghost moray,” my faddahs wen ass me outta da blue kine like he wuz tinking my tinkings.
”No. Who I wuz wit?”
”I get one Cousin Rip?”
”No wait. Das MY cousin, so das your. . . second cousin? Third cousin? I dunno, get ’em written down. Wen we go home try go ask grandma if she still get da family tree.”
Den my faddah nevah say nahting again cuz I guess he wuz trying fo’ figure out all da relations. Wuz quiet in da car and could only hear da sound of him chewing his nicotine gum fo’ help him quit smoking. I remembah my faddah sed dis road used to be da main road befo’, but ees only like two lanes, one way-one way, but befo’ wuz considered part of da highway until dey wen make da join mo’ insai. Finally aftah driving fo’ like fo’evah and a day my faddah pulls off to da side of da road.
Could hardly tell dat da house wuz dea. Da mango tree outsai wuz all growing wild, one wall of weeds wen take ova da driveway–Wuz like Maddah Nature wen eat my Maui grandma’s house. She wen sell her house chree years ago fo’ like million trillion dollahs or someting to some guys who wuz going build someting on top da beachfront property. Das planny money, bully. I could buy like ten thousand Richie Rich comic books wit dat. She wuz one of da lass peoples to sell. She had for sell, no could afford da property tax anymore. Practically along da whole stretch a road only had condo condo condos. But I tink so doze investor guys wuz experiencing da kine financial depletions cuz wen me and my faddahs could see dey nevah do nahting yet. Chree years and da house wuz still dea. Still standing. But all boddo boddos now, da windows stay all boarded up jus like da place wuz haunted.
I wen take one picture of da house fo’ go show grandmas. We wen walk back across da street and my faddah wen turn da car around. I dunno why, but my faddahs wuz starting fo’ get mo’ and mo’ walkie talkie now. Muss be da Maui air I tot. My maddah sed da fresh air wuz going be good fo’ his health. He wuz all reminiscing about da mountain apple and guava dey used to go get from up da mountain, da pigs and chickens dey used to raise. Full-on E-I-E-I-O action alreddy.
Nevah get nahting fo’ see on da way back. Only da same sameness. ”No mo’ too much cars yeah dis road,” I made color commentaries.
”Ten o’clock no’ mo. Ho, morning time, I hea get some planny traffic I tell you boy. Everybody work at da hotels, eh. Jus like Honolulu alreddy.”
So we spent da whole day driving, driving, driving all around driving all ova town–jus looking fo’ see wea tings used to be. Me, I wuz born O’ahu so I wuzn’t feeling dis kine full-on nostalgias dat my faddahs wuz feeling. ”Dis used to be da hardware store. Ovah hea had da Queen Theater, and ova dea wuz Pioneer Mill Theater.” Boooring. I wuz starting to wish dat my maddah and my kid bruddah all came on dis trip too cuz den maybe we could make like da kine Scooby Doo action and split up into groups–da grown-ups can go all sight-see and da kids can go play Street Fighter someplace.
”Your faddah not going always be around you know. You listening to me, Sonny boy?,” my faddah wen boddah me as I wuz tinking of whether I should use Ken or Chun-Li fo’ beat Bison.
”Wen we going Planet Hollywood?” I wen ass my faddahs again, as I noticed dat we wuz getting mo’ farther and farther away from da ocean, away from da town, away from Planet Hollywood.
”I go take you go someplace first.” All right, cliff hanger-anticipation action, I tot as we wen go up da hill. But da expectation of eventual showtime excitement wen only last fo’ all a two seconds, cuz we wuz alreddy practically right dea by da place he wanted fo’ show me. His old school–Lahainaluna c/o ’59. Dis is wea he spent da bess years of his life he sed. Wea he met my maddah in automotive class. High school sweethearts.
”Twenny-one years of happy marriage. You no can beat dat,” my faddah sed all looking up to da sky. I wuz jus nodding, leaning against da car. Den all one time he wen jump on da hood and stretch his arms out. ”Smell da AIR.,” my faddah sed making all one wit da wind. ”AIR. Das life. Good ol’ country life. Dis da air dat make you feeeel–FEEL ALIVE. You no feel ’um?”
”Yeah yeah yeah,” I toll ’em, taking one deep breath, making all like I wuz feeling invigorated too. And den he wen go off on how school wuz so diff’rent befo’ time. To go school hea he sed, dey had to milk cows and stuff and dat used to pay fo’ their room and board. Wit a moo-moo hea and one moo-moo dea. Hea a moo, dea a moo, everywea a moo moo man, like big-whoop-d-doo, bu. Da gate wuz closed so wuz like so lame. And I nevah even see one cow cuss, not even ONE, bully.
Lee A. Tonouchi’s book “Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son: One Hawai‘i Okinawan Journal” won da Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. An’den his East West Players play “Three Year Swim Club” wuz one Los Angeles Times Critic’s Choice Selection.