Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Roosters

by Charley Foster

Who knows what sets them off in the middle of the night, hours before
the dawn. It begins with the scream of a single rooster and undulates
across the landscape as neighboring roosters join in the mass
assertion of territorial and hierarchical dominance. It creeps up on
you lifting you from sleep; a tsunami begun somewhere on a distant
hill in a distant patch of jungle spreads in expanding rings, snapping
awake each blinking rooster who raises his head in turn to add his own
voice as the cacophonous wave floods past. Does it begin with a single
epicenter, like a stone dropped into a pool, or do they commence
spontaneously all over the island like raindrops.

One imagines all the chickens on the island have added their voices
before they are through. Why would it stop before they have all heard
and responded. Maybe it goes all around the island several times,
like a crowd in a stadium doing the wave at a sporting event. It seems
that way some nights.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Where Are You Nato Potato?

by Leo DuBois

It’s another bright Sunday morning and I’m sitting
in the quiet corner of a coffee house sipping my
dark, tasty caffeine treat. From my soft, comfy
chair I observe the regulars swapping cheerful
greetings and rubber necking websites via the free
wireless access.

A sandy-haired fellow with a grizzled beard sits at
nearby oak stained table putting the finishing
touches on one of several beaded necklaces. He looks
like he might be an artist preparing to sell his
wares. Soon a small group of his friends arrive and
greetings are exchanged. As I observe this offline
chat group, my mind wanders back to another free
spirit that once held court on Kauai not so many
years ago.

I can’t remember how or when I first met Nathan Lee
(his artist moniker), but I do remember that he had
many endearing names including Nato Potato,
Nate-the-Skate, and Nately-Skately.

Nate had dark curly hair, bright hazel eyes, an
average build, and a perpetually crooked smile. He
was one of the few “health conscious” friends I knew
back in the early 80’s. He was an artist, a
musician, and somehow was able to survive by sheer
reckless whimsy. There were times when his money ran
out and he was forced to take on chores as a Kauai
educator, but between the years 1980 through the
1990s when I knew him, he had worked out a clever
scheme to support his art by buying and refurbishing

The Plan

Stage 1: Buy a house, fix-it-up and sell it.
Stage 2: Take a portion of the money and throw a
huge party at a local hotel and invite simply
everyone on Kauai to come and enjoy the fruits of
his invested achievements.
Stage 3: Buy another house and repeat Step 1.

Upon purchase of his first house Nato began hiring
his local friends to work on his
A year passed by and the quaint little cottage now
looked like a jewel-by-the-sea. Up on the auction
block that little sweetheart went and within a short
space of time, BAM! went the gavel and Nato Potato
now had a nice pile of money to throw into the bank.
I personally chided him over and over and over for
selling that sweetest of seaside homes. Sure the
property was the size of a Grenada postage stamp but
who cared? It was sweet. It was like your Grandma’s

During those years of house makeovers Nate would
earnestly paint on canvas and create works of art as
well as record original music and videos to share
with the island’s people at his art parties.

Nato carefully pre-advertised the party in the
Garden Island newspaper, put flyers up on local
market bulletin boards and spread the word on the
coconut wireless. When the night of the
Viva-Las-Vegan party finally arrived Nate’s surf
band, “The Thrusters” rocked the night away sending
young and old shaking their okoles out on the
Voyager room’s polished dance floor. Nate made sure
to invite all his local comedian, actors and
actresses to perform skits and off-the-wall impovs.
Video and still cameras clicked and whirred
everywhere recording both the performers and the
colorful attendees. Each year these parties became a
“must-do” annual event and residents of Kauai looked
forward to these social affairs to see what new and
old faces would appear mixing around like one of
Nato’s vibrant paintings.

Nato’s paintings were 100% pure whimsical fun and
you either loved it or you stood around shaking your
head. Nathan did in fact sell a few paintings at
these events but a Paul Gauguin he was not and the
parties were simply an excuse to bring fun and color
to an otherwise island still-life. It was all about
sharing the pure fun with a wide mix of young and
old, locals and visitors alike. Everyone was left
filled with the passion of the Nato juice.

One day I heard that Nathan left us for another
island. Like a tropical breeze that flirts from one
island to another he had picked up and was swept
away to find a new place to exhibit his uninhibited

Where are you Nato Potato? I wish you were back on
Kauai. I know that necklace newcomer and all his
friends at the next table are ready for a good time.
…and Hey! ...so am I.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The spirit of aloha is alive and well even in Los Angeles

by Severine Nichols

There is a saying that goes "Wherever you go there you are" it is such a profoundly true thought. We each carry with us our thoughts and emotional baggage to every destination we journey to, without even realizing it.

After going through a divorce this earlier this year, I was feeling a bit down so my friend Kaulana and I decided to combine a trip to Los Angeles for business and to celebrate my 35th birthday.

We left the Garden Isle on red-eye flight out of the Lihue airport and by the time we arrived in Los Angeles airport, we were exhausted, with yet a full day of work and activities ahead of us.

At the end of our day, with our business complete, my friend Kaulana and I decided to take a trip into the heart of Rodeo Drive for some heavy window shopping and possible star gazing.

Since it was my birthday we wondered into the Gucci store to look around and admire all of the wonderful purses inside. I have a mad weakness for well-made handmade Italian leather handbags. I immediately fell in love with one and after trying it out several times, I looked the price tag. It was over 1, 100.00 dollars! I almost gasped out loud, but thank goodness, I did not.

I put it back on the shelf and started to walk away, but my friend said it is so pretty and it is your birthday after all….so I succumbed to the desire and pulled out my debit card and tried not to think about my ever dwindling bank account.

With my new purchase safely tucked in my hand, we called our hotel for a car to come and pick us up. (one of the many perks staying at the Park Hyatt is they provide such fantastic service, such as a town-car service to Rodeo Drive.)

We sat down outside to wait for the car, on a marble window-sill of the Gucci store which doubled as a bench; we were having a nice time people watching all of the various Hollywood types we don't really get to see over here on Kauai.

Suddenly we were approached by an elderly legless, African American man in a wheelchair holding an almost empty coffee cup in his left hand. He rolled up to us with clear eyes and a sweet smile on his face. There was something very gentle and different about this person, it was immediately noticeable from the start; there was not a trace of pity in this man, only happiness and pride. He did not ask for money nor did he beg. He asked how our day was and if we were enjoying our shopping experience. This made us smile and laugh deep inside for we were not the typical rich city money shoppers; we were just regular island gals out for a visit to the big city.

He said his name was Ron and started to do impressions for us, the first one was of a lifeless statue, he must have held that pose for well-over 2-3 minutes. All the while Kaulana and I were giggling like teenagers and smiling at his wonderful performance. Kaulana handed him a few dollars for his effort and I pulled out my wallet and proceeded to give him all of my cash, I think it was eleven dollars.

He looked at me and said thank you sister. To which I replied, "No thank, you gave us the gift of laughter and I thank you for sharing with us your talent."
" He said you know there are angels that walk around among us, everyday and most folks forget to look for them." I nodded my head in understanding.

I took it step further and said; "I think it is the spirit of Aloha; in being able to give and being open to all people, no matter where you are."

It was just at that moment our car arrived and we had to leave the nice man, who had so freely shared his gift of laughter. As we got in the car and we pulled away, it was then I realized though my wallet was empty of any cash, my heart was both richer and fuller and somehow I felt had shared some of the spirit of Aloha with an angel of Los Angeles.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Relic of the Past Looking into the Future

[Eds. note: This is the last of the runner-up posts from the recent Kauai on My Mind Creative Competition.]

by Kimie Sadoyama

Friday, December 01, 2006

Last of the Ma and Pa Stores

[Eds. note: This is the 13th of 14 runner-up posts from the recent Kauai on My Mind Creative Competition.]

by Kimie Sadoyama

If you could see my parents’ store in the middle of
Kapa’a town, on the island of Kaua’i, you would have
chosen a cleaner more modern supermarket to do your
shopping. Its rows were so narrow that two Filipinos
walking opposiste each other would sometimes knock
over a bottle of mayonnaise on the cement floor, much
to my mother’s disgust. Someone once said of the
store, ”You can buy anything from fishhooks to
muumuus.” All I could remember about it was there were
wall-to-wall things in the back of the counter. You
could see everything hanging on hooks which had no
rhyme nor reason, from hammers to lighters, to cards
and flashlights. My mom always had a roll of wrapping
paper on the bottom and some spindles of ribbon on the
counter in case anyone needed them to be gift wrapped.
It was not a grocery store but they carried potatoes,
onions, garlic, eggs, and milk fresh. Their customers
were mostly Filipinos who worked at the sugar
plantations and grew their own vegetables in their

My mother was the kind of woman who could look into a
person’s eyes and tell instantly whether he or she was
good or bad or just a victim of circumstances. She
knew just about everybody who walked into her store.
People would come in, and she would grab a ledger and
write down their charges.

She would describe people to me by what they bought.
She’d say to me, ”You notice these old Filipinos, they
don’t buy toothpaste or toothbrush? They don’t brush
teeth! That man doesn't buy toilet paper because he
lives in his car and parks in the sugarcane field to
sleep and uses the pavillions to go to the bathroom."

I’d laugh as they looked at me smiling and chewing
their tobacco with brown stained teeth. Why, she’d
know them so well that before leaving she would say to
them, ”What about apple cider vinegar, did you forget
it this time?” They would say, ”Oh yeah, missis, I
porgot da vin e ga.”

At night after dinner she would read the paper
thoroughly. Her favorite section was the obituaries. I
always thought that it was a bit morbid, but she would
say, ”It’s always good to know who died. You might
know someone.”

My parents’ store was one of the first Ma and Pa
stores to close down in recent years, giving way to
progress and the grocery-chain supermarkets of the
modern times. But the nickname Ma and Pa was not just
a nickname. Here on Kauai’i it was a reality.

Not only did these poor Filipinos come to my
parents’ store for groceries, but they depended on my
father for legal help, tax preparation and, of course,
borrowing money. My mother had seen enough of Kapa’a
town to know why people wanted to borrow money. You
see, my dad was always busy with his books upstairs,
so when someone wanted to borrow money, they would
have to go through my mother first. If it were up to
my dad, he would lend money to most of the steady
customers for he knew that he would be paid back with
interest. But my mom would needle them for hours until
my dad would come down from his office. Their
cusstomers were like their children, and their
well-being, whether it be getting duped at the
gambling tables or having one too many drinks. Besides
selling goods from their store, this was also included
as part of their jobs. This was a real Ma and Pa

There was a bar right next to the store run by a
widow. I would hear stories of how she had, in the old
days, ladies of the night working for her. She opened
at noon and always came into the store before opening
up to buy some last minute ingredient for her
appititizers, which she always served for free with
your drinks. In the evenings you could hear the juke
box playing through the wall and you’d know that the
bar was hopping.

One day an old steady customer of my mom’s was
bugging her for twenty dollars. He had spent his last
dollar on a drink at the bar and was ready to hop over
to the next one a block away. My mother kept telling
him not to drink too much, but no. He stuck around
till closing time and she felt sorry for him and
grabbed twenty dollars out of her bra and wrote it
down in his ledger. The next day she fould out that he
had been hit by a car drossing the street outside of
the bar. He was not hurt too badly. The next time she
saw him he had a bandage on his head. My mom felt so
guilty that she yelled at him: ”You see, if I hadn’t
lent you that twenty dollars, you wouldn’t have gotten
hit. I told you to go straight home! You see.” That
was my mom. She was the mom of everybody.

The store was closing down for good, my mom was
recommending her customers to another store that would
take their charges, but some families preferred to
shop with cash in the larger supermarkets. My
grandfather started this business two generations ago,
and here it was now, my parents were going to retire
and close this store that served as a gathering place
and a second home for many of their customers for
almost three generations.

This old Japanese man was so old with nothing to do
so he would walk into town every day and sing Japanese
songs to the kids. They would just laugh at him and
try to get away, but he’d grab them, sit them down,
and sing songs to them from Japanese movie magazines
sent to the store for him. I would catch him stealing
candy from the rack and I would turn to my mom, who
would just put her finger to her mouth and say sssh.
Sometimes when she could tell that he wasn’t feeling
good, she would pour a little Seagram 7 in his 7up. He
would sing his songs all afternoon in the hot son,
then when it was time for me to drive him home, he
would race all over the store picking up his
groceries, yelling at me ”chi chi chi chi.” Which
means boobs in Japanese. To him it meant milk. Putting
all of his goods in an onion sack, already laden with
a gallon of sake, we would be off. My mom always
complained that he would dilly dally all day long and
at the last minute would be in such a rush. Every time
I drove him home, he smelt of urine. My mom says he’s
so old that he misses when he pees. He would always
give me a couple of dollars and avocados and papayas.

A few months earlier he would come down to the store
at the beginning of every month in a frenzy wanting to
buy a lock. He’d say, ”Those no good Hawaiian kids
stole my money from my drawer.” At the beginning of
every month my parents would cash his social security
check and he would pay his bill and buy some groceries
and go home to build his fire for his bath, an
old-fashioned Japanese bath called a ”furo” which was
outside of his house. He would put his whole month’s
cash in a drawer next to his bed and go outside to
start his bath, and by the time he got inside, his
money would be gone. Every month it was the same
thing. I need a new lock, he would say. This went on
for months. My mother told me that he just felt sorry
for those Hawaiian kids and that he had money in the
bank. He soon died of old age in his broken down
shack, a furo out back, with avocado and papaya trees.

Just like Yasui old man, my parents’ store died of
old age. Why, the shelves were so termite eaten that
if it weren’t for the paint I couldn’t see how they
held all those things on it. The next year my dad
leased it out to a feed business, and hurricane Ewa
knocked the whole thing down. Someone said that the
termites in the wood were holding hands and if one of
them let go, the whole thing would come down. Well
that was probably not too far from the truth, for
after the hurricane the only thing standing was the
rock wall in front of Betty's Inn, the bar next door.
I drove by, and someone had a sign up that said ”Yard
Sale. Everything Must Go!” right in front of the
rubble and a friend was taking his picture.

I am proud to have been born and raised here on Kauai
and have seen many changes but I do believe that if we
can understand how we lived here in the past we can
learn from it and would not be so disrespectful of the
old ways and brush them aside just to sweep in the
new. Thank you very much for providing me the
opportunity to have my words be heard.