“It reads like Janet Evanovich morphing into Rachel Ray while filming a remake of the Perils of Pauline.” -- Anne Hillerman, author of ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Spiderwoman’s Daughter.’
“Mystery-thriller, romance, cookbook, Big Island travelogue, mini-Hawaiian history and culture lessons; there is a lot packed into this book! It was a fun read that kept me entertained, especially having spent time on the Big Island with many of the places visited so familiar.” -- Kahakai Kitchen blog
He could not believe his good fortune, or so he thought. The hunger he carried with him since morning gurgled and cried out for all that was spread before him on the table. With a handful scoop he popped a half dozen fresh shrimp, the cold taste soothing his mouth. He gathered up abalone sashimi and plopped it on top of a crisp won ton for his personal sushi. Woozy, he shook his head, as he swallowed, still famished. Chicken wings marinated in soy and sherry sauces were sucked in slurps, with the greasy bones thrown to the ground. Tasting through every dish on the table, he grabbed with both hands, alternating, stuffing his face. His head burned with the temperature he carried all week. Food was medicine. The more consumed, he believed, the quicker he would heal. Then, he saw the koa calabash bowl, the food filled within; this special treat must be for him. Memories of childhood flooded his mind and brought a smile to his face. He sensed a presence. Around the table, he imagined his parents, brothers and sisters, the warmth of family. His mother handed him the bowl, and said, “Eat and enjoy, my son, this is special for you. Aloha wau ia ‘oe, e ka‘u keiki.” Someone, a stranger, shouted, “Hey, if you don’t mind…”
He heard no more. Death had come to the buffet.
A chalkboard weather report posted at the entry gate announced the atmospheric conditions on my arrival: “78° feels 85° – 65% humidity— scattered clouds—Fair is foul, foul is fair.” Considering what I am here to do, I would have said: ‘Fare is fowl, the fowl is fair.’
I hover at the carousel at the Kona International Airport on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. My luggage and camera equipment from my L.A. flight should momentarily come spitting out from behind hidden doors. At the same time my father’s plane from Chicago is arriving, exact to the schedule we planned. AI Flight 45239. Father and daughter to be teamed up for a business adventure, a first.
I adjust to the constant breeze of Pacific heat, my blouse soaked in rivulet perspiration beads. Around me, a sea of tourists ebb and flow gathering up arriving luggage. A people watcher by nature, like my father, but where he might have seen nuances in facial expressions, or interpret hand gestures as more sinister to defining character, I offer silent snickers at ill-shaped bodies and sloppy fashion choices.
It is here, at this moment within the crowd, I make a serious error in my harmless voyeur exercise, accepting the general view and ignoring understated detail. Looking back on my later experiences with the hotel chauffer and the Beautiful People, damn, how extraordinarily lame I acted on both counts, totally off base, out of whack, to the timeless adage, revised in this case, you cannot judge a cookbook by its cover.
Take the Beautiful People, for example. My eyes are drawn to a boisterous group at the luggage carousel across from mine. They grab at arriving suitcases. Youthful, in my age range. A party in motion, laughing, teasing. Onto a baggage cart, they inventory golf clubs, tennis rackets, and scuba gear. Even tech com their vacation with two of them fiddling with what look like miniature walkie-talkies. My eyes strain to read their casual attire T-shirts to define their bumper sticker mind-set. One shirt reads, “San Quentin Law Library.” Another T-shirt marquee: ‘Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel’. One shirt phrasing, I assumed, to quantify his intelligence, speaks in some numeric gibberish: “Waypoint to Fun is 36˚04.922’ and more numbers I couldn’t see. Whatever that means? And then an “Or…” with an arrow pointing towards his belt line and suggestively, below. I get that part.
There, in their midst stands their leader, definitely head stallion issuing commands and hand signals, directing the melee, seeking order from the jocular chaos. In that rarity of character he seems to lead by personality, good-natured in his cajoling. His face unshaven fuzz topped by a mop of hair hardly blowing in this stove-top wind; nor do I see sweat to his brow. For several long seconds, our eyes bounce together before his buddies drag him back to his responsibilities.
The leader’s T-shirt reads: “Free All Duke Hooligans.” I wondered if such sentiment is serious to principle, or if a mere pop culture joke.
Unaware of my presence, of my existence, I snapped quick, candid photos of them. These people were in that mirthful world I somehow kept missing. The women were drop-dead gorgeous, blemish free, the men like their leader, swarthy handsome. The women wouldn’t be lacking for male attention, the ratio being three perfect women to seven men. One of the women, a blonde of course, resembled a gym-sculpted, tanned, beach volleyball star. Her healthy mountainous chest might draw men, like bees to flowers, but the back of her shirt qualified who might stay and gather nectar. It read: “Ready for Moi? XXX Sports is my Foreplay.” The salty taste in my mouth was the drool of envy.
A young man approached me, invaded my space. Definitely a local. Black shorn hair, thick to his neck, but looking salon cut. Asian- Polynesian features, spiffed out in his ironed aloha shirt, sporting a grin, and bearing the gold nametag of Michael K. I assumed he is the official hotel greeter from the Ho‘oilina Kai Grand Hotel Resort. Around my neck he draped the customary welcoming lei of purple-white orchids. Both cheeks, received not pecks, but kisses beyond the customary norm, warm and lingering, and he looked deep into my eyes but said curtly, “From your Father. I’ll help with your luggage.”
Talk about let down. Hardly the greeting one expects to launch this week-long island sojourn, suggestive by tourist brochures of succulent food and expectant starry, starry nights looking down on wave caressed sands. Perhaps, for me, who knows, does one dare say, “romance?” These days my famished love life is served with an empty plate of desire, garnished with a single crumb of hope. This trip to Hawai‘i wouldn’t it be nice to be a member of that Beautiful People crowd, not relegated to a driver of the hotel shuttle?
I spot my father, Jeffrey Dayne, foodie TV star. Of course, he is with a woman, better defined as an autograph seeker, a fan, almost always a woman. She is probably Chatty Kathying on about Jeffrey’s second and latest cooking travel book, somewhere listed and rising on the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. Insatiable: Further States of Epicurean Delights. She probably squirmed a seat next to his on the plane ride over. The public, all the women fans, know he is a recent widower. Vulnerable. I rudely intrude between them with exaggerated hugs for my father, and steer him away. Not this trip, honey. Or anytime soon.
I should feel sorry for Michael K., our van driver and hotel escort. I had given him my claim stubs for the luggage. Showing his strength, which seems muscular under his hotel uniform shirt, he is grunting along a push cart loaded with my father’s luggage and all my cased and boxed paraphernalia, the cameras and production equipment for the television show we are going to tape on island.
This is Jeffrey Dayne’s thirty minute, popular cooking program on the Food Television Channel, “Insatiable Delights.” As we head out of the airport in the Ho‘oilina Kai van, Michael K. asked if we were doing a documentary film of the island.
“A television show,” I replied, enjoying an air of smugness. Why not, we were V.I.P. Like usual, my father corrected, or would one say, he enhanced my conversation.
To our driver, Jeffrey added, “A television program about the best delights in Hawaiian food.”
“Oh, you are those Daynes, for the Lū‘au Challenge.” From the backseat, we both nodded. With restraint, I held back my snooty witty retort: Were there any other great Daynes?
I stared out the window considering the landscape where we would spend the next week. Vehicles went bumper-to-bumper heading into the town of Kailua-Kona. In paradise the march of civilization seemed to slow crawl. At least the van is going the opposite direction. The highway cut through black lava fields, moon-like desolate except for the roadside messages laid out in white coral rock. Probably the only place on earth where graffiti is accepted as near sacred, a taboo if messed with. White rocks, long dead coral, show designs of everything from hearts to sharks, and a variety of names, J ♥ Chachi types, a reality check from those since departed from too-short vacations. Ikaika wuz here — IMUA KS! — Griswolds Rock. Even sad highway memorials: RIP Cobra. My Dad is scanning today’s local paper, reading an article about the upcoming lū‘au competition at which he will be the celebrity food judge. I glance at the newspaper’s back side, seeing headlines suggesting less pristine paradise and more urban intrusions: increased traffic accidents call for a highway lane expansion; renewing permits filed for inter-island ferries, and, local controversy, at a place called Black Sand Beach Estates, I read where the cabana expansion to the bluff home owned by a South American millionaire will disturb the nesting grounds of the nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose and state bird, thereby frothing up anger among the enviro bird huggers. Who cares? I am going to ignore everyone else’s problems. Just keep crowds away from any beach I occupy, whether white, black, or puce sand.
My attention goes back to the roadway. I see “watch for wild donkey” signs, but see no braying critters. Long-distance bicyclists, straining leg muscles, churn out the miles. Not my sport. Out on the ocean, barely visible, are occasional white whispy spouts to signal migratory whales. As they so advertise, this place better be the harbinger of tranquil paradise. I am determined to have a fun week.
Not to be. Waving flags and placards greet us as we approached the Ho‘oilina Kai Grand Hotel Resort. Not the welcome wagon delegation. Protestors, like angry wasps from a disturbed hive, chant their slogans and spit stinging barbs toward us, closing in on the van from both sides, blocking our entrance to the hotel grounds.
“This is not a mere casual protest demonstration,” noted my father. “There seem to be separate groups objecting to our presence. Can you explain the significance, Michael?” Jeffrey Dayne, my father (not ‘Jeff,’ but Jeffrey) has this pragmatic insight to distinguish tree varieties within a forest, moldy leaves within healthy branches. As usual, he was right on. Where a moment before I saw only a hodgepodge of rabble protestors surrounding the van, on closer inspection, there were groupings within the mob, organized and even color-coordinated. Looking into the shuttle van’s rear view mirror, my eyes locked with Michael’s, our hotel escort and chauffer. Did I see embarrassment in his eyes? Or was he merely examining me, seeing less the woman, more the paying guest? “Am I not correct?” pressed my father.
“Those mostly in green shirts are part of the Kingdom Restoration Society.”
“Ah, yes, I see flags for each group. Very tribal,” said my father. “The Society has a version of the Union Jack state flag, but it’s turned upside down.”
“Originally, the Monarchy Flag from 1814. Upside down is a signal for distress, as in political ‘distress.’” “I read where there are those who demand the United States cede Hawai‘i back to the previous government, the monarchy, the Hawaiian royal family.” Michael confirmed the green shirts’ identity. “They were successful in lobbying local political leaders to pressure Congress in 1993 to pass the Apology Resolution admitting the United States illegally deposed
the rightful monarchy. An unlawful coup. The Society’s goal is to restore the old culture and traditions by restoring a full blooded Hawaiian as king.” He looked at me. “Or queen.” I noted animation in Michael’s voice and suspected he supported their beliefs. After all, his bronze features spoke Pacific Rim bloodlines, a roundingface with Hawaiian lineage, yet highlighted with those Asian eyes. A grown man, but young, his face though smooth held face-lines that suggested some outdoor weathering. Michael went silent. Maybe he said too much, spoke out of turn, to his job limitations. Michael edged the van through the crowd. His caution, I realized, was intent for their safety as much as ours, but then he probably knew these people would not haul us from our vehicle and lynch us to the nearest palm tree. I could hear their chants of protest. They were in sing-song Hawaiian and shouts of onipa‘a — probably their version of “We Shall Overcome.”
Their placards were in Hawaiian except for two or three handheld signs critical of the Ho‘oilina Kai Resort, the most intelligent one of those reading, “Stop the Desecration.” The word misspelled. All their colorful green shirts were either in Hawaiian flora art, several with the pre1893 island national flag, or silk screen photos of former kings and queens of the island. All this said, to get to the point, I prepped for this trip, learning the history of the islands.
So, I knew the silk-screened visages plastered over protestor shirts, pudged or bamboo bodies, were those of Queen Lili’uokalani forced into abdication in 1893 by a cabal of local plantation owners and businessmen backed by U.S. military troops. And, King Kamehameha, founder of a unified Hawai‘i by conquering the other island kingdoms. Score points for me.
“That one elder in the crowd seems to be staring at you, Michael, rather than us.” Jeffrey and his observations.
This old man’s glare ate through our van. His face bore chiseled creases, and yes, his glare focused at Michael. Less anger, I thought, perhaps more a sad frown, like disappointment, than vitriolic. His back humped and bent to his age, his white hair whipped in the wind. He carried no sign, yelled no epithets. I immediately sensed people in the demonstration would defer to him as a leader. Michael had not immediately answered my father. That embarrassment again, momentary silence from our driver until he realized by our questioning stares we both sought a response.
“That’s my uncle, Joe Pa‘ao, but everyone calls him Joe Coffee. Has Kona coffee acreage near Kealakekua. He’s very old school. A purist. Believes all things on Hawai’i must be as it was one week after the first Polynesians arrived 1,900 years Captain Cooked 17 ago, and one week before Captain Cook aboard the ship Resolution saw the outline of Kauaˈi in 1778.”
“Doesn’t he approve of your working at Ho‘oilina Kai?” My father seemed more intent on Michael than soaking in the assorted riff-raff tussling outside. It was the investigative legal beagle still in him. Before becoming a famed culinary TV star, my father had started his career as a lawyer, later a public defender in Chicago, skilled at dissecting witnesses for their core truths. More about that later. I could see Michael’s grip on the steering wheel tighten.
“My uncle did not appreciate my going mainland, off to Nevada to the UNLV Hotel School. He felt I would lose my ethnic heritage, assimilate to the iPhone culture. But if you want to succeed on island, the best jobs are upscale resorts.” Jeffrey sliced further, the verbal sensitive surgeon with scalpel. No pain, no gain. “And, especially working at the Ho‘oilina Kai?” “Would you like it if a bulldozer went to your family cemetery and scraped up your grandparents’ bones?”
Icy silence filled the van. Hired staff should not be offensive to guests. I did my best to recapture the status quo of civility between driver and passengers. “And those other groups? The orange shirts look younger than the green shirts, the white shirts more clean-cut. They all seem to be Hawaiian except the white shirts who have a few protestors who are…”
Caught off guard at his abrupt rudeness, I wanted to find the politically correct word to use, so I said, “Anglo.” Michael glanced my direction, resumed his ease and laughed, not so much at me, as realizing his own spouting diatribe. Okay, he gained my re-appraisal. Accepting that his college years at hotel school had taught him speech and manners, he did exhibit, which I had not caught earlier, a maturity more so than other goofball guys my age. Our age, mid-twenties.
“Those ‘Anglos,’ I rather call them haole trust-fund babies. They’re rampant up on this part of the island, living in the best neighborhoods of beach front properties. They all seem to need a cause, and the problems we poor islanders face give them justification to join the cause of the moment.” Michael seemed to internalize his frustrations, probably screaming for a speaker’s podium, for a sympathetic listener. My father kindly assented with a “go on.”
“Hawaiians,” said Michael, almost in a relieved sigh, “are as dysfunctional as Republicans and Democrats saying they are parties of unity. For two or three causes we have about one hundred different political organizations. The green shirts are run by a friend of mine, Larry Tutapu. They’re called People’s Party of Free Hawai‘i. They believe that the monarchy, King Kamehameha and his court, stole all the land from the High Chiefs who in turn were guardians in trust of the people’s land Konohiki. Some still believe the King never conquered them. On Kaua‘i, King Kaumuali‘i might have paid tribute to Kamehameha, but was never forcibly conquered. Hence, for the green shirts, the people own the land, not the state or wannabe royalty. Tutapu and his group splintered off from the Monarchy Society about five years ago. They try to be more youth-based hip revolutionary, picking up followers who have no moral foundation of their own. They pattern themselves after Jamaican rap posses, dress the part, get into local band culture where they can find angry lyrics to chant.”
Wow. I thought to myself, this guy is too uptight. “And the white shirts?” I could see their banners, well printed catchy phrases, “Equal Rights,” “Improve Hawaiian Lives.” White shirts were not IBM-styled button downs, more free flowing cotton shirts. One tee shirt had Donald Trump’s photo, the caption stating, “Ho‘oilina Kai — You’re fired!”
“That’s the ‘Committee for Economic Independence.’ A bunch of opportunists. Their fondest dream is to bypass the laws of the Hawaiian Homeland Commission and seek inclusion in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The purists like my uncle don’t want to be Indians.” The van reached the guard gate, which seem to be manned to the teeth with security people; none armed if one ignored the side holsters of mace and billy clubs. They waved us through, recognizing the hotel van’s cargo as guests of honor.
“I get it,” said Jeffrey. “The white shirts are for casinos.”
Michael nodded his head in affirmation and gave my father further study. Jeffrey surprised many people, a learned man who read beyond cookbooks. He was my ideal, which I would never tell him, of what today’s Renaissance Man should be. The mold, when he arrived on the scene, had been broken. I would never find my own passionate life mate with those characteristics and so my dating life lacked, my standards set too high for serious relationships. My physical needs, liked getting screwed with tingling satisfaction, whatever century that last occurred, had been one-nighters riddled with morning repulsion, at myself. Back on subject, I gave my father a blank face.
“Madison, if the Hawaiians,” he explained, “gain inclusion into this IGRA, the main attribute being ‘quasi sovereignty,’ their status would be similar to the federal government having to deal with a foreign nation. As now with Native Americans and their reservations.” “My uncle and his people believe history shows Hawai‘i has always been a sovereign nation. The U.S. government with warships and bayonets ignored international law.” My father continued. “If native Hawaiians achieve sovereign recognition, they gain the right to negotiate for casinos on the island. I am guessing the white shirts are secretly well-funded by large mainland casino interests.”
Michael affirmed. “Ten times more cash in their Political Action Committee than the other two groups combined who live hand-to-mouth. This committee of future pit bosses would do a disservice to Hawaiian culture, commercializing it beyond the current perception of tourist tacky.”
Definitely, he looked good smoldering. I found his character interesting, but he was not my type.