was the longest hallway--apart from that one, that elderly-gallery one
in Hampton Court, the dreary one traipsed by the ghost of Catherine
Howard screaming in her floaty Tudor tresses--it was the longest
hallway I'd ever traveled and it belonged to our oddly scented tropical
was the first chocolate covered macadamia nut I'd ever eaten--in Kauai.
I bit into the soft side, the pre-nut area pliant and rich and most of
a rear molar dropped out of my mouth.
plucked the piece--so much smaller than tongue or mirror ever let
on--up from pungent carpet with a receipt from the ABC store and with
all the lip-biting concentration of someone retrieving a severed finger
the longest hallway on the first night of our vacation on a tiny
shrinking island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, we stared at each
other thinking, Think.
been in town for an hour. Outside the Chunnel hallway were, we knew,
flaring tiki torches, plumeria perfumed tradewinds, meaningful
drumbeats and plates of freshly broiled mahi-mahi served with a
precious side of poi. I was wearing new clothes with no sleeves or
buttons. He was wearing an island attitude I was just starting to
realize with wild appreciation.
it hurt? he asked.
glanced down the hallway at the lopsided rattan door--portal to
paradise--mere yards away. Somewhere, a rock dove chuckled.
joined hands and continued our vacation, I slipped the tissue-wrapped
molar into my purse--the last time I ever saw it.
believe the chocolate covered macadamia nut was left on redolent
is that smell?
they have sheepskin in the tropics?
off the A/C and let's open the--what are those?
going into the bathroom for now.
lost my room key.
we have a shitload of chickens in Oregon, the man wielding our new
digital camera laughed. I glanced over my shoulder. Just beyond the
sway of chain link fence we pressed against was a drop-off of 4,000
tongue shot for the gap my molar used to fill--worried it.
babe. Please? Scott asked through his teeth. I'll take another one, the
man laughed and directed us to a different location. The drop-off there
was the same, though more dramatic. Our view: a busload of tourists
gawping their way up to the topmost canyon-viewing level. Chickens,
some tourists commented. Cheep, cheep.I looked at Scott. Then looked
away, biting my lip.
flipped our hair and raindrops sprinkled our faces, so the man gave us
back our camera and went away, saying, Be sure to visit the Oregon
coast, only the coast!
turned to the view. Lushest gash in the universe, I thought and could
have sworn we'd driven past sycamores on the way up--but didn't say so
in case I was wrong.
case I was wrong.
have laughed at that. Not unkindly.
obvious beauty having a perverse effect on me? Was it some kind of
cursed-haole paranoia? Did I have island fever? Was it hot-tempered
Pele's revenge--or joke? I was a sieve or conduit, but not both, I
couldn't be both. The tropics baffled me.
to the car, we opted not to buy papaya spears or coconut milk from the
vendor with the wry grin. Nor did we feed the Polynesian chickens
swarming around our feet. No alms, I muttered. I would not have minded,
though, cupping one of the babies in my palm, tucking it into the
pocket of my jeans jacket, stealing it 'home' to our odoriferous hotel
room, placing it on my flat pillow there. For island luck?
get off this haunted mountain, I thought, slipping into the driver's
seat, slipping my dark glasses on as the tropical sky burst.
in twinkling ocean, we were bashed and tossed and tussled by constant
rollers. Scott managed to catch a few and ride with grace until
inevitably he was shoved, limbs akimbo, against the bottom--but each
time he surfaced with a delight that stole my breath more than the cool
temperature of the water. He was having fun. I rode the next wave in
and sat just out of reach of fraying tumblers, watching him. It was a
locals' beach. Trucks were parked haphazardly on the sand. Rap on the
radios. Local kids--the waistbands of their tropically bright swimming
trunks riding their asses--smoked and sassed and nodded soberly at the
waves. The sand was the same mellow shade of gold my skin was turning.
Everyone ignored everyone with a sly candor I (secretly) approved of.
Pineapple scented wind. Clouds white as plumerias scuttled over water a
vivid screensaver-blue. Scott was thrown ashore with a thump he found
funny. He collapsed next to me and we gazed at the sea.
shoulder--slick, cool--pressed mine.
don't think I've ever enjoyed myself so much.
the dinner for 18, a boat trip was planned. I had heard about those
trips. What happened was a glide by shockingly tremendous beauty and
then a snorkeling session in water deeper than I have ever personally
known. I had snorkeled since arriving--Ke'e Beach with the tourists,
then farther down, by the breezy point where--despite shallow
water--only a few tourists dared snorkel. Big times for me--floating
solo over another world. I was pleased with my sighting of the spotted
pufferfish, the needlefish, the small moray gasping at me from its
coral hole. Dressed in Scott's booties, weighty fins and gloves, I was
Jacques Cousteau (in drag?). The cockiness as I recovered on the
rumpled towel, telling him all about it. Jungle at our backs, turquoise
aquarium at our toes--I blabbered heroics.
suspected my terror, he kept it to himself.
followed him into the water, held the fins until he was ready for them,
waved hard as he splashed away, knelt in pliant glass, watching him
snorkel to where I hadn't had the courage--farther. When he dove over
the edge of the reef, I held my breath, riveted to the tiny ripple his
fins left. He was a speck barely disrupting cobalt when he surfaced and
I thought, jealous, That is utterly brave.
rendezvoused on his beach towel. He reported back calmly: a giant sea
turtle as close as three feet. A moray eel out of its hole and swimming
freely, undulating as just-broken kite string in sky. Wrasse as big as
himself. Get out, I said. You have to come with me next time, he told
me, his green eyes still mired beyond the reef.
he didn't suspect.
did inspire me.
when the time came, I jumped off the boat before he even had his fins
on and hastily fit my mask and snorkel in place. Lunging to prone, I
bit down hard on the mouthpiece and focused on the world twenty, thirty
feet below, well aware of my thunder-breathing.
he joined me, we glided over spreading phenomena hand in hand, hunting
for our turtle and I never wanted to get out.
swinging in a hammock by midnight moonlight, tradewinds forcing the
palm trees to speak, I confessed all terror--pleased when he didn't
want to believe me.
sycamores (I said as we stared at a lighthouse far below us circled by
followed the others down a sandy "alley" between two estates fenced off
by the usual island chain link and quite suddenly stepped onto an
enormous horseshoe of beach. The sand, unlike that of the other beaches
we visited, was firm cool cream beneath our feet. It was almost
sunset--the bay before us purpled and swayed. Behind us: fluted green
mountains. The setting was so quintessentially tropical and
old-movie-prehistoric I kept expecting a pterodactyl to swoop by.
woman performing the ceremony had her crude little altar, coconut
shells and Polynesian-looking bits set up and us assembled and the
ceremony under way in mere minutes. We were still glancing dopily about
trying to absorb the beach, the palms, the sailboats, the sky
(old-blue) when the bride and groom were instructed to join hands and
listen. We all listened. Scott phoned his father and his father
listened from 2,500 miles away. Our guide gave a strictly Hawaiian
blessing to water she poured into the coconut shells, from which the
bride and groom were instructed to drink. In their matching aloha
prints, maile leis swinging, looking as dazed as the rest of us, they
drank--sweetly. After the kiss, the five children in our party dashed
into the flat ocean in their matching aloha prints, soaking
diapers and panties and hems. I took pictures. Scott passed the cell
phone around. I believe I can say we were all experiencing a sort of
low-grade tropical joy. Eventually we caravanned up to Princeville and
a restaurant so open and cliff-toppy and panoramic that again I kept an
eye out for the pterodactyl. Jurassic Park. King Kong. Over and
over and over ad nauseum we were told by kamaainas and guidebooks that
these movies were filmed in Kauai. I swear I preferred to leave
Hollywood completely behind for the week, but:
Polynesian Jungle Fowl
Caffe Coco the shaggy haired youth told us we'd discovered something
special. Yes, tiki torches. Yes, soft-singing kamaaina, pidgin-quipping
guitar and ukulele duo. Yes, plumeria blossoms fragrant and falling to
our table from a canopy of passion fruit vines overhead. But the only
tourists were those of us who had looked hard and we were few. Our
drinks were Chai Cream Soda and Hibiscus Cooler served in colored
acrylic goblets. Hippie gourmet fare for a reasonable (for this island)
price: tofu potstickers in a guava grilling sauce, seared ahi with
obviously organic greens (talk about leafy presentation). Our last
supper on the island was satisfactorily special, moreso when the fairy
lights winked on. Gorged, all we wanted was to return to our pungent
hotel room and crawl beneath the sand-laced sheets, or scout out
another hammock on the beach and make our camp in its swaying weave,
but we had a date with American Airlines. I wolfed down my lychee tart,
we made our alohas and sped for Lihue. A subtle melancholy descended as
we waited to board. Despite a screaming baby, bickering parents,
overexcited kids, I could hear the tradewinds carrying on outside the
airport's dark glass. We hardly spoke to each other until home, when we
plugged the camera into the computer and watched a slideshow of 187
vibrant images. When finally we collapsed, we held hands, tightly.
said: Noho doesn't look so bad, you know?
he'd been wondering, too.
know, I said, meaning it--mostly.
stop: the dentist.