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It 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 hotel.

It 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.

Scott 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 or toe...

In 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.

We'd 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.

Does it hurt? he asked.

I glanced down the hallway at the lopsided rattan door--portal to paradise--mere yards away. Somewhere, a rock dove chuckled.

No, I replied.

As we joined hands and continued our vacation, I slipped the tissue-wrapped molar into my purse--the last time I ever saw it.

I believe the chocolate covered macadamia nut was left on redolent carpet...


What is that smell?

I don't know.

Mildewed sheepskin lining?

Do they have sheepskin in the tropics?

Soggy hula skirt?

Rotting koa coasters?

Wet rooster feathers?


Turn off the A/C and let's open the--what are those?


I'm going into the bathroom for now.



I've lost my room key.


Yeah, 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 feet.

My tongue shot for the gap my molar used to fill--worried it.

Smile, 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.

Wind 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!

We 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.

In case I was wrong.

He--Scott--would have laughed at that. Not unkindly.

Was 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.

Returning 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?

Let's get off this haunted mountain, I thought, slipping into the driver's seat, slipping my dark glasses on as the tropical sky burst.


Chest-deep 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.

His shoulder--slick, cool--pressed mine.

I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself so much.


Aloha spirit?


At 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.

If he suspected my terror, he kept it to himself.

I 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.

We 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.

No, he didn't suspect.

He did inspire me.

Because 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.

When he joined me, we glided over spreading phenomena hand in hand, hunting for our turtle and I never wanted to get out.

Later, 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.


Australian sycamores (I said as we stared at a lighthouse far below us circled by those Albatross-types).



We 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.

The 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:

I got it.


Moa: Polynesian Jungle Fowl


At 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.


He said: Noho doesn't look so bad, you know?

So he'd been wondering, too.

I know, I said, meaning it--mostly.

Next stop: the dentist.



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