Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Mar 31, 2017

"For we all know Danny Baker"

Danny Baker was one of those guys who was like a spark of lightning that lit a room once he entered it. You just knew he was there and you either gravitated toward him or you were repelled by his energy. Either way, you couldn’t deny his presence. Danny was originally from Los Angeles and was a part of Ed Parkers martial arts circle, or at least he claimed he was. The more we got to know Danny Baker, the more he seemed to be a part of everything that was historical in the black community, the Watts riots, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, and Malcolm X. He met Bruce Lee through Jim Kelly of the Enter The Dragon fame and so on and so forth. He even claimed to have known and hung out with and inspired the members of Sly and the family stone to musical greatness.
As for the women in his life? There were too many, none of which he committed to but all of which he charmed and fooled long enough so that they would take care of him until he moved on to the next conquest which served his purposes. So, why was Danny Baker a friend of ours and why did we put up with him? It’s because we knew the real Daniel Fauntleroy Baker. We knew that at eight years old his mother had taken him to visit an Aunt who lived clear across the other side of town and that at some point during the visit Mrs. Baker excused herself and went to use the bathroom and never came back.
Danny’s Aunt was not of the disposition to take care of a child and so she put Danny into the foster care system; he was smart, however. He learned how to be funny and engaging and charming by watching a lot of old romance and comedy movies on late night television. So, instead of becoming the elephant in the room where his foster family was concerned, he became the center of it. The main attraction.
Of course, that only lasted for so long until the head of the household became threatened by Danny’s antics and Danny had to go. Fortunately, by that time Danny had applied to a few colleges and of all the ones that did accept him, he found the University Of Hawai’i most appealing. This is where my wife and I come in.
We met Danny in our history course at U.H. where we became quick friends, we observed his antics in class each time we were there and of course, at some point, Danny and our history professor became involved, you can just tell when those things happen. One night after class we saw Danny sitting by a bus stop and we offered him a ride and eventually took him out to have dinner at Zippy’s. Through our conversation, we discovered that Danny was homeless and that he was living at a park near the beach. Even though he’d been accepted to U.H. no scholarship was offered and he couldn’t afford campus housing but he wanted to come to Hawai’i very badly. We apologized for being so nosey but we asked that since he and our professor were an item, why couldn’t he stay with her? It's because she was married.
So, if you haven’t already figured out the long and short of this story, Danny moved in with us until he could get on his feet and find a job. I guess after a while Danny came to the realization that he didn’t have to charm or entertain us because it was clear to him that we accepted him for who he was and that he didn’t have to prove anything to us. He could just be himself and we wouldn’t judge him.

“It’s funny,” he once said. “Where I come from most people wear being black like a coat, but here in Hawai’i, nobody seems to care as long as you be yourself and don’t act a fool.”

Those were his words, not ours.

That’s not to say that he didn’t have his moments.

Coming home during the wee hours of the morning with different women was one, burning popcorn in the microwave was another, and hanging his wet towels on the living room chairs after taking a shower was an even bigger moment. Funny thing is, we wouldn’t scold him so much as remind him of certain do’s and don’ts around the house, but he never got upset. He would always quietly apologize and make it point to never repeat the same mistake twice.

We were happy for Danny once he got a full-time job at O.C.C.C. It gave him a steady income and he was still able to manage his class schedule at school with no problem. The day came when we each graduated with our diplomas from U.H. and Danny said to us,

“I’m on my feet now and I don’t know how to thank you for taking me in and treating me like one of your own,” he said.

“There’s no thanks needed,” I replied, “your success is all the payment we need.”

It was the first time we ever saw Danny Baker cry.

A year later Danny Baker was on his own and doing very well for himself, he called us one Sunday afternoon and asked us if he could come over and show us a car that he purchased. About ten minutes later we hear the low rumbling sound of a muffler and as we look out of our front window, there is a black 1968 Lincoln Mark III with tinted windows reversing into the garage. It was a majestic piece of machinery for sure and it reminded me of the same kinds of cars that I would see on the old Hawai’i Five-0 episodes. This was Danny’s dream car, it was always the one he wanted because as a kid he remembered seeing successful black men driving the same kind of vehicle. For him, it was a symbol of his own achievement. He wanted us to be the first to ride in it, he was so proud and so happy to drive us anywhere we wished to go, so we had him take us to Rainbow Drive-Inn where we could sit and get a bite to eat while simultaneously admiring his car as it sat in the parking lot for all to see.
Danny always came over on Sunday evenings for dinner without fail, we could tell whenever he’d arrived because we could hear the low rumbling sound his car made. Those evenings were a great time to catch up and sit back and watch our favorite programs together. Often, we would have our own family over on Sundays as well and Danny himself was truly a member of our ‘ohana. The kids loved him and he loved taking them for fun drives in his car to go get ice cream or soda. We would always harass him about changing his ways and settling down; one evening he surprised us and said,

“I think I’m at a point where I can seriously consider doing that,”

On one particular Sunday evening, we noticed that Danny hadn’t yet arrived. It was getting later and we were all wondering if he had to work overtime when suddenly our house phone rang and my wife went to answer it. I couldn’t hear the conversation because the television was a bit loud and our other family members were talking at the same time. Gwen walked into the living room and looked directly at me, she was crying.

“Danny’s been in a bad accident, we have to go to Kaiser right now,” she cried.

We had no idea that Danny had listed us as his next of kin, that’s how the authorities knew to call our number. Apparently, a truck driver without the proper license and training had no concept of what air brakes were. He lost control of his semi as it was coming down the pali highway, it crossed the medium and hit Danny head on as he was traveling in the opposite direction. The truck had picked up a speed of almost one hundred miles, luckily there were few vehicles on the road that evening.
The truck driver survived with minor injuries, Danny was killed on impact and his beautiful car was totaled.

A month later Danny was buried in our family plot and given a beautiful send off; we all took it hard because we loved him very much. The children especially were very upset because they couldn’t understand why the truck hit Danny and killed him? Their logic was that Danny’s car was very big and it should not have been smashed at all, but how do you explain the details of a tragedy like that to a bunch of six-year-old kids? A short time later as we had all gathered at our house one Sunday evening for dinner and movies, we all heard the low rumbling sound of a car just outside the garage. Well, actually the kids heard it first and got very excited,

“Uncle Danny! Uncle Danny!” they screamed with excitement.

The rest of us adults froze for a second and then we all walked to the front window of our house.

There was a black 1968 Lincoln Mark III backing into our driveway, we all thought quickly on our feet and stopped the children from seeing the car. Instead, we gathered them in the back room and let them watch their favorite children's channel on TV. The windows were rolled up and tinted but we all knew whose car it was; my eyes stung with tears because I knew that if Danny had died on impact then coming to dinner on a Sunday evening must have been the last thought on his mind. As far as he was concerned, he was right on time.

It happened a few more times where the Mark III would back into the garage but no one ever came out of the vehicle. We would just carry on as usual and when we’d look out of the window again, the car would be gone. We think that at some point Danny must have found peace because his car stopped showing up, however, one evening when Gwen was walking back to her car at the supermarket, some men appeared out of nowhere and asked her for her wallet. Gwen would tell me later that before anything happened, Danny’s car sped up out of nowhere and nearly ran the men over. It gave Gwen just enough time to get into her car and escape. We thought about contacting the police at first in order to make a report but who would believe that a dead man’s car saved her life?
Not long after that, I was making a left turn onto Wai’alae avenue from Kapi’olani boulevard when a beat up Ford Aerostar van pulled up to my right and the driver began to swear at me for not letting him cut in before I had made the turn. He began to veer his vehicle toward me as if he were trying to run me off the road, out of nowhere a black 68 Mark III takes over the van from his right and pulls up right in front of it and breaks to a complete stop. The Aerostar van hits the large car from behind and I can hear the horrific sound of the impact, I pull over into the humane society and run toward the wreck. The Mark III is gone, but the van is totaled and the driver is badly hurt.

Witnesses said they saw the same thing, as for what happened to the Lincoln, they swear they saw it fade into thin air.

Danny was watching over us.

Finally, there was an evening where Gwen and I were coming back from a walk around the neighborhood and we saw the Mark III idling in our garage, I walked calmly toward the vehicle and I said,

“Danny, you don’t have to worry about us anymore, we’re fine. We love you Danny and we miss you every day, but please go and find peace. You can rest, we’ll be okay and we promise we won’t ever forget you,” I said.

“You’re our family,” Gwen began, “we’ll meet again for sure and we’ll be expecting a ride from you when we get there.”

The car suddenly pulled out onto the street and drove up to the end of the block; it only began to take on the form of a fine mist when it made a left turn at the stop sign. We would never see the car again.

Today when I think about Danny I always remember the song, “For All We Know” by Donny Hathaway. I would often hear it playing from his room, it was one of those tunes that brings you back to a time in your life when things weren’t so easy but you somehow made due, you survived and you moved on. For whatever exterior it was that he presented to people as he socialized among them, this song was a reflection of who Danny truly was on the inside.

That was the Danny Baker we knew and loved.

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