Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Jan 29, 2023

Perfect For Rice 2022

 The Rice family lived at the end of the block where Lumialani and Lumi'au'au street met. Everyone who grew up in the community knew Lumi'au'au by its more notorious name, Suicide Hill. It was a long steep hill that every kid attempted to ride on a skateboard. Many of us survived with scraped knees, broken bones, and fractures. Only a select few made it for the entire ride down the hill and walked away unscathed. Those heroes didn't get a beating from their parents, along with their injuries, as we did. Army Ranger Major Adam Rice was the head of his household. Surviving the Vietnam conflict, he was stationed at home in Hawaii, where he met Teresa Kiyonaga at the VA and married her a year later. A year after that, their son Mason was born. A short time after that, they moved into the new Seaview community on the outskirts of Waipahu. Seaview was a breath of fresh air for those who grew up in the old plantation-style homes constantly surrounded by the bitter-sweet smell of boiling sugar cane and the monthly black snow. Now, living in a newer type of suburban house, there was a status to be had. 

"New house, same shitty people," my dad would always say. "The people make the home, not the other way around. These fuckers got it backward."

My classmate Mason Rice didn't suffer from his father's PTSD, nor did his father try to mold Mason into a soldier from an early age. On the contrary, Adam Rice ignored his son and left everything for his wife to handle. Mason's birthday and Christmas gifts were marked as being to him by his father, but Teresa wrapped the presents and wrote the cards. Adam was just there to take the credit. Mason excelled at everything he did, from math club to judo and boxing. "Good job," Adam would say while looking up from his newspaper whenever his son came home with a certificate or trophy. As Mason began to share the excitement of his achievements, his father would nod and mumble and eventually turn his attention to his newspaper. 


                                                                                 ~


It was the summer of 1979 when I had no clue what the word detached meant, but I was sure doing it a lot-detached from my friends, my karate class, and my favorite high school courses. No wonder I couldn't get a girlfriend. How could I if I detached myself from a relationship? If I weren't catching a bus to see a movie, I'd make myself a bag of sandwiches, grab a six-pack of RC Cola and sit at the end of the block to watch the neighborhood kids attempt to ride down Suicide Hill. Many kids only made it less than halfway down; others peeled at the midway point. Only three took the whole hill like it was nothing. That was Skip Tamayose, Bryan Frasier, and Lono Kapule. Lono always had a wild-eyed look, like he was possessed. We younger kids steered clear of Lono, but at the same time, we revered his riding skills. Sitting on the corner with a skateboard of his own was Mason-Rice. I would not have known he was there if I hadn't blocked his view.

"Excuse me; I can't see," he was sitting a little under some hedges catching the shade. He was wearing a faded green fatigue jacket with a Chevy Van logo t-shirt under it. His jeans were a dark blue, and he had a pair of Converse shoes on his feet. 

"Sorry about that," I moved out of his way and sat on the curb. "You want a sandwich and a cola?" I held up the bag to him. He took it without hesitation, and we watched as riderless skateboards came zipping by. Most would crash into the curb across the street, while others went straight into the sewer drain. The owners would arrive a minute later to retrieve their boards or go shimmy down the drain. Mason watched intently, never saying a word. This continued for most of the day until I asked him, "You gonna try?"

"Where do you live?" He asked, completely ignoring my question, which was fine with me. I was trying to make conversation, after all. Whether he told me his life story or not was up to him. 

"Right in the middle, back there," I pointed down the street. "The house with the yellow Datsun truck, the Dodge Dart, and the Olds,"

"Oh yeah, you guys do Karate," he nodded. "I've seen you guys practicing a couple of times when I was walking by,"

"You take Karate too?" There was something about him that told me he was also a practitioner.

"I'm with Godin Kenpo," he replied. Then, pointing to the hedges behind him, he said, "I live here."

With all the sandwiches between us, other kids noticed and gravitated to where we sat. Soon we became a larger crowd, excitedly cheering those who made it and groaning in sympathy for those who ate the pavement. The next day, we were the same crowd except more oversized, and because of that, I had to prepare more sandwiches. I also had to use my allowance money to get a case of RC cola. In a couple of days, word got around about my sandwiches. So much so that Skip, Bryan, and Lono rolled up unexpectedly. Lono may have been the intense one; Bryan was a bit more calculating, but Skip was the leader. "You still got some of those sandwiches?"

"Got a bunch," I replied in awe while sounding cool. 

"I'd like three," I was taken aback at how humble this hero of Suicide Hill was. So I handed him three, and he gave one to Bryan and one to Lono. He put his sandwich in his mouth while reaching into his pant pocket. He removed a five-dollar bill and handed it to me. Then, turning to everyone else, Skip exclaimed, "Sandwiches ain't free; you pay this kid from now on," with that, the three heroes thanked me and went about their business. Everybody paid except Mason; he was my friend. 


                                                                            ~


The bane of our attempts to smoothly conquer Suicide Hill in one go was the unexpected appearance of these little pebbles that would wedge themselves under the front wheels of your skateboard, thereby bringing it to an unexpected stop. You'd fly forward and hit the full pavement face first, earning your scrapes, bruises, and broken teeth. Next, many of us began stealing our mother's brooms from the kitchen. Then, carefully, we'd traverse the entire track of Suicide Hill, sweeping away as much as we could of those evil little pebbles which could very well cause our death. Even the three heroes of Suicide Hill were not immune to the errant little stones which gave them their collective scars. They were heroes because they'd eat it and be back at the hill the next day. A week before my birthday, my friends from school showed up at my house looking for me. My mom sent them to the end of the block, where Mason and I were sitting under a large lean-to that he attached to the wall of his house. They gave me the once over when they appeared in front of me. Where had I been? Why had I yet to return their phone calls? Why did I ignore them after coming back to Karate class? My answer was to pick up my skateboard and walk up to the top of Suicide Hill. They followed me, their questions unanswered and their frustration growing ever worse until we reached the top. I dropped my skateboard on the blacktop, pushed off, and headed down the hill. Believe it or not, the last thing on my mind was the fear of descending the infamous hill that was unmerciful to the weak but rewarded the brave with glory and immortality. My friends from school all had good families, exemplary lives, and wanted nothing. I, however, had parents that were way too old to be hip. I didn't have younger, more beautiful, and handsome parents like my friends. This was something that I never wanted any of them to know about; even though they had all met each other's parents, they had yet to meet mine, and I wanted to keep it that way. 

One evening at the Big Way market, I was with my folks doing some grocery shopping when around the corner came all of my friends with all their parents in tow. What a coincidence that we'd all be in the same aisle looking for deviled ham. They saw it; they all saw it. I didn't look like my parents at all. They were lite skinned Portuguese, and I was a dark Hawaiian kid. I was adopted. I asked my dad for the car keys, ran out to our Dodge, and waited for them to finish. I stopped talking to my friends from that point on. 

It was a good thing I picked up speed on the way down; that way, no one could see that I was crying tears of humiliation. Finally, you reach a point at Suicide Hill, where the road flattens out a bit before it continues down the second half of the hill. After that, there's no turning back. You can't kick off, and you can't jump off. The momentum is too strong, and it's too late. Trying to do any of that is suicide. That's how the hill got its name. When I hit that flat point, I'd come out of my haze of self-pity, and I realized that the rest of the ride would be smooth sailing. Then, I'd be hero number four, right alongside Skip, Bryan, and Lono. Did I forget earlier that we all swept the pebbles away in every spot on Suicide Hill except for the flat part? Yup, except for the flat portion. When Mason visited me at my house after I got out of the hospital, he said I sped past like a practical blur. Then he heard a high scrapping sound, and the next thing he knew, my skateboard came to a sickening stop, and I flew so far forward that no one saw where I landed. But they did see the aftermath. It wasn't pretty. 

"Some of your classmates are waiting outside," Mason said. "I gotta get home anyway; my mom needs help around the house."

"Thanks, man," I shook his hand. Mason left the door open, and my classmates came in and took seats on the floor and in front of my bed. I took my time explaining the reasons why I detached. They understood, but they were also pissed off that I thought so little of them that they would stop being my friend because my parents were older and I was adopted. Finally, fences were mended, and we were all friends again.

                                                                              ~

The day was overcast, giving everyone a sense of urgency on the hill. The smell of the ionic atmosphere only served to heighten the nervousness permeating the crowd. The three heroes had already made their run and were nearly killed when a station wagon backed out of a garage at the very last second. They came within inches of disaster. After that, the hill remained empty for most of the day. No one spoke or expressed their feelings. Instead, there was an empathy that silently joined everyone together. Even the kids who usually brought their radio cassette players left it off as if a reverence in the air required it. 

"Well," Mason sighed, coming out of his lean-to and grabbing his skateboard; he stretched and tightened his muscles before shaking his hands and feet. "See you at the bottom."

"You're going up," I said more as a statement and less as a question. 

"Yeah," he shrugged his shoulders.

"Don't die," I told him.

"If I do, it'll be just this once," he replied while looking up the length of Suicide Hill. "My dad and I aren't close, but he always says that only the brave die once and that cowards die all the time," There was more silence from all of us as if Mason were now Mohammed preaching from the mountain. "Frankly, I dunno what the fuck that means."

Alone, Mason ascended the hill. He removed a can of RC Cola from his pocket and took a couple of gulps before discarding it in a nearby trash bin. "The brave die only once," he muttered before placing his skateboard on the road. His left foot balanced on the board while his right kicked off the pavement. In a second, the descent was underway. Where there was usually cheering and shouts of encouragement as one more rider took off into an unknown destiny, there was none for Mason. Instead, silent prayers were given. Finally, the three heroes stood at the midway point, where it flattened out and gave Mason the all-clear that no cars were approaching. He kicked away on the surface and increased his speed. Mason stood tall and unwavering in the face of everything that could go wrong. His countenance was calm and serene, as if the reputation of Suicide Hill was the last thing on his mind. He was on his way to passing hero status and becoming a legend. You see, timing is everything. Timing determines success or disaster in mere seconds. Seconds before Mason hit the part of the hill that flattens out, a 1970 convertible Triumph spitfire crossed the intersection simultaneously. That was the end for Mason. We were all sure he was done and would die a horrible, painful death. Instead, Mason flew in the air while his skateboard went under the car. When it appeared on the other side, he landed on it perfectly. Mason-Rice made it all the way to the bottom. As I said, a legend was born that day. From then on, Mason got the legendary nickname "Perfect Rice."

~

The school was back in session, and we were in our junior year. Lunch was our favorite which is why we paid for two lunches. It was a pig in the blanket. We all gravitated to our usual spot, under the large shower tree next to the portable classrooms. We all basked in Mason's popularity; his star status rubbed off on us a bit. He took it all in stride and didn't let any of it get to his head, which is why everyone liked him so much. That year, Mason got a car that he paid for with his own money that he saved while working three jobs over the summer and the school year. He got a 67 Ford Fairlane, a big enough car to pack all of us into as we'd usually go to eat after school. He'd drop us off one by one, and of course, since I lived down the street from him, I'd just get out at his place and walk. Everyone was mindful enough to pitch in for gas so that Mason knew we weren't trying to take advantage of him. One evening, there was a knock on my front door, and my mom answered it. It was Mason. He was armed with a cold six-pack of RC Colas and a paper bag filled with cheeseburgers and greasy french fries. I invited him in, and we sat on the patio, eating and talking.

"Are you getting tired of being called Perfect Rice yet?" I asked him.

"I'm a skateboarding legend, and you know what?" He asked while taking a sip of his drink. "My dad doesn't even know I'm alive. I'm not even a second thought to him. So how's that for being a legend?"

"I'm sorry, man, I didn't know that was happening," I paused and got a perfect look at a person I thought I knew. 

"It's no big deal," Mason reassured me. "He's not your father."

No words were needed to tell me that Mason would trade his legend status for one iota of acknowledgment from his father. I never asked him about it again, and Mason never brought it up. Later, Mason let me use his car to get my driver's permit. By our senior year, I could barely scrape together some money for my car, a 63 Ford Galaxie. We both had girlfriends by the time prom came around, and of course, graduation was a night of drunken debauchery. I must backtrack and say that graduation night was the first time I'd met Mason's father, and I understood. My older brother was in Vietnam, and he had he, too, was quiet and hardly spoke. 

"In your dad's mind, like my brother, he's re-living the war," I told Mason. "Like my brother, I'm sure your dad saw many people die. Stuff like that doesn't just go away. It has nothing to do with you; in a way, they feel like they're protecting us in case those memories make them go crazy. I bet if you tell your dad you love him, he'll appreciate it,"

In a second, Mason walked over to his father, gave him a big hug, looked him in the eyes, and said, "I love you, dad, thank you for everything you've done for me," the floodgates opened. Adam Rice shed tears, showing his son a modicum of acknowledgment and affection for the first time in his life.  At that moment, father and son made perfect rice.






Jan 2, 2023

Union Brotherhood

 Believe it or not, stretches of old roads still exist on 'O'ahu, like Kiona'ole. 

There are two and a half miles of it, with cracks in the pavement and shards of weeds struggling to find life. I don't mind places like that because the job is the job, and that's what it requires. So Nolan Chang and I were assigned to Kiona'ole for as long as it took. That's how the boss put it to us like we didn't have a choice. As we went along the path, we had to remove vines, weeds, or tree branches covering the powerlines. We were privately contracted because the regular union guys were too afraid to come out here, even during the day. They believe it's haunted, and they're too scared to do the job, so here we are. I'm Lyle Galutera; that's Nola up there in the cherry picker, squealing with excitement.

"Brah, kalamungai!" He's shouting. "Can make sabao with some chicken tonight!"

"You not even Filipino," I tell him.

"My wife is," he said while pulling a few down and stuffing in his shirt.

Nolan is a good guy, but every day to and from work, he has one discrepancy that is constantly troubling his life. It's his other half, Fern. She's a burden to him, more than an asset to his life. She can't seem to do anything right. Balancing finances, raising their children, cooking, cleaning, it's all wrong. Sex appears to be the only thing she can do well without hiccups. "I always threaten her with divorce, and it's good for a little while. Then it goes right back to the old habits."

"Yeah, but when she comes by to bring your lunch, she seems sweet to me," I told Nolan once. "I can read people pretty well, and I can't tell that there's anything wrong,"

"That's cause you don't have to live with her, brah," Nolan said. "It one way in private, and one way in public,"

It rained suddenly one day, which took us by surprise. The sun was still out, and not a rain cloud filled the sky, and yet, there it was, the famous uakea rain in complete form. We found cover under a large shower tree up against a berm with an overgrown kou on top of it. Unfortunately, we didn't get as drenched as we should have. However, we had some time to kill because the rain wouldn't let up for another hour. I told Nolan that driving up and down this road at night was dangerous because potential for bad accidents was always possible. He was texting on his phone, not wholly giving me his attention.

"What you was saying?" He asked.

"Never mind," I chuckled. 

Less than a minute later, a blue Camry drove up to the gate and honked its horn once. I couldn't see who was driving, so I asked Nolan if the person in the car was his wife because she always came in a black Nissan to bring his lunch. "I going take my lunch," he got up and walked off. "See you in an hour,"

No work for today, though, the rain never let up, and Nolan never returned. Not to Kiona'ole. When I got back to the yard, he was clocking out, and there, too, was his wife in the parking lot waiting to pick him up. I waved at his wife and said nothing until the following day as we drove out to Kiona'ole. "Now, I see why you are not happy with your wife. You get side action,"

"Not side action," Nolan said. "Just somebody who understands me,"

"Your wife understands you," I told Nolan. "This other woman seems like what you want, but I tell you what, hah, you live your wife for this woman? The second, she not your side action and she becomes your wife, everything going change and not for the better,"

"Not even," Nolan waved me off. "Going be betta than what I get now,"

"Stay with your wife, Nolan," I warned him. "Otherwise, you going lose everything."

Of course, Nolan didn't listen and left his wife and kids. But, unfortunately, the year was not yet over, and Nolan married whoever the other person was after his divorce was granted. And in a short time, he began to make the same complaints about his new wife. At the same time, Nolan began to regret leaving his first wife and children. It was all he talked about even though he had a job to do; it became a constant topic of conversation. 

~

Over the weekend, Nolan Chang's body was found hanging from the Kou tree above the berm, where we took shelter from the rain during that one deluge. He didn't leave a note nor show signs that he'd intended to kill himself. It was a significant loss for the union brotherhood because he was a highly valued worker despite his personal problems. That's what was said publicly, but when I went to the union brotherhood to make them aware of Nolan's issues and how they began to affect his work performance, they left it up to me to rectify. So, I did. 

Nolan called me on a Saturday, needing a friendly ear. I told him I was at Kiona'ole doing some patchwork off the clock. We agreed to meet there. That was a Saturday, but early Sunday morning, his body was found by a group of errant hikers ignoring the no-trespass signs. I let the union brotherhood know that it was taken care of and that from that moment forward, could they please assign someone to me who is of the same age and temperament. Every time they give me some young punk with his heads up his ass, he always turns up dead because I'm always the one that has to kill them.





Dec 27, 2022

Lele 2022

 ...continued from yesterday

Horrified screams rose above the din of traffic and everyday life.

Dec 26, 2022

Pryor Kamaka 2022

Pryor Kamaka was a prodigy at his westside school and the hope for his family and community's future.

Dec 25, 2022

Rizals 2022

"We each have our own car, but the Cadillac belongs to Jose," Junior said while removing the soaked rag from the water bucket.

Dec 24, 2022

Dec 23, 2022

Rita 2022

Boy sat in the kitchen with aunty Rita peeling potatoes while she worked on the deviled eggs, which is one of his favorite dishes that Rita made.

Dec 22, 2022

ʻAina Awakea 2022

Uncle Tiny, aunty Rita, and Tabby were out shopping for the weekend stay at the beach house.