Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Oct 12, 2023

100 Ghost Stories Counting Down To Halloween 2023. #82. Perfect Rice.

  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 always said. "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 from his father, but it was Teresa who 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 I was doing it a lot. I detached from my friends, karate class, and 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 off 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 without blocking his view.

"Excuse me; I can't see," he was sitting under some hedges, catching the shade. He wore a faded green fatigue jacket with a Chevy Van logo t-shirt underneath. 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 intense; Bryan was 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 continued 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 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 those evil little pebbles that could very well cause our death. Even the three heroes of Suicide Hill were not immune to the errant little stones that gave them their collective scars. They were heroes because they'd eat it and return to 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 worsening 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 for 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 all of my friends came around the corner 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 light-skinned Portuguese, and I was a dark Hawaiian kid. I was adopted. I asked my dad for the car keys, ran to our Dodge, and waited for them to finish. I stopped talking to my friends from that point on. 

It was good that I picked up speed on the way down; that way, no one could see that I was crying tears of humiliation. 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 realized that the rest of the ride would be smooth sailing. Then, I'd be hero number four 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 left 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 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 despite 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. And seconds before Mason hits the part of the hill that flattens out, a 1970 convertible Triumph Spitfire crosses the intersection. 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. A legend was born that day. His legendary nickname is "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 home. Everyone was mindful enough to pitch in for gas, so 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. 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 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, 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, hugged him, 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. At that moment, father and son made perfect rice.

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